Thursday, April 30, 2015

Walking The Walls With Jason: A Loop Walk Through The Walls Of Jerusalem National Park

Preamble: 
 
I've been lucky enough in my outdoor career to be able to share a rope, a kayak, a tent, with some real legends in the outdoor community. These trips are always special, not necessarily because of the places we've been or the mountains we've climbed - although those were wonderful too - but because these people are somehow larger than the rest of us. They dream bigger, push harder, continue further and are real inspirations to everyone in the outdoor community. Meeting these folks is fantastic, doing a trip with them is a privilege. 

King Davids Peak From Damascus Gate

When Jason B, who won the 2014 Australian Geographic Adventurer Of The Year Award for his solo kayak circumnavigation of Australia, which included crossing Bass Strait twice (once by the western route and once by the eastern) and circling Tasmania, contacted us about doing a bushwalk in Tasmania, Doug and I leapt at the opportunity.

 Bills Lake From Solomons Throne

After some rather brief telephone conversations and even briefer text messages we agreed to meet up in Deloraine and walk in the Walls Of Jerusalem National Park. We would all walk together through the Walls Of Jerusalem and, while Doug and I would make a loop walk back to the start of the track, Jason would continue through The Never Never (yes, it really is called The Never Never) and out the Overland Track.

 Hanging around at Junction Lake

Dixons Kingdom, Mount Jerusalem:

If you've paddled solo around Australia, you know how to get up early and get moving, and we were all up before dawn on our first day of walking. The parking lot at the Fish River had about a dozen walkers cars testament to the popularity of this National Park which is in many ways more beautiful than the more famous (nearby) Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. Despite all the vehicles, we had quiet campsites as most people seemed to be on their way out. 

 Mount Ossa and Pelion from Solomons Throne

We started our walk at Fish River which is one of the commonest entry points to the Walls Of Jerusalem and wandered up a good track to the first of many old huts found in the park, all relics of early times when trapping and cattle grazing were allowed. Soon after Trappers Hut, a track junction is reached. We headed off to the southeast along the track that leads to Dixons Kingdom. The track running due south goes down to Lake Adelaide and can be used to make a short 22 kilometre circuit walk. 

 Pool of Bethseda and The Temple

We were soon up in beautiful sub-alpine meadows passing Solomons Jewels, a series of tiny blue tarns. At Wild Dog Creek there is a campsite with hardened tent pads, where we stopped for a break. There is another short climb before you walk through Herods Gate under the north facing cliffs of King Davids Peak. Lake Salome is framed between Zion Hill and The Temple, and behind is Mount Jerusalem. Another short climb leads to a narrow pass between Solomons Throne and The Temple where a cold south wind made lingering impossible. We scooted down through a gorgeous forest of King Billy Pine (some trees 1,000 years old) to Dixons Kingdom where there is another old cattlemans hut, several grassy campsites, clear streams and a good track leads north through Jaffa Gate to Mount Jerusalem.

The track through the rock cleft to Solomons Throne

Tents were put up, tea was had, and we wandered, in a bitterly cold wind, north through Jaffa Gate and up past many small tarns, ponds and colourful gardens of alpine plants to the top of Mount Jerusalem. There are an extraordinary number of lakes, puddles, pools, tarns and other bodies of water in the Walls Of Jerusalem and it is quite an amazing view from the summit looking across all this pooled water. We found a spot tucked under the summit out of the wind and simply sat soaking it all in.

The afternoon and night felt bitterly cold. Jason had dinner at 4.30 pm, and while Doug and I held out until 6.00 pm, we were all in our tents well before dark. 

 Mount Moriah from Damascus Gate

The Lakes: Ball, Adelaide, Meston, Junction:

Twelve hours huddled fully dressed in a too well ventilated tent is enough for anyone so I got up in the dark and walked - carefully on the frosty boardwalk - back up to Damascus Gate and on up the re-routed and well constructed stone track to the top of Solomons Throne (Halls Buttress on the old 1:25K topographic maps). The final section of the track climbs rock steps through a narrow chasm. I watched a stunning sunrise over the surrounding lakes, forests and mountains, and, when the sun was fully up, walked back down to camp where Doug and Jason were getting breakfast. The wind of the previous day had subsided and the sun, when it reached into the narrow valley was warm. 

 King David Peak from Solomons Throne

A faint foot pad leads down Jaffa Vale to join a more prominent track along the north shore of Lake Ball. Fagus, a deciduous beech tree, was turning and the bright yellow of the tiny scalloped leaves was stunning against the blue sky. At the western end of Lake Ball, the meadow was white with frost and another stunning rock garden of many coloured alpine plants set off the blue of the lake. 

 Fagus

We descended down to the north end of Lake Adelaide where there is a serviceable, but dark campsite. The better camp is on the southern shoreline four kilometres away. The track wanders up and down along the eastern shore of Lake Adelaide, climbing and descending short distances to avoid rock bluffs. At the south end, it traverses light forest to reach a sandy beach and delightful camp site on the north shore of Lake Meston. Halfway down Lake Meston is another old cabin, this one has a dark campsite nearby and some people have even been sleeping in the ramshackle hut. 

