[Southwest National Park, Tasmania]
In December 2022, I hiked the Western Arthurs Traverse via Alpha and Kappa Moraine. The extensive rugged topography of the range made for the most difficult, yet exciting hiking I've done.
Posted: January 1st, 2023
In December, 2022 I hiked the Western Arthurs Traverse (WAT). It’s rough, exposed, has plenty of steep slopes, narrow corridors and is dominated by beautiful moorlands, glacial lakes, button grass heath and alpine scrub vegetation. This hike has everything, and thats why its my favourite to date.
The full traverse (e.g. linking up with the Eastern Arthurs) can take between 10 and 12 days, but the most popular route is Alpha Moraine to Kappa Moraine (known as A-K) which takes 5 to 7 days and starts/finishes at Scotts Peak Dam.
The events described here are purely anecdotal. While I've included notes about the hike, please do not use this as a source of truth.
I was picked up by the shuttle bus at 7:30am from the hostel. It was a warm night and dominated by an hourly ringing bell from Hobart’s St David’s Church in the city centre. Ordering Uber Eats to scoff down some pancakes and hashbrowns as my final proper meal before heading to the ranges.
I watched the rain and cloud slowly set in as we drove up from Hobart, and onto the plateau which the Arthurs reside. I arrived at Scotts Peak Dam at 10:30am.
Beautiful, small forests with luscious greenery and streams providing seclusion from the rain before emerging onto the button grass plains. The track following boardwalks for the first few hundred meters before being replaced by a rocky, but well-worn track. I headed quickly in the direction for Junction Creek.
I encountered my first section of mud. It had been raining only the last day, meaning the bogs hadn’t fully soaked through and wasn’t as bad as I expected. I noticed many other tracks that skirted the boggy sections but decided to walk straight through to a) save time, b) test my waterproofs and gaiters and c) avoid trampling and destroying vegetation where possible.
The mud wasn’t too bad, but my socks and shoes eventually soaked through with the water from the low-hanging grass and general shrubbery. There were some deep sections – easily mid-calf to knee height mud. The trekking pole provided stability and was a good depth-checker.
It was getting cold, and the wind picked up before eventually rolling into Junction Creek, where I walked through the creek to clean my lower half of the mud. The gaiters performed well at keeping the mud out. An essential item.
I met Craig and Royston at Junction Creek, an adventurous and experienced father son duo who I chatted to briefly on the bus ride. They agreed to let me walk behind them to Cygnus. In and among the rain and wind, we took a wrong turn and followed a false lead out of Junction Creek, and after crossing a creek, the trail quickly fizzled out. Using the GPS, we bushwhacked across the button grass until we met up with the McKays Track, before slogging through the plains until the base of Alpha Moraine. A small, flattened pad for enough space for one tent was visible.
In the rain and wind, we slowly pushed ourselves along the 4km climb up Alpha Moraine, with about 900m of elevation. I was exhausted. This had been the hardest physical activity I’d done in a long time and was really felling it. The little sleep the night before didn’t help either.
We crested the Moraine and saw nothing but clouds and had limited visibility of the range. We stopped for a quick break, then miraculously a gust of wind cleared the clouds and we got our first view of the beautiful rocky knolls, Lake Fortuna and Pluto and a view all the way to Port Davey.
Slowly we meandered along the track, passing just below the summit of Mount Hesperus, before descending into the relatively sheltered wooden platforms of Lake Cygnus.
I sat down in sheer exhaustion and started to cook dinner. Only to misread the instructions on my meal and cook the most awful mac and cheese I’d had in a long time. But the long day was complete, and this crazy plan of walking the Arthurs was starting to work out.
It was a relatively short day, and by comparison to other days - quite leasurely to Lake Oberon, but I still wanted to get an early start.
Climbing back up the access track, legs burning from the excertions of day one, I slowly traversed the slopes of Mt Hayes before descending its sketchy scree gully. Grand sweeping views of what lay ahead were dominated by howling wind and gentle spots of rain. Passing below Procyon Peak, the trail contoured around to Square Lake. A beautiful deep lake surrounded by more sheer quartzite faces. The track rough, with thick shrub surrounding the east side of the Lake with a runoff crossing nestled in between.
Emerging from the scrub, I slowly made my way up the ridge between Mt Sirius and Mt Orion, before skirting left to avoid false leads over the ridge. Out of breath, tired, cold and hungry I crested the ridge and saw the first view of Lake Oberon.
