Wednesday 11 January 2023

Wandering the Little Fisher 3: Surprises

One thing has surprised me this entire walk. Tim D brings it into the open when we’re at Rinadena Falls. Knowing I’d walked up this valley long ago, and had reached Long Tarns on the plateau, presumably via the falls, he asks: So do you remember the falls now?

There’s no doubt Rinadena is memorable. And yet I have to tell him I don’t have a single memory of being here. Of course that previous walk was nearly 40 years ago, and memory’s net is both flimsy and fickle. Nevertheless I find it strange that either (a) we by-passed the falls, or (b) I’ve simply forgotten them. After returning home, I dig out some old photos from that walk. I can’t find any of Rinadena Falls, but there’s one – included here – that has a young me walking in the kind of forest we’d walked through to get to the falls on our current trip. The puzzle remains unsolved.

[Me on the Little Fisher Track, 1983]


Tim has one more surprise in store. At the end of our second day, we agreed we’d probably achieved most of what we wanted to from this walk. We’d found a great off-track campsite; located an abandoned hut site; and visited the legendary Rinadena Falls. Yes, we hadn’t gone up to the plateau as originally planned. But we were happy to forego that, given it would mean going back over yesterday’s walk WITH a full pack, AND into unfavourable weather. 


So I’ve gone to bed on the understanding that we’ll have a lazy morning, a slow pack up, and then we’ll walk out. But when I get to breakfast, Tim smiles and starts talking about a potential change of plans. It sounds ominous! He explains that Merran is feeling slothful after not joining us in our falls walk yesterday. So they suggest that before leaving we first have a bit of a “wander”. That’s a Tim word I’ve come to treat with some suspicion over the years, so my ears prick up. The “wander” will be up through trackless rainforest straight behind our camp, and towards the nearest high point. It’s an outlier of the Central Plateau that’s appropriately called Deception Point. What could possibly go wrong?

[Onward and Upward through rainforest]


With daypacks on, and a promise that we’ll be back before lunch, we “wander” up, steeply up, through what I must admit is delightful forest. But did I say it was steep?! Upward we toil, gaining some 450 metres in altitude in around 90 minutes. That altitude gain is marked by considerable huffing on our part; plus a gradual stunting of the trees, and a marked increase in the thickness of the scrub. We finally reach rock, some of Tasmania’s ever-familiar dolerite. After a bit of scrambling and route finding, we break out onto a promontory beneath Deception Point.

[Our high point beneath Deception Point]


Reading both his watch and the mood, Tim suggests this rock shelf, rather than the actual summit, might be enough for our morning wander. We enjoy a scroggin and drink break, and the chance to gain an overview of the country we’ve traversed – or planned to traverse – on this walk. Beneath us we see the clearings at the edge of which we’ve camped. And we make out the line of the Little Fisher Track, marked by a band of shorter, greyish regrowth. I realise that 40 years ago we’d have driven a long way up that track in a 4WD, before undertaking the much shorter walk up to the plateau. No wonder my memories are a little hazy.

[Looking down on the Little Fisher valley]


Straight across the valley from our perch is Fisher Bluff, with its sharp drop-offs and abundant scree slopes. Further south-east are Turrana Bluff and Mersey Crag. I’ve been to these high points before, though not usually up the Little Fisher valley. It’s like running into old friends out of their usual context. We sit around for a while enjoying the elevation, and the memories of past walks. 

[Spot the three walkers on our scrubby descent]

But what goes up must come down. Our knees don’t thank us for the relentlessness of the stumbling, sliding walk back to camp. But we arrive there remarkably close to the time Tim had said we would. (There’s a first time for everything.)

[Back at our campsite]


One advantage of a late pack-up in warm weather is a dry tent. One disadvantage of a late departure, especially after a steep “wander”, is weariness. But by now we’re ready to leave, so we simply put our heads down and keep walking. Of course there’s one more nasty surprise. On the way in, concentrating as we were on getting going, and surviving the heat, we hadn’t noticed that the first 2km leading to the bridge over the Little Fisher River were downhill. And that means that the final 2km of our return walk are uphill. And since we’re now heading almost west, we’re also walking straight into the hot afternoon sun. 

In my fevered mind I become Manuel from Fawlty Towers, muttering I no complain! Perhaps Ken, who is trudging along beside me, might tell it differently. But what happens on the walk, stays on the walk!

