The Tothills, an unexpected paradise.

Today I climbed the highest point of the Tothill Ranges in mid north South Australia on a whim in only a few hours round trip from Farrell Flat, I love those great days that come from nothing. Some positively amazing weather conditions coinciding with me not having my DSLR of course and a phone at 10% with a crap camera. I wish I could share the images of a particular moment we witnessed but I guess this moment will be reserved for just me and my mate. Suffice to say there were some truly beautiful and tranquil scenes, not to mention rare atmospherics.

The 25km stretch of the Tothill Ranges looking south. The total length of this ridge is over 50km ending near Burra. We climbed the two largest peaks in the picture.

The traverse began from the Heyson Trail where it crosses the range on Mollers Gap Road, there are two large peaks due south of the pass with the second being slightly higher and the highest of the region at 676m, despite being quite a defined peak it remains unnamed. We hadn’t anticipated making it to the highest peak but after reaching the first peak in good time along a spine of quartzite with minimal vegetation we felt confident. It’s has a unique feel this range with a Flinders Ranges style look to the area but with southern Mount Lofties vegetation. Along the ridgeline sheoaks dominate with yaccas widespread with some very old individuals. Kangaroo thorn was also thick in places, with native grasses and small shrubs making up much of the rest but overall due to the rockiness there was always a clear path with minimal bashing.

Mollers Gap Road and the rocky ‘pass’ where we began in light misty rain. The range is really distinct from pretty much every other range in the mid north being made of Gilbert Range quartzite, the ridge consists of predominantly jagged rocky ridgelines, much like the Flinders Ranges. Most mid north hills are well worn and rounded.

We had limited time given sunset but decided to go ahead to the second peak, dropping down into a saddle as we watched tentacles of ghostly rain dance towards us across the broad valley of the upper Light River. Almost scrambling now up a rocky outcrop a previously obvious path disappeared beyond this area and we encountered much more vegetation in the area between the two main peaks. I’m not sure if many people even climb the first peak, let alone take a longer route to the highest peak, I feel like it must be climbed rarely.

Climbing to the top of the first ridge with my companion, as showers linger to our north, the cloud base lower than our elevation.

Looking east towards Robertstown and further on to the Murray Flats in beautiful light.

Looking north over the first peak we climbed during the assent of the main peak. The view over a relatively large remnant population of woodland was very nice.

Just before the summit we lost visibility which was a shame as we didn’t get to see the view due south, however the views to the north west were astonishing with rays of light glistening upon Apoinga Lagoon as winds ruffled the trees signaling approaching weather. Within a minute of the misty rain beginning we lost visibility and now at a reasonable height the temperature drop was very noticeable, at a guess to around 7 degrees and was stinging the now saturated extremities in the wind. Mind you, it felt refreshing to finally feel properly cold air for the first time this winter. During this period we stumbled upon a burnt patch of Yaccas along a narrow ridge, we figured this small burnt area to have been started by lightning. A longish period of mostly level walking proceeded finally finding the summit cairn which is placed on a narrow ledge on the small mountain-top. We were very damp as we observed an old survey point and the classic metal cairns hills rarely climbed seem to frequent. I love the old South Australian survey points as the views are always extensive, this would have to be at least the fifth I’ve found in the Mid North.

The summit in misty rain and fog.

The survey point.

It was foggy by this point but 5 minutes earlier from this vantage point we could see south along a broad valley that births the River Light, onwards to the Barossa Valley. The ranges of the Clare Valley could be seen to the west, the hills around Burra to the north, and overtop Robertstown for a hundred kilometres onto the flats towards the River Murray. You could even clearly see Burra Creek gorge cutting through the ranges to the north east. It’s a pronounced peak and has unobstructed views in all directions.

Apoinga Lagoon baths in wet sunlight.

A short linger at the summit and we made haste giving the rapidly vanishing daylight before witnessing something astonishing just before descending off the main ridge of the higher summit. The rain cleared followed by orographic fog hugging the range and cascading over the summit much like you would see on Everest. But then the sun broke through and illuminated a very rare meteorological phenomena for South Australia, the most incredibly vivid brocken specre with multiple rings surrounded by the brightest and strongest fogbow I have seen, complete with a rainbow at the top from lingering drizzle and covering some 270 degrees of the sky, nearly a full circle. Combine this with epic views and fog glowing all around and words will never really do this scene justice, it was one of those super rare, genuinely jaw-dropping moments. The ones that make climbing random mountains like this special! The brocken spectre was incredibly psychedelic in nature with colours inverting many times, I feel privileged to have seen this. Unfortunately my camera died literally two minutes before this.

