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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