Six days well spent in a rarely visited part of Tasmania to the east of Lake St Clair. Follow along this journal as two mountaineers traverse the flat land of broad lakes up onto the steep edge of the glacial mountains. They bear witness to bushfire scars, ancient pencil pines, and the hidden sides of My. Ida. A nice window into a lansdscape that is hard to get to, impossible to forget.
Day 1: Lake Fergus
Departure from Hobart more or less as planned. One water bottle forgotten, quickly retrieved. Discussion of environmental responsibility and climate change en-route to Derwent Bridge. Car parked by 12:30pm on forestry road.
As Tim and I walked out to the Lyell highway we lay bets on how many cars would drive past before one of them picked us up. We called a number each, and shook hands. We were still a few steps away from the highway when a taxi pulled up. The driver was rolling a cigarette when we surprised him by walking up to his window. We asked him if he wanted to give us a ride to the Bronte Park turnoff. He agreed with a nod. He wasn’t exactly a talkative fellow, but he did tell us that he drove to Lake St Clair from Hobart to deliver a forgotten rucksack for a walker of the Overland Track. Someone else’s misfortune became our luck. It’s not every day a free taxi show ups the exact moment you need a ride.
From the Bronte Park turnoff it took us two more hitches to get to Little Pine Lagoon, the start of our hike. The last ride was from a chatty older fellow that we bribed with twenty bucks, who was stoked that the note would buy him a packet of smokes in Miena.
We followed the Little Pine River from the Lagoon towards Lake Fergus. The wide, open valley we were in was conducive to walking, being open and flat, with rich herbivore life abounding around us. We must have seen a hundred wallabies hopping and darting across the plains. Their coats appeared thicker than average, an adaptation to the chilly winds of the Central Plateau. Wombats grazed and waddled as we scooted past.
The river gurgled next to us as we eventually arrived to our destination for the night, a neat little fisherman’s hut by Lake Fergus. We were glad to get out of the chilling wind as the sun dropped below the horizon and the golden light disappeared for the night. We lit a fire in the hearth, cooked our dinner, looked at maps and played a game of backgammon on the board that Tim carried in. Although we didn’t know at the time, we wouldn’t see any other people for the following five days. We were on the cusp of wilderness.
Day 2: Lake Antimony
Coffee and muesli down the hatch, we were boots on, gaiters on, packs on and ready to go by 7:45 am. We contoured around Lake Fergus to find a highland Suzuki 4WD and the accompanying trailer with tinny boat. We knew it was a highlander car because there was lichen growing all over the bonnet and the rego sticker had expired in 2005. We wondered where the owner had gone and concluded, they had either gone fishing or were swimming with the fishes. We hoped it was the former.
The summer fires of 2019 had a devastating effect through this part of the country. The trees were all burnt to charred stumps and the tarns were all blooming with green algae; the juxtaposition of the black ground and the lime green pools gave a toxic appearance. The pineapple grass showed signs of recovering and most of the cushion plants appeared to have been spared though. We wandered on.
We had a pleasant lunch sheltered from the biting wind behind a dolerite rock and Tim was amazed at the amount of food I sank away. When we started moving again I thought it would be more appropriate to lie down and take a snooze instead. But we had ground to cover.
Soon, the country changed to a glaciated, undulating maze of tarns, erratic boulders and dense scrub. We were glad for the track that took us through our picturesque surroundings.
We passed some lovely open country before being swallowed into the scrub of Great Pine Tier. We were both glad for the hut awaiting us by the shore of Lake Antimony… Tim was even more excited about the packet of cheese twisties contained in the food chest (they were only a year out of date)! We were grateful for the people who built these high country huts and who continue their ongoing maintenance to keep them open to bushwalkers.
Day 3: Lake Meston
We woke to find a fresh dusting of snow outside. The forecast rang true and the day brought a steady stream of passing squalls that didn’t have quite enough moisture in them to soak us on their own; the overhanging vegetation accomplished this later in the day.
From Lake Antimony we followed a westerly course towards Lake Adelaide. We crossed a couple of streams that came up to our knees. Our toes got tingly cold. We were impressed with the country we saw, the walking was unhindered by any significant obstacles and the scenery was magnificent. These glacial valleys carry remnants of the past; glacial erratics, scattered like petrified dinosaur eggs. The frog croaks kept us company as we passed countless tarns and lagoons. We had lunch in a grove of pencil pines, seeking shelter form the wind and the rain. Within the trees it was still and it made us contemplate the lives of these ancient beings. The number of storms they must have lived through!
