Mount Sprent | Mud | Thylacines

I walked up a mountain on Saturday and I managed to talk the entire way. This indicates to me that my fitness has greatly improved over the last few months. Last time I walked up a mountain I couldn’t hold a conversation, I was silent, too busy trying to concentrate on breathing and wondering if I was going to die from exertion. People often say I could talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles, and I probably could, but up until now I couldn’t talk walking up a mountain. Winning.

Mount Sprent is located within the Southwest National Park on the freaking amazing Western side of Tasmania. There is one way in and one way out, via Gordon River Road. Unless you just want to bush bash your way for days to get anywhere near it and probably die trying. I guess it’s about 3ish hours out of Hobart, give or a take a bit depending on your driving style. Head past Strathgordon and then turn off at the sign to Serpentine Dam, there could have been a Mount Sprent sign there maybe… I didn’t pay enough attention. You get to the end, there is a dam, you can’t go any further. Get out of your car, get your gear and then walk up hill for about 3 hours.

This is classed as a ‘remote southwest walk’, as the red and yellow sign at the top of the stairs will tell you. The red and yellow sign being a warning sign, telling you that you need to be prepared. There can be fire, trees can fall on you, the weather can go from 18 and sunny to -2 and blizzard in the click of your fingers. There are exposed rock faces, things you can fall off, things you could break limbs on. The track is fairly easy to follow, but like everywhere, it would still be easy to get lost. I make a point of this, not because it is some hardcore walk that only the full on dedicated can do, but because there is a reason these signs are there. On our descent, about 45 minutes from the end we ran into a couple of people heading up. It was about 4pm, they were dressed in t-shirts, no packs, no water, nothing but the clothes on their back. We had a chat and when they realised that the top was about 3 hours away they decided to turn back because they weren’t prepared. Good move guys… What bothered me though, was there was no one else on the mountain. How far would they have gone until they realised? I guess, to be fair, there was only a big warning sign at the start of the track, and no proper track notes. Oh there was a log book, but they never signed that. This walk isn’t a hike that Parks advertise in their tourist brochures, it’s one of those ones that is classed as a remote track or something similar, there aren’t board walks and landscaped paths. So please peoples. Before you set out anywhere in Tasmania to go hiking, hit up google, read about the track you are about to walk, take some gear in case you get cold or it rains, remember your water, just be prepared and don’t just wing it, it 100% could be the difference between going home for a beer at the end of the day or having your family members bury you.

So anyway, I think I got my message across.

This has to be my favourite walk to date. I think I probably say that every time I walk a new track, but I don’t care. It’s my favourite and I want to live there.  You start off walking up a bunch of little concrete stairs, then start a very steep ascent up a fun track full of mud and pine ‘steps’. The first part was very rainforesty, with species such as Anodopetalum biglandulosum and Anopterus glandulosus. This bit didnt last for long and then it got into less rainforesty, more shrubby. The dominant vegetation up the rest of the section was  Leptospermum nitidum, Banksia marginata and Baura ruibiodes and of course a whole bunch others… It was a decent height, maybe 10 meters. The steady flow of water running down the track has washed most of it down the hill, so in parts the bedrock is your track about a foot or two below the vegetation level. The pine steppy bits make some awesome muddy puddles that can be deceiving, but don’t worry, you wont go in any deeper than about your knee. I did notice though that the quartz/quartzite/whatever bedrock was quite grippy, even the wet bits, it was the mud that was slippery, not the rock, which was kinda cool. After about, I have no idea, a little while, the ‘pull yourself up’ track ends and it opens out into a buttongrass, sedgeland vegetation. . It’s still steep, but it’s a bit more a ‘walk’ steep rather than a clamber steep. The views are bloody amazing. The geology is bloody amazing. It is just bloody amazing. At first you try to avoid the mud as much as you can, but eventually get the point where it’s just more effort than its worth, and the sound of boots slurping out of mud is quite satisfying!

Track photos

The rest of the climb is through the buttongrass sedgeland, with some shrubby section here and there around near the gullies. There is a load of awesome metamorphic rock formations jutting out here and there. occasionally you come across some brilliantly folded ones with really distinct quartz veins through them, pretty rad. You sort of go up and to your left a bit, and go over a couple of little hills where you get up over them and then bang, it opens up to a whole new amazing landscape. After a couple of hours you get to a super massive collection of rocks, and on the other side you can finally see the last bit of the hike to the top. It’s around about here where there is quite a distinct change in vegetation. It has changed a bit over the walk so far, but subtle changes, like a merging. Here you hit alpine vegetation. Start seeing a range of different cushion plants and the cutest, shortest, stumpiest little Nothofagus cunninghamii! I love these plants. They are just as happy deep in the temperate rainforest, or exposed on the side of a mountain. They differ in height by a few metres, well maybe more like 20 metres or so, and their leaves are a lot paler, closer together and all cuddled up. But it is the same species, just so much different. Plants are crazy.

