Sunday, February 22, 2015

Into The Ducane Range: The Acropolis and The Labyrinth

Day One: Lake St Clair to Pine Valley:

It's about 14 km to paddle from the south end of Lake St Clair to the north versus an 18 km walk along a deep forest track to reach the same destination. Opting to paddle our kayaks up the lake, particularly with a northerly wind forecast for the day we came out, was the obvious choice. We launched from the boat ramp and parked at the main visitor parking area (a short walk from the boat ramp), although there is a small amount of parking at the boat ramp. Alternatively, you could launch from Frankland Beaches where there is parking and a sandy beach. 

The wind must have been swirling a little down in Cynthia Bay because we actually managed to get a little help from the sails for the first two kilometres but the wind was so gusty it wasn't that effective. The rest of the way the wind was light, occasionally in our faces, but over all, not a steady headwind. We reached Echo Point, where a couple of hikers were lounging on the jetty, and, in another 45 minutes, paddled into Narcissus Bay. The boat that shuttles walkers up and down the lake passed us twice as we paddled north. 

 The Acropolis from the track along the plateau

All our gear was quickly moved from our kayaks to our backpacks and we headed off along the jetty track to the Narcissus Hut. There were many unhappy looking hikers at the hut, either the Overland Track was not what they thought or the fact that they were locked out of the hut (renovations) until 5.30 pm was the cause. The first four kilometres was along the Overland Track which is extensively duckboarded in this area but still has some rooty sections and is buried deep in bush with scant views. We stopped for a break at the Pine Valley junction and had a delightful chat with three passing hikers (part of a group of five) who had come down from Cairns and walked in via the Walls of Jerusalem over seven days. This is a bit of a hard slog as there is no track and the bush is dense, but these folks (all easily in their 60's) were having a great time. It was just what I needed to stop being a princess and get up and walk the last four kilometres into Pine Valley. 

Again the track is deep in the forest, some times on duckboards, often in rooty dark rain forest, but all the time running northish up Cephissus Creek. There are three or four campsites scattered around the Pine Valley Hut, all in very dark locations, as is the hut, and the mosquitoes are bad. We stripped off for a dip in the creek first thing as it had been a sweaty walk in, and then spent the rest of the evening on the deck of the hut where the mosquitoes were slightly less ferocious. Pine Valley and The Acropolis are popular side trips with Overland Track walkers and there were four other walkers detouring off the Overland Track staying either in the hut or camping. 

Mount Gould and The Minotaur from The Acropolis

Day Two: The Acropolis and The Labyrinth:

Even deep in the forest we could tell it was going to be a gloriously sunny day as we set off up the track to The Acropolis. The track continues up Cephissus Creek for half a kilometre, passing the small Cephissus Falls, then climbs steeply (200 metres in 700 metres distance) to the south ridge of The Acropolis. This is the typical Tasmanian track, steep, rooty, and direct. There is a big sub-alpine plateau running south from The Acropolis and a half a kilometre of flat walking, mostly on duckboards along this delightful section. The views, all of a sudden, are tremendous and there are groves of unusual palm trees in patches of mossy greenery. 

Soon, however, the track resumes its steep ascent climbing up the south shoulder of The Acropolis until you are right under the characteristic dolerite columns. There's another half kilometre or so of up and down on a rocky rooty track as the track heads northeast along the base of the cliffs before a gully leads very steeply up to the summit plateau. There are one or two scrambly sections on this last bit, but no exposure. Once on the summit plateau it's a simple talus walk to the (not quite) summit. The actual high point is about a metre higher on a narrow stand alone tower, difficult to climb and very exposed. 

 Doug on The Acropolis

We hung out here for quite a while in glorious sunshine watching as clouds boiled and spilled over Mount Massif and Falling Mountain due north across the Narcissus River Valley. Mount Geryon, the next and slightly higher peak to the north is impressive and there are some infrequently climbed rock routes on the steep faces. Through Big Gun Pass, we could see Mount Ossa (Tasmania's highest peak), while to the east lies the lake studded Walls of Jerusalem plateau, and to the west, The Labyrinth and the peaks and lakes surrounding that smaller plateau. Mount Olympus is prominent on the west side of Lake St Clair and pyramidal, Mount Ida on the east. 

Delightful as the scenery was, we also wanted to walk up to The Labyrinth so we scuttled back down the steep, ladder like track to the hut where we had lunch and then walked up the only slightly less steep track to The Labyrinth. 

This track begins climbing just beyond Pine Valley Hut heading pretty much due west for a pass between The Minotaur and The Parthenon. It's about 400 metres pretty much straight up, until the track emerges into bright sunshine on the south shoulder of The Parthenon. The cairned track continues north along the west slopes of The Parthenon until you are overlooking the myriad tiny lakes of The Labyrinth. Mount Geryon and The Acropolis come strikingly into view and, a short steep descent leads to the Cyane Lake, the first small tarn on this plateau. The cairned track continues to Lake Elysia, a kilometre to the north, but we stopped at Cyane Lake and swam in the warm shallow waters. 

This whole plateau is reminiscent of the high Eastern Sierra's of California, except you are about 2000 metres lower. There are rock slabs, small lakes, gnarled white trunks of King Billy Pine and low alpine vegetation. Back at the hut, the Overland Track walkers had all left but two other couples had arrived to explore the area. 

Cyane Lake

Day Three: Pine Valley to Lake St Clair:

A warm northerly wind blew through the trees all night and it was hot first thing as we marched down the track, past the Narcissus Hut and out to our waiting boats. The first thing we did was swim in the lake, then pack up and launch for the journey back. We could hear the wind whistling through the trees, but we must have been sheltered in Narcissus Bay for the first kilometre as our sails were hanging limply from the mast. That didn't last, and the wind (or perhaps our exposure to it) steadily built until we were rocking along in a steep following sea with a strong wind behind. 

Doug was surfing on the tops of waves, but I seemed to spend most of my time wallowing in the troughs behind. After about half an hour, we pulled the tops off our sails reducing the volume as we were yawing about too much. This worked well all the way down to where the lake narrows near Fergies Hill, where we reduced the sail volume a little more as the waves were getting steeper confined by the lake shore. Beyond the narrowing, the waves diminished, but not the wind. Our greatest difficulty was trying to see where the boat ramp was before we got blown onto the rocks at the end of the lake. 

 Mount Geryon from The Acropolis

While Doug went off to get the car, another couple of kayakers arrived sailing in (Flat Earth sails) from Mount Ida which they had climbed the day before. Apparently the route was hard to find, the rock quality poor, but, nevertheless they had a rollicking grand adventure. And, although our trip was considerably less technically difficult, we too had a rollicking good time.

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