Thursday, 19 April 2018

Walls of Jerusalem Circuit (TAS) - Mt Jerusalem & Solomons Throne

Day Two of the classic Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, this day explores two of the mountain peak side trips from Dixons Kingdom. Heading up Jaffa Vale, the  first side trip takes hikers past beautiful tarns to excellent views from the summit of Mt Jerusalem. Returning to Damascus Gate, the second side trip takes the short but steep climb up Solomons Throne. A short but spectacular day - especially if you're lucky enough to have snow

Distance: 7 km (3.8 km for Mt Jerusalem side trip + 3.2 km for Solomons Throne side trip)
Gradient: A moderate incline to the summit Mt Jerusalem, with several flat sections and some short, mildly steep sections. A moderate incline to Damascus Gate, then a short but steep scramble to the summit of Solomons Throne
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. The slot up Solomons Throne can be inundated with snow.
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed with good orange track markers/pegs, however junctions and side trips are not always clearly marked
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4.5 hours, including time to enjoy the views from the summits
Steps: Many steps, both formal and informal
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply
Getting There: No direct access to Dixons Kingdom. Walkers are required to walk in from the Lake Rowallan car park as outlined in Day 1 of the walk

Over our many multi-day hikes, Alissa and I have recognised that we have very different reactions to our first night out. Although my sleep is usually a bit broken, I've become quite good at getting comfortable and falling asleep pretty quickly in a tent while Alissa really struggles with the unfamiliar environment and fear about causing noise after her traumatic experience with the Angry German Man on the Overland Track. In spite of our new, more spacious Big Agnes Copper Spur tent, Alissa struggled yet again. We both agreed that the slightly sloping spot we had selected for our tent site was not exactly ideal and that we would move the tent to another spot in Dixons Kingdom for a better sleep on our second night. 

Unlike the linear form of the Overland Track which tends to dictate a hut to hut itinerary, the Walls of Jerusalem is a much more open-ended prospect. I've seen itineraries ranging from a long day walk to an epic week-long journey with a fair chunk of off-track walking, however the most popular way to explore the Walls is to set up a base camp at either Wild Dog Creek or Dixons Kingdom to tackle the relatively easy mountain side trips within the Inner Walls. This was our plan for day two; leave our tent and main packs at Dixons Kingdom while taking our smaller day packs as we headed out to tackle Mt Jerusalem and Solomons Throne with the potential of extending the walk across the West Wall to King Davids Peak.

With many people having turned back from Solomons Throne due to it being too snowed under and only one hiker having successfully made it to the top the previous day, Alissa and I decided to tackle Mt Jerusalem first as it was a much surer bet. The Mt Jerusalem Track starts conveniently from Dixons Kingdom, heading up the Pencil Pine-filled Jaffa Valle along a well constructed path.

This part of Jaffa Vale had been filled with quite a fair bit of snow the previous evening, however much of this had melted away by the time we set off along the track. One side effect of all this snow melt was that some of the boards were fairly icey and slippery, and we traversed these sections with utmost care. 

As the track turns right to rise up and out of the Vale, Alissa and I were privy to excellent views of Mt Jerusalem. 

Being a bit under-slept, the prospect of any major incline did not really excite Alissa very much, however we found the walk up Mt Jerusalem to be fairly easy going. Generally speaking, I've found most mountain walks seems to fall into two categories - relatively straightforward (but not always engaging) continuous steep switchbacks, fun but tricky boulder scrambles or a mix of both. Mt Jerusalem was neither of these; any remotely steep sections were relatively brief, with most of the walk being relatively flat or only on a mild to moderate incline. 

Generally speaking, I prefer walks that have a bit of a scramble than one that is a continuous switchback as they are usually more engaging. Mt Jerusalem did one better; the cruisy nature of the walk made this a far from strenuous walk, however it was accompanied by incredibly stunning scenery of tarns all across the gently sloping mountain. 