After about 3 hours we got to the top. Holy crap, the views are just breathtaking. 360 views across all the mountain ranges. Looking out West you could see for days, so much secluded, untouched wilderness out there, it’s almost hard to comprehend. We were super lucky too, the weather was fantastic. Only a slight breeze at the top, which was nice when you have worked up a sweat getting up their ‘up’ being the word of the day here… It’s all up…

Aside from the freaking awesome world we walked through, the day was a complete success. I did the walk with a mate Lynda, who I met earlier this year doing Field Botany. We had been planning to go off wandering for ages, but uni, kids, life, all those things, made it difficult. Lynda also has the same interest in all things botany and ecology too, so rather than just me being crouched in the mud patting a cute little moss, Lynda was in the mud next to me too! Although I tell you what, that saying”‘If you dont use it you lose it” is pretty accurate. We got stumped on a few plants and could not think of their names, and they turned out to be the common ones. By the way back down we had most of it nailed too. We even struggled for a minute to identify the Eucalyptus vernicosa on top!

Somehow we got onto the topic of the Tasmanian Tiger. Now I want to be a believer, I really do, but I just haven’t seen enough evidence, and for those of you who know me well, know that I need evidence. I’m sitting at 50/50 I think. Perhaps I am a little bit closer to a 60% for the tiger after really studying the vast amount of untouched wilderness there is out there from the top of Mount Sprent. I even came home Saturday night and searched for any papers or research done on them. There isn’t really a lot about. Loads of books and stories, but not a lot of research. I did however come across a paper from 1992 about looking at the DNA from museum specimens that established they are a sister group to the Dasyuridae family (Quolls and Devils) and they represent an ancient lineage. I want to go read more about that, it was an old paper.  I read in another paper that there was very little genetic diversity within the Thylacine population. And with an estimate of the population being between 2000-4000, but as high as 5000 individuals before the government bounty on their heads it seems a long shot they survived it. There was also suggestion that their extinction wasn’t just down to the bounties on their head, but perhaps there was disease such as the Devil facial tumour we see now in the Devils. Is 2000-4000 individuals with a low genetic diversity enough to be a minimum viable population? Or would they quickly succumb to genetic depression, or be susceptible to natural disasters or disease. However, regardless of the information on genetic diversity and predictions on the size of the populations, the fact remains that you can not prove a negative. We may be able to prove that they do exist, but we cannot prove they don’t. There have been many a story from the old bushman who claims he has seen them in various parts of the state. Even now there is apparently a video which shows one crossing a road. Rumours have it that the video is currently being sent to experts to determine if it has been fake and from what I can gather there seems to be quite a bit of belief in this one. Time will tell I guess. Another reason why we need to protect the wilderness we have. Keep it wild.

I use an app called Ramblr, which tracks my walks and all the phone photos I take along the way. You can find the link here: http://rblr.co/VfSP

If you want to read some papers and stuff on Thylacines.
Have a look at these papers, or just type in Thylacinus cynocephalus to google scholar

Bulte, E. H., Horan, R. D., & Shogren, J. F. (2003). Is the Tasmanian tiger extinct? A biological–economic re-evaluation. Ecological Economics, 45(2), 271-279.

Krajewski, C., Driskell, A. C., Baverstock, P. R., & Braun, M. J. (1992). Phylogenetic relationships of the thylacine (Mammalia: Thylacinidae) among dasyuroid marsupials: evidence from cytochrome b DNA sequences. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 250(1327), 19-27.
Paddle, R. (2012). The thylacine’s last straw: epidemic disease in a recent mammalian extinction. Australian Zoologist, 36(1), 75-92.
How about some cool stuff about Mount Sprent and its vegetation.
Kantvilas, G., & Jarman, S. J. (1991). Lichens and bryophytes of the Tasmanian world heritage area I. Mount Sprent. In Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania (pp. 149-162).
Kirkpatrick, J. B., Nunez, M., Bridle, K., & Chladil, M. A. (1996). Explaining a sharp transition from sedgeland to alpine vegetation on Mount Sprent, southwest Tasmania. Journal of Vegetation Science, 763-768.
Bridle, K. L., & Kirkpatrick, J. B. (1997). Local environmental correlates of variability in the organic soils of moorland and alpine vegetation, Mt Sprent, Tasmania. Austral Ecology, 22(2), 196-205.

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