Often as travellers we revisit places we loved at first brush, only to be disappointed by the inevitable change. Very occasionally we return to a place to find it exceeds memory. Such were the Walls of Jerusalem for me last weekend.
Ask any Tasmanian to name his or her favourite mountain region and the answer is likely to be the Walls of Jerusalem. Adjoining Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the Walls have all the beauty of their more famous neighbour, but only a portion of the hype.
I’d last been to the Walls 13 years ago, on a summer hike. Last weekend I entered them in the depths of winter. On the walk in, a few patches of snow around Solomons Jewels and Wild Dog Creek gave little indication of the scenes that were to come. Rising through Herods Gate onto the plateau at the heart of the Walls, the land was transformed. Snow blanketed the scrub, turning every bush into a perfect snow dome, and a skin of ice covered every lake.
Perfect snow domes
The snow deepened as we walked on, and it took us three hours to hike the final four kilometres to Dixon’s Kingdom Hut, all but swimming through snow as brilliant light leaked into the Walls from the setting sun. Night fell as we crossed through Damascus Gate, the low pass between the Temple and Solomons Throne, and for an hour we snowshoed through the pewter light of a three-quarter moon, sinking past our knees into snow with every step. If the hut never came, it didn’t seem to matter.
On the second day we had myriad possible plans, but the weather had only three plans: rain, sleet and snow. We climbed partway up the slopes of Mt Jerusalem, to the now-frozen lakes that pooled along its low ridge, then returned across untracked country to the hut, propping open its door for an afternoon of snow TV (and freezing half our hanging clothes in the process).
Walking through a snow storm
That night brought a dump of around 50 or 60 centimetres of snow, and in the morning I wrenched open the hut door with difficulty. We walked out into a Christmas card – or, at least, some strange Christmas card that has wallabies and wombats on it – returning through the forest towards Damascus Gate. The branches of the native pines hung low with snow, and we could have been in Narnia, or it could have been the prelude to an extreme ski video – those quiet few seconds of hush before a skier bursts into frame in an explosion of powder.
This final day there would be moments of blue sky, there would be times of heavy snow, and there would be periods when the icy wind spat painful sleet in our faces. There would be hard snow and soft snow, flour-fine snow and ice. Once I fell through the entire snowpack into an unseen creek beneath, lying trapped until we could dig my snowshoe out from the icy waters. But always there was magic. Mountains blew in and out of view, then shafts of storm light would flare from between clouds. Creeks cut dark lines through a black-and-white world, and the snow domes of two days before were now buried deep beneath fresh snow.
Winter Walls – the final day in the Walls of Jerusalem
My toes were numbed, and my fingers were as wooden as drumsticks, but I felt only freedom, that lift within that comes only when nature is doing its full peacock display. I might never return to the Walls of Jerusalem in summer, because I’ve now seen them in winter.
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