Mt Tennent (sic) lies only a few km past the southern-most houses of Canberra and sits just inside Namadgi National Park. It is a huge hulk of a mountain, rising close to 1020 metres from the NNP Visitors Centre to a height of 1380m . Mt Taylor, the hill between the Woden and Tuggeranong districts of Canberra is even handier for a quick walk and here you will find many people , both fit and unfit, old and young, slim and fat, some running, some struggling, but on Mt Tennent you will encounter mostly the athletic types walking and even running to keep fit. The return trip is some 18 km.
I go up Mt Tennent fairly often in order to keep up my level of fitness. I find it an excellent training walk without having to drive very far. However, I have a love/hate affair with the mountain, especially in the warmer weather. It is on a track all the way, some of which is hard-packed fire trail. The first 532 m of altitude gain is steep and unrelenting in its ascent up a very hot, dry, slope which catches the full brunt of the sun for much of the day. The made foot track up here is very rough and plagued with hundreds of steps which someone in their “wisdom” thought would make for easier walking . But as all bushwalkers know, steps are far more tedious to ascend than a slope and they are very hard on the knees when coming down. Coming down this section is not enjoyable for me: it is the afternoon, the heat has built up and the track seems to be never-ending. However, at the top of this ascent one reaches a shoulder where there is a sudden change : one reaches the beginning of the sub-alpine belt and the temperature eases back, the air is clearer and sweeter, and the vegetation changes to lovely forest in place of the hot, dry scrub and scattered trees. From here one is on a fire trail which climbs more gently to a lovely, grassy saddle where you often find beautiful wildflowers such as buttercups, violets and orchids. From here one joins the Mt Tennent Fire Trail, a somewhat tedious, steep track to the summit with its granite tor and fire tower and wonderful mountain wilderness views. Whilst this last section is a tedious climb up a hard-packed track, the surrounding open sub-alpine forest is rather lovely.
Despite my dislike of those first 532 m there is, however, much of interest, depending on the time of year. One is away from the town and out in the bush, the path up this hot slope winds amongst huge granite boulders, every now and again there are wonderful views to the east and north, the birds are calling and the wildflowers are blooming, including orchids.
Needing some exercise early this summer I waited for a very hot spell which reached 39*c to pass and ascended Mt Tennent. Although relatively cool when I started out it was still a hot day. Summer time in inland Australia. What else can one expect? The sun strikes one with a vengeance. One can feel it biting chunks out of you. The light is incredibly strong, brilliant , clear and white and strikes the earth like a blade. The heat, though, is very dry. Coming down in the afternoon I would feel the heat not only striking me from above, but rising in waves off the ground. Eucalyptus scent filled the air. Lower down the path crosses two creeks which flow, often only slightly, for most of the year, and on this occasion the frogs were having a wonderful time, their croaking filling the air. Not far beyond this I passed through an area which was home to thousands of cicadas, their shrieking calls filling the air with deafening persistence, a rising and falling cadence. Australia in the summer, something I would miss if I moved to another country. I climbed above the grasslands of the one-time grazing paddocks, sat briefly at the Cypress Pine Lookout to admire the view and drink some water and continued upwards, taking pleasure in the physical activity of fast walking and in my surroundings. Now I was starting to wind amongst and over the granite and the ground was covered in the usual litter of leaves, twigs, fallen branches and bark that is unique to the Australian bush. I noticed the many flowers that were out, saw an echidna, and hoped that in amongst the litter on the ground I would notice any snakes.
Suddenly I was in a very different country. The vegetation had changed and the air was cooler and sweeter – mountain air. Shortly afterwards I arrived at the track junction at the shoulder, the worst of the climb over. Here I stopped and made a mug of tea. Whilst I often walk with one or other of the bushwalking clubs, I enjoy walking on my own for I can stop to take photos and more importantly, have the time to make tea when I choose. On a club walk I take a flask of tea, but on my own I take along a stove, sit down and boil the water and make the tea. There is a ritual about making tea like this which is relaxing. It forces one to sit down and wait . While the water is heating and coming to the boil I sit and listen and watch and absorb the environment. I hear the birds calls, I see the shafts of sunlight glinting on the white trunks of the trees, I hear the wind whispering, and I savour the clean, clear, cool sweet mountain air. I note the beauty of the bush and the beauty of the curling strips of fallen bark. I am glad to be here and not somewhere else. It is a beautiful place.
