Saturday, 2 May 2015

Viva las Fagus!

There's something about the light in Tasmania, especially autumnal.

Ancient light... maybe it's the prevailing westerlies, because west of Tassy is...  nothing. The air is cold, pure, and frequently damp - so perhaps not the best time to take three small children hiking and camping into a remote area at altitude. But kids should be exposed to varying degrees of discomfort for resilience to take root. If this means making them cold, wet, hungry, tired, exhausted, lost and miserable, then I really don't see any harm in it. Good old fashioned child abuse sure beats the iPad, a boring tool for which mine hardly ever hanker these days. Reality is heaps funner.

I've also become increasingly infatuated by Fagus over recent years - welcome to middle age. This ancient beech species exists on small patches of the Tasmanian alpine, and it's one of only a handful of deciduous Australian native trees. The leaves don't turn until the end of April, which is how I managed to coax Phil and his old tropical bones south from Byron. If one has the means for spontaneous travel, there is actually a Fagus hotline.  

The kids and I (maman doesn't do cold and wet in a tent after days exercising) caught the Spirit of Tasmania on Thursday night, and I was pleasantly surprised by this ship which makes air travel a massive PITA in comparison. We took the car, which meant I could just throw all our camping gear into the boot at the last minute to sort out on the other side of Bass Straight.

We had a nice meal, wine, watched a movie, then caught a decent night's sleep in our little cabin despite the constant pitch and yaw. The kids thought it was a blast.

On driving out of Devonport we were treated to our first Taswegian sunrise spectacular whilst scrumping apples.

We met up with Phil and Pan in Deloraine, and did a bit of last minute food shopping. I also grabbed a tarp which would come in handy. Then into the wilds of the Western Tiers, and south along logging tracks to the bottom of the Walls of Jerusalem.

There was six hundred metres of vertical up to Trappers Hut, then further up on to the alpine and our first pencil pines. These are another incongruous and primordial species existing only within a few square kilometres. They are exquisite, antediluvian and amazing. Of every other party met hiking up to see them over the next 3 days, most were foreigners. 

We stopped for lunch besides one of the Jewels of Solomon. Most of this region is named after places or people of the Old Testament. I don't know why, but it certainly adds to the feeling you're treading upon ancient terrain with many of the trees pre-dating Christ.

Noodles as usual, with Balti taking line-honours in the noodle-slurping comp.

We began climbing under the Western (wailing) Wall, up onto highland moors not unlike Scotland. Having already passed the camping platforms, we were aiming for Dixon's. However as a band of cloud moved in, the temperature rapidly plummeted into single digit territory, and Phil and I saw a priority to establish camp. Somewhere, anywhere...  

We found a sheltered spot above the Pool of Shiloah and pitched tents after chasing away the local wallaby population. The sun briefly returned before setting, illuminating just how beautiful a place this was. Charlotte and Pan ran up to Solomon's Throne, and then the Temple before joining us for Phil's magnificent carbonara.

We knew we were in for some rain when we woke Saturday, but things didn't look too bad. We had breaky then hiked over the Damascus Gate and then down to Dixon's through a pine stand more European or Himalayan than anything south of the equator.

Half way up Mt Jerusalem, the light rain got heavier and it got cold. Lucie was freezing, so I took Balti and her back to Dixon's for shelter. Balti was filthy he couldn't climb the mountain in the clouds with Phil, Pan and Charlotte and he sulked all the way back to the hut.

Much of the weekend for me would be spent learning how to differentiate differing speeds between different ages under different moods in different directions and various vegetal heights.

In addition to the golden rules of 'no whinging, no getting feet wet and no whinging', I added 'fluoro is now compulsory'. 

As we trudged back to camp the rain became biblical of the Old Testament kind.

For the next twelve hours the ten dollar Woolies' tarp would prove to be our New Testament. A fire would have been even better so that we could have smoked a few Salomon, but a fire can set you back $5K in these parts...

