Barn Bluff from Waterfall Valley Hut.
Image: Mark Kitto
Day one – 20 September 2020 RONNY CREEK TO WATERFALL VALLEY
Reece and I met at the Cradle Mountain Visitor centre about 8am in less than ideal conditions. Low cloud and rain thwarted any chance of views as the shuttle bus took us down the valley to Ronny Creek where we would begin our journey over the next week.
I had only met Reece once for a coffee a few months before, we had meant to go for a day walk together in the lead up but schedules never aligned properly and here we were, two virtual strangers setting off on a week long trip.
After some deliberation we settled on taking the Horse Track up to Kitchen hut to avoid hauling ourselves up Marion’s Lookout in such poor weather. Although slightly longer and rising to the same elevation, the gradient of the track is less than Marion’s Lookout and there are no sections fitted with chains.
Setting out from Ronny Creek we headed along the boardwalk through Cradle Valley and rose gently to where the track splits. One side leads to crater falls and the other to the Scout hut and our route, the Horse Track.
As we began the climb we could hear the sound of crater falls to the east in between gusts of wind. We made a couple of stops to adjust layers and get comfortable for the climb still ahead.
We arrived at the Scout hut junction after an hour or so and made the decision to head up to the hut to seek some shelter from the wind and rain for a few minutes.
A few Scout members were there and came out for a chat, Reece handled that part as I’m not really one for small talk. A few minutes later we pressed onward, uphill, steadily gaining altitude until we came across our first patch of snow. We stopped for a photo before pressing on past Crater peak, up Marigold Valley and across Cradle Plateau, eventually arriving at Kitchen Hut for a bit of an early lunch.
In such poor weather we had not seen anyone else, aside from the scouts and we ate lunch to the sound of the wind and rain. Just as we were about to leave another group arrived for lunch and we would have their company for the next few nights.
In only a few hours of walking Reece had already coined our catchphrase for the trip “insert view here”, with this in mind and the weather still quite poor we went straight past the junction to climb Cradle Mountain and instead followed the Overland Track around the base of the mountain and onto Cradle Cirque. Cradle Cirque can be quite and exposed place and this was proving to be true and with no views we pressed on as quickly as we could to get to the descent into Waterfall Valley and out of the weather. Earlier this year I injured my knee, splitting and bruising my Tibial Plateau and I was unsure how it would hold up on the way down with a full pack. To my delight the physio and work I had put in meant this and all the others on the trip went without a hitch. We descended through the forest and eventually popped out to the amazing sight of the new Waterfall Valley Hut.
Walking into the hut wet and muddy felt like desecration, the work that has gone into this building is great. It was great to see the finished result after being one of the last people through the winter before when the builders were living in the hut. There are a few areas where things could be better but all in all its a bush hut and those small areas of improvement are really first world problems.
We settled on a bedroom, yes there are multiple bedrooms in this hut, all double glazed and insulated, then got changed and set out the bedding ready for the night.
As the afternoon rolled on the clouds would lift for brief moments allowing views of Barn Bluff and the water streaming off its flanks. In between getting the camera out and running outside we got a few games of cards in and set about cooking dinner.
A few more games of cards and it was time for bed, rest didn’t come easy. For some reason I always sleep poorly on the first night of a trip and this was no exception.
Day one was complete and with the exception of the weather and limited views it went off without a hitch.
DAY 2 – WATERFALL VALLEY TO WINDERMERE.
We awoke to better weather but it wasn’t predicted to last long, the passing clouds already heralded the oncoming rain. However after breakfast and packing we set off a bit after 830 and headed off down the track towards our destination for the night, lake Windermere. The walking was easy compared to the ascent and weather we had the day prior. A few hundred meters down the track we went off in search of a waterfall that plunges into a hole and disappears. We didn’t find it and continued towards Lake Will. We arrived at the Lake Will junction after stopping numerous times to finally get a photo of Barn Bluff and Mt Emmett.
