Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Summit before Breakfast

I climbed Legge’s Tor yesterday – another bit of unfinished business from last year. My excuse is that I was already in the area and couldn’t resist. This time I took my poor old van - very, very slowly, all the way up Jacob’s Ladder and started from the Link Track in the Ben Lomond Alpine Village.

Ski Village at the top of Jacob's Ladder

The Welcoming Committee  -at least six large greys hopped out of my way as I approached the track

 It was a beautiful day for it. While the lowlands sweltered at 30 + Degrees C, it was a balmy 19oC up there.  Most of the showier flowering plants we’d seen last time had gone into frantic seed production mode leaving a patchwork of different greens – bright green, blue green, grey green, moss green, spiced up occasionally with a dash of red from the seed pods of the mountain rocket.  A few small flowers put on a brave show especially some yellow daisies and the delightful mountain anemones.

Yellow Alpine Groundsel

A small patch of Mountain Anemone
Initially the track was clearly formed and well signed, but once past the two older chalets we’d passed last time on the way up from Carr Villa, there were no more signs. An older guidebook I had seen had shown that the Summit Track started somewhere between the Chalets and there I found a rough foot track which went uphill. This led me onto an open, gently sloping plateau where two rows of lichen covered poles marched off in different directions.

Tiny flowers and berries

Having glimpsed one of the summit huts on the way up, I knew that the summit lay somewhere above and to the left, so I chose the westward branch which soon turned into a bouldery climb. Gradually the summit cairn came into view and I scrambled over to that. So far so good, though since it was Australia Day, I wished I’d a brought a little Aussie flag to put on top. Otherwise it was almost an anticlimax. Yes, there were great views of distant bluffs and the surrounding valleys, but around the summit itself it was just a sea of shattered rock.  What does make this mountain special is that it rises so abruptly from the surrounding landscape and seems much higher, whereas our tallest peak only rises from an already high elevation and doesn’t seem so high.

Close up of the Summit Cairn to prove I was there - where's an Australian flag when you need one?

Lonely Ski Tows and boulders occupy the high ground
Glimpse of the Jacob's Ladder Road before it hits the hairpin bends
Little tracks and more lichen -covered poles brought me to the two summit huts, but then the track just seemed to peter out.  I vaguely remembered something from the guidebook about descending between the ski lifts and promptly attempted that. Not so easy. After a couple of false starts which left me overlooking suicide drops, I did manage to pick my way down much, to the apparent consternation of a little knot of people who had gathered far below.

Real Estate in the sky - one of the Summit Huts, the other one "Zermatt," is for sale
When I got there I came upon an information board. It said, “After reaching the summit, retrace your steps and walk back the way you’ve come.”  It also showed another walk – the Summit Loop, which must have referred to those other poles that had sauntered off to the North East, but I couldn’t actually see where it started from or ended up. Next time perhaps….

That’s two peaks already this year, and another whole Peak Bagger’s point.  Hartz Peak as it turns out is worth two, making 3 altogether. I’ll have to watch out. At this rate I’ll be thrown out of the Slothbagger's Club.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Can we end the slaughter on our roads?

Not a Happy New Year for this poor wallaby or its cousins. There was another just a few feet away

In case you've missed the photo, I am talking about native animals here, not humans.
It’s official- Tasmania is the Roadkill Capital  of the world. Anyone who has been to Tasmania can’t fail to be shocked by the number of dead animals on our roads, although many councils do make an effort to clear dead and injured animals away.

Estimates range from 500,000 animals killed per year to over a million and upwards or more than 30 every hour.This is doubly tragic because most of our wild animals aren’t found anywhere else – the devils, the wombats, the platypi, the echidnas, the quolls, bettongs, potoroos, pademelons and bandicoots, not to mention other marsupials, birds and reptiles.  Many of them, especially the Tasmanian devil, are already endangered.*

The causes are many – greater numbers say some; land clearing for plantations or housing developments which force existing populations to find new territories;   drought –  because roads create more run - off and their culverts tend to retain water and promise tender shoots; the search for mates; the warmth of the road in the case of reptiles and so on. I am not convinced that people throwing out apple cores contributes greatly as one person said. After all, you can drive the 260 km length of the Lyell Highway and see plenty of roadkill but you would be hard pressed to find a single apple core. Not that I am saying that you should throw out food.

More likely it is because some other animal has already been killed. This is especially true in the case of carrion eaters such as crows, devils and eagles.  It is also said that native animals die while trying to get to urban gardens because they are more tempting, but my guess is that there is far more traffic the other way - i.e. humans encroaching on bushland, which has the same effect, but requires a different response. An interesting test would be to see whether the road toll increases or decreases after land clearing. I also suspect that that there is now a lot more traffic on our backroads that in the past, making more roadkill both more likely and more visible.  

Several organisations – among them the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Boronong Wildlife Park , the Royal Automobile Club,  Parks and Wildlife,  and Stornaway who do much of the work for councils, are now are urging motorists to drive more slowly, especially between dusk and dawn. A positive outcome of recent research by Hobday and Minstrell (2008) is that many major roadkill blackspots have now been identified and this information can be downloaded to your GPS before you drive. [Sadly, this research was only undertaken because four Tasmanian devils, newly returned to the wild after being vaccinated against facial tumour disease (at a cost of $25,000 per devil), were killed on the roads within weeks of release]. 

