(Title quote from Bob Brown article in The Mercury)
Part of Tasmania’s Eastern Arthur Range, Federation Peak is described (by the kind of people who know these things) as one of the hardest bushwalking challenges in Australia.
The peak is 1,224 metres high and surrounded by cliffs to the north and south. The only feasible approaches are along two razorback ridges. Fewer than 100 people get to the top each year.
Climbing Federation Peak
(First have a look at this photograph. It’s amazing.)
A successful attempt on Federation requires fitness, climbing skill, determination, and luck with the weather.*
One of the first obstacles is the difficult track, often through thick rainforest and horizontal scrub.
Getting to the top of Federation involves steep and awkward scrambling and a Grade 5 rock climb. The jagged summit can only be reached by a near-vertical climb, exposed to the weather, above a six hundred metre drop to Lake Geeves.
Tony McKenny on the thesarvo website put it poetically, but confrontingly:,and
“If you fall off you will keep falling for the rest of your life.”
First to summit: Geelong College 1949
After several unsuccessful attempts by various groups, in 1947 a party came within six hundred feet of the summit. They passed on information to others and in 1949 a party of four from the Geelong College, Victoria, led by John Béchervaise (who later became known for achievements in Antarctica) succeeded in climbing Federation Peak for the first time. They used 300 feet of rope.
Truchanas and De Bavay
In 1952 Olegas Truchanas and John De Bavay attempted to find a route to the top of Federation from Cox’s Bight. They made two food drops from the flight over, climbed nearby mountains to plan their approach and chose a route northwards up a promising ridge. They met a westerly gale and driving rain and pushed through
“a series of saddles with some of the highest densest toughest scoparia that either of us had ever met.” (letter by De Bavay quoted in Max Barry’s book The World of Olegas Truchanas p31).
The weather forced them to pitch a tent on a slanting ledge near a small cliff in order to survive. De Bavay wrote:
“Our fingers were too cold to open our packs of food. … We had not eaten for hours…. The water ran down the cliff and through the tent under our ground sheets.”
They spent some days recovering at the home of the King family in Port Davey, they attempted a different ridge.
After another day and a half …
“we stood at the pass overlooking Hanging Lake, a beautiful sight. We had pioneered a new easy route to Federation Peak and we felt exultant.” p32
A word of caution: in order to interpret this comment, and the use of the word ‘easy’, we need to remember just how hardened and fit these men were. In its report of the journey, The Mercury stated,
“It is now believed there is no easy route.” Max Barry p32
Jack Thwaites and friends
In 1958 the ascent of Federation was attempted by a group led by Jack Thwaites (notable alumnus of The Friends’ School Hobart, co-founder of Hobart Walking Club, editor of Tasmanian Tramp)
Even these hearty souls didn’t make the summit. Here are some diary excepts:
“We gradually ascended the chimney and found footholds and handholds sufficient to get us steadily upwards. However, where the chimney narrowed at approximately 60 feet, a cold shower of spray met us and quickly chilled us just at the point where it was not possible to hurry… we decided to retreat rather than risk an accident from which it would be impossible to extricate a casualty.”
quoted in Simon Kleinig, Jack Thwaites : Pioneer Tasmanian Bushwalker & Conservationist, p158
The party were disappointed but Thwaites reflected,
“We were very cold and if the truth be known also a little scared, hanging there on a slippery rock face with terra firma 60 feet below us and the chockstone still 30 feet above” p159
The next morning they all rose
“by frosty first light. Looking up they gazed in wonder at the sight of Federation Peak still bathed in the light of a full moon. It was an unforgettable sight.” Kleinig, p159
Because of the difficulty of the climbs on Federation, their exposure to severe weather and the immense height of the vertical cliffs, there have been a number of fatalities. Most recently, a Launceston woman fell to her death on 23 March 2016. A man died there on Sunday 8th April 2007.
In July 2016, an expedition, led by Andy Szollosi, (Hobart-based mountain guide and photographer), scaled Blade Ridge on Federation Peak.
The trip was sponsored by the Australian Geographic Society and the Bob Brown Foundation.
Hemmed in by rain, the group spent the first week inside tents. Then, when the weather cleared, they set out at 5am and began climbing from first light at 8am. But they did reach the top. There’s a breathtaking photo on The Mercury page. Climber Mick Wright said,
“For the first 160m we fought our way through wet rock and slime and mould and moss — it was epic, not what we expected.”
They climbed until about 8pm, the last few hours in darkness.
To get home they walked for three 10-hour days carrying 35kg packs.
After arriving back in Hobart, Wright said,
“My hands are still scabbed up and scarred … and I’m just getting feeling back in my toes.”
* John Chapman suggests allowing 5 and 12 days to walk to the peak, climb it and return. This includes extra time which might be spent waiting for suitable weather.
He provides suggestions on his website and in his book, South West Tasmania : a Guide Book for Bushwalkers.
Thanks to these people for the images
“Federation Peak, South West Tasmania, Australia from the Eastern Arthur range, near Goon Moor” by Felix Dance at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6293998
“Tasmanian Rainforest” by CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35434177
“Floyd scrambling along the track” by Jason MacQueen http://jasonmacqueen.com/
“Alpine scrub north of Federation Peak” by Theodore Dimitriou – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47493825
References and Further Reading
Doran, Kevin (2004). Federation: Australia’s Adventure Peak. Sandy Bay, Tas. : Desdichado Publishing
Chapman, John (1990), South west Tasmania : a guide book for bushwalkers. Melbourne : J. Chapman.
Thomas Tyrone and Close, Andrew (2008), 100 walks in Tasmania, Prahran, Vic. : Explore Australia.
Kleinig, Simon (2008) Jack Thwaites : pioneer Tasmanian bushwalker & conservationist, Lindisfarne, Tasmania: Forty Degrees South.
Mattingley, Christobel (2002) King of the wilderness : the life of Deny King. Melbourne : Text Publishing