Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Walls of Jerusalem Circuit (TAS) - Lake Rowallan to Dixons Kingdom


The first day of the classic three day Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, this first section of the track leads walkers from the car park near Lake Rowallan to Dixons Kingdom. Featuring a steep climb up to the plateau followed by mellow gradients within the Inner Walls, this spectacular day of walking is dominated by beautiful alpine landscapes of lakes, tarns, mountains and forests of Pencil Pine. A superb start to one of Tasmania's finest bushwalks

Distance: 11.2 km (one way - 10 km for the main track + 200 metres for Pool of Bethesda side trip + 1 km for The Temple side trip)
Gradient: A very steep climb to Trappers Hut, and a moderate scramble to the top of The Temple. Relatively gentle otherwise.
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained. Much of this section is under well formed stone track or boardwalk, however some stretches along more natural rocky paths can be uneven. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, however junctions and side trips are not always clearly marked
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 7 Hours, including snack break and lunch
Steps: Many steps, both formal and informal
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply
Getting There: Access is via Mersey Forest Road (Route C171). Follow Mersey Forest Road for 29 kilometres before turning left onto the Walls of Jerusalem car park access road. Turn off is clearly signed. 



With Alissa and I reunited in Tasmania after my three month stint on the Gold Coast, the two of us headed out to tackle the classic three day circuit in Walls of Jerusalem National Park. An area Alissa and I had earmarked for our next Tasmania trip after completing the Overland Track in December 2016, our 2017 plans for the Walls were postponed due to flood damage to the road leading into the park and our decision to tackle other adventures in Karijini, thru-hiking the Cape to Cape Track and caving in Vietnam. With the road reopened and a desire for a cool change after the subtropical heat of the Gold Coast, we arranged transport to the Walls for the next day after our arrival in Launceston. 



An unusually wild national park, the Walls of Jerusalem is the perfect example of why the long way (i.e. walking) is better - this is park without any direct road access that can only be reached by walking into it from a number of entry points, with the main entry point being from the car park off Mersey Forest Road near Lake Rowallan. The walk initially starts gently, and within five minutes Alissa and I were at the walker registration shelter and boot cleaning station. While walking in the Walls is relatively easy, it is an alpine park with changeable and very cold weather, and registering your walk is an important safety measure should you get lost. Equally important is the boot cleaning - Given the wild, pristine nature of the Walls, it is important to do your bit to avoid spreading Phytophthora Root Rot (or - as we Western Australians call it - Dieback). 



The first three kilometres of the walk into the Walls is arguably the hardest part of the whole trip, as it is a continuous three kilometres uphill with a 500 metre increase in elevation. 



Initially, I thought the walk was steep but not a relentless slog, however the unceasing climb and an increase in steepness later on along the track really got the heart pumping as we made our way to our rest point 2 kilometres in at Trappers Hut. 



Along the way, the track crosses a number of small creeks. The most major of these creeks is reached just a few metres before Trappers Hut, and I can imagine that this creek was an important source of water for those who used the hut back in the day. 



Used by fur trappers as a room to dry animal skins, Trappers Hut is a typical example of the vernacular huts built throughout the Walls of Jerusalem. Walkers familiar with the hut-based Tasmanian hikes like the Three Capes Track, Frenchmans Cap and the nearby Overland Track might be a bit surprised to discover that most of the huts in the Walls of Jerusalem are not meant to be used for overnight stays. 



Walking into Trappers Hut made it pretty clear that beyond being discouraged, the huts are not exactly the most inviting places to stay. Trappers list of 'outstanding' features include drafty walls, a rocky dirt floor and the most uneven sleeping platform I've seen in a hut - it make the slanty beds in Du Cane Hut on the Overland Track look positively luxurious by comparison. I'm quite amazed that well known thru-hiker Erin 'Wired' Saver and her friend Griggs stayed in here when they did the Walls back in 2017 as there is a much more inviting tent site just next door.



After stopping to check out the hut and eat a piece of chocolate cake that was kindly given to us by some hikers celebrating a birthday at Trappers, Alissa and I continued on our way into the Walls. 



The walk from here to the Walls is particularly steep in parts, but it is only about 700 metres more before the track levels out. 



