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Chapter 7

I tell of Tasmania's Livingstone, walk through a trackless region, pioneer the climbing of Mount Ida, deposit a lady in Lake St Clair, get badly bushed and well rescued.

If you were to mention to an acquaintance that you contemplated a trip from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair and you could read his thoughts, they would probably be concerned with your chances of obtaining a certificate of sanity, and with the strong probability that you would not. But when I set off on this journey I regarded myself as neither a lunatic nor a hero. I recalled the pioneers of the nineteenth century who penetrated into those regions long before there were any tracks at all let alone today's roads.
It was in 1831 that the valiant little bricklayer of Hobart Town, George Augustus Robinson-take off your hats to him-was informed of the murder by aborigines near
Port Sorell of Captain B. Thomas, and set off after them through the Cradle Mountain inferno, alone except for the company of two or three friendly blacks. He traversed
Ěthe heart of the island from Circular Head to Lake Echo, where he came up with the murderers and secured the gun that they had stolen and other articles belonging to Captain Thomas. From Lake Echo the culprits doubled back, and Robinson overtook them again at Barn Bluff where, after being in danger of losing his life, he finally persuaded them to accompany him to Hobart. Again in 1834 Robinson journeyed to Cradle Mountain with his faithful native companions, this time in the dead of winter. For a whole week they travelled waist-deep in the snow drifts, and it was not till December that the objective was reached and the last remnant of this tribe brought in. In all, the little bricklayer walked 4,000 miles over the least known portions of the island, including Port Davey, Macquarie Harbour an the far northwest, and without shedding one drop of blood brought in nearly two hundred savages who had been the terror of the colonists. Many lesser men have monuments erected to their memory.
The way to Cradle Mountain is through Sheffield and Wilmot. I was fortunate in being able to join a party of people well equipped for crossing the National Park from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. We were to travel by wagon as far as Wilmot, where the road ends, and thence on foot along mountain tracks.
We were going to the mountains, but mountains came with us all the way. Our friend of yesterday, Mount Roland, stayed with us for an hour or so, and then was relieved by his brothers, Claude and Van Dyke. Round Hill a small urchin by comparison with his giant brethren-nodded greetings across the gorge, and leaving him we climbed upon the shoulders of Bellmount, received a frown from Black Bluff, and, to make amends, a smile from May Day, the stately and gracious lady of the plains. Our objective, Cradle Mountain, was hidden, except for two brief peeps, by the nearer hills and tall forest trees.
A Daisy Dell, which is about midway, we stopped for lunch and to change horses; pulled up again at Middlesex to pass the time of day with the shepherd, splashed through the Iris River a couple of times, kept a wary eye for wild cattle, and at dusk reached Cradle Valley, soaked to the skin in the downpour that hail followed the gale. just about Pencilpine Creek (which takes a graceful header over a precipice below the bridge) we caught tip with our guide, trudging along without even an overcoat, in utter contempt for the weather. The vehicle had to stop a mile short of the guest-house at Waldheim, which meant an early christening by the button-grass bogs that were to be our spongy companions for the next seventy miles or so. We emptied sufficient water out of Our boots to fill another lake.
Next day the weather changed-it rained heavily. My pack weighed thirty-five pounds without the water. The straps cut my shoulders, tbe sleet cut my face, and I don't know which part was the sorest. When someone observed it was a "great life" I made no comment, because climbing the lower slopes of Cradle Mountain leaves no breath for argument.
This is a savage place. The 5,000 feet of Cradle Mountain, with its columnar precipices, frowns down at you. Three miles off, Barn Bluff, still higher, cuts the sky. Some giant of ages past, drunk with power, scattered boulders in majestic confusion, and one shudders at the thought of the making of the mountain. Chaos is everywhere. Crawl to the edge and you peer down a dizzy two thousand feet or more. Lock about, and literlly half Tasmania comes into view. To the north is the silver slit that is the Tamar, further west the sea shines round Stanley's "Nut", to the east is Ben Lomond, and southward are mountains and yet more mountains. What the name of the farthest one is I do nor know. It was through those southern mountains that our way lay.

