What do you do do when you’re short (very short) on sleep and have just spent a day tiring yourself out walking? Why, go on another walk, just to make sure you’ve got the most out of your body, and your one day off!! I couldn’t not, after the weather, which had been forecast earlier in the week to be showery, was now just ‘partly cloudy’, and I was pretty certain it’d be better than that! In deciding to go, unbeknownst to me, I was escaping what would turn out to be a rainy day in Hobart, and have a stunner of a day up north (not entirely wanted, given the sunburn I’d copped the day before on Styx!).
I was particularly keen to get out, more than usual, because I’d been asked to check out the route to Byron, as described by the Abels. And when I have a task to do, with a deadline, I like to get it done sooner rather than later, especially when I don’t have a lot of spare time (my next two months are fairly chockers with walks already!). The Abels describes the options of going in via the Cuvier valley (skip that, I heard from some friends a few weeks back that it’s almost impossible to follow the track, and it took them a lot longer than expected, and I was short on time), via the Overland track (5 hours) or the boat (45 minutes). Because I wanted to fit a lot in to the day I figured an early start and a walk along the lake rather than the boat would be best. And I would have got there faster if all had gone to plan!
I woke at 3.30 after 6 hours sleep. Still tired, but I thought I’d wake up on the drive up. Woah, mistake number one! I didn’t wake up, rather proceeded to fall asleep. I had the window down, the music up, and I was eating lollies that I didn’t actually want, in the hope of staying awake, but it wasn’t working. I was wondering if I should just turn around and go back home to bed, but I’d come this far and that was enough to make me not want to turn back. So at 5.30 I pulled over, set the alarm for 6.30, and had such vivid dreams about swerving all over the road I couldn’t tell if they were real or not! I did feel a bit better when I woke, and drove the last hour. I was quick to put on boots, and get started.
I reckoned I could walk the lake faster than the 5 hours, and hoped I could get there before 10.30, figuring that would put me at about the same place as if I waited for 9am to get on the ferry. In reality it would have been the sensible option to have slept some more and just got on the boat, but I’m not good at waiting when I know there’s distance to cover, and so off I went. I like to call myself a bushwalker, but for that first hour or so I became a bush runner.. or jogger (ok ok, perhaps stumbler?). And only on the flats and downhills.. and later only downhills.. and eventually, not at all!! I did quite enjoy the challenge of being as efficient as possible, enjoying the feel of gliding round corners, negotiating roots at speed (I really wasn’t that fast), ducking and weaving through overgrowing ferns and around protruding logs or branches. I still had time to take in the changes in forest, to pause to check out white flowers I hadn’t seen before, or little clumps of red fungi. I still heard a bronze wing’s ‘ooop-ooop’, and maybe even saw one that was very reluctant to get off the path (but I’m no expert, and might have been mistaken?).
It seemed, however, to take FOREVER! And I was feeling increasingly tired. Somehow, I got to Echo Point in just over 1.5 hours (said to take 3 hours), and realised maybe I didn’t need to go so fast. Good, I didn’t have much energy left anyway!! Another seemingly slow hour and 15 minutes and I was at the turn off to Byron Gap, relieved to find it sign posted (wasn’t sure if it was at all!). I’d run into (not literally, though I did come close once or twice) a number of Overlanders, and, to my pleasant surprise, Charles C from the Hobart Walking Club (more on that later)!!
It was 10.15, I was where I’d have been if I’d have caught the boat (just a good deal more tired, but kind of happy with the time I’d made despite that), and so I figured I could throttle back just a bit (timed nicely to coincide with the start of the uphill stuff!). Taking the Byron Gap turn, chuckling at the signs warning against inexperienced walkers venturing past this point due to the unmaintained nature of the track, I headed off into the forest.
The Abels describes the walk as a good one for inexperienced off track walkers, and I’d have to agree entirely. It took me a while to adjust to the different amount of attention I had to pay to staying on the track, but once I did, and got used to the signs to look for, it was quite fun. I was aware just how easily you could step two metres off the track if you checked the time on your phone, or took two seconds to see where you were on your gps. I did that once or twice!
The track, though apparently unmaintained, is quite well marked. There’s the very old blazes, with a hint of red paint on them. Then there’s old yellow triangles nailed into trees, some of which are in the process of being swallowed up by said trees. There’s newer bits of pink tape in some spots where trees have come down, or markers are missing. And finally (and surprisingly given all those warning signs!) there were a number of new orange triangles, nailed into trees or very new looking wooden stakes!! Warning, some of these point in SLIGHTLY misleading directions, and it pays to pay attention to the ground too!! You do get pretty used to looking for the subtle signs that suggest you’re on track – exposed roots where moss should be growing but isn’t, ground that is surprisingly clear of twigs and small branches (the act of walking must clear the path of them, or crush them), or flatter areas that just look like they’ve been walked on (instinct and luck does play a role)!
