The Overland Diaries pt.XXI – and it all kicks off again…

And we’re back! After a winter chasing the northern lights, Californian home-brew, some festival about a bloke and a fire, and who knows what other oddities, the guiding crew are back on the island and trips are almost ready to go.

Pre-season training took place over last weekend with raggedy looking bunch of folk walking into Barn Bluff Hut, the first of our Overland Track stops, for a few days of ‘training’. Good times.

White out over Cradle Plateau, note Ange still rocking the short/T combo…

Bert checks out one of Tassie’s best ‘windows’

All the way from Ireland. Geraldine on the Cradle summit boulders

Snow in the summit gully

Perfect weather for the walkout!

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The aesthetics of movement – Camino Frances pt.II

In the first installation of my Camino Frances journey, I mentioned that I had chosen the route with some friends as a reunion of sorts. Teresa, Marieke and I had met about 18 months prior in Aberdeen, the sleepy Scottish university and oil town whose stout granite buildings perch themselves on the North Sea shore up above Edinburgh. Marieke’s partner, Nick, who I had also briefly met in Aberdeen, would also be coming along, and hopefully the four of us would make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela.

But I wasn’t meeting the others until Leon, and to get there I had three weeks or so or solo walking.

Browsing various Camino forums I’ve often read posts something along the lines of ‘Will I be OK walking the Camino solo?’ Well, having now done it, I think it’s fair to say the Liverpudlians have the right of it – ‘You’ll never walk alone…’. The real beauty of the Camino isn’t in the landscape, or the food, or the amazing things that 800km will do to your calves.

It’s in the people.

The first person I met was an English bloke. He wasn’t a walker and wasn’t particularly fit. I ran into him on the shuttle train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port. He was nervous as can be (as was I) and wasn’t really sure why he was there (neither was I) but we got chatting and would continue to run into each other over the next five weeks or so. There was the German family (inc. dog) who had started walking out their front door a few years early and did a couple of hundred kilometres each summer. Their 16yo walked with us for a while and decided that next year he was going to come back and finish off the last 600km by himself. There was the Muslim theology student who fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage. There was the old bloke in Logroño who had walked the Camino 17 times and gave my friend boots when hers fell apart.

And then there were the Bastard Children of England; Christina (Vancouver), Jordun (Oregon), Angie (Innsbruck) and myself, who met up on the second day and decided to form our own little puddle of New World pilgrims (of course, Austria isn’t New World, but we liked her anyway). It is an amazing place to be, on a new adventure with brand new strangers, with nothing but a communal sense of the unknown, a pack on your back and a bottle of cheap wine where you should be keeping a water bottle.

The start of the Camino was, for me, one of the most special bits of walking I’ve done. There’s something glorious about being at the start of a journey so long that the end becomes inconceivable and thus meaningless. You aren’t going anywhere, you’re simply moving from place to place, surrendering yourself to the rhythms and necessities of the body moving through space and embracing the beauty in that; the aesthetics of movement.

Estella, Fuente del Vino

Pilgrims’ fountain

Watering trees, near Los Arcos

Lone tree

Vines at dawn

Cairn

Olive grove

Outbuilding

Poplars and crags

Italians, Viana

Evening rainbow, Viana

La Rioja vineyards

The outskirts of Navarrete

Jordun’s feet, Navarrete

Between friends

Angie, Navarrete

Last light outside the 96 bed dorm room, Navarrete

Above the town

Navarrete

 

The aesthetics of movement – Camino Frances pt.I

          We abandon them daily in the wasteland of the past. Because even though I have told you that I am walking to remember, this isn’t completely true – we must embark also on journeys of forgetting.

– Paul Salopek, Out of Eden Walk 

The Camino de Santiago, or more precisely, the Camino Frances, is one of the World’s great long-distance routes, or one of it’s most overrated and overcrowded slogs, depending on who you ask. There’s truth to both opinions. The ancient pilgrimage path doesn’t need a great deal of introduction, Google and bad Hollywood has taken care of that.

The Camino is an entire network of pilgrimage routes, beginning in cities all over Europe and scrawling their way across the continent to the small Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, in the wild north-west of Spain. What most people are talking about when they mention the ‘Camino’ is the Camino Frances, the ‘Way from France’, an 800km stretch of the network that begins in the tiny village of St Jean Pied de Port, in French Basque Country, before crossing the Pyrenees and making it’s way through the northern provinces of Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León and Galicia.