Lake Adelaide from Solomons Throne

Beyond Lake Meston, the final four kilometres of track to Junction Lake wanders back, forth, up and down, passing brief patches of Button Grass at the Mayfield Flats, slender Lake Youd and eventually reaching Junction Lake near another old hut. The campsite is above the lake on a level bench with some large scattered boulders and big eucalpyts. It was a warmer night and it was nice to stay out of the tent until dark, which comes soon at this time of year. 

Lake Myrtle, Lake Ball, The Blizzard Plains:

We had an even warmer night thanks to the cloud cover that moved in early on, but the morning air was damp and promised rain. Jason left us heading west through The Never Never to meet the Overland Track just north of Ducane Gap. Doug and I walked back to old hut halfway along Lake Meston and took the track (marked by a cairn) that leads up over a saddle to the east of Mount Rogoona and down to Lake Myrtle. By the time we had crossed the 1200 metre saddle, Mount Rogoona had disappeared into the cloud. 

 Lake Myrtle and Mount Rogoona

There is another beautiful grassy campsite on the north end of Lake Myrtle with a view of Lake Myrtle and Mount Rogoona. Then the track follows the creek and is muddy at times to Lake Bill. Button Grass meadows along the Blizzard Plains north of Lake Bill are, as usual, soggy with water, but this section is short and we managed to keep our boots dry. A 300 metre descent down a dry track through eucalpyt forest quickly leads to the parking area. While Doug put the tent up to dry off the morning dew, I walked eight kilometres along the stony Mersey Forest Road back to Fish River trail head to retrieve the car.

Morning Light

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sunfish and Albatross: St Helens Point to Binalong Bay

Like many sea kayakers, we frequently use topographic maps instead of nautical charts for our paddles. Nautical charts show depths and some currents (not nearly complete) while topographic maps reveal all the land details that are important to kayakers. Ideally, you would have both, and we actually have access to both as we have the full set of Australian nautical charts and Tasmanian topographic maps (25K and 100K series) as raster maps on our computer. What we don't have is easy access to a printer so we only print maps for multi-day kayaks and rely on our memories of what the raster maps looked like the night before for walks and day paddles. 

Of course, this memory is reliant on actually having a good look at the relevant maps and charts the day before. I'm a map geek and can spend hours, if not days, looking at maps and plotting routes, but lately we have been so rushed as we dash from one part of Tasmania to another to take advantage of the brief weather windows that I have been remiss at studying the map carefully before we head out on our latest trip. 

In the calm Skeleton Bay
Photo, Doug B.  
For this particular paddle we had decided to launch from Burns Bay on St Helens Point and paddle south around the headland, perhaps out to St Helens Rocks before paddling north past Elephant Rock to Binalong Bay. There was a decent southerly swell running after many days of strong southwest winds so we knew we would only be able to land somewhere in Binalong Bay where we might get some local shelter from the swell. 

Burns Bay has a sheltered boat ramp (in southerly but not northerly conditions) and we were soon launched and paddling out through a long rolling swell towards St Helens Point. An albatross, the first I have ever seen and surely unusual in these inshore waters flew in and gobbled up a fish right in front of my boat and then kept pace with me as I paddled along. I've always wanted to see an albatross and only regret that it was Doug's turn to have the waterproof camera so I was unable to get a photo. This magnificent bird swam beside me for a few minutes only a metre or so off the side of my boat.

 Lazy rolling swell
Photo Doug B.  

There are a few rocks off St Helens Point and, in a kayak, with only 30 centimetres or so of freeboard it can be hard to see exactly where the swell is breaking without getting dangerously close. I love paddling out on the open ocean - where else will you see albatross - but having to paddle a half kilometre or more off-shore because of swells breaking on off-shore reefs is not nearly as interesting as being able to poke along closer to the shore. 

It soon became obvious that this was one of those days when we would have to paddle way off-shore to avoid the swells breaking off Bobby Halls Rock and its associated reefs. Which brings me back to the maps. Later, when I actually looked carefully at the Georges Bay nautical chart (25K scale) it became obvious that, unless the swell was very small we would have to paddle a long way off-shore heading south from Burns Bay as shallow water runs between all the little rocky islets along the coastline and also links all the islets together. The moral is obvious, have a good look at the chart before you leave.

Instead of paddling far off-shore, we decided to head north around Grays Point, past Elephant Rock and into Binalong Bay. Moments before we turned the kayaks around and began heading north, I saw a strangely waving and very large fin in the water in front of Doug's kayak. It didn't look like the dorsal fin of either a dolphin or a shark so I guessed seal as Australian fur seals are reasonably common in these waters. As we watched the fin wave about something didn't quite fit our gestalt of a seal, and, in the clear water we could see something huge, flat and mottled grey and white swimming just below the surface. "It's coming your way" Doug yelled. I admit, I felt a jolt of adrenaline (silly) at this point as I suddenly thought "Could this be a large great white shark intent on taking a bite of my rudder?" Doug swears he saw the whites of my eyes. The large fish swam right under my boat at which point I realised it was a sunfish. What a sighting! Not only an albatross but a sunfish. We had only been on the water for half an hour and already it had been an outstanding paddle. 

 Near Elephant Rock
Photo Doug B. 

Too soon the mammoth fish drifted away leaving Doug and I chattering excitedly. We paddled north up to Elephant Rock. Waves were breaking off Grants Point but we figured we had enough room to paddle through the gap between Grants Point and Elephant Rock without getting caught in a breaking wave. There were a lot of haystacks and a fair current running but we made it through easily, rapidly in fact as the current, fast as a river, carried us through. On the northern side the shallow water connecting Grants Point to Elephant Rock broke the force of the southerly swell and the water was much calmer. We ambled along, ducking behind Skeleton Rock into Skeleton Bay. 

