August 5, 2007

A Week at the Walls

Mark Smith Posted on 2007-05-08

Having completed a number of trips up and down the Overland Track we were keen to visit somewhere different in Tasmania and so decided to try our hand at a visit to the Walls of Jerusalem National Park at the end of March 2007. Travelling to Tassie from Perth, Western Australia, transport always proves a challenge; this trip was to be no different. Flights aside, trying to organise land transport from Launceston airport to the Walls car park was our first predicament - essentially there is no public transport to the area. At day's end we caught a taxi into the outskirts of Launceston, jumped on a scheduled coach service to Deloraine and then in Deloraine caught one of the two local taxis who ferried us to the Wall's car park, the local taxi company has a fixed price cash fare for bushwalkers and apparently has regular custom on the route. The total journey took us near on three hours to travel the 120 kilometres from Launceston and cost us about $90 each.

Day One

Arriving at the Walls car park at around 2pm there were at least half a dozen vehicles left in the car park, there was also broken windscreen glass on the ground, some poor unfortunate having no doubt returned from a few days away to discover their car had been broken into, it provided some sense of relief that we had decided not to rent a car. Setting off, the weather was positively balmy, most unlike Tasmania. The heat and absence of any breeze made the hike up to Trappers Hut harder than it should have been, after nearly 90 minutes we arrived, hot and very grateful for the opportunity for a short rest and the chance to take in the history of the hut and surrounds.
Not long after leaving Trappers hut, just prior to the trail winding out onto the plateau we arrived at the Lake Loane junction where the trail divides, to the right the trail heads South to Lake Adelaide on the Junction Lake trail, to the left the trail continues on into the Walls. We headed on into the walls via Solomon's Jewels, by this time it was after 4pm and the sun was getting low in the sky, it was a beautiful afternoon and made for some enjoyable walking into Wilddog Creek, there were unobscured views out to the horizon and to the West we could take in glimpses of the Cradle Mountain National Park. We finally rounded a bend in the trail and saw the boardwalk winding its way across the short plain to the Wild Dog Creek campsite, a few fluorescent coloured tents dotted the southern side of the valley, the first evidence of other walkers we had come across all day.
Wilddog Creek Campsite proved a great spot to spend the night, considerable thought has been put into building the three levels of platforms that span the valley side to ensure visitors can enjoy a level of seclusion and not overly inflict themselves on their neighbours. There is a drop toilet and running water provided through an array of reticulation pipes that at some point must draw water from a stream above the campsite, an unusual, but very welcome luxury in such a remote location. We enjoyed the entire set up and took advantage of the facility. In terms of sustainability it appears this may be the only way to be able to successfully manage the impact of an increasing number of visitors to the area, even in the short time we walked within the Walls and area surrounding Dixons Kingdom the detrimental impact of walkers is becoming self evident. If we had not been walking through, it would have been an ideal spot to use as a base and complete day walks up into the Walls.

Day Two

With clear skies over night the temperature plummeted and we awoke to find frost coating our tents, during the night a Tasmanian Devil had forayed nearby the platform, brief thoughts about a spotlighting excursion quickly outweighed by the animals blood curdling screams as it scampered off down the valley. The weather was cooler, slightly overcast and there was already a persistent wind that meant the shorts and t-shirts of the previous day were replaced by more substantial layers. By 9.30am we were packed up and after a brief climb to the head of the valley we emerged through Herod's gate into the Walls. Despite having seen numerous pictures of the view looking out over Lake Salome, we were still not adequately prepared for how stunning the scenery was.
The trail winds its way slowly down the base of the Western Wall, the dolerite crags jutting menacingly overhead adding to the impact of the wilderness amphitheatre that surrounds you. The Walls is not a big area and the relatively short walk down to the pencil pine forest bordering the approach to Lake Bethseda throws up a range of scenery, I readily imagined myself in Scottish glens or hiking through Tolkien's Middle Earth, it is difficult to find an adequate description to do it justice. We dropped our packs just off the trail and completed a side trip across to Lake Siloam on what can be described as an ill defined route through the scrub that we picked up on the edge of the forest. It was definitely worth the effort, Lake Siloam is nestled between Mount Ophel and Zion Hill, pencil pines dot the shore and there is a conspicuous sense of tranquillity in the area. We explored around the lake shore and took numerous photo's before returning back to the main trail where we had lunch at around 12.30pm.
After our lunch stop we headed up the short climb over Damascus Gate heading for Dixon's Kingdom. We had decided not to climb the Temple or Solomon's Throne, electing instead to head for Mount Jerusalem. Arriving at Dixon's Kingdom at 2pm we had a brief look over the hut before making camp in the forest nearby, (signs in the hut ask walkers not to camp in the area immediately adjacent to the hut). It was disappointing to come across evidence of a recent campfire, it is difficult to comprehend how some visitors can put themselves and this environment at threat by lighting open fires in such a fire susceptible and fragile area, the greyed skeletal outlines of dead pencil pines a constant reminder of the irreversible damage fire has inflicted on different areas of the park over the years.
Having pitched our tents we then took day packs and headed off up the marked trail towards Mount Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate, the trail winds its way up onto a nearby ridge and then slowly ascends through a series of interlinking ridges and tarns before emerging on the summit of Mount Jerusalem, a fairly easy walk and certainly worth the effort given the spectacular 360 degree views, taking in the Walls and Lake Salome to the West, Lake Tyre to the North and out across the Central Plateau and the Lake District to the East, again the weather had been kind and we enjoyed great views framed against a backdrop of blue skies. We descended from the summit, disturbing a particularly large Tiger snake sunning on the trail, this proved to be the first of half a dozen snakes we saw over the duration of the walk. We returned to camp in the late afternoon and spent the last hour of daylight exploring the pencil pine forest in the lee of the Temple, at this time of day there were a large number of paddymelons active. Overnight some weather rolled in from the West and we spent a disturbed night listening to the wind howling in the trees.

