The weeks slowly ticked by, getting ever closer to my scheduled Overland Track departure date of June 22.
A bit earlier winter had lashed the state with gusto and I doubted whether or not we could even get the car to the start of the track. The webcam images of Cradle Mountain and peoples Facebook photos of current conditions from the Overland Track had me thinking I may well be crazy.
A few weeks of watching the weather reports, checking freeze levels, wind, rain and snow predictions and it appeared my chosen week would offer pristine conditions after all.
Never one to trust the weather man and basing all my gear selections on the average temperatures (hedging my bets on the colder side) I set off from Ronny Creek on the 22nd in thermals, shorts and a merino zip hoody. This became my Overland Track uniform that would hardly change for the next week. The forecast sun actually turned up as if on command.
Heading out of Ronny Creek I decided to take the Horse Track to avoid potential ice on Marion’s lookout. From all accounts this was a sound choice.
Having never been up the Horse track on previous Overland Track trips the variety it provided was nice. Ice started to appear on the track about the same time the trees disappeared and a bit further on I broke out the micro spikes. These provided great traction on the mix of ice and snow.
I hadn’t seen another person yet that day until I got to Kitchen hut where I met some day walkers who said that Marion’s Lookout had been quite icy and dangerous. Here a warm drink was in order while watching a group struggle down Cradle Mountain.
Heading out of Kitchen hut the track sidles around the base of Cradle Mountain. This is generally where you start to feel you are actually on the Overland Track proper as the day walkers disappear. The views of Cradle Mountain plastered in ice were amazing and I could make out a couple of decent routes which may be climbable in good conditions. I lingered here quite a bit trying to get photos of the gullies. Once I realised I was going to run out of light I packed up and continued on. Frustration with my time exploring and the constant drips of tree fulls of snow aimed right at the gap between my clothes and neck spurred me on.
On Cradle circ an emergency shelter has been erected in the last couple of years. This proved a good place to grab out my head torch and swap my hat for a beanie. 3:45 in Tasmania and the sun was already beginning to get low on the horizon. Setting a trend for the trip I lingered a bit to long and had to use my head torch whilst descending to Waterfall valley hut. Along with the darkness, the water on the track had begun to freeze again and the micro spikes and poles played a pivotal role in arriving safely.
Expecting to see a cold dark hut as I descended the boardwalk off the main track, I could see light and activity in the hut. Getting closer I thought it must have been walkers headed the opposite direction. Arriving at the hut I soon realised I was wrong when the occupants wheeled in a 50l cooler, area heather, two burner stove and food for miles.
All this and the huge pile of timber I hadn’t seen yet were the reason behind all the helicopter activity I had seen during the day.
Bed called early and I slept soundly until 8 am the following day. Day one of my winter Overland Track trip was complete.
My ear plugs had done a great job of keeping the hut noise at bay overnight and they did just the same for my alarm.
I was up with a clammer, a bit like excited kids on Christmas morning. Except my excitement was actually a bit of ‘oh crap’ as I had planned on being out of the hut by 8. I took a moment to pause and thought it’s only a couple of hours to the next hut. After this I sat down to a leisurely breakfast and packed up at the usual speed. Whilst I was packing I kept thinking to myself there has to be a better way to do this. Pack the sleeping bag, deflate and roll the mat, deflate the pillow, get changed and arrange the pack. Surely there must be a better way.
I was out the door at 9:30 and was greeted by a blanket of ice that still hadn’t melted in the morning sun.
I put the micro spikes back on and they did not come off until I reached Windermere hut that afternoon.
I ambled across the boardwalk soaking in breathtaking views of Barn bluff on my right and Mt Emmett on my left. It wasn’t long until I reached the Lake Will junction and decided on morning tea. A muesli bar, snickers and a coffee had me quite content with my spot. After the late start I decided not to linger too long. The track undulated ahead of me before dropping to the shore of Lake Windermere. I turned to look at Barn Bluff in the sunshine and took one of my favourite photos of the trip.
The walking was magical, it could well have been summer if it wasn’t for the cold temperatures and a track covered in inches of ice.
The photo below shows the lake half frozen, that line across the lake is the delineation of frozen water and free water..
Windermere hut is just beyond the lake itself and doesn’t offer much in the way of a view. It is however a short backtrack to a small ‘picnic’ spot.
The afternoon was passed writing and drinking tea with the hut to myself.
This recurring theme of poor time keeping continued and I awoke late in the morning of day three. I packed up and ate breakfast a bit quicker than the previous day as I had just over 16km of ground to cover for the day.
I think I was no more than 10 minutes out of the hut when I misjudged a step, felt my ankle give way and took a solid fall into an ice covered scoparia bush. This bush became home for the next 5 minutes while I decided if I was game enough to try and stand on my ankle.
With some effort I hauled myself out of my temporary home and put weight on my ankle. Amazingly it didn’t hurt too much and with some gentle coaxing I continued on a bit slower than I wanted.
Pine forest moor was soon reached, this part basically signals the end of the open alpine scenery and the transition to rainforest. It always amazes me that in a small distance the feel of the Overland Track completely changes. The forested section between pine forest moor and Pelion plains (the days destination) always seems to be a grind to me. The track is easy to follow, however it is full of tree roots, water, mud and on this trip frozen mud.
Every step brings you closer to New Pelion hut, but quite often via the long route as it follows the foot of Mt Pelion West. These winding turns provide false hope that you are on the last bend.
