Shadow Lake Circuit
Start - Lake St Clair Lodge
Length - 14.8km (Loop)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Boardwalk
Vertical Climb - 407m
Time - 4-7 Hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 12th April 2021
Best Time - All Year Round (Take Care in Winter)
Traditional Custodians - Lairmairrener People
Directions - Located two and a half hours north west of Hobart, take the Brooker Hwy north and follow the signs for New Norfolk. Cross the River Derwent at New Norfolk and then follow the Lyall Highway north west all the way to Derwent Bridge. Turn onto Lake St Clair Road and follow this all the way to the car park for the Lake St Clair Lodge. The walk trails all start from the same location a short distance west of the lodge.
The Hike - With our stay at Lake St Clair coinciding with a bit of a cold snap, some snow on the mountains was making for a great experience. After one day of it snowing at lower altitudes we woke up on the last full day we were there to normal conditions around the Lake St Clair Lodge. With an enjoyable group outing on the Larmairremener Tabelti after breakfast, my main focus for the afternoon was to tackle the 14km Shadow Lake Circuit that seemed like a good compromise given Mount Rufus was a little longer and possibly harder to navigate with the snowfall we'd received.
After our morning walk, Caris and I headed out to Derwent Bridge for a spot of lunch at the Hungry Wombat Café before heading back to Lake St Clair so I could prep my gear. Candy and Hal were off kayaking on the lake and along the River Derwent so Caris would get some time off to read her book and have a nap in the warm cabin. Filling up my water bottles and packing some warm gear, I said goodbye and headed off along the edge of the lake towards the start of all the day walks near the lodge. With partly cloudy conditions, this was the first time I'd seen the lodge with blue skies around and I enjoyed the different look, even if it wasn't as cosy as when it was covered in snow. Walking past the little information hut at the start of the Watersmeet Track, I decided to do the circuit in a clockwise direction. It doesn't matter what direction you do it in but I wanted to be on unfamiliar territory much earlier and was soon on the shared path with the Larmairremener Tabelti as it leaves the Watersmeet Track. Walking past Banksias and small Buttongrass Plains, this marks the start of a very long uphill section all the way to where you turn off for Mount Rufus.
I would have loved to have done that track but given how many photos I take on a typical hike, trying to average 4kmph over the remaining five hours of daylight would be a challenge and I didn't want to feel rushed. Walking past the sign for the Larmairremener Tabelti turnoff, from here until the crossing of the Hugel River would be all new for me and I was excited to see what was in store. You can read all about a walk in guide books or look on the interwebs for reviews but nothing really prepares you for being in the moment. Initially I was a little disappointed that I hadn't done this the previous day when the ground was covered in snow but the quality of the forest through here was very enjoyable. Passing the girthy trunks of the larger trees was fantastic and there were plenty of details for me to photograph including Coral Fungi, different varieties of berries, lichens and flowering Banksia. Not expecting it to be a warm hike, I found early on that I didn't need my jacket so put that in the bag not far from the first turnoff. As I climbed, it became apparent that not all the snow had melted and I was ascending into a winter wonderland as the altitude got higher and higher.
This made me a very happy hiker as it would be my last opportunity on this trip to hike in snow and it would be an amazing experience to have an extended walk in the snow without worrying about a spotty lens. Initially the snow was limited to small patches in the undergrowth and areas where it was very shady but the higher I climbed, the more frequent it became. During this transition period, the mixture of snow and mud made for some interesting walking as the ground was quite wet from the snow melt and at times I was walking through a flowing creek, much like my hike up Mount Sprent. This would end up being the story for most of the afternoon as I had to watch where I was stepping to avoid sinking my boots into shin deep water or a boggy patch of mud. The first of many cool finds in the snow was a large fungi that was about the size of a dinner plate bursting through the white powder. It was by far the biggest fungi I saw on the trip and looked comically large just sitting there in the snow. Continuing to ascend, I had a bit of a giggle as the snow on the track got thicker and it dawned on me that higher up I may be walking in much deeper snow, a prospect that excited me.
