Start - Serpentine Dam, Off Gordon River Road
Length - 7.5km (Return)
Grade - Black
Terrain - Single Track, Rock Hopping, Mud
Vertical Climb - 786m
Summit - 1058m ASL
Time - 3-6 Hours
Signed - No
Date Hiked - 9th April 2021
Best Time - Spring to Autumn
Traditional Custodians - Lairmairrener People
Directions - Located just over two hours 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 through Maydena and continue on Gordon River Road all the way to Strathgordon. Mount Sprent is located further west from Strathgordon at Serpentine Dam. Take the gravel road signed for Serpentine Dam and follow it all the way to the end.
The Hike - Mount Sprent was a hike that I had on my list of potential options for Lake Pedder and with the patchy to miserable weather we had experienced on this leg of our trip so far, it wasn't looking likely that I would get the opportunity to summit it (and get views that were worth the effort). On our final full day at Lake Pedder I received a bit of good news with the predicted rain easing off to present a possible window for me to enjoy a hike. As Candy and Hal had not visited Gordon Dam yet, we headed there after breakfast where we made it all the way down to the dam wall before it started to bucket down. It did produce a nice rainbow over the downstream valley and it was a fun experience to see the dam wall up close.
On the way back to the lodge we stopped off at the lookout near Strathgordon and were treated to more rainbows and what looked like a water spout off in the distance. With the showers rolling through I was beginning to think Mount Sprent would never happen and it gave me a bit of FOMO that Lake Pedder wasn't panning out like I'd hoped. Being autumn and in the highlands, this wasn't entirely unexpected so Caris and I made plans to hang around the lodge, drink hot chocolate and play board games all day. Watching through the long glass windows overlooking Lake Pedder, I kept an eye on conditions and the weather app on my phone. I think you know where this is headed as just after lunch it cleared enough for me to bite the bullet and head out there for a summit attempt. Caris was happy to read her book and have a nap so I quickly gathered my things together and made for Serpentine Dam. Happy to have this small window of opportunity, I would have about four hours of sunlight to get up and back a track that was not described as easy in my research.
Arriving at the car park, Serpentine Dam has a very cold Soviet style vibe to it with the small concrete dam wall leading towards a hole in the side of the mountain. I was half expecting some guards patrolling the wall with AK-47s and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, as the hole looks to be a secret entrance to a facility within the mountain. It certainly looked guarded when I arrived but they were just tourists having a look around. The dam itself does not contain any hydro capacity but instead forms a barrier along with two other dams to create Lake Pedder, which then feeds Lake Gordon and the hydro generators there. Reaching the entrance to the secret facility, it is not very deep but provides shelter from the rain as I discovered the previous day when I came for a nosy around. The hike begins by climbing up the concrete steps to the left of the dam wall and pretty soon you are right in the thick of the damp forest where you will find a walkers registration box (please fill it out for safety purposes). This isn't a well advertised walk as it's steep and not on a marked track so be aware of your abilities and the weather conditions before deciding to undertake this hike.
From the walkers registration box you begin the steepest part of the climb with gradients reaching upward of 50% in places according to my Strava elevation chart. I came across the rest of the tourist party that was at the dam wall with a mother and two sons having a look at what was involved with the climb before deciding not to continue. When I say steep, the track is a series of very small rocky ledges, tree roots or slippery wooden steps requiring big step ups and in most cases, using your hands to pull yourself up. This is where I was thankful I purchased a Peak Design camera clip at the start of the year as my DSLR could easily hang off the front of my backpack straps while my hands were free to climb up the track. Not helping matters was that I was basically hiking up a creek thanks to the amount of rain received over the past few days. Funnily enough the rocky parts were the grippiest and reaching sections of mud was always a guessing game of how deep your step was going to be. There are enough rocks and woody pieces to help negotiate your passage but it's hard work in places and it's certainly a fun introduction to the hike. While most of the time you are enclosed within the small canopy of the undergrowth, occasionally you turn around and the views overlooking the lake and down towards the blocky tower of concrete that I'm sure houses something to do with the spillway controls.
It's certainly reward for effort as you carefully place your feet on solid structures and slowly gain your balance enough to turn around for an appreciative glance around. The super steep section lasts around 600m from the concrete steps and by then you've already gained 200m of elevation, which is really noticeable in places where you can see right down to the tower. As things started to open up, the beauty of this place became next level. Looking to the south and east over Lake Pedder is awe-inspiring, even at this lower altitude and once you're out of the thick vegetation it starts to become a really scenic hike. With the dam and tower now out of sight, there was no man made influence on the surrounding landscape (if you discount the man made nature of this incarnation of Lake Pedder). This is some of the wilderness I was looking forward to seeing on this trip and the mind starts to wander, thinking about what this place looked like before the hydro scheme came along. From what I've read it was pretty wild and inaccessible with the road out here being constructed by literally blowing a path through the mountains with explosives as surveyors then figured out the next step. Speaking of the olden days, Mount Sprent gets its name from James Sprent, former Surveyor General of Tasmania that is said to be the first European to lay his eyes on Federation Peak as part of his expeditions mapping out the wilds of South West Tasmania. He certainly would have had a tough time in the wilderness without modern gear and hats off to him for the work he did mapping out this region.
