Mount Field East
Start - Lake Dobson Rd
Length - 11.3km (Loop)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Boardwalk, Rock Hopping
Vertical Climb - 569m
Summit - 1264m ASL
Time - 3-6 hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 1st November 2018
Best Time - All Year Round (Take Care in Winter)
Traditional Custodians - Lairmairrener People
Directions - Located 1.5hrs west of Hobart, take the Brooker Hwy north and follow the signs for New Norfolk. Pass through the town and follow the signs for Mount Field NP. Drive up the winding road until you reach the signs for Mount Field East and the small car park on the side of the road.
The Hike - After a lovely night in front of the fire enjoying some wine and watching a movie at my AirBnB it was time to begin my penultimate day of hiking in Tasmania. To finish with I had set my eyes on Mount Field National Park and three very excellent hikes taking in the alpine scenery and also the temperate rainforest on the lower slopes. With an unexpected breakfast brought to me by Greg and Patricia consisting of a fresh baked loaf of bread, local leatherwood honey, homemade jam and musesli, I spent a little longer at home enjoying this feast before packing up the Outlander and heading off on the 40 minute drive to Mount Field National Park.
First up on the agenda for today was the 11km Mount Field East circuit taking in some stunning alpine scenery, 360 degree views of Mount Field National Park and a few lovely lakes. Once I arrived at the park it was still a bit of a drive up to the starting point as the main building sits at 200m ASL and the start of the hike was up at 850m ASL. The winding road up the hill is very narrow with lots of blind corners so take care and stick to the speed limit. Making the job of slowing down easier is the lovely scenery as you drive up with a glimpse of the temperate rainforest that is found at the lower altitudes. Lots of big ferns, giant swamp gums and a thick canopy provides a highlight before you even start the hike. Arriving at the car park (a little siding off the gravel road but well signed) I was greeted with the last hurrah of morning mist as I checked my pack for the essentials. Picking an anti-clockwise direction, this meant tackling the bulk of the climbing to start with but I didn't mind that approach so ventured off into the forest of tall Snow Gums and immediately began delighting in the scenes around me.
Moss covered rocks formed most of the trail to start as you ascend past the shiny trunks of the Snow Gums, made more colourful by the diffused light streaming through the morning cloud. A selection of wildflowers and mosses had me stopping frequently to photograph them so it never really felt like a sustained climb. About a kilometre into the journey you are presented with your first little side trip, a short detour to Beatties Tarn. Previously inaccessible because of the damage done to the sensitive landscape, work was completed in 2015 to allow walkers back to Beatties Tarn. Now you can appreciate the tranquil views of the still water and gaze up at the forest as it clings to the hillside leading up to Seagers Lookout. With lovely blue skies I found this to be a very relaxing place to be and very fitting for the tarn to be named after a Tasmanian photographer (John Beattie) who enjoyed the pleasure of "standing on top of some high land and looking out on a wild array of our mountain giants". I share that same love and this is the perfect hike from which to enjoy that simple pleasure.
Heading back along the rocky path to the main track, the climbing ceased and you follow a flat section towards Lake Nicholls. The forest provided many delights with some sections being relatively open, providing views of the ridge that makes this section so cosy and protected, and a mass of tree trunks while other sections had a thicker undergrowth hiding a variety of cool details to revel in. Enjoying both the macro and the micro views of a hike, it was fun to slow down here (a theme for the hike) and spend time just letting my eyes wonder across the landscape to whatever caught their attention. One particularly interesting feature was a white rock with the most amazing lichens creating such detailed patterns. If I was going my usual pace I'm not sure I would have noticed the patterns hidden in the shadows so it was a cool find that had me on all fours trying to photograph it. At one point you come across a few rocky boulders and the views open up ever so slightly for a glimpse of Beatties Tarn from a slightly more elevated position. After a kilometre and half from Beatties Tarn you all of a sudden see a creek crossing that doesn't seem that important at the time.
As you come out onto the rocks you realise this is the main drainage creek of the lake and wow, isn't that lake really pretty in the morning light? Using the rocks as stepping stones you can make your way across or squat awkwardly on them to try and get some better photos (not sure I was successful). The rocks are very helpful if you follow them round the edge of the lake instead of taking the main path up to the Lake Nicholls Hut. This provides much better views of the lake and with the goal of spotting a platypus on my Tasmanian adventures, I thought this might be a good spot to do just that (narrator: it was not a good spot). The clear alpine waters revealed a lot of debris from falling branches that did look cool and the sweeping views across the lake to the Snow Gums lining the banks was a really pretty scene. After reaching the end of the rocks I made my way back to the main trail that was conveniently only a few metres away and checked out the Lake Nicholls Hut. An emergency shelter to be used only when the weather gets really bad, it's a very purposeful building (as you would want in an emergency) and had a cool guest book inside that I signed.