Refreshed by my mug of tea I continue easily along the undulating, but steadily rising, track. I top a rise, and there, in front of me, is a beautiful sub-alpine saddle. Here the open forest has drawn back to the higher ground where the sun glints on trunks and leaves and shines on the grasses and on the lichened granite boulders, forming a protected hollow of this saddle. Wild flowers spangle the grasses. One must pause here to drink in such a lovely scene, off-set by the clear, deep blue, cloudless Australian sky. Nearby, hidden in the trees, and not known to most people, are some massive granite slabs which give a grandstand view over the Canberra suburbs
From this saddle it is but a hard 20 minutes up the Mt Tennent Fire Trail through beautiful, open, tall forest to the summit which is pretty much on the tree line. There is a fire tower here, on the top of the summit rocks. From up here there are wonderful views of the mountains and valleys of Namadgi National Park. Blue hills dreaming in the summer sun. “Blue remembered hills”. (Housman). And here I like to sit and dream, too, and light the stove, boil the billy for more tea, and eat my lunch. Once a friend of mine came with me to this spot and we sat here drinking tea and watching the sunset on a winter’s day. On that day, we finished the walk in starlight. On another winter’s day I came up here when there was snow on the ground and sleet was falling.
On my way down this summer’s day, the heat starts to increase, but in the afternoon, when the shadows are starting to fill some of the deep gullies, I hear the beautiful, magical, calls of the lyrebirds.
All in all a lovely day.
Sometimes I do this walk without going to the summit. Instead, after I have had my morning tea at the shoulder where there is a track junction, I turn right, following the route of the Australian Alps Walking Track, which in fact starts at the Visitors Centre, and which I have been following so far. It is 655 km long and goes all the way to Walhalla in Victoria, traversing some of the highest country in Australia. The moment I continue on this track I feel that I am in a different world. The route to the summit of Tennent to me has no feel of remoteness to it. But the moment one takes this right turn one is on a track less travelled. This track now takes one down into the beautiful valley called Bushfold Flat. Here there is very definitely a feeling of remoteness and isolation. One rarely meets anyone else down here. Thanks to grazing prior to the establishment of Namadgi, this is a grassy valley now kept short by the kangaroos, a remote, usually green, grassed valley, surrounded east and west by rugged, wooded, blue mountains. There is great peace here, beauty, and dreaming. I follow the AAWT southwards, up the valley. It is grassed over and walking is delightful and easy. Eventually the AAWT and I part company: I continue up the valley to Bushfold Hut where I complete the log book and pause to enjoy the beauty and peace. I continue on, take a short cut through the bush and come out on the Mt Tennent Fire Trail. A steep climb of an hour brings me back into the sub alpine country at that beautiful saddle I have already mentioned where I now boil the billy, make tea and have lunch. I spend an hour in this enchanted spot, absorbing the wilderness and prowling with my camera, looking for wildflowers. From here I take the usual route back down to the Visitor’s Centre. This is a lovely walk, about 17 km involving nearly 1000m climb and which takes me about 5.5 hours.
This scar occurred about 3 years ago following heavy rain which caused a massive mudslide which roared down the scrub-filled gully, removing all vegetation and leaving a covering of mud.
I sometimes get asked “But what about all the deadly snakes out there in the bush”?. Well, I have been walking off track in the bush all my life and have come across very few snakes. Admittedly, those I have seen have been a little close for comfort, but in most cases they have been trying to get away. Once, though, while walking on a fire trail covered down the centre in clumps of grass, I actually stepped on a very large, dangerous, Tiger Snake. the first I knew it was there was when I felt it writhing under my boot. I jumped 6 feet into the air, and it, equally frightened, took off at great speed into the bush. I always keep a lookout for snakes, but usually they are very hard to see in the Australian bush due to the litter on the ground. the following photo shows open forest and not too much litter, but even so, a snake would be hard to see, as you will see from the following photo when I almost stepped onto this Brown Snake. The point is, though, I have never been bitten and have come across very few snakes in the bush. I don’t know of any bushwalkers in Canberra being bitten by a snake.
As I mentioned earlier, if, on going up the Mt Tennent track, one turns right at the track intersection on the shoulder, one then follows the AAWT down into Bushfold Flat. This is a lovely walk down to the Flat where I love the beauty and feeling of remoteness to be found there. The walk up the Flat to Bushfold Hut is delightful. However, one should be aware that the AAWT has been re-routed and is not as shown on the 1:25000 topo map.