The banksias along this stretch were really nice to see with some in bloom and providing a nice distraction from the climbing. Reaching somewhat of a plateau, the gradient dipped down into the single digits for a while and the legs were happy with a reprieve. The pale golds of the grassy plain felt pretty special and for the first time I could see what I assumed was the summit to the south west. It didn't look too bad from this perspective but as I've found out over the years, you never quite know what's in store. Looking back across the lake, there was one peak standing out in the far distance that I knew from it's size was Mount Anne, the tallest mountain in Tassie. There are no shortages of epic vistas as you climb up with various crags, peaks, hills and ranges visible no matter where you look. It really is an impressive landscape that the photos don't really do justice to thanks to the static nature of their presentation. The trail through here had thankfully changed from being mostly mud and wooden steps to a more rocky affair, something that made the going much easier despite the flowing creek that was the trail. Picking up the pace a little, I skipped through this section, enjoying my time being free in nature. It didn't last too long as I reached another closed in thicket of Banksia and the gradient returned to moderately steep. While I was on a deadline, I was stopping often to photograph the changing views and distant peaks that were now under siege from passing rain clouds.
Hoping I would avoid them, I knew any real weather would be coming from beyond the summit of Mount Sprent so kept a close eye on how grey it looked ahead of me. By now I was running parallel to a valley and in brief spots you can make out the flow of the water through the thick scrub. While I still had flowing water and muddy tracks to contend with on my own path, it was nice to come across a large grouping of relatively flat rocks where I could stop and adjust my boots as I was developing a bit of a recurring hotspot from my Mount Field West hike. It was an easy fix and I was happy to feel that my socks were still pretty dry despite most of the hike so far involving walking through ankle to shin deep water or mud. Getting going again, I passed an unexpected monitoring or communications station that took me away from the wild feeling of this place. Nevertheless I forged on and was back into some thick undergrowth that required some clambering in sections thanks to some large rocky steps. At one brief point you can see a rocky ledge where the water was cascading off with some green moss looking like it produced the freshest water you could get anywhere. It was too far away to test my theory but one can dream. Reaching the top of this little mini-climb, I was presented with a jumble of boulders and the track led right through the middle of them.
It was a fun experience to pull myself up and over the rock in the middle but shorter hikers might require a bit more of an effort to get over. Again I was grateful for my camera clip although my knees did hit the lens on a few occasions as I clambered over. Once you're on the other side there are two peaks that come into view with the Mount Sprent summit being the bigger one to your left. The way forward wasn't exactly clear thanks to a rocky jumble of platforms and different tracks leading about the place but I eventually found the correct way (head to the right after you pass through the split in the rocks). It seemed pretty simple from here with a relatively gentle gradient to reach the summit (it was still 15-30% for the remainder of the climb). I was happy to see some small Pandani growing, a sign that this was true alpine territory although being very exposed up here, I doubt they will get much bigger. Passing the smaller peak to my right, the views started opening up to the south and south west. Gazing out over the wilds of Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park was amazing as there is nothing but wilderness between here and the coastline. It's incredibly rare in today's world where humanity has spread its influence over pretty much every part of the globe to have a place like South West Tasmania being left to exist (to a certain degree). Of course there are plans to change that but stopping to think about all that land being pristine wilderness is truly humbling.
While the passing weather systems meant I couldn't see all the way to the coast, I took a few moments on the edge of a cliff to admire the various ranges and geological formations stretching out towards the horizon. Making my way up to the summit, the track kind of zig zags a little between the rocky platforms and muddy parts where some more alpine plants started to appear. Clumps of grasses would appear next to the track and in some cases it was difficult to walk through without stepping on something green but I tried my best not to. After switching back to the eastern side of the mountain for the final stretch, you get some of the best views overlooking Lake Pedder from here. Spotting the trig point up ahead, I had one final push to the summit and I was done. It was a fantastic feeling to reach the top and the views from up here were worth the tired legs, wet gear and slightly torn pants. With 360 degree views overlooking Lake Pedder, the other peaks of Southwest National Park and the wilderness extending out towards the coast, this was a special place to be. I was extremely lucky to have no weather up here as I watched several showers pass either side of me during the trip up and to have clear photos all around was a luxury. Along with the metal trig point, there is a rock formation complete with what looks like a concrete chimney, which didn't look connected for heating (not that you're allowed fires).