Saturday, 26 September 2015

Scott-Kilvert Hut - Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, TAS

This is like escaping behind the scenes at the theatre. Huge towering columns jut out of the mist, holding up a familiar and world-famous fa├žade. But from behind, the shape of the mountain is unrecognisable. Nothing looks familiar. This is Cradle Mountain's hidden side.

Back at Dove Lake car park, the crowd mingles; selfie sticks in hand, wearing their smartest outdoor outfits and shoes and striking fashion poses for the camera. That is the auditorium. People mill around, waiting to see the main show-stopping attraction - the mirror surface of Dove Lake, the wooden boat shed, with the dramatic, rugged cliffs of Cradle Mountain framing it all.

We have set off in the opposite direction to most of the crowd, heading east along the shore of Dove Lake, then climbing steeply up the Lake Rodway Track to a narrow saddle then up and over the summit of Hansons Peak. Our plan is to complete an overnight loop walk, circumnavigating Cradle Mountain, examining it from all sides. Today though, the mountain remains hidden behind curtains of cloud and drifting squalls of rain. It is unpleasant weather but pleasant walking – we have waterproof jackets and pants over our good wool thermals. It is a nice feeling, being dry and warm on the inside but feeling the freezing rain and wind on my face and hands.

Barn Bluff

In the cold wind and low hanging cloud, Hansons's Peak feels like a bleak, wild little peak with its steep western face plunging straight down to Dove Lake, 200m below. The name Hanson's Peak means little to me at the time, just a viewing spot, a nice little scramble up open rocks, but its importance in this walk is revealed later in the evening when we reach our wonderful shelter for the night, Scott-Kilvert Memorial Hut.

Other landmarks, however, have been known to me for years through the stories of others and from stunning pictures seen in magazines and books. Places like Twisted Lakes, Little Horn, Artists Pool and Weindorfers Tower.  The landscape is also peopled with matching, mythically familiar plant life – ancient pencil pines, tanglefoot turning in the late autumn air, and pandani palm with heads like the tops of Seuss' Truffalo Trees.

Unfortunately there is little chance to take photos of this magical landscape. The weather is too unpredictable and wet. But, it is past Hansons Peak that we lose the sense of Cradle Mountain. From this angle it is unrecognisable but equally spectacular. Columns of rock jut out in jagged silhouettes. Low cloud wafts and whips around the high spires. Waterfalls are peeling off the lower flanks of the mountain.

Artists Pool

All the way to Scott-Kilvert Hut, the track is running with water and the sky has been too. We arrive to the welcome warmth of this beautiful shelter. There are seven people already when we arrive, one group of five and two other relaxed dudes who look like they've brought enough food for all of us. Then another group of three walk in to the hut, and it is like a local pub, all our conversations stop and everyone looks up to run their eye over the new strangers who have entered the room.

Lake Rodway

It is funny, how appealing bushwalking huts are. To the point that everyone sits inside all afternoon despite the sun finally emerging and the cold wind lighting beautiful flares of silver light across the surface of Lake Rodway. Instead, one of the new young arrivals sits and plays solitaire on his smart phone. The two well-fed dudes are playing poker and I can smell whiskey in the air. The card table banter is entertaining.

A few of the walkers, including myself, also take time to read about the history of the hut. There are old newspaper cuttings and personal accounts sitting unobtrisuvely in a small folder by the coal stove but also a large sign on the wall. I didn't take any notes at the time but here's a good summary of what Scott-Kilvert Memorial Hut is really about. It comes from another blogger (downunder2borneo), a Tasmanian - "Actually Scott Kilvert Memorial hut is here for more than shelter...It’s here to tell a story. One that should be told every now and then...The Mercury told it on May 22 1962 after a school hiking trip turned to disaster. In the 70mph blizzard teenage students were faltering. Some were sent on ahead and made it to a little boatshed on Dove Lake. Another group found a place to hole up and bunkered down for the night, but teacher Ewen Scott had stayed behind to help the 14 year old David Kilvert.

Scott ended up carrying the exhausted David on his shoulders. According to the Search and Rescue team at the time, David fell and broke his back on Hanson’s Peak and though Ewen Scott tried to shelter him, he died of exposure. Although an extremely fit man, Ewen Scott, in an attempt to reach Waldheim Chalet to alert searchers, collapsed and died, just 200 metres from part of the group that was sheltering in a boat shed."

Leaving the protection of the hut is inevitable though. This morning it is foggy although the cloud shows signs of lifting. The track out from Lake Rodway is rocky and rough, with many steps badly washed out and eroded as we climb steeply up to meet the Overland Track at the southern end of Benson Peak and Cradle Mountain.

Our walk is actually a lot like a mini-Overland Track. To keep the theatre analogy going, we are in the one act play as opposed to the full, production length drama. We are out for two days, while OT walkers get to spend 6-7 nights walking 68km south. We plan to add a few challenges though, to make up for the shorter distances. We turn left and follow the famous OT for a few hundred metres then turn right and head for the summit of Barn Bluff. This is such a distinctive mountain. It haunts all Overland Track walkers for days and days and days. Its isolated, conical peak is visible from so many vantage points in the region and unlike Cradle Mountain, no matter what angle or direction you view it from there is no mistaking Barn Bluff. The climb to the top is also a fun, although strenuous climb. The summit is a remarkable collection of massive dolerite columns, jumbled and toppled and dumped like a game of jenga gone bad. Sun, high corrugations of cloud, and a light wind are the best surprises on the summit of Barn Bluff as well as the remarkable views. Waterfall Valley Hut is tucked down below us to the south and the OT can be seen winding south across the high plateaus.

When we finally make our way back to the Overland Track we pass a steady stream of wonderful and varied actors setting off to play out the story of their adventure, passing Cradle Mountain and continuing on along Tasmania's wild and wonderful stage. We stop and chat to a few and wish them luck, as their heavy packs and the heavily bouldered track make the simple task of walking so much more of a challenge. Each step takes extra balance and strength, judgement and care. It is a slow but rewarding way to travel. 

Suttons Tarn

Kitchen Hut

This section of track, for us, is also one of the most scenic. Nestled beneath the towering western wall of Cradle Mountain we pass through some beautiful pandani forest, carpeted with dense thick moss, dotted with tiny tarns and run through with rich, tannin stained creeks. Kitchen Hut is at the base of the summit track for Cradle Mountain but we walked that the other day so now we sneak away westwards,  a second detour, down an unmarked path gifted to us by some lucky online research and an old guide book of Cradle Mountain walks. The track drops steadily over white and grey rocks towards Suttons Tarn and we have come here for yet another perspective of Cradle Mountain. It is a view shared by a lone platypus, out fishing on the grey, dark afternoon in the black water.

Returning from Suttons Tarn to the Dove Lake car park is a rude shock. We may not have walked far, and Scott-Kilvert Memorial Hut might be just 'behind the scenes', but it felt a world away from the frantic, busy schedule of time poor tourists. The boardwalk tracks and car park are heaving, vehicles coming and going, people dashing down to the water's edge and then back to their cars. More like a circus than high-theatre. Eventually though, as we throw our packs in the car late that evening, then slip into our clean clothes and smart shoes, the stage empties of people. Slowly new actors emerge, a shy wombat and pademelons sneak out from the wings, another platypus emerges safely from its den and night brings the curtain down on another adventure.

Scott-Kilvert Memorial Hut

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