It has become immensely popular in recently years, but oddly enough I’d never heard of the Camino Frances until a couple of weeks before setting out. During the Australian winter of 2012 I was in Europe for a few months and was keen to do one of the longer routes. I’d been eyeing off Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP), a much more challenging route that traverses the Pyrenees longways. However, I was also hoping to have an adventure with some friends I’d met on exchange the previous year, and in the end we decided the Pyrenees was probably beyond us (I eventually completed the HRP in 2013). One of the group was a Santiago native, so when she suggested the Camino we didn’t take much convincing.

I’ve read a lot of blogs and a lot of books and a lot of very excitable forums in an attempt to try and understand what the Camino is about, not to mention walking a bloody long way, and I’m still entirely stumped when people ask. For many it holds true to it’s traditions as a Catholic pilgrimage, for just as many it can be a summer adventure, a spiritual journey, a mental and/or physical challenge, a coming of age, another stop on the tourism train, or simply a pleasant stroll with good people through a remarkable country. There are the marathon runners and triathletes and then the folk who’ve spent their whole lives without feeling the beautiful ache of an exhausted body at rest. There are the solo walkers, the couples, lovers, friends, families, school groups and guided groups. There are the friends made and friends lost.

It is remarkable to think of the scope of influence that can come about from simply putting one foot in front of the other.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I read the first instalment of Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk in National Geographic. I was on a plane heading towards KL, and as I sat in a metal tube suspended 10km up in the air I read about the first steps of Salopek’s almost inconceivable 34,000km walk. In the very beginning he describes walking thus:

          ‘Walking is falling forward. Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle—an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go. For the next seven years I will plummet across the world.’

Through walking we become base, ingrained in the texture of place and landscape and the stories that, amongst all cultures, define us.

Perhaps, for me, the Camino was simply a story.

 

This is the first of what will probably be four or five collections from the Camino. At the end I’ll probably write a post about Galicia itself, a place I’ve been lucky enough to spend a while, on this trip and others.

St Jean Pied de Port, journey’s start

The foothills of the Pyrenees

Classic summer weather in Basque Country

Beech forest in the Pyrenees

Into Spain

Breakfast, Pamplona

Christina, Pamplona

Stained light, Iglesia de San Saturnino, Pamplona

Pilgrim, Pamplona

‘Just because you’re walking 800km doesn’t mean you need to look like a overpriced condom.’ Pilgrims style tips, Pamplona

Morning colour, Pamplona

The other side. Outskirts, Pamplona

Somewhere, Navarra

Steel pilgrims, Alto del Perdón

The rain in Spain does not fall on the plain.

St James Day, Puente la Reina

Bell tower, Puente le Reina

Early morning on the Rio Arga

Pilgrim’s cairns, Cirauqui

Local, Cirauqui

The ubiquitous vines, Cirauqui

The yellow way mark, Cirauqui

Trash, Cirauqui

Old olive grove, Navarra

St James, Estella

Down by the river, Estella

 

Western Walls of Jerusalem, Cathedral Plateau and Mt Rogoona

Our recent trip into the Western Walls was a bit of blatant escapism. I’d just finished a stupidly busy season on the Overland Track (and was still feeling the after affects of the post-season guide party…) and Erica was recently returned to Tassie after a prolonged stint in the Big Smoke that is Sydney. Both of us wanted a bit of empty-space time, and the faint, quiet tracks that comprise the western half of the Walls of Jerusalem seemed the perfect place.

Oddly enough it was the first we’d walked together in a while. I say oddly because I’ve known Erica forever, spent a few seasons racing dingy’s with or against her and hold her solely responsible for planting the bug that would become my guiding ‘career’. Despite that I think the last time we did a trip was Frenchman’s about 5 or 6 years ago (back when the Sodden Loddons were still sodden) so it was good to get out again.

The route we chose was pretty basic – a circuit through Chapter Lake, Junction Lake, Lake Meston and Lake Myrtle, with side trips to the Cathedral Plateau and Mt Rogoona and hopefully exiting via the semi-secret Jackson Creek Track.

