Tasmania Adventure part 1: Labyrinth


The start of this blog post is a thanks to people who made this possible.

First and foremost, Marianne for looking after the kids at home for the 10 days I was away.

Next, the photographers with whom I shared this week in alphabetical order:

I’d like to thank Francois in particular who put us up in his home for much longer than expected given our initial plans were foiled. Thanks also to Erin who literally put up with a whole bunch of stinky, sweaty, sodden blokes downstairs and gave us a good feed much more befitting than the ferals we began to resemble as the week progressed!

The initial plan : A 7 day 6 night walk through the Western Arthurs to set ourselves up at Lake Oberon . Some of us had needed to acquire some new gear for long overnight trips including myself (see previous post). We had been closely monitoring the bushfire situation in Tasmania in the week leading up to our arrival and were nervously awaiting the outcome of one particular fire in the Strathgordon area. In the days before our scheduled start to the walk, the access road to the trailhead was closed off for safety reasons. This had us discussing whether we should bale out of the trip or continue anyway with an alternative itinerary.  Our imaginary team mascot ‘Norman’ the optimism gnome , persuaded us that all would be turn out just fine and we proceeded with our flights as planned.

Friday evening : Hobart airport. Sudokus, musing, more Sudokus from a fellow traveler’s paper and then quiet. It’s a neat little place for quiet meditation ! I had arrived three hours ahead of Luke and Tim and was quite relieved to meet Francois as he arrived to pick us up from the airport.

Hobart airport : not a soul in sight!

On a balmy summer evening, we headed to Francois’s place which beautifully overlooks Hobart and Mount Wellington across the bay to the west. That evening, we decided to attend a community meeting at the town of Maydena, the last stop before road blockages to our planned destination. That way we would know for sure if we would have to simply delay our walk, or find alternate plans entirely.

Saturday morning: Instead of being fully packed and rearing to embark on our hike (including the 800m up Moiraine A) , we spent that dawn shooting the coastline literally just out from Francois’s backyard. What a backyard it is too! The conditions were nice and it was as if ‘Norman’ were telling us that something good would come from this trip. Ahh, good ‘ole Norman, so full of optimism 🙂

Hobart and Mount Wellington from just outside Francois’s backyard.

A late breakfast in Salamanca and some inspiration by wandering through ‘Wild Island’ Gallery where the works of the late Peter Dombrovskis were on display. It’s amazing how nerdy talk can become when you group four photographers together, and how it doesn’t matter because there aren’t any uninterested parties to be worried about. I had never been on a trip with other photographers asides Marianne before and it was a nice change to not have child-induced limitations or obligations. Much of our discussion centred on just how hard it would have been for film photographers to have lugged their gear to some of these locations and yet produce such stunning results with perspectives that just can’t be replicated on modern DSLRs.

Maydena was looking pretty grey as we were the first to arrive at the community meeting , no doubt standing out like the complete strangers we were. After some local heroine chest thumping which had much of the audience silently bemused, we learned the truth. The truth that Norman was indeed, not, on our side. The track would be closed for the foreseeable future meaning that at least for our remaining 7 days, we would need alternate plans.  To mull over the finality of this turn of events, we thought we’d head to Mount Field National Park to photograph some easy subjects ; that is until we found the Russell Falls car park overflowing on an pre-Australia day Saturday. Instead, we walked (or moped) around Lake Dobson in light rain keen to take some pictures, pictures of ANYTHING! (most of which I personally won’t ever edit !).

Pandani around Lake Dobson. I took the same shot from the same position way back in 2008!

After several suggestions including the Eastern Arthurs, Frenchman’s Cap, Three Capes, among others, we settled on spending several nights exploring the Labyrinth and Acropolis. It had been decided, we now had an objective and a goal in this situation always brings an upbeat anticipation. Except that Tim found his ND filters had been smashed during transit while were photographing Lake Dobson. Really Norman ? Really??

