New Year’s Eve was upon me, but what should I do? Mope at home, mourning the gaping hole left in my life by Bruce’s death, or go into the wilderness, where although I may well be alone, I am never lonely? The latter, of course. The wilderness revives and refreshes me, filling me with joy and taking me right out of myself with its infinite beauty. I can be miserably lonely in my home city with its people who aren’t there for me, but I am never lonely in the putatively empty wilderness, with beauty, freedom and space as my companions.
I decided the Walls of Jerusalem would be the right place to be, so phoned the kennel to see if they had any room. Luckily, a cancellation meant the answer was “Yes”, so, despite the fact that Tessie thought this was a shocking idea, and that the two of us should have a mother and doggy night at home, I deposited her mid-afternoon and drove on to the Walls, arriving later than I wanted, but, hey, this is summer and nights are pretty endless, so what did it matter?
The weather forecast, checked to be certain just before I left home, was for mild weather and no rain, so I chose my light three-season tent, and left my bivvy bag, heavy night coat and more at home. Seeing’s I carry my tripod, filters and heavy camera on such a trip, I appreciate the offer of a lightened pack in other respects. Ha ha. The weather had the last laugh.
As I rounded the corner into Herods Gate, I was knocked over by a blast of icy wind that roared all around and turned my hands to frozen blocks. I couldn’t wait to set up camp and shelter from its pummelling. Pity about the three-season tent that lets in way too much air for those conditions. Pity also about the fact that it was raining and that I didn’t have my bivvy bag or warmest coat to pamper myself with.
At sunset, I was too cold to concentrate on good photography. I took all my gear to my chosen position, but just wasn’t in the mood to use it, so just took a few hand-held shots. Luckily, after yet another sleepless night in the wilderness doing bed exercises all night to stay warm, I was up at 4.50 and in the mood for photographing pre-dawn and sunrise, dancing on the spot to raise my metabolism. Later, cappuccino at Deloraine was sure appreciated. … And, because the scoparia was not quite in flower yet, the good or bad news is that I will need to return for another night in the not too distant future.
Off I set: my goal being mysterious blue lines on the map, lying on the flanks of Mt Rufus, on tributaries that would eventually flow into mighty rivers. Now, when you set out bushbashing in quest of a blue line on a map, you have no idea (i) whether there will actually be a waterfall at the end of your rainbow, and (ii), whether it will have been worth the effort in time, energy, petrol and scratches. Thus I have (in the past) been the questionably proud discoverer of Dry Falls and Trickle Falls, to name but two of my findings. Funnily, no one has been very excited about these, even though my documentation has, at the very least, told them what’s there and informed them that it’s probably not worth their while adding that to their list of immediately pressing activities.
HOWEVER, Sunday’s journey through knee-deep mud and then thigh-deep snow with shoulder-high scoparia thrown in – and a few magic, primaeval pencil-pine grovelets with brief sections of alpine grass – (plus one tiger snake), a journey that took seven and a quarter hours in total, was absolutely Worth The Effort. I could have called the falls Wonder Falls, Speechless Falls, Gaze or Delight Falls; however, even these names diminish them somehow, reducing the spiritual experience of being there to one aspect of the experience.
They need a name that will impart a sense of their particular place set in wilderness, a name that reaches out not in, and I think an aboriginal name is what they deserve, as it will add its own mystique, just as does the name Leeawuleena, lying not far away, “sleeping waters” … how beautiful. I have wasted hours trawling the web for a Tasmanian aboriginal dictionary, or for place names that could be vaguely related to the area, but my net remains empty. For now, English monikers will have to do: Rufus Falls, and Navarre Falls Upper and Lower. Although Rufus was a Roman poet of antiquity, whose poems none of us have heard of, and whose only claim to fame was that he was a friend of Virgil (is that not clutching at straws???), at least the name “Rufus” suggests to us Taswegians an area of wilderness with a certain feel to it. And Navarre is a former kingdom of SW Europe, established in the 9th century by the Basques. What has that got to do with us??????
Up there near the waterfalls, the views are expansive, looking out at Mt Gell, King William I, Pitt and Mulligan, and then Slatters Peak, and the King William Range, with Frenchmans Cap thrown in, and that’s before I begin to name the ones further to the south. On this day, all were decked in snow. For me, all these are old friends and I love seeing them. Gleaming and sparkling in the distance far below us was Lake King William.
It was not a fluke that this journey was undertaken with white peaks all around, and snow covering the route. I had been watching the weather maps very carefully, and chose accordingly. This was exactly what I had ordered, and I revelled in it.