Leaving the comfort of the hut I headed back onto the trail to begin the bulk of the climbing for the hike. At around 1000m ASL, it's a 260m climb over the next 1.5km to reach the summit of Mount Field East. Initially the terrain is similar to the climb up from the car park but it soon switches to a rockier and more thought inducing path as you pick your next step very carefully. A small scree field is your home for this part of the climb with lots of grey rocks stained white and orange with lichen. Navigating up not tricky if you are mindful of your next step at all times and there are trail markers on tall poles there to guide you up the maze of boulders. A little way up you can see Lake Rayner down below, one of the smaller lakes above Lake Nichols, although you would be forgiven to walk straight past it given the thick nature of the Snow Gums here. The first of the Pandani's make an appearance here and these almost tropical looking plants reminded me a lot of the various Xanthorrhoea (grass tree) species we get in Western Australia that I love seeing out on hikes.
These striking looking plants provided an interesting foreground addition to the Snow Gum forest and when possible, the views looking south over the Tyenna River Valley. These views with their distant peaks and rolling hills were a pleasure to photograph and with the clouds rolling in, were looking quite lovely. This of course was a welcome distraction from the climbing and served to make me stop every now and then to take yet another photograph. Eventually I reached the top of the climb and as things started to flatten out the forest disappeared, opening up the alpine plateau and my first views of the summit of Mount Field East. I still had my focus looking back at where I'd come from as those views were equally as pretty so snapped a few more of the now exposed forest and turned my attention to the next part of the hike. Peaking my interest was the snow covered mountains in the distance that I wouldn't get to see up close on this hike but would tomorrow when I tackled the Tarn Shelf.
Making my way along the now flat track towards the junction point where two tracks meet, the open terrain was a welcome sight with views a plenty. You get the feeling of being up in the alpine landscape here and see the flora change from tall trees to more stunted undergrowth. The track junction though is under a swath of decent sized Snow Gums and with the sun starting to make an appearance I thought it was best to put some sunscreen on and take my jacket off. The cool weathered signs pointing you off in different directions depending on where you were headed made for great features to photograph and I followed the one pointing me in the direction of Mount Field East. The summit is a there and back side track from the trail junction and all that scree hopping from before will put you in good stead for this section. The way to the summit involves a lot of rocks, a bit of effort keeping an eye out for the next cairn and some minor climbing up and down ledges.
I didn't bring my headphones on this hike so was playing music from my phone speaker on this section (didn't expect to see anyone) and sure enough I climbed up a rocky ledge and there was two hikers descending down from the summit while I was busy trying to stop the Lord of the Rings Symphony blaring from my phone. We all had a good laugh about it as we exchanged hellos before they bounded off down the scree field. Reaching the summit I was happy to see another Antipodean Opaleye nest serving as a summit cairn, marking what is a very spectacular place to visit. The summit may not be very high compared to the surrounding plateau or have any sharp drop-offs but with 360 degree views and some epic scenery in every direction you really can't go wrong. Thankfully the weather was playing ball and I could experience the views in all their well lit glory. With the Derwent River Valley in one direction (including Mount Wellington) and the snowy hills of the western peaks of Mount Field NP in the other direction, there was plenty to photograph.
After taking way too many photos I headed back down the summit trail, picking my way over the rocks and making sure not to roll an ankle up here. Up ahead I could see the next section of track and it's one I had been looking forward to doing after seeing photos of it from my interwebs researching. The "Windy Moors" as they are known is a prolonged stretch of waterlogged alpine terrain made passable (and environmentally friendly) by a long section of boardwalk that was constructed to protect this fragile alpine ecosystem. Exiting the small Snow Gum gathering I linked up with the boardwalk and immediately became in awe of this stretch. The Windy Moors is a very apt name as it had been a bit blowy since reaching the plateau but that just added to the experience. It was a struggle to decide where to keep my gaze with stunning views across the moor towards the peaks to the west or to keep scanning the areas around the boardwalk for interesting flowers and mosses (or perhaps a wombat).
