Western Arthurs Traverse Planning Guide

The Western Arthurs Traverse (WAT) is one of Australia’s most spectacular and challenging treks. Situated in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, it’s a lollipop-shaped route that negotiates the western section of the famously rugged and inclement Arthur Range. Encapsulating a dramatic collection of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier-carved lakes, the route is suitable for experienced hikers armed with good scrambling skills, storm-worthy shelters, and a stoic’s disregard for mud and driving rain. The planning guide below features map recommendations, logistical information, tips and trekking notes, and last but not least, some incredible images from Viktor Posnov.

Lake Uranus | Western Arthurs Traverse (photo by Viktor Posnov).

Note: Since 2002 I have trekked the western section of the Arthurs on three occasions. During my most recent visit in 2016, the entire Arthur range represented the final stage of what was a 24 day traverse of Tasmania’s Southwest Wilderness. 

At a Glance

Distance: 49 miles (79 km) approx.

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Start / Finish:  Scotts Peak Dam (aka Port Davey Track Northern Trailhead).

Permits: As of December, 2018, no specific permit is required to hike the WAT, however,  all hikers will require a Tasmanian National Parks Pass. These can be purchased online, at National Park Visitor Centres, Service Tasmania Shops, and most accredited Tasmanian Travel Information Centres.

Western Arthurs Traverse Overview Map (From “Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails” – Gestalten/Honan)

Average Time 5 – 8 days

  • The time needed to do this hike can vary considerabaly 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 excellent South West Tasmania hiking guidebook, suggests between 10 to 12 days. Personally, I think this is a conservative estimate. I would say five to eight days would be a more appropriate time frame for most aspirants, given a relatively light pack weight (i.e. no more than 7 kg base weight), a good level of fitness and experience, and a mixed bag with the weather.

Season:

  • 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 recommend going in a counter-clockwise direction. This places the prevailing winds at your back when you are up on the crest, no small thing when the Roaring Forties (see below for details) are coming through, rain is pelting down at a 45° angle, and you’re scrambling up and down an exposed knife edge.

Yours truly about to make the descent to Lake Oberon in uncommonly fine conditions.

Getting There and Away:

Scott Peak Dam is situated about three to four hours drive from Hobart. As of December, 2018, there are no public transport options to the Scott Peak Dam trailhead.

Shuttle: If you don’t have a car, Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences run on demand shuttles, which require a minimum of two people.

Bus & Hitching: If you are by yourself and looking to save some cash, consider catching a bus to Westerway from Hobart (approx. 2hrs). From this point you’ll need to stick your thumb out. It’s approximately 50 km from Westerway to the turn-off to Scotts Peak, and then another 33 km along the the well maintained Scotts Peak Dam Road to the trailhead. It has been my experience over the years 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.

Lake Oberon (photo by Viktor Posnov).

Maps & General Information

  • TASMAP 1:25,000 – Three topographic maps cover the entire route. They are Crossing, Razorback and Glovers. TASMAP’s topographic maps are available for digital download (A$2 each as of December, 2018).
  • TASMAP 1:100,000 Old River.  Useful for overview purposes, however, when the weather turns nasty, you will be glad you are carrying the 1:25,000 maps.
  • 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 increasingly 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). I don’t recommend doing this for the Western Arthur 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 three 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.

The view from Mount Scorpio | Western Arthurs Traverse (Photo by Viktor Posnov).

  • Food:  This is a wilderness trek and there is nowhere to buy food along the way. You will need to 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 Western Arthurs Traverse in eight 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.

Yours truly looking back over the Beggary Bumps.

Trekking Notes

The Rollercoaster The highlight of the Western Arthurs Traverse is the 30 km (18 mi) plus stretch along the range’s undulating crest. During this section pretty much all of the trekking 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.

Cloud creeping through the jagged quartzite ridge line (Mount Hayes side trip / Viktor Posnov).

The Muddy Plains and Staying on Track:  With all the precipitation it receives (see Weather below), it is no surprise that there is quite a bit of mud in the low-lying areas around the Arthur Range. During the WAT hikers will likely encounter boggy conditions pretty much everywhere except the crest. The most sustained section of mud-slogging will likely be the 19 km (11 mi) stretch from Cracroft Crossing to Junction Creek. Please resist the urge to “bog skirt”, as this will contribute to erosion, damaged vegetation, altered hydrology and a widening of trails. Suck it up, accept the conditions for what they are, and wade on through.

