Three Short Hikes in Death Valley

 

A drive through Death Valley, with three short hikes that explore the highs and lows (altitude-wise) of the area.

After hiking to Telescope Peak the previous day – the highest point at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level – today’s a relatively easy day before I drive back to Las Vegas. I’ve picked three short hikes that take in some of the varied landscapes of the park:

  • Zabriskie Point where the Badlands Loop goes through gulches and along ridges, and provides a close view of some of the rock formations of Death Valley
  • Dante’s View, one of the highest points you can get to by car where two short walks provide sweeping views from the lowest to the highest points in Death Valley
  • Badwater, the lowest point of the US for a hike across the salt flats.

Starting at Beatty, outside the park, I start fairly early as the morning light is best for photography of the salt pans. There’s nice morning light and no traffic as the dead-straight road (Highway 374) heads for the Grapevine Mountains.

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Visibility is still a bit obscured by smoke from fires burning in California.

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It’s a surprisingly hilly place – there are multiple mountain ranges between the vast plains; Death Valley itself is bounded by the Panamint Mountains on one side and Amargosa Range on the other.

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Directly ahead of Highway 190 is the Amargosa Range runs which along most of the eastern side of California’s Death Valley, separating it from Nevada’s Amargosa Desert. Its highest peak at 8,738 feet (2,663 m) is Grapevine Peak.

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Zabriskie Point

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My first stop is Zabriskie Point, which is at the foothills of the Amargosa Range. There’s a very short walk to a popular lookout here, which provides a vantage point over the desolate landscape.

Looking west, across Death Valley, is the Panamint Range in the background. The jagged peak in the middle is Manly Peak, located half inside Death Valley National Park, and half inside the Manly Peak Wilderness area.

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To really experience the desert landscape, there’s two short, circular hikes that start here: the Golden Canyon Loop and the Badlands Loop.

I’m taking the shorter (2.7 miles / 4.3km) Badlands Loop, which gives you a great feeling for the dramatic landscape.

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The hike, sign-posted by frequent arrows and easy to follow, heads down a narrow gully carved by infrequent (but heavy) rain to Zabriskie Point Junction.

From Zabriskie Point Junction the trail follows a much broader gully, which is a major artery of Gower Gulch, in a south-westerly direction.

After about 1.3 miles there’s a junction, which is also the lowest point of the Badlands Loop. Continue straight ahead down Gower Gulch (and back via Golden Canyon) to form a longer circuit. Or head back up a narrower gully to complete the shorter Badlands Loop, which is what I do (I’m doing the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction).

From the junction the track ascends from Gower Gulch, following the ridges of the hills. Looking much like sand dunes, you can almost visualise the ancient lake bed being  folded and faulted into the irregular white hills that exist today.

This is the most spectacular part of the short loop: as the trail ascends along the ridges of the hills, you can see the rugged terrain, and the Panamint mountain range in the distance.

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You can also see the distinct difference between the lighter hills formed from alluvial material from the lake bed, which is rich in borax, and the darker peaks formed by lava from eruptions that occurred 3-5 million years ago. (Borax, also known as white gold, was mined in the region in the 1880s and some many mines shafts remain, including several abandoned Borax mines along the Badlands Loop.)

Towards the end of the Loop, I can see Zabriskie Point in the distance (top right of the photo below) and the gully that leads back to the starting point.

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Rather than following the marked track back, I head straight up one of the ridges that leads towards the lookout. It eventually becomes a rough track obviously used by others to reach the lookout point.

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From Zabriskie Point, I take – which is now starting to get a bit  busier – I take a last photo of the panoramic views.

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Dante’s View

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My next stop, a bit further along Highway 190, is Dante’s View. While not as high as Telescope Peak, it provides one of the best views over the white salts flats and most of the 110-mile long Death Valley. Getting there is half the fun, with Dante’s View Road rising steeply up from Highway 190 to the viewpoint.

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The views from the parking are pretty impressive, even without walking anywhere… but a couple of short trails provide even better vantage points. To the south-west of the car park, a trail leads down the ridge.

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The views from the trail take in the salt flats of Badwater at 282 feet (86m) below sea level and directly behind it (at the very top left of the photo) Telescope Peak at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level.

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As you descend further down the ridge on the rough track, you can see further down the length of Death Valley to the north.

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It feels like you could continue down the ridge all the way to the salt flats… but we’re still 5,275 feet (1610m) above sea level.

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At the northern of the car park, another trail heads up the ridge – it goes for four miles up to Mt Perry (I only went about 0.3 miles).

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The outlook is pretty much the same as from the southern end of the carpark, although it’s more of a rocky and rugged environment. And there are no other people around. There are unimpeded views of the Badwater salt flats and the Panamint Ranges.

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The main benefit of hiking in this direction is that you also get the slightly less impressive view to the east, of the Greenwater Range.

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From here I need to back-track a little, heading back up past Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek, and then down Badwater Road. One of the main roads through Death Valley, Badwater Road follows the foothills of the Margarosa Mountains. The first section is almost dead straight and seems to go forever… many of Death Valley’s attractions are along this road, including Badwater.

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Badwater

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Probably the most popular attraction in Death Valley, Badwater is the lowest place in the USA, at 282 feet (86m) below sea level. A sign high up on the cliffs marks sea level, and reminds you how far down you are! (The highest point in the contiguous 48 states lies only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest, and can be seen on a clear day from Telescope Peak and Dantes View – but not today due to the haze.)

Near the carpark and at the edge of the salts flats is a spring-fed pool – the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make the water undrinkable. The name is thought to have come from an early explorer’s horse who refused to drink, thus giving rise to the name “bad water”.

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A long, white salty “finger” stretches out from the end of the boardwalk, providing access onto the salt flat. I later read that one should stay on the boardwalk to avoid crushinng the tiny Badwater snail – but there’s no signage requesting visitors to stay off the salt, and most people are venturing onto the salt flat. Looming high above Badwater are the Black Mountains, part of the Amargosa Range – Dante’s View where I’ve just come from is almost 6,000 feet above me.

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Continuous freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles have created the hexagonal honeycomb patterns of the salt pan, which stretch all the way into the distance to Panamint Mountains on the other side.

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I walk as far as I can. It’s about two miles to the far end of the salt pan, below the towering Panamint Range, where the smooth salty surface ends. A bit further on is Shorty’s Well on the opposite side of the salt pan, and the starting point for a very arduous hike from -282 feet up to the Telescope Peak summit at 11,049 feet!

From the salt pan I continue down Badwater Road, which winds around the edge of the salt flats and the foothills of the Black Mountains for a while, before becoming dead straight again. Towards the end of the Black Mountain range, the road bears east and crosses the mountains at Jubilee Pass, before leaving Death Valley National Park.

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I think I’ll be back – there are many more walks I’d like to do, and while I’ve always associated Death Valley with the salt pans, there’s a huge diversity of landscapes.