Without a guide it would have been as difficult to find the way as in Robinson's day. Though the century has seen tracks cut here and there, they had all been erased by the undergrowth. Now and again guide Nicholls informed us that he had "struck the track", but it is a stretch of courtesy to allow it such a designation. As to population, today's census totals exactly nil, at which figure it has stood since the Conciliator collected the aboriginal population in 1834. It is quite beyond my powers adequately to describe the wonders that followed thick and fast in the course of the next five days. The lakes still awaiting names, the colossal mountain shapes, the sweetness of the wildflowers, the stupendous gorges, the forests of scarlet waratah and green pandanifolia, the tangle of myrtle and tree-fern, the shy creeks and bold rivers, the noisy waterfalls, and the pervading sense of being shut away from the whole universe. The world we knew seemed a dream. A wireless set would have been a sacrilege.
Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff are connected by a glacial cirque, or natural amphitheatre, its walls "papered" bright green by a forest of beech, Fagus Gunnii, Tasmania's only deciduous tree. Northward, the Fury River flows through a very deep gorge. Noone has yet been down it at this part, and I am not going to be the first. Across the top from wall to wall is possibly under a mile; but it would be a solid day's work to cross it by going down one side and up the other. The Rocky Mountains have no monopoiy of the canyons of the world.

To go southward through the big Scenic Reserve you walk along the summit of the cirque, some four thousand feet above sea level, and then descend to the valley, leaving the Cradle and the Barn on either hand. This valley we christened the Vale of the Waterfalls, for there are scores of them. As we sat at lunch we picked out giant faces in the cliffs; and I can see yet in remembrance two on opposite mountains, one frowning, one grinning still staring at each other across the gorge as they have stared doubtless for countless centuries, and will so stare till time and frost nip off their grotesque features.

The first day ended at Lake Windermere, where there was a building which some people, if in amiable mood, would call a "hut". Originally perhaps it was a hut, but rain came through what was once the roof and extinguished the fire we had lit in what was once the fireplace. It was very evident that amongst the latest inmates had been a horse. But a branch makes a serviceable broom and we soon had sufficient space for eating and for reclining I will not exaggerate and say sleeping. Next morning the weather changed again it snowed. Snow is beautiful upon the mountain tops, but not so attractive down your neck.
This second day would have entailed quite a short walk had we been able to follow a 'straight course' but there were no tunnels through the mountains and no bridges across the rivers, which included the River Forth. So we proceeded corkscrew and hoop fashion until we reached Pelion huts, by which time we felt extremely weary. Mount Pelion West, around the base of which we walked for a whole day, has never been measured, and may turn out to be Tasmania's highest mountain. The Forth is a spectacular stream, for it has chosen a course of tremendous gorges, with scarcely a peaceful mile in its whole journey.
Pelion Camp is close to Mount Oakleigh, an eminence formed of straight columns of diabase, and looking to me like Cape Raoul, strayed inland for a change of air. The    two huts at the camp were then the best huts on the Reserve, having been built by the Pelion Copper Company and handed over by them to the Government when they ceased operations. The visitors' book is the lining of the walls. Here were recorded the doings of "Jocelyne's South African party", with their "scalps" and their menu, the  former being the mountains climbed on each day's outing, and a goodly number there were. I too would like to stay a fortnight there and exercise my leg muscles. Tasmania has no dangerous native animals, and till now we had not been attacked by anything more terrible than leeches, upon which we used up nearly our whole issue of salt, for the orthodox way of dealing with them is to carry out childhood's instruction relating to the little birdies, namely, to put salt upon their tails, But we nearly had an adventure crossing the button-grass plain south of Pelion Camp in an encounter with some imported wild animals-cattle. These have strayed from adjacent runs and become dangerous. "Beware," the guide warned us, "if you see one by himself. In mobs they are generally all right." We were glad on this occasion that our brush was with a herd, as a census of our party revealed that we had omitted to include a toreador. The beasts stared menacingly, but finally beat a dignified and deliberate retreat.

