LUSCIOUS LICHEN

12 Apr 21

We can see the Western Tiers from our kitchen window on Shelduck Farm, in Montana. Yesterday they were dusted in a layer of snow but today, the weather was good to go! We’ve been keen to get up there from the moment we laid eyes on them.

Back country roads led us through the flat plains and the backdrop of dark mountains grew to fill the windows.  We turned onto a 4WD track that cut through the forest at the foot of the Western Tiers and ended abruptly at a small car park. Today we’re walking the Higgs Track to Lady Lake, and it was time to saddle up. 

From the trail head, we plunged abruptly into a dark forest reminding me of the last time we were in rainforest, in Lamington National Park in January. 

Hearing water before we could see it, we rounded a corner and the forest opened to reveal a stream tumbling through rocks in the dappled light. I found David reading an information board and joined him to learn about the historical significance of this track. 

“The Track was cut in the 1870’s so graziers could drive cattle and sheep to and from alpine grazing land.” Dave said as I stepped up to the board.

“That’s crazy!” I tried to imagine a herd of cattle traipsing through the forest. Crazy!

We climbed up onto the timber bridge and paused to watch the falling water. 

“Look at the logs piled up down there” I said over the sound of rapids, pointing downstream. 

“It must really fill up in winter!” 

Our track notes told us to expect a hard uphill walk and we were prepared.

From the timber bridge the climb started up over roots, rocks and fallen trees; through wet forest with with big fleshy leafed ferns. We passed through a canopy of oversized fern trees making me feel small in the vast forest.  

We found a restored section of track with what looked like cobblestones and drywall meandered through the forest. It’s done in an old stone pitching technique developed in the Scottish highlands hundreds of years ago. Made by hammering wedge shaped rocks into the soil, it lasts for hundreds of years. 

The track steepened and grew rocky as we climbed out of the wet forest into a mossy forest. I stopped to remove a layer before pushing on and finding a steady uphill pace. 

“Talk about a glute and hamstring workout!” I called up to David up ahead. 

“Aww maaate. Is it steep enough for ya?” He said slipping into his mock Aussie accent making me chuckle and stop for breath.

“This is another reason I’m glad we’re keeping fit – so we can do this, without too much pain” I mean, it was hard work but in a good way. 

As we climbed higher I was completely fascinated by the variety of moss, fungus and lichen. A spongy, velvet world. Everything was covered. Trees, rocks, the forest floor. Everything. Shafts of warm sunlight illuminated patches of vivid colour.  

At every bend in the track I stoped to photograph and fell further behind David and enjoyed a moment of being completely in the present in this vast macro universe.

A World Heritage Area sign greeted us as we reached the tree line and the edge of the plateau. 

“We’re here!” David announced pulling his beanie out of his day pack. 

“Yeah, I better put my jacket back on before I get cold” I said still warm from the climb. 

Rugged up, we set out rock hopping through the heather to the alpine plain. Lady Lake Hut was visible nestled at the base of some trees across a grassy flat. 

A narrow, elevated path keeps the alpine vegetation protected from hiking boots. Track notes caution walkers to be mindful of where we step; to avoid damaging the delicate alpine ecosystem.  

It got me thinking about how much attitudes have change over the past 150 years. What would this plateau look like today, if it’d never been trampled over years by cattle grazing?  Which got me thinking forward. What will people think of our our generation’s attitudes and decisions in 150 years time, in 2170? 

A big question for a simple hike in the wilderness!

It seems like the higher we get, the more fascinated we are with the smaller details. Particularly the patches of bright green cushion plants – the mat-like structures amongst the grass. 

They are actually ‘tightly packed stems of different plants, all growing at the same very slow rate in order to protect each other from the wind and cold.’ According to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. They have an important role in the alpine ecosystem here and are sensitive to trampling.  I’m trying not to think of hooves. 

We slowed down on the skinny boardwalk to spend time looking at the alpine garden around us. Dark pools of water reflected the blue sky and dotted with rocks, grasses and russet red fleshy leafed flowers.  

What a dramatic contrast to the deep green mossy forest. 

The gentle wind had developed an icy bite, so we kept moving in search of the hut for lunch.  It took a little scouting to find the right track at the end of the board walk. 

