A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
The pot belly fire roars as air is sucked up the flue. All around it hang the soaked paraphernalia of alpine hiking stubbornly refusing to give up its moisture. The temperature outside is plummeting now the sun has dived beneath the imposing range to the west of us.
The aroma of chicken tikka marsala combines with the smell of spirit and gas hiking stoves and the combustion by products of coal briquettes. To the stomach that has fueled legs all day through snow, water and ice it is the smell of warmth and an impending fullness. Maslow’s heirachy of needs slowly get checked off.
Scott Kilvert hut is some 5km south of Dove Lake in Tasmania’s pristine Cradle Mt National Park. Aaron and I have walked with our two sons his Nate and my oscar, mates from school each carrying their own packs. Being a typical uninsulated alpine A frame hut it has a lower floor of crude tables and benches for basic necessities and a simple wooden mezzanine where walkers can unroll a sleeping pad away from the elements.
Scott Kilvert hut – actually Scott Kilvert Memorial hut is here for more than shelter though. It’s here to tell a story. One that should be told every now and then. Hobart”s broadsheet daily The Mercury told it on May 22 1962 after a school hiking trip turned to disaster. In the 70mph blizzard teenage students were faltering. Some were sent on ahead and made it to a little boatshed on Dove Lake. Another group found a place to hole up and bunkered down for the night, but teacher Ewen Scott had stayed behind to help the 14 year old David Kilvert.
Scott ended up carrying the exhausted David on his shoulders. According to the Search and Rescue team at the time, David fell and broke his back on Hanson’s Peak and though Ewen Scott tried to shelter him, he died of exposure. Although an extremely fit man, Ewen Scott, in an attempt to reach Waldheim Chalet to alert searchers, collapsed and died, just 200 metres from part of the group that was sheltering in a boat shed. Both their bodies were found frozen the next morning. Scott’s facedown just off the track and only meters from safety.
A copy of the article is mounted on the wall beside me. I read it again as I sit near the stove on the wooden bench polished to a patina from years of hikers tired posteriors gracing its timber grain.
Walking down was an experience that made me so grateful I could be here. A few days ago a cold front had dumped snow in the park but now a strong high pressure system had moved over affording us clear blue skies and a starry night. The downside was ice. As the snow began to melt it was refrozen each night. Water laying on the track often turned out to be ice and the boys ended up sprawled under their packs several times fortunately unhurt. Possibly because they don’t have as far to fall. The snow either side of the track had crusted hard but walking on this was not an option because break through to knee depth made the going all too slow.
We had ascended over Hansons peak pulling ourselves up the chain which mercifully had seen some sunlight and was not too cold to hang onto and hauled ourselves up. Hansons Peak so named after 20 year old Bert Hanson a hunter lost for months before his body was found snaring in this area at the turn of last century.
We share the hut with two youngish couples who hiked in the day before. Oscar sits at their table teaching them to play a card game he calls speed. Sometimes I think it’s called spit but the kids might just be saying it quickly. He beats the environmental scientist and her friends tease her good naturally for losing to an eight year old. The bloke with the British accent shows Oscar a card trick. Looks impressive to me but the boy has seen through it. He claims the man has a shifty face and was probably born with it. The man laughs and says he hasn’t a comeback for that and challenges Oscar to a duel outside. An olde British way of settling disputes I recall.
The scratching of sharp claws gives away a fat possum struggling up a bush barely big enough to accommodate his girth. He clambers to waist height right outside the door and waits. He knows he’s just high enough for international hikers to notice his cute furry appearance and rush back in for cameras to snap their native Australian fauna photos. The momentary blindness from the flash is worth it for Mr Brushtail when they offload food in his direction partly as a reward but partly to avoid carrying excess pack weigh out.
Our walk had continued on past lake Hanson, to an emergency rangers hut. We diverted to check it out. Blizzards, rain and cold are common here and the weather unpredictable as is often the case in alpine areas. The pool in front of the hut had iced over. After tossing some large rocks onto it the boys discovered they could walk on it, well slide fall and crawl mainly.
Descending cautiously we picked our way to Artist Pool where we had planned lunch. On arriving, we discovered there was nowhere to get off the snow so we continued on in search of a rock or log on which to perch. Eventually we gave up and stopped opting for a standing lunch, or in my case a frozen ass lunch.
Flynns’ Tarn was only a short walk away but branches from Tasmania’s only deciduous tree the Fagus, had overgrown the track requiring us to force our way through them in the wet trench that was the track after years of water running down it. Ice on the ground was freezing over but water continued to worm it’s way underneath in beads oozing like mercury beneath frosted glass. As these froze amazing patterns began to emerge like nature itself was the artist.
Another short but cautious push brought us to Lake Rodway. On the way Nates’ shoe disembarked, his feet soaked through and were no longer feeling. He was keen to get to the hut. I found the crunching of the snow and chunks of ice underfoot very satisfying. On occasion an ice sheet would creak like glass about to break. The sunshine and clear blue sky allowed me to walk in just a t-shirt shorts and my sisters hand me down tights. I guess this hut wouldn’t be here if that fateful school group had the same kind of day as we did. I feel blessed that we can hike this world heritage area and actually pick the weather we want to rather than get what mother nature hands us.
Outside the temperature is plummeting. Snow melt is regressing back into ice sheets. The almost full moon rises over Lake Rodway and lights up the snow putting star gazing out of reach. I hear the stream around the back of the hut as it tirelessly hustles water into the lake. Tomorrow we will delay our departure hoping for the ice to have it’s hold loosened by another blue sky day. Maybe we will only slip over half as much on the way back.