Hartz Mountain: Snow in Summer

Where we went: Hartz Mountain National Park (Hartz Peak)

When we went: early December, 2019

Estimated time for walk: 4hrs

Time spent on walk: just under 4hrs

The Hartz Peak hike is described as “moderate”, and this is accurate on a level never previously conceived of. It is challenging in parts, but the paths are manicured and clearly marked. The 8km walk is steep in short, manageable bursts, and distinctly flat in others. All in all it is noticeably achievable. This came as something of a shock to us as Hartz had been built up in our heads as a sort of Ben Hur of hikes. We had very conflicting information from friends and acquaintances ranging from “it’s incredibly challenging and harder than Mt Amos,” to, “my friend’s a trail runner and she runs it regularly.” As a result of the constant contradictions we have been intimidated by the peak for our entire hiking careers and have put it off repeatedly in favour of tracks we have perceived as a much more comfortable level of “moderate”. We would like to formally state that inclement weather (specifically the wind) is the greatest obstacle we came across, and good gear made this an easily surmounted issue.

This particular day, the first day of Tasmanian summer to be exact – rudely – saw snowfall, heavy rain and winds measuring around 20-30Km/h (which didn’t sound like a lot to me on the ground, but it felt like a lot on the mountain). Knowing there would be bad weather we started out in thermals and water-resistant hiking pants, with an additional woollen layer each and our warmest snow jackets. Mine is a down-lined raincoat from Kathmandu. I am so in love with the jacket that I think Sommelier might be getting a little jealous. We also packed our lightweight raincoats (as an extra layer), and beanies. I packed a hiking ascot, but Sommelier forgot his, and he packed gloves, but I forgot mine. We agreed to share the gloves – more on that brilliant plan to follow. We waterproofed our bags with bin liners, wrapped the cameras up safely and agreed to mostly use the slightly more waterproof but poorer quality phones for photography purposes. Our 2ltr bags of water and some scroggin and biltong were also very carefully packed, but due to a disgusting-sludge situation we did not pack our big 10ltr container that we usually keep in the car, instead we drank a lot before leaving the house. The most important cold weather survival information I have ever received actually came from my recently deceased uncle, who was an Antarctic marine biologist: you are in just as much danger of dehydration in cold weather as in warm. Cold weather sees our body’s energy directed towards your core, which increases urinary output. It is irresponsible and incorrect to assume that, just because you need to pee more, you have sufficiently hydrated.

The drive is an estimated 1.5hrs from Hobart. We broke our travel time up with a visit to family. It was almost lunch time when we reached the section of the rainforest that is currently in the process of recovering from the bushfires, the burgeoning new-growth on the charred trucks of gum trees is one of my favourite demonstrations of nature’s resilience. From there it is a fairly long drive along a dirt road (with signage to guide you) until the carpark. There are also a few little walks along the low tiers to try as a warmup. Sommelier and I did the Waratah Lookout (and we saw waratahs), but we were too pressed for time to do any of the other ones. From the carpark there is a very well-designed hut where walkers can register their hiking intentions and use the long drop toilet facilities. There are no other toilet facilities on the mountain, which can be an issue in light of the cold = urinary output we previously discussed. Come to terms with your own inner legality but please, I beg of you, DO NOT STEP ON THE CUSHION PLANTS!!   

 We logged our walk in at 12:40pm. Setting out at lunch time can be a challenge when one is travelling with me, as I have a severe hanger management issue, and am known to be in denial about it. It would, in hindsight, have been expedient to eat at the hut and then walk, but we did not. The boot scrubbing station is located a small distance from the hut, and impossible to miss. It is essential that every member of your party scrubs and disinfects their boots (and then waits 15 seconds before embarking). Hartz is home to a lot of rare, endangered, Tasmania specific, and very precious plants that grow rather close to the track and would die an horrific death if a microbiological miscreant were to hitch a ride on your shoe.