Day Three

The following morning we packed up and headed South down Jaffa Vale towards Lake Ball, there is no marked trail between Dixon's Kingdom and the lake, however a procession of walkers have trodden out a clearly marked route which is easy to follow in the open country, again walkers are encouraged to pan out in this area so as minimise the impact of their passage. A band of forest presents a short interlude between the Vale and the shores of Lake Ball, it is easy to lose the track in this area, pressing on, Lake Ball should be reached in well under an hour, the familiar triangular track markers can be seen marking the start of the Lake Ball track. There are a few good camp spots along the shores of Lake Ball, if we ever do this walk again I would skip the over night stop at Dixon's Kingdom and camp at Lake Ball, there was a particularly nice spot just East of the hut, on a natural promontory jutting out into the lake amongst the pencil pines. Reading the entries in the log book at Dixon's Kingdom the lake is also renowned as a good spot for trout fishing. We spent 20 minutes resting at the hut, looking at some recent restoration work before heading off again, making our way West along the lake shore. Going was slow in places as the trail winds its way over boulder falls and the track is strewn with rocks and tree roots, to compensate there are some great outcrops to stop and overview the lake, particularly at the Southern end. The trail leaves the lake shore and briefly skirts an area of small but deep tarns and marsh before crossing a creek where there are the startling remnants of a small burnt out pencil pine forest, it then commences the descent down towards Lake Adelaide. The Lake Ball trail ends with a steep descent to meet the Junction Lake trail, some 100 metres from the Northern tip of the lake. There are a couple of very nice camp spots, one directly on the shores of the Lake and one set back in the pencil pines, adjacent to where the trails meet. We stopped to have lunch on the shore of the Lake, it was just after midday, there was not a cloud in the sky and similar to our first day the temperature was unseasonably warm.
The walk down along the shores of Lake Adelaide was a slog, the track is undulating, the surface uneven and root bound and apart from frequent glimpses of the Lake itself, is not very interesting. There is a brief respite about halfway down the lake as you are forced to clamber up and around a massive rocky outcrop that impedes the trail. The walk along the length of the lake took us just short of 2 hours, in the heat, without any breeze it proved hot and dusty and we were tired and footsore by the time we rounded the South Eastern tip of the lake. We stopped on the Lake shore for a brief break before heading off on the last 1.5 kilometres across to Lake Meston. As we left the shores of Lake Adelaide we noted another very eye catching camping area on a small bay on the South Eastern shore.
The walk across to Lake Meston is through a marshy open plain, the trail is well trodden and in places there is evidence of significant footfall where the track has broken through to form muddy potholes, reminiscent of the 'sodden Lodden' en route to Frenchman's Cap. In what seemed like no time we emerged through a clearing and found ourselves on the Northern Shores of Lake Meston, three walkers were already camped in the prime spot at the head of the Lake but there are numerous very good campsites in this vicinity. We set up camp and then soaked aching feet at the sandy shore, taking in the breathtaking views down the lake. It was a superb setting, a very relaxing end to a long day of walking.