That evening we met local photographer Ben Wilkinson and found inspiration in viewing the amazing works on display for the ‘Tarkine in Motion’ exhibition in Salamanca. After dinner, sunset did explode yet again and we were determined to escape any possible #dbreezied moments. Francois kindly dropped the three of us off as we plonked our tripods at the first half decent spot we could find. There after, it was time for a repack for what we hoped to be a glorious 5 days around Pine Valley. It was during the process of testing all my gear and cleaning it that I found my sony metabones behaving strangely. It would hunt for a focus point even in manual focus and the EVF was reading anywhere from F00 to F90! Needless to say that my setup had now been transformed into an extremely overpriced paperweight. Deferring to Luke, our resident sony expert, we were unable to find a solution BUT thankfully Luke had brought a spare metabones to use with his canon 24-70mm F2.8. This was a huge stroke of luck as it seems there are very few sony users among the landscape photography community in Hobart! Huge thanks to Luke for letting me borrow his metabones for the rest of the trip or I truly would have been moping away (and strangling Norman in my dreams).

Hobart in a near #dbreezied moment

Sunday morning : Our departure for the wilderness was only 24 hours after first planned but it truly seemed more like a week! Our last two stops consisted of satisfying our craving for anything non freeze dried in advance. The ‘Hungry Wombat’ seemed as good a stop as any. I picked up a muffin I was saving for the track (but which ended up as mush). The headline in the window below was a sad reminder of a horrific hit and run incident which had occurred in Hobart on the day of our arrival.

As we approached Lake St Clair, the weather turned grey with occasional drizzles and was nice and cool- almost perfect walking weather though not necessarily awesome for photography. Nonetheless , without any fatigue, we were snapping a few shots more than we would later in the trip as sleep deprivation set in. (Actually, nothing stops Luke from taking a picture, NOTHING! And they’re all award winningly good too !)

Luke on the ferry to Narcissus showing off ye ‘ole Aquapac stormproof case.

Loaded with our 25+kg backpacks we set off from Narcissus Bay following the ferry transfer and headed for Pine Valley. Being used to running, it took me some time to get into a natural rhythm with group walking and I found my waist-belt constantly loosening which resulted in my shoulders taking on the weight of the pack. I’m also used to going at my own pace which basically meant short sharp spurts with shoulder rests in between. Adjusting to a constant speed was something I found difficult and as Pine Valley hut approached, I decided I’d just go at my own pace to save my shoulders from soreness. By this stage, the rain had picked up a little and Luke had suffered more equipment failure (boots, poles, bag, a real case of Norman-itis which had also spread to an odd lesion on Tim’s eye).

Francois enjoying some light rain on the way to Pine Valley hut

The appearance of the forests around Pine Valley were slightly brown which was a far cry from my memories of trips in 2004 and 2008 when all I have etched in my memory is green. After a quick food break and a dash to Cephissus Falls (rekindling another memory from 2008) it was time to slog it up to the Labyrinth. The path heads directly up and is very steep and covered in bush . That , in combination with sweat meant that I was absolutely drenched by the time I reached the top 40 minutes later. At this stage I was pretty happy that my stair runs up to the Royal Adelaide Hospital helipad had done some good in terms of conditioning. When colleagues see me running up and down the stairs (drenched in sweat) they tend to quizzically ask me why? Apart from being an excellent way to keep fit while at work, it’s also so that on demanding hikes I still have the energy to take out the camera at the end of the day!

Francois slogging up the final stretch of the climb up to the Parthenon with Mount Gould in the background

From here , the path opens up to views of Mount Gould to the south and progressively expanding views of the Acropolis and Mount Geryon. We watched and photographed rain approaching from the distance before we knuckled down to just walking when it finally did reach us. As a result , the walk along the shores of Lake Cyane and Ophione were relatively drab and muddy. By 5pm , we had made it to Lake Elysia where Mount Geryon made a fleeting ghost-like appearance before vanishing behind rain and mist for the rest of the evening.

A cameo by Mount Geryon at Lake Elysia

We pushed on to the Pool of memories and set up camp in constant rain. It was at this stage that I started to have tent envy. I was sharing a Hilleberg Nammatj2 with Tim which we managed to pitch without getting the interior wet thanks to its design. Having nearly always set up cheap tents that ended up getting wet , this was such a luxury! Dinner was the first of many freeze dried meals before sunset did not make an appearance and some fresh clothes helped with sleep.

