Friday, May 07, 2021

Cradle and Barn - January 2020


If there was an origin for my bushwalking, it's the Cradle Mountain area.  The first walk I can remember was the old Dove Lake circuit before the lake level track made it the tourist-friendly doddle it is today.  I was four years old.  Amazingly mum and dad were also hauling my two younger siblings on the epic journey through the Ballroom Forest, up past Lake Wilks and returning over Hansons Peak.

But my story starts even earlier than that.  My dad was on a Burnie High School geology excursion to Cradle looking at the effects of glaciation on the landscape.  This got dad into bushwalking, a passion he shared liberally with friends, my mum and, eventually, my siblings and me.  Countless journeys to Cradle were a feature of my youth, adulthood and, most recently, my own parenthood journey.  Like my father before me, I also shared the experience with anyone willing to join me.

I've had many memorable trips introducing my own family to Cradle.  Winter tended to be the best time with snow trips being a favourite.  Many nights were spent in Waldheim Cabins and the Scout Hut (BP Lodge) and many real estate (and occasionally election signs) were ridden down the slopes.  Emily was the first of my three to reach the summit, a super achievement at the ripe old age of eight.  She looked a darn site more comfortable on the climb than an ashen-faced prime minister we met on top. He composed himself just enough to shake Emily's hand and say, "Hi.  I'm Kevin from Queensland."

This time, in January 2020, it was time for my youngest child, Henry, to tackle some summits.  As a North West Coaster I'm still coming to grips with being a Hobartian since 2014 so I struggled with the 5-hour journey up from the south.  We hopped aboard the shuttle, pleased to experience one of the big, new, hybrid Volvos doing the run.  While our government is hopelessly addicted to poker machine revenue and insists on propping up old growth logging, it does get a few things right.

Just before 4pm we finally hit the track.  The gorgeous sunny day meant plenty of tourists were still milling about so it was easy to find a willing photographer to take our happy snap at Glacier Rock.  Very soon lake circuit walkers were left behind as we made our way steeply up Hansons Peak.
Heading up Hansons Peak
Lakes Hanson and Dove sparkled below us deep in their steep-sided, U-shaped, glacier-carved valleys in contrast to the plateau-dwelling tarns and Twisted Lakes which we passed close at hand.  In the distance behind us kettle holes and rim pools pocked the Ronny Creek valley beyond Lake Lilla.  Ahead we could see Lake Wilks with its seemingly impossible perch midway up Cradle's lower slopes - another feature of glaciation.  We could easily play a game of geomorphology buzzword bingo up here.

Just before 5:30pm we decided we could cope with a late arrival at Lake Rodway as the Little Horn looked oh so inviting.  Leaving the quartzite plateau the Face Track took us through a band of conglomerate before we took the obvious pad towards the climbing gully between classic dolerite columns.  Smithies Pinnacle made an impressive spectacle along the way but beyond our climbing ability at that point in time.  (As I write this, Henry has recently got heavily into climbing so perhaps it is now within his capability.)
Smithies Pinnacle

Henry on Little Horn

The Little Horn detour took an hour and a further hour delivered us down the hill past the unusually dry Artists Pool and Flynns Tarn cascades to arrive at Scott Kilvert Hut at 7:30pm.  With Waterfall Valley Hut being reconstructed Overland Track walkers were being detoured to Lake Rodway for their first night so the hut and tent platforms were all full.  We backtracked a little to pitch our tent on flat, glacially scoured bedrock - that's what I call a hardened tent site.
Artists Pool

The forecast for our middle day spoke of cloud increasing and afternoon rain so an early start was in order.  By the time sunrise greeted us as we were already climbing out of the Rodway valley to join the Overland Track at the northern end of Cradle Cirque.
Lake Rodway sunrise

