7 and 8
March 17 – 20
Tasmania – Lake St Clair area
The small transport boat took us up Lake St Clair in the opposite direction to our journey 35 years previously at the end of an Overland Track trek. We hiked in to Pine Valley Hut. Deep forests covered in verdant green mosses, boggy areas clothed in miniature landscapes of ferns and coral plants, eucalypt stands. The walking alternated between wondrous and a trudge as the track stretched further than anticipated and our 5 day packs seemed to gain weight. We expected the hut to be empty as it sits off the main through route but found it jammed full of exuberant overlanders who were all in high spirits as they would finish the following day. We had come in to make a base camp and spend time exploring the area.
Uphill through more mossed forest of towering gums and King Billy pines. Stillness. An ent bade us farewell as we passed. Damp. I have images of elves, fairy tales, trolls, goblins, Robin Hoods and ninjas. It’s hard to photograph and capture the almost luminescent green that blankets everything. Close up the moss covering is made up of multiple species, each with its own intricate shape and shade of jade. Up an almost vertical creek. Drizzle. Up some more. Twisted roots.
The cloud lifts a little as we break out onto the saddle. Valleys drop away on both sides. Mist blows up over a sharp ridge to the south, Lake St Clair appears in the cloud gap, crags show for moments. The smooth rocks are covered in wildly coloured lichens. The sun pokes out briefly and lights it all up. It feels like everything is happening at once and I gallivant around trying to see it all and capture it all on camera and generally revel in the drama and wild beauty of the scene.
As we walk across the plateau I try to photograph the lichens green, blue, orange, white, pink, black. Fiery barked snowgums made brilliant by the wet contrast with the rocks. Cresting a shelf a sublime scene is revealed. The rock is glaciated and has left depressions that have become small tarns edged with the coloured stone and cushion plants. King Billy pines bonsaid by the prevailing wild weather stand in the mist. This is a magical alpine landscape. Further on a part of the shelf juts out. From this outlook we can see a string of larger tarns spread over a lower shelf. Beautiful. Mist then clearing. The sharp peak of Mt Geryon appears then the crags of the Acropolis. Inspiring.
Cath and I shelter from wind and driving rain behind a small bluff for lunch. An information and warning board in the hut stated that 4 people had died in the Labyrinth area. Weather can change quickly, navigation in mist could be very tricky, time can get away while exploring, it’s a strenuous walk up and down, once off the track a walker may not easily find it again.
On the way back across the tops the rain alternates with clearing mist. We strike good conditions through special parts of the landscape. We take our time with the downward climb/scramble/hike. Several years ago Cath wouldn’t have thought this possible, carrying a pack into a semi remote wilderness. This has got to be one of the best day’s walking anywhere – equal to some of the classic days we had hiked in the French Alps years ago.
Stars blazed the whole sky at 3 am so I looked forward to a break from the rain and some sunshine to relieve the overcast next day. A little later the downpour continued, hammering on the hut roof as dawn light filtered grey into the dingy recesses where we woke cosy and warm. Intrepid overlanders breakfasted, packed then left in full wet weather kit. Showers became heavier and then cleared a little. We ventured out into the forest. Immediately we entered the deep green silence. The ground became a cushion carpet of mosses and lichens with a narrow winding path reminiscent of the best fairy tales. The falls cascaded then streamed and wound through the carpet. Small pandanus stood like sentinels keeping watch on the flow of water. Cath stood motionless in a zen like garden. Some type of nameless ancient spirit seemed to dwell here between the creek, the mosses, the tiny lichens and the massive trees. It may have been part of a long hidden genetic memory from when we hunted and gathered in forests like this aeons past or more recently from my early childhood exploring the forested creek down the hill from my house, similarly dark and green however the brown water there was not from natural tannins in the plants but from pollutants from upstream factories. The wind picked up. We watched the tree giants sway. Water was everywhere – in the stream, sitting in puddles, absorbed by the spongy mosses, droplets hanging from every leaf and frond, falling steadily as rain, rising up inside my goretex sleeves and squelching in my boots.
This third day of rain we spent hours in the hut playing cards, drinking tea, keeping warm and trying to piece together Asian geography to put into understanding our conversations with a Taiwanese hiker we had shared tea with. She had been on the “track” for eight days with a small pack, no tent and no sleeping mat, relying on the huts, walking in rain. She had enjoyed two fine weather days and was loving her first hike. She had trudged off in the morning on her seventh day of rain. I felt better prepared but also a little luxuriant with my down mat and hearty food. A part of me envied her quiet, tough resilience and positivity.
A clear sky on dusk raised our hopes for an ascent of the Acropolis the following day. Then more showers that led into rain in the the night and at dawn so we packed early and headed back out to the boat down Lake St Clair. At Narcissus Hut where the boat departs we joined a large group of overlanders jockeying for a place on the 2 boats scheduled. There were too many of us so a hectic and stressful interpersonal hassle played out in the arranging of an extra boat, the ranger washing his hands of rescheduling punters, more people waiting on the jetty than there were seats available – all this in cold, wet, windy conditions. People were already strung out and tired. It was a contrast to the simplicity of a few days life in the hut and exploring the enchanted forest.
Around 8,000 people walk the Overland Track every year making it Australia’s most popular multi day hike. A booking system regulates numbers starting the trek between October and April. Walkers are required to go from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair (north to south) – this evens out numbers at huts and the lack of need for people to pass each other going in opposite directions means the track width is maintained at a minimum.
While Cath and I were walking out a “Canberra man fell off a mountain and died in Tasmania” (Mount Ossa).