2.30, it’s 2.30, as in a.m. Doubts arise as to the sanity of doing anything at this time of the day; sorry, night, but I’m driven. Once before I’d made the sunrise at Dove Lake, back in the days when you could still drive your motorhome to the water’s edge. These days it’s so popular they have an automated gate that locks when the carpark is full and signs forbidding everything save ordinary cars, but right now I’m a long way from there.
First I have to get ready. Through bleary eyes I start to make my walking breakfast, as distinct from the cereal I’m eating now. My head wants to be on a pillow but the driving factor of the possibility of seeing stars over Dove Lake is irrepressible. I’d been thinking about it for months.
It’s raining outside, another reason I shouldn’t be going. The weather forecast has consistently said, “slightly cloudy”, maybe Cradle Mountain will be different.
I’ve already packed my camera gear when I finish with eating I get appropriately dressed, leave some food for the surprised animals and I’m on my way except, 8 kms down the road, the thought that my wallet isn’t on board registers and I turn back. If it was only for my licence I wouldn’t have bothered, but I know they’ll be looking for my national parks pass and I’ll be starving later thus money will be required.
Refocused I recommence my journey and the one thing I constantly worried about takes about 20 minutes to eventuate – potoroos! Whatever road you travel on up here you’ll see many that have successfully achieved their suicide mission.
They’re everywhere, it’s like driving through a never ending chicane, whether they’re alive or dead. You can’t do more than 70 with any measure of safety so it adds over half an hour to the trip. I’ve taken the slightly longer route in error as well, meaning there’s more corners and more possibilities of hitting animals. With every passing kilometre the slip-slap of the wipers is incessant, making me wonder about the wisdom of the venture even more.
There’s nothing on the road except animals and it keeps you alert and takes my mind off the improbability that I’ll be successful. The final road in is Belvoir Road and, about 20 kms shy of the national park, the rain finally stops. At least I’ll be able to get a shot perhaps I’m thinking. Then, through a narrow gap in the clouds, a crescent moon briefly puts in an appearance. A shining light of hope perhaps?
I turn onto the final entry to the national park and head down the last 8 kms, past two eastern quolls and a possum; there’s no more rain and occasional breaks in the sky; by the time I reach the shore of Dove Lake, it’s like a miracle has occurred; there’s not a cloud in the sky.
Just how shy of dawn it was I had no real idea, I just rushed to get my camera gear ready, fumbling here and there in an effort to get everything together, making sure I had some food and not forgetting the drink, as I had done on the Mount Murchison hike.
At this time of day, in this kind of place, it’s eerie. Your ears are straining for sounds that never come, your eyes seeking somewhere to place your feet safely on the ground, your olfactory senses picking up some scent or other from the native bush; everything is heightened. It’s not until I reach the shore when the soft sound of tiny ripples stirs my eardrums that I can relax a little.
I’d hoped for millpond conditions so I could get the stars reflecting in the surface but there’s a surreal mist clinging to the surface of the lake, its ephemeral nature will become apparent when the sun bursts through. Meanwhile, I’m stretching out my tripod, getting the settings right on my camera (not as easy as it sounds) and praying conditions stay the same. The shots start clicking off, 30 second exposures of the Magellenic Clouds hovering over Cradle Mountain and then the artistic side of my brain starts running amok. “Where can you get a better angle?” it keeps harping; so I find myself moving hither and thither around the northern end of the lake, at times stepping in the muddy foreshore. I play the light of my head torch onto the foreground to try and add some depth, maybe pick out the fog or highlight some reeds. It’s like working to a deadline governed by the sun.
Mercifully I’ve arrived early enough so that I can make some mistakes but hopefully ensure that there’s some good shots in amongst them. Then I get a fetish to go and shoot the famous boatshed; it’s a sort of “have to do it while you’re here” thing but halfway there realize it’s taking up valuable time and it gets overridden so I do a U-turn and I start my big hike, initially on the eastern side of Dove Lake until I reach the Y intersection where Lorraine and I had gotten “misplaced” previously and turn left onto the Lake Rodway Track, starting the climb to Mount Hanson.
First light is appearing in the sky as the stars are banished for another day and there’s the tiniest wisp of cirrus forming up over Cradle. I reach the point where Lorraine and I had lunch only a few days earlier and have to make a decision; continue on Rodway or drop onto the category 4 Lake Hanson Trail. Though I know the former will get me to Twisted Lakes sooner, I’m torn by the fact that maybe there’ll be a photo opportunity at Lake Hanson and knowing there are chain sections on Mount Hanson so I head down and soon after discover why it’s rated a 4. It’s rugged and bum slides have to be undertaken here and there just to get down. It’s certainly not a place for the average stroller.
Constantly on the lookout for angles and interesting bits of nature, it’s not very fruitful until I come to a part of the trail that is tree roots and nothing else for about 40 metres before reaching a couple of ponds just above the lake itself. Here, the still waters and skeletons of trees long since dead lend an artistic atmosphere to the journey and I add some time to get a dozen snaps.