First light on Cradle
Our time on the world-famous multi-day trail was short lived as we avoided it's descent along the arete (Bingo!) into Waterfall Valley.  Instead we continued onto the Barn Bluff track as it continued along Bluff Cirque.  All the way up the ascent of Barny the skies stayed clear for us but we could see ominous cloud building from the east.  That's not the prevailing direction in these western mountains but also not terribly uncommon in the summer months.  East coast lows can lurk in the Tasman Sea and bring 'unseasonal' conditions which have been known to famously upset yacht races and cricket matches as they scoop up moist air from the tropics and loop it down to the drier, temperate climes further south.
Mount Emmett

Barn Bluff from Cradle Cirque
From the summit of this, Tassie's fourth highest mountain, we were treated to clear views west and south.  The large expanse of Lake Will dominated to the south and led our eyes to the smaller lakes of the Windermere Plains and, beyond that, the Pelions which include two more of Tassie's top five tallest peaks, Mounts Ossa and Pelion West.  To the north Cradle was just starting to be gobbled by the approaching easterly.
Lake Will, Windermere Plains and the Pelions from Barn Bluff

Descending Barn Bluff
Two cirques and a lightly-forested sub-alpine traverse of Cradle's western face later we were, once again, scrabling up dolerite boulders towards a columnar skyline.  The false summit, dip over the back and final climb were dispensed with in quick succession before attaining Tassie's 5th highest summit.  Gaps in the fast-moving cloud offered fleeting glimpses directly down the sheer 400 metre drop a few short steps away from the historic summit cairn.
Henry on Cradle summit
It's a close call which way is best to walk from the Cradle summit track back to Lake Rodway.  We opted for the Face Track to complete our circumnavigation and arrived at our tent just as the rain started getting serious soon after 4:30pm.

As a rainy evening turned into a rainy night and rainy morning the roar of the stream tumbling from Flynns Tarn down to Lake Rodway steadily grew.  By the time it was light the stream was a raging torrent.  From a 7:15am start we made a morning tea stop in the Little Horn Emergency Shelter at 8:30 and were ready for the shuttle bus at 10:00.  Along the way it was amazing to see the before and after effect of the downpour.  Waterfalls were pumping all over, especially above Flynns Tarn and Lake Wilks.

Flynns Creek and Artists Pool before and after the rain
Descending Hansons Peak
On the way home to Hobart we stopped briefly at Dasher Falls.  Despite the short distance between Cradle and Sheffield there had clearly been way less rain.  While lacking in water, the rock formations make these falls well worth the visit in any conditions.
Dasher Falls showing little sign of the overnight rain

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Southern Ranges - Third Time Lucky - February 2020

If at first you don't succeed...

We were super keen to test our theory that we could complete the Southern Ranges traverse, New River Lagoon wade and South Coast Track (SCT) to Cockle Creek in four days.  Our next opportunity arose when a few days off lined up at the start of February - potentially the most stable part of summer - Ha!

Day One

Snow-clad Hill One from Bullfrog Tarns
Rather than camping at Mystery Creek, this time we spent a night in the car park.  An early rise without needing to pack up the tent got us away promptly at 6:00am.  At 8:40am we popped out of the tree line at Bullfrog Tarns where a surprise was in store.  Snow!  Adamsons Peak had received a good blanketing overnight.  Shortly afterwards we got our first view of Hill One and Mount La Perouse which were both clad in white.

'Summer' lunch break on Hill One
We met settled snow at the same time we got to the end of the fire impact zone.  This meant the track was hard to find in snow-clad scoparia and a few valuable minutes were lost thrashing through what turned out to be an old, overgrown section of track.  This was enough to get us quite cold and when biting wind and hail whipped around the ridge we had to seek shelter.  In a large, east-facing bowl on Hill One there was enough snow settled to level out a snow-ledge and pitch the tent.  At 11:00am on Day One it appeared our 4-day Southern Ranges attempt was already thwarted.

Mount La Perouse and Hill Two from the scrubby sidle around Hill One 
Four hours later, after a hot lunch and some serious warming up in our sleeping bags, we felt fantastic and decided to push on.  At 4:00pm we were on our way.