The late start and ankle incident meant I was going to be benighted for the second time this trip. As I turned my cap backwards like an American teenager I slid my head torch over the top for the last kilometre or two across Pelion Plains.
Arriving at New Pelion hut I noticed I had the hut to myself again. It is a strange feeling of being in such a typically busy hut, normally filled with people doing the Overland track and coming in from the arm river track to do other walks in the area all to yourself . With no views or heating in the hut it felt imposing. Like a destitute mansion long abandoned.
I made dinner and wrote again for an hour or so before turning in for the night.
On waking the next morning I could see that cloud had set in and with a short day ahead I actually decided to wait in the warmth of my quilt for a while. That is until the morning call of nature dragged me out.
Again the morning went as usual, eat, pack up and pack the pack. Off I set about 9:30 making my way up to Pelion Gap where I would reassess the weather and decide if I would climb Mt Ossa.
The hiking up to Pelion is not too demanding although it is all uphill from the hut to Pelion gap. A small waterfall on the way up allowed me to refill my water and I had a brief break. On arriving at Pelion gap you are rewarded for the morning climb with beautiful views of Mt Pelion East and Mt Ossa. As well as being greeted by the view I was also greeted by rubbish and the contents of someone’s top lid. This group of three obviously didn’t think Currawongs were active in winter or they didn’t believe the signs. After the clean up I set about my own lunch, this was a leisurely affair as I had decided to skip Mt Ossa and continue on to Kia Ora hut.
The descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora is not too demanding and doesn’t take too long to reach the plains below. On the open grassland the track undulates and gradually drops to Kia Ora hut. The ice in this section was the worst of the trip so far, even with the micro spikes caution was needed.
On arrival at the hut I was met by a young group of four heading north. They already had the heater on and although not warm by most standards I felt I was in a sauna.
I took the opportunity of now clear skies and a warm hut to head down to the river for a wash. After rinsing in the frigid water I took an icy plunge for that refreshing feeling of being immersed in water. With clawed up hands I got dry and dressed and returned to the sauna.
Again the evening passed my favourite way, tea food and a pen. I offered my companions ear plugs as I have been known to snore and settled in for the night.
The morning dawned overcast and drizzling, I ate and packed up in good time for a change and set off just after 8.
The track for the day is mostly rainforest and easy to follow. Meandering my way through the forest and it’s maze of tree roots got me thinking of scenes from lord of the rings, half expecting to see Tom Bombordil I emerged at Du Cane hut. This hut is set in an idillic clearing in the forest. Whilst you are not permitted to stay in the hut it does offer some shelter from the weather and a great place to contemplate the resoluteness required to live in such a place.
Once back on the track, it begins to wind its way downhill through more forest to the junction of D’alton and Ferguson falls. Again remember to secure your packs from the ravenous Currawongs if you decide to head down. The track here can be quite slippery and care needs to be taken to avoid a fall. Still feeling my ankle and with little motivation that day I continued on.
The junction to Hartnett falls is shortly reached through much of the same rainforest. Here the track begins to ascend to DuCane gap, the last high point of the journey south. Again the ascent is not hard but seems to take a while to reach the unspectacular trig point on the saddle. I feel you can see a marked difference in the investment in infrastructure, track conditions and general tourism spending in the southern end of the park.
It’s all downhill now to Bert Nichols hut, the descent from the gap can be quite slippery however it is easy to follow. Some of the trees have some quirky and interesting growths on the trunk which add some interest to the drop.
If you thought New Pelion hut was palatial then Bert Nichols hut is on another level. On arrival you enter the wet room where you can change and get your wet gear off before entering the hut. There is one level of bunk rooms and a seperate floor downstairs for cooking. A new gas wood fire heater has been installed and works marginally better than the old radiant gas heater.
Again, having the hut to myself I skipped the bunk room and set up near the heater to save moving gear up and down.
With some excess gas I lost count of the cups of tea I had during the evening and had a small feast with some snacks I hadn’t eaten so far.
Snow seemed a big possibility the next morning and I put my shell jacket and pants on in the morning; ready for the last little bit to Narcissus hut and the ferry.
I was off and walking by 8, a little pep in my step from the extra calories the night before. A few small ups and downs and I seemed to reach an area called the bowling green in record time. The bushland and track are noticeably drier as the day goes on. Pine Valley hut turn off also appeared faster than normal and with a few day supplies still in my pack I was tempted to head in and spend a night by the coal fire. Advice of a school group in the hut stopped me dead in my tracks, Narcissus it was. A beautiful section of duckboard and open grassland soon led to the only suspension bridge on the main track. I always enjoy the bouncing effect the bridges offer and may have been tempted to go back and cross again.
In no time I was unpacking at Narcissus hut and drying my gear over the heater. I managed to resist checking my phone at the jetty until sunset when I wanted to get some photos looking back toward Mt Gould. I let my wife know I was safe and did the same for my mother. It was at this point I decided to radio the ferry and get a spot the next day. I saw a Platypus feeding by the jetty and passed a good hour watching him come up and down.
With the extra days food not needed I upped the feast from the previous night to a gluttonous evening of caloric sin. Thoughts of a cold beer and a burger dimmed the satisfaction a bit. That was tomorrow.
Not too long after I got back the whole area was again blanketed with snow, a lot of walkers were rescued by chopper and one guy was was lost for an extended period. Please be safe, I had an uncharacteristic period of near perfect weather.
Tasmania’s weather can be fickle at the best of times and winter is normally a time when that statement is understated.
I will post soon what I had in my pack for a winter trip in Tas.
Stay true and have fun.