When many folks think of multi-day hikes in Australia, the first names that come to mind are the Overland, Bibbulmun and Larapinta. All three are great trails. However, none of them are as spectacular, and certainly not as challenging as a full length traverse of the Arthur Range. Situated in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Arthurs is a dramatic collection of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier-carved lakes. The rugged nature of the terrain, combined with some of the most extreme weather on the planet, means that this is a route suitable for experienced hikers only. The planning guide below features map recommendations, logistical information, tips and trekking notes, and last but not least, some incredible images from Viktor Posnov – friend, landscape photographer, and one of the principal contributors to Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails.
Note: Since 2002 I have made three hiking trips to the Arthurs. The first visit was a ramble through the Western section of the range, and the last two have involved full length traverses of the entire chain. During my most recent visit in 2016, the Arthurs represented the final stage of what was a 24 day traverse of Tasmania’s Southwest Wilderness.
Distance: 48 miles (77 km)
Difficulty Level: Challenging
Start / Finish:
- Western Terminus: Scotts Peak Dam
- Eastern Terminus: Farmhouse Creek Trailhead
Average Time: 10 to 14 days
- The time needed to do this hike can vary dramatically depending on the conditions, as well as the fitness and experience of the hiker in question. As a general reference, John Chapman, the author of the South West Tasmania hiking guidebook, suggests between 14 and 18 days. Personally, I think this is a conservative estimate. I would say 10 to 14 days would be a more appropriate time frame for most aspirants, given good levels of both fitness and experience, as well as a relatively light pack and a mixed bag with the weather.(Note: Stronger hikers who are carrying a lightweight pack and are accustomed to doing long days in rugged terrain, can complete the traverse in less than a week).
- December to March. Snow, high winds and heavy rain are possible at any time of year.
Direction of Travel:
- Although the hike can be done in either direction, I’d highly recommend going west to east. This places the prevailing winds at your back, no small thing when the Roaring Forties (see below for details) are coming through, and rain is pelting down at a 45° angle.
Getting There and Away:
As of 2018, the Arthur Range Traverse is by no means the easiest trek to access. If you don’t have a friend or family member who can pick you up and drop you off, your options are as follows:
- Scott Peak Dam: The western terminus is situated about three to four hours drive from Hobart. Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences run on demand shuttles, which require a minimum of two people. If you’re on your Nigel No Mates and looking to save some cash, consider catching a bus to New Norfolk from Hobart, and stick your thumb out from there. It has been my experience that as long as you look semi-presentable and have a smile on your face, hitching is still pretty easy in Tassie once you’re out of the bigger towns.
- Farmhouse Creek: This is a tricky one. Chances are you will be finishing, rather than starting at the Farmhouse Creek trailhead. That being the case, unless you are very lucky and manage to time your arrival at the trailhead when other folks are either starting or finishing (Note: Roughly the same odds of spotting a Tasmanian Tiger), chances are you will need to walk a little bit more. And by a little bit I mean approximately 18 km until you hit the paved and semi-regularly trafficked Arve Road. From there you should be able to catch a ride the final 27 km into the town of Geeveston, where accommodation, restaurants, and onward buses back to Hobart can be found.
Maps & Information:
- TASMAP 1:25,000 – Six topographic maps cover the entire route. They are Burgess, Bobs, Federation, Crossing, Razorback and Glovers.
- TASMAP 1:100,000 Old River and Huon. Both these sheets are useful for overview purposes, however, when the weather turns nasty, you will be glad you are carrying the 1:25,000 maps. Note: As of 2015, TASMAP have made it’s topographic maps available for digital download (A$2 each)
- John Chapman’s South West Tasmania includes maps and trekking notes. Now in its 6th edition (2017).
- Do I really need to take all of that?: In this day and age more and more people are leaving paper maps and compass at home, and having all their navigational eggs in the one electronic basket (i.e. their smartphone). Please don’t do this for the Arthur Range Traverse. The terrain and weather in this area is no joke, and if something happens to your phone during the trek, you may well find yourself stranded up poo creek without a technological paddle. My advice is as follows: 1. Download all six of the 1:25,000 maps and the two 1:100,000 maps. Have them on your phone and print them out as well. Keep all information in sealable plastic bags; 2. Buy Chapman’s book, and take photos of the trekking notes to keep on your phone for reference purposes; 3. Take a compass and keep track of where you are on your maps at all times.
- What about food and/or resupply?: This is a wilderness trek and there is nowhere to buy food along the way. There is nothing for it but to suck it up, and carry everything you need from go to whoa. While I would never recommend rushing during a hike, due to the rugged nature of the terrain, I would suggest trying to finish the Arthur Range Taverse in eleven days or less. This may mean slightly longer hiking hours than usual, but the payoff is less weight on your back while out on the trail.
