I was going through some college papers this weekend and came across some old issues of the Tufts Traveler, a travel-related magazine for which I wrote and was the Literary Editor while an undergraduate at Tufts University. It occurred to me that the articles fit well with the travel theme of this blog, and since many of my readers would not have had access to paper copies of the magazine, it made sense to re-publish here as well.
Here is an article I wrote for the Fall 2011 “Australia and New Zealand” issue.
I don’t remember where I first heard about the Walls of Jerusalem, but the brochure I found online was enough to grab my attention: “This remote park is not accessible by road, and there are no facilities for shortstop visitors. Bushwalkers should be experienced and well equipped for alpine conditions”. I was intrigued. It continued: “The wild weather characteristic of the ‘Walls’ is as much part of experiencing the region as the landscape. As visibility can be reduced to zero, it is important that all walking parties carry a map and compass and be able to use them”. Oh, but wait, “Walkers should note that magnetic mineral deposits in the region may affect compass readings”. Before I had even finished the brochure, I was hooked
There I was, sitting in the library at the University of Queensland watching my computer’s clock count down my last remaining days in Australia as I worked my way through an essay. I had time for one last trip before heading back to the US, and right then, I decided it would be Tasmania. It didn’t matter that Tasmania and The Walls were halfway across the continent from where I was Brisbane; when you are already on the other side of the globe, what’s an extra few thousand miles? I figured out that if I timed it just right, I could squeeze in a four-day trip and still be back in time for my exams. Based on the description, I couldn’t figure out why none of my friends seemed interested, so I just decided to go it alone.
As reckless as this trip probably sounds, it was actually very calculated. I was to spend two nights out. I would hike in on the first day and set up camp. The next day, weather permitting, I could explore further into the park before returning for the night to my campsite, and hiking out the next day. I would have a GPS recording my tracks the entire time, and the car-park was only a few miles from where I was camping. Even better was that it was all uphill on the way in, which meant it would be all downhill on the way out. It was the perfect mix of remoteness and safety: I could get way off the beaten path, while still spending my nights only a few hours walk from my car (in case of emergency).
When I landed, I discovered that Tasmanian airports are funny things. There are police dogs onsite to sniff you. But unlike in the US, where they sniff you for bombs, in Tassie, they sniff you for fruit. Realistically, the risk of unintentional bioterrorism from a wayward apple seed or grape is a much greater threat to the tiny island than a bomb. Kind of a refreshing change of pace, actually.
At any rate, I collected my giant duffle and picked up my rental car. I drove until the pavement ended. From there I took a smaller, gravel road until it forked, and I ended up on an even smaller road. It was beautiful, but the quaint, one-lane, wooden bridges made it easy to tell that I was out in the middle of nowhere.
Unfortunately for me, I got a late start that day. By the time I bought my food and camping fuel and made it to the trailhead, it was well into the afternoon—not exactly the best time to be starting a hike. But armed with a pair of sturdy boots, my overnight gear, and my sense of adventure, I started up the trail. Less than an hour into the hike, I passed an older couple in the opposite direction. They were polite about it, but I think they thought I was nuts for getting such a late start. They were probably right. I kept second-guessing myself as I continued to climb. It got dark right as I hit the snowline, but the trail was more or less discernible (most of the time), so I kept going.
As I kept hiking, the snow got deeper and icier, and as the hours wore on, I was beginning to worry if I’d missed my campsite or taken a wrong turn. But there’s a fine line in backpacking: it’s prudent to be aware and cautious, but if you spend all your time worrying, you’ll miss out on the beauty all around you. Be that as it may, I kept getting progressively antsier, until, much to my surprise, I noticed a flashlight shining in the distance.
This meant a few things for me. First, it meant that I hadn’t missed my campsite, and second, it meant that I wouldn’t be out there completely alone. As much as I love solitude, there is certainly something nice about knowing that you aren’t completely alone. Just mostly.
That night was cold. Cold enough in fact, to freeze my boots solid. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t quite ready to get out of bed in the morning. Instead I slid my sleeping bag down just enough to get my arms out and cooked my oatmeal in the snow right outside the door of my tent. I lay there, sipping on a steaming mug of Earl Grey, and looked up to the mountain ridge. I really couldn’t have asked for a clearer morning. After warming up, I decided to leave the majority of my gear in my tent and go on a day hike up onto the ridge.
As often happens, nature got the last laugh. The further up I went, the heavier the snow became and the less obvious the trail. Before too long, it was gone altogether, and that marked the end of the line for me. Without a buddy and without snowshoes, I decided pushing any further would have been foolish. As it was, I was post-holing up to my mid-calf, and I knew it was only going to get worse. I gave up on Mt. Jerusalem and decided instead on a lesser peak, right off the trail. It wasn’t as high, but the view from the top was incredible, made even more so by my solitude. There I was on the top of a ridge, and I was truly alone. In my entire 360˚ view, there wasn’t a single person in sight. Just me and the snow and the rocks. And it was glorious. Yes, I had to get back to camp before it got dark, and yes, within two weeks I would have to be back home in the US, but for those few minutes, I was completely taken aback by the beauty of Tasmania.
The full publication is available for download here.
Thanks again for reading!