Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mixed Feelings for Mount Field

In a comment on my last post (Mt Field West), Ken Bushwalker makes a good observation.  Despite decades of Tassie bushwalking, I’ve hardly done any walking at Mt Field.  (My previous post admits this was my first trip to Mt Field West.)  This illustrates a few things.
Firstly, I now work as a guide in the Mt Field National Park but my itinerary only takes me as far as Lake Dobson.  I’m the first to admit that 100 trips to Lake Dobson in the 2 years since moving to Hobart does not make up for not visiting Mt Field West.
Secondly, there is such a HUGE amount of bushwalking opportunity in Tasmania that a lifetime is not enough to explore it all.
Next, I’m guessing Ken Bushwalker is from another part of Australia and doesn’t fully appreciate the regional divides we have on this island.  We certainly don't have the distances found in other parts of Oz but, nonetheless, it does take some effort to get around the island state.
Of my 44 years on the island, the first 17 were spent on the Cradle Coast (Burnie), the next 3 in the North East (studying at UTas in Launie), 6 back in Burnie, 8 in Westbury (near Launie), 8 in Devonport  and now the past 2 in Hobart.  That means 42 years spent north of the 42nd parallel.  Treks "down south" were a big thing growing up in Burnie.  During my first quarter of a century on the planet, resources were limited so places within a fairly short drive were the order of the day.
From the age of 26 a delightfully serious case of marriage/parenthood set in resulting in available bushwalking time measured by hours rather than days (let alone weeks!).  My few sojourns south were to major icons such as Federation Peak, Frenchmans Cap, Mount Anne, Southern Ranges and the South Coast Track.  Mt Field didn't get a look in partly because I always saw it as a poor cousin to Cradle Mountain.
Ouch, I can hear my southern friends wince at that last comment.  Perhaps some of them agree.  My very skewed opinion goes back to strong childhood memories relating to contiguous wilderness and visible human intrusions.
During my childhood, our many family trips to Cradle Mt started with a drive through rolling farmland interspersed by densely forested gullies.  Beyond Wilmot and Erriba the patchwork quilts of NW farmland were quickly replaced by pine plantations surrounded by the ever deepening forested gorges of the Wilmot and Forth Rivers.  After Moina the wild, windswept and often snow-covered Middlesex Plains evoked stories of tough mountain men who eked a living from winter trapping and summer cattle grazing.
The journey had a sense of increasing wilderness as we got closer to our objective.  Finally we would arrive at Cradle Mountain and it felt as if the wilderness journey was complete.  Beyond that point it would take several days of walking to reach the next road to the south.  If you headed south east or south west from Cradle it would take much longer still to reach a road.
My first major summit was Barn Bluff at the age of 8.  I had been to Marions Lookout several times and marvelled that only tiny traces of human presence could be seen.  The Dove Lake car park, the small Rangers Hut near Little Horn, the distant air strip beyond Pencil Pine Creek and, beyond that, faintly discernible farmland beyond Mount Roland.  Barn Bluff impressed me much more than Marions as evidence of human intrusion was even less.  Apart from the fine threads of walking tracks and a tower on Mount Read, apparently untouched wilderness appeared to stretch forever.
At that time Wild magazine was a source of childhood fascination.  I had a sense that a place had to be incredibly special to appear on those hallowed pages.  Back then rock climbing was a significant part of the magazine before it had spun off into its own publication.  I remember marvelling at the antics performed on various walls including those around Mount Arapiles in Victoria.  One day, as I was perusing these images, I noticed something was wrong.  I could see farmland in the background of a photo featuring an incredible-looking Arapiles overhang!  My childhood sense of wilderness was shattered.  How could a place special enough to be in Wild magazine have farmland so close?  Where were the dozens of kilometres of driving through increasingly wild terrain to the point where something as civilised as farmland should be a tiny spec on the horizon?  I was confused.
In the year I turned 10 I was introduced to overnight walking in the Walls of Jerusalem.  This coincided with the Franklin River campaign which is another story entirely but those events were shaping my thoughts and prejudices.  When I turned 11 a Mt Ossa trip gave me the opportunity to ‘stand’* on the roof of Tasmania.  (*Actually it was more like ‘clung’ to the roof of Tasmania – I went again the following year and, as a 12 year old, I was confident enough to properly stand on that well-known summit rock.)  The perceived wildness of the Ossa summit view was very similar to what I experienced on Barn Bluff.  Hardly any evidence of human presence at all right to the horizon in every direction.
In these pre-teen years reading maps appealed to me much more than reading books.  Tasmanian national park maps gained the most attention by far.  I quickly learned the vast wilderness stretching south from Cradle Mountain was not a feature of other parks.  I learned that western parts of Mount Field and the Hartz Mountains National Parks had been revoked and handed over to the insatiable clear-felling timber industry.  I had been spoiled by Cradle Mountain.  The thought of being able to climb Hartz Peak and Mt Field West, only to see the devastation of clear fell logging operations on the other side tainted my view of those places well into adulthood.  It still affects me today.
Meanwhile, back in my beloved Mersey-Forth high country, things were changing.  Bob (I’ve-got-the-best-eyebrows-in-the-business) Hawke was a legend in my eyes due to his role in saving the Franklin River from Hydro development.  However, that status did not last long.  My trip to the Walls of Jerusalem as a 10 year old followed the steep Fish River Track from the foot of Clumner Bluff down to the Fish River and straight up the hill to the Trappers Hut.  After the two Ossa trips I was back in the Walls as a 13 year old but this time the Horse Track had become the norm and the Fish River Road was closed.  I smelt a rat.
Fresh from defeating the Tasmanian Government in the Franklin River controversy, Prime Minister Hawke got involved in a stoush over the logging of forests on Clumner Bluff.  Conservationists were concerned the forestry activity would bring machinery and fire within 5km of the largest remaining native pencil pine forest on the planet.  The wet eucalypt forests of Clumner Bluff were a vital buffer protecting the rare pines and Bob Hawke boldly promised, “Clumner Bluff would not be logged.”
Shortly after being enthused by the Prime Minister’s promise I was sadly let down.  Apparently the bulldozers were rolling and, to add insult to injury, they were using the Fish River Road which I previously enjoyed as the most direct walking route into the Walls of Jerusalem.  My next trip to the area was when I was 14 years old on a Scripture Union Boots n All camp to complete the Pelion mountaineering circuit.  Sure enough, the scars along the face of Clumner Bluff were stark when viewed from the infamous climb on the Arm River Track.  The Prime Minister’s fall from grace was complete in my eyes. Little did I know another disappointment was waiting just over the hill.
Day 2 of the Boots n All trip was my first opportunity to climb Mount Pelion West.  The elevated February Plains prevented me seeing the Clumner scars but looking to the wild, wild west I was sad to see a new scar on the horizon.  A massive swathe had been hacked out of the side of Mt Murchison.  What on earth was going on?  If I could see it from Pelion West I knew the scar would also be highly visible from Barn Bluff and Cradle as well.  When I got home I discovered it was the new Anthony Road servicing the Henty-Anthony power scheme which, along with the King River scheme, would be the last major Hydro developments in Tassie.  These had been constructed with compensation money given to the Tassie government in the wake of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam decision.
So…  In a very round-a-bout way, there’s how some childhood memories have given me a lasting prejudice against Mount Field National Park.  Luckily, thanks to the 2013 extensions to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Mount Field has not become an island completely drowned in a sea of logging.  The tireless efforts of conservation groups have protected the Upper Florentine valley which provides a tenuous link between Mount Field and the world heritage area which stretches all the way to my beloved Mersey-Forth high country.