Lake Oberon - the stunning, large glacial lake that is the cornerstone of the Western Arthurs. Of all the photos I'd seen of the Arthurs, Lake Oberon stood out like a sore thumb. And I see why.
I sat down on the ground and just stared in awe and soaked in the view. The beautiful Pandani plants dotting the landscape down to Oberon. A core memory was saved.
I descended the relatively well-worn track to Oberon, going slow and steady. I eventually made my way down to the boardwalks for easier walking before descending right down to the campsite. There was one section I had to lower my pack over a small ledge, as I didn’t trust myself / the momentum of the pack swinging over the edge to get a firm footing. Better be safe than sorry.
Arriving at the campsite, the sun appeared for the first time on the trip. Quickly unpacking and stripping my clothes off, I let them dry on the platform. What a treat to be dry. Feeling grateful and happy to have made it to Oberon, I sat and soaked up the rays. It was a great day; the view of Lake Oberon was spectacular.
I climbed back up the ridge in the later hours of the evening and sat, staring at the lake and its surroundings. Lost in thought, mesmerized by what lay before me. After what felt like hours, I scrambled down in the last remaining light and went to bed. The first goalpost of Lake Oberon was completed.
I joined forces with Craig and Royston, and we began the trek up and out of Lake Oberon towards Mt Pegasus. Almost immediately, the climb out of Oberon was proving to be tricky. A 5-meter slab of rock stood between us and the trail above, with little crimps along a serrated edge to the left, with just enough room to force your feet between, to push yourself up. I attempted the climb but could not pull myself up with the pack.
Fortunately, Craig had a rope and we quickly fastened it to my pack, and I helped pull the pack up, over the slab. This was an exposed climb and set the tone for the day.
Shortly after that, the track continued almost vertically up. Using knees and roots on either side, we clambered our way up and continued along the pad until the trail completely stopped. Below us was a 50-meter drop and to the right a 4-meter rock that looked climbable, but not great, and incredibly exposed. Turns out, we'd missed the cairn to the right and backtracked to find it. What a relief.
Pushing towards the summit of Mt Pegasus, we found the ‘hole’ in the rock, where the packs had to be pushed through, before slowly descending Pegasus. It was awkward, but doable. Somewhere along here, the rope fell out of Craigs bag. Which we discovered on the coming down Pegasus, where we wanted to use the rope to lower packs through another hole/awkward down climb, just before descending.
The trail was now entering the roughest part of the range. Walking along the ridge between Pegasus and Capricorn was stunning. The rubbly, scree path descended and plateaued along the slanted ridge between Mt Capricorn, with even more magnificent views of Lake Uranus and Mt Capricorn, which we would later ascend and descend.
The sun was out, and it was hot. My body was starting to get used to scrambling/sharp ascents/descents with a pack, but the physical energy spent doing this meant I was drinking more and more water, something that was in short supply between campsites. The sun was hot, especially on exposed ridges with little cover.
We summited Capricorn and began the descent. This is probably the most nerve-wracking part of the whole trip. The incredibly steep and exposed descent required not only great physical attention, but laser focus. A fall here would be bad!
The path was well trodden, and each foothold was well defined. Roots for handholds miraculously appeared when needed and
I had well run out of water, and it was hot. Hot and exposed, and we still had the saddle of Columbia to reach before High Moor. Note to self – carry more than two litres of water and don't skull it. This was a mistake I made on other days too.
Climbing up and around Columbia, we reached the boardwalks of High Moor, and gently descended to the platforms. Reaching for the nearest water source, I drank and drank and drank - quenching the thirst of a difficult day.
In warm weather, the water pool has known to dry up at High Moor.
High Moor was a campsite out of a movie. Exposed, huge rocky knolls and grand views. But you wouldn’t want to stay there in bad weather, that’s for sure.
After setting up the tent and having dinner, I pushed along the trail a little bit with my camera, before finding a slight dip in the landscape that gave magnificant views of Lake Ganymede in the foreground, and the Eastern Arthurs in the background. The sky was clear, and the distinct knotch of Federation Peak was didn't seem far away. Maybe one day I'll climb it.
Reflecting on the day, it had taken over 7 hours to traverse a measly 4.2km. A testament to the difficulty of the track.