After this it’s still rugged but uphill, testing your strength and skill at times as you wonder just when it’s all going to end. It’s supposed to be an hour loop but I’m sure I’ve taken that already. Then the top of Little Horn peeps up on the horizon, maybe I’m getting close I think. Within another 20 metres the whole purpose of the excursion becomes apparent. The vista before me is simply breathtaking. Twisted Lakes is but a mirror, everything I’d hoped and planned for has come to fruition.
When you come upon something as good as this, it’s overwhelming. The sheer majesty of the panorama engulfs you, its power makes you feel so humble in its presence, there’s a distinct aura of “something else”, but it’s indefinable. It’s all my grey matter can do to remind me that I’m here to actually take photos. You just don’t want to stop looking for fear that it will all go away and you’ll be denied any more pleasure; but it stays as I set up the tripod. It’s not often I put myself in the picture, but here I feel it’s a must. Then I can look at it and remember just where I sat and how good it was.
There are many angles to be had here. Faint trails indicate where other photographers have been, little flattened sections indicative of footfalls. It takes me around 15 minutes to get what I came for and then I sit down and enjoy breakfast, although “enjoy” seems like a totally inadequate verb in this case, there is a higher plane involved here, one you get to experience so few times in life.
The cloud, mainly cirrus, has started to form more seriously now, as predicted, and it adds a little to the experience. Changing lens and shifting position constantly I can but hope I’ve got it covered and, even as I’m moving around, the first gentle ripples of the day’s breezes disturb the surface. Had I been here any later I would have missed it. You like to think it’s good fortune but reflect on that fact that you’ve planned it for a week, constantly following the weather patterns, in the hope that you’ll get it right and leaving early enough to avoid all the problems that occur later.
The time has come to move on. From here I pick up the Rodway Track again and come across a hut. About 50 metres in front of the hut is yet another reflective pond so I do a diversion into there before heading out again and soon I turn off onto the Face Track. I anticipate this will be a straight traverse across beneath the Little Horn and then down to Lake Wilks. Oh dear, did I get that wrong.
It climbs and then climbs some more. My tired legs are in fear that I’ll have to scale the rock band at the base of the mountains and with good reason. Though I check my map twice there’s no way I could have taken a wrong turn. The massive buttress is before me and there’s a small cleft where the trail goes. My whole body now is rebelling but I have to go there, hand over hand hauling myself up the rock face until, finally, the track turns to the right and levels out.
I stumble gratefully along until the intersection with the Lake Wilks Track is reached. From here it’s downhill all the way, only it’s another grade 4 route so I anticipate more suffering and am not disappointed. It’s rugged, rough and, at times, dangerous. I’m grateful I’m an experienced bushwalker and can negotiate such ways but I’ve exerted more energy than I anticipated and I pause here and there for a drink and to recuperate.
Then comes the chain section, about 100 metres of it, in order to negotiate what must have been a pretty scary section before they put it in. As I start the serious descent I can hear voices, the first human sounds since yesterday. I’m about ¾ of the way down the chain when we meet and greet each other. They’re from England and have done extensive walking over there. They marvel at how you can come to a place like this and have it almost to yourself, cross referencing it with the Lakes District where there are crowds wherever you go.
We continue our separate ways and Lake Wilks seems to take forever to arrive as the track goes one way and then another. Eventually I reach it and am surprised at the photo opportunity it offers.
I guess the reason it hasn’t been covered more extensively by photographers is that it’s always on the way to somewhere else, not a destination in itself. I probe into a couple of spots and then move on. A pair of tattooed hikers go past as I’m shooting the small stream that flows from the lake. No greetings are exchanged as they seem to be on a mission so I pack up and move further down towards Dove Lake.
It seems an eternity before I finally reach the most popular of tracks and slump down and have a drink at the first available opportunity. The car is still an hour away but at least I’m on grade 2 now and can move along at a reasonable pace and there will be conversations to be had.
As I come across “normal” tourists I’m told “It’s not far to go now”, they assuming I’m some old fart struggling to do the normal flat track around Dove Lake. I must look bushwhacked to them and, since I have boasting rights, I explain I’ve been walking for six hours and not just the two hours around the lake as they might be expecting. When I point out where I’ve been on high, some sympathy is clearly discernible.
The small climbs up easy steps take on a new dimension. I want a chopper to come over and airlift me out or to be chaired out on a litter. Each passing step comes at a cost and my 70 years on the planet are making it known. Each rest point is utilized as I slowly make my way back to the car. Someone else who’s done the same walk recorded over 10,000 steps and they ultimately come at a price but, when the carpark is finally reached, I’m so glad I came today and did what I did. Somewhere deep inside a contentment reigns supreme. Surely there’ll be a photograph in the camera somewhere that will justify the trip.