Entertaining three cold wet kids in a two man tent has its limitations. Attention spans aren't fabulous, nor their repertoires prolific. If you feed them chocolate, the madness only festers.

After several hours of talking, games and reading, ultimately we were left with several more playing human-eating zombie slugs in sleeping bags, a game for which I could offer little.

When it wasn't raining it was pouring, and when not pouring it was teaming so hard that it was impossible even to hear Balti shouting in your ear. Water was turning up in awkward and annoying places, and I started to wish that the temperature would drop a few degrees so that it would snow.

Snow is so much easier to deal with than cold rain.     

I won't deny I wasn't anxious during the course of this evening. I understand human physiology, hypothermia and the relatively robust merits of paediatric psychologies. But when you have four wet sleeping bags due to rivers running underneath the tent and an ambient temperature of three degrees, all sorts of nasty shit can happen when you're out of telephone range. And it never looks good on the evening news. 

At least we ate well, with Phil definitely in the running for Bush Masterchef. Under seriously trying circumstances beneath the tarp he cooked up an astonishing beef curry with fresh herbs, before we all hunkered down. I wish we'd had more than a bottle of red between us for sleep, and body warmth ultimately proved necessary to get us through the night. I was glad it wasn't just Phil and I. 

Anyway, all rain, like all bleeding, ultimately stops.

Sometimes you're left with a corpse, however when we woke Sunday morning in a newly formed lake (even the new moat surrounding Phil and Pan's tent hadn't dissuaded the fat local possum) it was clear that the new day would be full of life and most splendid.  

The one thing we might have done better Sunday morning was to look at the map - then we might have understood just how far we had to travel for the long circuit around past lakes Ball and Adelaide. But then we might not have climbed the incredible couloir up to Solomon's Throne.

There are several awesome couloirs off the Walls, all of them skiable in a good snow year, and all now added to the bucket list.

Then back through the ancient pine forest to Dixon's, and down the Jaffa valley. There is no marked trail for this portion of the circuit, however it is easy to navigate along the wallaby trails. It was very pretty, and I wish we'd had time to drop a line into the very fishy creek.

After eventually linking up with the walking trail again on the shores of Lake Ball, we were rounding a corner when I heard a shout from Phil.

And there it was. 

Nothofagus Gunnii 

It was evident that we'd perhaps missed the best of the trees' turning by a week or so, however it was still a special moment. The leaves are fenestrated, like tiny butterflies, and the forest floor was littered like confetti. I explained to the kids that these trees have remained unchanged for millions of years, and are clear evidence of the continents once being joined. You can find them in the Andes, Southern Alps, and Antarctica. Like coming across a dinosaur in the forest, but not as scary.

The trail along the north of Lake Ball was stupid-beautiful, reminding me a bit of the islands around the other Victoria, British Columbia.

And then other scenes like some Japanese Zen Garden, with only the backdrop of snow gums betraying the location as Australia. 

The rain had rendered the trails almost impassable in places for people with small legs. We had to break the no wet feet rule, then the no muddy pants rule. Phil ended up going in up to his waist.

This was Balti's first camping trip. Last year when we climbed Mt Anne he'd just turned four and was too little. I'd promised he could come this year now that he was (just!) five, but warned there'd be lots of walking. However I hadn't bargained on just how much - nearly 20 kilometres on the last day, much of it through water and mud. He just kept going, and I was pretty impressed. 

We had lunch besides a very picturesque Lake Adelaide, and only then did we look at the map and realise that we still had nearly 10 kilometres of walking ahead of us, which meant that Phil and Pandan would likely miss their flight back to Coolangatta unless they basically sprinted.

I gave Phil a hug and said my goodbyes. He took Charlotte to set him a good pace, and I set a slower pace with Luce and Balti.

Despite thrashing the hire car, they didn't make the airport but got another later flight.

And we were in plenty of time for the boat.

Despite a seven metre swell we slept like babies, and it was a thoroughly novel commute to work and school.

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