Waratahs abounded in the first section of the track. There was a whole grove of them! Sommelier very graciously put up with me pointing out each tree individually even though he could very definitely already see them, and there were literally hundreds of them, but my desire to see wild Tasmanian waratahs in flower was much of the driving force behind our decision to give Hartz an whirl. The scoparia that we found in flower was an unexpected blessing that elicited such an excited gasp from me that Sommelier was genuinely concerned that I had seen a snake an instinctively froze in place. I am told there are lovely views stretching across the Huon Valley and up into the rainforest from the track. I am unable to officially confirm this on account of the very heavy mist from which only the brilliant reds of the waratah and scoparia, and the incredible green of the cushion plants could be made out (in terms of colours anyway, the pandani made some very sinister, looming shapes that may have intimidated certain members of the couple who have never fully overcome her Day of the Triffids related nightmares).

We took the detour via Ladies Tarn and admired the pandani plants growing very merrily on the hillside (too merrily, they are up to something – and it’s probably world domination), but a sudden squall of freezing (possibly literally frozen, jury is still out) rain and a driving wind saw us agreeing, as a couple, to move away from the glacier formed water collective, put on our beanies, pull up our hoods and press on before the snow hit. With the wind snatching most of our words and our clothes muffling the rest most of our conversation went as follows:

Me: “SCOPARIA!”

Sommelier: “WHAT?”

Me: “SCOPARIA!!”

Sommelier: “WHAT?!”

Me: *pointing at scoparia*

Sommelier: *nodding in bemusement* “VERY PRETTY!?”

Other things I very helpfully pointed out included all the pandani plants, all the wombat poops, and any very rare and fleeting glimpses of full bodies of mountain.

After a brief steep scramble in the pouring rain (that was not nearly as slippery as I expected, given the weather) we emerged onto a long, rocky plateau, and it was here that we truly learned why humans have thought to harness the kinetic power of wind. Sommelier managed to communicate that he felt strongly that we needed to eat. I managed to communicate that I felt strongly that he wasn’t the boss of me or my meal-times. It wasn’t until I got into a fight with the wind for constantly whipping my hair into my mouth (and lost that fight), that I admitted that we needed to eat. We sat on a vaguely seat shaped rock and ate a wind-swept lunch as hastily as we were able between patches of rain. Sommelier also gave me have a turn with the gloves, which was a relief, because my hands were really cold.

In a very confusing series of events the peak of Hartz mountain emerged from the mist much closer than we anticipated (and promptly disappeared from view again), the sun suddenly made an appearance, and so did the view of what Sommelier assures me is lake Esperance, one of the many attractions that can be viewed from the mountain. We scurried up the rocks that make up the path to the summit in a desperate bid to catch a look at the view before it disappeared behind the thick grey clouds we could see brewing in the distance. Halfway to the top (I think, I could not see the top), we turned around to see what we could see and were immediately hit in the face by sleet being driven by winds at around 30km/h (which is, I now know, enough to turn a sleet flake into a small weapon, especially when aimed at the eyes). Spurred on by speeding sleet we beat a very hasty path to the nearest rock that we could both fit behind and took a little shelter.

After a while the sleet settled into snow-flakes, the wind calmed down a little, and we made it the last few metres up to the summit with snow softly swirling around us. We were completely surrounded by clouds and couldn’t see a single thing beyond the summit of Hartz Mountain which had formed a perfect little snow-globe of the top of the world.

We swapped gloves again because, while Sommelier didn’t actually say it, we both knew that he was much colder than I was. He doesn’t have a jacket nearly as brilliant as mine (plus also they are actually his gloves). We had a very quiet and reflective walk back the way we came, mildly starling a wombat who had clearly been caught in the rain and was not particularly interested in being photographed. There were a few more squalls of sleet but we barley noticed. We were both in desperate need of urinary output by the time we made it back to the hut, and my phone was in urgent need of a rice bath by the time we got home. It is reassuring to know, though, that Hartz is a perfectly climbable mountain, in fact, we climbed it in the worst weather we have ever dared to venture out in and still had a wonderful time. We eagerly await a clearer day so that we can see all these views that everyone has been talking about. For now I am content in the knowledge that the rare and endangered plants that Tasmania is best known for can be moderately easily accessed on Hartz, which is not nearly so far a drive as Cradle Mountain.

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