Sunday, 17 October 2010

Churchill's Hut & the Adamsfield Track

Thursday nights weatherman cast dour predictions of an impending cold front that would sweep through on Friday to spend the weekend with us.  It was forecast to bring snow down to 400 metres and harsh 40 knot southerly winds, but as I got out of bed on Friday morning and greeted the day I found it hard to believe that any such cold front could be on its way as it was a lovely warm morning, and the sun was shining.

I even had a pleasant walk into work, in fact I was sweltering in my North Face puffy jacket.  However, sometimes they do get it right.  By 9am, the clouds had come in and an hour later the day had settled into a steady drizzle, thickening to rain.

It pretty much rained on and off all Friday, but unperturbed, I set the alarm early for Saturday morning and woke up with a big smile on my face:  Even though the thermometer had sat on freezing all night, I had barely heard a burst of wind or a drop of rain. I stumbled out into the hallway and pulled the curtains wide open to be greeted by a lovely blue sky ... and a bed of snow sitting on my front lawn at 300metres.

I set off regardless. Who knows: it was over a hundred kilometres to my days destination, the weather could be a lot different out there, I could get lucky.  In fact, an hour or so later as I drove into Maydena I thought maybe I had.  Sure there was a light cover of snow all around, with one particular small drift gathered around the "Water Restrictions In Progress" sign particularly catching my attention, but the sky was still promisingly cloud free, well free(ish).

Plan A was to head out another 20kms further along the highway towards Lake Peddar and try and get onto a track on my map called "Cooks Track" which would hopefully lead me back to Churchills Hut and onto  the Adamfield Track, however plan A was abandoned as I topped the Needles Pass (601m) in a near blizzard watching with concern as the road disappeared into the snow.

I was in a little subaru impreza with no special tyres and didn't particularly fancy getting caught over the other side of the pass with no mobile reception, no sleeping bag and no way of getting back again.  It was time for plan B which involved backtracking to Maydena and heading out about 13 kms along the Florentine Road and approaching Churchills Hut from the other end of Cooks Track.    The road surface which had been clear 10 minutes before on my way up was now covered in a centimetre of snow, which gave me some confidence that I had made the right decision.
  
After several distractions along the way, I finally arrived at the locked gate on Cooks Road, unloaded the bike and got dressed into all my warm clothes as the snow started to fall and set off.
Fairly confident with where I was, I didn't bother checking my GPS for a kilometre or so along the road, only to find that I had apparently cycled about a km or so past the junction to Adamsfield track which I was trying to get onto.

As I hadn't seen anything remotely looking like a junction heading off to the right since I'd left the car, I decided to go to Plan C which was reach Adamsfield track via a secondary route I had seen on Google Earth  the night before. 

I therefore proceeded on until I came to where my GPS indicated that a track should head off to the right and join Adamsfield Track.  I stopped and stared off into what looked like impenetrable Tasmanian bush to me,  I searched up and down and even tried bashing my way through for a while, until, now pretty cold and wet and scratched, the thought occured to me that the Google Earth image had been a road going through a recently logged coupe.  Having worked in the forest industry for nearly 15 years, I was also able to deduce by the dense undergrowth and rainforest trees towering above me, that this supposed track shown on my GPS was not in fact the track I was looking for, so I returned to the road to carry on and did eventually find a track which ran through a logging coupe towards roughly where I wanted to go.

That road also stopped however, and I ended up hauling my bike through the rest of the coupe until I hit the boundary, where by sheer luck I came across a few sets of footprints, and following these around throug the  mud, I came across some pink tape indicating the track to Adamsfield.  Yay me.  From here it was only a couple of hundred metres before I finally emerged out at Churchills Hut.
I first started looking for Churchill's Hut two or three years ago when a mate of mine asked me to try and find it, but it's not on any maps, and even Google doesn't seem to know where it was.  I did eventually fnd a sketch map to it on a Wilderness Society map which gave me the general area, but now I'd finally reached it.

This hut is supposedly where the trapper Elias Churchill stayed and caught the last Tasmanian Tiger seen alive in captivity.  I say supposedly, because a few years ago when I was cycling out at Adamsfield, we ran into an old timer who had lived out that way for many a year, and in the course of out conversation he had laughingly told me how they were restoring a hut over the ridge that they thought was Churchill's hut but all the locals thought it was a great joke, because they all knew that Churchill's hut was actually off somewhere else (I won't say where).

Anyway, it's a great little place, and dry inside which I was particurly happy about as the fingers were starting to suffer a bit and were happy to get dry, even if just for a few minutes.  There were even some old newspapers placed there which made entertaining reading. 


However, this was only meant to be the beginning of my ride, so having finally found the Adamsfield Track, I pushed on along the track towards Adamsfield.  I just didn;t get very far.  Now, you see I've got a cycling book on my bookshelf which lists the Adamsfield Track as one the only true wilderness bike rides in Tasmania, but strangely for a guide book, got pretty vague about how exactly to get there and follow the trail.  I now know why.  Not only is the track hard to find (as noted above), but it's incredibly overgrown and
nearly impossible to ride.  After pushing, carrying and shoving my bike for about 500 metres through snow covered heath, I decided to ditch it and push on ahead on foot to see if the track cleared.  It didn't and after a kilometre or so, with snow down my back, soaking feet and numb hands, I admitted defeat this day and returned to the hut, vowing to return another day with walking boots to follow this track to the end.

Rather than retrace my steps, I followed the Adamsfield track in the opposite direction, noting that in theory this should take me back to my car, and although I didn't get to a cycle a single metre, it was a great little walk / bash back to the road that way.  The logging which I had previously come through had been designed so there's always a 50m buffer of bush between you and the coupe, so unless you knew it was there you'd think you were walking through pretty bush.  There were lots of old moss and lichen covered loss, manferns bowing under the weight of snow and a few gorgeous little tanin stained creeks to cross.

Sure enough I was dropped back about 200 metres from my car, and could see why I missed the track.  Not only is it very hard to see (marked only by a small pink ribbon), it is directly across from the first road junction running off to the left about 200 metres past the boom gate.  I remember cycling past this junction and peering up it to make sure I wasn't meant to head that way, which succesfully distracted me from the fact that my real route lay immediately to the right.
By this stage, I was soaked and cold, so retreated once again to Maydena.  I went for a short stroll out to Junee Caves, then decided to head back to Westerway to do some cycling there, but between Maydena and Westerway the cold front hit in earnest and with strong winds and rain pelting my car, I decided to head home, and now sit here typing with the rain, sleet and snow hitting my window.
 

Lesson from today is that even in Spring, you can get ridiculously cold days in Tasmania, but I'm content with finding Churchill's Hut finally, and now I've got this idea for a great long distance MTB route in Tassie, if only I could convince someone to clear Adamsfield Track ... back to dreaming.

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