I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the unspoiled wilderness of Tasmania’s Mount Field National Park, so I was shocked and appalled to wake up this morning to find it was wet and miserable outside. I could’ve spent the day curled up in my tent, feeling sorry for myself, but that’s not how I roll, so I started making the long, 30km round trip to the top of Mount Field East, 1270m above me.
Most people drive to the top of Mount Dobson Road and then start their trek from there, but that’s kind of cheating, so I walked from the bottom instead. I’m glad I did, because the slower pace meant that I could truly appreciate the scenery, as the bush slowly transformed from lush rainforest to sparse alpine vegetation. I saw wombats, echidnas and the odd Tassie devil, as I slowly made my ascent.
I also drank cold baked beans from a can.
At about 500m the weather turned bad and it started to rain, but I pushed on, telling myself that it would clear up and I’d have a decent run to the top. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, as more clouds came rolling in and the rain got heavier and the wind started slinging through the trees. But I kept going, determined to make it to the summit.
At 900m I left the safety of the road and started walking into dense forest, heading straight for Mount Field East. The track – or what’s left of it – took me through swamps and moors, as the wind smashed into me, strong enough at times to knock me backwards. Rocky cliffs reached for the skies, their grey sides topped by snow. Out there, surrounded by nothing but nature, with no one to help me, with nothing man-made to get in the way, it felt as if I was exploring a new land for the first time. It was tough, and frightening, but it was also utterly brilliant.
Alright, maybe I would’ve liked a bit more signage. At an intersection of tracks, I headed straight forward, which seemed sensible, and a few minutes later (after scrambling up a steep cliff), I came out at what I believed to be Lake Nicholls, which sits just beneath the final ascent. Despite the lousy weather, it was peaceful and pretty, but I was surprised to discover that the track just sort of disappeared when it reached the shore. There was something that could’ve been a track heading east, so I followed it, but soon found myself lost in the middle of the scrub, freezing cold, scratched up, and without a clue where I was going.
Luckily, I knew that if I could find the lake again, I’d be find, but it was at that point I realised how vicious nature can be. In the mountains of Tasmania, the weather can turn in an instant and, if unprepared, you can die. The rain was lashing in and my hands were numb, so I finally crashed back to the lake and retraced my steps, taking a different track at the intersection. Turns out, I wasn’t at Lake Nicholls at all. Nice signage, dickheads.
It took me through glorious green forest, but the weather kept getting worse. When the forest opened up as I headed along a ridgeline, it started to snow – the first time I’ve ever been snowed on. The trees became sparser and as I turned a corner, the wind spun me around, and I was barely able to keep my footing. I pressed on, finding the real Lake Nicholls, which was being hit by the full force of the storm. Huge waves whipped across the surface and trees threatened to be pulled from the ground, and I looked up to the peak of Mount Field East with grave reservations. It was bad down here, but it looked worse up there.
I scurried towards an emergency hut, fell inside and slammed the door, happy to be out of the wind, if not the cold. A man was already inside, freezing cold and unhappy, and he told me there was no way to the top. He’d tried, but not long after starting the final ascent, he’d hit an ice shelf that blocked further travel. Also, the wind up higher was so extreme that his life was in danger, and he strongly advised that I turn back. So, sadly, I was forced to abandon my climb. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that some things just aren’t worth risking your life for. So I ate my lunch, then trudged back through the ice and the snow.
I climbed further up the road as the light faded, finding myself at Lake Fenton, which was angry and dark, with massive waves crashing over me. This is a beautiful part of the world, but today the mountain decided to show me her angry side. And you know what? I wouldn’t change it. Sure, I missed out on the pretty views, and my journey was uncomfortable and dangerous because of the weather, but there’s something special about being out in conditions like that. Something raw, something real, a true game of survival, as opposed to a day of sightseeing.
I was lucky enough to scab a lift back to the base camp from a lovely middle-aged couple who have been travelling Australia for the last three or four years, and who have no plans to settle down any time soon. They’re an inspiration, and I get the feeling I’m going to be living a life like them pretty bloody soon.
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