Location Anywhere in / around Death Valley – I found relatively inexpensive accommodation at Beatty, just outside the park.
Distance
  • Badlands Loop – 2.7m / 4.3km (a longer 4.3m loop can be also be done from here)
  • Dante’s View – 1.6m / 2.5km (can be extended up to 4 miles by going to Mt Perry)
  • Badwater salt flats – up to 4m / 6.4km if you go to the other side of the salt pan
Grade Easy. Minimal elevation gain for these hikes/=.
Season/s Avoid summer, when it’s too hot to hike
Maps National Geographic “Death Valley” 1:165,000
Resources
  • Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guide) book
  • Free Death Valley National Park brochure from ranger stations

Telescope Peak, Death Valley

Telescope Peak (11,049 ft / 3,368m) is the highest peak in Death Valley, with a well-established route to the summit from Mahogany Flat campground.

Getting to the Telescope Peak trailhead is half the fun… I’ve stayed the previous evening at Panamint Springs after flying in from Australia. It’s about a three hour trip by car from Las Vegas (McCarran) airport and I’ve arrived in the late afternoon, so the drive was all in darkness. My first view of the Death Valley area was the 50min drive from Panamint Springs (the closest accommodation, unless you are camping) to Mahogany Flat, via Panamint Valley Road and Trona Wildrose Road.

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There’s almost no other traffic at 8am, and the scenery is pretty spectacular in the morning light. It’s also pretty desoldate. While I’m glad I’ve brought a jumper as it’s around 47 degrees F (8C) according to the car, you can imagine how hot the vast plains get in summer.

Most of the roads are in good condition, although they get increasingly more pot-holed and narrow as I near Wildrose Campground. From Wildrose Campground to Charcoal Kilns the sealed road is great quality for the first five miles or so, before it quickly deteriorates to gravel and features large potholes and washed out sections. I’m glad I selected an AWD car with a bit of clearance – I would have struggled in the Dodge Challenger I orginally booked! (The road up Charcoal Kilns is generally suitable for any vehicle, but I’d seen warnings that storms had damaged the road.)

Charcoal Kilns is a tourist attraction – ‘though it’s a long way to drive if you’re just coming to see these. Built in 1877 and used to create charcoal for local mining operations, the odd-looking domes are well-preserved. They are considered to be the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states. The reason for their preservation may be that they were only used for about two years.

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There’s a warning sign at Charcoal Kilns that the last section of road to Mahogany Flat is suitable for high clearance vehicles only. It looks OK so I continue by car, rather than walking the 1.6 miles. There’s a few rough bits, but I make it past Thorndike Campground and almost to the end of the road. A particularly badly rutted section spooks me a bit (despite my general philosophy that rental cars can go anywhere!) and I walk the last 0.5 miles on foot. The roads ends at Mahogany Flat Campground at 8,133 feet (2,479m) above sea level, where the start of the Telescope Peak walk is clearly marked.

The trail starts climbing immediately but very gently (the trail has an average 8% grade), and there’s soon views down into the North Fork Hanaupah Canyon and the salt flats far below. Although there’s not a lot of shade, there are a variety of trees, including the single-leaf pinyon and limber pine along the track.

After about 1.5 miles, there’s the first view of Telescope Peak in the distance, and the long ridge that leads up to it.

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After 2.6 miles i reach the broad plateau of Arcane Meadows (9,620 feet / 2932m); above to the north-west is the communications facility on Rogers Peak. This is the only non-wilderness high point in the park, and has been used as communications and instrumentation site by various government agencies since the late 1950s. For the first time there’s a view to the west – and it looks like a lot of smoke from wild fires in California will impact the views from the top 😦

The next few miles is pretty much flat – in fact, my GPS shows a slight descent, as the trail follows the western side of the long ridge, crossing a few sections of talus rock. Directly ahead is Telescope Peak.

It’s easy walking along the well-defined track as it follows the broad ridge, with views mostly to the west, and occassional views (below right) to the east and down what I think is Middle Fork Hanaupah Canyon.

Towards the of this section, as the trail starts to gain some altitude, there are some impressive examples of the bristlecone pine. These huge, gnarled trees on the higher slopes are up to 3,000 years old. Even after death, these pines often stand on their roots, for many centuries due to the wood’s extreme durability.

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There’s a final steep section – although, with many switch-backs, it’s never particularly steep. There’s three “mounds” that are ascended, before the final one that leads to the 11,049 ft (3,368m) summit.

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The views are amazing, my guide book says. You can see as Mount Whitney (the highest point in the 48 contigiuous states), it says…  But not today. The haze and smoke from the distant fires have significantly reduced visibility. Looking to the south and south-west is Sentinel Peak directly ahead, part of the Panamint mountains that stretch to the south. Below is the Panamint Valley, and barely visible on the far side of the valley is the Argus Mountains.

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Looking back to the north, Death Valley is below and barely visible on the other side of Death Valley is the Margosa Range. Despite the poor visibility, it’s an impressive view down 11,300 feet (3,400m) to the Badwater in Death Valley far below – only three other mountains in the US exceed this elevation difference!

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It’s not too windy at the top, but after taking a few photos I head back down the mountain – I’m not exactly disappointed with the walk, but it would have been amazing on a clear day!

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With the hard bit over, I’ve got more energy to admire the flora that survives in a pretty brutal environment. Another massive bristlecone pine stands at the edge of the trail, looking like leaves might sprout in the next rain – but it may also have been dead for over a 100 years.

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Where there are no trees, an abundance of low-lying grasses and ground plants survive in the rocky landscape.

The most impressive views are on the last part of the descent, looking down into Death Valley and across to the Margosa Range. Ironically, due to the haze, as I descend I can see further.

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I make it back to the car around 3:30pm – it’s taken me just under 7 hours to cover the 13.7 miles (22.1km) return trip. A bit less than the signage, as I started below the trail. And a bit slower than I expected, but after a long flight the previous day I didn’t feel in top form! With daylight endng pretty early in November, I enjoy my first (and only) Death Valley sunset on the way back to my accommodation at Beatty.

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I’m glad I did this walk – but I’ll have to come back! Maybe next time I’ll do the nearby Wildrose Peak, on a hopefully clear day!

Location Start from Mahogany Flat Campground if possible, or park at Charcoal Kilns. Road from Charcoal Kiln may be closed in winter or impassable in 2WD/low clearance vehicles. There are some places yo can park along the access road or at Thorndike Campground about half-way up the 4WD road.
Distance 13.7 miles (22.1km) return – including part of the 4WD road.
Signage states 7 miles one-way, from trailhead, but is slightly less.
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of 3,690 feet / 1,125m
Season/s All year, but may have snow on trail Dec-Feb
Maps National Geographic “Death Valley” 1:165,000
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
  • She Dreams of Alpine blog post
  • Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guide) book

Gibraltar Peak, Tidbinbilla

Gibraltar Peak (1,038m), a rocky outcrop with extensive views, is a circular walk in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve that’s only 45min from the Canberra city centre.

One of the longer walks in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, not far from the centre of Canberra, Gibraltar Peak is the perfect early morning walk before a day of meetings. The start is well sign-posted about 5min drive from the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre, starting from the Dalsetta carpark. The trail crosses a grassy plain on the opposite side of the road to the carpark, with regular track markers.

Given the acres of green grass, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a mob of kangaroos, including one that bounded down the track in front of me. I haven’t seen this many ‘roos in one place for a long time!