I rose early at High Moor to catch the sunrise and make a start on the day with the other hikers. The air already had a hint of warmth and I knew it was going to be a long day. I made the poor choice of only drinking a few gulps of water before leaving camp, with two litres water on me.
I was the first awake and packed up, so I spurred on ahead, leading in front over what promised to be one of the most difficult sections of the trip – the Beggary Bumps.
Things didn't go to plan though. Descending the first steep gully from High Moor, I missed the cairn and continued to the bottom of the gully. It was steep and exposed.
I found someone’s water bottle which reaffirmed in my mind that this indeed was the trail. But there was no trail to be seen, the scrub went down the banks towards Lake Ganymede. After trying to find the trail by weaving through thick, mossy and slippery mud, another member of our group shouted at us, saying we’d missed the cairn for the turn off, and had gone way further down the gully.
This was problematic – in order to get back up the gully, we had to push the bags up, as it was too steep, slippery and wet. By the time everyone had their bags on, and on the trail, we’d burnt at least an hour. Which was a lot, considering the day we had planned. This would cost us the final hour of light to push to the campsite.
The track eventually led to the Beggary Bumps. This was a section of exposed, steep rocky outcrops that you must go over, around, up and down. Nestled between the bumps, the infamous tilted chasm (the unfortunately blurry photo below). A good 30-40 meter nearly vertical chasm that descends to a ridge before the next bump known as Lovers Leap.
Eager to avoid an accident, we lowered the packs down using spare rope provided by another hiker. Before slowly moving down like a crab, which came to be one of the more popular methods of descending.
I had pretty much run out of water at this point. The taste of electrolytes made me drink faster as I was yearning for the fizzy, fruity elixir of life. The remaining beggary bumps were a full-body workout. Narrow trails, thick scrub, big drops – this was difficult, especially in the heat. Being nestled in the scrub only amplified the heat. Sections of the trail so steep I was holding onto tree branches and swinging down to ledges.
Eventually, the bumps ended, and the trail contoured along a ridge to Mt Taurus. But I was seriously dehydrated and was having thoughts about quitting and was close to breaking down on the climb up Mt Taurus. I felt like I couldn’t do it, it was just too much. The heat, the climbing, no water, the exposure - damn it was difficult.
I tried to take a piss and had to do a double take to check I wasn’t urinating blood; it was that amber. I was having pain in my lower abdomen, everything was burning and hurting. This was the worst physical state I’ve been in.
Slowly, careful of not becoming a heat casualty, I made my way down Mt Taurus and was well behind the other hikers, before arriving at the final obstacle before Haven Lake. A cliff, with a slit down the middle that required you to crab walk/hold down. One foot down, then the other, then the hands and so on. Its difficult to explain, and technically it isn’t difficult. But in the current state of exhaustion and dehydration, it was tough. Lowering the pack was the only option.
I rolled into Haven Lake, near absolute physical exhaustion and drank from the cool alpine lake. The feeling of drinking water after being really dehydrated is the best feeling ever. Nothing can beat it. After sculling water, cold chocolate powder, electrolytes, I stripped off and had a swim. The most rejuvenating thing ever. I was saved, I felt. But we still had 6+ more hours of walking.
The weather forecast for the next day (28/12) was bad. 100km/h winds starting in the morning with heavy rain.
Eager not to be caught descending the range in severe wind and rain, the decision was made to walk to Lake Sirona to check out the campsite. If there were spots to camp, that weren’t exposed, we’d go for it.
Putting the pack on after a swim was hard. I was in relaxation mode, but the job was far from over. Slowly climbing up and along the ridge to Lake Sirona, there was a technical descent to the Lake. One poorly marked, full of loose rocks, and damn dangerous.
Lake Sirona was not good. A beautiful lake but exposed to the elements. We could not stay there. Not with the incoming weather. Our decision was reaffirmed when a small thunderstorm broke out along the Eastern Arthurs. Sitting back from the Western Arthurs looking over thinking, “yep, its time to get out of here”.
Slogging across the ridge to Mount Scorpio, we bypassed the summit and began the descent down Kappa Moraine. It was getting late at this point.
The narrow descent down Kappa Moraine provided me with one of my favourite views of the trip. The vast expanse of the Arthur Plains with the beginnings of the Eastern Arthurs to the right. Promontory Lake and the West Portal were visible. The setting sun blessing the landscape. All thoughts and feelings of dehydration and exhaustion stopped for a second. We were saying goodbye to the range, the glistening reflection of Promontory Lake smiling back at me.