Along the ascent is a clearly marked junction that shows the Walls going off to the left with a trail to Lake Adelaide continuing onwards to the right. While we would be following the main track into the Walls, the track to Lake Adelaide (and beyond) is known as the Junction Lake Track. While it is possible to walk back from the Walls along the same track, Alissa and I were keen to see some difference scenery and would be returning to Trappers Hut via the Lake Ball and Junction Lake Tracks on our third day. 



In the week leading up to our visit to the Walls, I had been repeatedly referring to the Bureau of Meteorology's website. Given that we were walking towards the end of the hiking season in April, the weather can be a lot more unpredictable than the usually more settled late Summer period, and there had been an unusually early snowfall in the Walls in March. My not-so-secret wish was for there to be considerable snow in the days before our walk and fine weather for our three days and that's exactly what we got; it snowed for three or four days before our arrival and then was forecast for mostly clear skies and near 0% chance of rain! Given that snow can melt away fairly quickly, Alissa and I were pretty excited to see scattered clumps of snow as we reached the plateau. 



With the track having levelled out somewhat, Alissa and I now had the luxury to take in the views around us. Given that we were now 1200 metres above sea level meant we were privy to some truly magnificent vistas, including seeing mountains to the west covered in snow! 



With only small patches of snow at first, we started to find more and more sustained stretches of snow as we continued towards the Inner Walls. 



With all the snow melt everywhere, the track was regularly covered in water that had frozen overnight into thin sheets. Alissa found these to be particularly fascinating, and found cracking them with the tip of her trekking poles to be quite satisfying. 



After descending slightly, the track passes the first of many small tarns that can be found along the plateau. While the mountains area a major feature of the park, the glacier-carved lakes and tarns of the area are just as spectacular, and are usually lined with the beautiful native Pencil Pine.


As the landscape cleared to be mostly alpine heath with pockets of forest here and there, Alissa and I marvelled at the beauty of a landscape that looked remarkably similar to what we had encountered on the Overland Track. While nice enough, the dense eucalypt forest along the climb up the plateau could easily fit in anywhere in Australia. This was the alpine Tasmanian landscape we'd come to know and love, and we were so glad to be back!



Continuing along the well constructed track, Alissa and I passed the beautiful tarns and lakes that are known collectively as Solomon's Jewels. In the background we could see King Davids Peak - the tallest of the mountains and the beginning of the West Wall that dominates most of the Inner Walls area. 



Something we were quite impressed by was the large number of Pencil Pines throughout the Walls area. While we had encountered pockets of Pencil Pines throughout the Overland Track, there are considerable stands of these beautiful trees throughout the Walls of Jerusalem. These trees used to be even more widespread in the area, however their susceptibility to fire has made them highly vulnerable to the ravages of climate change and arson.



With Alissa and I get closer and closer to King Davids Peak, we knew we would soon be reaching Wild Dog Creek - the major campsite in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. Just before reaching the creek, the track descends to a grass plain that looks very similar to the Ronny Creek area near Cradle Mountain and then rises up through the trees to the campsite. 



Back in the day, camping was allowed in the Inner Walls, however this has now been completely banned and hikers are encouraged to stay at Wild Dog Creek instead. While lacking a hut, the plentiful supply of tent platforms, taps for drinking water and a good toilet does make it an attractive campsite from an amenities point of view, and Alissa was tempted to set up camp here. The problem with Wild Dog Creek is that it is a poor location from which to tackle any of the side trips. If setting up camp here and doing the side trips, walkers will need to walk a further three kilometres there and back to reach Damascus Gate and the side trips to the Temple and Solomons Throne, and then a further kilometre to reach the start of the Mt Jerusalem Track. Dixons Kingdom on the other hand is only a one kilometre backtrack to reach Damascus Gate and is right at the start of the Mt Jerusalem Track. This makes Dixons Kingdom a far superior place to use as a base for further exploration and was the main reason we decided to continue onward through the Inner Walls. 



After stopping for lunch at Wild Dog Creek and refilling our water bottles, Alissa and I continued uphill to Herods Gate. A mountain pass lying between Mt Ophel and King Davids Peak, Herods Gate is the main entry point into the Inner Walls. 



