Monday, October 8, 2007

bloody hard yakka

Well, I made it.
Just.
Not that the 65km walk wasn't difficult - it was. It was the fact that they had some of the worst weather in early October imaginable which began towards the end of our first day as we were arriving at Waterfall Valley hut.

DAY ONE
I was very fortunate to meet 3 great guys on the bus from Launceston to the start of the Track. They very generously asked me to walk with them as the track was extremely quiet. I discovered later that this was because of the incoming weather and that the Park Officers had been stopping most walkers from starting.

The first day of the walk from Ronny Creek (where the bus dropped us) to Waterfall Valley hut is probably the most difficult.

The first stage involves a steep climb up to Marions Peak where you first get to see Cradle Mountain up close plus a view down to Dove Lake.

It was on Marions Peak that we were first given a glimpse of what was to come.

Snow lay quite thick on the track leading off from Marions Peak, and involved trudging through it in fresh snow which covered out ankles. This was not the worst of it!

Our first break for lunch was at Kitchen hut which lays at the base of Cradle Mountain. It is an emergency hut and is very basic. But it offered us shelter from the light snow that was beginning to fall.

The next leg of the journey took us all the way over the high plateau where the snow fell thick and fast and where a strong wind was blowing. It was hard to find the track in places and a misplaced foot meant overstepping the duckboards and plunging up to ones thighs in snow which was most likely covering a mud marsh pond.

There was a lot of climbing up hills and down dales through thick snow every foot of the way. It snowed much of the time and the exertion of carrying 18kgs in weight in the backpack was physically exhausting.

We finally headed down the winding path of a steep ridge in knee high snow to the first hut at Waterfall Valley.

It was a relief to be indoors - but dismay quickly brushed the shine off our arrival when we discovered the hut's heater was not working.

We all cooked our dinners and turned in for an early night. Outside the weather began to deteriorate. The wind was howling fiercely and the snow was pelting down. We were concerned that we may be snowed in and not able to leave the next morning.

I went to bed wearing all of the dry clothes I had in my pack!

***(nb: the weather looks decent in all these photos because I didnt want to risk taking the camera out in the bad weather. So unfortunately there are large parts of the walk with no photographic record)


Start of the Overland Track


Lake near Marions Peak


Terry on Marions Peak


Snowy Cradle


Setting off into the weather

DAY TWO
I woke after a cold fitful night of sleep having decided that with the weather as bad as it was it was probably best for me to return and call off the trip. I didnt have appropriate equipment for the type of weather we were getting (ie an underrated sleeping bag). However, Mark, Matt and Dan talked me out of it as they felt it was really dangerous for me to attempt returning over the Cradle Mountain pass alone. I concurred which was just as well as the weather continued to get worse as we prepared to leave.

We delayed our leaving for about an hour until there was a break in the weather. The next hut Windermere was only 3 hours away and after a long slow climb ended with a downhill walk to the hut.

This walk was easier than the previous day. The gradient was lower even though the weather was worse. We trudged through very heavy snow falling at times with it laying on the track and completely covering it in places. The exertion of walking and carrying the weight of my pack kept me warm, though at time I had to press on with horizontal snow blasting across my path over the open valley.

We reached the next hut in record time - 2 hours 15 minutes. The heater worked which was just as well as my hiking clothes were saturated with sweat. It took me ages to get warm.


Heavy snow on the track


Windermere Hut


xmas card scene - outside the hut the next morning


DAY THREE
We have been waking at daybreak which is about 05.30 and this morning we left by half 7. We had another 6 hour hike today which entailed traversing Frog Flats and the Pelion Gap. We were worried about both. Frog Flats is marsh land and there was the possibility that there was going to be a lot of water there. And Pelion Gap was the highest point of the track since Cradle and could be completely lost under snow.

It had been snowing all through the night.

It was snowing lightly when we left Windermere and the first stage was really quite pleasant as we walked across some wide spaces and then headed down through trees to Frog Flats.

It wasnt as wet as we feared and most of the area had duck boards - though some in appaling condition.

After about 2 hours we arrived at the rainforest region where the snow turned to rain. And rain. And rain. The track here as it wound up and down through the forest was almost entirely underwater and resembled in most places a swift flowing stream!

