Mount Field West
Start - End of Lake Dobson Rd
Length - 20.2km (Return)
Grade - Black
Terrain - Single Track, Boardwalk, Rocks, Mud
Vertical Climb - 816m
Summit - 1434m ASL
Time - 6-12 Hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 5th April 2021
Best Time - All Year Round (Take Care in Winter)
Traditional Custodians - Lairmairrener People
Directions - Located 90 minutes west of Hobart, take the Brooker Hwy north and follow the signs for New Norfolk. Pass through the town and follow the signs for Westerway and then Mount Field National Park. Pass the visitor centre and drive up the winding Lake Dobson Road all the way to the car park at Lake Dobson. The trail starts near the day-use hut.
The Hike - Ever since my first visit to Mount Field National Park in 2018, there was one hike that I looked at and really wanted to do. Having tackled the Tarn Shelf Circuit and enjoyed that immensely, my thoughts after that were towards the Rodway Range and Mount Field West, the highest point of the park. Having loved my first taste of Tassie, there would be no doubt that I'd be back to experience the great hiking that is on offer here. The opportunity to return for a third time in three years presented itself with a self-drive holiday proposed by my partners Aunt and Uncle, instead of a wine and cheese hike that we'd been on before (see the Three Capes and Bay of Fires posts to read all about them).
After a relaxed start to the day that included a nice home cooked breakfast at our accommodation, we made our way up to the Lake Dobson car park and tackled the Pandani Grove Nature Walk first. It was a nice warm-up and one I was happy to finally put on the website given it provides an accessible walk to those that maybe don't have the fitness or time to tackle the more strenuous alpine walks that start from Lake Dobson. With the Pandani Grove walk finished we set about repeating the first section of that walk to get onto the Urquhart Track that leads up the hill towards the Mount Mawson Ski Field. No one else was keen to tackle the 20km return trip to the summit of Mount Field West but I had convinced them that hiking up to the Rodway Hut was a great chance to see the Tarn Shelf in the distance and perhaps get to see the changing colours of the fagus that this part of Tassie is famous for. Even though it was a bit of a climb (Caris isn't a fan of big climbs), they all agreed and would join me on this first part up the mountain.
Finding the Urquhart Track a short distance into the walk along Lake Dobson, I was familiar with this one after coming back down it on the Tarn Shelf Circuit. I was looking forward to doing it in the reverse direction, even if that meant hiking up the somewhat mundane vehicle track leading to the ski clubs. The Urquhart Track was magnificent though with a narrow path leading through the Snow Gums and Pandanis containing a wealth of interesting life. The pace was slow going and it wasn't due to the increased gradient, we were all having a good look around at the various berries, moss, fungi and lichen. I was having a blast stopping every few steps and taking a photo of something that caught my eye or a new view of the lake below. The single track lasts about 600m before you reach the zig zag of the vehicle track and begin a bit of a slog up the wide road. Around this time we were passed by a few groups and not wanting to push my luck with my group, decided that a slow pace would be a good thing. While everyone made their way up to the various ski clubs that are built at the top, I took great pleasure in photographing the Snow Gums and the moody scenes looking back the track towards Platypus Tarn and Lake Seal.
Making it to the top where the Oldina Ski Club and Mount Mawson Ski Lodge are located, I regaled everyone with a tale about how my Tarn Shelf Circuit post was shared by a popular page on Facebook and some old man tried to have a go at me for taking a closer look at the ski clubs because they were private property. I'm sorry but you build your private properties in the middle of a national park and people will have a look, I wasn't breaking in but was curious as to what they were on my first visit. I had a bit of a brain blank here and was sure the climbing was mostly out of the way so when we joined the Snow Gum Track, Caris wasn't a happy bunny given the terrain was still going up. Luckily this is the start of some pretty terrain that would last all the way to the summit of Mount Field West. It had started to mist over again as we climbed up the rocky path and through the Snow Gums so I was a bit wary I might have dragged everyone up here just to get white-out conditions. Reaching the first of many lookouts along this stretch, the views down to Lake Seal were excellent and worth the journey up here for.
We kept going and on towards the official Lake Seal Lookout where the Tarn Shelf Track and the Snow Gum Track meet. Boardwalk through this section helped pick up the pace and the terrain had now flattened out relative to what we had just done. Lake Seal Lookout is a short detour off the main track but provides the best views along this stretch looking out over the lake and across the valley to the beginnings of the Tarn Shelf. The mist was sweeping in and out of the valley, creating some fantastic scenes where parts were hidden one second and then revealed in all their glory the next. Moving along the boardwalk heading towards Rodway Hut, the moody conditions continued and I was slightly worried that this would be what I'd experience at higher altitudes later on in my hike. For now though it was a case of admiring the stunning views looking across to the Tarn Shelf that was very inviting but not what I was here for today. I searched in the distance for the orange hues of the Fagus changing colours in autumn but could not see a hint of it yet.
