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]

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