The trail rises very gently at first, on a broad, sandy path through low heath. There’s some intepretative signage, explaining that the track is traversing the land of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. While the women and children stayed on the plain teaching, dancing and holding ceremonies, the men and older boys went higher into the mountains for initiation rituals into manhood.

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The trail gradually gets steeper with a few switchbacks, before reaching Eliza Saddle, Eucalypt trees including the Broad-leaved Peppermint at the lower levels are replaced by grass trees and granite boulders as the path gains altitude.

After 3.5km there’s a very solid viewing platform, with a broad vista out to the east towards Canberra.

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Soon after the viewing platform is reached, the narrow bush track reaches the Gibraltar Fire Trail, which provides an alternate route back.

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Gibraltar Peak is only about 300m further, on a rocky trail that rises steeply up the last of the peak. There are soon views to the east across as the trail follows the edge of the mountains…

…and crosses some huge granite slabs, with the top of Gibraltar Peak more like a giant boulder field than a mountain summit!

The views are impressive, combining sweeping views to the east with odd-shaped boulders in the foreground. The Telstra Tower on Black Mountain is visible in the distance

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The trail ends at the base of large boulders forming the summit of Gibraltar Peak. There’s a narrow cleft between two of the largest boulders, with some smaller boulders wedged in the gap that allow you to clamber to the very top. Which I don’t manage to do… I get half-way up, but don’t feel confident scrambling up the second boulder that requires some gymnastic-like moves. I suspect the view from the very top would be even more impressive.

The return part of the loop is easy – and rather boring. After a short uphill section, the Gibraltar Fire Trail gently descends back towards the starting point.

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Near the bottom of the fire trail is the Xanthorrhoea Loop, which passes a stand of grass overlooking the valley. Don’t bother! There were just as many grass trees along the Gilbraltar Peak track.

Just after the Xanthorrhoea Loop, the trail leaves the fire trail and crosses the grassy plain, with the Tidbinbilla Range in the background.

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Looking back, you can see the rocky Gibraltar Peak, which really doesn’t really look like a peak from here!

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From here it’s a pleasant stroll across the grassy meadow, eventually re-joining the same track that I took to go up the mountain. And the kangaroos are still out in force, farewelling me as a return to the car park.

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Location Start at Dalsetta carpark, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Distance 7.7km return
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 350m
Season/s All year.
Maps Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve free guide (from visitor centre or download here)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
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Tidbinbilla map showing walking tracks; Gibraltar Peak track is highlighted in yellow

Giewont and Kasprowsky Wierch

There are a multitude of hiking trails in the Polish Tatra mountains near Zakopane. A loop taking in the popular Giewont massif before traversing to  Kasprowsky Wierch (Peak) makes a perfect day walk.

It’s my last walk on this Europe trip, and I’m heading out to Zakopane and the nearby Polish Tatra Mountains. A town in the extreme south of Poland, Zakopane is located in the southern part of Podhale (the name of this region being derived from the phrase “pod hole”, which refers to the terrain that stretches out at the foot of the mountains).

While there is a train line from Krakow to Zakopane, I couldn’t actually find a train… the only way to get there seemed to be a bus that leaves every half an hour or so (from the train station, ironically!). As we get closer, it gets increasingly foggy and I question my decision of heading to the mountains! From Zakopane there’s another short bus ride to Kuźnice, where the trails are clearly marked.

I’m sticking to the plan of hiking up to Giemont, considered one of the most famous peaks in the area, despite visibility being very limited. The fog does intensify the autumn colours, although I’m doubting I’ll have much of a vew from the top.

The first part of the walk is along a cobbled road (closed to traffic) which is not very steep. It’s more a stroll up the road then a hike! Along the path there’s a small shrine in the rocks by the road and a memorial in a small glade, both of which I fail to find any explanation of on-line (at least in English) after my walk.

After about a kilometre there’s a small hut where an entry fee is payable, and another 800m further is the PTTK Kalatówki Mountain Hotel (1,198m above sea level) in the Bystra Valley. Built in 1938 for the FIS World Ski Championships, it was erected in a record time of 150 days. Apparently there are “stunning views of the surrounding mountains”. I can barely see the end of the glade. But I take the opportunity to buy a few snacks and have a mid-morning coffee!

From here the sign-post shows 2:45min to the Giemont peak, and the trail is now much narrower as it traverses the Kondratowa Valley. Despite the poor visibility, it’s pleasant walking and in some ways nicer with the fog in the tall forest (although I have no idea what views I’m missing out on).

After another half an hour I reach the PTTK Mountain Hut (PTTK Hala Kondratowa), which has some accommodation and offers meals – although I didn’t stop here.

From here the track starts to get gradually steeper as it climbs up through the Valley of Malego Szerokiego, with the path become a bit rockier. There’s a few streams that look like you cold drink from, although I’ve got plenty of water and don’t want to take the risk.

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I also start seeing a few more people along the track as it gets steeper and winds up the valley.

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What’s more encouraging is that the fog is starting to lift, and there are views in the distance of multiple ridges and mountain peaks. It would be spectacular without the clouds, and is still pretty impressive with fog filling the valleys.

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The track finally reaches a Kondracka Przełęcz (1,725m), in the middle of the ridge that joins Kopa Kondracka and Giemont, my first destination. Looking west from the ridge, there’s just a sea of clouds… and to the north is the spiny peak of Giemont.

I continue from the pass up the cobbled trail towards the Giemont summit, with its distinctive cross. The pasth is pretty flat initially as it goes passes through low heath.

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Looking back down the track towards Kondracka Przełęcz, you can clearly see the track continuing up the other side of the ridge towards Kopa Kondracka (that’s where I’m going next).

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The path gradually gets steeper, and the final ascent is very steep with a few sections aided by chains. There’s a big school group ahead of me, which is hard to overtake on the last section – I can see why my guide book warns that on summer weekends there can be a long queue to reach the summit!

Fortunately while the ability to overtake is limited, it’s only the last 500m or so where you need to go single-file, and I soon reach the summit. The view from the Giemont summit (1,894m asl) is almost anti-climactic after the rocky climb and the views from along the path. To the west there’s still just clouds; looking east you can see the long ridge that forms the border between Poland and Slovakia. What’s impressive is the 15m high steel cross on the Giemont peak, erected in 1901. Weighing about 1900kg, all the material was carted by hand to the summit and the cross was erected over a week. It’s now a site of religious pilgrimages and a listed monument of architecture – and a massive lightning conductor! I wouldn’t want to be standing here durign a thunderstorm.

I don’t stay long at the top – it’s a litle crowded and the views are just as good from the path. I head down the same way I came up – I read afterwards there is a different path for the descent, to avoid passing people on the steeper sections.

As I near the Kondracka Przełęcz pass again, some of the clouds clear and there’s blue sky – I can now see some of the valley floor to the west, where before there were just clouds.

It’s an impressive view from the the pass, looking up the ridge towards Giemont.

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I figure I’ve got enough time to extend the walk, rather than returning directly to Kuźnice (there are some alternate routes back suggested by my guide book). Instead I continue up the ridge to Kopa Kondracka, which will take me from 1,725m above sea level at the pass below Giemont to 2,004m. There’s nice views down the valley towards Kuźnice to the left (north-east), and Giemont with its prominent cross is visible (and still above me) to the north.