If the cattle had annihilated us we would have missed the finest scenic thrills of the journey, for the best was to come that day. As we toiled up the divide between the
inverted thimble; called on the map Mount Pelion East, and the mass of diabase that is Mount Ossa, the guide informed us that we were nearing "the coldest place in Tasmania". He said nothing about the view. No doubt his shivering experiences were a more abiding memory. As we gained the top of the divide we certainly shivered, for we were welcomed by a snowstorm, but the storm proved a blessing, even though a well disguised one, for Nature acted the showman to perfection. The scene-shifter was an opportune wind that emerged from some fold of the hills and rolled the mists away. We forgot to shiver, and gasped with astonishment. There, behind the rain shroud, stood the mighty Du Cane Range in all its majesty, and on the other side of a wild gorge the Rugged Mountains slowly uncovered themselves, the stupendous Cathedral Mountain that is the eastern sentinel exhibiting great "organ-pipes" compared with which Mount Wellington's are pygmies. A lone tree, bent with many gales, bowed in humble thanksgiving for the sight that the years had vouchsafed him.
In ten minutes the scene-shifter pulled the cord again, the driving mists obscured mountain and gorge, and with coats pulled about our ears we descended into the valley to find the hut that was to be our shelter for the night. Between those mighty peaks we were like a row of soldier-ants crawling along a castle floor.
When we reached the hut we were soaked through for the fourth night in succession, but the discomfort was a small price to pay for the scenery we had witnessed. The Du Cane hut has an outlook even grander than that of the former ones. It faces the deep gorge through which runs the Mersey and right opposite are the walls of the great Cathedral Mountain. The hut has but one room, and soon the fire was surrounded by a tangle of steaming puttees, stockings and other gear. For just on a week we had slept in our clothes.
For the first time since we started the sun shone on us at Du Cane and, heartened by the change, we added a couple of miles to our journey by detouring to look at the Hartnett Falls, where the Mersey River takes a header down to the floor of the gorge below. We then skirted the end of the Du Cane Range, leaving the Traveller Range on  our left, and began the descent to Lake St Clair, following fairly closely the course of the Narcissus River.
We fondly thought that our arrival at the north end of the lake would end our long pilgrimage, but the gales had decided otherwise; the motor boat had been disabled as she lay at anchor. Not knowing this, we waited on the shore till darkness set in; arid then, leaving a note fol whatever postman might call, we beat a disconsolate re-treat to the guide's hut, across the Narcissus River and the bogs that feed it, and through the forest that encircles this well-hidden humpy.
This unexpected extra day had nearly run us out of rood, and our guide breakfasted us on real bush "damper" made from a stand-by of flour that he kept in a hollow tree, with boiled rice and jam. The last of our bread and the oddinents of nuts, raisins and chocolate we kept for the mid-day meal. We were glad of the latter when, an hour after starting, we had to climb a mountain spur that barred our way south. But it was the last obstacle, and after lunching by the sandy shore of a pine-fringed lake all we had to do was to stumble through five miles of button-grass, cross a couple of rivers and follow a real track that leads to Cynthia Ray at the south end of Lake St Clair; here a lorry earned us the last four miles to civilization, and to such strange things as beds, and tablecloths and food served on plates.

Lake St Clair is the most beautiful sheet of water in the Australian Commonwealth. Indeed you will travel far in the world to meet its equal. It is about ten miles long, how deep I do not know, and is almost completely surrounded by high mountains that are verdure clad from the shore-line to the diabase that caps the peaks. I have seen it with the morning sun lighting its placid surface, I have seen it lashed with furious tempests, I have rowed laboriously over it in a crazy old dinghy, and have traversed it comfortably in a swift motor boat. I have watched the platypus dive from the banks in the dusk of evening, and, later, when the Easter moon rose, voyaged from end to end-a journey of enchantment.
From Cynthia Bay the only mountain visible is Olympus. When you double the second cape, Mount Ida appears on the eastern shore, and then as you proceed other heights to the north come into vision with bewildering rapidity. Serrated summits ornament the skyline, there are sharp steeple peaks, battlemented towers every type of summit and slope known to nature.
The nomenclature of this region is classic and suitable-Olympus, Ida, Pelion, Ossa, Thetis: but they are not at all like their onginals. "There lies a vale in Ida", sang Tennyson-"many fountained Ida"-Personally, I incline to say "damnable Ida", for amongst the Tasmanian mountains Ida is my nightmare. From a distance Ida smiles at you-On a near approach that smile hardens to a frown, and when you retrace your steps-baffled as I was the beckoning smile of the morning becomes a grin of derision.
I had frequently enquired whether anyone had ever scaled the peaks of Mount Ida, but as no one claimed the distinction I determined, in December 1930, that I would be the first; and in a little party of five boated to the eastern shore of the lake. We shed all gear except cameras-which included a movie-and beat our way inland through the light scrub. Forest hid the summit for half an hour, and when we emerged we found that whereas a single summit appears from the lake, there are really twin peaks. As we clambered up the lower slopes we thought the climb might be easier than we had first imagined, but soon we encountered almost sheer walls and much resolution was needed to persevere. But we stuck it and in about two hours from the lakeside we were near our objectve. Many a time a false avenue was tried and we dropped down again from a cul-de-sac. Fortunately the vegetation had clambered there before us and afforded a leverage, otherwise the ascent would have been, if not impossible, certainly much more difficult. With toil and sweat we surmounted ledge after ledge till there was only a face of about fifteen feet between us and the saddle that connects the two peaks. In the days of the Nototherium doubtless the ascent would have been quite simple, for the top was at first square. But the ages have employed sure and steady workmen in the shape of ice and snow and frost-together with an occasional earthquake-tumbling down the huge boulders and leaving the summit a craggy spire.
At last I hauled myself, nearly spent, to the topmost ridge and gasped a feeble "Hurrah", for I expected a mountain with a top to it like all the others of my experience, and imagined myself walking about and perhaps peering over the edge of the table that should have been there. But my cheering was premature, for the position was the most precarious I had ever been in- On the way up, there was but one way to fall-backwards. Here was a choice of two, for the ridge was about four feet wide and eternity was before and behind. Sheer drops of hundreds of feet on both sides, and only a perch that one could almost straddle horseback fashion! Above us there still rose twenty feet of the final peak, but I had had enough. The leader of the party-he was surely born without nerves-climbed steadily round the face of the steeple and at the risk of his life gained the actual summit. He shouted to us not to come, but another determined individual followed him.