The forest was lovely and cool, there were a number of little creeks, one particularly nice, and I took note of it for on the way back (and it was greatly appreciated then too!). I zigzagged up and across, making good progress towards the saddle that I assumed was Byron gap (I never pay much attention to names of things!). The forest turned quickly to scrub, and the pad was well defined. The markers, irrelevant now, had largely vanished. I checked the Abels book, as this was where my work was to begin, which instructed me to head 100 m past the high point before heading off track through light scrub, pandani and myrtle forest, through heavy scrub (where a pad with an obscure start could be found), and then across rock.
The instructions could not have been clearer. The high point of the saddle is quite obvious, because there’s a decent downhill across steps fashioned out of logs and chicken wire. This turns to a dirt track for a short section, before you’re walking on old trees that have been split in half with chicken wire across the top. It’s part way along this section, where the scrub is obviously at its lowest for a patch to the right that you head off into it. There’s a few pads, which you could mistake for wombat pads, but they lead exactly where you’re instructed to go. Once in the beautiful pandani and myrtle forest there’s no hint of where to go, and it’s a matter of instinct and a hell of a lot of luck, and a general bearing in the right direction. Do take care though not to be so caught up in the route finding that you don’t enjoy the forest for what it is, it’s quite spectacular. I do love both pandanis and myrtle, but pandani in particular. Perhaps for its root back to Gondwanaland, its ability to survive, or its distinct shape, and definitely the associations between it and the club that has become such a big part of my life, and major factor in my current happiness.
When I’d read the Abels description about the somewhat obscure start to the decent pad cut into the heavy scrub, I’d sighed and resigned myself to the fact that I doubted I’d find it, and might just be in for a nasty but hopefully short bash. You can imagine my surprise when, after walking between pandanis for a bit, having had to make decisions a number of times as to whether I’d opt to veer left, or right, or go straight up, I walked straight up to a cairn. It was the first of three, and only three (I looked around on the way back), and they led straight onto the pad. I couldn’t believe my luck! Even more so after following the pad for a short while, which was overgrown enough that it insisted on grabbing on to my clothing, or tangling itself in my feet, and going was slower than expected.
The ‘track’ was now quite easy to follow, and was well cairned. This continued on over the scree, with cairns guiding you straight up the gully mentioned in the Abels. I was pretty tired by this stage, and I’d started to really relax, aware that I was going to get to the summit, and back, in plenty of time. I started messaging a few people, and commenting on photos on Facebook from the day before. This meant I took at least 30 minutes longer to get to the summit than it should have, but that just meant I had longer to enjoy the views!
And what a view it was. Byron is quite a little gem. A lovely walk, with a mix of everything (forest, scrub, scree) and a grand reward at the end on a fine day! I looked north towards an array of mountains I have yet to climb, then over at Olympus (definitely a must to camp on top), and around to everything else. Frenchmans had its head in the cloud. I yelled to the mountains around me, laughed with joy, and shook my head in amazement, gratitude and all the rest of what I was feeling in that moment. I wished there was someone to share it with, more immediately than through Facebook or text messages.
A short stop for sunscreen and to cool down, and I figured I should get back down. I had all fingers and toes crossed that there’d be a free spot on the last ferry, as I’d decided quite early into my walk round the lake that $40 was definitely worth it for the journey back!! When I arrived back at the junction with the Overland track I realised if I walked/ran as fast as I had on the way up I’d make it back to the car park at 4.30. Alternatively if there was a spot on the ferry, I’d get to sit around for a bit, take a leisurely cruise down the lake, and arrive at the same time.. It was a bit of a gamble, and apparently when I’m tired, I’m more likely to gamble! I was aware that if there were no spots, I’d have an even longer walk back, and would be unlikely to get much sleep before getting up for work at 12am!
So the hut it was. I arrived, and ran into Charles again! He radioed through for the ferry, and we were told there was only one spot. Bugger! Charles, the gentleman he is, didn’t hesitate to book it in my name, and I was touched at his generosity and all of a sudden very much more tired! As it turned out, the radio guys called back a little while later to inform us that there had been a cancellation and there was room after all, much to my relief. We chatted over a gratefully received cup of tea, biscuits and chocolate. He was also going to be checking out some changes to Abels routes, but had been up to the Gould plateau exploring the area. Gould, the Guardian and the Minotaur are the other three I need to check out before the end of April, and I listened to his information keenly. We later chatted to a Scottish guy, before eventually making our way to the jetty, chatting to some other tourists about places to go, and enjoying a brief and distant encounter with a platypus.
Then we were on the boat, enjoying the second half of a guided tour some of the passengers had paid for, and learning the valuable information that the current boat captain guy had figured out where he could offload people who wanted to climb Ida. It would be a special trip, so require the minimum payment of $240, and wind would be a major factor, but I could see potential as a club trip!!
Back to the car, a stop off for petrol and a much detested but emergency energy drink (in the attempt to avoid a repeat of that morning), and I was on my way home. A long, but successful and very enjoyable day! 3.5 hours sleep, and up for work again, nicely refreshed!!
Over 25km, in 6.5 hours, including breaks, and 1059 metres ascent. Not feeling too bad about that ;).. and thanks to those of you who, knowingly or not, gave me the encouragement to keep on going.