Friday 6 January 2023

Wandering the Little Fisher 2: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

[Our Goal for the Day] 

Sounds from the nearby creek and river lull me towards slumber; the loveliest form of white noise. But when the whoosh of wind in the trees and the percussive patter of rain on the tent are added, I know the forecast change has arrived. It only encourages me to linger in the tent, so much so that when I blearily look at my watch, I think it reads 8:48. I’ve slept in!

[The nearby creek that lulled us to sleep]


I hurriedly emerge from my little red crysalis, and stumble over to our “kitchen” expecting everyone to have breakfasted and be wondering where I am. Only Tim is there, sipping coffee beneath the large tarp. There’s no sign of Ken or Merran. I check my watch and see that it’s actually 6:52. Oops – should’ve gone to Specsavers.


By the time the others join us, the rain is consistent, as is the wind. We linger over breakfast, in no hurry to go out into this. My usual cup or two of tea with porridge is followed by a brew of coffee. We discuss our options. These are not the weather conditions for venturing onto the open plateau, and it’s clear none of us is in favour of donning our big packs and climbing out of the valley just yet. We sit tight. I have a second coffee. Our expedition is becoming bijou rather than epic.

[Our campsite kitchen beneath the tarp]


Eventually we concede that we really should do at least some walking. And if it’s going to rain, what could be better than to walk through rainforest to Rinadena Falls? We’d actually crafted this Little Fisher wander with Tim O’Loughlin in mind, partly because he’d long wanted to visit these fabled falls. Alas TimO excluded himself from the walk at the last minute, having been a close contact of someone with Covid.


In his honour we don wet weather gear and day packs, and head for the falls. Except there’s an undecided voter. Merran is very comfy in the tent, and reading something exciting. She waivers a little before wishing us well, and hunkering down inside the tent. So three of us amble across the floodplain, scout out a suitable river crossing, and rejoin the Little Fisher Track.

[Ken and Tim on the Little Fisher Track]


Hoods up, heads down we wander upriver in light but persistent rain. Tim D points out that we’ll soon be out of regrowth forest and into old growth rainforest. Once we cross that invisible boundary, the contrast is tangible. The girth and height of the dominant myrtle trees is much increased, and the complexity of the under-storey more obvious. We sidle up and down, but mostly up, through delightful, deep green, fern-fringed rainforest. 

[Beside the Little Fisher River]

The Little Fisher is never far away, usually visible, always audible. Much of the forest floor is covered in almost luminous sphagnum, which is dotted with green and chocolate coloured leaves and twigs dropped from the trees. We also notice a proliferation of Pterostylis scabrida – rough greenhood orchids – more than I’ve ever seen. Occasionally the bright red flowers of Tasmanian waratah (Telopea truncata) provide a contrast.

[A Cluster of Greenhood Orchids]


[Ken photographs a Tasmanian waratah]

A little more climbing leads us away from the Little Fisher towards the falls, which are on a tributary creek. Our first glimpse of them is up through tall rainforest. Water drops over a broad rock shelf, perhaps 30m high, with the main channel a little off centre. Lesser falls and trickles add watery drama and mossy greenness to the whole. 

[First glimpse of Rinadena Falls through the forest]

[Part of Rinadena Falls]

Surrounded as they are by beautiful rainforest, it’s hard not to be won over by these lovely falls. What’s more it’s stopped raining, and there may even be some sun waiting for us above the canopy. We sit on a log and take it all in over lunch. 

[Lunch in the forest by the falls]


After the mostly downhill wander back to camp, we’re well pleased with our few hours of walking. So pleased in fact that a couple of us retire to our tents for a recuperative break. In truth we’re also happy to get away from the mosquitos, which are enjoying our warm-blooded presence beneath the tarp a little too much.


When we’re all back in the “kitchen” for dinner, our day goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Tim decides to get serious about the mosquitos, and deploys a battery operated “mozzie zapper” he’s been given for Christmas. He turns the small dalek-shaped contraption on, and it emits a violet light. But if its job is to exterminate, it proves the mildest-mannered dalek imaginable. Hundreds of sizeable mozzies buzz around us, but show no interest in the zapper. We even “hoosh” a few towards it, to no avail.

[One kamikaze mosquito in the "zapper"]


We return to cooking, in between swatting mosquitos and applying repellant. And then it happens. There’s a barely audible “fizz”, and Tim nearly falls out of his Helinox chair, shouting “We’ve got one!!” Sure enough, some poor befuddled mozzie has strayed into the “killing machine”, and lies there, gently frying. Without meaning offence to the unfortunate kamikaze creature, we roll about, almost crying with laughter. We decide it deserves a posthumous Darwin Award for services to the mosquito gene pool. Its gormlessness will not be passed on.