Enjoying the juxtaposition of classic Australian flora against the wintery feel of the snow, I had cleared the thicker forest and was now heading up towards a more sub alpine area. The undergrowth thinned out a little and the thinner trees now stood out a lot more. This also marked the emergence of the Snow Gum, a tree that I adored on my first visit to Mount Field National Park thanks to the vibrant colours of the trunk when the bark has peeled away. This would be my first time seeing a Snow Gum in snow and with the filtered light of a partly cloudy day illuminating the colouring, it was a joy to photograph them. I was expecting the open forest to continue up towards the high point of this walk but soon found myself under an enclosed canopy and one of the more magical places on the circuit. Coming across a little creek system, the combination of white ground, mossy logs, dark breaks in the white for flowing water and a golden tint to the lighting made this a pretty special spot. It reminded me of the Forest of Dean scenes in Deathly Hallows: Part One where Harry finds the sword of Gryffindor and the three main protagonists are reunited. I would be finding no magical objects here so just stood still for a while and soaked it all in.
Crossing the creek system via some small bridges, this next area would mark the heavier areas of snow and I would have to be on my toes to navigate my way along the intended path. For the most part it was easy, just follow the existing boot prints in the snow but as with any track, sometimes the most trodden path is the wrong one because people have to go out and back due to taking a wrong turn. I made this mistake and ended up following some track up the creek and into a pretty area that wasn't the correct one. As I realised my mistake and backtracked, I was surprised to see a couple following up behind me. They were heading on the same wrong route as me so I pointed them in what I thought was the right direction and they continued on. I hadn't expected to see anyone up here given the conditions and was in my own little world so it was a but of a shock. Now on the right track (look for the orange markers), the snow on the ground got thicker and it became a mission to land the right step that didn't involve getting your whole boot buried in either snow or water. Eventually I reached the open forest again and this was the start of some epic views looking across to Mount Rufus and eventually over to Mount Hugel.
With my zoom lens able to make out the snowy summit of Mount Rufus, I was hoping that this clear weather would last for the rest of the hike and I could finally get an appreciation for the mountains in the area that had so far been pretty well hidden by clouds. Trudging through the snow, I spotted my first Pandani, a smol version poking out from underneath the snow and I naturally took a few photos. Following the orange markers that are attached high on the snow posts through here, I eventually came to the track junction where the Mount Rufus Circuit leaves the Shadow Lake Circuit to head up to the summit and then re-join closer to Shadow Lake. With more time available I would have done this 5km addition but as I said earlier, I didn't want to rush through the hike. The couple that passed me earlier had stopped here and we had a bit of a chat about the fantastic day we were having and what hike we were both doing. I didn't notice before but they had large packs on and were planning on camping near the summit of Mount Rufus before heading back down the next day. Given the spectacular sunset I experienced later on, this would have been a pretty magical experience for them. I wished them good luck and watched them head off as I stayed to photograph the amazing scenes in front of me.
Heading back into the forest, there is a slight dip down into a small valley and this was home to the largest collection of Pandani on the whole circuit. I would see the odd one here and there but this grouping was pretty cool to see, especially given the size of some of them. Here I also came across my first and only Snow Berry, very fitting given the conditions and it was good fun photographing the white berry against the snow. After rising up a small hill that is the highest point on the circuit, this next section is a gradual downhill as you descend down towards the flatter areas containing the lakes. Back in the thicker forest, there are some sizeable trees through here and more of the colourful Snow Gums to admire. Crossing over some flooded areas and creek systems is made easier by boardwalk and wooden foot bridges and not having to think about your next step was a welcome relief. I stopped at one of the wider creeks to photograph the little rapids that were flowing, along with the pools of water that had filled with golden confetti thanks to the nearby Beech trees shedding their tiny leaves. This was another tranquil spot in the forest that felt like I was anywhere but reality.
Meandering through the forest as it twisted and turned along the landscape, I was enjoying every moment of this hike. Looking at my watch, it became apparent that my pace wasn't terribly great and I would have to make up some time somewhere. Trying not to worry about it too much, at least the Watersmeet Track to finish was one I had already done a few times over the course of the trip. Arriving at another open spot, this seemed like the edge of a swampy area but it was hard to tell thanks to the snow cover. It ended up being a Buttongrass plain with several small creeks flowing through it and that provided some open vistas for me to enjoy the sensational views looking across to the snow-capped mountains. With Mount Hugel the dominant peak in the distance, I enjoyed the misty peak that had an air of mystery surrounding it. While sunny conditions are great sometimes, I love when there is a slight shroud hanging around as it gives an impression of hidden wonder. Today was a good balance between being able to see the peaks and having some rolling cloud cover. With emergence of the Buttongrass plains I was kind of hoping to come across a wandering wombat but didn't want to get my hopes up too much. After putting my jacket back on due to the cold, I did end up seeing a little critter, albeit a much smaller caterpillar crawling in the snow.