With the still weather, the reflections on the tarns stopped us in our track repeatedly as we took in the area's immense beauty. In the distance, Solomons Throne and The Temple were clearly visible, with more distant mountains appearing as we continued higher up Mt Jerusalem. 

As we made our way closer to the summit, we came across some significant patches of snow given that this is the shaded side of the mountain. This added both to the challenge and enjoyment of the walk, as we were still enjoying the novelty of all the sustained snow walking.

As we reached the top of one of the track's steeper inclines, Alissa and I were privy to some spectacular views to the west. While the Mersey Valley was filled with mist, we could see many of the peaks of the Overland Track peaking through in the distance, including the mighty Mt Ossa

Nearer to us, the sheets of ice that had frozen overnight provided Alissa with a lot of amusement, and we found some particularly large shards such as the one pictured above. 

The most difficult section of Mt Jerusalem occurred over a fairly large and sustained snow field that completely blanketed the track. We followed in the footsteps of those who had come before us the previous day, but even then there were a few times where the snow significantly compressed beneath us. 

Take the above for example; one moment Alissa was making her way up with some ease and the next she was just over knee deep in snow!

After the snow field, the track continued through a jumble of Dolerite boulders as it made its way to the summit.

The views from the summit are truly breathtaking. Lake Salome, The Temple, King Davids Peak and (to a lesser extent) Solomons Throne are all visible from the summit. In the distance, Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain can also be seen. 

Looking back south-east, Alissa and I could see numerous lakes and tarns across the Great Pine Tier. This area used to be filled with seemingly endless forests of Pencil Pines, however a severe bushfire in the 1960s almost completely wiped out the Pencil Pines across the Tier. The sight of all the dead, grey skeletons was quite unpleasant and upsetting given the inevitability of climate change in the long term, and it only highlights how special and unique the extended Pencil Pine forest around Dixons Kingdom is. 

Alissa and I spent a fair bit of time on the summit, initially talking to a solo (non-Angry) German hiker who had made it up there before us and had climbed Solomons Throne the previous day, and then talking to two Dutch hikers who had similar plans for the day as us. As Alissa was still feeling pretty lousy and didn't want to undertake the potentially dangerous walk up Solomons Throne, she suggested that I team up with the Dutch Hikers to tackle the Throne later in the day. After our chats, Alissa and I made our way down the mountain as several other groups made their way up to the summit. 

The path back down the mountain is a simple matter of retracing one's steps along the same path, however the different viewpoints provided excellent alternative angles of the landscape, including this area that looks like a well manicured garden with hedges. 

Back at the hut, Alissa and I had a chat with another Western Australian hiker who was just passing through. Living in the port city of Fremantle (only 10-15 minutes from us in Bateman), it was interesting hearing about his hiking adventures and the fact that his main trip every year is an off track walk in the Kimberley. Although relatively brief, it was great to get some ideas from him about what can be done up in WA's wild north, and he even was kind enough to give us his email address. 

After our chat, Alissa and I gathered all our gear and moved the tent to a much better, flatter location. With many of the hikers from the previous day having moved on, Dixons Kingdom was a lot more quiet than it had been the previous evening, and was more of the wilderness getaway Alissa and I were hoping for. 

After taking an afternoon break to have lunch and a cup of tea, Alissa, myself and the two Dutch hikers headed back along the main Walls of Jerusalem Track to Damascus Gate and onwards to Solomons Throne. While Alissa would not be completing the hike with us, she agreed to come out to the Gate and wait for us just in case something went wrong. The German hiker we had met was slightly concerned that the snow might be more unstable today, so we wanted someone who could be a witness and call for help if something went wrong. 

Being only a kilometre from Dixons Kingdom, the walk up to Damascus Gate was relatively easy except for the fact that a fair amount of snow had melted overnight and caused many of the boardwalks to be come slick with ice. 

