Ascent of Clear Hill on 2017-01-03

Climber: Jude N

Others in Party:Lauren B. (Stayed behind)
Pierz N.
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Clear Hill
    Elevation:3930 ft / 1197 m

Ascent Trip Report

To my relief, the road to Clear Hill was free of the obstructive and pervasive "locked-gate syndrome" of the South West. In fact, the trip out was relatively easy, the dirt logging road above Lake Gordon windy but in a good condition. Our first view of the mountain was from the halfway point. From here, we glimpsed the craggy conglomerate cap and western bluffs, complex and projecting at unusual angles. The road gained height as we approached the trailhead, cutting into the side of the mountain with the deep blue waters and flooded trunks of the lake below.

The track began by climbing the steep, eroded embankment by the side of the road, which we initially missed and had to drive back to. About four metres high, some nimble scrambling was required to begin the route in earnest. From here, the track made a beeline for the top of the north-south ridge of the mountain, ascending directly and steeply through very dense low woodland, a mess of young, stunted trees and bushes. Plenty of care had to be taken on the slippery rock and dirt and snagging roots underfoot. The presence of conglomerate boulders above signalled we were drawing closer to the ridge line, and it wasn't an unbearably-long time before the gradient began to reduce. This was not, however, before a couple of slips and falls. A very large upright conglomerate boulder, classically pink-hued and undulating in surface marked the ridge top, standing many metres high. Beneath it lay a shallow pool where we took our first break. Now heading northwards to the summit, the track passed through a new, fantastic landscape of conglomerate stacks, travelling through, around and over boulders of many different sizes. Here, for the first time, we looked out to the east to the magnificent peak of The Thumbs, looking less thumb-like than from the south, but nonetheless majestic. Between us and it lay a deep valley, occupied by the golden swathes of the Clear Hill Plain - a sea of button grass with waves of enormous proportions, sprinkled with copses of trees, probably snow gums. North of the Thumbs (left), we could make out the rim of the mystical Gordon Gorge.

A short while later, the terrain and vegetation opened up, revealing flat heath and low shrubland dotted with low trees and fallen slabs. The path here was fairly muddy, but not problematic to follow. Above, the (false) summit sat upon successive tiers of tilted outcrops, looking a long way off. We ate morning tea on a slab, admiring the sublime beauty of it all. Afterwards, the ascending began again, giving new perspectives towards the south, including Lake Pedder, Mount Wedge, The Sentinels, and an elusive Mount Anne, as well as to Mount Mueller and Field West to the east. The rocky path climbed underneath an impressive angled rock face which nearly cut off the entire ridge. This was followed by an extensive boulder flow - the biggest challenge yet. A sharp eye had to keep a lookout for the next tape track marker, and the gaping holes between rocks and the surprising lack of traction on the conglomerate made it slower to ascend than expected. Once at the top, the ridge was noticeably narrower, and the Gordon Gorge, as well as much of the fine terrain to the north, came into full view. The vegetation had now given away to wiry alpine heath, and the rock formations had become more towering than ever before, cresting the ridge and lining the eastern flank of the mountain as it descended to the Clear Hill Plain.

As it turned out, we were much further away from the summit than thought, with the large rock peak we had been seeing from below simply subsidiary to the true summit. We passed to the right of it after passing a very distinctive mushroom-shaped rock stack. Entering a narrow chasm between the sub-peak and flanking outcrops, we viewed the true summit for the first time since being on the road. Past a gentle grassy saddle, it soared to a lofty dome of rock 150 metres above us. The right-hand side of the dome was particularly dramatic, with sheer cliffs, while the middle looked more approachable but guarded by boulder flows, outcrops and more slabs. It was intimidating and impressive, probably one of most remarkable I'd seen in Australia. After taking in the summit, we decided to eat lunch where we had stopped. It is was quite windy, but we had the protection of rock walls on two sides and a wonderful view eastwards, the best so far. Lauren decided to stay behind here while Dad and I set off for the summit after lunch.

Lunch finished, our group of two set off for the summit, descending down the awkward path to the saddle. The saddle was covered in a mat of flowers and littered with more rocks, and there were shallow pools of red water here and there. Shortly, the final climb began, ascending the lower slopes of the dome as they became rockier. The views were now both towards the east and to Lake Gordon and the Frankland Range to the west. Initially, things seemed easy, but soon enough the track had disappeared amongst conglomerate slabs. We would hunt for faded track markers one by one, often missing those in between or running into dead ends at bluffs or dense, low scrub. Now and then we would locate a cairn or occasionally something that resembled a path on bare earth, but, for the most part, we were stuck carefully rock-hopping hunting for tape. When at last we spotted the trig point it seemed like it had been an interminably long time, and we were elated. The weather was sunny on the top, and the view was no doubt one of the best I'd ever seen. The panorama was now complete with the tumbling precipices of the Stepped Hills and the steepled, mysterious peak of Wylds Craig to the north, and many hundreds of other mountains and ranges, such as the Denison Range, and even Frenchmans Cap, on the horizon. Then, of course, there was the shimmering blue of Lake Gordon, and a full view of the clef of the Gordon Gorge beneath The Thumbs. The landscape I saw was ancient and mystical, the mountain ranges resembling to me the fossilised spines of prehistorical titans, unearthed by millions of years of unforgiving weather.

I was sad to descend, but aware that the afternoon was slipping away from us. There were many boulders to cross, and the descent back to our lunch spot was tedious, impatience resulting in some near-falls. The descent from there did give us more time to enjoy the terrain to our south - both the other mountains and the conglomerate wonderland nearby. The lake was especially cerulean in colour too. I had seldom been as satisfied upon returning from a mountain as I was that day. The physical difficulty was likely on par with Mount Wedge, and the time almost exactly the same, but the rewards were far greater. Clear Hill became one of my favourite mountains.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The striking peak of The Thumbs from the lower slopes of Clear Hill (2017-01-03). Photo by Jude N.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Grade/Class:YDS Class 2
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy

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