One of the last pics before the battery died, you can see the sun starting to shine into the orographic fog.

A video as my phone died…the absolute magic happened minutes after this 😦

I decided to write about this ‘micro adventure’ as it was a pretty special day. Probably only 6-7km of strenuous climbing overall but an unexpectedly good hike. I’m planning some more adventurous hikes soon, hopefully I am blessed with similarly good luck (and a bloody camera this time!)

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Storm outbreak/Widespread large hail, 11 November 2016

It had been a long time since the previous storm event, October was an incredibly slow month, with only light rain events and mostly cool weather, it had felt more like the autumn doldrums as I call them, the warm dry period that usually occurs most autumns. However finally we had a low come down, and after triggering some massive storms in NE South Australia overnight, we had some good moisture to work with the next day. Combined with a nice overhead jet, warm temperatures and a decent shear profile and very steep mid level lapse rates, we had a highly unstable atmosphere which delivered widespread large hail, and some of the worst hail damage seen in decades to some areas.

I’m not going to write too much about the other storms that occurred this day but it was a very significant outbreak. Many splitting cells occurred, with many supercells resulting. Large hail was recorded from at least half a dozen cells, with the Adelaide area, mid north, riverland and murraylands and even Kangaroo Island all experiencing this. Damaging winds were widespread, with locally destructive winds in the east extending into NSW and Vic associated with thunderstorms. Two cells in particular were the big ones in this state, one that formed off the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges, originating near Gawler, formed a huge high based supercell which died near the border. The second, forming off the northern Mount Lofty Ranges near Burra, tracked across the Riverland, eventually forming a squall line and MCS which tore through Mildura and kept on going for another hundred kilometres before weakening out and dissipating eventually. This was the cell I was on, and I tracked it from the moment the cap broke.

I had decided to stay behind this cell for a couple of reasons. Given it was out ahead of the trough at this time and after noticing the storms to my west, despite being strong storms lacked any features and just looked grey, I decided to tail it and watch it do its thing. I feel like this was a good move, the structure was far better and more interesting from this side judging by pictures I have seen. At that stage I had little idea it would become arguably the cell of the day, possibly producing a tornado west of Mildura, a long lived RFD driven hailstorm with extensive hail and local wind damage in the riverland, and probably the best lightning show in Australia so far this storm season. Secondly I had work very early the next day and simply could not commit to following the cells interstate to their best potential, would have loved to have been in Mildura for the epicness but I’m more than happy with my day.

The Cap broke in the mid arvo, and I felt the first few drops from this developing cell just to the east of Burra. I had chose this area as a target as I noticed the trough was still well west of where it was forecast, and having been burnt in the past rushing onto the triggerless flats, i decided that my best bet was the ranges of the northern Mount Lofties for something to trigger. I noticed some decent motion in this first cell, with scuddy inflow already occurring in one area. I let it drift to the east for 15 or so minute to get a full view of the updraught, and then basically followed this cell to near Waikerie, watching it gradually become more severe until the drive involved dodging downed trees and litter debris. The anvils from storms to my north completely obscured the updraught of the cell I was on until i was following nothing more than a flickering heavy rainshaft.

I abandoned it soon, and watched an epic lightshow in a featureless sky to the north, before dropping south to intercept a left mover which decided to die 20km short of me, taken out by a rogue right mover by the looks, and then had a new cell develop overhead on the ferry in Waikerie, where 5 flangs in quick succession hit, the closest couldn’t have been further than 150m. All in all a good day, we’ve been a bit spoilt in South Australia this year. Latest estimates suggest this storm has caused at least 100 million dollars in the Riverland, a huge blow for the region unfortunately.

Cap breaking and the cell of the day forming!

Cap breaking and the cell of the day forming!

The cell producing its first precip just east of Burra.

The cell producing its first precip just east of Burra.

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A strong pulse of convection on this beautiful cell began the severe phase of the storm. Looking across the broad plains west of Morgan. I wasn’t aware at first, but there is a right mover splitting off the storm in this image.

Storms start intruding from the north.

Storms start intruding from the north.

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Extroadarily bursts assosicated with the RFD send large hail and destructive winds through areas of the riverland. Kilometre after kilometre of leafy debris scattered on the road, and hail on the edges. The outflow is interacting with the inflow, and small vorticies formed underneath the updraught, with rapid motion! Very cool.

