Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Around Cradle Mountain Tasmania - Part 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Rodway

Well, the overnight storm we encountered was indeed an ominous sign. We woke up to torrential rain. We packed up inside the little tent as much as possible and then legged it to the hut for breakfast.

Morning Rain

After a dodgy cup of instant cappuccino it was time to don our wet weather gear and get amongst it.

Not looking forward to getting out there

Donning the wet weather gear

With the weather looking set in, we had a vague plan to try to make it all the way back to Dove Lake where a free courtesy bus could take us to our car which could take us to somewhere dry and warm. Our intended route would take us back up the escarpment that we had descended the previous day, around the eastern side of Cradle Mountain to Lake Rodway and Scott-Kilvert Hut and then to Hanson’s Peak and Dove Lake.

Setting off the weather was shocking, I can’t imagine rain getting any heavier. We climbed up the escarpment where a strong wind was also added to the mix.

This pretty much sums up the weather on the escarpment on the southern side of Cradle Mountain

We reached the turn to Scott-Kilvert Hut and began the descent to Lake Rodway. The temperature had been dropping fairly rapidly over the previous hour and the rain had become a lovely sleet.

Still happy at this stage, our gear was holding up well as the rain turned to sleet

As we continued our descent the weather got progressively worse. The sleet was now full blown puking snow. The surface water runoff from the rain was also taking the path of least resistance down the trail making for wet and cold walking conditions.

Nearly snow

Snow, bush and a very wet trail

Dodgy frame grab but you get the idea, very wet and snowy

Despite our uber expensive wet weather gear, it wasn't long before we were saturated. My jacket was keeping me dry but water was running in through the sleeves and from my face. My feet were also wet from the endless streams and mud. There was so much water around that on a few occasions the boardwalks were being overtopped by the streams they were installed to traverse.

Water freely flowing over the boardwalk at this little stream

Despite only being on the track for around two and half hours, we were starting to get cold and were hanging out for Scott-Kilvert Hut. It was hard to imagine a hut being able to be built in the thick vegetation, but sure enough, after a little more time in the weather there it was.

Arriving at Scott-Kilvert Hut

We had lunch and some chocolate, rung out our socks and got back on the trail hoping to make it back to the car and that warm hotel room that we were dreaming about. However, after about ten minutes on the trail we were both shivering having cooled down while breaking for lunch. We had a quick discussion and decided our best option would be to head back to the hut for the night. The warm room would have to wait another day.

Back at the hut I quickly got the fire going and it wasn’t long before all our wet gear was hanging up and we were warming up enjoying a nice cup of tea sitting in our warm and dry down jackets. We spent the afternoon hanging out in the hut reading and eating more chocolate.

Happy and warm

The hut was built following the awful death in a blizzard of two young men in 1965. David Kilvert had been injured and was being carried by his teacher, Ewan Scott. Tragically they both died of exposure. With the nasty weather, and the cold and wetness we had experienced, I can imagine how fast it would be possible to get into trouble in the area. We were thankful for the foresight of the builders of the hut, built in honour of the two young men, as we warmed our cold bodies by the fire.

Plenty of room for cold and weary travellers

The upstairs sleeping area

The afternoon wore on, we had dried most of our gear and were wondering if we would be sharing the hut with anyone for the evening. As it began to get dark, we heard some action at the front door. A couple of guide looking fellas came in and told us we would soon be sharing the hut with seven 15 year olds and the two guides. The group had left Dove Lake earlier in the day and were in a similar state to we were a few hours earlier, wet and freezing. Soon enough they were in their warm clothes and the fire was now drying the clothes of 11 people. The kids were all very friendly and well behaved and were soon laughing and recounting their journey with an apprehensive excitement.

It was completely dark and we were all pretty warm and settled around the fire when two wet and freezing French backpackers burst through the door. These two, a guy and girl, had left Dove Lake even later than the school group. The girl had had a fall at some stage and had a very swollen hand. Like the rest of us they stripped off, hung up their wet gear and settled in around the fire to warm up. I felt a bit sorry for them. This was the first day of their Overland Track journey, they were in trainers, had no sleeping pads, no matches even, and all their gear, including their sleeping bags were saturated. I hope they made it to the end of the track with no further issues.

We all crashed pretty early. Holly and I were very cosy in our nice warm down sleeping bags. Adventures from day 3 to follow!

Fire is good for the soul, a primitive pleasure

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Around Cradle Mountain Tasmania - Part 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley

A few weeks ago, Holly and I made the journey down to Tasmania, a great gift she arranged for my birthday. Our trip intentions were twofold; do a hike in the Cradle Mountain National Park and also enjoy all that the island had to offer from more comfortable accommodation.

We had originally planned to do the entire Overland Track, but unfortunately time and off-season logistics were against us. Instead, I planned a three day loop starting and finishing at the Cradle Mountain visitors centre negating the transportation issues we were facing. Ill split this trip report into 3 parts as I went a bit crazy taking photos.

