Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cathedral Plateau

Twin Spires

Last weekend we had planned to do another overnight walk with the whole family. The plan was to set off after our children's soccer games in the morning and walk in to the Scott-Kilvert Hut at Lake Rodway in the afternoon. On Friday night, a couple of our children showed signs of having nasty colds. We decided this was not a good start so we abandoned the family walk idea. Instead, we decided I would toddle off on my own for a solo walking treat.

Grail Falls

As these opportunities are rare, I thought carefully about my destination. The forecast was fine so a mountain walk would be very appealing. There was also some snow left on the higher peaks. Even better! After some contemplation, I eventually chose to walk up the Moses Creek Track to the Cathedral Plateau.

Lunch spot beside a frozen Challice Lake

In my first few hours' walking, I climbed steadily out of the Mersey Valley into the picturesque surrounds of Chapter Lake. The dark silent waters of the lake contrasted to the brilliant white gushes of Grail Falls as they crash into the valley with a mighty roar. A cairned route leads up to the ledges above the falls and then on to my lunch spot where I could see Convent Hill over a mostly frozen Challice Lake.

Cathedral Mountain

My original plan was to setup camp at the lake and take a couple of half day walks exploring the Cathedral Plateau from there. Instead, as I was feeling fit and the weather was great, I decided to continue on with my full pack. A small rise took me to Tent Tarn where I lost the cairned route.

Sunset over Pelion East

I tip-toed through the fragile cushion plants south of the Tarn and then headed up hill towards Twin Spires. I did not go far before the thick scrubby vegetation was starting to get me down and for the first time in the walk, I could feel the weight of my pack. The scrub looked marginally better further south so I sidled a bit and much to my surprise, I came across the cairned route again. It must have recommenced at some point after Tent Tarn.

The moon watches over the pre-dawn sky as Pelion East, Barn Bluff
and Cradle Mountain peek out from their cotton-wool blankets.

My reunion with the cairned route was timely as I had just reached the snow line. As I got higher, it became apparent that the route was leading me to a high point on Cathedral Mountain itself. This point turned out to be almost 500 metres back from the edge of the escarpment. The views of the surrounding plateau and mountains were terrific but I was looking forward to seeing the view over the brink to the Mersey valley below.
First light catches Mount Ossa

Rather than heading directly to the cliff tops, I headed towards the Twin Spires, the northern peak of which is the highest point on the Cathedral plateau. There was just enough snow cover for this to be a very easy traverse. The last serious snowfall was almost two weeks ago so the compact icy surface was almost like walking on a footpath over or between the shrubs and boulders.

Sunrise over the Walls of Jerusalem

It was not until I reached the very highest point of the Twin Spires that I gave myself the satisfaction of looking down to the valley below. The roar of the Mersey River drifted up and the grassy flats of Lees Paddocks looked like a giant golf course. The private hut at Kia Ora stood out with the peaks of the Du Cane and Pelion ranges providing a stunning backdrop.

First light reaches Twin Spires

With light starting to fade, I quickly found a level patch of snow about 15 metres from the summit where I could pitch my tent, cook dinner and settle in for the long dark night. In the morning I woke an hour before sunrise, cooked a delicious breakfast and headed outside in the pre-dawn light. The moon smiled down on the peaks to the north-west which rose out of valleys filled to the brim with layers of cotton wool fog.

Twin Spires camp site starts to thaw

Cradle Mountain was the first peak to be set ablaze by the rising sun. A few minutes later as the sun eased its way over the Walls of Jerusalem, Mount Ossa was the next peak to glow. As I watched in awe, one by one the other mountains caught the suns rays. In the meantime, the dense fog was starting to rise out of the valleys. To the north, upward-flowing waterfalls of cloud were pouring over the cliff-lines of Deans Bluff and Bishops Peak. Soon, I too was enveloped by the rising blanket and my sunrise show was over.

Fog pours out of the Mersey valley over Bishops Peak

On my return, I foolishly headed straight down towards Tent Tarn and predictably got buried in the scrub I had encountered 20 hours earlier. A detour back to the cairned route to Cathedral would have been quicker and far less scratchy. Oh well, never mind. I shouldn't complain. The scrub here is no where near as bad as other parts of the island.

Looking from South Twin Spire to Mount Ossa

After descending past Grail Falls, I returned to the car via a taped route which follows Moses Creek down from its Chapter Lake outlet. I had done this route as a day walk previously but again found myself marvelling at the amazingly steep path taken by Moses Creek as it plunges over an almost constant succession of waterfalls before suddenly leveling out for its final approach to the Mersey River.

North Twin Spire from South Twin Spire

My walk finished on an uncertain note. When I last went to the Moses Creek waterfalls, I branched off the Moses Creek Track after it crossed Jacksons Creek to pick up the taped route. This time, heading in the reverse direction to my previous visit, I followed the tapes expecting them to swing east any minute to join the other track. They didn't! When I finally reached the confluence of Jacksons and Moses I came to an unpleasant realisation. By following the tapes all the way to the end, I now faced a very steep climb back to my car as I had descended more than I needed. The short, sharp climb to the car was not the ending I had expected but my sense of satisfaction and achievement overpowered my aching muscles and before I knew it, the car park was upon me.
Chapter Lake

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