- Water: For the most part, H2O can be found in abundance. That said, there is a high-level stretch or two – the Beggary Bumps comes to mind – in which aspirants will need to carry sufficient water for four to five hours of tough hiking. See Chapman’s guide for details.
Shelter: I’d recommend taking a tent rather than a tarp for any trip in the Arthurs. Be sure that it holds up well in a storm. Due to the extreme weather conditions, this is not a hike where you want to be testing out your shelter for the first time. Note that most of your camping will be done on wooden platforms; the exception being the final 19 km stretch between Bechervaise Plateau and Farmhouse Creek Trailhead. Be sure to bring along some extra guyline in order to tie out your tent. There are typically nails and pre-tied pieces of rope along the edges of the platforms which will help to make things easier.
Clothing: When backpacking in cold, wet and windy regions such as SW Tassie, my preference is for multiple lighter layers that dry relatively quickly and retain warmth when wet. For example:
1. Base layer – 150 or 200 Merino wool long sleeve shirt with zip neck.
3. Outer Layer – No garment is completely waterproof given extended exposure to extreme wet weather. Working on the principle that damp is better than soaked and being comfortable rather than dry is the priority, I look for rain jackets with the following features:
- A good DWR (durable water repellant) finish;
- Relatively lightweight;
- Quick drying;
- Pit zips for ventilation;
- Adjustable wrist cuffs and,
- Fully adjustable hood with a stiff brim.
Footwear: I’d recommend going with a pair of good trail running shoes. Generally speaking they will have more stability, support and better traction than normal running shoes, but will be significantly lighter than boots. Whatever your choice, chances are your feet will be wet for at least some, if not most of the traverse.
Pack Weight: I cannot over-emphasise the importance of keeping your pack weight at a reasonable level for the Arthur Range Traverse. In any type of terrain a lighter pack will translate to a more enjoyable on-trail experience. However, in a rugged environment such as the Arthurs it makes an even bigger difference, not only in terms of hiking comfort, but also in regards to safety. For example, when you are scrambling up and down slippery rocks and root-laden cliffs in the pouring rain, a lighter pack will translate to not only enhanced agility, but also free your mind of the burden of a heavy load, so you can focus solely on the job at hand.
This planning guide is not the place for an in-depth gear weight discussion. If you are interested in dropping your base weight without compromising safety (in actual fact you will be increasing it), check out the Gear and Going Light sections of the website (top navigation bar), or take a look at some of the other resources I have listed on Websites for Hikers and Backpackers and Books for Hikers and Backpackers.
Overview: A relatively short and compact mountain chain, the Arthur’s boasts an impressive collection of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier-carved lakes and moraines. Approached from the north (i.e. from the starting point at Scott Peak Dam), the range rises dramatically out of the mud-laden button grass plains. It’s serrated profile and sheer rock walls have given many a hiker pause for thought; generally something along the lines of, “what the #*!? have I gotten myself in for?”
Rollercoaster: The majority of trekking in the Arthur Range Traverse will be either steeply up or precipitously down. If you’re looking for a hike in which you can stretch out and cover big distances, it may be best to look elsewhere. In the Arthurs 1 to 1.5 km per hour is generally very good going. That being said, the payoff for all your exertions comes in the form of consistently jaw-dropping vistas, and the satisfaction that comes with meeting and adapting to the rigours of unforgiving environments.
The Weather: Speaking of challenges, one cannot talk about hiking in Tasmania’s southwest wilderness without making special mention of the weather. On average it rains 250 days per year in this part of the world. And I’m not talking drizzly Seattle or UK type precipitation. The Arthurs plays host to some of the wildest and most unpredictable conditions on the planet. Thanks in no small part to the Roaring Forties – gale-force westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between between 40° and 50° latitude – backcountry trips in this range are a barometrical roll of the dice at any time of year. In addition to a storm-worthy shelter and good wet weather gear, an ironic sense of humour is highly recommended.
Windows of Opportunity: The odds are very good that you will encounter dodgy weather at some point during your hike. That said, storms often pass as quickly as they arrive in this part of southwest Tassie. That being the case, when you are presented with a clear meteorological window, be sure to make the most of it. This occasionally may translate to hiking longer hours, in order to compensate for the other times in which you will need to cut your days short due to inclement conditions.
Mud: With all the precipitation it receives, it is no surprise that there is quite a bit of mud in the low-lying areas around the Arthurs Range. During the traverse the main places you will likely encounter boggy conditions are at the start and finish. Particularly, the Farmhouse Creek Track section between Moss Ridge and Cutting Camp.
Camping: The challenging nature of hiking in the Arthur Range is slightly mitigated by the fact that there are established campsites situated throughout the route. Most of these are situated in “relatively” sheltered locations. When the elements have taken an inclement turn and/or your energy levels are low, hikers never have to go too far before you can potentially call it a day.