The climb levels out as it passes between the two mountains. This is the start of the Inner Walls area, which features outstanding and fairly gentle walking for the next two scenic kilometres. 



Lake Salome is the major water body within the Inner Walls. At its north-eastern corner is Zion Hill and a considerable stand of Pencil Pines. From the track, low grasslands and alpine heath provide a spectacularly clear vantage point of the lake.  



Walking through the Inner Walls, Alissa and I were delighted to see a lot of the track still under snow cover - at times being up to knee deep in spots. While it was quite easy to see where the track was meant to go, the provision of tall marker poles with conspicuous orange arrows would be helpful during times when the area is seriously inundated with snow. 



The walk through the Inner Walls stays fairly close to the West Wall - the continuous series of sheer cliffs that connect King Davids Peak to Solomons Throne. The walls curve slightly, and as the track follows the curve it provides an outstanding view of the West Wall towering overhead. 



Veering eastwards, the track passed through another section of considerable snow as it skirted the edge of a pencil pine forest. Just after the forest, the track reaches an unmarked junction. The main track continues right up towards Damascus Gate, while the unmarked track runs to the left. 



The track to the left takes walkers to the Pool of Bethesda, a stunning tarn located beneath The Temple. This area used to be a popular camping spot within the Walls, however concerns about erosion and water quality due to buried (or poorly disposed of) faecal waste has meant that this area is now off limits for campers. The Pool remains as a beautiful and easy side trip that would take less than 10 minutes to visit and return to the main track. 



Heading back to the main track, Alissa and I could see the expanse of the West Wall. These cliffs certainly live up to their name, and you can see why the rather fanciful name Walls of Jerusalem seemed rather apt for a natural feature located far away from Israel at the bottom of the world. 



The track rises to Damascus Gate. Like Herods Gate, Damascus Gate is a pass between two of the Inner Walls' peaks - the impressive King Solomons Throne and the more low key peak known as The Temple. 



Unlike the clearly marked side trip junctions on the Overland Track, there wasn't any bench or wooden platform to leave packs on Damascus Gate, and the fact it was covered in snow meant that we had to find a clear spot of ground to leave our packs. While our initial itinerary had earmarked day two as a day to tackle almost all of the side trips, the fine weather made me want to get at least one summit under my belt. Reports from other hikers suggested that the chute up Solomon's Throne was too snowed in to climb safely, so I decided on tackling the Temple given that its an easy 40 minutes and 1 kilometre of walking to the summit. Alissa, who had a rough night's sleep the previous night, had decided that she didn't care too much about climbing the Temple and stayed below to look after our gear. 



Even a few metres into the walk yielded some excellent views of the Inner Walls from Damascus Gate, with Lake Salome shimmering under the Sun's rays. 



The track up The Temple appears from afar to be a sea of boulders and scree, however on closer inspection it is pretty clear that some work has been done to create an easy to follow series of inconspicuous steps up to the summit. 



From the bottom, the summit appears to be a vantage point overlooking the West Wall, and many hikers seem to come to this point, enjoy the view and then leave without actually reaching the true summit. 



Granted, the views from here are pretty good, and from this point I could see Lake Ball. Lake Ball is reached by following an at times poorly defined bushwalking pad through Jaffa Vale from Dixons Kingdom, and would be our main objective for the first part of Day Three as we made our way back to Trappers Hut via Lake Adelaide. 



From the first false summit, the summit appears to be a pile of boulders just behind. 



While far smaller than Cradle Mountain and Mt Ossa, the mix of orange and white lichen growing on the Dolerite definitely brought back memories of our time on the Overland Track. 



Once over the boulders, it became clear that this was not the true summit either, with a short dip down required before clear the last field of boulders and reaching the summit. The area before the boulders was covered in a thick carpet of snow, and it was a bit of a challenge getting down the steep slope given that it was unclear at times just how deep the show was and how much it would collapse down under my feet. 



The views from the summit of the Temple were definitely worth the climb; from here you could see more of Jaffa Vale as it led to Lake Ball, the towering West Wall and the gentle slope that the Mt Jerusalem Track follows to reach the mountain's summit. Sadly, I was so taken by the views of the West Wall that I forgot to take photos of Mt Jerusalem from this point!



