The Abels Vol. 1 laments Mt. Kate as ‘rather uninspiring’. Like its western stablemate Brewery Knob, Mt. Kate’s plain, domed summit is no match for the jagged and internationally recognisable silhouette of Cradle Mountain that lies further south with its Insta-worthy foreground of Dove Lake. I’d wager most visitors to our oldest National Park barely notice it, as they pass its flank on the way to arguably Tassie’s most iconic mountain view.
Date: 8th October 2019 – Summit: 1156m
Distance: About 5km return from Ronny Creek
Time taken: Roughly an hour and a half return, minus the aimless wandering at the start.
Difficulty: Easy enough, neither steep nor technical.
Type of track: Unofficial but the pad is well defined and as of the time of publishing marked with pink tape.
Access from: Behind the huts, just east of the Ronny Creek car park.
Tracey wasn’t gracious with her opinion of the peak either, calling it ‘boring and kinda crappy’. Having already ticked it off her list a year prior, she wasn’t particularly keen to join me for a return trip – I’d be doing this one solo.
The first week of Daylight Savings and a need to blow off steam trail running after a frustrating day at work provided all the motivation I needed to make the trip down to Cradle mid-week and make the most of our newfound evening light. I also still had not yet had the chance to summit Mt. Campbell either – which lies just to the south of Mt. Kate and is a short and simple climb – so ticking both off the list seemed like a worthy and achievable plan.
Alas, the necessary evil of the Dove Lake Shuttle Bus service delayed my arrival to the northern shore of Dove Lake and chewed up valuable daylight, and as such summiting both peaks before dark now seemed unlikely. As a positive though, the threatening low cloud and drizzle to the west had cleared around Cradle Mountain itself, still donning the last remnants of winter snow, so I wasted no time running up the rocky but otherwise easy track to Mt. Campbell and allowed myself a few minutes to soak in the wonderful views before charging back down and making a bee-line down the Dove Lake Road to Ronny Creek.
Not having been able to bring my car into Dove Lake (I would have lost another half-hour of light by the time 6pm came around) meant that I’d be footing it back to Ronny Creek and, eventually, the boom gates back at Pencil Pines. Running the 2km north to Ronny Creek I was lamenting – openly cursing would be more accurate, actually – the rapidly fading light and approaching drizzle. Running the final 5km or so back to the car along the road in the dark with only a headlamp wasn’t a concern, but I’d read that the track up Kate was somewhat faint and overgrown and its start hard to find – not the best conditions to be walking in twilight. Instead, I resigned myself to simply trying to find the start of the track for a future trip, before darkness fell.
The northern and western slopes of Mt Kate, despite their close proximity to Cradle’s tourist hub, are very steep and thickly vegetated, offering no simple access. The Abels Vol. 1 describes best access coming in from the south, via the remnants of an old logging trail and landing that sit behind the Mount Kate House and Alpine Club huts, situated across from the Ronny Creek bus stop and car park, the ‘official’ starting point for the Overland Track. The trail follows a relatively clear section of forest, allowing for simpler access up onto the plateau.
Finding the track however proved rather challenging. Crossing the small creek that runs alongside the Alpine Ski Club hut, I initially followed what I thought was a man-made trail in the coral ferns, but this soon turned into a maze of well worn animal pads and I found myself seemingly too far east and with no obvious entry point into the denser bush. With light and time almost gone for the evening I decided to head back… only to finally stumble upon a firm, semi-gravelled and rather clear track, complete with fresh ruben tape to boot! Ah crud…. looking back at the GPS trace after the fact revealed just how narrowly I’d missed the track on my initial approach. Unfortunately I didn’t end up taking many photographs from here to document where I walked, due to failing light and time, but essentially, if you stick to the northern-most clear areas of coral fern and grass just south of the Alpine Club hut, you’ll eventually pick up the trail.
With the time fast approaching 7pm commonsense really should have had me turning around and heading back to the car (still a solid half-hour-plus jog away), but curiosity got the better of me and with a clear and seemingly well marked track ahead I, ahem, ‘decided’ just to see how far the track markings went up the hill. No surprises how that turned out! The gravelly, water-eroded track at this point is quite obvious and easily negotiated while gaining elevation quickly. With the pink tape highlighting the route clearly even in fading light, before I knew it I was out of the tree line and approaching the low rocky knoll that terminates the southern edge of Mt Kate’s plateau.
Coming up over the knoll reveals the summit plateau to be crossed, with the summit of Mt. Kate itself lying about 1.5km further north across an expanse of mostly low-lying alpine scrub and the odd bit of scree. The rocky ridge is crested with a small deviation to the west, before the marked trail continues down onto the plateau. At several points the route braids into multiple paths, however the seemingly recent pink tape helped identify the most efficient way around the worst of the scoparia. This made for easy and fast progress, which was rather welcome, as I was now really pushing my luck with the light.
The lost altitude is slowly gained again as the northern high point is approached, with the trail snaking slightly left to a compact band of ancient pencil pines. The ruben tape then gives way to stone cairns as some small patches of scree are negotiated.
The knee-high shrubbery then gives way to low alpine health, making for a very trivial final approach straight to the rather unassuming rocky outcrop which forms the natural high point of Mt. Kate. The sizeable man-made stone cairn however – complete with what I’m assuming is an old fence post – removes any ambiguity that the summit has been finally reached. Just in time to enjoy the last view of sunset.
A few photos for prosperity, and a mad rush back retracing my steps before it was properly dark and the rain set in for good. With a real sense of urgency and gravity aiding the decent past the southern knoll, quick time was made and I made it back to the formal boardwalk to the huts – just – before needing to dig out my head-torch. The run back to Pencil Pines in the dark was slower and wetter, but with a bit over 18km and 2 Abels covered in a tad over 3 hours, it had been a successful evening out, especially for a ‘school’ night. A good reason to always, ALWAYS pack your head torch!
Personally I think Mt Kate is a rather underrated Abel. While it may lack the dramatic glacial terrain of the famous peaks surrounding Dove Lake further south, it offers a variety of terrain and vegetation over a short walk, and an alternate view of Cradle Mountain most don’t get to experience. Though you might want to go a bit earlier in the day to make the most of it! 😉