As noted above, the main camping areas in the Arthur Range sport timber platforms. They also have modular toilets, which can be flown out by helicopter when full. Neither of these features are aesthetically pleasing, however, they play an important role in helping to minimise the damage to the Arthur’s fragile alpine environment. No small matter, considering the increase in hiking numbers in recent years.
Federation Peak: Given fine weather, one of the highlights of a traverse of the Arthur Range is climbing Federation Peak. Arguably Tasmania’s most striking mountain, Fed Peak represents a holy grail of sorts for some in the Australian bushwalking community. During my 2015 traverse, I was unable to attempt the summit due to stormy weather, however, in 2016 the conditions were much improved, and I was able to successfully make the hike to the top.
The direct ascent route is a Grade 5’ish scramble, not technically difficult, but extremely exposed. I’m talking six hundred metres pretty much straight down to Lake Geeves. There’s definitely a pucker factor involved.
The route to the summit is cairned, however there are a couple of times when the way is anything but clear. Indeed, on more than one occasion I distinctly recall thinking to myself, “Nah, that can’t be it………can it?” Sure enough, after investigating what at first seemed like easier alternatives, I returned to the cairned route.
When you eventually reach the summit, the top is much bigger than you expect and the panorama is spectacular. Given fair to fine conditions, it makes for a great place to have some lunch and take-in the craggy profile of the entire Arthur Range. Yes, you did just come through all of that! Don’t dally for too long, as the weather in these parts is prone to change very quickly.
Note: It’s worth emphasising that Federation Peak should only be attempted in fine conditions. Additionally, if you don’t have a good head for heights or decent scrambling ability, you may want to give this one a miss. People have died on this climb over the years. You can leave your backpack at the base of the peak, and make the ascent with the bare minimum – wet weather gear, water and a couple of snacks. A rabbit’s foot, dream catcher and shamrock may also be a good idea.
During the traverse are there places to bail early in case I get into trouble?
Yes. If you are hiking from west to east – recommended due to the prevailing winds – it is possible to bail out of the Western part of the range at both Epsilon Moraine and Kappa Moraine. If you decide after reaching Lake Roseanne that you have had enough, you can head NE to Cracroft Crossing and then head west back to Scott Peak Dam via the flat but boggy McKays Trail over the Arthurs Plains (Note: This is the route for the Western Arthurs Traverse, which most folks should be able to do in four to seven days). For details on all of these alternatives, see Chapman’s guide.
I’m not sure if I have the experience to do a full length traverse of the Arthurs. Can you recommend easier and shorter options in SW Tassie?
Apart from the aforementioned Western Arthur Traverse, both the South Coast Track and Mount Anne Circuit represent shorter and mellower alternatives. Chapman’s book contains all the information you will need.
Do I need permits to hike in the Arthurs? Am I likely to encounter many other hikers on trail?
As of February, 2018, no permits are needed. At both the Scotts Peak Dam and Farmhouse Creek Trailheads there are registers where hikers can leave their trekking details. Be sure to fill these in at the start and end of the trail, as well as leave your trek itinerary with a friend or family.
In regards to other hikers, during the primary trekking season between December and March, the Arthurs receives a steady stream of foot traffic. Most of this will be in the Western section. You will also likely encounter other hikers around the Federation Peak area.
Do I need to bring rope?
In his guide book, Chapman recommends bringing 20 meters of rope for pack lowering purposes. I disagree. If you’re in good shape, have decent scrambling ability, and your pack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne (and really you should tick all of these boxes if you are planning on doing this hike), rope isn’t necessary. Indeed, in my opinion it will only add more weight to your pack, making an already challenging hike even harder than it should be.
I’ve heard it said that the Western Arthurs is superior than the Eastern section; is this true?
No. The western part of the range is easier to access, and and with the exception of Federation peak, is the more popular part of the mountain chain. However, having hiked the entire range in both directions, in my opinion the whole chain is equally beautiful, equally challenging, and hikers are equally likely to feel the brunt of the elements, irrespective of whereabouts they are situated between Scotts Peak Dam and Farmhouse Creek.
Hiking in the Arthur Range is an exercise in patience, perseverance and meteorological faith. If you are afforded an extended stretch of fine conditions, consider yourself fortunate to have witnessed some of the best mountain scenery in Australasia. On the other hand, if a big storm front rumbles through and all you see is horizontal rain and thick fog for three straight days, simply shrug your shoulders, have an ironic chuckle and try to remember that Mother Nature doesn’t have a copy of your hiking itinerary. Either way, hiking the Arthur Range Traverse will be a trip you will never forget.
Postscript: The following short video was made by BroshOw2 during a descent of Federation Peak. It contains some colourful (though completely in context) language. I feel like it succinctly sums up what it’s like to go up and down the Fed!
Postscript 2: For more amazing images from the Arthur Range Traverse, see Viktor Posnov’s Western Arthurs and Eastern Arthurs compilations. You can also follow Viktor on instagram, facebook and Flickr.