By this stage I was wet to the bone and my boots were full of (icy) water. It was 16.5 gruelling kms and we arrived at Pelion hut after 5 hours.

The heater was not working.

About 18.30 a solo walker, Mike, turned up. He was heading the opposite direction, Lake St. Clair to Ronny Creek. We convinced him that going on was a dangerous move on his own and that he should turn around and come back with us.


poteroo

DAY FOUR
It was freezing during the night. The huts inside temperature hovered around 3 degrees above zero. We all woke with still saturated walking gear.

You cannot possibly imagine how torturous it is to have to dress in the morning in 3 degrees and put on an icy wet shirt, trousers, socks, boots, fleece, jacket and gloves. Its a rare form of punishment I hope never again to experience.
All four of us had to face the same torment!

We quickly left as walking was the only way to get warm. Fortunately the first part of the climb was uphill - very much uphill to the Pelion Gap. This was just over 1100 metres.

As we climbed, Lo! and behold the sun came out. It made the climb extremely satisfying. At the top of the pass Mark, Matt and Dan left for an attempt on the summit of Pelion East whilst I decided to continue on down to the Kia Ora hut alone. (Mike left the last hut about 30 minutes after us.)

The walk down from the gap was extraordinary as there had been large snow drifts which covered the track. At times I had to guess where the path lay and often as not I would miss the narrow duckboard or track and plunge into waist deep snow. Getting out of this with a heavy pack was a feat in itself.

But the sun was still shining and the scenery was beautiful so I pressed on.

I reached the hut and began to set the fire so the place would be warm when the guys arrived. This hut, unlike the others, had a coal fire. This took me a little while to get started, and Mike arrived a short time later and helped me get a good blaze going. We hung up all our wet gear and waited for the other to arrive. They turned up about 3 hours later having failed to reach the summit, though not through lack of effort. It sounded like an exhausting and treacherous trip.


Terry enjoying a brief spell of sunshine


snow track near Pelion Gap


Terry on the Pelion Gap


snow covered track


mountain view


dinner in Kia Ora hut


DAY FIVE
Todays walk to Pine Valley hut involved anothe climb over Du Cane Gap. Not as high as Pelion though. The first hour was pleasant to Du Cane hut, and then we took a side trip to Hartnett Falls. From there we continued to Windy Ridge hut for lunch. Stopping was always a bit uncomfortable as we were all wet and the longer one stopped the more chilled one became.


Hartnett Falls

The last stage of this days walk was fairly even and involved a beautiful section through an amazing forest. We arrived at Pine Valley hut to find 4 other walkers in there who had (bless them!!) already had the coal fire blazing. It was toasty warm! A little later a couple with their two young children also turned up. All of these other folks had come from Lake St Clair (3 hours) and were using this hut for days trips.


bridge


wet track


woods


mossy rock


bridge


scrub


bridge


woodland


single plank suspension bridge


terry on bridge


obstacle


obstacle


the guys in Pine Valley hut l-r:Dan, Mark,Mike, Terry and Matt

DAY SIX
Mike has decided to join me and leave the track today. M,M&D are staying on for 2 more days of side trips.

Mike and I set off to Narcissus hut, the last one on the track. It was snowing and had been during the night so there was fresh snow on the path. This was an easy and relaxing walk, just three hours and then a wait for the ferry across Lake St. Clair and the bus pick-up to Hobart.


single track suspension bridge with wet slippery snow


wet and mossy


heading for the Lake St Clair ferry


waiting for the ferry


on the Lake St Clair ferry


end of the walk - by the fire drying out

Someone in the group during the walk mentioned French Toast. I couldn't stop thinking about it! I promised myself it would be my first breakfast back in civilisation.... well, Hobart anyway.


french toast at last

1 comment:

Abdul said...

Wonderful story with pictures.

My friend and I did the trek from the lake carpark to Marion's point (the steep and rough track) and onward to Kitchen Hut. This was August 26th I think. Six feet of snow all along the Overland track. Couldn't reach the Cradle Mountain summit.

And we were wearing sneakers and jeans. (Never really went hiking before)

Thanks for sharing the rest of the route.