Tuesday 19 December 2023

Back to the Land of a Thousand Lakes 3

[A grey early evening over Silver Lake]

As grey afternoon graded into grey evening, we sat around the Silver Lake campsite comparing notes on our post-lunch walks. Libby hadn’t found the reputed Shangri-la campsite near Lake Ah Chees. But she, Tim D and Merran had nonetheless enjoyed their peregrinations. Afterwards they too had gone on to Lakes Sonja and Solveig, but had crossed the Pine River well before we had. This alone, we retirees argued, explained why they’d almost caught us by the end of the day.


One thing we did agree on was how grateful we were that the forecast rain dump had held off for our first two days. The more usual Roaring Forties winds had been supplanted by a deep low pressure system east of Bass Strait. That had been flooding southern Victoria, and threatened to do the same to northern Tasmania. Looking in that direction now we could see dark clouds lowering over the peaks of the Walls. 

[Threatening clouds above the campsite]

Above us large cumulus clouds began piling up. Would tonight bring the end of our weather luck? It might, but dinner and a round of Yaniv (cards) were more of a certainty. So we relaxed and enjoyed this special time in a special place. And in the end, for all that the clouds blustered and shook their fists at us, they delivered nothing overnight. 

[Tim D (centre) explains Yaniv to Libby and TimO]

After another peaceful sleep, we were up early. Our plans for the day were vague, but we wanted to walk back uphill before the day grew too warm. I wasn’t at all keen to face the scrubby ascent from Lake Antimony. It had felt hard enough descending through it on the first day. But as sometimes happens, the difficulties were as much imagined as real. With fresh legs and a lighter pack, we were soon through the worst of the scrub. 


Partway up the hill we took a good break at Theresa Lagoon, and TimO and I wandered around the shore for a while. Pencil Pines were part of the lure. I always enjoy their company, but we also wanted to see whether this large lake might be a future camping destination. After we’d sussed out a couple of good looking sites, we rejoined the group and quickly fuelled up on nuts and water. 

[TimO checks out Theresa Lagoon]


Once we were back at the more defined Lake Fanny Track, we had decisions to make. The wind had freshened from the north, and was now quite cool. Some of us had grand plans of more lake discovery in the afternoon. But the first order of business was to find a campsite sheltered from this wind. After that we’d set up tents and have lunch. Then we could better consider the afternoon’s options. 


From the track junction we looked out to a chain of lakes only a kilometre or so to our north-west. The three Talleh Lagoons run almost north-south, and looked as though they’d have some sheltered sites. We pushed downhill, through bush that thickened as we neared the lakes. We looked first at the middle lagoon, but the only flattish bit of shoreline was wide open to the wind. So we moved on to the southern-most lagoon, where we found a shelf some distance above the lake that looked quite sheltered. Some looked happy to stop there, but I was in fussy mode. Why camp quite near a lake when you can camp right on the lake shore? 


That, of course, required there to be such a site, and that it be sheltered. So a few of us dumped packs and walked along the western shore of the lake in search of this “Goldilocks” site. We poked around for 15 minutes or so, and were about to give up when I suggested we look just a little further, the other side of some big boulders. Perhaps they were the Three Bears, because just beyond them was a campsite which Goldilocks would surely have appreciated: sheltered, absolute waterfront, great views, plenty of room for our tents. We only had to mention to Merran that it was also great for swimming, and she was on board.

[Waterfront camping at Talleh Lagoon]


Then, as we set up, something strange came over the group. All talk of going off in search of more lakes in the afternoon dissolved. Suddenly the prospect of having a lazy afternoon at the Goldilocks site had universal appeal. This was music to Jim’s ears. He had already planned just this, and was both surprised and delighted not to be the only one. 

[TimO swims at Talleh Lagoon]


After lunch three of us had a swim in the lake: or in my case a quick and very refreshing dip. And then the rain came, sending some to their tents, and others to the excellent shelter of Tim D’s excellent tarp. It rained, solidly at times, for about an hour, but then cleared to a pleasant if coolish afternoon.