The poor weather was on the horizon and we decided to skip the side trip and save it for another time in favour of actually staying dry. With all the rain of the previous weeks it was reported by others to be quite boggy and as the rain set in shortly after no views and a very wind chopped lake ensued. Good decision apparently.
We followed the track over a few rises then at the crest of one rise we saw Lake Windermere sitting in the valley below. A blue gem nestled amongst the vegetation beckoning us forward. Again we stopped for photos and then headed down the track to the lake. As you reach the valley floor there is a nice scooped out boulder that is the perfect size for one bum to sit, a natural recliner if you will. On previous trips I have lingered here and had a snack and soaked in the sun. Not today, that front was chasing at our heels and we kept pushing on.
Only a few minutes later the track meets the lake and briefly you follow the shore and pass by a nice naturally paved ‘picnic’ spot. I could imagine this would be a nice place in summer to strip down and head in for a swim. As all my previous trips have been in the cooler months I have yet to enter the waters, one day. Its rumoured that a log book exists on the island in the lake for those brave enough to swim over to sign their name as proof of their kahoones.
Windermere hut is around 800m further on and set back from the lake which for the sake of a view is not that great. I do see it benefiting the quality of the lake and protecting the lake from human contamination.
We arrived at the hut in sunshine and set about setting up in the bunk room, no sooner had we done so and that front finally caught us. Those that arrived of the next few hours were drenched to the bone and not a millimetre of space was left by the heater as they all attempted to dry their gear out. Good decision to keep moving as the next day is the longest of the trip and we had more poor weather to contend with.
Soup, tea, cards and dinner were enjoyed with merriment before turning in for a hikers bedtime (730ish). Sleep came much easier this night.
DAY 3 WINDERMERE TO NEW PELION
After a much better sleep I awoke feeling good and ready for another day of walking, we ate breakfast and packed up ready to get on the track at a respectable time. This is the longest standard day of the walk and descends to Frog Flats before rising again to New Pelion hut.
I always find the first part of this day quite enjoyable, across the open alpine plains and ducking into forest here and there. This was no different, even in the rain and wind its pretty good. We stopped at the Forth Valley lookout, which is quite literally a minutes walk off the track and peered into the valley for a few minutes.
The track winds its way across the plateau before finally entering the forest, this is where my pain began. We had stopped for lunch at Pelion Creek, instead of my normal buckwheat biscuits id opted to use the rest of the wraps I had taken for my burritos on night one. Gluten and me don’t have the best of relationships, if I eat it at the end of the day its not to bad. If I eat it and then become active I feel my inside bloating and gas builds up to and uncomfortable level and gets quite painful. Add the weight of the pack compressing my torso and I felt like I could hardly breath as we made our way through the maze of tree roots and rocks. I tried adjusting the pack to move the pressure, that only made my back sore in addition. Thus began a slow, mood deteriorating, bloated, sore back and wet meander through the remaining kilometres for the day. When we finally got to New Pelion I was wasted and quickly got changed and made for the facilities to, lets just say vent some atmosphere with confidence.
Normally day three holds some great views of Mt Pelion West and the Ossa Group, true to form this was another insert view here day, combined with not feeling great I didnt get my camera out much.
The afternoon was again filled with soup, tea and cards. Another hiker in the hut gave Reece a large bag of lollies and we had a few each before dinner and again before an early night.
DAY 4 NEW PELION TO KIA ORA.
I woke having slept quite well and made breakfast, coffee and filled my hip belt pockets with snacks for the day. Most of my gear was dry, the items that weren’t didn’t matter too much as they were likely to be wet again soon after leaving.
The walking begins to rise in elevation straight from the hut as you make your way past Douglas creek and up to Pelion Gap. We toyed with the idea of climbing Pelion East as the weather was way to poor to even consider Mt Ossa. Neither would be on the cards in the end.
