Not everybody knows, but if you don’t mind unheated huts with no pampering, Mt Field has Government huts that can be hired by families (or other groups) for a very reasonable sum. Our family made a three-day booking for the school holidays just gone by. To say it was cold is an interesting and inadequate summary, but not something that would ruin a holiday: in fact, it probably made it more memorable and enjoyable.
It didn’t help that we arrived in the dark, a few hours after work, and were not particularly successful in getting the fire going strongly at that hour. I can do “being cold” in my tent, as I warm up the space quickly enough, especially if I have jut been exercising, but a hut with “big space” and no preceding exercise is different. Luckily we were prepared with blankets as well as sleeping bags.
I was cold enough during the night to think that this holiday was not such a good idea and maybe I had urgent business at home that I had forgotten about, but when I saw the beautiful white frost out the window on awakening, I decided this was worth a little discomfort, and I couldn’t remember the urgent business.
The children were also excited by all the ice, and had fun trying to walk on tarns and seeing if they would fall in. I tried to go for a training run, and did get as far as Lake Dobson, but once I’d had a free skating run on an icy slope there, I decided I wouldn’t go any further in that direction. I got in my exercise down a bit lower on the Lady Barron Falls track instead.
That afternoon, after games in the now-warm hut, my daughter and l set out for the snow on Tarn Shelf. It was very slippery and icy, but we took care, and it was superbly beautiful.
The next day was even colder, (minus 5 in the valley, so, less where we were), and the tarns were even more alluring. That day the children were also keen to go up high and have a snow fight and a general play, so we all climbed up and had lunch in the snow.
Snow fights don’t amuse me, so I climbed higher, onto the Mawson shelf to check out things there, and then dropped back down to join the others at the Lake Seal Lookout, for round X of the snow war. Eventually the children were prepared to move on further, to the hut just past the Rodway Range intersection in the track. Funnily, we bumped into another family from the children’s primary school, also exploring the snow up there. I am so pleased to have grandchildren who are prepared to get out into the environment and enjoy what it has to offer rather than sitting inside staring at and swiping screens all day.
On the final day, Gussy, his dad and I climbed Mt Field East, which had very thick icicles on all the rock sections. Gussy is 9 and that is his ninth Abel. There is something quite neat about that. The days when I had to slow down and wait for Gus are now behind us. These days, he has a very tidy pace indeed, and was faster than I was over the ice cubes. I preferred four points of contact while he was content to dance on ice – a much faster way to move.
The forecast was horrendous: gales and sleet – not anyone much’s idea of fun. Gussy and I had hoped to climb Mt Mueller with HWC, as then we could get past the locked gate barring cars from a decent entry point, but, perhaps not surprisingly, we were the only two who turned up. The leader bailed out, and so I decided to take young Gus (9) to climb Trestle Mountain instead. We’d approach via the Mountain River track, which I find to be very beautiful: I love the mossy greenness of its path, and the fact that it is more a pad than a highway, which all too many Tassie paths are becoming these days. The forest would protect us from the wind right up until the final saddle, I decided. The light rain cum snow, we’d just take on board as we went.
The other thing I like about this path is that it is very, very steep: almost unrelenting, and I just love the act of climbing. Perhaps the steepness is what has saved it from highway status. We would warm up nice and quickly. (The temperatures were not, at this stage, exactly appealing.) Looking up into the thick mist, I told Gus we only had about 20% chance of making the summit, but we’d at least have a workout.
Up we climbed, Gussy doing very well indeed, and the saddle between Trestle and Collins Bonnet getting ever nearer. I had already increased our chances of summiting to 75%, but no higher, even though the summit was very near now, because I feared the blast across its wind-tunnel might be prohibitive, and we were only in this for enjoyment, so if Gussy found it unpleasant, we would immediately about-turn. He was, at this stage, worried about gusts and ice on top, which was another reason for the low percentage so high. I pointed out the rocks ahead that lie under the summit, and said if we made it that far, I’d increase our chances to 90%, but I wasn’t committing to a sure summit before I could see it close by.
The day before, I had had a hard knock in the head with a soccer ball, playing goalie for five primary students who were shooting two balls at me (or the goal), and suddenly felt a little wave of slight, yet passing, dizziness. I asked Gus what he would do if I actually fainted. He said he would phone his parents using my phone (and rattled off their numbers), and, if he couldn’t raise them, then he’d call emergency. He thought his parents would deal better with authorities than a grade 4 student. Good answer Gussy. On we went.
The conditions in the saddle were much milder than we had anticipated, but not pleasant for a rest. On we forged. I was delighted to see tree coverage going up the slope until quite near the summit. I thought we’d definitely get to the 95% point, but may yet be fouled out by gusts and ice on top. Gus liked our odds.