Existing signs near Queenstown
More signage like the above plus information about what to with orphaned or injured wildlife -Boronong Wildlife Park for example, is available 24 hours a day, has also been suggested, along with a leaflet for tourists. However, in my experience of travelling around our lovely state there is usually nowhere safe to pull over if you do find an injured animal, and if you do, there is a good chance you will be hit by a speeding car or truck coming up behind.  When my German friends were travelling back from Port Arthur they were roundly abused by other drivers when they stopped to let an echidna pass. For as long as I can remember, Tasmanians have told me never to swerve for an animal lest I create a far worse accident. Historically, native animals have also been seen as a nuisance, as an overabundant competitor for food and crops, to be done away with as quickly as possible. Changing such attitudes will be difficult, especially when everyone is in a hurry – tourists and locals alike.
While any effort aimed at reducing the death of native animals on our roads is to be applauded, I would like to see more proactive measures which depend less upon the skill and will of drivers. Clearing roadsides to aid visibility and to reduce vegetation which could be attractive to wildlife, definitely comes into this category. However, it would be much better if we could create tunnels under the roads in known blackspots as they do in Canada and Alaska, though this may be wishful thinking in a state too poor to even separate cyclists from motorised traffic. Much could also be said about the reintroduction of buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Fencing could at least be tried in those areas which have now been identified. For those who only see everything in economic terms, it should be noted that accidents and injuries cost money too - ask any insurance company, and our native animals, alive preferably are also a major tourist drawcard. 

For tips on how to drive safely around wildlife see the site tasmanian wildlife matters. It also has information on what to do if you see an injured or orphaned animal, briefly outlined below.
  1. Call a rescue service for advice. 
  2. Be safe on roads and with stressed injured animals.
  3.  Keep the animal warm, especially orphans and animals in shock. A pillow case kept in the glovebox is good for transporting many species, and a sturdy pair of gloves is handy. Keep the animal as quiet and dark as possible and get it to help as soon as you can.
Keep a wildlife rescue phone number in the glovebox of your car or in your wallet. Phone DPIPWE on 6233 6556 during business hours or Bonorong Friends of Carers program at any time on 6268 1184.

Should you see any dead Tasmanian devils – contact the Save The Tasmanian Devil hotline
on 0497 338 457
*Contact this site too about what is happening with Tasmanian devils whose populations have fallen by 90% because of facial tumour disease. It also lists ways to help 

 STOPPRESS: On tonight's ABC NEWS 22/1/2018. Boronong Wildlife park is it to open the Tasmania's first dedicated wildlife hospital.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Conquest at Last!

Approaching the summit of Hartz Peak

There I have done it and earned one genuine Peak Bagger’s point into the bargain. I have just climbed Hartz Peak all the way to the summit. The trouble is that the mountain has bagged me too.

Morning mist shrouds the mountains

My journey started pleasantly enough. It was early in the morning with dew still on the grass and the mountains shrouded in mist. Creeks burbled beneath the duckboards as I wound my way to Ladies’ Tarn. Though the floral display was not quite as spectacular as it had been last time when the waratah was in bloom, more modest flowers - starry eyed cushion plants, alpine daisies – yellow and white, or a scatter of blush pink trigger plants cheered me on my way. 

Along the duckboards
Bellendena Montana -Mountain Rocket, looks like cotton candy and comes in several colours

On nearing the Tarn the mists began to rise wraithlike from the plateau. You could now see the flush of new leaves -bronze or pale green, of the diminutive myrtles which clothe the lower slopes. From here on the formed track ends abruptly and you head directly uphill, through mud and up and over rocks and boulders. At the top of this there's a deceptively gentle sloping path for a while before you strike another rough sharp climb. 

The myrtle's bronze tips add a touch of colour to the lower slopes
This time I rested a while before tackling the next uphill spurt. Serried ranks of mountains began to appear, also the beautiful Lake Hartz, but the wind kept blowing and the mountain still refused to show its face. Now I was even more tired than I was last time. Was it really worth climbing further? I stalled a bit longer but then the thought of having to get to this level again was equally daunting. Did I need to give up on mountains altogether? Only a short distance further up I could see a bright splash of orange and not far beyond it, a clump of white with a flower spike the size of a gladiolus.  Curious now, I dragged my weary feet up another level, more scrubby this time, only to find that that both plants were a long way from the track. However, I had now reached the section where the track levels off just below the summit.

The mountains begin to reveal themselves

The flower that had caught my eye was still inaccessible, but it had lured me to the next level. Is this a Milligana?
I walked that, ditched my pack and started tackling the big boulders which had stopped me last time. This section was much shorter than I had imagined and as I crested the rise between the higher and lower summits, the clouds cleared and I could see them in all their crennelated glory. Three ladies who had lapped me on the way up, were already having lunch in the higher one and a young couple – an English backpacker and her friend had claimed the slightly lower one. It was getting pretty crowded up there. The first party to pass me was already on its way down and a group of three young Japanese (?) men was on its way up. Couldn’t help overhearing a member of the first group saying, “Easy pickings. Great views for so little effort.” Maybe they were Swiss. True this isn’t the Matterhorn, but it was quite enough for me.

Almost there

The Lower Summit

The ladies at lunch

You always think the way down is going to be easy/ easier, but it wasn’t. You have to be twice as careful not to trip and fall. I have rarely been so pleased to see my car and have sworn off hills for the time being, though I just might have another shot at Legges’ Tor, so long as someone promises to drive me all the way up Jacob’s Ladder and back again. 
There are those who bushwalk for the challenge - for the glory, to pit themselves against the elements, or to overcome their own limitations etc. but I'm not one of them. I go for the pleasure of seeing beautiful landscapes - the greenery, waterfalls, the lushness of our forests - all beauty and no pain at all if possible, thanks.