Date: 26th October 2019 – Summit 1444m
If we had known how pretty this hike was we would have visited Ironstone Mountain long ago! As it was, we had put off climbing it until we could climb together, as we would need to rely on Ben’s Garmin InReach for navigation and not my compass. We had heard stories that compass bearings could not be trusted because the rock giving the mountain its name is mainly iron-bearing mineral. We tested this theory during the hike and are pleased to say that my compass held its own with the InReach and didn’t seem at all affected.
Distance: 14.5km return.
Time taken: 6 hours.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium. We found this climb easy but are competent navigators off-track.
Type of track: Well marked and gently climbing until Whiteleys Hut, then untracked to the summit.
Access from: Westrope Road.
A later than usual start saw us arriving at the trail head at 9am. We are both huge advocates of setting off on foot no later than 7:30am as we like as much time up our sleeve as possible, but the weather the night before had been terrible and we had pretty much written off the hike as not going to happen, and as such didn’t even bother setting an alarm. We woke to average weather but donned our boots and thought we would at least make the drive out and see if the weather improved. I always just put out to the universe that I want nice weather and more often than not I get it. It is a bit of an in-joke with my hiking friends who even now tell me “to put it out there” for good weather!
However, as we were driving along the well-signposted Westrope Road the rain was so hard that we could barely see out the windscreen – so much for putting it out there! However, it is Tasmania, the weather can change in 5 minutes and we decided we would walk a bit anyway and could turn around if needed. Within a few minutes of parking and getting into our wet weathers the sun came out and the day looked promising – a good omen!
We parked at the small gravel area off Westrope 2. There are two western creek trails that start here. The signposted trail head at the top of the car park is the scenic loop that eventually joins the secondary route. We had already decided we would set off on the track below the car park as we could ill afford further time loss. The two trails eventually join later on anyway. Taking the lower route would allow us a quicker ascent.
The trail initially wound through a beautiful rainforest-like canopy. After recent heavy rains and snow melt, moss and lichen covered the rocks which littered the track underfoot. Finding our way was as simple as following the reflective markers, ribbon and cairns. Indeed the trail appears to be so well used that these markers are almost superfluous. We were enjoying the gradual rate at which the elevation was climbing and the fact there was no scrub bashing, unlike our previous Abel adventures. That said, there was a lot of debris across the track in the form of fallen trees, indicating it would not be a nice place to be mid-storm.
As the elevation gently climbed the forest canopy gave way a visible skyline above us. Ironstone was still shrouded in a wintery mist but ever optimistic I was still hoping for summit views. Whilst meandering along the trail we could hear the water gushing down Western Creek below us. I was excited to see the waterfall at the crossing ahead but not enthused about wading through fast water! Water crossings are not my favorite part of hiking and I knew from close study of my map that we would make at least two substantial crossings today and a small crossing near Whiteleys Hut.
The track contours slowly up with only small pinches of noticeable heart-rate increasing elevation gain. As the sky began to open before us as did the rate at which we climbed up. Hitting the first of a few very small scree fields we finally felt like we were making upwards progress, such was the gradual elevation climb to this point.
We heard the first water crossing well before we saw it appear through the trees! A most pretty waterfall lay between us and the other side of the trail. After the recent rains the water was flowing fast. Had some wonderful person (or maybe Parks) not fixed a wire rope at the safest cross point I might have been heading back to the car right here!
With the safety of the wire rope hand hold it was a simple matter to reach where the trail continued on the other side of Western Creek. It was also a delightful spot to refill our water bottles as by now the sun was shinning and we were going through a fair amount of water.
For such an easy climb, this hike was taking us a long time. It seemed like every few minutes we would need to stop and explore another hidden waterfall or rock pool, or gaze in awe at pockets of Pencil Pine rising on the river bank opposite us. We were so glad the usual route to Ironstone Mountain (via Smoko Creek) was closed due to the bridge collapsing, or we might have missed out on using this track. Such is the beauty of this hike that it almost supersedes our previous favourite of Mt Rufus!
We were now high enough up that whilst walking we had views of Pencil Pines, waterfalls and rock pools in the gully below us. Perusal of our map indicated that we would meet the second creek crossing not long after the waterfall crossing.
It is important to note that the second crossing is very easy to miss if you are not paying attention. We suspect that many a hiker has continued past this important crossing accidentally as a well padded trail has appeared after the junction at the water crossing. Indeed one of our friends had recently fallen victim to that trap and had to find his way back across the creek upstream.