[The great tarp setup at Talleh Lagoon]

Over dinner there was a spillover of gratitude for three good days of wandering among fine lakes with fine people, and in (mostly) fine weather. While some might say this was aided by a final splash of wine and liqueur, supplemented with chocolate, we had genuinely enjoyed what had been a soul filling walk. Then, as we chatted about the shape of our final day, Jim’s sparked up. We’d get going early, he insisted, estimating it would be 3½ to 4 four hours back to the cars. We had to make sure we were out in time to get to our lunch booking at the Great Lake Hotel. It seemed his beer goggles were firmly in place.

[Water lilies in a Central Plateau pond]

And so, after a Goldilock’s-appropriate breakfast of porridge, we packed up for the final time and left our lovely campsite. It’s fair to say Jim hadn’t always been the fastest walker on this trip. But now he took off like a young colt sniffing green grass. For the last few years Jim had been talking down the scope of his future bushwalking. We’d heard often of his preference for comfy huts and short days. And more than once, as he slumped down after a hard bit of walking, we’d heard him mutter things like “this is my last bl**dy walk”. 

[A watery sun on our final day]

I’ve never been fully convinced, since I kept seeing contradictory signs. Our “hut man”, for instance, had just invested in a new tent. Plus on every walk he’d maintained his gear freak status via a “reveal” of some new purchase or other. And now here he was streaking ahead of us on our final day’s walk. 

[The last we see of Jim until the end of the walk]


We never actually got close to catching Jim, who walked out in a mere 2½  hours. He argued that it was too cold to stop, with a biting wind whipping up water from the lakes as we passed by. The rest of us still needed to stop for water and some food. So, was Jim’s speedy walk out simply that of a “horse headed for home”? I’m not so sure. I think it may also be that there’s life in the old dog yet! 

Saturday 16 December 2023

Back to the Land of a Thousand Lakes 2

Someone was swanning about during the night. Despite fatigue and the comfort of my tent, I was awoken by strange sounds during the night. Someone, or something, was padding about our campsite making soft, high pitched hoots and toots. Ah yes! I’d seen a couple of black swans on Silver Lake at day’s end. The pair, it seems, had come ashore in the darkness to check out the invaders, or to graze. Perhaps both.

[A mating pair of Black Swans]


These most elegant of birds are not great walkers, their insubstantial undercarriage and heavy body making them far more suited to their usual aquatic habitat. On land they revert to “ugly ducklings”, waddling a little clumsily, sometimes bumping into or brushing by whatever is in their way. Still, there’s so much to love about these striking black birds, with their gracefully curved necks, candy-red and white beaks, and soft, cow-brown eyes. 


Europeans firmly believed swans could only be white, and that these antipodean inversions of the northern hemisphere’s mute swans were “impossible”. This illusion persisted even into the 20th century. Australia’s natural history has a way of messing with such Eurocentric notions. 

Later we got to watch as the pair took off and flew a lap of the lake. With their long necks outstretched arrow-like, they flapped their broad wings forcefully, tooting softly to each other. We shared a moment of quiet rapture when they eventually glided in for a superb unison landing. 

[Diuris orchids at our campsite]


The only other night noise – aside from a little neighbourly snoring – was a very unconvincing three minutes of “pitter” on our tents. There wasn’t enough rain to deserve the addition of a “patter”. In the morning, we started slowly. Tim D bated us about being keen to pack up and move on. He was not, and neither was anyone else. Two nights in this location was a unanimously welcome decision. 

An earlier iteration of our walk plan had us packing up today, and walking on to Dixons Kingdom in the Walls proper. But that plan had been scuppered long ago when we realised the huge car-shuffle it would have involved. While today’s plan didn’t include a pack up, it would take us on some of that route, albeit with day packs. The walk up the Bernes Valley past Lakes Sally, Sonja and Solveig was new to everyone except Jim and me.


[At the northern end of Silver Lake]

We first picked our way up the western shore of Silver Lake, dodging inland through scrubby woodland when the shore was impassable. In less than an hour we’d broken out at the large grassy clearing on the north-western shore of the upper Silver Lake. This was where I’d camped previously, and where we’d originally planned to spend our first night. While its broad, well-sheltered and has plenty of tent sites, we agreed that the campsite we’d settled on had a better outlook, especially in the light winds we were experiencing. Sometimes the wisdom of ad-hoc decisions works out well. 