I had brought along a friend who, I knew, would appreciate being there. She had never been in real wilderness before, and was floating with delight. We giggled our way through the snow drifts, which are actually quite hard work, forcing you to lift your legs very high each step, after which you’d sink to an unknown depth, depending on what lay underneath. And then, I kind of squealed with delight, for there was a real waterfall, and it was beautiful: an attractive drop of maybe ten metres of delicate white, attended by deep clumps of pristine snow, pandanis (richea pandanifolia), with a few pencil pines, and Pherosphaera hookeriana for colour, texture and form variety. It was set in a small sandstone, cliffy amphitheatre, with striations of warm hues. We photographed from the west and the east, from above, the side and below. It was fun.
Even so, I thought that my friend, unaccustomed to all I was doing, might have had enough, or been very tired by the physical effort of getting there, so I offered her the choice of turning around at this stage. To my excitement, she said she’d like to see the other two falls I had in mind. I pointed to where I expected them to lie, gave her a pessimistic time estimation and reminded her that there might nothing there (I hate overly positive promises; I would never make a politician), but still she agreed. Yippee. Off we set.
On this section, the snow was more of a challenge, with some very steep drops, and drifts of unknown depth to contend with. However, the final spur was sheer pleasure. Again I sort of squealed with shock and delight when I looked over the edge and saw what we had found. And just below, the water dropped yet again to another hidden treasure. Meanwhile, the cliffs on the way, and in the region of these falls, were marvellous in their own right. We were in heaven. We angled around to the side to inspect and photograph both, and then climbed back up for a snack beside the river and a relax, imbibing mountains, lakes and beauty, before beginning our reluctant journey homewards. Just to show off, I sent friends pictures of the frozen tarn where we also spent some time. Most of Australia is on fire at present. How amazing and fortunate to be in the snow!
My friend’s shoes were sopping, and her feet numb, parts of her were no doubt scratched, but still she was in love with being in the wilderness. Both of us felt our souls had been expanded and nurtured by being in this place.
If you think you know how to get these falls, will you kindly respect people who love their wilderness wild, and leave no plastic tape and no cairns. Let others feel the total freedom we felt in this place.
In the Peter, Paul and Mary song, “Well, well, well”, they sing: “God said a fire not a flood next time”. With regard to my attempts at Mt Nereus, it was the reverse, … with a twist. The first time, we were “droughted” out, with not enough water in the single yabby hole to fund our starters (albeit only two of us) on a long, hot day. We were scorched and parched.
This time, we had so much snow and rain that we failed to make the distance we needed on day two, thus making day 3, summit day, impossible. Ah well. Third time lucky?
It was a beautiful trip, and I’m really glad I had that time in the wilderness. I love seeing my mountain friends in the snow. Here are some shots of day 2, and our climb up Walled Mountain. Sorry, but they are just phone photos. My intent this trip was summiting, and I didn’t want to slow myself down with my heavy camera gear.
Tasmania’s Devils Cauldron (in Lees Paddocks, Cradle Mountain National Park) is well named, and certainly on Sunday it resembled its namesake in Africa rather well … except for the snow that decked all the surrounding mountains. If you don’t conjure up myths like Faust’s (well, Goethe’s) Walpurgisnacht (or Shakespeare’s hags in Macbeth) with devilish witches stirring bubbling pots of fuming brew, doubtless noxious, and wish to turn to river metaphors named after the idea of satan with a spumous pot, then you will need to look to the original African version, in which the Nile squeezes its way through a gorge of approximately 7 meters width, to burst with a thunderous roar into the “pot” below. The Wurragarra River had only what seemed like three metres width in which to force its flooded way through, and it was carrying all the melted snow and runoff from the many mountains above. Its force was impressive!
One begins one’s journey to this spectacle in a humble carpark, fit for maybe five cars, advances through an open green boom gate, and encounters the first swimming pool in the track not too far down. In the end, I was to clock up 20 kms today, so was in no mood for wetting my feet so early. I found a way around through the bush. I was to repeat this little chassé dance many times. After 8 or so minutes, one reaches a swinging bridge, and gets a first glimpse of how the Mersey is faring today. Big, wide, had a bad night’s sleep and is not in the best of moods. Treat with caution.
On the other side, the creeks come thick and fast. I spent a while at each one searching out two poles to balance myself on the slippery submerged rocks. Sometimes there was a wood option, but I don’t trust wet wood, so sought out other alternatives. My feet were dry at the end of the day, thanks to quality Scarpa leather, and dodgy pussyfooting (and, probably, the poles, which I refused to cross without).
