23 May 2021. Mount Field National Park
“What are we doing about exercise today?” His raised eyebrows telling me he was keen to get moving.
“How does an epic adventure day sound?” I wiggled my eyebrows at his eyebrows. “It’s a 35min drive to Mount Field.”
“Apparently, we should see the Tarn Shelf” David first read about the sensitive and unique alpine vegetation years ago.
I found the walk on the All Trails App. Good length (15k), and good weather today. Let’s go!
One of the oldest National Parks in Tassie, Mount Field has been on our bucket list for sometime. It’s part of the Wilderness World Heritage Area. It’s also a bit too far for a day trip from Hobart, and the 30 min gravel track is not ideal for hire cars.
But it’ll be no problem in Kenny. Did I mention our 4WD Ford Everest is called Kenny? Kenny Everest.
Meadow Lake was mirror flat as we pulled out onto the road that crosses the lake.
The drinking water comes from this beautiful lake, fed by the River Derwent. Untreated. No thanks. It is little comfort that “the locals drink the water and are fine” as the notes from the AirBnB mention. I guess we’re still city-slickers. I mean we’ll drink bore water that’s been tested. But not from a lake farmed up to the banks and has motor boats.
From the park Visitor Centre a gravel track winds 15km up to Lake Dobson. We passed through a forest of towering gums, tangled trunks, through lush tree ferns and finally out across an open alpine field, with the mountains laid out before us.
“Where should I park?” Dave said ironically, pulling into the large clearing.
“It must be a popular walk” I said looking at the clearing, until I spotted a sign ‘to ski fields’. Oh. Right. Skiing. What about the sensitive alpine vegetation?
Mounted up in our hiking gear, we stopped at the sign to photograph the walking map. I’d expected to use the All Trails app, but the old ‘no internet reception’ problem had scuppered my digital plans.
The red dotted line shows our planned loop.
Turning onto the Urquhart Track, we started climbing uphill through forest of alpine gums that glowed orange in the morning light.
Sitting quietly on a mossy rock we found a little snow man clinging to life, in the shade. Hold on little guy.
“Snow ahead!” I informed David, my excitement mounting.
We emerged from the trees and joined a steep 4WD track for a few hundred meters until we reached the ‘Snow Gum Track’.
The track turned rocky and climbed up through twisted limbs of ancient snow gums. What a relief to see a snow gum forest alive and well, not burnt in the Black Summer fires.
As we picked our way through the boulders I realised that no one knows where we are. I hadn’t been able to text the family from the car park. Mental note- text before you leave home.
Clambering over rocks higher and higher, the track switched back at a jumble of rocks with a broad view down to Lake Seal.
We stood for a moment to take in the view. Some of the rocks were loose so we didn’t venture close to the edge.
Just as Dave set off on the track, I heard my phone bing. Reception!
“Dave hold up, I think we have reception up here!” I pulled out my phone and opened the All Trail app. Yes! I quickly screenshot sections of the route, then fired off the walk link to our two family feeds: ‘Where to look if we go missing’. Phew. Once I was sure the links had been delivered I too continued clambering up the rocks.
Up and up we clambered, across granite rocks and boulders coming to another lookout at the tree line. We could see the tarn shelf and the dolerite plateau, an ancient glacially carved landscape.
A long boardwalk meandered through the alpine heather, crystal rock pools and delicate cushion plants. We slowed down to inspect this strange world. A tapestry of late autumn colour. Yellow and orange foliage looking a little like flowers.
“Does anything live in the rock pools, do you think?” I asked Dave as we peered into the dark water.
Further along the board walk, looking up, we could see to the tarn shelf and the first few tarns (lakes) glistening in the sunshine.
The track descended steeply to a pair of timber huts. One, a basic shelter, the other was a mystery to us with its wires and wheels. Could it be a ski tow? Here? We looked at the alpine garden around us, trying to imagine it buried under snow.
“For supplies?” Speculated Dave
“Supplies for what?” I asked looking around at the shelter? (I’ve since looked it up: it’s a ski tow.)
We clambered down a steep and rocky route with patches of snow in brilliant white. Snow melt trickled down the same track.
“I forgot to wear my gaiters” I said scooping snow out of my boots with a finger. We’d just bought new ones in Hobart.