We arrived late in the afternoon the day before our hike. We had originally planed to camp this night, but, as was to be a common occurrence while in Tasmania, it was pissing down (“raining heavily” for non-Australian readers) so we stayed in a cabin at the Cradle Mountain Discovery Holiday Park. The cabin turned out to be a good option as it allowed us to get our food and packs sorted. The kitchen facilities, hot shower and electric blanket were also much appreciated.

Food for three days. Liberal amounts of chocolate

We were up early and got to the visitor centre as it opened. Unfortunately by the time we had registered, did our final pack and had a coffee there was quite a queue for the courtesy bus that takes you into the National Park. After waiting for about half an hour, we got on the bus for the short journey to Ronny Creek where the Overland Track starts.

Big smiles as we start at Ronny Creek in the sunshine

And we are off

Starting out on our walk I was immediately struck by a sense of how foreign the landscape looked. I had thought to find some resemblance to the Snowy Mountains, Australia’s highest, where we live. However, it was as though everywhere I have travelled had been mixed and merged into one combined vista. Mountains reminiscent of Canada, old growth forests, temperate rainforests, glacial cirques, it was all going on.

Button grass, temperate rainforest, alpine its all going on

Another aspect of Tasmania that I was still struggling to comprehend was the amount of wildlife, in particular the larger mammals. While I am quite used to seeing kangaroos, wallabies and wombats, I am not used to seeing wombats sleeping in broad daylight in the sun right next to a walking track! We lingered long enough to see it move and confirm it wasn't dead.

There it was, a wombat just lying there asleep in the sun

We continued on and upwards along the path. Suddenly we were in a rainforest. It was that quick, one minute we were walking along enjoying the button grass and views of the mountains then we were in a rainforest. Tasmania is a crazy place.

Into a different world

Crater Falls

We had in fact walked through a small section of temperate rainforest that hugs Crater Falls. We were soon back in the Alpine as we approached Crater Lake. Most people who pass Crater Lake get some photos of the historic boat shed that sits at its northern extent. I was no different, although I cocked up all of my attempts at it.

My crappy out of focus Crater Lake boat shed photo

The track continued to climb following the eastern side of the lake. We now entered a gnarled beech and eucalypt forest. It kind of made me feel like I was in my own banzai dream.

Me in the banzai forest

We followed the ridge line enjoying the spectacular views of Crater Lake on our right and Dove Lake on our left. A short rock scramble brought us to Marion’s Lookout where the views got even better and we got our first look at Cradle Mountain. We had lunch and then spent some time enjoying the view and taking photos.

Holly posing, I'm not sure why

Rock scramble to Marion’s Lookout

I went a bit crazy taking photos

Crater Lake pano

Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain pano

Happy hikers enjoying the view and the sun

After lunch we continued south passing below Cradle Mountain. The sun we had been enjoying was slowly being choked out by ominous looking dark clouds. Cradle Mountain is unlike any mountain I have ever encountered, hundreds of dolerite pillars give it an almost Mordor like appearance.

Spectacular Cradle Mountain

It was about this time that we encountered some large snow drifts. The snow was soft and slushy which made the going a little difficult. Every now and again one of us would lose a leg down through the snow pack.

Holly battles the snow pack

I love snow

Battling through the snow drifts we came across Kitchen Hut. A nice looking two story stone and shingle hut. The shovel on the second level gives some idea of how high the snow level can get at times.

Some hairy mountain man was poking around the hut

Kitchen Hut, its pretty cool, love that shovel at the second level

We spent the next few hours wandering around the base of Cradle Mountain, navigating the snow drifts and taking in the views of Barn Bluff as we made our way to Waterfall Valley Hut our camp for the evening.

Getting a look at Barn Bluff

Barn Bluff is also pretty spectacular

Waterfall off the south side of Cradle Mountain

The leaves of Nothofagus gunnii Australia’s only winter deciduous tree

Welcome to Tassie, this is pretty typical of the track once you leave the day walking areas

Mt Pelion et al. just before we dropped down off the plateau to Waterfall Valley

Arriving at camp with sore feet we were greeted by the local welcoming committee.

Another Wombat right next to the trail at the Waterfall Valley Hut

Wallaby hanging out next to the trail

We set up camp at the old Waterfall Valley Hut, another beautiful old hut with an incredible view of Barn Bluff.

Our view of Barn Bluff, not a bad spot to pitch a tent

A nice spot in front of the old Waterfall Valley Hut

Waterfall behind the hut

More waterfall action, it’s a beautiful spot

As I was taking photos a scream came out of the hut. Holly had acquired a leech. Sometimes I feel for Holly. I met her over in England living a very pleasant life away from blood sucking parasites, rain, snow and tents. She is a champ though and it wasn't long before Mr leech had been removed and squashed on the floor.

It started to rain while we ate our re-hydrated dinner and drank a cup of tea in the hut. We hit the tent and fell to sleep pretty quickly. At about midnight, it got ridiculously windy and our little tent was shaking like a wet dog. An ominous sign for the rest of our hike.

The sun sets over over Barn Bluff, kind of reminds me of the Matterhorn