Wednesday 23 November 2011

And the Weather Gods Smiled

[The Leeaberra Track Part 2]

Ah, the pleasures of walking in spring in Tasmania! You never know what cards the weather gods are going to deal you. In that regard it's much the same as walking here in summer or autumn. Or winter, for that matter.

On day two the vague forecast for this part of the world is for late rain. But by the middle of the day the clouds are already thickening. After our morning being seduced by the cooling waters and other delights of the Douglas River at the Heritage Falls campsite, we discuss staying another night. We end up agreeing that we’ve seen the area's major sights, and convince ourselves that the clouds actually mean it won't be as hot as yesterday.

Consulting the map, we note that our ascent to the next high point is only about one and a half hours: a much shorter time – and smaller altitude gain – than yesterday. Surely it can’t be that bad? We sling our packs up onto logs, wince our way into them, and immediately feel our resolve eroding.

Fresh is a relative term here, but with slightly fresher legs and lungs, we manage to scramble up the slope, around or over numerous windfall trees. For most of the first hour it's sharply steep, but then it levels off accommodatingly. Tim’s theory is that there are always four false summits before you reach the top. We hope he's wrong, but by the time we reach the day's high point - the saddle near Lookout Hill - we seem to have confirmed his theory.

[Tim plunges through the ferns on the Leeaberra Track, Day 2] 

There are, of course, various ways to beat false summits. One is not to walk at all, but that seems lazy, if not cowardly. Another is to drop onto the ridge top by parachute or helicopter. I once did the latter, in the line of duty of course, landing on top of the Ironbound Range, on Tasmania's South Coast Track. After the peace-shattering chopper had left, I sampled the walk from the Ironbounds down to Louisa Bay for some map notes I was preparing. Carrying a day pack and talking into a tape recorder (yes, so last century!), I found the experience surprisingly unsatisfying, despite the stunning scenery. Maybe one of the rules of walk satisfaction is that you have to sweat and toil for your moments of joy.

Certainly at our saddle on the Leeaberra Track we’re sweaty and breathing hard, in need of a long drink and scroggin break. The promised rain seems to have vapourised, and the sun is back again, hot and strong. We don’t bother to find out exactly where the lookout part of Lookout Hill is. There’s eucalypt forest in most directions, and we're doubtful any high point will offer a less interrupted view than where we have stopped.

To the east we can see the long strands of Templestowe and Seymour Beaches. Further south we think we make out the township of Bicheno, tucked in behind hazy hills. As we guzzle water and Sour Squirm lollies, our conversation and imaginings turn towards the town, with its lattes and thick crust pizzas; its hot showers and soft beds.

What are we thinking? These are dangerous musings at such an early stage in a walk! With warning words against the "fleshpots of Bicheno", I hoist my pack and hurry off down the track, brushing noisily through a thick green understorey of hardwater ferns. The sound drags me back to the here and now.

For a time we're into the kind of easy rhythm that sometimes comes on the second day, especially when you're walking downhill. Still, it's a long march, and we're staggering again by the time we reach the next turn-off. I'm inclined to give the side-trip to Nichols Cap and Nichols Needles a miss; anything to get us to the campsite sooner. But I'm soon convinced that I may never pass this way again; may never get to see these unusual dolerite pillars up close again.

[Lynne and Tim on Nichols Cap, with Nichols Needles behind] 
We replace heavy, full packs with light day-packs and almost skip toward what proves to be a surprisingly spectacular sight. I've seen and climbed many dolerite mountains, and yet somehow these smaller siblings hold their own for being in this humbler east coast setting. From the bony prominence of the Cap we look down a quite vertiginous drop between us and the twin spikes of the Needles. But the wind is rising and the cloud thickening. It's time to strap on our engines of torture for today's final push.

We stumble down to the campsite late, but there's time to set up our tents and cook dinner before it's dark. Just as we finish it starts to sprinkle, and by the time we're into our sleeping bags, there's a steady patter of rain to send us to sleep. We're smiling: just occasionally the weather gods are spectacularly benign.

[Consolation: the second Douglas River campsite] 

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