Monday, May 22, 2006

Hydro Hut

Last year, a friend told me about an out of the way hut on the eastern Windermere Plains known simply as The Hydro Hut. His instructions sounded inviting: “A couple of hours walk from the Overland Track, over a ridge and down beside a tarn.”

As the crow flies, the hut is only 2 kilometres from the old Wolfram Mine in the Forth Valley. However, the road to the mine has been closed 30 kilometres to the north near the Lemonthyme Power Station. There is also the matter of the hut being 700 metres higher than the mine below.

So… To find this hut, there are 2 choices: (1) A 30 kilometre road bash (walking or mountain bike) from the power station to the mine then a very steep climb through dense bush to the plains 700 metres above. OR (2) Approaching from the Overland Track via a long walk in from Cradle Valley.
To add to my interest, a 1919 geological map of the area shows a track zig-zagging up ‘The Razorback’ beside Commonwealth Creek. Perhaps it would be possible to locate this to assist with the climb from the valley.

Given the uncertainty of the road conditions I decided to take the long walk from Cradle Valley. As always, with a young family and full-time work commitments, time was at a premium. Half a weekend was available. At more than 50km much of which would be untracked, a day walk was a bit too much. Therefore a Friday night and Saturday walk was the best option.

Teamed up with a mate from work, we set out from Dove Lake at 5:30pm on a mild November Friday afternoon. Marions Lookout and the Plateau were dispensed with before sidling between Cradle Mountain and Fury Gorge to the Cirques.

The sun went down as we descended to Waterfall Valley Hut for a break. To minimise the walking needed tomorrow, we decided to leave the comfort of the hut and use the dim light of dusk to push further towards our goal.

Once we passed Barn Bluff in the gloom, by 9:00pm we arrived at our campsite beside a small lake on the open and exposed Windermere Plains. During the next hour, we pitched the tent then cooked and devoured a hearty meal. While eating, an ominous inky black cloud was devouring the western horizon. Frequent lightning flashes lit the mountain ranges as they were gobbled up by the approaching storm.

With dinner done and gear away, just as the last tent zip was closed, the storm hit. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, heavy rain and gale force winds shook the tent. A weather station on nearby Mount Reid recorded winds gusting up to 180kph as the front went through. With warm sleeping bags and a robust tent, it was exciting to be so close to the storm’s fury yet so warm and dry.

The following morning was mostly sunny with a few cloudy patches. A brief snow shower accompanied us at 7:30am as we headed away from the security of the Overland Track into the untracked beauty of the eastern Windermere Plains. A distant ridge marked our goal and we started to make a beeline for it.
Barn Bluff soon after we left camp to wander the untracked wildflower carpet of Windermere Plains.
After walking for a short while, a pretty cliff-lined gorge was negotiated upstream from Lake Agnew. We launched ourselves over the swollen creek without incident and progress continued steadily beside tarns until the target ridge was reached. Some rock hopping along the ridge avoided the worst of the scrub until the most westerly peak was mounted, revealing the remote hut below perched on the edge of a small tarn.
The Hydro Hut from the west.

We didn’t know what sort of hut to expect. To our surprise, the hut was lined and quite ‘critter proof.’ It even had cornice and skirting. There was only one bed and barely room to ‘swing a cat.’ Just outside the front door spectacular views of the upper Forth Valley opened up from Mount Ossa to Mount Oakleigh.

After leaving the hut, we visited the nearby rim of the plateau. First, we looked south over a waterfall to the rainforest-bound confluence of Douglas Creek and the Forth River. A little further around the plateau, we looked down to the Wolfram Mine close below to the east. The open areas of mine tailings and gravel I visited as a child 24 years ago appear to be quickly being reclaimed by the forest.
Douglas and Forth valleys with Mts Oakleigh, Pelion East, Ossa, Thetis and Pelion West.

Our last visit to the rim overlooked Commonwealth Creek to the north. Here Razorback Falls made a spectacular sight where they plunge into the trees below. From this point, we made our way down to the falls and followed the creek upstream to Lake McCrae.

After lunch by the lake shore, we looked for a spot to recross Commonwealth Creek and found a large squared log with a big rusting square peg driven through it. The old mining map later confirmed that the Razorback Track crossed at this point on its way from the Barn Bluff mines below Lake McRae to the mines above Lake Windermere. Perhaps our log was the remains of an old bridge.
Once we regained the ridge above Lake McRae, we retraced our steps back to camp, packed up the tent and wandered back along the Overland Track. This was the first week of the new permit system where walkers are all required to walk north-south. We were therefore going against the flow and attracting a lot of funny comments.

One German walker said we were going the wrong way. I responded saying that we only did a short walk. He laughed and said we had a lot of gear for a short walk. Hmmm… It’s funny how a pack with tent, stove and sleeping bag looks and feels much the same for a 1 night walk as it does for 5 nights. Oh well. That’s just one of those things.

We arrived back at Dove Lake just on 7:30pm after 26 delightful hours in the Tasmanian bush.

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