Friday, December 7, 2012

The Kosciuszko Mountain Pygmy-possum

Once again I had the incredible opportunity to help out with the Mountain Pygmy-possum monitoring program. The endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus) monitoring program has been going on in Kosciuszko National Park for at least 15 years. Some of the researchers have been involved with the program since its inception and regularly catch the same animals during the monitoring events.

A steep decline in numbers occurred following extensive bushfires in 2003 after which very few animals were captured. Over the past decade, numbers of these cute little marsupials have improved with more favourable conditions and the increased removal of feral predators. However, it is thought that this is a few as 2000 animals remaining.

I spent my first day helping out at Mt Blue Cow. The site is within the Perisher ski resort and is very popular for skiers and boarders in winter. A few years ago a large section of one of the most popular runs was fenced off from riders to protect the fragile possum population. Possum crossings have also been installed across a number of runs to allow small mammals to cross safe from the threat of predators.

Mel climbing the very rocky Mt Blue Cow

First possum for the day, so cute

More rock scrambling

Another cute possum

Twynam West Spur, one of my favourite places to ski in winter

Looks a little different in winter

Me holding the last possum we caught for the day

Wildlife crossing across the Side Saddle run

My second day helping out started at the Charlotte Pass ski resort, a short drive up Kosciuszko Road from Perisher. We started by clearing a line within the resort, a very rocky boulder field perfect for Pygmy-possums. We caught loads of possums and had fun jumping around the rocks. I didn't get any photos of this line as we had a fairly large group and were moving pretty slow as it was.

After Charlottes Pass we drove back towards Perisher to our second line of the day, The Paralyser. The line is a fair way up the valley and we spent about half an hour bush bashing to get to the first trap.

Location of the first trap, the road is way back down the valley

A sniff for freedom

The Paralyser is another of my favourite places to ski in winter. It is relatively close to the resort and offers some easily accessible interesting terrain.

Spring at the mini paralyser 

Damian on The Paralyser during one of the biggest snow falls of the 2012 season 

Lovely clear day and fresh snow on The Paralyser

We continued on our line catching a few possums and the odd fat and smelly bush rat.

A bit unsure

Posing in the sun

Love the snowgums, photos never do them justice

Rock ice shear

Definitely spring in the mountains

Knobby snowgum

We met back up with another team and shared the last few traps.

They love the boulder fields and Mountain Plum-pine (Podocarpus lawrencei)

It’s a girl

A very friendly possum

The also endangered but not as cute Guthega Skink

And we are done

We retraced our bush bash back to the car enjoying the surrounding mountains and thinking on the cute little marsupials that call them home.

A short vid of the day

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Around Cradle Mountain Tasmania - Part 3: Lake Rodway to Dove Lake

Thirteen people sleeping in a single room makes for a restless morning. As people started to wake up I ran to the little window to check what the conditions were like. What I saw out that little window was not what I had imagined. After the previous day’s rain and then snow I was expecting soggy looking country, perhaps a dusting, not 10-15cm of fresh snow!

Good morning, fresh snow with some sun from the window of Scott-Kilvert Hut

Looking toward Cradle Mountain

I had always known that it snows in Tasmania, however, I had never imagined that it could snow so much in a single night. The scene, had it been in the Snowy Mountains on the mainland where we live, would have had me grabbing my skis for some powder turns.

A snowy Scott-Kilvert Hut

The eastern face of Cradle Mountain

Cold dash for water

Snow and the water flowing from the previous day’s downpour

In an attempt to keep the hut tidy, the kids and guides had the night before, left all their wet gear and boots outside on the front veranda. This proved to be a rookie error and all their gear was covered in snow and frozen. It’s never pleasant sticking your warm foot into an icey cold frozen boot.

Frozen boots, gaiters and gloves, not much fun

We got in our warm gear and hit the track. We were hoping to make good time but the snow had completely covered the track in places making it hard to find our way. The storm had also not entirely passed and we were intermittently getting battered by snow and wind.

Hitting the track near Lake Rodway

In normal conditions the trail back to civilisation would take around 3 hours, it was looking like it would take us a bit longer. It wasn't helped by me constantly stopping to take photos of the incredible scenery.

Hynns Tarn

Little Horn at the eastern face of Cradle Mountain

Hairy spiky tree and a hairy spiky hiker!

Snow depth on one of the numerous boardwalks

Don’t slip on the boards

Incredible hiking through the snow

We passed the famous Artists Pool and I couldn't resist pausing for another photo.

Artists Pool, Cradle Mountain

We eventually made our way around the Little Horn and the eastern face of Cradle Mountain until we got to the Rangers Hut, an emergency use only shelter.

Rangers Hut

From here the track split, either turn left to the Face Trail and then Dove Lake or turn right to Hansons Peak which also eventually leads to Dove Lake. I had heard that the Face Trail could be a bit ‘hairy’, probably not a good idea in a blizzard, but the weather also looked pretty rough towards Hansons Peak. We took the trail to Hansons Peak hoping that the inevitable descent to Dove Lake would be ‘gentle’.

Holly heads off to Hansons Peak as the sun pokes out for moment

I guess the name should have given it away, a peak would normally be a place higher than the surrounding country. We climbed, and I mean literally, climbed, up towards Hansons Peak. The trees that we had been walking amongst gave way to exposed alpine and we had to pay close attention to where we stepped as the track was icey, unstable and covered in snow. Making for even more pleasant walking conditions, an incredibly strong wind was battering us as we traversed the ridge line.

There is a trail under there somewhere, approaching Hansons Peak high above Dove Lake

The poles that we were following suddenly disappeared off the side of the ridge down towards Dove Lake. It seems our hike in Tasmania would have one more surprise for us, a nearly vertical rock scramble down, what I would call if I was skiing, a couloir. The couloir was acting as a wind tunnel and we could barely stand up at the top. We started to climb, our hands were slipping on the icey cold chain. Holly was not enjoying it and she was not impressed when I whipped the camera out for some photos and some footage.

Looking back up the first pitch of the Hansons Peak rock scramble

Middle section Holly battles the blizzard

The Hansons Peak rock scramble from the bottom

We eventually made it to the bottom of the scramble, it was pretty wild Holly has since reminisced that she “felt lucky to be alive”. One of Holly’s gloves was saturated from the icey chain. I gave her one of my spare dry socks and she did the rest of the hike with a sock hand.

Continuing along the trail, cold and a little bit rattled, the sun made a welcome and brief appearance and we took a moment to eat some chocolate.

The sun comes out, Hansons Peak, Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake

Looking for a spot to rest and have some chocolate

All smiles again resting above Dove Lake as the weather sets in again

We made it to the Dove Lake trail fairly quickly after our break. When we came across a family of day trippers, our ordeal was abruptly over. The closer we got to the Dove Lake car park, where a bus would whisk us back to the visitor centre, the more day trippers we came across. Most looked at us, wet dirty and covered in snow, with disbelief. Many asked where we had been and what why we were hiking during a blizzard. I'm not sure I have an answer, but it was a radical trip!

Snowing until the end, the last bridge that takes you to the Dove Lake car park

Looking back on our hike a few weeks later, it truly was one of the most amazing trips I have done. It had everything, beautiful scenery, adventure, physically demanding at times and a few testing moments.

Heading back to civilisation

And to finish, a short vid of our adventure.