As it was, there was a brief lull in the fighting force of the wind, and we got to the summit, took a brief couple of shots and descended before the fury began again. Gus was not a scrap interested in snacking up there. In fact, he held off having food until we reached the car over two hours later. And there, we refuelled mightily! His mum had packed us a veritable feast, originally planned as a forest or summit one, but now had under more clement conditions down low. It was still lovely there.
Data; 23.63 km equivalents, comprising 14.02 horizontal kms + 961 ms climb.
Having been rather effectively grounded by my broken wrist for two weeks now (which means I can’t handle a rucksack or tent), I was starting to get worried about losing long-haul type fitness, so I decided it would be good for me to undertake a long day, and visit Mt Field West, going over the Rodway Range, popping up Naturalist Peak whilst I was in the vicinity, and returning via the Newdegate Pass near the Watcher, and dropping down to Tarn Shelf to complete that circuit as well as doing the Big Fella. It looked nice and long on the map, but I didn’t know how long until my gps told me at the end. Using the rule that adds a km for every hundred vertical metres climbed, the route ended up being 32 km equivalents.
My dog was excessively jealous as she watched my preparations for leaving, so I had to begin the day by taking her for a walk (not counted in the overall tally, obviously). It isn’t fair to lock her up all day while I have fun without her. This meant that the carpark was nearly full when I arrived at Lake Dobson. Oh dear. “Everybody else” was already up enjoying the mist and clouds that were swirling around the lake, and I was only just setting out. I hoped there’d be some mist left up high for me if I hurried.
As I trod the path beside the lake, I couldn’t help but greet the plants by name as I passed, happy that these friends were on close enough terms with me that they did have names and were not at the “Hey you bush” level. Many years ago I read a brilliant book by Anna Pavord, The Naming of Names, in which she points out that if you don’t know the names, you can’t differentiate, and you are just looking at bush or forest, an amorphous green mass, but once you know the names, individuality and the fascinating differences of each genus and its species become evident. A whole new world is opened to you. And naming, she argues, helps us feel less adrift in a world that can otherwise be hard to interpret or understand.
Ursula le Guin is a writer who looks at this in an interpersonal level: once we know someone’s name, we have a certain power over them (and vice versa). She depicts the power of naming in a wonderful fantasy: The Wizard of Earthsea. Teachers try to learn the names of their students as quickly as possible, partly for this reason. Farmers don’t name the animals they intend to eat, as eating “Harriet” or “Daisy” is all but impossible. Naming connects the namer to the named. Maybe fewer deaths in war would take place if the enemy were personalised with names. The Nazis depersonalised the Jews by giving them numbers rather than using their names; it’s easier to gas a number.
I once rescued plants from death by being able to name them. I heard a machine bulldozing every plant in our beautiful laneway. I grabbed my baby and ran with her on my hip down the road to plant us in front of the destructive machine. They told me they were just bulldozing weeds. I said: “They’re native plants that we in this lane treasure; that’s Hardenbergia violacea; that, a Hibbertia stricta”, and on I went. “God”, they said, “she knows the names of the weeds”; eventually they agreed to negotiate with me and the residents who cared enough about the plants to know what they were. It was fortunate that they didn’t kill us, really; that baby has grown into a beautiful person who studied botany at university amongst other subjects and who adores plants of all kinds.
And so, thinking of Anna Pavord, Ursula le Guin and others who care about naming things (Theophrastus, 300BC, is another such, who intuited that the chaotic world of plants had an order to it, not just of function but also of structure, if only he could crack the code. He went a long way to developing the system of classification that Linnaeus eventually adopted two thousand years later), I worked my way up the hill, completing that relatively uninteresting section (I am not a fan of roads) in a much shorter time than when I have a full rucksack. Today I only had 5 kgs – enough to give me a little work, but not overburden me as I nurse this arm.
At last I was on the Tarn shelf track, smaller stuff, which one enjoys for about a quarter of an hour before peeling off and heading upwards to cross the rocky Rodway Range. That would test this one-handed, single-armed animal. I was clumsy and hesitant, but got there. The way down the other side to K-col was similar. I felt like a wooden toy. This trip was supposed to give me back a little confidence but, so far, it wasn’t happening.
Two hours after starting I was having my first break, a drink by Clemes tarn and a bite to eat. Another hour and I was on the summit of Mt Field West, which interested me far less than the beautiful basin just below full of alpine plants, so I chose to have lunch down there rather than on high with its smudgy views in midday glare. Now that my main mission was accomplished, I could relax and enjoy the alpine plants for a while. This area is magic.
I did have a time limit, as I had agreed to have dinner with the ex-baby referred to above, and to babysit her children in Hobart, so I couldn’t do what I wanted to, and just stay up there, lingering until sunset. I did, however, have time to go home the long way.
By the time I was back in the vicinity of K-col, and quite eager to photograph flowers, the wind was strong enough to have all of them waving merrily in the breeze, and the glare was enormous. Hardly conducive to good photography, so on I pressed, rather disappointed, especially at all the exemplars of Craspedia alpina = C. macrocephalia that nodded their greeting as I came by, but which were far too mobile for me to be bothered with – and far too white at this hour, as well.
