Walls of Jerusalem 2020 Part 1
Posted by Patrick Melon
6 day hike
To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of hikes; it was the worst of hikes.
It was the best of hikes because the area is remote and unmarked by the usual monuments to modern civilisation. On a high plateau, there is unusual vegetation like the extensive stands of pencil pines. In some places flat grassy areas provide ideal camping and scenic landscape (in good weather). And once the plateau region has been attained then there is relatively little in the way of further long, arduous and steep climbs. It took me just 40 minutes to walk from Dixons Kingdom to the top of Mount Jerusalem, and 10 minutes to the Damascus Gate.
Flora and fauna are typical of areas in the region such as the Cradle Mountain – Lake StClair National Park. The dolerite peaks such as Solomons Throne and Mount Jerusalem are easily accessible from either Wild Dog campsite or (another hour’s walk) Dixons Kingdom. Once a peak has been climbed, the views on a clear day are amazing. I could identify to the west all of the peaks through which the Overland Track passes and which I had climbed on other ocassions, starting with Cradle Mountain itself, then all the way south to Mount Olympus overlooking Lake StClair.
A notable feature of the northern area of The Walls National Park are the place names. The valleys, lakes, peaks and saddles are given biblical place names. Having visited Israel on many occasions and taught the archaeology of Palestine, I found it doubly interesting. Some place names are arbitrarily given. Mount Moriah is the highest point of the Temple Mount and the site of the Dome of the Rock today. This is the place where according to tradition Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yet within the park, Mount Moriah and Mount Jerusalem are some distance apart. On the other hand the names of the gates – Herod’s Gate, Damascus Gate, Jaffa Gate, Zion Gate, Golden Gate, & Ephraims Gate do resemble the order and rough geographical shape in which they form part of the wall defences of Jerusalem in ancient times.
And it was the worst of hikes. When booking flights and track transport in advance, the weather is the one imponderable. For me it can make the difference between enjoyment and misery. I find myself increasingly a fair-weather hiker and dislike setting up camp in heavy rain and cold wind. In the case of this hike the weather forecast was poor for the second and third day. So it was a hike that began well and finished well. But there were a couple of days when it was best indoors, dry and sheltered. It was also the worst of hikes, because I took an expensive tent into a four season experience. I thought the tent would stand up to the high wind and battering rain, but it performed very poorly and began leaking all over the place. In addition, my hiking poles both failed and fell apart. The lower extendable poles of both detached from their housing. I’ve become very reliant on them for descending since they take up some of the strain and stress on the knees.
The hike started well. After flying in to Launceston and staying with my daughter and family, I was picked up early on the next morning and joined a party of 6 traveling via Doleraine to the Walls car park area and hiker registration. This is the usual entry point and main access into the park.
Having looked at the Bureau of Meteorology weather forecast for the week, I decided to do the walk in an anticlockwise direction. This meant walking along the Mersey Forest Road for another 7 km to the Lake Myrtle track car park. I would then follow the Lake Myrtle track up on to the plateau at Blizzard Plain. From there the track goes via Lake Bill, crosses Jackson’s creek, then up to Lake Myrtle. The final leg was to be over the north eastern shoulder of Mount Rogoona to Lake Meston. At the intersection of the Lake Myrtle track and the Junction Lake track lies an old Trapper’s hut, the Lake Meston Hut. The plan was to wait to see what the weather would do before heading north along the Junction Lake track to Dixons Kingdom.
I really only met two parties on the hike. One at Lake Meston Hut, and the other group who traveled with me on the bus to The Walls and back to Launceston. It is interesting how people’s questions belie their unspoken thoughts. One group was interested in how old I was. I don’t feel old, but I must look it! I suppose when you get to your 70th year you begin to look different.
The other group was fascinated that I walked alone. It wasn’t the safety aspect that intrigued them, but more the psychological element. What happens when you don’t have human contact for six days? How do you cope? I find it refreshing. The analogy of rebooting a computer comes to mind. Switching it off and on to shake out the bugs in the software. The computer retains its memory but some of the software conflicts are removed. Returning to civilization and switching on TV for the first time in a week was a wake up call. I had become so immersed in culture that I had begun to accept some of its less commendable values. A few years ago after having lived and worked in the developing world where poverty and sometimes hunger was rampant, then coming to Australia I was shocked at the tinned pet-food commercials that promoted the fine quality of the food. Good to take a break sometimes and come back with fresh eyes.
Day 1: Launceston to Lake Meston Hut.