Kiwi Dave on the Arthurs Plains during our 2002 Western Arthurs Traverse.

The opening/closing stretch from Scotts Peak Dam to Junction Creek is not without its boggy moments as well.

Overgrown Terrain: Quite a few parts of the trail between the Moraine K junction and Lake Roseanne are overgrown due to a comparative lack of use (see Alternates below). Many hikers will feel more comfortable wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants during this section.

The Weather: 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.

TIP: Make miles when the Sun Shines –  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.

‘Watching the storm roll in, and then I watch roll away again’; an Otis Redding moment in the Arthurs (Photo by Viktor Posnov).

Pack Weight: I cannot over-emphasise the importance of keeping your pack weight at a reasonable level for the Western Arthurs 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 (see top navigation bar), or take a look at “Tips for Hiking in Cold and Wet Weather”, for environment-specific suggestions.

Square lake (photo by Viktor Posnov).

Camping

The challenging nature of hiking in the Arthurs is somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are a series of established campsites situated at regular intervals along the route. Most of these are located in “relatively” sheltered spots with water sources close by. In other words, when the elements have taken an inclement turn and/or your energy levels are low, you will never have to go too far before you can potentially call it a day.

On the crest, the main camping areas 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. 

In regards to camping on these timber platforms, most of them have nails and pre-tied pieces of rope along the edges which will help to make pitching easier. However, this is by no means guaranteed. Just in case, be sure to bring along some extra guyline in order to tie-out your tent.

Wild campsite at the West Portal (photo by Viktor Posnov).

Alternates

Due to the often inclement nature of the weather in the Arthurs, many (most?) hikers choose to do abbreviated versions of the WAT. The two main bail out points are Epsilon Moraine (situated a little NW of Mount Orion) and Kappa Moraine (aka Moraine K). The latter represents the most common alternate, and cuts off approximately 30 km (18 mi) from the overall distance. Both of these alternate routes link up to the Mackaye Track, which leads back to Junction Creek and the Scott Peak Dam trailhead.

Kiwi Dave gazing out towards Promontory Lake from just above the Moraine Kappa Junction |  Western Arthurs Traverse, 2002.

Six Recommended Side Trips

Many of the best views during the Western Arthurs Traverse come from doing side trips along the route. Below are six of the most highly recommended excursions:

  • Mount HayesStage 2 – Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon) – 600 m / 40 minutes return
  • Dorado Peak: Stage 3 – Lake Oberon and High Moor – 1.2 km / 2 hrs return
  • Mount Columba: Stage 3 – Lake Oberon to High Moor – 500 m / 15 minutes return
  • Mount Aldebaran: Stage 4 – between High Moor to Haven Lake – 2.2 km / 2 hours return.
  • Mount Scorpio: Stage 5 – Haven Lake to Kappa Moraine Jct –  100 m / 10 min return .
  • West Portal: Stage 7 – Promontory Lake to Lake Rosanne) – 800 m / 40 min return.

Side trip to Dorado Peak, in Western Arthurs Range. In Viktor’s words: “It was crazy weather all day; it was sunny on the western side of the range, but the Southern side of the mountains was covered in a blanket of very thick fog.” (Photo by Viktor Posnov).

Experiencing a beautiful sunset in a place renowned for stormy weather, is a little like kissing a girl you have long admired from afar, but never thought you had a chance with. You can’t quite believe it is happening, but when it actually does you don’t want it to end | Sunset from the West Portal (photo by Viktor Posnov).

FAQ’s 

I’m not sure if I have the experience to do the Western Arthurs traverse of the Arthurs. Can you recommend easier and shorter options in SW Tassie?

Yes, 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 to bring rope?  

In his guide book, Chapman recommends bringing 20 meters of rope for pack lowering purposes. I respectfully 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 (the eastern-most terminus). For those interested in a traverse of the entire range, see the Arthur Range Traverse Planning Guide.

Summary

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 Western Arthurs Traverse will be a trip you will never forget.

Postscript: For more amazing images from the Western Arthurs Traverse, see Viktor Posnov’s Western Arthurs compilation. You can also follow him on instagram, facebook and Flickr

(L to R) Cam Honan and Viktor Posnov | For the lowdown on how Viktor and I met in 2016, see The Ukrainian from Cincinnati.

 

 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *