With Bender already having climbed Mount Dundas previously – and off doing Wylds Crag and Mount Shakespeare – it was time for me to visit this lesser-known peak. The weather forecast was perfect – which never (seemingly) happens on the west coast of Tasmania. I had some lovely friends walking with me for company and given the longer summer day light hours we could take our time and really enjoy the stroll up this delightful mountain.
Date: 12th December 2020 Summit: 1143m
Distance: Approximately 16km return.
Time taken: 2-4 hours one way. Reasonably fit walkers in great weather could easily reach the summit of Mount Dundas in 2-3 hours tops. A more leisurely but consistent pace would be around 4 hours to the summit.
Difficulty: Moderate. The track is easy to follow, and other than a small creek crossing, a consistent upwards climb and a very minor amount of rock scrambling, Mount Dundas presents no great challenges.
Type of track: Overgrown bulldozer track then padded with ribbons or cairns all the way to the summit.
Access from: Howards Road, off the Murchison Highway.
An early start!
December is a very busy time of year for most people and I am no different. I was in need of a good stretch of the legs but didn’t have the time for a whole weekend away walking – hence not joining Bender on the Wylds/Shakespeare trip. So I looked closer to home for a day walk. Mount Dundas ticked all my boxes, as not only is it entirely doable as a day walk during daylight savings but everyone I know who has walked it has said it is just plain lovely.
My good friends Natty, Haydyn and Les were coming along (P.S. I am a terrible photographer so thanks to Natty and Haydyn for the photos for the blog!). Haydyn was playing Uber driver for the day and was outside my place at the very uncivilised hour at 5:30am. I had been up since the even less civilised hour of 4:30am and was a little bleary eyed. The drive to the west coast from Launceston was going to take longer in theory than the walk to the summit.
Heading to Howards Road
The hike begins a couple of kilometers down Howards Road, which is a small gravel road off the Murchison Highway. The Abels had mentioned it is easily missed as Howards Road is not signposted, which it isn’t – sort of. It is signposted, but the sign is about 300m up the road from the junction, so is pretty useless as far as signs go! There is however a small white sign saying “Mount Dundas” on the side of the highway directly opposite Howards Road. Once on Howards Road we followed it until we reached “the end of the road” – ie. the collapsed bridge and small quarry area. The walk would begin on the other side of the bridge. Boots and packs on we set off around 9:30am.
The walk began by crossing the dilapidated bridge near the car park. Whilst one could not drive a vehicle over it, there are no issues when carefully walking across. Once over the bridge, the disused and overgrown Howards Road continues north-east, but to climb Mount Dundas step off the road at the small cairn just past the bridge, and begin heading almost directly north. A good pad leads from here down to a tributary of Farrells Rivulet.
There was going to be no avoiding getting our feet wet on this trip. Even though it was a warm day and well into summer the creek was flowing quite fast. We took it in turns crossing one-by-one using our poles to steady us as the rocks beneath the water were covered in algae and very slippery. Small pink ribbons on the other side of the rivulet indicated the start of the track proper.
On the Mount Dundas track…
Now officially off Howards Road and onto the Mount Dundas track (which incidentally is shown on some maps and not others) the upwards climb began. At this stage it was all very gradual but the theme for today was going to be “mud – glorious mud”. From the get go, the track was a bit of a bog-fest. Given most of the track is under the cover of scrub until the plateau below the summit, this wasn’t surprising.
Combine notoriously bad west coast weather and near constant forest cover, and I suspect this track never fully dries out. Our boots were wet anyway, so a bit of mud certainly wasn’t an issue. The old bull dozer track led upwards through quite lovely forest. We knew from Bender’s trip report the forest would only get better further up. At this early stage it was mostly leatherwood, waratah, cutting grass, mud… and more mud. The forest is dense, but the walking easy due to the old bulldozer track. There is no scrub bashing at all save the occasional bush obstacle to work around (or up and over).
Whilst the track definitely climbs consistently the entire way to the plateau below the summit, it is not overly steep till then. There were brief sections that were steeper than others, but there were also enough flatter sections that on the whole this walk is not terribly taxing. Taking it in turns leading – so we all got an equal share of spider webs to the face! – we followed the pink ribbons up the ridge. Sunlight streamed through the small gaps in the forest canopy and already at this early hour we could feel the heat above us. The only water available on this walk is back near the car according to The Abels and so the heaviest parts of our day packs were our water bladders. We did find a small running creek halfway up, but this should not be replied upon, especially during the warmer months.
Let there be light!
Three things stand out on the initial part of the climb to Mount Dundas’ plateau. One, there is a lot of bog and mud to wade through! Maybe not Western Arthurs-level, but enough that going home with clean boots won’t be an option. Two, whilst the scrub is dense and ever constant the track leads through it and so for the most part it does not encroach on the track or pose an issue. And three – the false promises along the way are many! From our research we knew that a “more open” plateau lies at the base of the final climb to the summit.