The easiest area to cross contains multiple ribbons and a cairn, but as they are seen more easily on the return journey they can be missed on the way up to Whiteleys Hut! We had the benefit of prior knowledge about the creek, plus our map indicating a second creek crossing so were consciously looking for it. After skipping over a few rocks we were across and on the trail which was again marked with tape and cairns.
After the latest creek crossing the trail continued up through alpine scrub towards the plateau at the base of Mt Ironstone, and was well padded and marked with tape. From here it took us less than 20 minutes and we arrived at Whiteleys Hut. Excitedly we also from here could see the trig point high up on the summit! I can spot a trig a proverbial mile away and always get a little more than excited when I do!
After checking out Whiteleys Hut and refueling it was time to push on towards the summit. While snacking we had decided on the best route to the summit. There were what appeared to be multiple entry points to the summit but we settled on a notch that would allow us to get close to the trig without having to traverse all along the summit rim. It also appeared from our vantage point to have the least steep entry and least dense scrub!
We continued south east from Whiteleys hut along the well worn trail for about 200m before locating a cairn that we decided would be our marker for entry. Multiple cairns are dotted along the well worn trail past Whiteleys Hut and we are not sure where exactly they lead to. Perhaps down to Lake Ironstone for the fisherman or nature lover. Just beyond this pointy cairn was a small boggy marsh followed by a dense pocket of scoparia which we chose to skirt around rather than push through.
After skirting around the scoparia it was a choose your own adventure through a concentrated but short lived patch of tea tree. Within minutes we were through that section and the remainder of our journey to the summit rim would be through eucalyptus forest and low alpine heath. I led the way making use of the many winding and dried up creek beds to make the walking easier all whilst staying on our bearing to the notch that we had chosen to enter the rim.
Friends of ours had recently climbed Ironstone from Western Creek too and had chosen to climb up onto its rim further towards the western ridge. We chose to enter the rim just south of Whiteleys Hut, heading east as we love a more direct route that cuts unnecessary distance off a hike and our route would avoid what could be risky rock climbs, dense bush and steep terrain. Winning all round!
Whilst at Whiteleys Hut I had taken a direct bearing of the notch we wanted to enter the rim via but given we couldn’t trust my compass our real friend keeping us on line would be Ben’s InReach Explorer.
The eucalyptus forest was relatively easy to get through using the creek beds to avoid the thickest sections. Our choice to stick to the left of the main knoll and to the right of the last rocky knoll paid off with an easy entry to the summit rim.
It would now be time for our first scree hop of the day. The sun was shinning, the scree was dry and so it was not particularly difficult, and we were both enjoying the change in the terrain. The trig had disappeared from sight now but we knew we were barely a few hundred meters from it.
A series of low and easily-navigated rises led – finally – to the trig. Alternating between patches of scree and low alpine scrub intermixed with scoparia. All very easy to climb over or skirt around whilst gaining distance on the trig. We were well under three hours and almost at the trig, even with all our photo stops and waterfall gazing. It had been a very easy and enjoyable day thus far.
With the trig now firmly in sight and the weather feeling decidedly cooler we made haste to the summit. Just as we arrived at the trig soft snow began falling. We had started the day in torrential rain, hiked all day in sunlight that required frequent application of sunscreen and then summited as snow began falling! Talk about Tassie weather. There would be no grandiose summit photos today so it was lucky we had enjoyed the views on the way up.
With the snow falling on and off we decided it would be unwise spending too much time at the summit and aimed to get off the rim whilst visibility was still fair. I began leading us back to the notch in the rim we had entered at. Ben was tracking us back down electronically but I was using landmarks I had noted on the way up to lead us down instead. Amazingly our return route was almost identical to our route up. My internal compass must have been in form that day!
By the time we were off the summit plateau, through the notch and down in the forest the snow was falling heavily. Ben and I always play it safe and pack for all weather conditions on our hikes and love, love, love snow so we were in our element. Warm and dry but surrounded by heavily falling snow is our perfect hiking weather! So beautiful. From sunlight an hour ago to snow sticking on the ground now – bliss.
In no time at all we were down on the western side of Ironstone and were once more approaching Whiteleys Hut on our homewards journey. In the brief time we had been away (under 1.5 hours) the snow had fallen heavily enough that the ground was blanketed in white. Even with the dusting of snow over the trail from Whiteleys back to the creek was easily followed.
Skipping back across the rocks at the creek we were back on the trail that would lead us to the waterfall crossing and then finally back to the car park. We had enjoyed a most enjoyable day of mountain climbing, sunlight, waterfall gazing and wintery snow. I don’t think anywhere else in the world you would find more natural beauty than right here in our home state of Tasmania.