Reaching the wooden boards that mark the track intersection between the Tarn Shelf Track and the Rodway Range, the Rodway Hut was a short trip down the hill but the others weren't too keen on heading down just to hike back up. We admired the views for a little longer before I wished everyone good luck on their return journey back to Lake Dobson along with promising Caris she could have all my stuff if I died. Ahead of me was new terrain that I was keen to explore and looking up at the climb, I was wondering how much I would actually be seeing. Following the markers up the hill, this would be a 100m vertical ascent to the top of the Rodway Range but it felt like more than that thanks to the very rocky nature of the track. After passing under the old ski lift that leads up the hill from the Rodway Hut, I encountered the first of many boulder sections that would require a bit more thought to navigate than the usual left-right-left walking combination. While there was the occasional orange pole to see where the next section of track took you, navigation is via the rather obvious red paint on rock method that while useful in guiding you, isn't very leave no trace. With the weather not getting any better, I had fun shooting in the moody conditions and was joined by a Currawong.
Rather than seeing this as an ominous sign with their yellow eyes and black body seeming a little sinister, I enjoyed the company like I did whenever I came across a Raven on the Cape to Cape Track. The terrain flattened out eventually and I was left in a landscape that resembled the opening scenes of the Two Towers. I may have quoted a few lines from their time trying to find a way through Emyn Muil because it really felt like I'd been here before when I came across a new boulder field. Descending down into a little valley provided a pretty cool wow moment as you are presented with a rubble pile of very large boulders strewn up and down the depression that I believe is called the Lions Den (Tassie really know how to name their tracks). The photos don't really show the scale but as you walk along the northern edge you can't stop looking at them in awe. There is another small uphill through yet another rocky obstacle course and it was a case of negotiating a section, stopping and then trying to find the next cairn or orange marker. From here it's a sustained downhill where you get a tricky experience jumping from rock to rock with some a lot more stable than others. It's slow going and I didn't really have anything else to distract me with a wall of grey ahead of me. This felt very familiar as the last stretch up to the summit of Mount Field East is like this and one I'd done on my first visit here in 2018.
It was at this point I was starting to think that I'd never get clear skies and this hike might have to be one for the personal collection rather than shared on here simply because a post with nothing but grey photos wouldn't be very interesting. Trudging over the boulders carefully and then down rocky streams, I caught a glimpse of the tarns below and it gave me a little hope. Passing some pines and towards the bottom of the hill, I was rewarded with the parting of the clouds to the north and the glorious Hayes Valley revealed itself. To the right was the striking formation that is called The Watcher with the K-Col Track snaking through the landscape towards it. I was a happy hiker to see a view of any sort and this was the point where I hit a groove and it started to feel really good. Reaching some boardwalk was a lovely relief and it marks the intersection of the K-Col Track and Mount Field West Track. Taking the K-Col Track runs you past The Watcher and eventually links you up with the back end of the Tarn Shelf Circuit but my journey today was taking me west. I love the weathered and lichen covered wooden signs here pointing you in different directions as it has so much character from surviving in the harsh alpine conditions over the years.
From this spot you can see the track leading up the hill towards the K-Col Hut, an emergency use only shelter that is one of many spread throughout Mount Field. I had a bit of a break here, signed the log book and enjoyed a sit down out of the wind. It's a cramped place but it's not meant for too many people and is really only if you're in desperate need. I had a navigational error here as I followed an incorrect path up the hill instead of going to the right of the hut and joining the proper track. It wasn't long before I realised the error of my ways and course corrected. Looking back at the hut and the Rodway Range, the weather had cleared significantly and it was almost an idyllic autumnal day in the mountains. As I continued forth on my hike, there was still a shroud hanging over Naturalist Peak and its full character had not yet been revealed. The mystery would remain for now as my gaze kept wandering to The Watcher and the glacial valley carved out below me. The glimmer down below of Lake Hayes grew brighter as the rolling mists blew over and a swath of Pandanis added an interesting focal point to photograph. As I'd descended down to the same altitude as when the others departed back to Lake Dobson near the Rodway Hut, there was a lot of climbing to go until I'd reach my turnaround point.