(December 24, 2020 – written by Dave)
Coming into Evandale a day early meant we had an extra day here. What would you do if you had a free day? You can do anything you want, read a book, go for a walk, check out the gardens, just rest, anything really… Well, I for one would more than likely go for a bike ride. And if I’m going on a bike ride, why not make it an epic adventure, right Nancy? No wait, where did she go again? Just a minute ago she was sitting right here and we were discussing what to do on a free day… Then she’s disappeared.
Don’t worry, I eventually found her, huddled with her Kindle in a corner of the garden where she thought I wouldn’t look. She really wanted an adventure, I could just tell by the look on her face – honest! (Senior Editor’s note – dang, I knew I should have gone a bit further around the corner. And I was just at an exciting point in my book…)
So for our free day adventure, today we rode out and back to Jacob’s Ladder, in Tasmania’s Ben Lomond National Park. Before I tell you the story of the day I’d like to refer you to a website called dangerousroads.org. I found this website when doing research about Jacob’s Ladder. Dangerousroads is site where users submit their idea of the most dangerous roads out there. And yes, Jacob’s Ladder made the list.
To be honest, Jacob’s Ladder is not really all that dangerous. It could be in the winter ice and snow but in summer, it’s mostly just a very scenic, steep, switchback filled road. It is steep but as long you don’t get too close to the edges going up, you are completely safe. Coming down it could be scary in the snow or ice, or with dodgy brakes or perhaps if you are a speed/adrenalin junkie (which we aren’t!).
If anything, Jacob’s Ladder is anonymous. It’s in the middle north east of Tasmania, well off any of the main routes around the island. We spotted it in a cycle tourist blog a long time ago but have had trouble finding many references to it. If you come to Tassie just to ride around the island or only ride the east or west coasts, then Jacob’s Ladder will not be on your route, much less your agenda. Since we had “a day to kill” we decided that climbing a mountain would be fun. (Ok, I decided, but you know Nancy, she’s always game!)
And finally, while researching Jacob’s Ladder I came across a reference to Richie Porte. He’s originally from Launceston and finished 3rd in this year’s Tour de France. It is reported that he used to ride Jacob’s Ladder for training. So yes, the climb has some serious credibility.
We left for our adventure about 8:30. Nancy wanted to still pretend it was rest day and that’s as early as I could get her out. We had some clouds but a lot of blue sky as well. It looked like a perfect day. There is a tiny downhill leaving town and few very short downhills out on the route but other than that it is all uphill for the first 49k of the ride.
The climbs at the beginning were gentle and a good warm up for the day. We weren’t sure about the road surfaces other than that the last 16k was unsealed. We had pavement leaving town for about 8k, then we had about 10k of dirt. If you ever have to ride dirt roads and are nervous, come ride these to build your confidence – they were super smooth.
After about 18k we joined Highway C401 and had sealed roads until the turn off to the park. The C401 was uphill but only very slightly and we made good time. At the turnoff, the serious part of the day started. The first 8k was more or less uphill at 7+ degrees. Though unsealed, the surface was firm and traction was not an issue. We just put in low gears and spun our way up. There were a couple flat spots around the park entrance gate (8k in) then another climb and finally we reached the ladder, at about 46k. The road surface was the worst of the day on the ladder and it was pretty darn steep with loose gravel. It isn’t long but there are a couple pitches over 15 degrees. The steepness and loose gravel made for concentrated climbing and tight corners.
From just above the park gate to Jacob’s Ladder through the trees we got ever improving views of the rocks above us. Then at the official start of the Ladder, we were out in the open with full views of the stunning million year old vertical rock columns made of dolerite. At the top it is an alpine region, full of low shrubs, many of which were blooming from the recent rains. It is apparently a popular climbing area, though the rock seems like it would break off quite easily, as evidenced by the scree fields at the base of many of the columns.
The hardest part of climbing the ladder was the road surface. Had it been paved, you would have just been looking around at the amazing views. As it was, we had to keep focused on picking a good line in the gravel to stay upright and not sliding out our front wheels or spinning the back wheels. Thankfully seven switchbacks was all it took and we reached the top.
The National Parks folks have built a fantastic look-out at the top where you get stunning views across the ranges. On a clear day, you can see as far north as the Bass Straight and today, we had a mostly clear day – the Bass Straight was just visible. It really is breathtaking – we couldn’t imagine what it would be like in winter but it is apparently a popular place for skiing. There is a parking lot below Jacob’s Ladder and it looks like there is bus service up to the top. Neither of us would be interested in going up that road in a bus when it was covered in snow. And coming down in the snow and ice in a bus, forget it!
We took a bunch of photos, put on our rain jackets to warm up and ate our sandwiches, and then took some more photos. Two other people joined us at the lookout and honestly that’s almost all we saw the entire day. Once we made the turn off the paved road maybe 3 cars passed us and all day we might have had 20 cars pass. We love these Tassie roads.
We kept our rain coats on for the ride down. We were getting pretty chilled from the wind and our sweaty clothes. We took it slow coming off the ladder but were able to relax a bit once we reached the bottom of that steep section. It took us 45 minutes to ride back out to the C401 and all of it was downhill fast riding. Yes, it is a long climb.
The rest of the ride was retracing our ride out, mostly downhill and pretty fast. There was a pesky headwind but we didn’t stop grinning the whole way back to town. It was really quite a day. Jacob’s Ladder has been on my bucket list for many years. Nancy was more or less happy to go along for the ride. She did comment that perhaps nearly 100k on a supposed rest day was a bit much but wasn’t too upset especially when I reminded her of how magical the views were at the top.
With that, I’ll stop. We may not get a post out tomorrow – on Christmas – but we’ll resume posting the day after as we start the ride over towards Cradle Mountain. We had a great day today. We know we are extremely fortunate to be able to get out at all. Here’s hoping that not long from now, everyone will be able explore the world again.
Merry Christmas from Tasmania!