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The storm is maturing into a fully fledged supercell, and another huge downburst occurs, this one causing some serious wind damage near Waikerie. Amazing positive Cg’s leaping out the back of this.

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Shortly before I abandoned it, the cell kicks out yet another remarkable precipitation shaft, as a huge boiling storm to its south is forming. This looked like a genuine waterfall from the sky.

A better perspective of how it looked irl...bloody incredible.

A better perspective of how it looked irl…bloody incredible.

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Behind the now developing MCS, the huge backsheared anvil puts on a rather nice display of mammatus.

The anvil of a tailing storm captures some epic light at sunset near Morgan.

The anvil of a tailing storm captures some epic light at sunset near Morgan.

Some impacts of this storm.

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The typical size of the hail near Morgan. up to around an inch, the odd 3cm stone.

Hail up to around an inch in places, accumulated around shrubs.

Hail up to around an inch in places, accumulated around shrubs.

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The drive for many kilometres looked like this. Trees and branches scattered across the road. This was tame compared to some areas!

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This had blown off a shed about 100m away. The damage through this corridor was extraordinary, I wouldn’t be surprised if 140km winds or more were observed, over 50% of trees had either snapped or lost branches in places.

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The damage through this corridor was extraordinary, I wouldn’t be surprised if 140km winds or more were observed, over 50% of trees had either snapped or lost branches in places.

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The damage through this corridor was extraordinary, I wouldn’t be surprised if 140km winds or more were observed, over 50% of trees had either snapped or lost branches in places.

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Hail about 90 minutes after its occurrence.

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More roofing spread through paddocks.

Some radar images of the storms.

 

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My cell is to the east of Morgan, you can see the two right splits to its south, while it maintains a huge hail core. Down towards the southern Mount Lofties, a massive supercell is taking shape, the cell near watervale is a left moving supercell also producing golf ball sized hail, and more cells to the north out of frame are producing large hail.

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The same time as above but 256km. South of Crystal Brooke there is a supercell producing golfballs, and on the border that cell is also producing golfballs. You can see how my cell has jutted out ahead of everything in clear air and is taking full advantage.

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Shortly before I abandoned my cell, you can see strong storms to my north, a left moving v-notch to my west, and a huge supercell to the south. I was surrounded by strong storms. The v-notch died rapidly at the back with everything else as the trough rushed inland. For a brief period (no pics), it did sustain a rather impressive bell shaped wall cloud. The cells to my north put on a spectacular lightning barrage.

And finally satellite.

This taken as the majority of the cells pictured start producing severe weather.

This taken as the majority of the cells on satellite start producing severe weather.

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There were no shortage of cells to chase this day! Mines in the middle there, becoming surrounded by other cells.

As the MCS begins to form, all that separates many storms now are their overshoots!

As the MCS begins to form, all that separates many storms now are their overshoots!

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Porters Lagoon at its finest

The large storm event a few weeks prior had caused both main creeks flowing into Porters Lagoon to flood which rapidly swamped the lagoon. Just earlier this year it was nothing more than a muddy salt flat, baked dry from the summer and it was hard to imagine it could reach such a height after only one winter but sure enough…

The biggest surprise was seeing the fence posts diving into the lake, historical fencing for livestock when the water levels were more reliable. During the summer I could comfortably walk around  these fences on solid ground. On my arrival I saw that some posts were completely submerged, and the water had advanced well in from the its main shoreline flooding it completely, as well as some land that had remained high and dry for probably a decade.  it had returned to its former glory.

I’ve only spent a couple evenings down there since the flooding so far, but I’m keen to get back there a few more times. The birdlife is quite diverse.

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A harsh, tormented landscape it was to behold only 8 months ago.  The gift of rain.

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The northern tributary of Porters Lagoon. The debris marked the high point of the flood and the lake.

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This image demonstrates how the water levels have claimed back some of the surrounding land. These dead, waterlogged grasses looked out of place in a landscape that is still quite green despite summer only being a month away.

The setting milky way and the planet venus, over a submerged bush, which marked the previous typical shoreline.

The setting milky way and the planet venus, over submerged vegetation, which marked the previous typical shoreline. It was knee deep here. 

Looking south towards Adelaide, you can see its light pollution as the yellow/orange light. The green on the left side is airglow.

Looking south towards Adelaide, you can see its light pollution as the yellow/orange light. The green on the left side is airglow. The combination of the milky way, galaxies and a small meteor was quite something. 

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