Fluorescent metal sign posts helped navigate the way from here but the track became harder to find as it charted a route across rock to avoid the delicate plants.
“It’s like a garden” Said Dave looking around. He’s not wrong. It was beautiful. Tall heather made up of stunted vegetation. Miniature pencil pine trees, spiky scoparia, and tea trees.
We took our time following along the water’s edge from one tarn to the next.
“Let’s find a spot for lunch and to sketch,” I suggested looking to a crop of rocks in the distance. “Somewhere with the sun behind us, out of the wind.”
Dave looked at his watch and started to calculate how many daylight hours we had left. “I’m not sure we have time to do both. To sketch and finish the loop.” We calculated how many hours we’d been to estimate how many to complete the loop and realised it would be close. Too close.
Time to sketch and then retrace our steps was the safer option.
“We’ll just have to come back in summer.”
“Yeah, when the days are longer” I agreed. “And next time I’ll pack our head torches. And gaiters….And a paper map. And maybe a compass” I chuckled.
We found a sheltered spot in the sun, on a rock near one of the tarns and settled in to sketch. I knew I would have to work quickly, we had about 40 mins. I decided to do the drawing but not the watercolour and lay in the sun for a moment, while Dave painted. I’ll finish the watercolour by the fire tonight.
A quiet moment. I stretched out on a rock next to David. There was a gentle breeze. Cold, but I was warm in my wind proof. The sound of water lapping and distant voices bouncing off the mountain.
“There is something special about these leaves” Dave said picking up a tiny serrated teardrop shaped leaf. It looked familiar. “Deciduous! It’s a native deciduous tree!” he suddenly remembered.
It’s a beech called Fagus, (Nothofaugs gunnii) it’s Australia’s only cold climate deciduous tree and found nowhere else in the world except Tasmania.
We looked around us an noticed that the how many there were up on the shelf. The leaves had all fallen, but it looked like buds had already started to grow, before winter. Interesting!
We took our time retracing our steps back along the tarns, and up to the ridge with the boardwalk. Lingering in this alpine garden.
With the sun behind us now, the pools of water reflected the blue sky.
Once we reached the boardwalk we decided to treat the return walk like a workout and picked up the pace to a steady march. Racing the sun, and trying to put some distance between us and a small group of noisy American millennials behind us.
We slowed down to enjoy the snow gum forest again. Relishing the twisted tangled mess of trunks and branches. These guys live through a harsh environment. Living sculptures. Trees embracing rocks and leaning with the wind.
Shaggy pandani trees huddled together amongst the rocks watching us pass. They looked as though they could pick up their silvery skirts and follow us.
Further down into the forest, I was pleased to see the little snow man was still around. He had lost an arm and a little weight, but was still with us. It’ll be nightfall soon, little dude.
We’d made good time which meant we could enjoy the forest details too. Leaves, moss, lichens and strange mushrooms.
Black down at Lake Dobson and we were mesmerised by the mirror flat lake in the afternoon sun. A perfectly reflected upside down world. Snow gum branches stretched out over the mirrored surface.
And the colour! Deep, deep blue in the foreground and warm golden light across the lake. I was particularly fascinated by a snow gum clinging to the lake edge. You. I am going to paint you one day. As big as I dare!
The lake is only meters from the end of the walk, the car park and toilets. After a day in the mountains, I knew the drive home was too long to wait.
“I better use the loo before we go.” I said to Dave walking up to the block. I knew what to expect out here in the wilderness. Drop toilets. I braced myself as I approached the door. Standing a few meters from the door, I emptied my lungs and took a few huge breaths of fresh mountain air. Fully oxygenating my blood in advance. One last lungful and I raced in. Lifting the seat with my hiking boot, averting eyes and being was quick as possible. Not quick enough. Lungs burning, I needed air. Breathing through my snood and cupped hands taking micro breaths. Finishing I burst out of the door and doubled over with a dry retch and gasping for fresh air. Damn. That was nasty.
David cracked up and we chuckled our way back to the car.
The sun was setting as we crossed over Meadow Lake moments from home. It was a spectacularly still evening and the lake shone like a jewel with autumnal colours.
But I’m still not drinking it.