Postscript:  The above ramblings may sound terribly na├»ve and I’m pleased to say I’ve matured in some of my views.  I am well aware that both Forestry and Hydro have constructed the roads which access most of the areas in which I enjoy my bushwalking.  I am also aware that increased protection for our forests means there is no longer a financial driver to maintain many of those roads.  Some younger walkers bemoan the loss of roads to places like the Little Fisher Valley and some parts of the Meander Falls area.  Instead I see the longer lead-in walks to those areas as a reminder of conservation battles won, changing attitudes and a bright future for many of Tasmania’s wild places.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Mount Field West

Mount Field West
A couple of free days in December allowed my first visit to this peak.

Lake Dobson

Lake Seal and Mount Bridges
After lunch overlooking Tarn Shelf beside the Rodway ski tow we scrambled over the Rodway Range.  We paused briefly to collect the peak bagging points at the high point overlooking Lions Den.

Rodway Range high point.  The Eastern and Western Arthurs grace the horizon beyond Tyenna Peak.

Lions Den

Lake Hayes and The Watcher
Views to Florentine Peak were a constant companion as we crossed K-col and ascended the plateau beyond Clemes Tarn.  Masses of flowering scoparia, a sparkling stream and numerous tarns made the final approach to Field West delightful.

Peterson Memorial Hut

Clemes Tarn and Florentine Peak

The view from the top stretched to the many mountain ranges of the central and south-west Tasmanian wilderness.  Most of the peaks on show feature on my unclimbed 'to-do' list.  After a period of dreaming up future trips my focus turned to the Florentine Valley laying directly below our vantage point.  It is sad to think parts of that once wild valley were removed from Mount Field National Park to feed the paper mill at Boyer.  At least the mill has now moved to 100% plantation timber and the largely untouched upper Florentine Valley is now safely within the World Heritage Area (no thanks to the Hodgeman & Abbott governments who attempted to have them removed!).

Lake Gordon brooding beyond the ramparts of Mount Field West
On our return journey a brief break in the clouds allowed us a quick side trip to Naturalist Peak for more peak bagging cred.  K-col greeted us with a short sharp downpour making it easy to decide against the longer return via Tarn Shelf.  The Watcher made no attempts to keep an eye on us, instead staying well behind a dark, cloudy veil - those points will wait for another day.

