Mt TENNENT /BUSHFOLD FLATS IN THE RAIN
It seems to me that every time I am down to lead a “Wednesday Walk” it rains! And sure enough, this last Wednesday was, as have been a number of recent Wednesdays, awful : rain and cold. In fact, the forecast for Wednesday had been awful for days. Well, you might ask, why did I not cancel the walk? The answer is quite simple. The 3 walking clubs which lead the Wednesday walks will not agree that there should be a walk cancellation notice mechanism. There is no booking-in system in force so the leader has no idea who is coming on the walk until he arrives at the meeting place. Now it is true that I could have cancelled the walk at the meeting place, and most people seemed to have thought it should have been cancelled, for they had obviously decided to stay in bed. However, I didn’t dare cancel it, for when I arrived there, the rain pelting down, I was greeted by 4 persons grinning with delight at the thought of going on the walk. What could I do but seem enthusiastic? No one in their right mind would dare to cancel in the face of such strength.
However, I had taken the precaution of changing the walk to one that would be better in the expected heavy all-day rain and cold. The “track head” was only just outside Canberra, at the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre. From here we would take the AAWT (Australian Alps Walking Track which runs for 100’s of km across the “high country” , across the ACT and NSW and down into Victoria) up over Mt Tennent and down into Bushfold Flats, up the Flats , then up the Mt Tennent Fire Trail to quite high on Mt Tennent before meeting up with our outward track on the AAWT. This would involve about 17 km and some 900 m climb .
Despite the rain and gloom, our party of 5 was extremely cheerful and undaunted. We set off at 9.00 am
It is good to see the Australian bush when it is wet, for then the colours seem to deepen and glow. It is a steep and long haul up to the track intersection on the shoulder, where the AAWT goes off to the right while the Mt Tennent summit track goes left. Birdsong was few and far between, but the wildflowers were coming out. The wattles were out, as were many of the heaths, Hardenbergia glowing richly purple, its colour undiminished by glare and bright light and also some of the orchids and Stypandra glauca. Rocks, too, glowed with rich colour. However, the rain and the stillness brought about a hush that is not apparent on a sunny day when there is the constant background of birdsong, insects, rustlings in the bush, and leaves moving in the breeze. The track , though, was often a rivulet. It also crosses a creek a couple of times. Normally there is scarcely any water flowing in it, but today one could hear the roar of the water from some distance away. It was wonderful to see the waterfalls.
We were soon working hard and perspiring freely as we climbed, with scarcely a pause until the track intersection. Suddenly , here, one reaches an altitude where the vegetation becomes sub-alpine and is so very different from the drier and scrubbier country we had been traversing. Here we had morning tea. This was most welcome, but we did not linger as we quickly began to feel cold. At this spot, as I have mentioned, the AAWT swings away to the right on its long way to Victoria. I love this part of the walk down to Bushfold Flat. The track is now little used; nothing more than a foot track, descending through lovely, more open woodland. Today, though, the track was a veritable river, fast flowing and fast-eroding. (never put paths in the wilderness: erosion is inevitable) . Having cooled off during morning tea we now stormed down this hillside, trying to get warm. Towards the bottom the path crosses a creek which mostly is a trickle, but today it was a flooding waterfall and we had to exercise some care in crossing it.
Suddenly, we were out of the trees and in the grasslands of Bushfold Flats.
I love this valley. It is wide, open grasslands, framed on either side by mountains. Take the track up Mt Tennent on a good day and you will encounter many people (not today though – we were the only ones up there) but once in Bushfold you are in a different world and one feels remoteness and isolation, distance from humanity, and, of course, you are not hemmed in by trees. Today, however, dark clouds hid the higher hills and the curtain of rain softened the nearer views. The valley, thanks to all the rain was vivid green and we disturbed a number of kangaroos. We followed an old vehicle track, now a “green lane”, up the valley, for once this had been a cattle property. Mind you , much of this track was underwater.
We arrived at Bushfold (or Reed’s) Hut at the top, southern end, of Bushfold Flats, at 11.45 am where we decided to have an early lunch as we would at least be out of the rain, even though the floor was just about totally wet. By now we were all pretty cold. We had all perspired going up Mt Tennent, drenching our base layers, and despite the fast pace since morning tea, we had not really warmed up. The first thing we did at the hut was to “turn our backs” and get out of our wet and cold base layers. About a year ago I had a similar experience and realised then that synthetic thermal base layers may be good in dry conditions and warmer weather, and it is true that they dry relatively quickly, but in these conditions they are dangerous, at best, sapping ones energy, at worst, causing hyperthermia. But I am a slow learner. In future I will only wear lightweight, fine merino thermal baselayers which keep one warm even when wet.
During lunch the rain really “bucketed down” . I seriously considered turning back. The AAWT from Bushfold Flats is a much shorter and easier climb to the morning tea spot than the Mt Tennent Fire Trail which also takes one to a much higher point on the mountain. When I voiced this possibility I was faced with blank looks and an unenthusiastic “You are the leader”. . No one showed even a glimmer that this was preferable. I remember a cartoon many years ago. 3 rock climbers with broad grins were watching their leader higher up, at the sharp end of the rope, as he desperately scrabbled to stay on the cliff, rocks and stones coming down, his hands gripping minute holds, his feet in the air and he was saying “oh hell, I am the person who can’t turn back, I am the leader of the rope”.
So, lunch over, food and tea/coffee having warmed us and given us a surge of mental and physical energy, we strode strongly out into the pouring rain, splashing through the mini-lakes. I took my usual short-cut through the bush to the Mt Tennent Fire Trail, and so began the long climb up to the lovely alpine saddle 20-30 minutes from the summit. Our enthusiasm was rewarded, for the rain eased, then stopped and soon we were in dry mist, if mist is ever dry. As we gained altitude we slowly came into sub alpine vegetation, the scrub eased back, Snow Gums started to dominate, their trunks and strips of bark rich with colour, huge granite boulders were shadows, while lichens and mosses were a rich grey or green and the lovely mist created an eerie, haunting scene where distance was uncertain.
We moved steadily upwards, the party keeping fairly close together and rarely pausing, and then the climb eased back and we almost coasted along through the alpine country to the lovely open meadow of the saddle. From here it was about ½ hour back to the track intersection and then the long descent back to the cars. Whilst we seemed to cover this distance quickly , at the same time , no one seemed to be hurrying. Everyone seemed to be enjoying chatting and looking, and in no hurry to end the day.
Despite all my doubts, all my curses at having to get out of bed on such an awful morning, despite being wet and cold during the morning, despite the rain, I am so glad that we went. It was, in fact, a great day with great company.
We arrived back at the Visitors Centre at 3.20 pm
Thanks Kerry, Judy, Rachel and Shirley, for a lovely and memorable day. And a special word of praise to Rachel who did so well on this, her first medium/hard walk and in awful conditions.
Many thanks, too, to Shirley for all the above photos. Great photos! Sorry, Shirley, I have tried to enlarge all these photos of yours but can’t figure out how. I have included below some of the flowers we saw on this walk, but taken at other times by myself:-