There was a sheltered landing site at the head of the bay near Skeleton Creek but we continued around Boat Harbour Point to Binalong Bay. The swell was wrapping right around and dumping onto both the beach and the boat ramp so we paddled back to Skeleton Creek and weaved in between shallow rocks to a sheltered landing site. On the way back, we paddled around the outside of Elephant Rock which has deep water close off-shore and thus much less clapotis than the inside passage. A paddle of only about 20 kilometres but outstanding nonetheless.

Stacks Bluff, Ben Lomond National Park

After a cloudy, cool and windy day on Bent Bluff, we were happy to get another one of those random and rare sunny calm days to hike up Stacks Bluff at the south end of Ben Lomond National Park. This is the second of two access tracks at this end of the National Park. This, of course, raises the possibility of a through walk between the two access tracks, perhaps hiking up Storeys or Sphinx Bluff along the way. We, however, were bound simply for Stacks Bluff on this trip.

 Doug and Denison Crag

The track starts from Storys Creek, an old and mostly abandoned mining settlement. There is not much in the way of signage to get you started but, if you make a right turn at the old school (assuming you have entered Storys Creek along the paved road) onto an old road and follow this for about one kilometre to a fork, turn right at the fork and park soon after, you'll find yourself on the right track. There are a couple of road junctions beyond, but they are all marked with cairns. 

Like the track to Bent Bluff, start walking up the road through a lovely open forest of huge eucalpyts until the road ends and the track begins. The ground is stony here, mostly talus so there is not much in the way of undergrowth. The track is marked with cairns and red markers and fairly quickly emerges onto a talus slope that is followed all the way up to a gap in the plateau to the north of Denison Bluff. Tranquil Tarn, set among talus, nestles below and Denison Bluff is an impressive wall of dolerite columns. 

 Late moon over Stacks Bluff

After about 1.5 hours of walking/boulder hopping, we emerged onto the plateau. Stacks Bluff is obviously the most popular route from here and a faint cairned track leads across the plateau to a short 100 metre climb up to the old trig point (only the outline remains) which is over to the east (right) as you top out on the raised plateau that is Stacks Bluff. The old trig is certainly handy for finding the top of this "mountain" as it is all flat slabs and hard to tell which boulder sitting on the slabs is the highest. 

We had an hour lazing on top before wandering around the edges of the plateau and looking down the Fingal Valley. Legges Tor is to the north and is 50 metres higher but hard to distinguish as the plateau is so flat. The most prominent feature from the top is Mount Barrow which has a couple of big towers on top. I have not been to the north end of Ben Lomond National Park, but suspect that lovers of solitude will prefer the south end which requires walking not driving to reach. 
Overlooking Fingal Valley

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part V

All Those Expectations

Thinking about this trip later, it seemed to me the crux of the matter was how slowly we were walking the final 12 kilometres out to the road. We had expected to walk at our usual pace which varies between 3 and 5 kilometres per hour yet found ourselves managing to average somewhat under 2 kilometres per hour on the worst section of track. I wondered if we had not expected to encounter the "maintained" Lake Judd track, or had any expectation of walking at our normal pace, perhaps the last day of the walk would not have felt so tedious. While much of the final days walk is in thick timber where you can see nothing, along the button grass plains beside the Anne River you are actually walking along under a broad and open sky with the looming Schnells Ridge above. The "track," however, is so poor that it is impossible to look at anything other than your feet which certainly diminishes ones walking experience. 

There was, of course, all the other expectations. Our expectations that walking from the High Camp Memorial Hut to Lonely Tarns via Mount Anne might take ten hours or more (using the longer end of the track notes guide - three hours to Shelf Camp, two hours to summit Mount Anne, and six hours to walk to Lonely Tarns), when it actually took us only eight hours total (including our stops). Had I known that I would cruise in to camp feeling fresh at 4.00 pm, I would have spent a half hour on the summit of Mount Anne instead of about three minutes. 

 Descending to Lonely Tarns,
Doug B. photo

The expectations of others also surprised me. The women we shared the hut with, who, upon reflection (perhaps even at the time) were overly optimistic (or overly confident in their abilities) and thought they would walk from High Camp Memorial Hut to Lonely Tarns in six hours, and ended up taking almost double that time. 

And finally, the expectations others seemed to have of me. That somehow, simply because of my chronological age I would be slow and incompetent, when in fact, we were faster than people thirty years younger than us. Some of our speed is due to fitness (although in the scheme of things there are many people faster than us), but a good chunk of our speed is due to experience. We have simply been plugging away in the mountains for multiple decades and have learnt how to travel quickly and efficiently. We carry only what we need (not the five or six nested pots I watched the women extract from their packs which was made more bizarre by the fact that their dinner involved pouring boiling water into a bag - surely one pot would suffice) and nothing more. We keep moving and/or take only short breaks, and we have 20 years of climbing experience behind us. 