The narrow boardwalks do present a problem when you encounter hikers coming the other way as I found out as there isn't much room to squeeze past each other and I ended up with one foot on the boardwalk and one on a nearby rock so as not to step on a fragile piece of moss. As the moor stretched on into the distance I had a feeling of being in a Lord of the Rings landscape and not just because of the music I was listening to earlier. I felt that at any moment I should be mustering the Rohirrim to charge on Minas Tirith but that didn't quite happen today. The terrain does stoke the imagination quite a bit and it definitely left an impression on me. The Windy Moors only last a kilometre but what a kilometre it is before heading on a slight uphill and into the Snow Gum forests that will be home for the rest of the hike. Here you get a parting view of the moor and the barren looking lands to the north (they are far from barren up close).
While the Windy Moor views are now gone it isn't long before you are presented with different views that are equally as nice. Ascending the tiny hill puts you up on a rocky edge where you'll experience great vistas of the western peaks of Mount Field. Scraggly Snow Gums provide a nicely contrasted foreground to the pockets of white snow and ominous looking mountains. It was nice to get acquainted with the area from afar before being in the thick of it on the Tarn Shelf the following day but for now it was just that, a pretty view in the distance. Walking through the stunted forest you come across plenty of small boulders and corpses of trees long gone including a large thicket of them standing there like an old guard watching over the landscape. As you begin your descent, Lake Fenton comes into view and with the dark clouds having mostly been blown away, it was looking spectacular in the midday sun. There is something to be said for a view of forest, lake, mountains and blue sky and this was a pretty good place to see just that.
If you thought the summit of Mount Field East was the last rock hopping of the hike then it's a pleasant surprise to come across another patch, albeit a very small section. Reaching the side quest of Seagers Lookout, for some reason I had Bob Saget (the dorky dad from Full House) in my head trying to remember if his name was Seager or Saget. This kept me entertained all the way up the now thicker Snow Gum forest to rocky outcrop that serves as the lookout. I'm not sure why as I could see the top of the hill all the way but I didn't expect the lookout to be such a long side trip. I guess I expected it to go straight east and look out over Beatties Tarn and Lake Nicholls but it hooks around and goes all the way to the top of the hill. Not that I was complaining because once there it is hard to argue with the reason why.
Stunning views can be accessed if you negotiate the maze of boulders and climb up onto one of the wider and flatter ones. Even though I am 6ft1 with lanky limbs, it still involved a bit of pulling myself up to reach the most obvious boulder but once up there I had great fun admiring the views. Looking south over the Tyenna River Valley and beyond, I sat there for a while soaking in the sunshine and loving the hike I was on. With another hike on the cards for the day taking in Lady Barron Falls I didn't linger for too long and climbed back down to the track junction. Descending down the fairly steep path and losing a bit of elevation in the process, I arrived at the shores of Lake Fenton. I have to say it looked a lot prettier from above as the track takes you right past the concrete spillway that is not very pleasing to the eye. Another factor in the prettiness was the views of the lake are north facing from the track and this meant the sun was providing a decent amount of glare. With this being another access point for the track and a visitor car park the shock of being near civilisation again threw me off. This was short lived as the track goes past the picturesque Fenton Hut nestled in the forest.
I took a few photos before joining Lake Dobson Rd, which would be home for the next little stretch. Not sure when the road walking would end and also weary of cars coming from both directions, I may have checked the map a few times to double check if I hadn't missed the turn-off. I hadn't and soon I spotted the very obvious track markers pointing me back into the forest for the final push back to the car park. With fantastic views across the valley and up the hill, this is where some of the best examples of the Snow Gum were found. I love their colouring as the bark cracks and peels, reminding me a lot of the Karri trees back home. Finishing with a lovely section of downhill single track was an enjoyable end to the hike and with the elevation getting much lower, the forest started to feel a lot lusher. Reaching the car park I rejoiced in another fantastic Tassie hike taking in some amazing alpine scenery and stunning views.
Final Thoughts - Mount Field National Park is a place I was looking forward to explore with rugged landscapes, alpine plains, temperate rainforest and more lakes and tarn than you can shake a stick at.
My introduction to the confines of the national park was one of the lesser known walks but it still rates very highly on hikes from this trip. Starting in the lovely Snow Gum forest provides nice shelter for the climb up to the summit with Beatties Tarn and Lake Nicholls serving as nice detours.
One of the highlights apart after the summit visit was the Windy Moors, very similar to the alpine fields of Hartz Peak but with a much wilder feel thanks to the wider expanse.
There is a great variety on this hike and will not leave you wishing for it to end. I was surprised to find out that the 11 kilometres took me 4.5 hours to complete, I was enjoying it that much.
If you have some extended time around Mount Field NP and are looking for a great hike to complement Tarn Shelf then this is a similar experience yet slightly different.
Get out there and experience it!
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