Heading into the Walls the previous day, Solomons Throne appears somewhat indistinct from the West Wall, however it appears like a lone peak coming from Dixons Kingdom. This is a much more epic and awe-inspiring view from which to see the mountain. 

Once at the Gate, the three of us left Alissa behind as we followed the track up to the summit. While covered in snow, the track was nevertheless easy to follow up the Dolerite boulders as it curves to the left and then up a rock chute. 

The track goes right to the end of the boulders and scree and follows a very narrow path past the steep cliffs. This who have probably been the top of the glacier back in the days when then Walls were covered in a massive ice sheet, with the summit and the rest of the West Wall being an inselberg sticking out through the ice. 

Rounding the corner, the track becomes wider as it heads towards the chute that leads to the summit. 

This was the crux of the entire circuit; filled with snow and with a steep slope that basically continued for 200 metres down the side of the mountain, the chute/slot was a challenge to climb as there was no way of knowing how deep or stable the snow was. 

Near the top the snow became both steeper and deeper, and photos of the slot in Summer conditions indicated that the snow was probably more than waist deep at its thickest point! "This is what it must feel like to be a real mountaineer!" said one of the Dutch hikers as we reached the top. 

At least climbing up meant looking up ahead and walking forward with momentum. Once we were all up the top, the view back down the chute was of terrifyingly steep drop, and I made a mental note to put away my camera and get out my snow gloves for the descent. 

Walking across the top of the wall, the track passes by another entry chute that appears to have been since closed from access. Given that it was fairly steep, we wondered if it was more used by rock climbers than bushwalkers as it looked even more precipitous than the way we came up. 

Once clearing the second chute, the three of us reached the summit of Solomons Throne, with spectacular views down into the Inner Walls. 

Looking across the West Wall was the most spectacular view of all - a continuous rocky series of cliffs running all the way to King Davids Peak. Had the chute not been filled with snow and Alissa had come up with me, I would have pressed on all the way along the wall to King Davids Peak, however with Alissa waiting down below and the two guys providing me safety in numbers for the descent, I decided to leave it for another time. 

Back down from the summit and heading down the slot, the descent through the snow proved to be even more difficult than the ascent due to being able to see the impending death that would await me should I lose my footing and slide down the mountain. Some of the hardest parts were stepping into a boot hole in the snow that was knee deep and then having to step out of it into another boot hole below it; the taller of the two Dutch hikers was able to do this with relative ease while the other guy and I took our time, and even simply pushed through the snow to get to the next level down rather than trying to climb out of the holes! I was quite relieved once we cleared the snow and I was able to put my hand on solid rock wall for balance, however we found that where we had stepped on snow on the way up had resulted in snow melting into ice, and we had several slick stairs to negotiate on the way down. Thankfully, all three of us made it back down to Damascus Gate safely, with the two guys even taking time to have a bit of a snow fight!  

Given that the day consisted of a 2.5 hour return walk to the summit of Mt Jerusalem and then a 2 hour return visit to Solomons Throne, Day Two of the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit was a pretty relaxing day of walking compared to the longer, steeper walk into the Dixons Kingdom the previous day. While relaxing, the two mountain side trips were spectacular walks that were incredibly rewarding without being particularly difficult (apart from the snow-filled chute up Solomons Throne, that is). The fact that Mount Jerusalem is particularly easy while offering excellent views made it an immediate favourite with Alissa, and we both agreed it was one of the most enjoyable and beautiful summit walks we've had the pleasure of walking, while Solomons Throne was a thrilling hike that had the adventurous charm of Mount Ossa or Cradle Mountain but in a smaller package. If either of these summit walks were closer to road access, I'm sure they would have been placed amongst Tasmania's 60 Great Short Walks, however the fact that they can only be reached by a considerable hike into the Walls makes them all the more special, and we were immensely lucky to have good enough weather to climb both without cloud cover to shroud the views. Both are definite must dos for those visiting the Inner Walls. 


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