Heading up the hill I felt strong compared to the day before and the meters gained came quite easily. On the way up we found the bones of a creature, stripped clean and laid out like a forensic scene. We continued on, over bridges, up steps and ever forward. I began to notice Reece slowing down and thought I’d pressed the pace a bit hard at the beginning, turns out it was Reece’s turn to have a rough day like I did yesterday. I let Reece take back over the pace setting, hoping that he might recover from my earlier pace. As we arrived at Pelion Gap it was clear it was more than having been pushed a bit hard. like me the day before each step was taking more and more effort. On arrival at Pelion Gap his face looked hollow, we didnt stop for long, enough time to snap a photo and get some water in. We dropped down off the gap and into Pinestone Valley. Reece began to look somewhat better and was moving better as we made short work of the remaining kilometers to Kia Ora hut.
At times the track resembled a river, fully flowing with water, ankle deep and beating its way down. when the track turned it dried out for a few meters only to re-join with its watercourse.
We landed in Kia Ora hut about 2pm, I went straight into change and set up mode and was warm and dry with my bed ready in about fifteen minutes. I went outside to visit the facilities and when i got back it was quite clear that Reece was once again feeling poorly. Suspecting dehydration from the exertion and a digestive upset from a soy based meal the day before we filled a few bottles of water and hydralyte and started the process of re-hydration.
Later in the afternoon, Reece got up and was starting to look a bit better. He wasn’t magically fixed and still reported feeling off but his face was starting to return to normal.
That 24 hour period had given us both a body shot and both of us were at different stages of recovery. I was feeling pretty good after a good night at New Pelion and Reece was feeling, i guess, similar to me on arrival at New Pelion.
A rest day was called for, we swapped some food around I took anything Reece had that contained soy and swapped for any of my remaining meals that didn’t.
DAY 5 KIA ORA TO KIA ORA.
Today was a day of rest, we played cards, drank tea, rehydrated, talked, napped, chased the view between the bands of rain and snow and we were generally glad we weren’t going up over Du Cane gap in this weather.
We talked of life, music, told jokes, not much about work as the part of the joy of being away is being away from that banality.
As the day rolled into the afternoon I could see the Reece I had come to appreciate in the past few days returning. His sense of humour returned and I was glad we had made the decision to stop for a day. We still had plenty of time and decided we would make the day up on the leg from Bert Nichols to Narcissus, by continuing to Echo Point.
DAY 6 KIA ORA TO BERT NICHOLS HUT.
Morning dawned grey and cloudy, we went about the normal morning routine. During the process I poked my head out to see huge fat snowflakes pouring out of the sky. within minutes it had settled on the deck around the hut.
Today was another pass day, meaning a climb to Du Cane gap and from what we could see the snow was only going to continue. Fortunately we had some forest walking to provide some shelter and hopefully that would give enough time for things to clear a bit.
We set off through the rainforest and made great time, stopping to smell the sassafras and marvel at the settling snow on the trees. Before we knew it Du Cane hut was in front of us. We stopped for photos and to take a few minutes rest in the shelter of the hut. This isn’t a hut for sleeping in along the track, its a historic site and only in emergencies should it be used to spend the night.
Back into the forest again we made our way to Hartnett Falls, skipping the longer side trip to D’Alton falls. Hartnett falls was in full flow, water was cascading and sending a mist up to the viewing areas. This mist combined with the rain made keeping the camera dry quite tricky, we did manage to get a few photos before heading back to the packs.
It was time to begin the last official climb of the trip, I let Reece set the pace and off we went.
Ive never seen someone so happy to arrive at Du Cane gap, Reece was elated and the look of joy on his face was infectious. I found myself sharing his joy and absolutely proud of his achievement. A quick break and we started the descent to Bert Nichols hut, the forest is stunning through this section, slippery but stunning. Massive burls adorn the trees and ferns grown out of their notches, it is a place where you could imagine all kinds of magical creatures living.
Bert Nichols hut pops up before you know it and it is palatial in size, multiple bunk rooms, wet landing room and a huge open dining space. All this size makes for a very cold and damp feeling hut which it supposedly remedied by a single small gas heater in the corner. Rather than the bunk rooms a lot of people sleep in the kitchen area near the heater. We had arrived around 2pm and had changed and settled in for the evening when a few other groups arrived, we ditched our plan of sleeping in the kitchen area in favour of doing the right thing and moved to the bunk area.