Picked up at 7:30 am and driven with six others to The Walls car park. With one thing and another we arrived late and the driver needed to go and collect another group at Cradle Valley and couldn’t take me further. So I started at the road junction of the Mersey Forest Road and Walls car park turn off. It was just after 10 am. I estimated another 2 hours walk to reach the Lake Myrtle track and car park (about 7km). This was the least enjoyable part of the day. The day warmed up as I did and the track was monotonous (see photo above). After about 5km the track degraded into a series of potholes. OK for walking but suspension wrecking and bone-jarring in a vehicle. Just before the turn off for the Lake Myrtle track start a 4WD stopped. The couple inside had been camping at Lake Myrtle for a few days and were heading home. The man described the start of the walk up to Blizzard Plain as “brutal”. They also described the Lake Myrtle camp site as one of the best they had seen. They had met no-one else on the track (as also was my experience). Shortly after a sharp left hand bend I came to an unmarked car park in the scrub which may have squeezed in 3 or 4 cars. Surprisingly, since I had just been told the track was deserted there was one car parked in it. I was to discover the reason why at the end of the day. A few meters from the car park along the Lake Myrtle track I came to the registration station and signed in (below).
The track up to Blizzard Plain was “brutal” in the sense it just went straight up in an unimaginative way, with little relief. Looking back I could glimpse views of Lake Rowallan through the trees below. The path gradually leveled and suddenly came out into the open button grass of Blizzard Plain. Here a path marked with poles avoided what looked like the original track through the middle of the plains, instead veering to the right following the edge of the forest. Mt Rogoona was clearly visible in the distance.
Along here the walk was pleasant enough though exposed to the elements. At the end of Blizzard Plain near to Lake Bill, the track veered left and went up and contoured around the side of the lake through dry sclerophyll forest. Eventually I crossed a major creek which I think was Jackson’s Creek and rested. My feet were beginning to get sore and some fresh air was what they needed. From here the track, often braided, climbed gradually with the sounds of the creek to the left. Near to Lake Myrtle, the path and the occasional tape marker became confusing. I ended up at the outflow of the creek on Lake Myrtle. I chose to cross here. Several bleached, fallen trees jammed up the outlet and provided a way of crossing Jacksons Creek without getting my feet wet. I discovered the “correct” wet crossing about 30 meters downstream. Another short distance brought me to the campsite at Lake Myrtle (below), a very pleasant spot indeed (in the right weather)
There were many tracks and pads in the camping area. The question was which one should I follow? John Chapman suggests heading to the south east corner of the flat area to where the hill rises over the shoulder of Mt Rogoona. Problem solved. The track starts unpromisingly enough, but there are occasional markers to raise one’s hopes. A short climb brought me to a thinly wooded landscape of dolerite rock and a series of ups and downs which lasted for the next hour or so. The trail is “easily lost in some places” according to Chapman. Understated but he’s right! There are small rock cairns, sometimes a tape, sometimes a footprint, sometimes only a lightening of the colour of the dolerite caused by the passage of boots over the years. It seemed a long way and I was getting tired toward the end of the day. Eventually the trail rose to a shoulder and seemed to end. To the right were a couple of tape markers going up quite steeply. Definitely not the direction I wanted to be going. This I thought was the track that leads up to the summit of Mt Rogoona. No markers ahead and not much of a trail for a 100 meters but then thankfully the path re-formed. The path also began to descend quite quickly and the first views of Lake Meston appeared (below).
In fact it was a quite short descent, perhaps only about 800 meters. Near the bottom I was surprised by someone checking out the track for an attempt on Mt Rogoona the following day. He was the leader of a party of 6 who were camped outside the Lake Meston hut. No-one had wanted to camp in the hut which is quite dark and dreary. I took up residence and made myself at home, thankful to meet some friendly people who were to be companions for the next day or so as the weather deteriorated.
Its rough and ready, but what do you expect from a wilderness hut. At one end a fire which had been extensively used in the past, but no-one had emptied the ashes. 4 bunks with open cell foam mattresses, a bench, stool, shelving and nails to hang up wet gear everywhere. The ceiling and some of the walls had been lined with plastic which even in heavy rain kept the inside of the hut dry. Under one of the bunks someone had left two reasonably new inflatable watercraft, complete with inflators. Elsewhere were odds and ends of equipment that needed to be put out in the hard waste collection. Remnants of mosquito coils provided evidence that at some time of the year they were common enough to be a nuisance. Outside the door there was a nice pair of waders which I suspect would be used by visiting fishermen. The party I traveled with on the mini-bus said that someone had caught some pretty decent rainbow trout while they were there (this party did the reverse route of what I did). The log book provided interesting reading and suggested not to drink from the stream to the north east because of the potential run off from the toilet area up about 40 meters on the north side of the hut. I include a rough sketch of the area (below). The next day when I did try to climb back up the Lake Myrtle trail I missed it completely so unobtrusive its presence. It is marked by two easily missed red/orange markers nailed to the trees on either side of the track.