The trail climbs steeply up to Kopa Kondracka, which at 2,004m is the highest point on the walk. I then follow the main ridge across to Kasprowy Wierch (Peak) – on one side is Poland, and on the other, Slovakia. Not so long ago there were border checks between Poland and Slovakia and some challenges for hikers with trails straddling or crossing the border, but with both countries now being part of the Schengen Agreement you can wander anywhere through the Tatra mountains without fear of arrest!

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The views are not extensive due to the clouds, but it does make it a very dramatic and constantly-changing landscape.

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At times the views are almost completely obscured by cloud; occasionally they lift a little and you can see the trail stretching out along the ridge.

The first half of the path along the ridge is fairly easy walking. About half-way between Kopa Kondracka and Kasprowy Wierch, it descends steeply (though not for long) and becomes much more undulating as the ridge narrows.

This section is the most strenous and the most dramatic: the path follows the top of the narrow ridge, with steep drops on both sides.

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This entire section is spectacular with the clouds shrouding both sides of the ridge, offering the occasional glimpse of the valley below and the peaks in the distance.

Eventually I see my destination – the metereological observatory on top of Kasprowy Wierch, in the distance. (At 1,987m above sea level, it’s the highest inhabited building in Poland.)

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Before I get there, I’ve got a few more ups and downs as the path follows the contours of the ridge, and a bit more time to enjoy the view from the track. As the clouds shift I get a glimpse of Tichá dolina (The Silent Valley) below, as well as some of the surrounding peaks.

An increase in the numbers of walkers indicates my proximity to Kasprowy Wierch – where a cable-car transports walkers up and down the mountain

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I’m taking the cable-car down; I would have been happy to walk but it’s almost 3pm, and I still need to get back down the mountain and Zakopane to catch a bus to Krakow. As well as the cable-car, there’s a couple of chairlifts that are used for skiing in the winter months.

The cable-car runs every 20min, so it’s a fairly short wait before I’m whisked down the mountain. It’s a 12min trip down, from 1,987m at Kasprowy Wierch to 999m at Kuźnice where the cable car terminates, with a stop in the middle where we swap cars. There would probably be magnificent views on a clear day – but alas, not today. Although I’m not complaining. It’s a lot easier than walking down! And I suspect on a clear day the tails and Giemont summit would be fairly crowded, even outside peak season.

It’s been a magnificent walk – far better than I expected, having not done much research (I saw a guidebook on Zakopane two days prior and throught, “that looks good”!). The trails are extensive and well-marked, and the scenery spectacular even with the fog and cloud. I’d love to spend a few days here – with a bit of planning you could some amazing walks between mountain huts.

Location Starting point is the village of Kuźnice (10min by bus or taxi from Zakapone). About two hours from Krakow by public transport
Distance Approx 15km one-way
Grade Moderate (total ascent 1200m). Track steep/rough in parts
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Cable car operates year-round
Resources Zakapone and the Tatra Mountains guidebook (available in multiple languages) from local bookshops
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Map showing route taken. Download larger image.

 

Schneeberg, Lower Austria

The perfect day trip from Vienna when you want to escape the city. There are a number of ways to get to Klosterwappen (Schneeberg summit) at 2,076m, the highest peak in Lower Austria.

Time for another hike on our European adventure… while Vienna is not really surrounded by mountains or near any high alpine peaks, a Google search identifies Schneeberg as good option for a day trip. The Klosterwappen summit on Schneeberg is 2,076m high, making it the highest mountain of Lower Austria. A bit more research confirms I can get there in under two hours by train, and I manage to convince my son Luke he should come with me.

There are multiple walking trails to the Schneeberg plateau, as well as a rack-and-pinion railway (the Schneeberg Railway) which is over 100 years old and takes you to a height of 1,800m, and a chairlift which takes you to 1,210m [see bottom for summary of routes]. The original plan was to take the chairlift up and tackle one of the more challenging routes to the summit – but on arrival at Puchberg am Schneeberg railway station I discover the chairlift is operating only on weekends. Conscious of time, as we have to be back in Vienna by 6pm, we decide to walk up to the peak via the Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg), and then descend on the train. (It’s worth booking ahead for the train – we would have had to wait almost two hours for the first train with seats going up the mountain – see links at the bottom.)

It’s a relatively easy walk as the gravel road follows the train track, although the total ascent from the village of Puchberg am Schneeberg at 585m to the 2,076m Schneeberg summit (Klosterwappen) is about 1,500m. A pretty decent climb for a day walk!

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We have a mini-break at Hengsthütte (1,012m), one of the stations on the train line, that has a small restaurant where I bribe Luke with a can of Coke.

Although the views so far are not particularly inspiring and the walking is a little monotonous, there is some nice display of autumn foliage. (If it seems like I’m not particularly upbeat about the walk at this point, you’re right – I am struggling a little to explain to Luke as each train passes us why we didn’t just catch the train up…! I vaguely recall a quote about “strength and growth coming only through continuous effort and struggle”. I don’t sound very convincing, though.)

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We reach the next hut (Baumgartner, 1,568m asl), which is also a train station, after another hour of walking. There’s another restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area, although we don’t stop. We see a few other hikers for the first time, who appear to have started the walk from this station – a much better idea as the walking starts getting more interesting from here. For the first time we can see the top of the Schneeberg plateau in the distance.

Just after the Baumgartner hut, the road becomes a walking path, and the forest starts to change from tall pine trees to more stunted versions. It’s much nicer walking – and there isn’t a train going past us every 40min reminding us that we didn’t need to walk!

There’s also some great views down onto the valley below, and the towns of Schneebergdörfl and Puchberg am Schneeberg in the distance, where we commenced out hike.

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We make good time on this last section up to the Schneeberg plateau, reaching the edge of the low pine forest – and the first patch of remnant snow – after about 45min. We can see the cross indicating one of the Schneeberg lookouts (but not the summit) in the distance, and I’m subjected to the first of many snowballs thrown at me by Luke…

We make the decision to continue directly to the summit, bypassing the top railway station (Hochschneeberg mountain station). It’s taken us just over three hours from the Puchberg am Schneeberg station at the bottom to the top of the main plateau, but we still have another 300m or so of elevation to get to the summit – or 1.25hrs according to the sign.

It’s very easy walking again, and there’s lot’s of people around – obviously all people who have taken the train up, and haven’t benefited from the strength and growth that came from our continuous effort and struggle hiking up from the bottom! Ahead of us, on the left-hand side of the long ridge, is Klosterwappen, the highest point on Schneeberg. Another hut (Damböckhaus) is packed full of people enjoying lunch on the mountain.

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After 15min along the gravel road, there’s a turn-off to the Klosterwappen summit. Marked by snow poles, there’s a very rough track that heads up to the peak across an alpine meadow.

The views get increasingly more impressive as we head up the steepest part of the slope towards the summit.

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It takes us just over four hours to the summit – a bit slower than the signs suggest on the first part up along the train line – but much quicker on the last section when the sight of the peak (and a few patches of snow to distract Luke) inspire us to pick up the pace (at one point we thought we wouldn’t have time to make it to the very top).

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While the summit is more of a long plateau than an alpine peak, the views from the top are magnificent, stretching in all directions. Looking south-west toward Styria there are mountains as far as the eye can see, including the Rax mountains.

