Federation Peak, Tasmania: Australia's scariest mountain is also one of the hardest to reach

In Tasmania, it's spoken of in almost religious awe. Federation Peak, or simply Fedder, is the most striking and terrifying mountain in Australia, its intimidating summit rising like a spike from the remote and rugged Eastern Arthur Range, 30 kilometres from Tasmania's south coast.

In real terms, Federation Peak is far from the highest mountain in the land. It stands almost 50 metres lower than Hobart's Mt Wellington, and 400 metres shorter than Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa. But in perception, no mountain in Australia stands above it, and with very good reason.

To reach the top of Federation Peak, you must enter a grey area between bushwalking and rock climbing. The final ascent is on near-vertical quartzite walls, with a sense of exposure unmatched by any other mountain that walkers can reach in Australia. Look between your feet on this climb and all that you see is Lake Geeves, a fear-provoking 600 metres below you.

"Basically there's nothing between you and the lake below, so if anything happens it'd be all over pretty quickly," says Simon Bischoff, a Tasmanian climber and director of the film Winter on the Blade, which told the story of a climbing attempt on Federation Peak in the depths of winter in 2016.

"It looks dangerous and it's extremely exposed, so from a bushwalker's perspective it's just about as far out as you can get, really."

Such are the difficulties – physically and mentally – of scaling Federation Peak that more people are said to reach the summit of Mt Everest than this 1225-metre-high mountain. And it's not just the final, exposed climb that repels walkers.

The walk to the mountain alone is one of the most notorious in Tasmania. The standard route, which can take up to five days return, begins at Farmhouse Creek, tucked in behind the Hartz Mountains south of Hobart. Standing between Farmhouse Creek and Federation Peak is Moss Ridge, an infamous section of track that's about as difficult as bushwalking gets, short of bush bashing. Slippery tree roots grope across the track, there are bogs of mud, and Tasmania's unique horizontal scrub creates a tangled barrier that requires gymnastic skills as much as hiking experience.

"I think I've been up and down Moss Ridge four times now, and I can't imagine any conceivable reason why I'd want to do it again," Bischoff says. "It's sort of like caving, but in a forest – claustrophobic, jungle-like, ducking and weaving and crawling and just about pulling yourself into every shape imaginable to get to the top. But it does end – it's only a half-day to a day of discomfort."

Another complicating factor for Federation Peak climbs is the weather, with this region of southern Tasmania assaulted by the rains and winds that blow in across thousands of kilometres of the Southern Ocean. Rain is the norm – the area can receive metres of precipitation in a year – and it's not uncommon for bushwalkers to fight their way to the mountain only to find that weather conditions prevent an attempt on the summit.

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When the Winter on the Blade climbing team came to the mountain in 2016, they spent 14 of their 18 days holed up in tents, sitting out the rain. Bischoff describes that as "pretty standard".

After all that, if you do reach Federation Peak's summit, the challenge has really only just begun because you still have to get down. Difficulties such as those encountered climbing the sheer walls of Federation Peak are even more pronounced on descent – while it's awkward to go up, it's even more awkward to go down, when footholds and handholds in the rock are harder to see.

I once walked with a trekking guide who'd climbed a number of 6000-metre peaks in the Himalayas, and yet claimed that the most frightening moment he'd ever experienced on a mountain was the point of beginning the descent from Federation Peak.

"I think the reason that Federation Peak is so special is because there's not a lot about how that wilderness has been managed that brings it down to every person's level," Bischoff says. "It really requires most people to stretch and challenge themselves to get to the top. There aren't a lot of places like that in Australia."

See also: Ten of Australia's most spectacular wonders are all in our smallest state

See also: Six of the best Tasmania day walks

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