OVERLAND TRACK CHALLENGE

bha0517ADVENTURES0 Comments

The Overland track in Tasmania is one of the most well-known and popular multi-day walks in Australia. Whether you camp it or glamp it you will still find yourself tackling at least 65 km of track over 5 nights, 6 days with a mixture of duckboard, planking and naturally challenging terrain. The landscape changes continually with rainforest, button grass plains, heathlands, alpine lakes, tarns, eucalypt forest and when you think you had seen it all for one day, you would enter yet another landscape before the packs come off your back.

In February 2017 I set off with four amazing friends Christine (our fashionable jockey), Sarah (pilchers fan), Josie (swearing puddle jumper) and Kellie (fungi finding expert). All had previously travelled with me as Wise Women Walkers to New Zealand in 2016. All keen, fit outdoor adventurers, none had completed a 6-day full pack carrying trek before. After glamping along the Queen Charlotte Track last year, the girls decided to step it up and agreed to complete the Overland track by carrying all their gear. I was stoked they agreed. It was definitely going to raise things a notch on the challenge scale. We were also raising funds for the Hutt Street Centre – sleeping rough is a tough gig. Maybe our Overland trek would offer a similar experience with sleeping in communal huts, dorms or out in the elements in all weather?

In the 3 months before we left, we trained each weekend with weights in our bags gradually increasing week by week so that we were carrying up to 18kg in the final month, hoping we could prepare as much as possible. This training period was not without anxiety as many shoulders, hips, spines and knees adjusted to the different style of bushwalking and weight carrying. We reminded ourselves of how amazing the World Heritage wilderness would be (this would dull the pain?). I also had a boot malfunction just a week before we flew out. I would be wearing in a new pair for the Track, on the Track. So risky but had to be done.

I had underestimated the weight of our food and although we ate like goddesses (thanks Xtreme Gourmet for those tasty recipes!) I had to majorly cull the pack when the scales hit 22kg in my Launceston hotel room the night before we started.

Ideally 30% of one’s body weight is the maximum anyone should carry (let alone want to carry!) so some items had to go. Dessert was ditched, a towel was thrown out, then returned, crikies, I could live 6 days without a towel, couldn’t I? It’s not like I would be showering each day.

I would carry 20.5kg. I was still carrying heaps of food so I figured it would lighten eventually and those lovely ladies whose backpacks lightened quicker as we ate our way through the food bags, offered to take extra bits on different days (thank you team!).

We caught the shuttle from Launceston to Cradle Mountain arriving mid-morning to the Visitor’s Centre just as the clouds and rain arrived. The weather forecast was looking pretty foul the first few days but this just added to the heightened sense of adventure and anxiety we were feeling.

Ensuring we had the right gear was going to make this Track a lot more comfortable – albeit we might have been carrying more than some of the “veterans” on the Track who claimed some very shady homemade lightweight gear, it still made the experience no less challenging though……

Gloves were essential on the first two days and with rain/snow and potential thunderstorms on the forecast, layers layers layers were so important. Goretex, waterproof boots, quick dry walking gear and good thermals were gold.

The Ranger at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre said we were only the 13th to sign in to start the walk so we figured out that the odds of getting a hut bed (28 on offer) were fairly good at that stage however we could see more big backpacks arriving at the shuttle pick up point and they looked like fast walking people so this added some urgency to our quest for a bed for the night.

We quickly did final pack checks, layered up in wet weather gear and jumped on the shuttle to Ronny Creek where the Overland Track starts from. The temperature had dropped and the rain returned. With a quick group photo, we set off on the boardwalk towards a sea of clouds.

Through stunning rainforest and past Crater Lake, we approached the chains that you hold to climb up the steep section to the start of Marion’s Lookout. Before reaching the top it started to snow – we screamed with delight/terror as we hauled our mega packs up the slopes. We got footage of those snowflakes – there were bets riding on this at home that involved lawn mowing and other favours with those who refused to believe snow would happen in February. With our evidence, we ploughed on to Kitchen Hut.

The sun peeked out at just the right times and although the clouds were quick to swallow up our views, we were lucky to have a stunning moment of Cradle Mountain in sun. After a quick photo, we really needed to leg it. The weather was worsening and the number of trekkers overtaking us at this stage would mean a full hut and possibly camping in sub zero temperatures. On a clear day, a sidetrip to the top of Cradle Mountain would be awesome.

We hurried on with full bladders, reaching the Hut with only four spots left some six hours after we left Ronny Creek. The Hut warden recommended we stay in the Old Waterfall Valley Hut which sleeps at 4-8 people on double bunks but the Hut has no heating. We didn’t care. We were so grateful not to be setting up tents in snow and sleet as showers hit in waves over the next few hours.

As we de-layered, dried off and warmed up with dinner, we realised that for possibly the only time on the whole Track we would have a little old Hut to ourselves. Nice. We hoofed a steaming coconut curry noodle dish in our thermal underwear and jumped into our sleeping bags for a cosy night as the temperature dropped. Battling the weather and six hours of walking in four seasons had taken it out of all of us on day one. We still managed a few laughs, some funny photos and were in fairly good spirits. With a meal out of the way, a bag just got lighter.

