Friday, 22 October 2010

Heritage Falls, Douglas Apsley National Park

Is it unmanly of me to begin this blog with the word ... ouchy!

See if you can figure out where there's a bit of a logic gap in the following idea:

Yesterday (Thursday 21 Oct) was a public holiday here in Southern Tassie, so I had planned on taking the Friday off and heading up the east coast for four days hiking and biking.  Unfortunatley as the new kid at work in a three person unit where the other two guys had already booked the Friday off and where I'd just been granted five weeks leave in May next year to head off to Europe, my boss decided it might be a better idea for me to stay and work on the Friday.

It was a reasonable case, and hence my brilliant idea: fat, overweight, unfit me who is only 7 or 8 weeks into my fitness campagin after having done virtually no exercise for the previous year, will just drive up the East Coast early on Thursday morning, do the overnight walk I had planned in a single day, and travel back down to Hobart that night ready for work on Friday.  Even typing that now, I'm struggling to remember how or when I managed to convince myself it sounded like a good idea.

So here's how it went.  As usual about 10pm on Wednesday night, what had seemed like a brilliant idea for the last week, was suddenly seeming like a not so good idea, and the little procrastination gremlin in my head was providing me with a new argument every 3.6 seconds as to why I should put the walk off until another day.  Just as the gremlin was about to win the argument,  I found some last reserve to fight back and deciding that if I am to win this fitness battle, then I have to actually get out there and do things that will get me fit, I set the alarm for 5.30am, tossed all the gear I would need tomorrow out in the hallway (that's as close as I come to packing) and headed off to bed to continue reading "The Man who Cycled the World".  Tonight was fortunately just the New Zealand section which was pretty quick.

5.30am my alarm went off.  I switched it off, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.  5.40am I startled awake, got a case of the guilts, and struggled out of bed, threw some clothes on, scooped up all the gear in the hallway, transfered it into my car, made a sandwhich for lunch and headed out the door at 5.58am exactly.

First stop was Sorell for a cup of coffee at Banjo's.  Just as I arrived, a poor woman parked her electric mobility vehicle right across the front door of the Bakery so she could get easy access into the shop.  This I didn't mind one jot.  It was the German Sheppard that was attached to the chair which caused me some concern as it lunged and snarled at me as I too tried to enter the bakery.  Still I mimiced what I hoped was my friendliest smile, assured the lady who was trying to tell me that the dog was just trying to protect her, that it was all OK, I understood, and stood there patientlay.

Meanwhile, the evil side of me was thinking, just get through the effing door so I too can get into the shop and out of your dogs reach, but instead I stood there for soseveral minutes as she shuffled back out to assure her dog that it was OK, then shuffled back to the door, whilst her dog never stopped its snarling and snapping at me.  I really did feel sorry for the lady who was obvioulsy concerned about the fuss her dog was causing, but it just felt rude to say to her "Well, get into the bl*#dy shop then, so I can get away from your dog and it might calm down". I really needed that coffee by the time I got to the counter.

An hour later I grabbed some breakfast at Swansea Bakery, before passing through Bicheno and finally onto 'E' Road, a small, unmarked side road that you'd easily miss 20-30kms north of Bicheno, and pretty much smack on 200kms north of Hobart. 

I saw a small young-at-foot wallaby about 200 metres along the road, which startled by my appearance, dashed off from its mother into the nearby bushes.  I mention this not because its cute, but because its mother had been dead for about a week based on its decomposition, most likely shot, and I had to feel a little bit bad about that given my previous job for the past four years. 

Mercifully, I was soon distracted by the fact that the road promptly disappeared down into what is euphamistically called "a low clearance crossing" but which is in fact roadsign speak for "the bridge has washed out, so we've just sent a dozer through here to make a path through the creek."  I slowly nudge my poor little subaru impreza down into the creek and cringed noticably as the front end scapped and banged its way through the creek and up the other side.  Thankful to have gotten through I contined another 3 or 4kms up the road to only be greeted by a second, larger "low clearance" creek crossing and there was no way that I was getting through this one.  It was about 10-15metres straight down. I'd have been scared crossing it in a proper 4WD.

I was still several km's from the start of my two day walk, which remember I was doing in one day, but I decided that I had come this far, and wasn't going to be beaten so I parked on the side of the road, and unloaded my MTB which I had fortuitously left in the back of the car, and set off up the road.   As it turned out, it was just over 3kms to the official start of thw walk, but I also gained about 150 metres in altitude on a very rocky, slippery road and it took me nearly 30 minutes to get to the start of the walk.  Good old parks had put a sign up, on what turned out to be one of the better sections of the road after the tow big washouts indicating "4WD's advised past this point".  If I had a knife I might have carved "Plus mountain bikes".

Justifying to myself that I wanted to leave my bike somewhere hidden and that the map showed the first section was along an old 4WD trail, I cycled the first km or so of the trail until it started getting a bit rough and there hid my bike in the bush alongside the track.   This at least allowed me to catch up a bit of time.

From there it was a fairly fast walk through open forest and alongside moorland to the junction with the Rainforest Loop which I would be returning on.  There were lots of wildflowers about, and other than a bit of cutting grass here and there to slow the pace it was pretty flat easy going.

Soon after the junction the track started heading down, though other than a bit of log scrambling it was a pleasant enough descent to the campsite, which I reached about an hour and a half after leaving the car park.  What did blow me away was the debris that had come down some of the valleys.  There had been a big flood through here recently.