 Lightening Ridge and the Lonely Tarns,
Doug B. photo

But I too have expectations about others based on their appearance. Certainly, when I see the grey nomads waddling around with their large insulin resistant bellies travelling a metre in front of the rest of their frames, I think "too many pies." I know too that when I see walkers whose gear is all shiny and new (or are wearing white shirts - how does anyone manage to keep a shirt white in Tasmania?), carry superfluous gear, apply deodorant (you're going to sweat, embrace it), or do any of the other trade mark things that identify the novice walker, I recognise their inexperience immediately. I hope, however, that I do not let that colour my entire opinion of the person. I remember well my own early days. I returned from my first overnight walk in Tasmania looking as if I had been bull-whipped with barbed wire. I had no gaitors or long pants and the route (this was a route not a track) I traversed covered about 20 km of dense prickly bush that ripped my legs to shreds. A classic rookie mistake I was never to make again. 

In the end, it's impossible not to have some expectations: about how hard the walk/climb/paddle will be, how well our abilities will match the difficulties, and, being human, we will even make judgements about the abilities of other people we meet. We must have some confidence that we can complete our objective, but not so much hubris that we fail to adequately prepare for the difficulties ahead. Most importantly, we must not let the expectations others have of us, undermine our own confidence because, those expectations might just be wrong. 
 A bit thinner, a bit dirtier, but happy enough

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part IV

Button Grass and Bogs

We expected a heavy dew and wet tent in the morning from a cold night camped close by the tarn, but, when we got up before dawn, the tent was relatively dry. We ate, drank our usual litre of coffee, packed up, and were climbing back up to Lightening Ridge on a wet track by 8 am. The tents of the other walkers were scattered about the many small lakes in this area and we wondered how early other parties would start walking. 

It was a beautiful morning on Lightening Ridge with the rising sun casting long golden shadows. At this south end, Lightening Bridge is broad and covered with heath and spongy alpine vegetation. At the very southern end, Mount Sarah Jane rises 300 metres above another small unnamed tarn. The track descends into prickly scrub and I realized how scratched my legs were from the day before as we pushed through. We lost the track as it climbed out of thick scrub to the open spongy meadow below Mount Sarah Jane, but, soon found it again and walked along until we were at a small gap on the south end of Mount Sarah Jane where we could look 600 metres down to elongated Lake Judd and the massive Lake Pedder. 

We were two hours to this point and stopped for a short break. Below us we could see the great button grass plains through which the Anne River runs and we thought how good it was that there would be a decent track (so we thought) across this flood plain which would otherwise be desperate to walk. Expectations. 

 Mount Sarah Jane

Any track that descends 600 metres in just over 1.5 kilometres is bound to be painful and this one was no exception. Again, the track has never been cut or constructed, merely walked in by the passage of many hikers, and, as we descended the vegetation on each side of the track got denser and we got knocked about from side to side like balls in an old pin-ball machine. The track was running with water which was not a huge problem on the rocky ground but as we got lower the rock base gave way to mud, large spreading mud puddles through which we slipped and slid trying to stay on our feet. 

Where the track runs close by the Anne River, we lost it again as it veered away from the river through dense mats of stringy and straggly trees. We walked south over squelching button grass until we found it again but walking on the button grass was almost easier than walking on the track. I'd be hard pressed to say whether the track was a stream, a river, a mud bog or all three. In places, the water was ankle deep and the base firm enough to walk on, in others, there were knee deep sections, and yet others were just long stretches of sucking mud. We soon came to distinguish those sections through which you should not attempt to walk lest you be sucked in to your hips. These had a slurry like appearance and, if you happened to step in one by accident and went up to your knee, you would almost over-balance and fall flat on your face or back as you tried to pull your leg out. The whole experience was strangely reminiscent of skiing on facetted snow in the Rockies. 

On the track down to the Button Grass plains

Time passed, and soon we had been walking three hours, then four, then five. We had some vague recollection of our track notes saying something about the "maintained Lake Judd trail" and kept hoping the walking would improve. At around the five hour mark we finally strolled onto some overgrown boardwalk and, for about 750 metres we had a decent trail along which we could stretch out our stride for the first time in three days. This did not last, however, and once we were across the suspension bridge over the Anne River all track work evaporated and we were back to mud bog walking. From a small rise above the Anne River, we finally saw the road, still almost two kilometres distant, but now easily within reach. Six hours after starting this "easy walk out" we finally paced out onto the road. Expectations. 

This is when we got super lucky and were glad we had pressed on without any breaks as a group of hikers who had walked into Lake Judd were just preparing to leave and gave Doug a lift the nine kilometres along the road to Condominium Creek. I boiled water for tea while Doug retrieved the vehicles, and, half an hour after we started driving the rain began. Expectations. 

Part Five.

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part III

Mount Anne, The Notch, Lightening Ridge, Lonely Tarns

In the loft, the women were still sleeping when Doug and I got up in the dark, made breakfast and packed up. We were just finishing our breakfast coffee when they scrambled down the ladder, somewhat shame faced at us having woken them instead of the other way round. When Doug and I left the little hut, the gold light of dawn was just touching the Western Arthur Range and the valley below was an ocean of white cloud. "We'll see you when you pass us," Doug quipped as we left. The women smirked thinking that would be sooner than we might imagine. Expectations.

We scrambled back up the boulders we had started up the day before, still being careful as they were slickly wet. The track climbs another 250 metres in half a kilometre to the summit of Mount Eliza and much of the way is up large blocks of dolerite the size of small cars. To save time, we tried to follow the cairns assiduously rather than waste time finding the best route, but we still had to backtrack a few times to climb onto or off of particularly large boulders. 