We would frequently pop out of the dense forest cover and think “Ohhhh we must be close” only to have the forest close above our heads again. We were like little jack-in-the-boxes popping our heads up and out of the scrub. Then the scrub would cover us again until the next time we would pop up! This continued for the first few hours of the hike.
Having seen Bender’s pictures of the rainforest area we would reach before the plateau we were all eager to get there. The transition from the drier scrub on the lower parts of the ridegline to the lush, green and textured rain forest happened both slowly and at once. Firstly the ground beneath our feet changed from cutting grass and forest litter to smooth and slippery moss-covered rock. Occasional rotten logs and trees started to task our legs with stepping up and over them. Then, after a noticeable increase in the upwards climb we were suddenly in middle earth. Or at least what I imagine J.R. Tolkien’s middle earth would have looked like.
Wow. The rainforest was every bit as lovely as the pictures I have seen. In fact – it is far prettier than pictures do justice. Every available surface was covered in every available shade of green. Fluffy, spongy, spiky, or soft shades of green. Cool, wet, mossy earthy smelling green. Toppled trees, trees reaching to the sky, trees leaning over other trees. Dr. Seus created these trees, I am sure.
In one spot we found a waratah flower on the ground but no tree. Then looking up Natty found it. Competing for sunlight in the dense rainforest the waratah towered above us, wriggling in and around the stronger trees reaching up. I have never seen such a tall waratah. Even though the going was a bit steeper and a little harder due to climbing up, around and under the fallen trees it was by no means difficult and it was worth it for the visual show nature was putting on for us.
The pink tape was now alternating with bright yellow and black tape as markers leading through the rainforest. It was strange to see biggish lumps of pink conglomerate/quartz were sporadically scattered in the rainforest. (If anyone reading this can give us some information on the geology, please share it below!).The delightful rainforest disappeared behind us but as the new vegetation included fagus, we were not complaining! How spoilt were we today. Until now we had not even glimpsed our mountain since leaving the car. Mount Dundas had been hiding the whole time. Now finally we could see her rocky pimple above the fagus, but only if we craned our necks!
The first glimpse.
We popped out of the forest canopy for the last time. Well – the last time until the final summit climb anyway. As we stepped out of the scrub onto the open plateau, Mount Dundas’ summit came fully into view. Across from the expanse of lower alpine scrub we were standing on, we could see the moderately steep, mostly broken ridgeline we would climb up to reach the summit. But for now we would enjoy the flatter walking across the plateau.
Once again pink tape led our way forwards. It is important to note that a good deal of animal pads lead across this plateau in every direction, so keep an eye out for the ribbons to stay on track. Slushy clay replaced the mud on the lower elevations and in places the narrow clay pad was deceptively deep. Looking up the ridge we could see the band of scrub we would enter before the scramble over the volcanically-derived rock to the top.
Crossing the plateau was easy. The scrub lining the final ridge was a patchwork quilt of summer colour and as it closed over us we pushed on and up. It was steeper going now through this last band of vegetation as it combined the best and worst of the walk so far: mud, dense vegetation slightly encroaching on the track, roots and trees to step over and pull ourselves up on, as well as an added challenge of the occasional rock indicating we were nearing the top. This last scrub band was steep but short lived, and we found ourselves facing the final challenge of the day – the rock scramble.
Summit cone, here we come.
Natty and I are both much more comfortable on scree than Haydyn and Les. So Natty and I would forward scout the cairns to make sure the route was doable for them. The rocks were interspersed with enough small patches of vegetation that you could climb and rock hop and then walk a few steps, repeat. The cairns led all the way to the summit. Haydyn is not a lover of exposure/heights and he aced it so it would be fair to say that even those walkers that have a fear of heights could reach the summit of Mount Dundas. The rock scramble is separated into two distinct sections. The first minor knoll and then the final scramble to the summit. Interestingly the trig point is at a much lower elevation than the summit of Mount Dundas and lies well past the summit further north.
With the sun shinning above us and the skies devoid of any cloud cover we had made the summit in 5 hours (two hours longer than it took me to summit Mount Pelion West). This is a lot longer than it might normally take (2-4 hours tops) but given we had a beautiful day we had taken our time to really enjoy the experience.
With clear skies we could see as far as the southern ocean. All The Overland Track mountains were in clear view including the imposing Mount Pelion West, Mount Ossa, Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain. Frenchmans Cap dominated far to our south east while on display closer to us were Mount Read and Mount Murchison.
After soaking in the views and filling our bellies it was time to stretch our legs and begin our return journey back to the car.