For a time
in the early 20th Century, the Australian island state of Tasmania was marketed
as the “Switzerland of the South”, with its multitude of mountains drawing
comparisons to the Alpine nation.
around Tasmania's high country with a less quixotic eye and there is a more
ready likeness to Scotland, with the buttongrass plains resembling moorlands,
and the craggy mountain tips looking moulded from the Highlands.
It is a
comparison that has found a practical equal in Tasmania's Abels, an
aspirational list of mountains more than 1,100m high that is modelled directly
a collection of 282 Scottish peaks above 914m (3,000ft) in height, are a hiking
phenomenon. To a legion of “Munro baggers” they present the ultimate hiking challenge –
to climb, or “bag”, as many, or all, of
the Munros, whether across a lifetime, a single summer or, as in
the case of Englishman Stephen Pyke in 2010, in less than 40 days.
comparison, Tasmania's Abels – named for
Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer who, in 1642, was the first European to sight
Tasmania – are almost unknown, yet they offer walkers a carbon-copy challenge
across an island marginally larger than Scotland.
Rules of play
The list of
Abels was conceived in 1994 by a group of local Tasmanian bushwalkers in a book
Abels: A Comprehensive Guide to Tasmania's Mountains over 1100m High: Volume
One, edited by Bill Wilkinson. Volume two followed 17 years later.
for inclusion on the list were definite. Mountains need to be higher than 1,100m
above sea level and be separated from other mountains by a drop of at least 150m
on all sides. By this set of topographic regulations, 160 peaks across the island
qualified as Abels.
there are fewer Abels than Munros, the task of completing them is a more complex
task. There are simple summits on the list – from the Tasmanian capital, Hobart,
it is only a 20km drive to the top of 1,270m-high Mount Wellington, which overlooks
the city – but there are other mountains so remote they require days of hiking
the six Abels in the brutal Western Arthurs Range,
located inside the World Heritage-listed Tasmanian Wilderness Area that
covers 20% of the island, necessitates a walk through such difficult mountain
terrain that it can take walkers up to two weeks to hike what is often described
most difficult bushwalk in Australia.
toughest mountain on the list, the fang-like 1,224m-high Federation Peak in Southwest National Park,
requires the blind courage (but not the equipment) of a mountaineer, with the
summit reached on an exposed near-vertical rock climb. Along the south coast,
1,120m-high Precipitous Bluff is one of the lowest peaks on the list, but
conditions are so notoriously bleak year round that the mountain consistently foils
The Famous and the forgotten
through the Abels list, however, is also to visit some of the most famous and
recognisable places in the state. The tower-topped Mount Wellington massif is
Hobart's defining feature, rising like a defensive wall behind the city, and
four Abels – 1,2781m Mount Wellington, 1,130m Mount Marian, 1,160m Trestle
Mountain and 1,260m Collins Bonnet – rise from Wellington’s plateau.
At 1,545m above
sea level, Cradle Mountain in the state’s northwest is Tasmania’s fifth-highest
peak, with a distinctive bowed shape that makes it perhaps the most instantly
recognisable mountain in the whole of Australia. It can be climbed in a day
from the shores of Dove Lake, requiring some gymnastic scrambling over large
boulders as the trail nears the summit. It is also at Dove Lake that the Overland Track,
Australia's most famous long-distance walking trail, begins. For Abel baggers,
this 65km trail is a guiding line to a host of peaks.
Overland Track is stitched with side trails that lead to the summits of six
Abels: Cradle Mountain, 1,559m Barn Bluff, 1,386m Mount Oakleigh, 1,461m Mount
Pelion East, Mount Ossa (Tasmania's highest peak at 1,617m) and the 1,480m Acropolis.
For the more determined, it is also possible to branch away to more than a
dozen other Abels, some easy (Mount Campbell, Mount Emmett) and others, such as
Mount Pelion West and Mount Geryon, that are among the most challenging
mountain climbs in the state.
other Abels that are far from celebrated, unknown even to most Tasmanians.
Several are little more than lumps rising from the state's central plateau, and
might barely warrant a glance were it not for their inclusion on the Abels list.
West (1,119m), on the shores of Arthurs Lake can be hiked in a few minutes – if
you can find it through the blanket of scrub – while Sandbanks Tier (1,401m) looks like
little more than a low, rocky ridge above the eastern shore of Great Lake. Climb
to its summit, however, hopping from boulder to boulder the entire way, and you
find that appearance is deceptive. Views at the summit extend across much of
the state, from distant Mount Wellington in the south to the northerly Ben
Lomond massif, topped by Legges Tor, Tasmania's second-highest peak at 1,572m. It
is a view so full of Abels, it can only entice you further into Tasmania's
greatest mountain quest.