Once on Mount Eliza, an open alpine plateau leads north to Mount Anne and we got our first glimpse of the talus slopes and stacked columns of Mount Anne. It would have been nice to linger on this plateau where sea green cushion plants surround tiny tarns that reflect the surrounding mountains and the oblique morning sun was casting golden shadows across the boiling valley cloud, but we were too concerned with the terrain we needed to cover that day to do more than snap a few pictures and keep walking. Expectations.

 Doug on the Mount Eliza plateau

Before you reach the track junction at the saddle where the route to Mount Anne splits off the circuit route, another boulder field must be crossed. We teetered warily across this one. A broken bone or even twisted ankle here would have serious consequences. From the saddle, we could see multi-coloured tents spread about a high flat platform at the Shelf Camp, and the ridge the circuit route traverses jagged as a dragons back above. "Slow travel" we said to each other. Expectations.

We left our packs at a large cairn and took with us our waterproof jackets (despite the clear skies we had no confidence the valley cloud would not rise up and rain) and cameras. The route to the summit is relatively well cairned, first up boulders to a bit of track over a subsidiary summit, then up more boulders and talus to the base of the dolerite columns. The twenty somethings from the day before were on their way back down, but they had not made the summit. The final steps up the dolerite columns had been too difficult and exposed for them. Expectations.

 A few moments only on top of Mount Anne,
Doug B. photo

The last section of the route weaves up steps interspersed with ledges and wraps around the mountain to traverse another slabby ledge where there is one final step up to the surprisingly flat topped summit. Rock climbers will find it neither difficult nor exposed (it is around YDS class four), but hikers will find it both, and, dripping with water the scrambling certainly warranted caution. Within an hour, we were crouched on the summit block. Our stay was all of three minutes long, as we felt we still had a long way to go. I have lost count of the number of mountains I have climbed and subsequently spent less than ten minutes on the summit before beginning to reverse the route. Expectations. 

We quickly reversed the route down to our packs. Near the track junction, we met a party of two, day walkers, one of whom asked "Is it worth it?" Doug and I were literally gob-smacked. I'm used to this kind of question from tourists huffing and puffing along a wide well maintained trail, but not from people who have just hiked up 1000 metres and scrambled across teetering stacks of slick boulders. Generally, if you have to ask, the answer is no. We mumbled something about scrambling up wet slippery rocks and got the reply that "things are better when they are wet." With that attitude you really can't go wrong in Tasmania but it did lead me to question the experience of the two walkers. Expectations. 

We snacked while we changed clothes and then sped off along a rough track down to Shelf Camp. I was surprised to see a number of tents still standing and people lounging about. The weather, I thought, was anything but stable, and I would be making good use of this time when it was neither clouded in nor rainy to move on. Expectations.

 Two walkers on Lightening Ridge above Lonely Tarns,
Doug B. photo

A maze of tracks lead out from Shelf Camp, and we had the misfortune to get on the wrong one which climbed high under the jagged ridge above while the cairned route was on the plateau below. We struggled along forced to scramble up and down ledges when the track disappeared then reappeared above or below us. There were several awkward manoeuvres and a lot of tenacious bush. Below us, we saw two people seeming to stroll along easily but we could not see that they were on a track and I dislike following others for fear they do not actually know where they are going. We stopped, pulled out our mobile phone to check the map and track notes (useless). I thought we should go down, Doug thought up as we were nearly on the ridge crest again, but, "it's your trip," he said, "just make a decision and lets go, I don't want to be benighted." Expectations. 

I chose down, and we thrashed through unpleasant scratchy bush down slick rock bands to a rough track on the plateau below. It's hard to remember exactly how the route progressed from this point. We scrambled up to the ridge proper numerous times, followed cairns across huge boulders on the ridge crest, some times backtracking when we were stuck on a particularly tall boulder to find a route we could climb down, descended steeply down the north side and followed beaten in tracks across surprisingly steep terrain before climbing back to the ridge proper again. 

After what seemed a long time, we turned a shallow buttress on the ridge, scrambled back up again, and were looking down into The Notch, the crux of the route. The Notch is a narrow gap between dolerite columns on the ridge crest and generally requires pack hauling to surmount, and, in some cases a belay. Looking down into The Notch we saw the party of twenty somethings just setting up to haul their packs up the five metre step. Another party of two were waiting and Doug and I quickly descended to the breezy Notch. 

 Looking down into The Notch,
Doug B. photo

It was obvious we would be here a little while so Doug and I put on another layer and had a quick snack. The old habits of alpine climbers, you eat when you have a chance, not necessarily when you want, linger long. We began to make silly jokes about the Hilary Step and "continuing with style" (you have to be either an Enormocast fan or an aficionado of The Eiger Sanction to appreciate the latter) but no-one else seemed to find anything to laugh at. A general suggestion was made to haul every ones pack at once rather than each separate party getting their individual haul ropes out, which the twenty something fellow kindly did. It speeded us all up, but undoubtedly slowed his party down. 

The climb out of The Notch is again, easy for a climber, but difficult for a walker, but everyone managed it (even with style). Now, however, we were stuck in a conga line of slow walkers struggling with the terrain which still requires scrambling and boulder hopping. We were, of course, eager to keep pressing on, a desire made more keen by the cloud that had now risen up from the valley to embrace us all in a wet fog. 