Day Four

We were up early and packed up heading for the Lake Meston Hut, it took us about 40 minutes to reach the hut which is actually at the point where the Lake Myrtle track emerges (The map we had incorrectly showed the hut a further 0.5 kilometre down the trail). It was our plan to walk up onto the saddle directly above the Hut and then to try and locate the route to Mount Rogoona. Doing our pre-trip research we had come across some track notes that indicated that there should be a cairned marker on the side of the trail to indicate the 'turnoff'. The walk out from the Lake Meston Hut was initially steep, but the slope soon levelled off. We emerged into what could be described as a small gully with large flat rocky outcrops on both sides. On the left, atop one of these slabs there were at least two cairns that climbed off into the scrub, the flattened bush indicated other walkers had previously used the route. It was 10.30am, we secreted our packs off the trail and then pushed off into the scrub. At first the bush was thick but it only proved hard going for the first 5 minutes or so before we emerged into an area of rock outcrops in dispersed with low bush and Snowgums. Navigation was fairly straight forward as we gradually ascended first one ridge, then another, the route becoming increasingly exposed as we got higher up. By 12 noon we thought we were almost at the summit, it is worth mentioning that walking up from Lake Meston you cannot see the summit of Mount Rogoona for at least a couple of kilometres into the walk, there are a series of ridges that you have to climb before the summit looms in the distance, hanging over Lake Myrtle. We underestimated the walk and did not leave enough time to make it all the way to the summit, we ended up a kilometre short on one of the adjoining ridges, it was windy and cold and whilst we had to make a concession to the summit we satisfied ourselves with the excellent views from where we were and then headed back down, knowing we still had a good deal of walking ahead of us through to Lake Bill. Realistically you need between 3 to 4 hours from the main trail to do this trip, it is about 7 kilometres round trip without any marked route, a compass or GPS is essential.
It took us over an hour to get back to our packs, by the time we arrived we had emptied our water bottles and so decided to push on to Lake Myrtle to have lunch. In essence the walk down to Lake Myrtle runs parallel to some of the ridges we had just come down off in our attempt to reach Mount Rogoona, so our lunch leg proved longer than we anticipated and it wasn't until early afternoon that we finally managed to swing our packs off at a great spot on the shore of Lake Myrtle. The lake actually wraps around the base of Mount Rogoona and as a warm wind blew in from the North West we lay on the grass resting and taking in another memorable outlook of the peak above and the view off down the lake. Leaving Lake Myrtle around 4.00pm the initial half hour or so provided some easy and pleasant walking, the trail follows a stream and is reasonably open and flat. Crossing Jackson Creek the trail then gradually climbs back up into the forest adjoining the Eastern shore of Lake Bill and winds its way along the length of the Lake, similar to Lake Adelaide this section of the walk, though short proved equally uninspiring and we were happy when the forest gave way to the open plain at the head of Lake Bill. There are a couple of areas suitable for camping at Lake Bill, much will depend on the weather; one area is set back just off the shore in an open button grass clearing with access to the lake, the other site is much more sheltered and lies just on the edge of the forest bordering the Western shore. Again, we were confronted by a recently used fireplace that someone had thrown together, burnt logs still strewn amongst the stones - why is it that some of the people who will go to the effort to get out to these remote areas still insist on being so blithely ignorant to the dangers of open fires, particularly given the bad bush fire season Tassie has endured this year?

Day Five

Camping overnight at Lake Bill there were some light showers during the night, the wind sprung up for a while but generally it was very peaceful, it was surprising that we didn't see or hear any wildlife. We got up at first light and after packing up headed off across Blizzard Plain towards the edge of the scarp and the descent to the car park. Blizzard Plain is marked on the map as a marshy area but the walk out was noticeably dry, there were numerous tarns void of any water and no evidence of the muddy network of trails that typically crisscross these sections. Following the trail markers we made good time, the trail starting to gradually descend through the forest we stopped briefly to sign out at the walker registration box before plunging down the scarp. We encountered a couple of near to vertical sections, we were very grateful for the fact we were descending this trail, going up by this route must be a heart breaker. We reached the Lake Myrtle car park in a little over an hour and a half - a solitary four wheel drive was parked in the corner of the car park.
The return journey to Launceston airport proved relatively uneventful, we were collected by a company called Outdoor Recreational Transport, the company specialises in transporting bush walkers, kayakers and the like. The bus arrived on time and whilst the trip was comparatively expensive costing over $100 each the driver proved very helpful, including allowing us a stop at the Deloraine caravan park, where for $4 we managed to grab a welcome shower before heading for the airport. He was also keen to share with us some local bushwalking knowledge and outlined alternatives routes and access points to the Walls should we return to the area. When I head this way again I will certainly use this company for both forward and return trips.

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