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Fruitlands to Bannockburn: Jan 28, 2023

via Old Man and Old Woman ranges and Carricktown track

Report by Dave vB

It was an early wake up for the girls and I, to be at Symes road for 9am sharp meet. 8.56am had us turning into Symes Road in last place awarding us the privilege of writing this trip report! ☺

After a good brief from trip leader Kevin, and a last minute spark arrestor to replace the one sitting ready on Hamish’s workshop bench, we quickly gained altitude as we climbed up through an impending cloud layer, and chatter over the radio indicated some doubt of the views available from the top.

Fortunately, we leveled out into near clear blue skies above Old Man Range and made a right turn toward the Obelisk, a 26m stone face, the highest point between it and the south pole according to a quick search on google.

20 of us parked up in front, 9 trucks, from left to right:

Tail-end Charlie Raymond in his cruiser, Paul and Murray (Jeep), Dave P with Emma and Juliette (Landcruiser no.2) Keith with Lois in the lifted Pajero Sport, Rod and Anne in the Disco, Leigh and Shaune had retired the Terrano and were christening their smart looking Raptor, Myself (Dave vB), Katrina and the girls in the Gen 3 Pajero, Hoggie and Jo in the Patrol. Last but not least Kevin leading in his Prado.

The Obelisk provided a lovely morning tea stop with many of us exploring the surrounds, rocks, buildings a few cheeky wee stops as well as the little ones attempting to climb.

Next onto the modestly named Hyde rock, some stray cloud covered the enormity of the drop, we confidently approached an unknown overhang. Some of us quickly retreated while the very brave Leigh seemed to mock our fear of heights taking a casual seat with feet dangling about 1000 foot high over the edge!

Next stop would be our lunch, we drove along disused fence lines, -many crushed in places by previous snow drifts. The reality of the effort required to farm these barren mountain tops, with very little vegetation, made the conversion to a conservation area very understandable. We came across a few mobs still farming the area as we dropped down off the main route into the Fraser river basin.

Another stunning lunch spot was found next to the river, and a couple of trucks repositioned after soft ground was encountered next to the road. Closer inspection showed where a previous vehicle hadn’t been so cautious and had proceeded into swamp like conditions in sphagnum moss further off the track. After lunch, and some fresh snow berries harvested from the side of the stream, we switched to low range and lockers as we made a 120deg turn up a steep switch back and climbed up and out of the valley.

As we straddled ruts and watched for sharp rocks we also saw evidence of where trucks and motorbikes blatantly leaving the road to “play” in swamps. Keith explained the long term effects of which would remain for over a hundred years damaging fragile marsh, imperative in the ecosystem to hold water up in the ranges after the snow melt.

We enjoyed stunning vistas, with views across endless rolling plains, amazing rock formations and an ever increasing weather score, saw us covering the Old Woman Range and up to the highest elevation of the trip at about 1750m above sea level.

In the distance were the Remarkables, Mt Aspiring and the odd patch of stubborn snow. The temperature started to climb and we made our way toward Old Woman Hut.

Unfortunately we had a minor breakdown when the trip leader Kevin’s Prado came to an abrupt halt thanks to a dead alternator and flat battery.

We all had an impromptu break while the battery was swapped out – no shortage of supervisors or advice to get the Prado going!

Thanks to the assistance team and Dave’s dual battery setup a quick change had the convoy happily wheeling again and we headed on to Old Woman Hut where the first toilet facility since the start of the trip was a welcome sight for some.

Next it was on to Duffers Saddle with everyone given the option to “choose your own level of adventure” - with two tracks to Duffers Saddle, an easy road to the left, or for the more adventurous a climb to the right. Everyone chose the climb. We enjoyed some wheel lifts and a thumbs up as the almost standard Pajero defied gravity and the grip limits of its half-life mud terrains.

The convoy spread out as we allowed each other to tackle the terrain, this meant we never saw Dave P’s trip through the bog, and hence did not pick up on the sarcastic element of his tongue and cheek comment stating how the bog on the right had a good clear bottom.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I swung a hard right as the bog appeared and went boots and all into a sticky deep bog. About halfway through I realized a lift kit would come in handy about now, we lost momentum and bellied out.

Surprisingly the girls didn’t want to hop out and push so thankfully Dave P came to the rescue with his trusty winch. After a winch back and another crack at it, Dave saved the day with a final pull up and out of the stench.

Thanks to all who assisted, a team effort meant we were ready for the final leg. With the play in the mud complete, Rod and Anne, Hoggie and Jo and Paul and Murray headed back down the Nevis Road home, while the remaining 6 trucks descended down the Carricktown track.

The trip down was rather smooth other than the routine check in my rearview mirror revealing a brave Raymond in what appeared maximum tip angle for the cruiser, he later mumbled “I nearly rolled on that last bit”, we then proceeded on to the Bannockburn pub for a well-earned debrief.

71 kms all up – just over 8 hours start to finish. Special thanks to the team who recon’d the track and made this an outstanding day!

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