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Wandering the Little Fisher 1: Hot and Bothered

I should know by now that when it comes to bushwalking in Tasmania, “meticulous planning” is an oxymoron. I could bore you with all the plans; the variations on plans; the emails; the reply emails – or lack of them – and the “okay, how’s this?” follow-up emails. But let’s just say that busy-ness, weather, Covid, and human frailty all had their mitts on this walk. And yet …

[Starting Off in 32 Degree Heat, Fisher Bluff behind]


On a late December afternoon four walkers step out of an air conditioned car to be mugged by the heat of an old forestry coupe. Ahead of us stands a wall of mountains, familiar mountains. Their names, Fisher Bluff, Clumner Bluff, Turrana Bluff, Mersey Crag all speak of their verticality. Thankfully our first afternoon isn’t going to involve too much climbing. And that’s just as well, as our thermometer tells us it’s 32 degrees C. That’s great for swimming, but brutal for bushwalking with a full pack.


While the mountains are familiar, this view of them is less so. We’re walking up the Little Fisher River, a deep valley carved out of the Great Western Tiers. Officially we’re walking into the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, though well east of the better known tracks and mountains.


Pack on and sweat rising, the familiar call of black currawongs lightens my hot and bothered mood. I’m thankful too for the shade of the old forestry track we’re taking towards the tiers. We pause for a drink and a rest, and Tim D and I remember driving up here long ago, when this track was still open to vehicles. The road has been blocked off for years. More recently some huge weather events have eroded it so badly that not even the boldest of four wheel drivers would consider trying it.

[Erosion and repairs on the Little Fisher Track]


Our plan A for the first day had been to climb out of the valley and find a camp somewhere on the plateau near Long Tarns. In a concession to the heat, our tardiness, and the forward forecast, we’ve come up with a much more modest ambition. The Little Fisher is generally steep sided, but Tim has heard there may be camping near the river a couple of hours upstream of the start. His source has also told him that there’s an old cattlemen’s hut site in the same vicinity. Tim is keen to find and investigate the site. Two birds with one stone sounds like good energy conservation in this heat.


Even so, by the time we leave the track and clomp our way through a soggy sphagnum-filled area in search of a campsite, I’m exhausted. Thankfully it doesn’t take long. At the edge of some rainforest, where two minor creeks feed into the river, we find a very pleasant site. It’s both shady and well-watered, and we’re surprised to find no evidence of previous camping. We drink deeply, rest for a moment, then suss out space for three tents: Tim and Merran’s, Ken’s, and mine. 

[Camping in the forest, by the water: Ahhh!!]


When we’re satisfied with our setup, we prepare to go in search of the hut site. Tim’s informant hasn’t set our expectations too high. This won’t even be a ruined hut, just the hint of where a rough hut once stood. A GPS dot on a device is one thing; finding a site in quite thick regrowth is another. We spread out, and call to each other when we see anything that might be part of a site. Suddenly anything linear looks like a foundation or a fallen bit of a timber wall. Half an hour into our search Tim finally finds something more definitive. He calls us over to see some artefacts, a few glass bottles, a rusting billy and plate, and a bit of chain. A little away from the site we find some celery-top pine stumps. The builders seem to have cut more than they used, as some pine logs are still lying unused, partly preserved by their rot-resistant resin. 

[Artefacts at the old hut site]


Without doing any formal analysis, we guess to site to be at least 100 years old. Certainly in the late 19th century the area was regularly visited by cattlemen, who drove their stock up to summer on the pastures at this and higher altitudes. Between loggers, trappers and drovers, the area was well known and used. Yet now the forest, well-watered in this high rainfall area, is taking over again.

[Ken and Tim at the hut site]


The hut site, sensibly, is elevated above the river valley. But as a large pool in the river is within about 100 metres of it, we detour that way on our return. The day is still very warm, and we’re sweat-soaked from our exertions. It would seem rude not to have a swim, so we do. 

[The Swimming Hole: You Can Keep Your Hat On.]

The water is VERY bracing, but still an almost perfect way to end our hot day. Only a good meal and conversation back at the camp could improve on that. It does.

[Merran and Tim: Happy Campers]