Monday: Another damp start to the morning where all that was on show was mist but even with that poor visibility , there was still much to photograph. I enjoyed a little roam while everyone else slept though part of me was disappointed there wasn’t a mountain on view.

Lone pine at the Pool of Memories

Later that morning however, my roaming habits did get the best of me as Mount Geryon finally began to show in dramatic fashion while I was up on a ridge exploring on my own. A brain fade had me snapping away with 5 consecutive shots instead of 5 bracketed shots . Perhaps chimping could have come in handy here!

Exploring above the Pool of Memories

After yet another freeze dried lunch, we headed up toward the ridge towards Mount Geryon with the  intent of scouting some of the other alpine lakes. We didn’t really get any further than the beautiful Lake Selene some 15 minutes walk beyond the Pool of Memories. By this stage I had nearly completely dried out thanks to the bright conditions we were now experiencing.

Beautiful Lake Selene by afternoon light (spot Luke)

Unfortunately , on the way out from the Lake, I managed step deep into mud completely sodding my pants  yet again. While the others went a bit further up the ridge, I opted to head back down and dry off in the sun while catching up on some diary writing. I must admit that I’m the kind of person who needs at least a bit of personal time each day. At home, this is my running /commute time to work. Really, I’m not that bothered by wet boots , it was an a bit of an excuse for me time to stretch out and in this case, do a dance of ant avoidance. They had come out in force with the warmer weather. As the afternoon wore on, hikers from Launceston filtered into the area and pitched tent around the Pool of Memories. We had the pleasure of meeting Louise Fairfax , the author of Nature Lovers Walks. I would highly recommend this blog to find out details and experiences of nearly every backcountry hike you could imagine in Tasmania! http://natureloverswalks.blogspot.com.au/

Our tents and Louise’s at the Pool of Memories

As dinner time came, it was time to bring out the meal time big guns. A dinner of Coq Au Vin all round courtesy of Outdoor Gourmet freeze dried meals. Usually during camping trips, I’m relatively constipated but I know now that instead of bringing laxatives, I might instead bring small doses of freeze dried Coq Au Vin! The growling bowels weren’t exactly conducive to sunset shooting but hey, who really listens to you fart in the wilderness ! While Luke and Tim witnessed some awesome light from down at the Pool , Francois and I experienced it from Lake Selene. I think this particular evening gave me the most satisfaction of the trip and even made me temporarily forget that Norman even existed. As we returned to camp with the afterglow  lighting our way, it seemed like most had had a good time down at camp too, except for the Coq induced toilet runs of course.

Mount Gould reflected in Lake Selene

Francois and Lake Selene

Sleep with dry clothing came a lot easier for me that night. It was a relatively warm night and with the moon out, I was disappointed that there weren’t any stars visible due to increasing haze. One genre of photography we simply did not have an opportunity to attempt was astro photography due to the constant cloud cover.

Moonlit Pool of memories with haze starting to creep into the area

Tuesday: The morning began just as the previous day’s with a mass of moving fog passing through our location. Dawn came and went with no hint of visibility from down below nor up on the ridge above our site. While I was exploring, everyone else remained asleep in their tents until the Launceston group broke camp and walked out towards Pine Valley by 8am. We were in no rush and the early morning fog meant a good rest until mid morning until it once again began to clear. Unlike the previous day however, Geryon was covered in haze and we realised that the winds had shifted, blowing in smoke from surrounding fires.

Haze covering Mount Geryon

Smoke aside, the day was fining up to be yet another balmy day in the mountains as we broke camp and headed back to Lake Elysia. Our plan was to stay there for a night before either moving on to the Acropolis or up to Walled Mountain. Somehow, what seemed like an ordeal getting down to the Pool in the driving rain seemed a pleasant short walk back to Lake Elysia and before we knew it, we were again choosing camp site by mid morning.

Nearing the shores of Lake Elysia with Walled Mountain in the background

A random tip about swimming in alpine lakes : Do it while you’re hot and fresh off the trail! By the time we looked for camp sites, we had cooled down considerably and the desire to jump in the freezing water was somewhat diminished though Luke and Tim did have a partial dip.