As usual, we started late (despite my fondness for photography and surfing, I’ve never got my head around the pre-dawn thing) and by the time we’d collected double-shot caffeine from the Deloraine Deli (excellent) and four days food from Woolies (less excellent) we were way behind schedule.

Eventually we made it to the trail head and after a very rushed food distribution and re-pack (which I’d come to regret) we got under way on the Moses Creek Track. An old logging road took us to Jackson Creek and the rego booth, where we had a quick search for the end of the Jackson Creek Track, which we were hoping to follow out from Lake Myrtle at trip’s end. It proved easy to locate and well worn, which had us hopeful for day four.

The first few hours of the route were steeply uphill, initially through some heavily damaged old logging areas, but then through some lovely rainforest and wet sclerophyll. Fungi season was in full-swing and I think I spent most of the rainforest section on hands and knees… Given that I was coming off seven months of intensive walking and Erica was coming off a few years of office work, I don’t think she objected to the photography breaks!

Moses Creek track

Old logging debris

Funghi on the Moses Creek Track

This patch covered two or three square metres of rainforest floor.

After passing some odd, shallow lakes, we crested a ridge and began the steep descent to Chapter Lake. There was a bit of confusion when we came across a bunch of unmarked tracks (they all end up at the falls eventually) but before long we made it to base of Grail Falls, where we were treated to one of the most amazing shows of fagus I’ve seen. Both of us had completely forgotten about the autumn colours, but due to a very late season things were in full swing.

We had a quick lunch and then bashed through the scrub until we found the route up to the Cathedral Plateau. We ascended very steeply beside the Falls, before the track levelled out and followed the south bank of a creek towards Chalice Lake. The fagus along this creek is honestly one of the most incredible displays of colour I’ve seen in Tasmania, made even more remarkable by the gnarled old Pencil Pines pushing up between the Tangle-foot.

Lone vagus next to Chapter Lake

Fagus below Grail Falls

Fagus and Pencil Pine

Fagus and Pencil Pine

Fagus

It was a slow processing making our way onto the Plateau, with my tripod making regular appearances, but eventually we made it around the beautiful, convoluted Chalice Lake and began the gentle ascent to Tent Tarn, where we had planned to spend the night. We made it not long before dark, and after dumping packs I went in search of a suitably icy tarn to chill the evening’s brew.

On returning to camp I soon discovered that in the rushed re-pack back at the trail-head I’d removed my entire supply of loo paper. An ernest discussion and search took place and we decided that between us there would be just enough to avoid the inevitable chopper rescue. Dinner was had and with winter’s short days upon us, it was soon off to bed.

Chalice Lake and the Cathedral Plateau

Pencil Pines

Snow Peppermints

Dolerite and shrub

Brew

Day two dawned and our main aim in life was to summit Cathedral Mountain. Cathedral is a bit of a legend amongst Overland guides. One of our huts looks straight across the Mersey Valley at it’s enormous western face (if you’ve followed my Overland Diaries posts you’d have seen a few shots…) and there isn’t a guide who hasn’t planned a mission to camp at the top. Erica had already made it up a few times, but this was to be my first time. Needless to say I was pretty excited!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. It was clear enough at our level, but there was a persistent, hard layer of dark grey that was concealing the top 100m of the mountain. We had a crack nonetheless, and got a bit lost in zero visibility at the top, but no views were had…

Misleading sunlight near the top

We headed back to Tent Tarn, collected packs, and began making our way back to the Falls. After a quick lunch break at the top, we descended to Chapter Lake and started heading south. There was a bit of track confusion to begin with (why oh why do people incorrectly tape tracks?), but before long we made it to Cloister Lagoon and began traversing it’s long eastern shore.

This section proved to be another amazing show of fagus, and on reaching the lagoon’s southern end we were both pretty amped to find a fully mature example of the very rare Tasmanian conifer hybrid; Athrotaxis laxifolia. 

Cresting the hill behind the lagoon, we descended along the creek line through some lovely Myrtle Beech forest before entering the open country around Junction Lake. Then it was an easy 15mins to Junction Hut, where we planned to spend the night.