[Merran looks out to Lake Sally]


Our plan from here was to walk to Lake Sally before diverting to the intriguingly named Ah Chees Lake. The story behind it is that some friends of Archibald (Archie) Meston slipped the name past the Nomenclature Board by giving its spelling an Oriental twist. (After his death in 1951, Lake Meston was also named after the Launceston born teacher/historian/anthropologist.) Libby had heard great things about the lake, including that it had some excellent tent sites, and she was keen to see it firsthand. But to see “Archie’s” we'd have to walk up the valley to Lake Sally. 

[Easy off-track walking through wildflowers]

[Walking past an enormous cushion plant]

As long as we avoided boggy sections, it was a pleasant untracked wander through a plethora of wildflowers. We were staggered by some very large, old cushionplants; enchanted by some comely reed-filled pools; and occasionally spooked by fast-moving white-lipped snakes. Just before the northern end of Lake Sally we stopped for a drink and some scroggin, and to do some running repairs on blisters that had begun to trouble TimO.

[Tim D helping with TimO's blisters]


Then we left the Pine River and followed a creek west to Ah Chees Lake. We found a handsome, large, forest-fringed lake, the perfect place for a lunch break. Merran decided it was also perfect for a swim. She informed us it wasn’t cold, though the rest of us weren’t sufficiently convinced to join her. 

[Merran swimming in Ah Chees Lake]


After lunch we split into two groups. Libby, Merran and Tim D were keen to explore the shores of this lake further, while Jim, TimO and I (the retirees) were happy with what we’d seen of Ah Chees. We’d complete our trek to Sonja and Solveig before returning to camp at Silver Lake. That sounded simple, and initially it was. We soon reeled in Lake Sonja, and Solveig wasn’t much further on.

[TimO and Jim at Lake Solveig]


But then the fun began. We wanted to return on the other side of the Pine River, which meant crossing what was a fast flowing stream. At the southern end of Sonja TimO found a crossing, and went over. But looking at it from a distance, and with the roar of a river making communication difficult, Jim decided it was too sketchy for his shorter legs. I thought it safest to stay with Jim. So we shouted that we’d stay on this side, and keep looking. We added that we should stay in visual contact. That also sounded simple, but the river had other ideas. What looked easy enough on our maps proved much more tricky. TimO had to divert east to avoid the lakeshore, while we had to meander all over the place to avoid river bends, marshes and bushy billabongs.

[Hibbertia carpet near Pine River]


Eventually, well south of Lake Sally, we finally came together again at a point where a crossing looked possible. TimO guided us step-by-step, but doubled the fun by filming our attempts, and adding an hilarious Olympic show-jumping-style commentary. No-one was harmed in the filming of the event, although one walker’s feet may have become damper than the other’s.

The non-retirees, meanwhile, had completed their viewing of Ah Chees, Sonja and Solveig, and were also coming back via the western side of Pine River. In fact as we descended from some unexpected scrub near Silver Lake, we heard a shout and saw them a couple of hundred metres behind us. Not being at all competitive, we retirees called a greeting … and duly doubled our pace. We weren’t going to let those youngsters beat us back to base!

[The waratahs were a welcome distraction while walking]


They didn’t either, but then they had the good excuse of needing to stop and search for Merran’s glasses, which she’d dropped somewhere near the Pine River crossing yesterday. So we were settled on our little campchairs, pretending to look rested and nonchalant, when they came in a few minutes behind us. Happily Merran saw us clearly: she had her glasses back where they belonged.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Back to the Land of a Thousand Lakes 1

[Ready to leave, at last!]

I usually reckon type 2 fun – something that’s difficult at the time, but which turns out to be rewarding – applies well to bushwalks. But just occasionally it applies to the lead up to a walk. 


Organising the first bushwalk of summer with my usual walking mates was close to classic type 2 fun. That partly came down to our differing bushwalking styles and preferences. Some of us like to walk to wild places, far from the madding crowd. Some of us like a walk to be short and sweet, preferably with the comforts of a hut, and the prospect of meeting new walkers. Still others of us like the challenge of reaching a mountaintop, or finding our way through new, preferably trackless country. 


Trying to juggle the various walk preferences; lock in the dates; settle on a venue; nail complex transport arrangements; deal with last minute changes; factor in the weather – all in the age of COVID – made the organisation of this walk more than a little fraught.