Eventually we got to the edge of Chinaman’s Plains (named after an oriental tin miner, Tim reckoned), and we dropped down to meet the track by the shore of Lake Adelaide. There was a brief moment of focus while we negotiated a tricky move on the cliff band; Tim managed to utilise the perfect hand jam. We hit the track by the shore of Lake Adelaide, and this track took us towards Lake Meston. We took shelter in the hut on the Lake’s western shore.
Our game of backgammon that night had an uncanny coincidence. We were rolling the dice to see who would start the game. Tim and I rolled the same numbers with our dice six times! I became convinced that the hut ghost was playing tricks on us. After I asked the ghost to let us play in peace, we rolled different numbers and we were able to start the game.
Day 4: The Mountains of Jupiter
We followed the track along the heavily vegetated shore of Lake Meston, then the fairly open eucalypt country, across Mayfield Flats to Junction Lake. From here, we struggled to find the pad that was going to take us to Lake Artemis. After about an hour of scrub bashing and wondering about whether we were on the pad, we found it, at which point it became obvious that we were definitely not on the pad previously.
As we commenced the climb up to the plateau, our aim was a narrow window between a cliff band and a scrubby gully. We ascended on mostly open, sub alpine terrain; large dolerite boulders and shelves, interspersed with snowgums, bauera and a collection of the other usual suspects. The highlight of the day was finding a narrow opening in the cliff band, which took us up to the top, to the edge of the plateau. How long I’ve waited to walk across the Mountains of Jupiter!
And it was magnificent up there. Big, rounded shelves of dolerite, interspersed with snow patches, tarns, pencil pines, snowgums and alpine herb fields, and light alpine scrub. We struck camp in a high saddle near Mt Spurling with an incredible view towards Mt Ida, Lake Riengeena leading the viewer’s eye towards the pointy peak.
Day 5: The Rim of the World
From our rocky knoll, we meandered across the Mountains of Jupiter to Rim Lake. As we dropped down in elevation, the vegetation had begun to change, from open sub alpine to dry sclerophyll, with plenty of scratchy tea trees and woody shrubs. The going never got so thick as to be real difficult, merely a bit tedious. The dolerite rock shelves were the ongoing theme, along with the coral fern and the pineapple grass in the boggy valleys. We had lunch on a rocky shelf above Rim Lake, with Mt Ida towering beyond the edge of the plateau.
We knew we had arrived to our campsite for the night when we popped out of the snowgum forest to a large open clearing right near the rim of the Traveller Range.
Here we found the most incredible grove of pencil pines, scattered over an area of a football oval, dotted with dark tarns. There was a particularly old pencil pine right in the centre of the grove, ringed by a protective ring of fagus. Seeing this tree, I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale. I sang for the tree so that it may live for another thousand years.
We struck camp not far from the grove of pencil pines, right near the top of the cliffs that mark the western edge of the Traveller Range. We stepped out onto the top of the rock buttress to survey the view. To our left we could just make out Mt Field West, to our right, the Acropolis. The sun set to the west, illuminating the snow covered peaks of the Du Cane Range in golden glory. A thousand feet below us, Leeawulena was sprawled out in her entire length. And so we stood on the Rim of the World and let out a holler that faded and echoed slowly into the night.
Day 6: Travellers Rest
TThe wind picked up around midnight, and our exposed tent rattled awfully loud. Luckily Tim had some spare earplugs and I eventually drifted off to sleep around 2:30am. Whacky dreams, then first light.
As we looked out the tent door we saw dark, boiling clouds to the west. ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here!’ – said Tim. I agreed. We were walking by 6:45 am. The rain started shortly thereafter.
We followed the crest of the Traveller Range South. The snowgums swayed around us, and the wind howled like a jet plane taking off. Our raincoats didn’t stand much chance against pushing through the wet scrub. It wasn’t long before we were as soaked as drowned rats.
The occasional flat spot with poor drainage would open up to reveal a spongy bog: dominated by sphagnum, coral fern, pineapple grass, low scoparia and various richea, with some pencil pines dotted about. We tried to follow the open leads as much as we could.
We made a slight navigational error, thinking we had covered more ground than we actually had and took the wrong lead down towards the east. However, we avoided major headaches by not dropping into a funnelling gully and following a semi open ridge instead, to a rounded highpoint. From here it was an easy descent to the open valley of Traveller’s Rest Lagoon. By this point, we were so wet we chose to wade part of the lagoon rather than go through more scrub. Our boots couldn’t get any wetter. We also waded the outlet of the lake, one of those crossings that get progressively deeper until we were immersed waist deep. Cold water therapy!
Quick lunch, shivers coming on.
Contour hillside through scrub to knoll. And then…
Voila! The forestry road we were aiming for! It would be an easy few kilometres to our car from there.
Our adventure was complete. We had traversed part of the Central Plateau. We even made it to the Hungry Wombat Cafe before their kitchen closed. A rare trip indeed.
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