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In the other direction, to the east, is the Bucklige Welt (the “land of a thousand hills”) and the Rohrbachgraben valley.

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We have a brief stop at the summit, before heading back down the hill. (With a bit more time, we could have followed the summit ridge to the Fischerhütte at the other end, which also has a cafe/restaurant open from May-November. From there there’s an alternate route back to the bottom.)

Looking back from the bottom, there’s a nice view back of the summit plateau, with Klosterwappen (2,076m asl) on the far left, and Fischerhütte (2,048m) at the right-hand side.

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There’s just enough time for Luke to build a snowman, expertly crafted from one of the snow drifts. It was a very hot summer and none of the winter snow lasted, but the many snow patches on the mountain are from a cold front a few weeks earlier.

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Before we catch the 3:45pm train back down to Puchberg am Schneeberg, I’ve got time for a few last photos from the Hochschneeberg summit station of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

It’s a much quicker trip down on the train than our 3-hour hike up – and we’re glad we booked in the morning as the train was completely full (there were still some seats available on the next few trains.)

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Schneeberg Summit Routes

I found it a bit confusing working out what the different options were when I planned the trip… the table below is a summary of some of the summit routes on Schneeberg!

Route Details
Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg) – Puchberg am Schneeberg to Hochschneeberg top station 9.3km (1200m elevation gain). Gravel road up to Baumgartner then walking trail. Or take the train 🙂
Hochschneeberg top station to summit (Klosterwappen) 6.5km return (300m elevation gain). Gravel road for 1km then rough track
Hochschneeberg top station to Fischerhütte  (summit plateau) 7km return (280m elevation gain). Gravel road (easier walk than Klosterwappen)
Hochschneeberg to Klosterwappen summit and back via Fischerhütte (circuit) 7.3km circuit (300m elevation gain). Mostly gravel road
Losenheim to Edelweiss Hut 3.4km one-way (470m elevation gain). . Alternative is to take chairlift.
Edelweiss Hut to Klosterwappen summit 3.9km one-way  (820m elevation gain). One of the hardest routes to summit.
Edelweiss Hut to Hochschneeberg via summit (take chairlift up and train down) 6.8km one-way (850m elevation gain).

As well as these walking tracks to the summit, you can also take the Panorama Paradise track from the Hochschneeberg station. This is a circular walk (approx 3km distance and 150m total ascent) that includes the Panorama View lookout. This is well sign-posted and can be done within an hour.

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Location Multiple options to reach the peak on foot, train (up to 1,800m asl) or cablecar (up to 1210m). All start from the town of Puchberg am Schneeberg which is serviced by a regional train line as well as road.
Distance 12.4km from Puchberg am Schneeberg to Klosterwappen summit
Grade Moderate (due to 1,510m total ascent)
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Chairlift open weekends only outside of winter and summer months.
Resources

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

A spectacular cable car ride and scenic walk on Mount Faito, only 10min by train from Pompei – and a great way to avoid the crowds!

Only a few stops on the local train from Pompeii, this short but incredibly scenic diversion is well worth taking a few hours to explore (thanks Dad for the suggestion!). Aside from the views, it’s a welcome diversion from the crowds of Rome and Pompeii. The best part of this walk is getting there via a cable car, which starts from the Castellammare Di Stabia train station on the Circumvesuviana line. Departing every 20 minutes, a ticket can be purchased from the rather nondescript train station.

There were only about 10 people making the trip up, and while I’ve read it’s a popular weekend escape from the heat for locals, on a week-day in late September it wasn’t at all busy.

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There’s great views on the ten-minute journey up, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius on the other side. Even without doing a walk at the top it would be worth the round-trip (there’s a small restaurant/cafe at the top).

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From the top of the cable car, there’s a path that leads down the mountain (so you could also walk up – or down – and catch the cable car one-way). Mount Faito is one of the peaks along the Lattari mountain chain, at the base of the Sorrento Peninsula. We find the path that continues up the mountain, which starts at the far end of a shaded picnic ground just above the cafe/restaurant.

It’s easy walking – the first part of the trail to the from the cable car to the Monastery of San Michele is called the “trail of the angel”, as it traces the route taken by the saints Catello and Antonino over 1000 years ago. The trail follows the edge of the mountain, and there are views over Salerno and the distant peaks Piano di Trebucchi.

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As the trail gradually ascends, it crosses some sections of rocky limestone and then a section of tall trees.

After about 40min walking, we reach Porta del Faito, a small clearing on the ridge with views over the Bay of Naples toward Vesuvius.

We admire the impressive views for a while, before turning back – it’s already 1pm and we need to meet the other half of the family at Pompeii. From here. it would be another 15-20min to the Monastery of San Michele and about an hour more to Monte San Michelle, the highest peak in the area. (Also called Il Molare, as it’s shaped like a molar!)

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We re-trace our steps back the cable car, enjoying the views a second time on our descent back to Castellammare Di Stabia train station. (On the way down, we see – and hear – explosions and smoke emanating from a building on a distant ridge, which seem to be fireworks exploding. We never managed to figure out what it was!)

Location A cable car (funicular) departs from the Castellammare Di Stabia station on the Circumvesuviana train line (there’s also a bus to the top or you can drive), in the Sorrento area. Can be combined with a day-trip to Pompeii from Rome.
Distance 1.8km to Porta del Faito (one-way), as walked.
Approx 4km (one way) to Monte San Michelle. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Easy. Total ascent 100m (as walked, to Porta del Faito). Approx 350m ascent to Monte San Michelle
Season/s All year. (Cable car closed December-March)
Resources Cable car (funicular) timetable
Map-Faito2015
Map of Monte Faito with route taken highlighted

Gorges, waterfalls and peaks of Tivoli

Tivoli (or Tibur in ancient Roman times) is home to a number of historic sites, including Villa Gregoriana (a complex of paths, waterfalls and grottoes) and is also the starting point for a walk up into the surrounding hills.

I’ve got a “free day” in Rome before the rest of the family arrives (they’ve already been in Europe for over a week)… a Google search for the best walks around Rome leads me to Tivoli. It’s less than an hour away, and seems to offer the opportunity for some short walks, as well as Villa Gregoriana with its waterfalls and grottoes. (There’s also Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, which I don’t have time to visit.)

Villa Gregoriana

I make my way from the station to the famous Villa Gregoriana, about a 10-minute walk away. After disastrous floods in 1826 which destroyed almost all the homes in the oldest part of Tivoli, there was a public competition find way to deviate the course of the Aniene river and prevent future floods. The project was authorised and financed by Pope Gregory XVI. Following the diversion of the river the Villa Gregoriana park was created using the old river bed of the Aniene.

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The best project for diverting the river was judged to be that of Clemente Folchi, who proposed a digging a tunnel through Monte Catillo. A short diversion from the main path through Villa Gregoriana leads to the exit of the twin 300-metre tunnels, known as the Cunicoli Gregoriani (Gregorian Tunnels). They vary from 10 metres in width at the entrance to 7.20m at the exit.

The massive project to divert the river moved the course of the Aniene, and shifted the falling point of the water away from the residential area. Even during a relatively dry period, the flow of water is pretty impressive.

