Twelve, 13. I don’t know why we count, actually, yes I do. It’s because you want to tell people afterwards; boast a little (14, 15) and get some brownie points for being so silly in the first place (16). Yet there’s nothing glamorous about it, the rise and fall and the probing nature is, in some way, revolting, it’s such an unusual gait, yet common if you insist on going bushwalking in the wet (17). The car offers no respite except it’s dry, even if we aren’t. In fact, it’s so wet that even our cameras have tossed it in, shame the leeches didn’t try and attack them instead. Why a phalanx of them is making its way up my trouser leg is a mystery; I’ve never seen a whole group before; it’s like a military excursion, a band of scouts setting out before the main attack.
I was with Gerry and my second outing with him, this time we’d pencilled in Chasm Falls, after negotiation, and a side trip to Smoko Falls. This walk had sort of been on my reserve list, i.e., something I wanted to do but might not have time for. Gerry said, bearing in mind the lack of rain, that this was a preferred option because a lot of water was not required here in order to get good photos. Ever keen to listen to this sort of advice I readily acquiesced.
We met at Deloraine, a town with an aura. That aura is one of attractiveness; it’s one of those places that makes you feel good without you necessarily being able to put your finger on the exact reason, though I think it has a lot to do with the winding main street girdled by historic houses, chic cafes and quirky shops. Still, we’re not here to look around, we’re off to the scrub somewhere south. Gerry kindly uses his car and we’re off, moving towards the Western Tiers. The cloud cover is noticeable, even though it’s not raining yet. That will come later.
Luckily Gerry knows the way. I think that even if I had instructions I might never have found the way in but the dirt road we’re on has obviously been worked on recently. It’s smooth and has lots of base.
Arriving at the carpark, so called, I’m surprised to learn that there used to be a bridge across the Mother Cummings Rivulet (nee Smoko Creek) and that you used to drive across. Now, there is no bridge and you’re forced to go down through the scrub and cross the stream before picking up the old road again until you reach an intersection where there used to be a carpark and here you turn left on the Ironstone Mountain Track for a purported one-hour return trudge to Chasm Falls and back. The sign has fallen and is resting on some trees, resplendent with its coat of Spanish Moss and lichen that make it barely legible. Other tempting destinations such as Smoko Falls and Bell Tarn are also listed.
You immediately become surrounded by Myrtle, King Billy Pine and Sassafras that dominate the temperate rainforest of this region and, as you move into the bush proper, leaving behind the forestry practices of the past that have regenerated as scrubby eucalypt, it’s time to meet the Tasmania of Gondwana times and walk between the carpets of sphagnum moss that lie thick among the rocks. Elsewhere ferns survive where they can, mostly beside the streams where they can catch flickering glimpses of the sun at certain times of the day.
It seems not that long at all before you reach the falls, except that these aren’t the falls. In fact, you’re not even half way; the real track is just beginning. Stumbling along the slippery rock surfaces it’s not that long before you’re ascending a grade three hike where no footing is even and, in a while, you’ll be asking, “How much farther?”
At the side, at varying distances, are tempting bits of flowing water that agitate your camera fingers to the point where you cannot resist at times. It’s a photogenic strip of fluid to say the least.
I can barely find it credible that the track diverts, moves away from the river, and gets even steeper. Surely we must close? No, but we are about 2/3rds of the way and the forest is eye candy all the way along the route, supplemented by colourful fungi that we find irresistible.
Almost suddenly, after being so focused on gaining a sure footing, we’re there. Gerry points to something down below and I’m off, only to discover it’s a large log, resting across a gorge, sorry chasm, hence the name. If acrophobia is part of your make up, you won’t be walking across this span over a vertiginous cleft continually being eroded by nature. On either side of the log is chicken wire attached to a single strand of fixed wire.
That’s all that separates you from death. It must be said however, that the log’s surface is pretty flat and I found walking across it easy, unlike poor acrophobic Gerry who, having made it across, wouldn’t go back but chose the option of crossing the stream above the falls. Unlucky Gerry, there was too much water coming down so he was forced to return and negotiate the log once more. That was after we’d consumed lunch, my choice being a gourmet roll I’d purchased earlier in the day and kept boasting about all the time I ate it, while Gerry was stuck with his home-made sandwich.
About this time it started to rain lightly, just when we’d finished our lunch and were packing up in fact. It wasn’t a factor as we reversed trail and headed home, stopping twice at agreed places that we’d pencilled in on the way up. It was about when we’d shot the second one that the rain got a little heavier. Of course, we know who that encourages, so we started checking our legs and it wasn’t too long before the probing black creatures from insect hell started either upon our person or our clothing, seeking the warmth or pulsing of a vein that would serve as dinner.
It rained so that our camera bags were saturated, our footwear totally drenched and our clothing uncomfortable. Now, so much water was coming from the heavens that even the forest offered no protection. Our socks started to squelch in our hiking shoes and misery was raising its ugly head. The suggested one-hour return time is a bit fanciful. Though we did take quite a few photos it’s only the really fit and focused that would be able to manage that time, better you should allow an extra half-hour.
Gerry’s missing jumper came into view and I pointed it out, rather than pick up the sodden woollen garment, before we reached the old abandoned carpark and walked downhill to the crossing, then rock hopped to the other side before climbing back to the car. Blessed relief, a chance to sit, maybe dry just a little, check ourselves for beasties and head back to civilisation.
I’d divested myself of backpack and camera and was safely ensconced in the passenger’s seat with Gerry still outside at the boot when the heavens opened up. As if he wasn’t wet enough already! While I would probably have dived in the car until it eased, Gerry, in true Taswegian style, toughed it out and got on with unburdening. Eventually his saturated clothes and body entered the vehicle and we headed off, heater at the full.
We hadn’t gone far when the rain stopped. Even the road showed no sign of moisture. We’d simply been caught where the updraft had formed clouds and dumped on us. Or perhaps it was some kind of message from the gods that I’d done enough, it was time to leave Tasmania. Certainly it’s a message my body was in tune with. We pulled into a picnic area by some lake or other, put there for irrigation purposes. I vividly recall reefing strip after strip off the paper towel dispenser and wiping my synthetic walking trousers. Because they don’t hold moisture that readily, much of it came off fairly easily. I suppose being half dry is better than being totally drenched, at least it seemed so at the time.
(18) I picked the last one off me, so I thought, as we neared Deloraine. I offered to shout Gerry a cuppa when we arrived and he accepted so we adjourned to the gourmet café where I’d earlier purchased my fancy roll that I kept gybing Gerry about while we were walking. I doffed my shirt and put on a jumper, my only item of dry clothing and grateful I was. While I ordered a large hot chocolate, Gerry surprised me by ordering an iced chocolate, something I usually reserve for warmer days.
We reminisced about the walks we’d done, only four in number, over the years, and how pleasurable it was to walk with people who understand the driving need to stop and photograph and aren’t worried if you get a bit behind or in front. In addition, it’s an extra set of eyes to see those things that you might otherwise miss and when you recall moments, they are so often common because you’re both on the same page.
We discussed the possibility of Gerry doing a trip north sometime in the future, when I could pack up the motorhome and we could set out for a few days in northern New South Wales Perhaps it would happen, perhaps it won’t, but it was nice to dream. Then, all too soon, it was au revoir, and who knows when we’ll get together again. At our age, you can but hope.
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