Forty-four minutes after beginning my journey, I was at the turnoff to Oxley Falls (having passed the Lewis turnoff a bit before). This section of the forest had been beautiful, as was the early paddocked area beside the river, with white mountains closing in to left and right, and light drizzle falling. I was not to be tempted sidewards right now, however. On I pressed.
The moss, myrtle and sassafras not only looked wonderful in its lush greens, it also formed a protective canopy which soaked up the rain before it hit me. It did, however, rob the surroundings of light, so that 9 a.m. had the feel and look of 7.30 p,m.: gloomy, dour, no lighthearted jokes tolerated.
An hour after I left the car, the forest opens up a bit, letting in light (and rain), and allowing the growth of bracken and lower ferns for a while until it closed back in. Not knowing the area, I thought I’d reached Lees Paddocks, but I had to wait another 30 minutes before I was reading a sign announcing I was there, and that I was to close the gate. I climbed it instead. I am light and it was heavy. (Ie, 1 hr 32 to this sign from the car, in case you want that feedback).
The button grass of the paddocks was the slowest part of the hike (isn’t it always?). I was just negotiating my way from lump to lump as I approached the Wurragarra River, when I heard a non-owl call my name. I turned to see Shane, a web friend and fellow waterfalls aficionado. He had started 10 minutes after me and caught me from behind. How lovely. We walked over the lumpy clumps together, wending our way to the forest edge, and proceeding together to our infernal pot.
(Google SEO: that = Devils Cauldron. Is there anyone else in the world who cares about the fact that google’s search engines are ruining good style by demanding the relentless repetition of words for the dumb, mindless SEO rather than encouraging pleasant-to-read and stimulating good writing, which avoids boring repetition. I refuse to succumb to American notions of what I should be doing with my language, which means the myopic search-engines have trouble locating me. I treasure good writing over being found).
Together we climbed up the creek until the lion’s roar warned us that the devil was cooking his stew, and he must be nearby. The pot was blasting over. Neither of us had any information on how to actually reach the base of the falls, and in conditions like today, any suggestions would have probably been drowned anyway. We went as far as we could at river level, delighted in what we saw of the high, striated cliffs and rumbling, foaming water, the dripping ferns and singing moss, and then tried other creative ways to reach our goal. Success. Kind of. There was so much spume that my lens misted over before the 2-second self-timer had set off the start button of my camera. Long exposures produced a nice shot of the innards of a cloud. Furious wiping, cut exposures down to 10 seconds, change the angles … I got something, but not the shots I came for. I’ll be back.
What with setting up my tripod and filters and so on, I was taking a lot longer than Shane. Besides, I wanted to stay and play for a few more hours, and explore the river up higher, whilst he had to get back, so we parted, although I climbed back to safety before he left, and he kindly stayed to see that I had emerged alive before we went our separate ways. It’s amazing how you can flit away several hours, just moseying around and exploring. Well, I can.
On the rebound, I had time for Oxley and Lewis Falls. It was only early afternoon. I made my way towards the first, being shocked that I could feel the ground vibrating before I heard the sonic booms of the voluminous water rushing over the edge and slamming into the territory below. I could see the river in the distance, so walked beside it, waiting for the actual falls to happen, and noting the the Upper Oxley Falls were just swallowed up into insignificance in a context like today’s.
I didn’t return to the track after Oxley, but chose to remain by the river and proceed pathless to the next waterfall (Lewis). From there, it was a mere 2 minutes back to the track, and a further 32 minutes to the car.
My photos don’t indicate the shape of Oxley falls. The fat lady had eaten too much dinner for any shape to be evident. Besides, my photos are not “record shots” to show what something looks like. They are my artistic response to the beauty I have witnessed in that place. Sometimes that shows what it looks like as a side perk, but that is not my objective in shooting, whether we are talking waterfalls or mountains. Nature is amazing, beautiful and various. Each waterfall and mountain evokes a different mood and response, which, of course, relates to the stimulus, but it is not all about the fact of the object that is there, but the personal and creative response to that object. Mostly, I am taking photos of the same thing, every location, every time, and I have been doing so for as long as I remember: Light. Goethe’s “reines, einfaches, helles Licht”. How he loved it. And how do I!!!
Why on earth was I so apprehensive as I almost reluctantly picked my way down the path to Snug Falls, my first base for the bigger catch of the day: Cataract Falls, higher up? Was it just because Caedence had said it was the toughest hike he’d ever done, or was it some sub-conscious misgiving about my health following the latest virus? Certainly, also, with the warm weather arriving, I was worried about snakes in bush that thick, and about the fact that I was diving solo into unwelcoming scrub where the ground would not be visible, and the opportunities for mishap, many. Oh well. Here I was at Snug Falls. Easy part finished. Now it was time for business.
