The 'hell hike' to a lovely white beach on Lake Petrarch.
March 2009
Map - the grid squares are 1 km
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Laurie Ford/Elli Tappan:

This was a hike up through the Cuvier Valley in central Tasmania, and is part of the Cradle Mt - Lake St Claire National Park (encompassing the "Overland Track"). The track was mainly through 'button grass' after heavy rain, and was like a hike to hell - particularly as we both make 70 this year. Still, if we didn't do it now we were unlikely to do it next year - or ever. The mind is willing but the body is weak.

We drove up from Hobart on Friday morning and started walking shortly after 11am. Very pleasant ambling along the Overland Track as far as Watersmeet where the Lake Petrarch track branches off - with a warning sign that this is an unmarked track and should only be attempted by the very experienced. 140 years between us - there should be some experience in there somewhere. Actually I (Laurie) have been on this track many years ago. A group of us chose this route to finish our hike down from the northern end of the park. I could distinctly remember the steep climb up to Byron Gap from Narcissus Hut, and the button grass after we passed Lake Petrarch. Elli of course has never been anywhere near button grass and was in for a rude shock.

For a short distance the track was excellent, but quickly became very overgrown and was very scratchy on our legs as we were both in shorts - it was a nice day. Soon the track deteriorated into almost untrackable button grass, which owing to recent heavy rain was nothing short of a quagmire. The only way to keep on the track was to walk in a narrow muddy channel, quite often going into the mud up to your knees. Dragging myself and the large pack up out of the bog holes was very tiring and soon I was requiring regular rests for 5 minutes at a time. The track was not well marked, but there were enough markers to let us know we were still on the track. There was a lot of bad language flowing for some hours as we struggled up the valley till eventually late in the day I could go no further, and suggested we camp on top of the button grass. It was dry at this spot and I immediately went to sleep for half an hour in the warm sun. Elli didn't like the track any better than I did, but was fitter and not distressed like I was.

Not too far ahead we thought we could see the track emerging from the button grass plains and going up a ridge of solid ground covered in large gum trees. After my sleep I struggled on and relished the firmer footing underneath even thought the track was still heavily overgrown and not too obvious in places. It was only a gentle ridge, and we stopped on the highest part and camped in a very delightful setting amongst the eucalypt forest. Before we put the tent up we did walk without our packs for ten or fifteen minutes further along the track in case we were close to Lake Petrarch but there was no sign of it - only a continuation of the button grass.

The next morning it took us an hour and a quarter to finally reach the lake, and what a joy that was. We had already decided to have a full rest day here, and sunbaked on the beach, and washed the thick mud off our legs and shoes and socks in the cold water of the lake. The scenery was magnificent all around us - high peaks in all directions with barely a cloud in the sky. We rapidly put all thoughts of the button grass behind us. The camp sites were numerous and we picked a good dry one just above the beach but sheltered from the wind that started to spring up later in the afternoon - with signs of the forecast showers.

It did rain during the night, and the next morning it was impossible to go outside the tent without being covered in leeches - the rain had brought them out in their thousands. We repaired a broken tent pole then packed up for the trek over Byron's Gap to Lake St Claire and Narcissus Hut. The mud along the side of the lake was not nearly as bad as the previous days, but I still needed constant rest stops - even before starting the steep climb to the gap. Eventually we were on the top and could see back towards Cuvier Valley, but could not view Lake St Claire. The track down was steep and slippery and long and nearly exhausted me. It was a huge relief to get to the bottom and onto the very well maintained Overland Track around the side of Lake St Claire.

A short time later we were at Narcissus Hut and changing into dry clothes and resting before getting the food out. That night we were joined by several other bush walkers from the Mainland, as well as Germany, and Taiwan. We had thoughts of going on to Pine Valley, but got the ferry back down the lake the next morning and drove home. Pine Valley can wait a few weeks till we recover from our ordeal.

Note: Having recently changed from a CDMA mobile phone to Telstra 'Next G' I was curious to see what sort of coverage it had in an area like this. It worked from our first campsite part way up Cuvier Valley, and it worked from the beach at Lake Petrarch. It worked at Narcissus Hut. I suppose we could have called a chopper in if things had got too desperate. But this bloke went up Cuvier Valley the way we did, climbed Mt Byron, and then back to Cynthia Bay all in one day, in 1941. Click here to read his trip report


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