Making my way back down from the Summit, I was quite taken by the fact that the snow field seemed to dominate the view once you made it down through the boulders. From this point, it looks like the entire Walls were covered in a dense layer of snow. 



Back down at Damascus Gate, I returned to find Alissa had made use of her time by building a snowman! Being from the dry, hot and vertically challenged Western Australia, this was the first time either of us had ever had the pleasure of making a snowman, which meant Alissa probably had as much fun as I did ascending the Temple!



From Damascus Gate, the track descends through a massive stand of Pencil Pines as it follows boardwalks down to Dixons Kingdom. 



Due to the shade of The Temple and the Pencil Pines, the snow through this area was a sustained carpet, giving the area the appearance of a beautiful Winter Wonderland. 



After a kilometre of descending from Damascus Gate, Alissa and I reached Dixons Kingdom. Named after Reg Dixon by his wife Elsie after she read a book titled Campbell's Kingdom, the hut is a low but charming log cabin on the edge of a beautiful Pencil Pine forest. 



Unlike Trappers Hut, Dixons Kingdom Hut has been constructed to a far better standard, with a relatively flat sleeping platform that could probably accommodate 4 hikers comfortably. As with other huts in the area, staying in Dixons Kingdom Hut is discouraged by Tasmania Park and Wildlife Service and any thoughts of us staying inside were immediately scuttled after seeing a fair amount of marsupial droppings on the sleeping platform and later encounters with fairly brazen wildlife. 





While lacking in tent platforms, Dixons Kingdom features a lovely, grassy clearing that is a perfect spot to pitch a tent. As our first major backpacking multi-day hike since completing the Cape to Cape Track back in October, I was pretty keen to set up our new tent - the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. Having previously used the much less spacious Big Agnes Seed House SL2, it was amazing to see just how much more space the Copper Spur has in spite of way almost exactly the same as the Seed House! So much room for activities!



Our only concerns about Dixons Kingdom were the fact that there is no obvious water supply listed and that the toilets were described as 'temporary', which conjured up images of the rather ugly looking capsules that the Parks and Wildlife Service use as toilets on the West Arthur Traverse or the equally unappealing exposed hatches in the ground that used to be on the South Coast Track. While Alissa and I do know how to, as the saying goes, shit in the woods, I have to admit we much prefer actual toilets both for comfort, privacy and for lowering impacts on water quality. We needn't have worried; the temporary toilets at Dixons Kingdom were basically full capture toilets that were no better or worse than what we'd used on the Bibbulmun or Cape to Cape Tracks, and water was readily available from a stream in front of the hut. The water in Tasmania is some of the purest and cleanest in the world, and I have to say the water from the stream was deliciously refreshing and icy cold given all the snow melt. 


As the Sun set on a fairly full and busy Dixons Kingdom, all of us at the campsite were amazed by the brazen banditry of the native possums as they came in for a campsite raid. Obviously used to humans, these guys were absolutely fearless and unashamedly checked out all the tents and hut for a good feed. While we've encountered possums and other small marsupial thieves on the Bibbulmun Track, none have ever been so ballsy as to be only a matter of metres away as I stood up and approached them. While many people kept their food in their tents, having a new and expensive tent meant I was not overly keen with this idea and we decided to do the old Bibbulmun Track trick of tying it up and hanging it in the hut. Even more amazing than the possums were a sighting of an animal Alissa and I have long hoped to see in the wild. Alissa and I didn't know what we were looking at until we saw its conspicuous spots. We both excitedly exclaimed; 'It's a quoll!' before it quickly scurried off.

This was a superb first day on the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit that was every bit as good as any of the best days on the Overland Track. While the climb to the Walls is fairly steep, the generally mellow nature of walking through the Inner Walls combined with the jaw-droppingly beautiful alpine landscapes of tarns, lakes, pines and mountains made this a fantastic walk from Trappers Hut all the way through to Dixons Kingdom. What's more, we could not have asked for better weather as the snow from the previous days made the area all the more gorgeous, while the perfectly clear skies provided for outstanding vistas from the Temple. A definite must for anyone who has done the Overland Track and wants something similar but different to tackle next. 

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