Lileteah Peak and The Hippo from Hill One-Two saddle
Hill One had not finished with us completely and we had to shelter again as we attempted to round the northern end of the ridge in howling gales driving an onslaught of hail directly at our faces.  This time, we only needed to duck behind some rocks for a few minutes and we were on our way again.  A few more squalls tried to discourage us but once we were heading south, albeit on the windward side of the ridge, the wind was at our side meaning the hail was easier to deal with.

Arndell Falls on the DÉntrecasteaux River below Mount La Perouse viewed from Hill Four
At 7:40pm we arrived at Ooze Lake and by 8:00pm we were esconced in our tent.  Despite our 5-hour lunch-break we were at the same point we had reached on Day One in November.  What would Day Two have in store?

Icy conditions on Maxwell Ridge

Water 'falling' uphill 

Ooze Lake beckons while the knobs either side of Leaning Tea Tree Saddle lead our eager eyes to PB, Mount Wylly and Mount Victoria Cross brooding in the distance

A late evening burst of sunshine reminded us it was summer and made the snowy middle of the day seem like a bad daydream

Day Two

Dolerite columns on the lower slopes of Pindars Peak
Thanks to Day One's shenanigans a big Day Two was needed.  By 7:00am we had been on the track 40 minutes and were back in the snow, this time on the south side of Pindars Peak, passing the summit turn-off at 7:25 and down at Pandani Knob where we had hoped to be starting the day at 8:05.

Ironbounds, New River Lagoon and PB from Pandani Knob
After negotiating the Pandani to Wylly scrub fest TWICE in November the stakes were high this time around.  There was a strong incentive to only do it ONCE.  Surprisingly the now-familiar scrub seemed oddly bearable and we got to Mt Wylly over an hour quicker than last time.  Familiarity breeds speed it would seem.  By midday we were at the Wylly summit where views were quite good but widespread, ominous cloud was just touching the higher peaks around us.

Kylie on Wylly with PB and New River Lagoon
Wylly summit selfie with Mounts Victoria Cross and Bisdee
Kylie descending Wylly
At the end of Wylly Plateau we descended yet again into scoparia, then up and over a small hill in more scoparia before heading down the other side and up to Tramp Camp in cutting grass, tea tree and stunted eucalypts which, while still quite dense, was a pleasant change from the scoparia. 

Kameruka Moraine standing between us and PB was not as bad as we anticipated
Kameruka Moraine was surprisingly easy walking.  In several spots scrabling over giant boulders gave some reprieve from the scrub.  As we descended into the KM-PB saddle a broad muddy section of track showed distinct signs of track work!  This was almost unbelievable given the complete lack of track work since leaving Pindars Peak.  Sure enough, as if on queue, we came across a PWS survey marker confirming my suspicions.  Ironically as we approached PB Low Camp a confusing network of muddy tracks seemed to head in every direction.  Eventually, soon after 5:00pm, we found a curious tent platform made of short logs set vertically into the mud with room for 3 or 4 tents.  With cloud settling low on the mountain there was no chance of a sunset display so we opted against pushing on to PB High Camp and made ourselves at home.

Great views to Precipitous Bluff south-eastern face from PB Low Camp
Someone went to a lot of effort to produce these tent platforms at PB Low Camp

Day Three

With gloomy clouds settled low over PB we had a leisurely 7:00am departure hoping things may clear.  The track climbs beside a waterfall which, in drier conditions, would be the main water source for the campsite we had just vacated.  Above the waterfall I was again surprised by the trackwork.  Well laid out stepping stones gave the broad, gently sloping alpine valley with it's stunted conifers a Japanese garden look.

"Shapely spires" beside the PB summit side trip
Our decision to stay low may not have helped attain a clearer view but one look at the sodden PB high camp vindicated our decision.  Only 20 minutes of pack-free walking led us past a gully filled with swirling mist and some shapely spires to the viewless summit for the obligatory posing and logbook signing session.

PB Summit
From PB High Camp the track briefly swings north before descending dramatically between towering dolerite columns and sidling south along their base.  By this stage the low cloud had turned to persistent and occasionally heavy rain which was running off the cliffs in numerous impromptu waterfalls.  After one particularly spectacular cascade emanating from unseen heights above us the track suddenly turned west and commenced the long, forested descent to sea level.