Soothing the muscles in Lake Elysia

That afternoon, we did some scouting along the shores of Lake Ophione and Lake Cyane (after being distracted by a beautiful grove of Pandani – not for the first time).

Four men and a pandanus!

I was beginning to hope for a sunset like the previous evening and the possibilities of shooting Mount Gould from this vantage point but as the afternoon wore on, the smoke haze also built up. We backtracked and found our way along a very rough pad toward Dombrovskis Tarn and stopped there while appreciating the location that was ultimately named after the great man. The bugs were out in force here and it looked like a good location though with little camping opportunities for anything more than a 1 man tent.

Mount Hyperion from the general area of Dombrovskis Tarn

There wasn’t a clear path up to Walled Mountain but it looks like yet another amazing spot to get to some time in the future again. As evening came , we all went for a walk around Lake Elysia to look for alternative vantage points but somehow the increasing gloom cast an aura of doom over our photographic aspirations. Francois was the only one to go right around the lake while quite early on , I had decided that I was probably just going to head back down to Lake Cyane. In restrospect, I think we we ended up photographing for photographing’s sake that evening as we could taste and smell the approaching fires by the time night fell. Luke had wandered up to a high vantage point for reception and received a weather forecast of impending doom. On this basis, we readjusted our plans to head off track the following day and work out what do with the rest of our time in Tasmania.

Smoke haze and an eerie twilight over Lake Elysia

Wednesday : We awoke to some visibility of the mountains though quite obscured by bushfire haze yet again. The taste of nearby fire was still in the air and this consolidated our decision to head off the mountain. The ferry would leave at 130pm that day so we figured we’d have to hustle along if we were to fit in a quick shoot of Cephissus Falls along the return walk. What took us a few hours on the way up, only took us 90 minutes on the way down to Pine Valley . I had seen Cephissus creek on a few occasions but never in such a dry state. It was a reminder of the prevailing dryness of Tasmania’s alpine regions which had allowed the fires to burn out of control. The lower water levels at least allowed us to walk easily along the creek itself. After yet another ‘longer than predicted’ photographic session, we headed toward Narcissus hut and the ferry out.

Cephissus Creek in mid morning

Pandani were the star of the show in the mountains

By the time we finished photographing it was nearly 1030am. We’d be pushing to make it on the ferry considering the possibility of other hikers leaving the Overland Track. With that in mind, we decided just to go for broke and rush on out! I don’t usually like wearing headphones on the hike as I enjoy the silence of nature with its intermittent sounds of water, wildlife and gusts of wind. But for a straightforward slog through terrain we had already covered, I figured a little uplifting music could nudge that along a gear or two. As I was walking , I passed quite a few groups who were also heading off the track and who probably already had the ferry pre-booked. I must admit, at this stage I was looking forward to some cooked food at the other end and so perhaps this spurred me along just that little bit extra. I wasn’t going to let some slower walkers get in the way of that hot meal !!!Some time around 12pm I made the call from Narcissus hut back to Cynthia Bay and it was with great relief that there were still some spots available on the ferry. Shoes off socks off time!  I had plenty of alochol gel handwash leftover and as another completely random tip, rubbing this into your shoes and dirty socks is an extremely effect way to destink 😉

mmm, hot food at the other end of Lake St Clair!

As we were taking the ferry back to Cynthia Bay, we discovered that the Overland track had indeed been closed from the north and all the hikers on the trail were being encouraged to exit the trail. I also got talking to one of the tour guides leading the guided version of the Overland Track (you know, the one where you get hot showers, meals and portage). He gave me some great directions and ideas and as planted the seed (through overt conscious inception) of doing the track to Lake Oenone at some point in the future.

Feeling that much fresher and cleaner at the other end of the lake, it was time to decide on the next 3 days’ activities! Stay tuned!!

 

 

 

 

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Posted on February 19, 2016, in Australia, How we..., Tasmania and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great read.

  2. Great blog, loved reading it. The images are a yet another example of Why I would love to go hiking in Tasmania – shame it’s the other side of the world!

  3. I’m going to Tassie later in the year so it’s great to read about all these lovely locations.

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