As we recrossed the Rodways, rain turned to sleet before making the full transition to a spectacular snow storm as we arrived back at Lake Dobson.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wielangta Walks

Wielangta Rain Forest Walk
In recent times I've discovered I'm a shocking 'Western Tasmania Snob'.  Growing up on the Cradle Coast meant the western wilderness was my backyard.  From my earliest memories family hikes featured rivers raging through deep gorges, soaring dolerite crags piercing the sky, plunging waterfalls and moss-lined ferny gullies.  I really struggled to imagine any appeal in the dry eastern half of the island.

A colleague, Bert Spinks - Storyteller extraordinaire, recently tapped into this feeling with a Myrtle Forests post in the Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania.  The following paragraph struck a distinctive chord:
Sant sees Tasmania as a “skewed island, all that mountainous weather-burdened weight in west!” And it is true: don’t let the historic bickering between the towns in the north and south fool you: the division of this island is vertical. There is the difficult transylvanian west, with its “straining forests”, facing towards the worst weather and absorbing it, reprieving the “sheltered east, with its vineyards and holidays”.
Give me transylvania any day!

Lucky for me (given I now work mostly in the east) I've discovered pockets of the east which mirror the west.  The significantly drier east coast is never completely dry as this year's floods can attest.  Sheltered nooks and fern-filled gullies harbour pockets of my beloved myrtle, sassafrass and moss.

Today took me along the Wielangta Road.  I remember this area being part of some legal wrangling over the meaning of "protection".  (The law has since been changed so "protection" means whatever the government of the day wants it to mean.)  My western-prejudice caused me to pay little attention.  I now see what the fuss was about.

In the west I've always enjoyed exploring the plethora of abandoned rail and tramway corridors through seemingly impossible terrain.  The main lifeline for the long-deserted Wielangta township in south-east Tasmania was a tramway out to the coast at Rheban.  A section of this makes for a liesurely stroll along the SandSpit River mid-way between Copping and Orford.  Man ferns galore and mossy patches of blackwood and sassafras made me feel quite at home.

While in the area we checked out the Three Thumbs Lookout (must return to do the walk sometime) and the Marion Bay Lookout.  The viewscapes have been lovingly enabled by strategically cutting down any trees which may block the view.  You don't see that in a National Park!  (Please understand my irony here - I am NOT a fan of chainsaw-enhanced lookouts.)

The highlight of my day was the seemingly abandoned Rain Forest Walk at Robertsons Bridge.  The recent (2012?) bridge reconstruction appears to have wiped out the start and end of the track.  From the southern side of the river on the upstream side of the road, follow the gutter down between the bridge embankment and a small natural cliff.  A boardwalk can be found among the man ferns close to the river.  Follow this upstream to the point where a footbridge has been washed away.

Soon after crossing the river (which only flows strongly after heavy rain) the boardwalk swings back towards the road.  At this point, while the man ferns were lovely, I was a little disappointed at the brevity of the walk.  However, a treat was in store!

En route back to the road they well-constructed board walk skirts along an impressive rock overhang.  Giant trees have fallen (the natural way) from the slopes above making a formidable sight as the track passes beneath.  The path emerges somewhat unceremoniously at the roadside between clumps of cutting grass.

Apart from the missing footbridge and obscured track ends, the boardwalk is in good shape and well worth a visit.  Please go there!

Sassafras trees at Wielangta Rain Forest Walk

Wielangta Rain Forest Walk

Sandspit River

View* from Three Thumbs Picnic Area over Sping Bay (*chainsaw enhanced)

Spring Beach and Quarry Point

Great Sun Orchid (Thelymitra aristata)
Perhaps the tallest grass tree flower I've ever seen (Xanthorrhoea australis)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Funny Weather in Hobart

Towering over 1250m above the city of Hobart, Mt Wellington / kunanyi is generally 10 degrees cooler.  Check out the BoM snapshot of conditions while I was on the Pinacle late in the afternoon.
I wonder how often Hobart and the mountain record identical temperatures as shown above.  In fact the summit defeated the capital in a battle for daily maximum honours yesterday as Hobart only managed to crawl 0.9 degrees above its 4:00am minimum.
 My tour enjoyed sunny contions at Russell Falls, Lake Dobson and Bonorong Wildlife Park but our return to Hobart was greeted with gloomy low cloud.  Much to our delight, we broke through above the cloud just above The Chalet.  Generally the summit is crowded in fine sunny conditions.  Instead we basked in the sunshine in relative isolation.  Up above the cotton wool we almost had the mountain to ourselves.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Waterfall Bay

Waterfalls, orchids, berries, flowers, people and boats on a work trip to Waterfall Bay on Tassie's spectacular Tasman Peninsula. This group is starting Tasmanian Walking Company's 6-day Wineglass Bay Sail Walk aboard Lady Eugene.