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Slightly further down the main route are the remains the Villa of the Roman patrician Manlius Vopiscus. The villa was built in limestone, and the ruins that can be seen formed the foundations of the residence. A flood in 105BC destroyed part of the town, and swept away the villa.

As the main path descends into the valley, there’s a view of the lower falls. Perched above the river is the acropolis of ancient Tibur, located on an isolated rock opposite the waterfalls. Built in the 1st century AD, the site had two temples perched on the edge of the precipice.

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Another side path leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Great Waterfall; along the path are small caves and grottoes that are common in the porous travertine limestone.

There are a views of the river from along the narrow path. It looks very placid (the green colour being from the limestone) and it’s hard to imagine how the Aniene vally was referred to as the “valley of hell”, before the river was diverted.

It’s an impressive view of the artificial waterfall as the river emerges from the two tunnels from the viewpoint, with the water falling 105m into the valley below.

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After this diversion to the waterfall lookout, the main path descends to the Ponte Lupo clearing, at the base of the falls. Prior to the river’s diversion, the Ariene river formed a small lake here.

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Below the Ponte Lupo clearing, a natural bridge is formed when the river goes underground and into a tunnel. Called the “Mermaid’s Grotto” by the Swiss landscape artist Louis Ducron (at the end of the 18th century), the underground passage is thought to have been formed in the huge flood of 105AD.

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The path then climbs up the opposite of the valley, splitting into two routes. The more scenic option starts with a tunnel carved into the cliff, with side openings offering views of the underlying chasm  (Miollis tunnel). A very short diversion to the Nymphaeum viewpoint, an artificial cave looking out over valley below.

Another diversion leads to Neptune’s Grotto, carved out by the river centuries ago.

Due to the unusual geological composition of non-compact travertine (also known as calcareous tufa), which is highly porous, the grotto has many stalagmite-like formations.

Re-tracing my steps, I backtrack to see what the alternate route to the top is like – it’s much less impressive, but boasts views over the Aniene Valley. Directly opposed is the convent of Sant’ Antonio (thought to be built on the ruins of the Villa of Horace), and you can just make out a train that’s coming into Tivoli from Rome.

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The route finishes at the Temple of Vesta and Tiburnus. There are ten surviving Corinthian columns of the Temple of Vesta, which includes a frieze at the top with festoons and bucrania. In the distance, above the town, I can see a large cross on a hill which is my next destination…

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Monte Catillo

From the temples at the exit of Villa Gregoriana, I walk back through the town, in the vague direction of the large cross on top of the hill…   After following the main road (Via Quintilio Vaso) uphill for a few hundred metres, there’s a steep and narrow road (Don Strada Nello Del Raso) that heads past of a block of units. It seems promising, so I can continue upwards, with some nice views of the town.

A little further there’s a foot-track off the road, and even some signage that would help if I actually knew where I was heading… I continue with a bit more confidence, as I do have a map that shows a “330” trail, which corresponds with the sign at the start of the trail.

Even from the start of trail, there’s some nice views of Tivoli and the Temple of Vesta below.

While the views are great and I’m clearly on a path that’s going somewhere, what’s a bit perplexing is that I seem to be heading past Monte Catillo and its prominent cross, and there’s no been no obvious turn-off to the rocky peak (I’ve also seen references to the cross being on Monte Della Croce, which is just below Monte Catillo).

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I continue along the track… what I don’t expect to find in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is a soccer field!

I’m now well above the cross, so I veer off the marked route and head directly towards it, down the ridge. It’s a bit rocky but it’s not difficult walking and takes about 15min to reach the base of the cross. There’s panoramic views over Tivoli, with the railway station on the left and historic town directly ahead.

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I can see the track I’ve been on snaking up the hill – but there’s no plaque or information about why such a large cross has been put here.

There’s no obvious track down from here (I thought maybe I’d missed the track to the peak), but it’s pretty easy to find a route back down to the main track. There does seem to be a side-track up to the cross, but it’s not obvious and not sign-posted.

I’ve still got a bit of time, so I re-trace my steps up the hill, past the soccer field and onwards… As the trail rises, there’s increasingly expansive views over Tivoli and beyond.

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The track swings to the north, and after being fairly exposed it enters a forest consisting of cork oaks. There’s a few side-trails here, but the main one continues up and over Monte Giorgio. As you climb further up there’s a view to the east of the village of Bivio San Polo below and Castel Madama in the distance.

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The track passes a gate as it keeps heading up the ridge, and about 500m after the gate I seem to be at about the the highest point, with the track now continuing north along the ridge.

I turn back as the track starts to descend slightly, as I have a train back to Rome I need to catch. I enjoy one final vista of Tivoli and the surrounding countryside before re-tracing my steps.

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It looked like a longer circuit would be very feasible, and I discover later a useful blog post which describes a longer circuit, including the route I’ve taken.

Location Tivoli is easily reached by train from Roma Termini (central station). Villa Gregoriana is  450min walk from the railway station and the start of Route 330 is 800m from the station.
Distance Approx 11km (Villa Gregoriana and the Monte Catillo walk)
Grade Moderate (approx 500m total ascent)
Season/s All year (may be snow on Monte Catillo in winter)
Maps Free map “Riserva naturale Monte Catillo” (1:100K) – I got this from Villa Gregoriana
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources RomeTheSecondTime blog has a useful post describing a circular route from Tivoli

Walls of Jerusalem – hike to Dixons Hut

The hardened track to Dixons Kingdom and Mt Jerusalem provides relatively easy access to Tasmania’s most remote alpine National Park, with spectacular scenery and the option of climbing a number of peaks along the track.

I’d originally planned Walls of Jerusalem as an overnight walk. It’s been on my To Do list for a while, waiting for an opportunity when I have a few days in Tasmania. But the weather forecast is for miserable weather, including snow, and I’m getting soft in my old age 🙂 So rather than giving up completely, I’ve done a day walk to Meander Falls on the previous day, and am undertaking the Walls of Jerusalem hike as a day trip.

Staying at the nearest accommodation at Mole Creek, I make an early start to reach the Walls of Jerusalem (Lake Rowallan) car park just after 7am. I sit in the car for ten minutes as it starts to sleet. Eventually I figure I may well get going, and I start the climb up from the carpark, past the walker registration booth and up to Trappers Hut.

The sleet turns into snow as I gain altitude, and some of it stays on the ground. It’s cold but the constant climb keeps my warm enough.

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By the time I reach Trappers Hut, about 2.3km into the walk, there’s a light cover of snow on the ground. Trappers Hut was one of the basic huts used by animal trappers in the 1940s, and was rebuilt in 1990 using the original design. While not suitable for an overmight stay, I enjoy a brief nap away from the wind and snow before resuming my hike.

I’ve now completed most of the ascent; just after the hut there’s an alternative track to the Walls via Lake Adelaide and Lake Ball. I had intended to come back via this route (not a marked track), but decide not to with the wet and overcast weather. Continuing straight ahead on the main track, I soon reach the plateau and have the first views of the Walls of Jerusalem in the distance (Kings David Peak is directly ahead).