I continued straight down to the falls, and it was here that I really noticed how much water had come through this valley.  Although the river was only a slight flow now, the track down to Heritage Falls had been pretty much washed away, and I ended up just rock hopping down the river to the top of the Falls after wasting nearly 15 minutes trying to follow the track.

There is a signed and cairned trail from the top of the falls (on the left hand side, looking down river) which you can follow down to the bottom, but it's steep, slippery scree for the last bit and it would be easy to have an accident down here.  However, it is also well worth it, and having arrived smack on 12 O'clock, I spent a great 45 minutes or so just playing in the pools and having a bit of a relax in the section between Heritage and Leebrina Falls as I had some lunch.

Hopwever, I was on a bit of a timetable, and what goes down, has to go up again, so I gingerly scambled back up the scree chute, but at the top, I decided on impulse that rather than fight my way back upstream to the campsite, only to then have to double back as indicated on the map, I'd try and bee-line it straight up the hill and connect onto the track heading south.  It only looked to be 400-500 metres in a straight line, compared to 1-2kms following the tracks, so seemed worth the gamble.

What really surprised me was that for once this actually worked out.  It was a steep, but very fun, scramble up the rocky slope until I reached a bit of a knoll, and from there it was only about another 100-150 metres through light bush land before I hit the track again.  I will say that I did have the big advantage of having a GPS unit which I'd programmed the full walking route onto the previous night which made navigation pretty easy in the open bushland.  I'd be a bit more hesitant following my route if I didn't have that advantage as it would be pretty easy to get turned around up there.

From there the walk out to the top of the ridge was pretty similar to the walk in, and I was at the southern end of the Rainforest Ledge Circuit before I knew it.  I didn't head back immediately, instead I took off south to climb Lookout Hill which looked very near on the map.  20 minutes later as I sat on top of the hill eating an apple, and shaking an empty water bottle.  It was at this point that I started to think that maybe I may have stuffed up a little on the water front, and the fact that I'm talking about water bottles and apples tells you everything you need to know about the view from Lookout Hill.  Trust me if you're that close, you're going to head up there no matter what I say, then you'll sit there like I did, staring out into the trees, seeing next to nothing, thinking ... well that was a waste of time, but a bit like telling a kid not to touch a plate because it's hot, you're not going to believe my until you do it yourself and realise, yes it is hot isn't it.

After backtracking to the junction, I proceeded, down, down, down to the rainforest ledge, grimly hoping that I'd come across a small stream or even a trickle to refill my water bottle.  I didn't.  Instead, what I thought would be an hours walk through nice rainforest to rejoin the main track, turned into a 2 hour epic.

This section of the walk is infrequenlty travelled, it's very overgrown, and there's one or two sections where the trail markers get very confusing as they lead me off on various old tracks.  I found myself constantly having to slow and scan ahead for any sign of a trail marker or blaze.  I even found myself navigating by searching through the thick ferns at one point looking for signs where the logs had been sawn off as signs of human track making.  I'm sure it was a beautiful walk, in fact I enjoyed it despite everything, but by this stage my numerous cuts from the cutting grass were starting to sting, I had been without water for over an hour, I had a bit of glass in my foot which was really starting to throb, and I was finding most of my attention had to remain on just staying on the trail, not on enjoying what was around me.  I almost had to laugh when near the end I backtracked about 100metres because I had missed a small marker high up in a tree which lead the trail back up over the ridge and out of there. I could still be there now.

Once back of top of the ridge, my walk turned into a charge as I was feeling very dehydrated and just wanted out of there.  The bush opened up, but the section back to the junction still needs you to keep your eyes open for the track, and there's plenty of cutting grass.  Suffice to say I was pretty happy to get back onto the main track.  I was fighting a losing battle to salt and rubbing in the groin area, so I lost my shorts and just walking in some thermal leggings to try and minimise the damage for the last 3kms out of there.

I almost collapsed with joy when I reached my bike, not because I thought I was home, but because it still had a half full water bottle on it.  I drank the water so quickly I felt a bit nauseus, but at least from there it was a very quick descent back down to my car where I had another 2 litres of water stashed and some powerade powder to aid my recovery.

This lasted me to Bicheno (my heart once again broken to see that little wallaby was still hanging around its decomposing mother) where I filled up on cold orange powerade and pepsi max for the trip back down to Hobart.

Got home by about 8pm, had a wonderful shower and threw some food into myself before jumping back into bed to read more of my book "The Man who Cycled the World" (he's now in the USA).

As I drifted off to sleep, my legs ached and pulsed from the hundreds of little cuts everywhere, my right foot with the glass shard in it throbbed, my neck and face pulsed from a bit too much sun and off course there was that nasty chaffing we overweight people have to put up with.  But my mind ... it was in a calm, happy and serene place.  The Gremlins were quitened and instead my whole being was thinking about this weekend ... thinking that maybe I should head up to the Lakes and explore some more of the Tasmanian Trail sections up that way ...  it was just like a week ago when I thought "Maybe I should head up to the Douglas Apsley and do that two day walk in a single day".  Every fibre of my being thought "that's a brilliant idea".

No doubt I'll be speaking to my gremlins again later tonight.

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POSTSCRIPT:

The day after posting this, I went back onto the parks website (http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/) and after scrolling down through the tracks and road closures for what seemed like several minutes guess what I found ... E Road had been closed.  You think it would be useful to put that on the website about the park :)

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