The major difficulties of the range ended at the Kappa Moraine Junction. Descending Kappa Moraine felt like hours, but eventually, we made it onto flat ground of the plains. The clock hit 9:45pm, almost 15 hours since we set off. Exhausted, physically unable to walk no more, I pitched the tent on the nearest flat piece of ground, which was hard to find due to the spiky button grass and rocks. Conceding a flat pitch, I set up on an awkward angle, in a dried-up mud patch. The button grass plains had retained their heat from the day. The soil, still warm to the touch. I couldn’t cool off, except strip naked and lie in what felt like a vegetative state of exhaustion hoping to get a few hours’ sleep.
Today was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Rising early at the makeshift camp at the bottom of the moraine, I saw the rolling clouds and rain were beginning to shroud the range.
Getting ahead of the weather, camp was quickly packed up and we made a beeline for 7-mile creek. 7 mile creek has a few campsites either side of the creek, but crossing in high water can be difficult.
7-mile creek is a connector campsite between Junction Creek and Cracoft Crossing, which leads to the Eastern Arthurs. You can also take the Kappa Moraine Junction track and camp at Promontory Lake before beginning the Eastern Arthurs too.
Quickly pushing through the first two kilometres to the creek, the rain and wind started to set in.
We crossed the creek in bare feet, keen to keep our boots dry for as long as possible.
But for now, the march across the Arthur Plains to Junction Creek began along the overgrown and eroded McKays Track.
Not much to report here, except slogging through button grass. It was tiring and it'd been a mammoth trip until that point. The wind and rain picked up significantly. About 5km out from Junction Creek, the full belly of the beast unleashed.
100 km/h winds turning the rain into horizontal bullets pounded the group on the track, rendering us immobile. I turned to face the rain at one point, and it genuinely hurt. The only thing keeping us from being swept away were the trekking poles firmly lodged in the muddy marsh. After 15 minutes, the wind died down – we could walk again. What an incredible event.
My rain gear had soaked through. It’d also been ripped extensively on the ascent of Alpha Moraine, and the rain had soaked through all my layers.
Running low on energy, still recovering from the herculean 15-hour day before, it was a slow trek into Junction Creek, where we arrived soaked, shivering, and longing to be out of the elements.
Almost selfishly, I pushed on ahead of the group. Keen to get the final 7km from Junction Creek to Huon Campground done as quick as possible.
I didn’t care about the mud bogs. I walked straight through, marching towards the finish line. Yelling at myself to push faster, I’d gone a bit crazy. Genuinely I wanted to be done, to never do this track again, to be dry and have a hot meal. The events of the last few days had pushed me to the limits. Physically and mentally.
The last forest of the trip appeared, and I descended the final short slope that led to the car park.
I had made it. The Western Arthurs Traverse complete. And thank God for that. I said goodbye to Craig and Royston and the other members of the group, as they had arranged a lift to a nearby town. I meandered up the dirt track to Huon Campground, where I set up the tent for the final night.
I was back in Hobart the following morning thanks to an early shuttle pick up. Back in civilization, warm, dry and still couldn't believe it was over. What a trip.
Looking back already (a few weeks after coming home), there is something deep down thats keen to experience the Arthurs again. A sense of adventure and difficulty that I've struggled to find in my 22 years of existence. Some may call it masochistic...
Thanks for reading.
The trailhead is at Scotts Peak Dam, about 3 hours from Hobart. Pass west through the towns of New Norfolk and Maydena. Don't forget a bakery stop at Banjo's in New Norfolk.
Scotts Peak Dam adjoins Huon Campground - a secluded car/tent campground with toilets, running water and a beautiful rain forest surrounding. No booking required.
Trailhead is next to carpark. Many people leave their cars there during the hike. Rangers do check for Parks Passes on the dashboard.
The shuttle bus run by Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences is (in my opinion), an essential booking for the trip. It's $110 each way, worth every penny (see below for notes on hitchhiking).
Aside from John Chapman's South West Tasmania notes and maps (essential), I'd recommend a combination of the following:
This is Australia's hardest trail. Hands down, no exception nor debates. You might see the photos of the picturesque Lake Oberon and think this is a walk in the park. I can assure you, it is not. At times, the trail is a scramble rather than a hike. At times, a misstep could result in death.
Some more 2 cents on various topics that pop up online.
And the obvious:
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