Tuesday 7 April 2015

Four Lakes and a Mountain: Part 2

Camping beneath a waterfall, in a dank forest, at the bottom of a deeply cleft, lake-filled basin, proves good practice for the wet day ahead.

Lulled by the dull roar of the waterfall, we have surfaced slowly. By the time we get over to the “kitchen” we discover icicles dangling from the tarp. Tim tells us we’ve just missed a brief snowfall. We dress warm and waterproof for breakfast, by which time there’s just persistent slushy rain.

[In the forest above Cloister Lagoon]
In theory we won’t have a long day. But only Tim has taken the route we’ll follow from Chapter Lake down valley via Cloister Lagoon to Junction Lake. Like Tim, it sounds a bit vague in places.

Counter-intuitively we start by going back uphill (north) before heading south down the valley. But we’re soon following a discernible route, well-enough trod and - for now - reasonably well marked. You know you’re in the land of a thousand lakes when there are decent sized lakes that haven’t yet been named. We pause at a couple on our way to Cloister Lagoon. 

[Tim checks out an unnamed lake] 
The lagoon is over 2km long, and fills the bottom half of a deep, glacier-gouged valley. That valley peters out a few kilometres before Junction Lake, leaving us guessing which way the water flows. It’s hypothetical anyway, since water is flowing every which way after the persistent overnight rain.

Persistent too are the leeches, which start latching on as soon as we stop anywhere. The worst spots are the valley bottoms, especially amongst the soggy coral ferns and buttongrass. It’s good motivation to keep moving, as is the rain, which is returning in fits and starts.

[A soggy walk through coral fern] 

The route occasionally meanders up slope, through dripping wet forest. Towards the end of Cloister Lagoon we descend through a thicket of fagus. A few leaves hint at autumn colour, ‘though most are still their vivid summer green.

As we finally leave the lagoon we climb a little; proof that the water runs north out of Cloister and down to Chapter Lake. We struggle to get our head around the idea that we’ve been walking up the valley. A quick check of our maps confirms it, before rain sends us on our way again.

[Definitely going down valley]

And now we are definitely heading down valley, following an ill-defined path beside a flowing creek: a creek that is part of the headwaters of the Mersey River. We may be coming closer towards Junction Lake, but we’re having to slow down as we search about for a clear way through the scrub-choked creek.

Eventually the valley widens out onto Mayfield Flats, a large, intermittently marshy area. Buttongrass flats are interspersed with forested patches. Ahead we can see an upland area, which we take to be the Mountains of Jupiter. According to the map they stand above our destination.

[near Mayfield Flats, with views of some mountains] 

Junction Lake is a fair sized body of water, perhaps 500m across at its widest point. And the hut we’re heading for is called Junction Lake Hut, which you would think would be close by that body of water.

It’s perhaps my fourth visit to the hut, but on every previous visit, there’s always been a frustrating period of wandering about before the hut reveals itself. And so it is this time too! It’s not actually on the lake, but is tucked into a bushy bank above the upper reaches of a “young” Mersey River.

[Junction Lake at sunset] 

The four-bunk pencil pine hut was built by Tasmanian pastoralist/bushwalker H. R. (Dick) Reed in 1969/70. He was a hardy bushwalker, frequently taking long distance walks across the Tasmanian highlands. His view was that “if you don’t come alive at 1500 feet then you’ll never come alive”. His hut building was an expression of that attitude, and he built several others, including the Lake Meston hut which we’d reach tomorrow. Astonishingly he was in his 70s when he did this work.

[Cooking al fresco at Junction Lake Hut. Photo by Jim Wilson] 

The hut is small and humble. The wooden door creaks as we open it, revealing one simple room with wooden floor boards, and two small glass windows. Two bunks face the door, and there are two more on the wall to our left. Next to the door is a raised fireplace with a rustic mantelpiece. There are some crude shelves beneath one window, and a couple of basic chairs.

It may be humble, but it’s a very welcome shelter from the rain. Four of us have chosen to try the bunks out for the night, while Tim is content to pitch his tent and tarp nearby. Once we’re settled in we boil some brews, which soon lead on to dinner. It’s not even 5pm, but we’re cold, wet and hungry, and we go with the flow.

 [Reflections in the shallows: Junction Lake]

After dinner there’s still a lot of daylight left, and we’re enticed out to the lake by an improvement in the weather. A few of us wander down for a closer look at Junction Lake, catching some wonderful reflections and a hint of colour as the sun sets. We’re above Dick Reed’s 1500 feet. And yes, we’re feeling very much alive.

[Junction Lake - click pic for full panorama]

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