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There’s now a long walk across the plateau, through a number of picturesque pools and lakes. The track, mostly well-marked and easy to follow, traverses Solomons Jewels – the largest of the lakes. Even with the gloomy weather, this is one of the most scenic and pleasant sections of the walk!

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After the lakes the track crosses the valley formed by the Wild Dog Creek, before reaching the Wild Dog Creek campsite. There are a number of timber camping platforms here which are are fairly private, although I’d recommend continuing further before setting up camp if you are overnighting.

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The track rises again after the campsite up through Herods Gate: to the north-east is Mount Ophel (1,335m asl) and thundering past the track is the swollen Wild Dog Creek. I meet a couple of hikers who look far better equipped than me, and warm to expect deep snow ahead.

To the left of the track is Lake Salome…

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…to the right is King David Peak (1,499m asl) which forms part of the West Wall.

The peaks forming the Walls of Jeruasalem are in all directions, surrounding Lake Salome and the valley I’m walking through like a an enormous amphitheatre.

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There’s also a lot more snow, and at times the track (still mostly boardwalk) is submerged between a foot or more of snow.

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Despite the snow – and limited visibility – once I reach Damascus Gate (the saddle between the Solomons Throne and the Temple) I attempt a couple of side-trips to the peaks along the main track. To the west is Solomons Throne – at 1,469m elevation it’s slightly higher than Mount Jerusalem – and is the highest point in the area that has a marked walking trail. I set off across the snow and up the slope towards the rocky summit.

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At first it’s not too difficult, although about half-way up I put on my micro-spikes to help with traction on the mostly hard-packed snow. It gets more challenging as the track reaches the rock face, and the accumulated and softer snow reaches depths of over a metre.

Where the track enters a narrow and steep gully up to the peak, I give up… even with crampons there’s a risk of either slipping through the snow onto submerged rocks, or sliding down the sleep slope back to the bottom…!

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I admire the views from my vantage point half-way up Solomons Throne – on the opposite side of the valley is The Temple.

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Having returned to the main track after my aborted ascent of Solomons Throne, I decide to try and reach the top of The Temple. At 1,446m asl the peak is only about 20m lower in elevation than Solomons Throne, but it looks like there’s a lot less snow on top. The rocky path is a lot easier to follow, with just a few patches of snow covering the route.

Although while this time I reach the summit**, it’s a somewhat pyrrhic victory as I really can’t see anything from the top! Looking back across the valley at Solomons Throne it’s shrouded by cloud. You can see how the narrow gulleys and southern flank of the mountain are deep in snow. (** Technically I don’t quite reach the summit – my GPS says I’m at 1,425m when I turn around, but I don’t see the point of continuing when visibility is so limited.)

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Back on the main track, I continue to Dixons Kingdom Hut. The trail descends slightly along the lower slopes of The Temple, through a large forest of Pencil Pines (some of the trees are estimated to be up to a thousand years old). There’s snow across most of the path, and I’m glad that there are footprints marking the route, as there’s no natural landmarks to follow.

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Dixons Kingdom Hut lies in a clearing at the edge of the Pencil Pine forest. The small hut, originally built as a base for cattle grazing, provides some shelter but is not intended to be used for accommodation. Tent camping is permitted in this area, and would have been my destination if doing an overnight walk.

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This is my destination for today: I would have had time to climb Mt Jerusalem, but while the weather is improving slightly it’s still very overcast. After a short break and a chat to two hikers who are warming up inside the hut, I head back.

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Towards the end of the walk the skies are clearing. I’m glad I’ve managed to finally do this walk, and in some ways the snow and cloud enhance the alpine landscape. But I feel I’ll have to come back, on a day when the sky is clear and there are views from the many peaks along the track.

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Location Start at Lake Rowallan car park, accessed via Mersey Forest Road from Sheffield / Mole Creek. Last section of road is gravel but 2WD is fine.
Distance 22km return as walked (add 4km if summiting Mt Jerusalem)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of ~1000m. Well-constructed track.
Season/s Sep/Oct – April unless equipped for snow conditions. Check weather forecast before commencing walk and always be prepared for changing conditions!
Maps
  • TASMAP Walls of Jerusalem NP (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service “Walls of Jerusalem Fact Sheet
  • “Day Walks Tasmania” by John & Monica Chapman (p.137)
Map-Walls-of-Jerusalem
Map showing Walls of Jerusalem track. Source: TasTrails

Meander Falls and Split Rock Circuit (Western Tiers)

One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, the hike to Meander Falls can be done as a circular walk, taking in a variety of terrain and a number of smaller (but equally impressive) falls by taking the Split Rock Track back.

The plan was to do an overnight walk to the Walls of Jerusalem. But with the weather forecast predicting rain and snow, I decided to leave the backpack in Sydney and stick to a couple of day walks instead. Meander Falls was my pick for the first day, being fairly close to Walls of Jerusalem National Park (as I’m still doing a Walls of Jerusalem hike the following day) as the weather seemed much better to the east. It’s a fairly late start – about 10:45am – when I reach the well sign-posted start of the walk.

The track follows the Meander River upstream, ascending fairly steadily but not steeply at the start, and crossing some side streams.

The track is not always obvious – I veer off a couple of times before realising my error – but there’s frequent orange triangles marking the correct route. The track is sometimes above the Meander River, which can be glimpsed through the thick forest cover below..

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…at other times the track is close to the river, and there are a few boggy sections where some care is needed to avoid wet feet.

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There’s a very steep section after about 3km, before the first glimpse of Meander Falls in the distance. The forest also changes subtly from here, being a bit more open than the semi-rainforest I’ve been walking through along the lower reaches of the Meander River.

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The falls get more impressive as you get closer, falling 130 metres over two tiers. The last

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As the track nears Meander Falls it becomes somewhat indistinct, but it’s easy to find a way down the slope to the base of the falls. It’s an impressive sight and I regret not taking my DSLR and a wide angle lens, as I can barely fit the entire waterfall into the photo. I’m the only person here and I enjoy the serenity of the waterfall and the clear pools at the botton… Although not for too long, as it gets cold pretty quickly once I stop moving!

I re-trace my steps, but only for about 300m, as I’m going back via the Split Rock Track (also referred to as the Cleft Rock Track) to make this a circular walk. The  Split Rock Track is a bit rougher but still easy to follow, as it descends and crosses the Meander River.

It’s not entirely clear where the track goes as it climbs up from the river to a massive scree slope. But once on the scree, a series of cairns provides an indication of the route that climbs the slope.

Looking back, Meander Falls can be seen again in the distance.

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Once the top of the scree field is reached, the track traverses thick heath, with a few boggy sections and oversize puddles for good measure… my topographical map suggests that there is a side-track to the top of Meander Crag, so I make this detour hoping to get some good photos from the top.

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There isn’t a track – at least not one that I can find. I manage to bush-bash to the base of the rocky summit, and climb up some of the way before it starts getting very steep. And very windy. There’s nice views over the Meander Conservation Area with Huntsman Lake in the distance, from halfway up the mini-mountain.

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After descending back to the Split Rock Track, I continue through the low heath before crossing another smaller scree field.

The track then enters into taller forest again, and descends quite steeply on a rough track. Rough as in lots of tree roots, uneven terrain and steep and slippery sections – but the trail is easy to follow.