DAY 2: Lake Meston Hut
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”. Woke up in the early hours to the sound of the wind picking up. The next morning it began to rain and the temperature dropped markedly. Later in the morning the snow began until it was possible to collect it from the tents and make snowballs. The BOM predictions had been correct. It is odd that Australia had only the previous month been ravaged by heat and bush fires, yet here we experienced winter-like conditions. The day was spent chatting, playing chess, cooking, and resting in the sleeping bag with all clothes on. I even set off a heat pad I had brought which lasted a few hours and made it very cosy. Late afternoon the rain and snow became intermittent and permitted me a walk down toward the bottom end of the Lake and back. The leader of the party of six set off by himself and climbed Mt Rogoona through snow showers. No-one else was interested to join him.
That night I had a companion in the hut because his tent floor had failed and became like blotting paper. All his equipment was wet. The interesting thing was this for him was only the beginning of a 10 day hike now with no serviceable tent. The party intended to return to Meston hut and walk out by the Lake Myrtle track. They had left their car at the car park to shuttle everyone back to the Walls car park. The mystery of the sole car in the car park was solved.
DAY 3: Lake Meston Hut to Dixons Kingdom
I was reluctant to start the next day. I checked the weather on the Garmin Inreach and it was still predicting (Dark Sky) extensive rain and cold conditions. The other party packed up and in a disciplined way set off early intending to camp at Junction Lake. One of them shouldered a pack weighing nearly 40kg filled with his own and some of his wife’s equipment. He had two others help lift it onto his back. I still vacillated until 10 am when I eventually decided to leave. It was going to be long day. Depending on the trail I hoped to make either the Lake Ball hut or Dixons Kingdom hut. At least there might be shelter of some kind if the weather remained poor. The forecast for the following days, however, was good, so I decided to try and make the most of it.
The track from Meston Hut to Lake Adelaide is good. The only problem I had was after coming into the camping area at the head of Lake Meston. I missed the marker at the bottom of the descent and wandered into the camping area where there are many tracks. When all else fails consult the map and guidebook. I have shown the actual track alignment corrected on the map below.
The track follows the valley northwards climbing gently to the southern edge of Lake Adelaide. From this point onward the track deteriorated. It took about 2 hours to get through this section. Why track-cutters can’t take a reasonably straight line I don’t know. This one goes up and down, never straight. Near the prominent rock cliff, two thirds of the way along the lake, it is passed with difficulty because of fallen trees. Near the top end of Adelaide I met the party I had traveled with from Launceston. One of them told me to take care following the pink-taped route from Lake Ball hut to Dixons, because the tapes don’t go the right way. I didn’t really understand what he meant until later.
At the top of Lake Adelaide I came to a camping area that would have been nice in better conditions. Keeping to the right I picked up the Lake Ball trail which climbed steeply eastwards. This was passed fairly easily apart from two places. At one point I had to cross a swollen creek and got wet feet and also picked up several leeches (which I didn’t notice till I took off my hiking boots that night). Just before the Lake Ball hut the track passes high through a field of rock scree which was slow going. The rain by this time had eased to showers and promisingly between showers even a burst of sunshine to lift the spirits
I considered sleeping the night in the Lake Ball hut. There was a camping platform at one end which could have taken my mat. However, the roof shingles were only watertight on one side. Unless you covered the bottom of the sleeping bag with a tarp you would be exposed to the elements. So after a brief rest and a snack I decided to press on to Dixons. It would have been about 4:30 pm.
The track from Lake Ball hut to the triangular shaped plain that forms the beginning of Jaffa Vale was surprisingly good. And leaving the lake I began to pick up the pink tape markers following these to a stream junction. Crossing the stream the markers headed north west then north. I eventually came above a small unnamed tarn where they disappeared completely. I cast around far and wide to try to pick them up again but couldn’t. Here among the scattered pencil pines I decided to head up the valley and make my own way off trail. I also switched on the Garmin to help. I had loaded it with the coordinates for Dixons hut at home and it indicated I was about 500 meters south west of my destination. I did learn from the ranger later on that the unnamed lake is where PWS intend to establish a camping area away from the popular Dixons Kingdom. I also discovered that the ranger knew about the tapes finishing where they did. She suggested that someone had recently decided to realign the track and had moved them.
The rain began again when I arrived at the hut. I would have liked to set up in the hut just for one night but there were already two young lads there in the gathering darkness. So I camped about 200 meters further north in an area sheltered by a fallen tree. Setting up in the cold and wet while tired was unpleasant but necessary. I wrapped most of the equipment that wouldn’t fit in the tent in a waterproof Bothy Bag and squeezed into the tent for the night. Dinner was cooked in the narrow gap between the inner and outer fly.
At about 2 am in heavy rain and high winds I woke up to find the inner fly wet. It wasn’t condensation. The outer fly was also wet on the inside and dripping. The sleeping bag was getting wet and so was I. In the darkness I put on a headlight and staggered outside and erected an MSR ewing tarp over the tent tying it to the trees around. This I hoped would prevent further rain from entering and slept fitfully until dawn.
Day 4 -6 to be continued in part 2