 Mount Eliza, Mount Anne, Lightening Ridge

At another step along the route, Doug and I managed to duck around everyone in front of us by climbing up a face instead of a corner. We literally stepped over the belay sling set up by the twenty something where there was now a bottleneck of seven people variously waiting for a belay or to have their pack hauled. We were surprised to see the two women with whom we had shared the cabin as they had almost two hours start on us (the time it had taken us to climb Mount Anne). As we dashed past, they seemed surprised that we had climbed Mount Anne. Expectations. 

There is a 1262 metre high point at the north end of the serrated Lightening Ridge, and here the route begins a steep descent down boulders, ledges, and steps to a thickly vegetated saddle. The track was fairly well defined here and the benefit of such a steep track became evident in the speed with which we were able to descend. Once at the saddle, the track plunges into dense forest of pandani and myrtle and it is again a steep and slippery descent, but the many trees encroaching on the track make useful hand holds. Down near 1000 metres, the track emerges onto a minor ridge between two tarns in low but wet vegetation. We had a fabulous view back up to Lightening Ridge and were astonished at how easy the ridge was to traverse given its saw-toothed appearance. Expectations.

 The ridge the route traverses,
Doug B. photo

Our track notes had mentioned "many good campsites" but, despite walking all the way to where the track begins to climb again, we could not find any campsites that were not quite marginal. The vegetation while low is hugely hummocky and water seeps out with every step. At the last possible place where we could camp with water available, we found a semi-level site right by an unnamed lake and set up camp. Almost two hours later, the twenty somethings wandered by looking for a campsite and I could swear they looked at us with more respect than before. It had taken us about 3.5 hours to walk from Shelf Camp to Lonely Tarns. We had covered the most distance, done the most elevation gain, and passed every other party on the route, even those who had a couple of hours start on us. Expectations. 

Before setting up camp we debated simply having a drink and snack before walking out. It was, after all, only about 4.30 pm, and we estimated we could walk the remaining distance (we underestimated the distance by two kilometres) in 2.5 hours, or perhaps three at the most. In the end, we decided it would be silly to end the trip walking out in the dark when we might be able to beat the next days forecast rain if we started early. Expectations. 

Part Four. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part II

High Camp Memorial Hut:

Driving west on the Gordon River Road, lichened green signs point to various high points in the surrounding ranges, The Needles, Mount Mueller, Tim Shea, none of which were visible through the dense fog. We parked at Condominium Creek where a party of three twenty somethings were fussing around with packs and gear. In our usual alpine climbing mode, we were all packed and ready to go as soon as we arrived so with a quick "hello" we were off up the track. The track climbs 800 metres in 3.5 kilometres but it is an easy climb as this trail has been constructed (or at least worked on) not merely formed by the osmotic passage of many walkers, so there are steps and, although the track is running with water (as are most tracks in Tasmania), the water drains off a firm bed so walking is easy. 

We were just shy of two hours reaching High Camp Memorial Hut, a rather rustic stone building with a tiny sleeping loft and two windows looking out of the Western Arthur Range, although all we could see was fog. Ducking inside for a break to escape the light but insidious rain that had begun, we found the interior chilly and damp. A party of four, on the way down after an aborted attempt to climb Mount Anne as a day trip arrived. One member of the party had got very cold and was still shivering violently. Strangely, they did not seem to have waterproof pants which I assumed were standard wear in Tasmania's wet high country. 

There was lots of chatter as these folks were interested in where we had been, were going and also about living in a caravan and traveling all the time. It turns out that one fellow runs the post office in Natimuk where we had spent many weeks (months possibly, but I can't remember) camping when we were climbing at Mount Arapiles. 



Morning at Mount Arapiles, 
a warmer drier place 

After about half an hour, we figured we should keep moving so putting on warmer waterproof clothes we headed out just as the three twenty somethings arrived. They pulled a large spread of mostly zero calorie lunch food out of their packs. Tiny cherry tomatoes still in their bulky plastic packaging, alfalfa sprouts (also in bulky plastic packaging), and some other assorted condiments. In other circumstances I would call this a great lunch, but, when you are out walking in the mountains carrying zero calorie, nutrient light (for weight) food just does not make sense. 

Beyond the hut, the track deteriorates immediately and is bushy and bouldery. The rocks were slick with rain so we went carefully. After about 15 minutes, as the wind increased and began to blow streamers of rain across the ridge I began to wonder if camping at Shelf Camp, in our (now) somewhat leaky tent was really a good idea. 

 Sunrise on the way up Mount Eliza

Doug deferred to me, "It's your trip," and I decided unaccountably quickly - I am generally given to prolonged periods of indecision - to return to the hut and see how the weather progressed. If the weather didn't clear we would not be climbing Mount Anne and struggling up over huge boulders in a steady rain to a high alpine camp seemed pointless. At this stage in our outdoor careers we have no need to seek out uncomfortable positions, we have camped on high ridges in terrible storms enough times in the past to not relish the experience. 

Back at the cabin, I asked the twenty somethings who were just preparing to leave about the camping at Shelf Camp (the young man had done the trip before), "yes, it is exposed," he said, "no, there is no toilet," and finally, "there may be no water, you might have to carry it." This last struck me as completely ludicrous as the entire Southwest National Park is awash with water. You could gather a litre in less than sixty seconds just off the track. I could not help but think he thought me a useless, old fogey who needed a toilet to camp (actually, I was concerned about contamination of the water sources with so many people camping in a place with no established toilet facilities), and had no business on any track least of all one with the fierce reputation that the Mount Anne circuit has. Expectations.