After dinner we headed up to the bunk room and settled in for the night. We could hear the frustrations of the groups below, who, now that I had gone to bed struggled to get the heater going again.
DAY 7 BERT NICHOLS TO ECHO PT, VIA NARCISSUS.
We woke up early on day 7 to get out on the track with plenty of time to make up for the day sitting at Kia Ora. The first thing we noticed was everyone else who had arrived later the day previous had decided to sleep in the kitchen area we tried to keep quiet but the noise of stoves and packing soon roused them from their sleeping bags. A couple of faces looked grumpy but if you decide to sleep in the cooking area as opposed to the bunk rooms, what do you expect.
We were on the track around 7am and enjoyed the walking. the general orientation or the track is down hill with a few undulating sections. For the first time this trip I was able to walk in a shirt and softshell, even when a small patch of drizzle threatened to bring out the goretex jacket I managed to keep it stowed. We walked past a delightful area called the Bowling Green, a beautiful alpine garden. Unfortunately it looked like people have taken to trudging through the area as pads had developed through the wet ground.
We stopped briefly at the junction to Pine Valley and had a small drink, its been quite a few years since I’ve been into that area and I felt a bit nostalgic. Speaking of feeling things, I began to notice a rubbing on the front of both of my hip bones, I readjusted my waist straps and we continued South towards Narcissus Hut. Shortly after leaving we joined the well constructed sections of boardwalk that lead to the suspension bridge across the Narcissus River.
After crossing the river its only a short stroll to the hut. We dumped our packs in the hut, Reece headed down to the Jetty to check phone reception and let his wife know he was safe and alive. I decided to take a closer look at my hips and the result was a lot of missing skin and a small amount of blood. I decided to check in with the ferry to see if it was operating and yes there was a service in a couple of hours. I wandered down to the jetty and ran the option past Reece, he was keen to walk the lake so I headed back to the hut and patched myself up with some non adherent dressings and plenty of strapping tape. We headed off from the hut along the track to Echo Point Hut, Initially the track was flooded in sections from the days of relentless rain.
Soon we re-entered the rainforest below Mt Olympus and had to contend with numerous downed trees and slippery roots. We lost our patience with the track and deteriorating weather and were mightily relieved when we arrived into the clearing that contained Echo Point Hut. Inside the hut we quickly got changed and set about getting the coal heater started. This was no easy feat as no one had restocked the kindling supply and nothing would burn due to the long wet period. Eventually we got it going though and began to feel a strange sensation, warmth.
The usual tea, coffee and food afternoon began with the bonus of being able to eat everything that remained except for tomorrows breakfast and morning tea.
We watched the weather roll in and out for the afternoon and again retired to bed early, our last night on the track.
DAY 8 ECHO POINT TO LAKE ST CLAIR VISITOR CENTRE – END
Day 8 dawned with snow on the ground and out on the Jetty in front of the hut.
Packs light and clothing dry from the coal heater, we ate breakfast with the excitement of real meals, coffee and beer only a few hours away. We also had that melancholy feeling that accompanies the last day of and adventure that you are not ready to be finished with yet.
We set off in light snow and at times marvelled at the snow settling on top of ferns in the forest. We made great time along the well constructed track, spurred on by the weather getting better and the sights across the lake indicating real food close at hand. We made a few stops to ensure we were hydrated and eat the last snacks as we made our way. Soon the forest changed and the rainforest gave way to Eucalypt, the muddy track gave way drier conditions and then abruptly we were at Watersmeet and the single width track became a gravelled vehicle track that led all the way to the official end of the Overland Track. We stopped and took the customary photos before dashing into the restaurant for that well deserved feed.
Most of the images in the tiled galleries are Reece Bradley’s.
I tried to keep my camera dry and as such failed to get as many as I would like.