A spectacular circuit that combines Shadow Lake and Forgotten Lake with an ascent of Mt Rufus (1,416m asl) and a side-trip to Little Hugel (1,274m asl). Two mountain peaks, alpine lakes, rainforest and incredible displays of flowering heath.
My second walk during our stay at Lake St Clair Lodge: this time just Amy is joining me, as we tackle the Mt Rufus Circuit (another Tasmanian “Great Short Walk”)! It’s overcast as we set out, taking the most direct route up to Mt Rufus.
The track climbs fairly consistently but never steeply, with the vegetation changing from eucalypt forest with towering trees to cool temperate rainforest in the gullies.
It takes us about an hour to reach the junction with the Shadow Lake Track, which means we’re a bit of over half the distance and almost half the elevation gain. Unfortunately, while it’s not raining, it looks like there is low cloud over Mt Rufus.
From the junction the track heads more or less directly ahead to the mountain ridge, through sub-alpine snowgum forest.
The good news is that it looks like the clouds are clearing, with the long summit ridge of Mt Rufus visible ahead of us.
As we reach the valley below the ridge, there’s an incredible display of flowering heath – Richea Scoparia – a species of flowering plant that’s endemic to Tasmania. I later learn that the flowers are sought out by wallabies to eat, although the plants themselves are fairly prickly.
After the “field of flowers” the track climbs steeply up to the base of the summit ridge – we’re feeling a bit unprepared as we encounter a few other hikers in serious wet weather gear. Below us is Lake St Clair, with the view sometimes improving as we gain altitude – and sometimes vanishing altogether in the clouds.
Finally we reach the exposed ridge that leads up to the Mt Rufus peak – it’s cold and windy as we follow the path up to a summit that we can’t actually see anymore!
I’d like to say the view from the Mt Rufus summit (at 1,416m elevation) was amazing… but visibility was limited to about 20m, with the cloud having closed in. We didn’t stay long. But on a clear you should be rewarded with “outstanding views of Lake St Clair, Mt Olympus, Frenchmans Cap and the headwaters of the Franklin River”.
We soldier on, keen to get out out of the driving wind. The track is still fairly exposed, although at least we’re now descending the ridge line that tracks north towards Mt Hugel. The terrain consists of a layer of sandstone (almost 300 million years old) through which magma intruded up (165 million years ago) to form dolerite, which covered the sandstone layer.
Despite – or perhaps because of? – the low cloud and mist, this part of the walk is incredibly scenic. There’s another field of flowers stretching into the distance as the track reaches the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel.
Behind us, still in cloud, is the Mt Rufus summit.
Ahead of us the Mt Rufus Track crosses the saddle: with its top in the clouds is Mount Hugel (1,357m asl) and to the left is the Cheyne Range. (There’s no marked trail to the Mount Hugel summit but there are informal tracks – a peak for a future Tassie trip!) We’re only a few kilometres from the source of the Franklin River, which begins its 120km journey from just below Mount Hugel.
As the track continues to gradually descend, there are some interesting sandstone rock formations, sculpted by many years of wind and rain.
It’s quite an impressive vista looking out to the north towards Mount Hugel.
The duckboard track swings to the east around the base of Mount Hugel (the rocky summit is now largely clear of the clouds and doesn’t seem too formidable to climb)!
The valley below the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel is known as Richea Valley, named after the scoparia plants…
…and pandani that grow here in profusion.
This is my favourite part of the walk so far, with a combination of eucalypt forest in the background and alternating sections of pandani and flowering heath. The pandani (Richea pandanifolia) is found only in Tasmania and is the largest heath plant in the world (it has no relation to the pandanus palms of tropical Australia and South-east Asia).
As the track descends through the valley, the vegetation gradually changes with a section of cool temperate rainforest and a multitude of Myrtle Beech. There’s some huge trees both upright and fallen!
There’s a final rainforesty-section as the track reaches the edge of the forested area.
The track then crosses a broad plain, covered with low but dense heath: fortunately there’s grassy path. It would be very slow-going to get through this vegetation without a track. Behind us (bottom left) is the still cloud-covered summit of Mount Hugel.
Having reached the other side of the wide valley, the track ascends gently past a couple of tarns before it reaches the junction with the Shadow Lake Track.
We soon reach the edge of Shadow Lake, and then the track that heads to Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel. It’s a tough choice: continue back to Lake St Clair – or attempt our second summit for the day and hopefully this time have a clear view!
Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel
We decide to take the detour and head towards Forgotten Lake. The track follows the edge of Shadow Lake, with Little Hugel in the background.
Up to Forgotten Lake it’s easy walking (although I read later it can get muddy after rain) – the only challenge we have is making sure we don’t step on the many lizards who are basking on the boardwalk.
Once we reach Forgotten Lake, the “track” becomes a “walking route”. We start climbing, quite gently at first, through a forest of pandani, myrtle, deciduous beech and snow
There’s frequent orange triangles marking the route, although it’s fairly easy to follow.
It gets progressively steeper through denser rainforest, until we reach the start of the boulders and scree. The summit is directly ahead. (My mum tells me that “hügel” means hill in German – although it looks and feels like more than a hill!)
There’s a nice view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake through the trees.
Amy is getting a bit tired – but the benefit of climbing a mountain is she has 4G reception on her phone. She’s quite content with my suggestion of making sure she’s up-to-date with her social media feed, while I complete the last few hundred metres to the summit… It’s steep but fairly quick, with the route now a consisting of scramble up the boulder field toward the summit.
There’s a nice view of the heart-shaped Forgotten Lake, almost directly below.
From the summit** of Little Hugel (1,274m asl), there’s a great view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake, as well as the southern end of Lake St Clair in the distance. (**In the interest of blogging accuracy – it’s almost the summit! The true summit was about 50m higher; as I didn’t want to leave Amy too long, I went to the outcrop of rock on the right and not the true summit to the west.)
It’s a much quicker descent down the steep track!
The first few kilometres from Shadow Lake back to Lake St Clair are pretty dreary – the track passes through eucalpyt forest and the landscape is fairly monotonous.
As the track descends further and gets closer to the Hugel River, there’s a few nice sections again of temperate rainforest and towering trees.
It’s not too much further until we reach the turn-off to the Platypus Bay Track and cross the Hugel River. From here there’s just over a kilometre until we’re back at Lake St Clair Lodge. It’s been an exhausting but fantastic walk – and we’re glad to get back to the lodge for an early dinner!
0.0km Start at Lake St Clair Visitors Centre (Cynthia Bay) 0.3km Junction with Mount Rufus Track 4.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track 6.5km Start of Mt Rufus summit ridge (exposed track) 8.3km Mt Rufus summit 13.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track (alternate return route) 14.3km Junction with Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel 17.1km Little Hugel Summit 19.6km Return to Mt Rufus Track 24.2km Junction with Platypus Bay Track 25.1km Junction with Mt Rufus Track 25.5km Lake St Clair Visitors Centre
|Location||Starts/finishes at Lake St Clair Lodge (Cynthia Bay)|
|Distance||25.5km circuit (8-9 hours)|
|Grade||Moderate. Total 1,015m ascent.
Track to Little Hugel rough and steep in some sections
|Season/s||All year. Might be icy in winter and ferry operates less frequently|
|Map||4233 Rufus 1:25K (south end of lake)
TASMAP Lake St Clair Day Walk Map (print & digital options)
|GPS Route||Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.|