 Lots Wife seen on the way up Mount Anne

Settling in for what might be a long afternoon, Doug and I made tea and put on virtually all our clothes, the damp air was very cold. If the weather cleared, we would continue on, otherwise, we would stay the night and see how the next day turned out. Within half an hour, two more thirty something women walkers arrived. They came streaming in, cold tendrils of air swirling around them dressed, improbably, in light cotton shorts and white barbeque shirts (as my friend Robin Tivy calls all casual wear). They too were bound for Shelf Camp, and, after a short break started out, only to return minutes later to add more layers of clothing. 

Back out again, they had not left the porch when a day walker came down the track. He had passed 11 people (in total) heading to Shelf Camp and the women began to get worried that they would be late arriving and there might be no where to camp. This might seem crazy to Canadian climbers and hikers as camping up in the alpine in Canada is generally easy. In fact, it's often hard to choose the very best campsite among the dozen merely good ones available. In Australia, however, the bush, even in the alpine, is dense and impenetrable. If there are no established camps where the vegetation has been cleared there can be quite literally not one place to pitch a tent. 

 Lonely Tarns sunrise,
Doug B. photo

The women came back in and, after some discussion decided to settle in for the evening. Doug and I were glad of company, we have so few other people to talk to generally, and were soon engaging the women in conversation. Both women were scientists and so very interesting to talk to, but, I found conversation quite difficult as one woman was extremely opinionated (a trait I recognise in myself) and no matter what the topic, she would talk over everyone else, even her own walking companion. Real conversation requires some discussion of ideas, and, the best conversations are often those where the parties do not agree but can still share viewpoints. Nothing kills a discussion more than emphatic declarations that brook no discourse, which is where most of the evenings talk seemed to end. Expectations.

The women had track notes (these are very popular in Australia) and read off the suggested times for the various sections of the walk. Two to three hours to Shelf Camp, four to six hours to Lonely Tarns. They were confident they could complete both sections of the walk in the short end times if not even quicker. There was lots of talk of getting up early, skipping breakfast and having it at Shelf Camp (not really a time saver if you have to unpack your pack to retrieve stove, fuel, food etc.), moving rapidly and easily completing the walk to Lonely Tarns in five to six hours. They offered to sleep downstairs so they did not wake us in the morning and looked at me strangely when I told them we were always up before dawn and were not really tired the day having been so easy anyway. Expectations.

Doug on the summit of Mount Anne

"Are you going to the very tippy top of Mount Anne?" one asked. When we replied that we hoped to, weather permitting, she looked at us dubiously. "There is a very scary traverse on a narrow ledge near the top, it's very difficult" she told us seriously. She had done the trip before but had not made the summit of Mount Anne. I could see her thinking, "surely these old fogies, with their pants hanging off their skinny frames can not be thinking of climbing Mount Anne." Expectations. 

I had trouble sleeping that night as I was not at all tired and the bench we were sleeping on felt hard to my increasingly lean frame. I listened to podcasts long into the night and watched a huge moon drop down and hang in the sky illuminating the little hut with cold silvery light. I went back and forth in my mind whether we should attempt the traverse - perhaps we had lost too much time camping early - merely try to summit Mount Anne from the hut, or, if the weather was bad simply turn around. Expectations.

 Blood Moon from High Camp Memorial Hut,
Doug B. photo

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part I

Preamble:

This is a story of expectations, mine of what this trip would be like, and others, of what I would be like. It begins in the small town of Triabunna. Doug and I were just back from a fabulous four day walking and sea kayaking trip around Maria Island. The inevitable weather window had closed again, the wind was blowing 25 to 30 knots and rain showers hung around the edges of the sky. The long Easter weekend (five days in Tasmania) would soon be upon us necessitating an escape from any where the infernal combustion engine could take people. The penultimate trip on my "premier trip list" for Tasmania was just over 100 km away and would take us into the mountains where only people willing to walk - almost always more tolerable to a couple of semi-hermits such as Doug and I- would go. 

On the ridge to Mount Eliza

Mount Anne (1423 metres) is the highest peak in Tasmania's massive Southwest National Park and also the first mountain of any size you reach as you travel south from Maydena. To the south, is the jagged crest of the Arthur Range, with its myriad peaks, tarns, cols and crests, while close to the west is the massive Lake Pedder, full, so rumours say, of drowned Huon Pine. The Mount Anne circuit is an iconic walk encompassing all that is classic in Tasmanian bushwalking - steep climbs and descents on tracks that are nothing more than a minor gash in tenacious forest where hundreds of hikers have pushed through, scrambling over piles of refrigerator sized boulders, generally slicked with rain and fog, tracks running with water across flooded plateaus where water squelches only to your ankles if you are lucky, and bogs, classic Tasmanian mud bogs that can suck the boots off your feet, perhaps even your feet from your legs. 