But then, miracle of miracles, as soon as we got to the start of the walk, the difficulties began to be eclipsed by the rewards, and the smiling began. In truth for two of us, the smiling had begun a day early. Knowing that on this walk we wouldn’t get to stay in a hut, Jim’s high-rank preference, he and I had gone up early and spent the night at the Great Lake Hotel: a very fancy "hut", by our standards.


Our four day jaunt was to begin not far from Great Lake. We would walk into the Central Plateau/Walls of Jerusalem area, starting from Ada Lagoon. We’d eyed off several potential lakeside camps, with Silver Lake our likely first destination. I’d walked there a few times, but not for many years. So in writing up the walk plan, I allowed six hours to get from Ada to Silver: a generous estimate, I thought.

[Walking beside Ada Lagoon]


We didn’t manage to start walking until after 12 noon, partly because of the tight preparation time available for the full-time workers in the group. But we kept smiling, and the weather gods smiled back at us. The forecast showers were nowhere to be seen. Instead they’d given way to a blue sky off-set by welcomingly fluffy clouds. 


Compared to the more popular end of the Walls of Jerusalem, this walk has an unspectacular start. It’s flattish, largely treeless, and partially on an old fourwheel drive track. For us though, the lack of high peaks and deep forest was compensated for by the wide open vistas, the glittering of lakes near and far, and the stunning early summer wildflower displays. Golden pultenaea, creamy orites, red waratah were all on peak display, offset here and there by smaller, more cryptic caladenia and diuris orchids. And of course there was the company. We hadn’t all been together for many months, and there was a lot to catch up on. 

[Easy walking among summer wildflowers]


But we had started late, and this was soon compounded by slower pace of some of us. Dare I name we retirees for this?  Anyway we didn’t exactly set a cracking pace on the outward run. By the time we left the marked track and began the slow, scrubby descent towards Lake Antimony, fatigue was setting in. The intransigence of the scrub, with every second Hakea bush or banksia seemingly intent on grabbing us, exhausted us further.

[Caladenia alpina orchids]


Even the sight of Antimony Hut #5 did little to brighten the eyes of the hut-lovers. We gave the humble structure a perfunctory once-over, and left for the short trek over to Silver Lake. But first we had to cross the fast flowing Powena Creek. Wet feet and a less-than-desirable distance between the lead walkers and those at the tail end, didn’t improve matters. 

[Jim and TimO at Antimony Hut #5]


Still, soon enough we saw the southernmost of the twin Silver Lakes, with a bright red tent already set up on its far shore. But by now the six of us had separated into two groups of three, and we’d lost visual contact with each other. It took an extra forty minutes for us to locate one another near the southern shore of south Silver Lake. The original plan had been to go to the northern shore of the north lake, where I knew there was plenty of space. But by now my generous six hour walk time estimate was proving regrettably accurate. So, just after 6 o’clock, we all agreed to simply get to a viable campsite and set up for the night.


The occupant of the red tent called out a welcome across the lake, and advised us as to where we might fit our tents. All that was left was for us to ford the Pine River and walk to the lakeside to find tent sites. Wet feet, fatigue and concern that we might crowd the solo walker were soon forgotten as Tim D showed us a goodly number of potential tent sites, all well distant from “Neighbour Dave”, as we dubbed the solo walker. 

[Durston and Hilleberg vie for attention at Silver Lake]


Better still our neighbour was more than happy to have company. He even came over to help me set up my red tent. He’d recognised it as a variation on his own Hilleberg Akto tent (mine is the lighter weight Hilleberg Enan). I later visited his tent, and we shared fan boy enthusiasms over our well-made Swedish tents.


[Relaxing at the tarp set up]

Back at our site, Jim was having his own fanboy moment, showing off his new Durston X-Mid 1 tent, which we quickly dubbed "The Hut": another attempt to console Jim for the lack of huts on this walk. Tim D had set up the next best thing, an ample 4m X 3m tarp, and we were soon gathered around it enjoying the luxury of cheese, biscuits and wine before a late dinner. We were tired from our day’s exertion, but as we stretched out, mesmerised by the views across the lake to the Walls of Jerusalem, I think we remembered to be grateful.