Walking the Overland Track

The lead up to this trip was rather hectic. With work the preceding week, having to put in a job application and organising a commercial rafting trip I didn’t have a lot of spare time for logistics. That said I managed to get my car serviced and all the food sorted ready to meet the team first thing on Sunday morning. We made for a pretty motley crew comprising of two exchange students from Denmark (Sascha and Anne-Mette), a botanist from the mainland (Carolyn) and myself. I was pretty happy we had four participants with a bit of a spread of experience levels. Really the perfect group for a trip like this.

Pre-walk photo of the team
All the team assembled. Everyone would not remain dry and well rested for long…

As always it was with palpable relief that I looked down at my phone to see that I was outside of phone reception. No work concerns now, just have to focus on the trip itself. We managed to take a significant detour via a gravel track better suited to a 4wd, after some interesting navigational decisions by yours truly.

We arrived at Cradle Mountain at 1730 and got our equipment moved into Sascha’s car so we could leave my ute there. We drove for an hour or so to try and find a camp site. After scouting some pretty underwhelming options we finally settled on staying at Lake Burbury. We had pavlova and fruit as a late dessert (the exchange students wanted some classic Australian food on the trip). We slept underneath the shelter, which was nice. No need to mess around setting up the tent on the waterlogged ground!

View over Lake Burbury, with reflections
What a view to wake up to!

I was up bright and early Monday morning. Lake Burbury is quite a nice place, which I hadn’t appreciated given we arrived in the dark. The contrast of the brilliant green foliage, dark waters and red stone is striking. I threw together a quick breakfast and we hit the road once again.

Soon enough we were at Late St Clair. We did final gear checks and I made some last minute decisions about how much climbing and snow equipment I wanted to take. I managed to get everyone’s pack at around 15kg with mine being 25ish. Not too bad; well below my usual loads. After signing to log book we walked off in to the rain. Everyone was in good spirits and excited about the adventure to come.

From Cynthia Bay we walked to Echo Point Hut where we stopped for a snack. We pushed on and managed to miss the track due to fallen trees. Everyone was a bit tired so I got everyone to have a break while I figured out where the track was (although not before sufficiently hassling Sascha who was leading at that point). Before long we made it to Narcissus hut, our end point for the night.

Bushwalkers walking on a forest trail
A happy procession of brightly coloured bushwalkers

Tuesday was another early start for me, I got breakfast sorted and we sat around getting warmed up. Some military guys came in looking wet and exhausted. They had just run through from Cradle Mountain in under 24 hours and looked absolutely stuffed. Certainly puts our relaxing five day stroll in to perspective! After checking that everyone was happy with their packs and getting some hot spots taped up to prevent blisters we moved out.

The team eating a meal in a hut

We made it to Bert Nichols Hut around 1400 for a nice lunch. I tried a new recipe, pizza wraps, which involved trying to steam/bake the wraps in a pot. It produced a passable meal (can’t go too far wrong with hot cheese and carbs when everyone is cold and tired) but I reckon I’ll need to finesse my approach there in future as there is potential for better results.

The decision was made to push on to the next hut to maximise our chances of summiting Mount Ossa the next day. I made sure everyone had their head torches ready and we pushed on. Carolyn managed to twist her knee a bit which slowed her down but we got to Kia Ora Hut just before dark, which was nice. We all squeezed into the hut and had a massive dinner of bolognese, which I threw together as we played cards with other occupants of the hut, and came up with a plan of action for the next day.

Lunch food
Another recipe to add to my repertoire!

I got up around 0630 and walked outside to be greeted by an incredible Wednesday morning, clear and calm with a blue sky. I got some water on to boil and woke up the rest of the crew. After some hot drinks and muesli bars we got moving. We made it to Pelion Pass at 0930 where we stopped, had a good break and organised equipment for a summit attempt of Mount Ossa. Making sure I had the crampons, climbing gear and emergency shelter in a pack we ditched all the extra equipment and pushed on with the plan of just going as far as we could. Having previously failed to summit due to heavy snow I was fully prepared to turn back, but with significantly less snow at the start of the track than before I was hoping for the best.