There’s numerous small cascades, streams and sections of rainforest that make it pleasant walking.

As the trail descends, it goes through an enormous cleft in the rock – I can see where the track’s name is derived from!

At the bottom of this enormous split rocks there’s a waterfall, which is quite picturesque with the water cascading in front of a large and mossy overhang. According to my map, they don’t have a name…

…but I’ve also realised when looking at the map that I’ve made a small but annoying error: I’ve continued down the main Split Rock Track, and missed a turn-off to an alternate trail that goes past a number of falls. There’s another track that goes along the front of the waterfall and heads back up the hill. I feel compelled to head back up the hill to see what the other waterfalls I’ve missed look like. The track crosses another creek and small cascades, and I’m almost surprised I haven’t attracted any leeches (at least, not yet!).

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The next falls – which are marked on the map – are the Shower Cave Falls.  While the drop is not huge, there’s a fair amount of water cascading over the rock face, surrounded by ferns and towering trees above.

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Continuing up the narrow track through the heavily wooded forest, it’s not far until the next named waterfall.

Split Rock Falls is even more impressive than the last one. It’s possible to walk behind the falls which spill over a large overhang, and the rocks around the base are weathered and pock-marked by the constant falling water. This would be a good spot for a picnic – I encounter a small group of people I et earlier who are having a break on the far side of the falls.

There are a couple more huge caves and overhangs on way back up to the main track – a few of these you could easily camp under (although the walk is not really long enough to warrant an overnight trip).

I rejoin the “main track” about 30min later. The junction is incorrectly placed on the topographical map, and there is a sign – but it’s lying on the ground and is slightly confusing. If you’re coming back via Split / Cleft Rock trails you definitely should take the “waterfall way” – look for the junction at 41.72463, 146.53076 (or Quamby Bluff GR 610 811).

Once back on the main track I re-trace my steps back down through Split Rock (or maybe it’s Cleft Rock?). The track descends fairly steeply through tall trees, past a few more overhangs and along sections of rainforest.

Eventually the track meets the Meander River, where a suspension bridge takes you back across to the starting point, finishing a 50m or so down the road from the main track I took up.

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It’s been a great walk – no pun intended! The terrain’s been quite varied, there’s been a bit of route-finding to keep things interesting and the Split Rock Track back takes you past some very picturesque cacades and rock formations. Would be a fantastic walk to do in winter when Meander Falls sometimes freezes, with the right gear.

Route Summary
0.0km  Start at carpark (606m asl)
4.0km Junction with Split Rock Track (continue straight ahead for Meander Falls)
4.5km Meander Falls (1,060m asl)
5.0km Split Rock Track
5.6km Approx location of side-track to Meander Crag
7.6km Junction with alternate track via waterfalls
9.3km Waterfall track rejoins main Split Rock Track
10.6km Return to Carpark
Actual distance walked longer due to some side-trip and back-tracking.
Location 30km south-west of Deloraine. C167 from Deloraine to Meander, then follow signs to Meander Forest Reserve. Last few kilometres of road is unsealed and rough, but OK for 2WD vehicles.
Distance 12.3km circuit as walked (approx 9km to falls and back on main track)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of 810m. Track is rough or non-existent in sections.
Season/s All year but may be snow/ice conditions in winter.
Maps
  • 4637 Breona (1:25,000)
  • 4638 Quamby Bluff (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service 60 Great Short Walks – Meander Falls

Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track

One of the shorter access routes to the Glow Worm Tunnel, passing through the spectacular pagoda-like rock formations on the way.

It’s been over three years since my last visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel, which I hiked with friends via the much longer track from Newnes after camping nearby. This time it’s a day-trip I’m leading with our local Cub pack, reaching the Glow Worm Tunnel via the shorter Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track.

At the the car park on Old Coach Road, there’s a log book. It’s a good time to explain to the Cubs that map-reading skills are important to make sure you’re at the right starting point! As one of the entries shows, there is an alternate carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is even closer to the tunnel than our start point.

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The walking track is the continuation of Old Coach Road, which is closed to traffic as is descends into the valley. There aren’t many flowers along the track even though it’s Spring – but the wattles are out in force!

After less than 500m there’s views from the track of the surrounding  pagodas, and

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A bit further on, and the pagodas are on both sides of the track, proving too much of a temptation for the Cubs!

The pagodas are the result of vertical cracks forming in a very thick layer of sandstone, which break along these joints into roughly rectangular blocks. Water erodes the rock more quickly than in the centre of the sandstone blocks, so the top of each block becomes a dome shape. Differences in the texture of the sandstone causes some layers to wear more quickly than others, generating the terraced appearance of the domes.

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It’s a pretty spectacular landscape!

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It’s pretty impressive from above too…

We finally drag the Cubs away from their Pagoda rock-climbing and continue down Old Coach Road. The road continues descending, passing a gate as it nears the bottom of the valley.

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Just after the gate, Old Coach Road joins the Pagoda Track, a narrower bush track. There’s a few huge caves and overhangs, and a hollowed-out tree that provides some more distractions for the Cubs as we descend the last section of track to the bottom of the valley. After about one kilometre the Pagoda Track meets the shorter track that leads from the carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is the shortest route to the tunnel.

The landscape changes along the valley floor, with towering eucalypts, ferns and patches or rainforest as we neat the tunnel entrance.

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Finally we arrive at the Glow Worm Tunnel entrance, half-hidden by ferns, and put on our head-torches for the last part of our walk through the tunnel.

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We all see the glow-worms once our torches are off, and our eyes adjust to the dark. The tunnel is quite busy today – and the Cubs were much more impressed with climbing the rock pagodas on the way down than the tunnel itself!

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We make our way back the same way, for a late BBQ lunch at the car park. The tunnel itself was much busier than my last visit, with most people accessing it via the Glow Worm Tunnel car park (1km), rather then the 3km route from the carpark at Old Coach Route. It’s also disappointing to see quite a few people behaving like dickheads – bringing their dog (which is prohibited in national parks, and clearly stated on the signs) and one person even smoking a cigarette as they walked through the tunnel. If you can, visit during the week or get here early.

Location Access from the top – as described above
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34kms. 

  • Park at the Glow Worm Tunnel parking area (1km each way) located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road
  • Continue down Old Coach Road to the carpark (3km each way). This is what we did. Note: if using Google Maps, the carpark is not marked, but is at the intersection of Old Coach Road and the Tigersnake Canyon Track (-33.246764, 150.236225)

Access from the bottom (long walk) – refer previous blog post
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway. (Head west from Lithgow for about 11km to a junction leading to Mudgee, then right onto the Castlereagh Highway; from here it’s another 5min until you reach Wolgan Road on your right).

Distance 6.8km return as walked
Grade Easy (215m ascent)
Season/s All year round
Maps
  • 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)
  • Zig Zag Public School students created a cool guide to the Glow Worm Tunnel walks – download PDF
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Notes
  • Bring torches (ideally a head torch) for the tunnel – but don’t shine the light onto the glow worms (and switch off torches to see the worms!)
  • To take photos, you’ll obviously need a tripod (try an exposure of 30sec / F4 at ISO1250 to capture the glow worms)
Map-GlowWormTunnel
Map showing route taken (Glow Worm Tunnel via Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track)