I loved this little old hut – it was my favourite night on the Track with the sounds of the waterfall just outside making it so peaceful. A critter managed to eat through my food bag to get to the pine nuts telling us that we really were sharing the Hut with the “locals”. That first night was a very chilly night with frost. Knowing that Mother Nature had a thunderstorm in mind by lunchtime on day two (thanks to our satellite device weather forecast texts) we skipped a hot brekkie and instead ate our mountain bread lunch, had a quick cuppa, packed up and made our way to Windermere Hut about 3 hours walk away.
We shared a beautiful moment where one of our group members mentioned a comment made by her son before she left on this trip. Doubting her abilities to complete the Track she had mentioned this out loud and her son had replied that to him she was his hero. Whether it was fatigue, the way it was said or just hearing the word hero, many of us (some of us with a tear in the eye) felt inspired and uplifted to keep going and beat this storm despite struggling with the weight on our backs.

The views were stunning as cloud cleared around us, we saw snow covered Barn Bluff and frosty landscapes as we walked on. Our shortest day of walking had us safely at the Hut by 11:15am so we claimed a group of bunks in the corner and warmed up in our thermals. We tucked into porridge for lunch, had our fancy coffee bags (a daily treat) and settled in for an afternoon of walking to the toilet, cup a soups, cards and wildlife spotting while listening to the rain on the hut roof. Dinner was a mushroom mess with rice. Everyone polished off their plates.

This was also our first opportunity to meet some of our fellow walkers who also departed from Cradle Mountain the day before. As most of them had stayed in the larger Waterfall Valley Hut, we were yet to meet these lovely people from different parts of Australia and France. This is one of the loveliest aspects of life on the Track. We also met the “glampers” who were doing the “chardonnay way” as it is affectionately referred to. Seeing them with their day packs, matching lunchboxes and salad sandwiches with fresh bread had us just a tiny bit envious. We would bump into these people continually over the 6 days. They always looked so clean.

With so many of us sleeping in the one room in Windermere Hut it was a surprisingly restful night and we did have a funny snorer in the crowd that sounded like a cartoon character (if I could insert a sound file here I would!) and we all had a giggle about it in the morning as we set off for Pelion Hut on Day 3.

By now, we had seen a wombat, pademelons, wallabies, currawongs and a fabulous array of colourful fungi and flora. The landscapes continued to change as we set off on another frosty morning, being super careful not slip on the ice in that first hour on the boardwalk. This would be the longest day for us with 16km+ to cover and it would take us nearly 9 hours including all our stops and rests. For me this was the toughest day mentally and physically as my pack had regained some items shared the previous day and the day was a long one. My food kit was still almost full despite offloading some popcorn to fellow walkers at the last hut, however day three was a bit warmer with clear skies and our first full day of sunshine. I stupidly forgot to get water before we left the Hut too. So my pack increased in weight at lunchtime by a kilogram when I refilled at a fast flowing stream.

We also found a lot of mud and huge puddles that provided challenge while trying to keep our feet dry. One member of our group discovered how difficult this was when she lost her balance, slipped, took the award for expletives used and water managed to enter her boot. Thankfully she was not injured. I managed to capture the whole thing on video but will save that for another day (she is yet to see this footage!).

The views at Pine Forest Moor were magical.

We managed to capture a bit of phone coverage to send home some messages of love, birthday wishes and letting folks at home know that we were all safe and doing okay. Feeling fist pumpy and energised, we moved on towards Frog Flats. Despite a few sore spots and a very long day (and an anticipated climb to Pelion that didn’t feel like it happened?) we got the tired team to the Hut just as a drizzly shower started.

As far as backdrops go Pelion takes the cake and the plate it sits on. With Mt Oakleigh posing and bathed in sunset light, you would swear it was a canvas painting. The Hut deck faced this canvas painting and it was the perfect place to sit and watch the rocky peaks darken over a cup of tea or cup a soup. Dinner was a salmon pasta mornay dish carbing us up for the next day – crossing Pelion Gap.

By day four, the weather had cleared for a blue sky start. With an uphill walk for the first half of the 9km crossing, we took it easy after a leisurely start to the day. The climb took us nearly 3 hours with stops. Once at Pelion Gap we lunched on the platform and dropped our big packs and reduced our loads to smaller day packs for a short side trip.

I was disgusted to find used toilet paper in bunches behind an ideal peeing bush. I couldn’t bear to walk away from seeing this and not doing something about it. My trowel could not dig on the moss so using ziplock bags as a barrier between me and the germs, I picked up the papers. I nearly gagged. It still surprises me that people think leaving a toilet paper bunch like that is OK. I double bagged it and added it to our rubbish.

While many members of other groups left their packs to scale Mt Ossa, we decided to go and check out her little sister, Mt Doris. We bumped into those who had successfully summited Mt Ossa earlier. They remarked on the challenge of the climb and the rock scrambling near the top. A little part of me was very envious but I knew I’d be back with hubby another day to share that moment of summiting Tasmania’s highest peak.