En route to my courtesy pop-in to Snug F, I eyed up potential “dive in” points for my initial climb to the top of the falls, stage one of my venture. I saw an interesting cave with a possible route to continue higher beside it, so returned to that point, and headed up. It worked. I climbed happily, and 19 minutes after leaving Snug Falls, I was at a high point, looking down to my right on the yawning gap that shaped the falls, and the land that sloped to the Snug River straight ahead. Sad to lose my precious height, but the direction I needed was down, dropping to the creek. After a further 11 minutes, I’d reached the first intersection of two creeks above the falls. Now, I had actually been going pretty well (30 mins since the falls, plus 20 to get to the first falls). However, the fact that my watch said “50” and I’d only kind of just begun on my quest disheartened me for some reason. I guess ’cause I knew the hard work had only just begun. The bush had not thus far been exactly friendly, and had a reputation for hostility. Better get on with it.
I didn’t even stop for a drink. After all, I’d be now working my way upstream, and Caedence advised to keep in the river. But Caedence: the river is slippery as ice, and blocked by countless trees of various sizes. Moving up it was not possible (besides, I now had to climb a small cascade with steeply sloping sides). No. I’d need to backtrack and use the bush. It shoved me up the hill as I tried to get around huge fallen trunks. I played this game of being forced up, traversing a bit, making my way back to water level only to be repelled by choked and cluttered conditions for what seemed like an eternity. I should add, though, that there were some sections of forest that were more open and thus very beautiful, and some magic pools along the way. However, I was feeling so much “goal angst” that I didn’t even get out my tripod for photography, but used trunks and logs for stability. I was lugging, as ever, my usual heavy tripod, filters, and even cleaning liquid and materials today.
I started to become mentally tired: this felt like a university exam, where maximum, uninterrupted concentration for a prolonged period of time was required. I was on edge. It was all so blocked, slippery and difficult I couldn’t relax my guard for a second. I felt the strain of having to rely solely on my own mental reserves. Having someone else there somehow takes the pressure off and shares the load. Doubtless this was character building.
After about 35 minutes, but possibly only 6-700 metres progress, I arrived at a pool that was pretty, so decided to photograph it to give me a break. A further 35 mins, and similar distance again, (so I had now been going 1 hr 40 since Snug Falls), I saw a 6-metre-high waterfall. “Hoorah” I yelled in my head. Somehow I didn’t feel like actually yelling; I was already too subdued for that. This must be the bottom tier of Cascade Falls. At last!! I checked my gps.
Oh no. I am not nearly there. The falls are still maybe 300 metres or even more away, and in this terrain, that could take me half an hour. Things were violently junky here, so it could even be an hour. I sighed and continued, but when I hit a wood and rock wall that completely defeated me after 30 minutes, when the distance I had made since Hoorah Falls was to be measured in double rather than triple figures, I felt I’d lost the battle. I had now been going 2 hrs 10 mins since the falls. If I quit now, I might get back to the car in reasonable shape; if I continued, I may or may not get my grail, but I might be so spent it would be a pyrrhic victory, won at too great a cost to my own general good. I didn’t actually debate this out with myself, or consciously decide to give up: merely, one minute I was struggling against the rubble upstream, and the next, I had done a cute 180 degree pirouette and was jauntily making my way downstream, light of heart.
I covered the 30 mins upstream since Hoorah Falls in 14 down, and stopped for a drink and a snack and a map stare at a pool before the water cascaded over the lip. High, high above me was a 4W-D track on the map. My map is very old; would it still be there? At least where it used to be should be visible. I’d risk it. It was a long way around, but I had had enough battling with the creek. 28 minutes was all it took to reach the end of the road. Oh joy. I climbed like a pussy cat, so happy to be going up rather than along. 52 minutes later, I was at my car. The track was also impassible (you couldn’t walk on it at all, there was so much storm fall), but it was still better than what I had been enduring. Eventually it turned into Snug Tier Rd, which offers fantastic views out over the harbour to Bruny Island on the right, with views of the Wellington Range ahead and left. And you could walk, just walk; oh it was great.
Back at the car, the wildflowers nodded their colourful heads in the quickening breeze. I hadn’t seen one snake all day, hadn’t injured myself, and had found Hoorah Falls. Hoorah. I’ll try Cataract again later, in a better frame of mind, and hopefully with some company to offer moral support.