The hut, along with a very similar example at Lake Meston, was built by Dick Reed in the late 1960’s, with help from the Ranicar and Rilev families (hence the three ‘R’s carved into both huts) and Alf Walters and Boy Miles, and is a lovely example of Tasmanian Highland architecture. Nonetheless, my Nammatj was looking pretty comfy so I left the hut to Erica…

The valley toward Cloister Lagoon

Cloister Lagoon

A roof of fagus

Red

Pencil Pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) left and the Pencil Pine/King Billy Pine hybrid, A. laxifolia right

Myrtle rainforest

Junction Lake Hut

Junction Lake Hut

Rising the next morning, the weather was looking a bit more promising so we had a quick brekkie and got underway, both eager to get on track and have a crack at Mt Rogoona. Leaving the hut, the track meandered through open country for a while before moving into stands of dense tea tree scrub, the regrowth from an old bushfire, as it skirts Lake Meston. We had a brief chocolate stop at the Meston Hut before turning hard right and ascending to a saddle.

The Rogoona junction is at the high-point, so we dumped packs, grabbed some nut bars and a raincoat, and headed off for the summit. The weather behaved this time and we had amazing clear views for the whole side trip. Rogoona is a bit of a peculiar mountain; at 1336m it’s big enough by Tasmanian standards, but being completely surrounded by taller peaks and plateaus it kind of lives in its own little world, the king of it’s personal oyster.

The summit isn’t a peak as much as the highest rocky knoll, and for the most part the route follows a vaguely cairned pad across a large alpine plateau. It’s beautiful country, in that wide open way that the Central Highlands have; gnarled old Snow Peppermints interspaced by big slabs of lichen-encrusted dolerite. About half way across we come to a big tarn with a little colony of stunted Pencil Pines and fagus, and some beautiful campsites scattered amongst the rocks.

Reaching the high-point, we were gifted a phenomenal view out over the Cathedral Plateau to the Du Cane Range. I said a while back that Clumner Bluff might have the best view of the Overland Track mountains, but I think this one might just pip it!

Early morning light at Meston Hut

North-east towards King Davids Peak and Solomans Throne

Erica way up above Lake Myrtle, with the Du Cane Range behind

Summit cairn

After a google check to try and figure out where the Jackson Creek Track started for the next day, we buggered off back to the packs and a long-awaited lunch. Then it was onwards and downwards toward Lake Myrtle. This area made for some pretty sad walking, as it was heavily damaged by bushfire and there were several groves of burnt-out Pencil Pines – a very slow growing species with no resistance to fire…

Soon we made it to the fantastic (if exposed) campsite at Lake Myrtle, and after a solid dinner it was time for a beer and some long-exposure tripod work under the light of a full moon.

Burnt-out Pencil Pines

Lake Myrtle and Mt Rogoona

Moonlight on Lake Myrtle

Early the next morning I woke to heavy rain on the tent, and by the time we rose it was clear that the weather that had been threatening for a few days had arrived. It was still relatively warm (by Tasmanian standards) but wet and with a low, heavy layer of cloud.

We didn’t waste any time and before long we were making our way around the northern shore of the lake and down the Jackson Creek Track**. The first half of this is a beautiful route, especially in the mist, and the Moses Creek/Jackson Creek circuit proved a great way to explore the area without having to do an hour of road walking at the start/finish. The second half is very steep though, so I’d think twice about coming up with a full pack!

About an hour and a half after leaving Lake Myrtle we were back at the end of Mersey Forest Road and ready for home. Well, home after I sat down and removed something in the order of 35 leaches. No shit.

Great trip!

All shot with a Ricoh GR.

Good weather for home!

Ghost Pines on the Jackson Creek Track

**If anyone is planning this route, here’s the must-knows: From the Lake Myrtle End: cross the creek at the north-east corner of the lake (as if you were doing the Lake Bill Track), turn left (west) immediately. The route follows a very clear, eroded pad along the northern shore of the lake for about 15mins, then turns right (north) and crests a saddle. It stays level for a while and crosses some open, marshy areas. In one of these the track disappears, but just follow the valley to its northern end and you will find it again. Then it drops steeply for about 40mins until reaching the rego booth at the start of the Moses Creek Track. At one point it moves through an area that has been logged and becomes faint: follow the cairns and sawn trees.