The two others tried and failed, but I clung on where I was till a generous swig from my "medicine" flask revived me sufficiently to move a little and take some photographs.
Before our advent, through countless centuries Mount Ida had been only for the eagles, snakes and lizards. Specimens of the two former quickly showed their jealousy of the intruders, for an eagle swooped angrily at the two on the peak, and a whipsnake poked his head at me from the root that had given me hand-hold. I pushed him Igently down the cliff with my hoot. I tried to admire the view hut the thought of the perilous descent would keep inirtiding and I saw the panorama as in a dream-the big lake two thousand feet below, others glistening like diamonds in the folds of the hills, mountains in uncountantable numbers-but near at hand those awful precipices. Being no eagle, I wished to turn my back on my cyrie, yet dreaded the descent. In making his way down from the steeple our leader somehow got below us, on the face opposite to that by which we had ascended. He shouted to us to come that way, but after going towards him for a little arid coming to a sheer drop of some twenty feet I made up my mind that I would try no new experiences and that we should in our return keep to the devil we knew. So we climbed again up to the knife-ridge to rest a few ininutes before taking the plunge which with a false step would be to eternal oblivion. I could not help thinking what a nuisance it would be to the others if my dead body had to be dragged home after breaking my neck. We had to begin by dropping down small cliffs some fifteen feet high to precarious ledges about eighteen inches wide. Down the first of these all except the last man lowered themselves by a rope. However, we got back safely to our boat with no further adventure than striking too far to the north and coming to the edge of a hundred-foot precipice, along which we skirted till a way down was found.
As the motor boat chugged its way homeward in the late afternoon the last rays of the westering sun lit the face of Ida, and it was then that I understood the grin. The words I have written will repel some would be climbers; but others of good nerve will be attracted to follow our footsteps.

On the opposite shore rises Olympus, higher but easier than Ida, and I name the view from its summit the finest I have ever seen, though I have stood on the tops of half a hundred peaks and more. When I climbed Olympus there was no track, and on the way down we had to negotiate a small precipice by shinning down a tree that obligingly hung its branches to the edge of the wall. Arriving at the lakeside we boarded the frail craft again, and with our gear we loaded the launch till there was only a couple of inches freeboard. There were thirteen of us, so what happened served us right. A gale chased us down the lake and it was really a perilous voyage. Unable to use the customary spot for disembarking, our helmsman steered for a more sheltered place, and the men jumped out to save the boat from being broken on the rocks. We first carried the swags ashore and then the ladies. Struggling with my third load of humankind-a "fair load" in the double sense-I trod on a round stone and deposited her (and of course myself) in the icy water. Urged to hurry our shivering carcasses to the waiting lorry a mile off, we started encumbered by gear and followed by the three other ladies; but darkness caught us in about the thickest bit of scrub I have ever seen either in dreains or reality. Unable to extricate ourselves from the infernal tangle, we accepted the inevitable, lit a fire and prepared to spend the night under a tree. We were so tired that we were half disappointed when we heard cooees, which meant that soon we were to be on our legs again, escorted by an astonishing number of police and bushmen who seemed to have dropped from the skies into that innely maze of bush. It took them three hours, aided by torches and flares, to get us out, and it must have been nearly daylight when we found ourselves sitting before the roast turkey that some called dinner and some breakfast. I don't think anyone regretted the adventure, unless it was the poor, sleepy waiter.
Since these pioneering trips were undertaken, conditions of travel have improved greatly. The track from Waldheim past Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair is now so plain a guide is unnecessary, and an easier route bas since been found to the summit of Mount Ida. But the scenery and the opportunity for adventure are still there. Several deaths have occurred in this region in recent years, and visitors to these highlands need to be well equipped, and should travel in parties never alone. Three is the absolute minimum for safety.

Chapter Eight

 

 

 

Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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