I’d been keen to extend the legs on a longer hike, so when my colleague Tim said he was interested we started planning a date we could both commit to. We originally planned for Lake Mavis, however the rain preceding the weekend made it unlikely we would be able to cross the Bealey River, so we changed plan to head up to Tarn Hut.
Don’t underestimate the length of the drive in – it’s a shingle road for 30km, and the actual turn off into the start of the track is not overly sign posted. You need to drive across a private field for 3.5km on a pretty rough track – my Prado was definitely shaking around a fair bit!
If you want a 3 minute overview of the hike, check out this summary video:
Day One & Hike Up To Tarn Hut
Here are a couple of maps of the route we followed:
Route map for Tarn Hut Hike, Lees Valley by Sam McNeil on plotaroute.com
To be honest, you need to pay attention at the start – we had read a few blogs of other’s hikes and the repeated message of “follow the well defined 4WD track all the way to the top of the hill” sent us off on the wrong track initially! After heading down from the car park we saw the orange marker on the near side of the Ashley River leading to a crossing with the 4WD track clearly visible on the far side. In our eagerness, boots were off and we crossed, heading off on the wrong 4WD track!
PRO TIP: head down towards the river (but do not cross), and follow the true right of the river bank along the fence line. You’ll soon see the orange markers and you’ll move up out of the tussock and onto the correct 4WD track.
About 3.5km along the river you’re met with a fork in the track where you can choose the Youngman Stream Track or head up the Lillburn Hill Route directly to Tarn Hut which we took. The Department of Conversation website noted:
The unforgiving route climbs very steeply up a ridge to the summit of Lillburn Hill for 1 hour 30 minutes. Tarn Hut is a further 20 minutes on from the summit.
In our experience, this was not an exaggeration and it was an unrelenting slog up the hill on a hot afternoon. There were, however, some amazing views back down the valley, showing just how much elevation had been achieved:
We were keen to reach the summit and the Tarn before dark with the hope of seeing the sunset over the water and, with tired legs from the climb, we made it just in time.
All up, we had walked just under 11km and climbed 890m in elevation in just under 3hrs.
There were a couple of young hunters occupying the hut and two tents pitched at the north end of the Tarn already:
Even though it had been a hot day, with the sun slipping below the ridge it cooled quickly at 1350m elevation so it was time to pitch tents and cook dinner. The Tarn was surrounded by very spongy moss which I expected to be damp, however it was not really and was very soft to sleep on. I was a little concerned that if a strong wind came up overnight the pegs would not hold the tent up as the moss was so soft. Fortunately, it was an incredibly calm night and hardly a breath of wind.
With a very clear sky, we saw some amazing stars and the Milky Way on full display.
Day Two & Hike To Youngman Stream & Exit
Route map for Tarn Hut To Youngman Street & Exit by Sam McNeil on plotaroute.com
After an uneventful sleep, we awoke to a stunning day in time to see the sun rising beautifully over the Tarn looking like a mirror:
We had a chat with the other campers who had come in from the Youngman Stream and were keen to get some ideas on how difficult that was likely to be. Given the steep grind we had done the previous afternoon up the Lillburn Hill, we were hoping it would be a bit easier! Their report was it was steep but would be mostly downhill initially all the way to the Youngman Stream, before needing to climb again to head out.
Summiting the hill overlooking Tarn Hut was an easy start to the morning and immediately offered up some stunning views:
Views from the summit of Lillburn Hill
From this point it was a steep descent all the way to the river, with Tim and I frequently mentioning this would have been a tough way to come to Tarn Hut on the back of 6hrs up the river! Unlike the 4WD track we’d ascended the previous day, this track had diverse views and constantly changing environments including this ominous looking forest we had to negotiate:
Having decided not to drink or boil water from the Tarn, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival at Youngman Stream where we could drink deeply from fresh river water and refill the water supplies. Having taken just under 2hrs to reach this point, it was somewhat disconcerting to see the sign suggesting it was another 5hrs out to the car park!
It was a rude awakening to the resumption of climbing as well – ascending from the Youngman Stream we climbed over 100m in short notice, getting the heart racing and feeling every kilogram in the packs! The track over the next few hours was washed out in a few places and a little precarious – definitely a place to take extreme care with a few places where a slip could have serious consequences.
The new hiking poles I’d picked up earlier in the week definitely proved their worth with this constant ascent and descent testing out my knees and also balance in some of the slipperier places. With temperatures in the high 20’s Celsius, we had regular breaks in the shade when we dropped back into the forest and also took on a lot of water (I drained my 3L CamelBak resevoir between the Youngman Stream and entering the car park). If you’re going to do this on a hot day, definitely be mindful of where you can refill your water.
It was with some relief we emerged back at the junction knowing we had only around 3.5km of relatively flat ground to cover before reaching the car park. We charged on as fast as we could, keen to relieve ourselves of the packs and jump into the car for the ride home.
All up, we covered around 16.5km on the way out, with an ascent 430m but a pretty knee-taxing descent of 1250m in 5.5hrs (moving time)
Tim asked me on the ride home for my one word summary of the trip. With the effort fresh in my mind I used “challenging” and he chose “slog” – both are fair descriptors of the hike on two hot days, where we chose to move at a pretty consistent pace and never stopped for more than 10-15 minute breaks.
If you search on the internet and look on YouTube you’ll find some other blogs of this hike in very different weather – snow capped mountains and howling gales. We completed it on the last day of summer and the first day of autumn and were probably thankful there was not a strong wind blowing. The area around Tarn Hut was beautiful and, if we’d arrived earlier in the day, I’d like to have explored that a little more. Similarly, we could have taken a more relaxed pace back along the Youngman Stream which would likely have made it more enjoyable.
All in all, not a hike I’d rush back to repeat, but certainly one I really enjoyed.