 Mount Anne

The forecast was less than ideal, cloudy with about 50% chance of showers on the first day, cloudy the second, and cloudy with 80% chance of rain on the last day. Like many walkers, we planned to camp at Shelf Camp, a tiny alpine plateau perched below dolerite columns and fully exposed to Tasmania's famous winds, on the first day. Weather permitting, we would climb Mount Anne on the way past, but, we would get one more chance the next day. Our second night would be at the Lonely Tarns after traversing the high jagged ridge that surrounds Lake Judd, and finally, on the last day, we would do our usual dash out to the road to try to beat the afternoon rain. 

 Shelf Camp
Doug B photo

Up The Wombat Track: Bent Bluff

We woke in Fingal to drizzly rain, a blustery south wind that felt like it blew right from Antartica and heavy grey skies. I feared we were back into the "waiting on the weather" game. When your whole life is about being outdoors, getting stuck indoors even for a single day is virtually intolerable - at least it is for me. I went off and wandered around town for a while, but, a clearing weather trend sent me scurrying back to find Doug. The rain had stopped, the clouds had lifted and we could almost see the dolerite columns and high country of Ben Lomond National Park from the valley bottom. 

 Doug arriving on the alpine plateau


Highway B54 climbs to about 600 metres from Fingal passing through a couple of small villages (a few houses really), and, at a hairpin bend in the road, about 21 km from Fingal, an old wood sign proclaims Ben Lomond. We parked about 50 metres down this very minor road and began walking. 


The first third of the walk is on a very old road which basically goes fairly straight up. Abruptly, the road ends, and a flagged track begins. I say track, but, like many Tasmanian tracks this one is more akin to a vertical wombat tunnel lined with razor wire than a track. Some track notes we had found online noted the track was "currently overgrown with prickly pink mountain berry native shrubs, making the climb unsuitable for children." I would probably concur with that. 

 Doug overlooking Stacks Bluff


The bluffs, a series of dolerite columns that appear to hold back the high alpine plateau, soon appear through the trees and look a long way away. The track head sign indicated two hours to the top and I thought we would never get all the way to the bluffs in that time, but, we were on top of Bent Bluff looking out over Stacks Bluff in well under two hours. It was howling on the plateau and very cold. We soaked in as much of the view as we could without turning to ice cubes before finding a semi-sheltered spot for a bit of hot tea. Stacks Bluff and Denison Crag are both impressive from the plateau and there is also an access track to that end of the plateau. 


Getting down was quick as all the vegetation was sloping down hill and we had gloves on so could grab hold of the occasional prickly bush to help our descent. I felt amazingly better for what amounted to under four hours exercise.

Stacks Bluff and Denison Crag

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Homeless

In the Derwent Valley, a warm autumn sun is shining, the wind is calm, and all our wet and muddy gear from our three day traverse on ridge lines above Lake Judd is clean and drying. It is almost possible, except for the dark storm clouds massing on the periphery of the sky, to think we are not in Tasmania any more. 

 Doug on The Acropolis, 
hard to believe this is Tasmania

It is almost exactly two months since we arrived in the "holiday" isle. We left Victoria with a long list of trips we wanted to do, that, once we realized there is never more than two consecutive days of good weather in a row, we edited to come up with a short list of "premier" trips. With the exception of the 6 to 8 day traverse of the Western Arthurs (on my premier list but not Doug's) we have now completed all the trips on our premier list, and, a whole host of others. It has, however, been an extraordinarily busy two months. We have been rushing from one multi-day trip to the next, from one corner of the state to another, in a desperate and largely successful attempt to miss none of the good weather. 

 Sunrise over the Western Arthur Range

I don't have trouble maintaining interest (stoke/psyche, or whatever term the hipsters are using) for doing trips. I don't need to watch videos, follow the latest "athletes" social media feed or surround myself with "fitspo" to want to go out everyday. In fact, I generally have too much enthusiasm, and, the inevitable down days when you are cleaning up from the last trip or preparing for the next, often seem dull and anti-climatic. Those are the days when I wonder if I can ever live in one place any more or if, I'll travel for ever simply becoming an older, skinnier (perhaps hungrier) nomad. 

 About to take a dip in a mountain tarn

Other times, I wish I go home for just a while, to the home I no longer own. Generally, I have this feeling late in the day when we have just arrived back at the car after a multi-day adventure and our gear is wet, sandy, muddy, dirty, and generally in serious need of repair. At those times, going back to the caravan, washing in a cold mountain stream or lake, or simply by pouring a bucket of water over our heads is a poor substitute for a hot shower, a comfortable chair and soft bed. Late in the day when the fridge is empty it would be nice to abandon either our dirt-bagways (harder than you might imagine) or our ulra-pure diet and just go buy dinner in a restaurant, cafe, even a bar, instead of scratching together some dinner from camping left-overs and maintaining our frugal habits.



How you look at the end of a typical Tasmanian walk

Like all of life, a life adventuring is all about trade-offs. We trade the comforts that first world people take for granted (hot showers, dry accommodation, clean clothes, even highly palatable food) for the days and nights that we spend outdoors travelling through wild places, eating only what is nutritious (not necessarily very palatable), sleeping out, getting filthy, walking, paddling or climbing from days start to days end. We get to watch the sun rise and set, to see mountain peaks floating suspended in an ocean of cloud, to paddle past curious seals, to listen to whale song on a deserted beach, but, we have no community (we are about as different from the standard "grey nomad" travelling around Australia as you can get while still being part of the animal kingdom), no place where we belong, no home. 
 Southern Ocean sunrise