To get a beautiful clear day and see all the peaks at the Gap and enjoy sunshine with my four walking friends was satisfying enough. We still had to get to Kia Ora Hut (my knees dislike the downhills – thank goodness for walking poles) so we faced a leisurely downhill stroll with plenty of time before sunset. We said goodbye to the currawongs who had picked and pecked their way through some backpack covers and opened zips on bags to pinch snacks and food from the Mt Ossa climbers. They are very pesky and clever!

It would still be about two hours down the hill to the Hut and being a smaller Hut we decided with the weather so much better that we would camp on one of the nearby platforms. Our three tents fitted snuggly together and we chained the tents down and tied the guide ropes in place. Another tasty hot meal this time vegetable stew and more cup a soup’s (notice a pattern forming here?). The night was a bit chilly but with so much more fresh air than the Hut some of us slept better than other nights and others found this night to be too chilly for sleeping.

The walk to Windy Ridge was to be around 5 to 6 hours but would include some amazing side trips to some large waterfalls. Today would also include a close encounter with a leach for one of our comrades and while we didn’t see any snakes, many other walking groups shared their many snake sightings with us. Today was our first real introduction to major tree root terrain but we also experienced lots of gorgeous mossy green rainforest and the gorgeous little Du Cane Hut – what a stunning setting it is in.

We enjoyed the magnificent D’Alton Falls before heading to the less impressive (but still huge!) Fergusson Falls. On the track to Ferguson Falls one of our fungi spotting experts found a tiny Pixie Parasol (a blue fungi) which had me doing happy dances with excitement. I had been wanting to see just one of these little guys in my lifetime and it was a miracle find.

We skipped Hartnett falls after hearing about the deep mud crossings from other walkers. Our bodies were becoming weary and as this was the fifth day of pack carrying over challenging tree root and muddy terrain, we decided to just get to the next Hut.

Arriving at Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge was like arriving at an alpine ski lodge! This Hut was only built in 2008 and was very spacious and comfy with good facilities. We snagged a ladies only room with bunks and settled in for our final dinner which came out of my pack – Moroccan chicken couscous.

Windy Ridge lived up to its name as we fell asleep listening to the large eucalypt trees struggling in the breeze. We woke to the backdrop of the Acropolis covered in cloud and the drizzly showers which had been predicted for the morning started to fall as we packed up. After a lovely chat with Park Ranger Mitchell about the not so glamorous elements of Hut toilet management, we started our final day of walking to Narcissus Hut which took us around 4 hours including stops.

This final day was described in our guide book as downhill and flat but I’m not sure if it was my fatigued body or perhaps the mental challenge of knowing it was day six and we were nearly there, but I didn’t find it flat. It had a fair bit of mud, uphill and downhill sections to finish off. We knew once we were at Pine Valley turn off that we were halfway to the Hut. With a couple of hours to kill at Narcissus Hut we used up the last of the cup a soups (never to consume one again!) and gave away our emergency meal to a group of four young people who were running low on food with one night of camping to go. We enjoyed our leisurely lunch of vita wheats with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes or nutty spread (my fave).

The pier was only a few minutes’ walk on from this hut and as we took a little side trip to a swimming spot by the Narcissus River we found an echidna doing its thing in the open space completely oblivious to us. What a bonus to see one in the wild feeding so we took a few snaps and yes okay I might have selfied with the little cutie. We sat on the pier, legs dangling over the edge watching trout feed and hoping to spot a platypus.

Our time at Lake St Clair was shortened considerably after our 3.30pm ferry decided to arrive 15 minutes late. Then we were informed that we would be taking the scenic route back to the Visitor Centre so by the time we arrived, we only had 10 minutes until our bus was to depart for Launceston giving us little time to explore the Visitors Centre or any finish line photo opportunities (lucky we took a quick snap at Narcissus Hut). We managed to grab a coffee, my compulsory finish line feed of hot chips (the bus would have to wait for me I was not leaving without these!), a toilet stop and little else. After realising that the skipper of the boat still had my credit card we held up the bus by a further 10 minutes trying to locate him so I could pay for the boat trip and retrieve my credit card before leaving for Launceston. Oops.

I think the 3 hour bus trip back to Launceston on the windiest gravel roads finished us all off. Exhausted and elated to finish even with motion sickness, it was a physically and mentally challenging trek but enjoyed by all despite the rushed ending.

I cannot imagine doing this trip any other way. I also cannot imagine completing it without the support, friendship and humour of these 4 amazing women, Sarah, Christine, Josie and Kellie. Our team raised just over $1500 collectively with a standout effort from Christine raising over $1000.

The nature time a trek like this provides, the chance to bond and laugh, meet new people, share bodily function stories and windy moments as well as spend time in our own heads on those longer days of walking are challenging, but still give us the opportunity to pause, reflect and grow.

As for those boots, not a single blister and double socks the whole way. Talk about a risk paying off.

We were so lucky to have the 4 seasons we experienced (even in February) over 6 days – it just added to our adventure and the challenge – and would I do it all again? Absolutely!

Mt Ossa is calling me…….

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