It was similar around the Newdegate Pass and over the other side. Once down on Tarn Shelf, out of the worst of the breeze and with the sun slightly lower, I began my search anew. I only found one at this altitude, right near the end of the shelf, which I stopped for. By now, I was actually rather tired, and had enormous trouble unbuckling my rucksack to extract my camera.
The rest of the trip was rather uneventful, as long as you don’t count meting a very pleasant Ranger right near the end; he was setting out to sleep on high so as to photograph the dawn next day, and, despite my dinner-in-Hobart deadline, we chatted for what felt like fifteen minutes. Anyway, surely I needed a break before undertaking that driving!
Perhaps you imagine Tasmania to be a nice gentle place to be in summer, with balmy temperatures. Perhaps you fancy swimming most days with a few gentle walks up friendly mountains. If this is what you want, well, I need to disappoint you. We are a bit far south for all that, although, of course, you can strike lucky.
But if you fancy something wild and rough and rugged; if you’re prepared for snow, gales and a drenching in summer; if you delight in the tempestuous side of weather and find it stimulating and thrilling, then Tassie has plenty to offer you.
The Swedes have a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. My family agrees, and with that in mind, we donned our puffer jackets, beanies, mittens and anoraks (all of which were needed) and headed up for everybody else’s first ascent of Legges Tor in the famous Ben Lomond National Park, to stand upon Tasmania’s second highest point, which was a grand adventure for the children.
I think the photos tell their own story. You will see the hair blowing about the children’s faces, the warm jackets and ski gloves to fend off the cold. I hope the body language also suggests to you that they are enjoying themselves, which they are. It was bracing and enlivening. You will also see that the scoparia was nicely in flower, making the high area a mass of colour.
I really love it up there … more so in winter when icy rime covers the rocks in a tracery of delicately laced patterns, or when snow like icing sugar decorates the bushes, but summer also has its own grandeur.
The Mt Pillinger-Lake McCoy circuit has something for everyone. On this day, the final Wednesday of 2020, a small group of us who either don’t work or have organised our lives to have Wednesday off, had an amazing tally of wonders to let us know that 2020 was not all bad.
We saw two waterfalls, three wedge-tailed eagles (up very close; I think they liked my mauve parasol), several different kinds of fungi, masses of wildflowers, the view from the summit of Pillinger, several groves of magnificent Pencil Pines (Athrotaxis cupressoides), vast areas of bouncy and colourful sphagnum moss, a few wilderness valleys that we had not previously explored, and a new lake (Lake McCoy).
This circuit can be done with equal enjoyment, I would think, either clockwise or anti-; we chose anti-.
We parked our cars at the end of the Magges Spur 17 road, and set out down the pretty clear track. After only seven minutes, the track (which ultimately leads to Mt Pillinger or to the Arm River main track, or to any number of other enticing locations) crosses the first of many unnamed Arm R tributaries. As they are nameless, I have just called the first one A, and the second B. The third creek, which we didn’t cross on this route, bears the actual name Arm R; the fourth and fifth are even further west again, and are also unnamed. Tributary A has a pretty little waterfall, shown above.
The second creek we crossed, I have with enormous imagination called Arm R Tributary B, also contains a waterfall worth photographing (see below). We were not getting anywhere fast, but that was never the purpose of the day.
Once we had enjoyed the rainforest, fungi and waterfalls, we climbed slightly (often beside Trib B) out onto the plain that eventually passes under Mt Pillinger. This area has fabulous Pencil Pine groves.
One follows Trib B westwards until there is a saddle so broad and flat that you need a map to tell you it is actually a saddle. Out the other side of the slight swamp and down imperceptibly, you briefly meet the actual Arm R before turning south and beginning the climb up the main Pillinger gully to a saddle before the summit. I have always fancied sleeping in this saddle, or even higher, as there are many flat, clear spots, but water would need to be carried from the tarns of the Arm R at the base if that is what you want to do.
The view from the summit is pretty good, but I never actually enjoy summits in midday glare. The highlight up there for me was the appearance of three huge wedgies who kept circling us at close quarters. I take credit for this, as I’m sure it was the mauve parasol I was using to protect me from the sun that attracted their attention. Their eyes seemed quite focused on it, or so it seemed.
At last we were moving again, and this time, after the Pillinger saddle, in a different direction, south, to and then along a valley with calf-high alpine grass and colourful scoparia (nicely spaced, thanks), cushion plants, and a dainty creek with deep, clear water down the centre.
Our desired lake was to the east of where we were, so we had a couple of unpronounced spurs and appealing valleys to cross before we reached it.
At last we reached our lake; time for another afternoon tea.
The stats are that we walked about 14 “horizontal” kilometres, climbed 382 metres, yielding 17.8 kilometre equivalents.