Descending PB
As the rain eased, our descent featured towering myrtles and the occasional giant gum-topped stringybark defiantly demonstrating the aeons-old battle between the eucalypt and rainforest communities of south-western Tasmania.  Further down the ridge we were treated to several scrambly sections through contorted, water-worn limestone indicating we were traversing an ancient karst landscape where underground streams once carved their way through this soluble rock.

Lagoon arrival at Damper Creek
After a brief walk through oddly level terrain beside the meandering Damper Creek, 2:00pm heralded our arrival at the Lagoon some 5 hours after leaving the summit track at PB High Camp.  Over the next 3 hours we settled into an almost calming rhythm wading thigh deep down the lagoon.  A funny feature of the tannin stained water was not being able to see our feet at all.  A small amount of deviating from a straight line allowed us to locate the silty bottom which was easier wading than the rocky sections.  Every so often some exposed, grassy shore offered some reprieve from the wade but mostly it was not worth the effort of deviating that far from a straight line.

It wasn't all this shallow

Kylie loving the lagoon wade while PB watches disapprovingly
At Limestone Creek, I suddenly found myself almost swimming as the ground dropped away before me.  It's a strange experience to be suddenly held up by the bouyancy of a large pack while desperately trying to turn around and get back on solid lagoon-bed.  Kylie, in the meantime was having no trouble further out in the lagoon.  Sure enough the deep channel only extended a short distance into the lagoon and we were able to wade around it.

Lagoon-side grass clumps standing on erosion-exposed root stalks

Powering past steep sand banks towards lagoon's end
At McKays Creek we had anticipated needing to head away from the lagoon to cross the streams on logs as per Chappy's notes.  A single piece of tape on the shore indicated the way to go.  However, thick scrub discouraged us and we successfully employed the Limestone Creek technique, getting past McKays and onto the home stretch in quick time.

New River Lagoon outlet with late afternoon sun over the Ironbounds and Prion Beach
Once on the SCT superhighway we motored along past stunning views over the New River mouth and Prion Beach before reaching Osmiridium Beach just in time for a superb sunset over the bay.

Sunset at Osmoridium Beach

Day Four

Prettys Hill
Soon after 6am we were under way with a series of hills and beaches between us and our return to 'civilisation.'  After crossing Rocky Plains the forests on Prettys Hills were delightful featuring giant leatherwood trees and myrtles surrounded by prolific hardwater and kangaroo ferns. Surprise Bay adorned with jagged cliffs and rock formations rising from the sand led to a quick up and over at Shoemaker Hill before enbarking upon the challenge of walking on bowling balls at Granite Beach.  It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand as our gaze was regularly drawn to the mighty waves rising out in Shoemaker Bay and smashing onto the cliffs leading to South Cape.

Surprise Bay
The biggest hill of the day is the not-to-be-underestimated South Cape Range.  SCT walkers tell horror stories about the Ironbounds but, despite being only half the height, South Cape Range is also a force to be reckoned with. By midday most of the ascent was in the bag at Flat Rock Plain but the top of the range takes some work with long, boggy sections and a few ups and downs through dark and dense but stunningly beautiful rainforest.  Eventually the range seems to let you go with a long descent to Blackhole Plain.  However another two hills need to be traversed before the final descent to South Cape Rivulet - an uneventful crossing thankfully - and the lovely beach walking of South Cape Bay.

South Cape
One more hill behind Coal Bluff led us to our final beach walk with the iconic Lion Rock urging us on.  At 3:30pm we climbed the stairs and gazed fondly back as we ended our 24-hour dalliance with the South Coast and headed along Blowhole Valley to the waiting car at Cockle Creek.  By 6pm we were back at the Lune River car park where we had left our other vehicle and a bike which was our plan to avoid itch-hiking had we been forced back once again.  Thankfully that was not needed.

Descending South Cape Range

South Cape Bay
With nothing pressing to go home for we enjoyed a final night camped at the trail head relaxing and enjoying the sense of accomplishment having completed our 4-day Southern Ranges objective.

Lion Rock