“This looks like it!” My trusty mountain man had found it, and I followed him through the spongy track around a rocky outcrop to the hut. 

Two ladies were sitting on the veranda enjoying a cup of tea in the sun. They greeted us with a warm smile. The lady facing us was small and wiry with wisps of snow white hair from under a woollen beanie.   

“Have you just come up from the car park?” She asked in an English accent.

“Yeah” we both nodded as we climbed onto the deck. 

“Are you staying overnight too?” She asked brightly

“No, we’re just up for the day” She looked a little disappointed, and suddenly I was disappointed too. 

We poked our head into the hut. One wall was lined with 4 bunk beds, a bench and sink, and a timber dining table large enough for 8 people. Compact and cosy. It looked like four beds had been claimed with sleeping bags and packs.

Dave selected a sheltered lunch spot, in the sun a little further along from the hut. I joined him sitting cross legged in the grass, looking across the alpine field to peaks in the distance.  

A European family hiked past us on route back to the hut, from further out on the plateau. It must be their gear we saw in the hut. Smiling warmly, the man said “That looks like a nice spot!” in a clipped accent. Possibly Dutch, or German maybe. They were obviously experienced walkers, even their young daughter who looked about 12.  

By the time we’d finished lunch the wind had shifted direction and we were getting cold. Time to push on.

“Shall we go and see the lake?” I suggested

“Yeah and what about a spot for painting?” 

“Out of the wind!” My fingers were already cold. 

David paused outside the hut while he tried to zip up his jacked with cold numb fingers. A big old bumble bee started buzzing around his bright yellow jacket. He was trying to wrestle the zip and avoid the bee at the same time. 

I laughed and said “He thinks you’re a sun flower.” 

“…I’m not a flower.” David said dryly to the bumble bee and looked up to the family on the balcony. We all chuckled.

“Enjoy your walk!” They waved us good bye.

“You too!”

Picking our way carefully through the spongy terrain and avoidIng stepping on cushion plants, we found Lady Lake. Climbing onto a lakeshore boulder we could feel the full bite of the wind wiping across the water. The choppy surface proof of the wind but not it’s bite.

“There’s no way we can paint here!” I said digging my hands deeper into my jacket and thinking I should dig out my gloves.

“No way, we’ll freeze” agreed Dave. 

“Let’s head home for a hot bath and glass of wine!” 

“Yes! And I’ll make chicken soup”  He’s enjoying making soups lately. The last one was a strangely delicious experiment with lentils and cumin, like a curry. Curry soup. 

Retracing our steps across the boardwalk, we slowed down to admire this unique place, and debated how we might paint it. Each in our different approaches. 

We stopped to chat to the British lady when we crossed paths again, near a lookout. 

“It would be an interesting night tonight, if we were to stay in the hut.” Observed Dave. They seemed like an interesting bunch of people. I agreed with him of course, and thought about how to include multi-day hikes on this trip.

“Maybe we should buy a load of camping gear…” I scoffed visualising the huge touring tend and pile of camping gear in the garage back in Sydney. 

The hike back down was tough on the knees. But I was happy not to be in discomfort until right at the end.  

We stopped to admire the old stone work more closely, and some weird little mushrooms.

“Woah” we said in unison as the car turned a corner and a pair of peaks launched above the canopy.

“Let’s go that way at get a better look!” I said ignoring Google’s directions. We followed a country road the turned to a dirt lane and pulled over for the view.

A curious clydesdale dressed in a canvas coat, wondered over to see what we were up to. 

“Hi big guy” I said walking back to the fence to greet him. His big soft lips came closer to smell me. 

“If I had an apple, I’d give it to you,” I told him quietly laying a hand on his nose. Wait a minute, I do have an apple. I hadn’t eaten it at lunch. I reached into my backpack and pulled it out. “Here you go” I dropped the apple over the fence. He reached down and picked it up. I turned and climbed back into the car, feeling happy. 

“Babe, I don’t think he had any teeth.”

2 thoughts on “LUSCIOUS LICHEN

  1. Wilderness at its best. I love the cobbled paths in ancient Scottish tradition. I’m glad you enjoyed your hike and made new friends. It reminds me a bit of my mountain hikes in the Bernese Oberland in my twenties.

    Liked by 1 person

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