Bushwalkers underneath Mount Ossa
Looking up at Mount Ossa was a little intimidating!

We made good progress up until the saddle between Mount Ossa and Mount Doris, which is where things got much steeper. The slopes were entirely covered in snow making for a tricky ascent with nothing firm to grab on to. Falling would result in a very long tumble to the base of the mountain unless you were very quick to recover. I saw the point where the footsteps of those who had come before us petered out, an intimidating section revealing a climb up to the gully I had previously been forced to turn back at. We pushed on for a bit further but some of us began to struggle. It was very steep and exposed and the others were understandably a bit more sane than I am… I got everyone to stop for a break while I charged up the next section to figure out a plan of action.

The next bit was slightly steeper but it ended in a nice snow/rock cave in the side of the mountain with some massive boulders making for excellent shelter and anchor points for ropes. Yelling out to check everyone was still doing okay in the precarious position I had left them in I quickly got out my climbing gear and rigged up my rope before abseiling and scrambling back down to the rest of the crew.

Three walkers sitting in the snow on the slopes of Mt Ossa
Definitely wouldn’t want to fall here, the view is stunning though!

With a plan of action solidified in my mind I got everyone together and psyched them up for the climb. I led the way and rigged the rope up to belay the less confident among us up the nasty section. Soon enough we were all in the shelter of the cave. Carolyn wasn’t keen on pushing further so after a quick chat among the group we left her with my sleeping bag and mat, emergency shelter and a ridiculous amount of chocolate and the rest of us pushed on promising to be back within the hour.

The slope steepened slightly but soon enough we were at the base of the climb that had previously defeated me. With relief I looked up to a very manageable boulder/snow scramble, previously this had been a shear wall of ice, a far more treacherous proposition.

Walkers on a snow-covered boulder scramble
A fairly straightforward ascent!

We made the climb and as we neared the top of the gully the clouds rolled in cutting our visibility down to 20 metres at best. With the weather closing in and the added factor of one of our team waiting for us I pushed on hard, wanting to summit quickly and get back down. Unfortunately thick snow and reduced visibility made this a more complicated proposition than anticipated. Ridiculously we were struggling to identify where the summit was…

We climbed to the tallest points we could find, the thick snow and reduced visibility obscured all signs of us reaching the summit but a quick look at the GPS verified we had made it!

Walkers at top of mountain in poor visibility
We made it!!!

After a quick celebratory run around to admire the nonexistent view we began our descent. I was worried about being late but also concerned about rushing sections of climbing so we simply moved as efficiently as we could to get back down. We made it back to Carolyn five minutes later than I said which in the scheme of things wasn’t too bad. It was a relief to have the team back together as it certainly had been weighing on me. I rigged some ropes to belay Carolyn back down and soon enough we were back to the steep snow slopes. Carolyn picked up confidence as we progressed and ended up having a blast sliding down the slopes, self arresting with an ice axe, which was great to watch.

Belaying a climber down a steep section of snow
Carrying the ultralight climbing kit turned out to be worthwhile, which was great. This was Carolyn’s first time on rope, which was pretty badass!

Before long we were back to the track and pushing onwards to get to Pelion Hut, a feat we managed to accomplish before dark. Everyone got out of their saturated clothes and I prepared a massive dinner of pasta and steamed cakes for desert. We all sat around playing Uno and relaxing in the cavernous hut, joking around with the other occupants and comparing cuisine.

The team walking in the snow
Despite the weather rolling in it was a great walk back, plenty of smiles all around after a real challenge!

We had a late start on Thursday. After a tough day before and several of the group having minor injuries and ailments I wanted to make sure that everyone was well rested and feeling strong enough to push on, particularly with the forecast looking bad for later in the week. We had a comfortable morning eating a big breakfast and chatting with the other walkers before we finally broke camp at 1100 and made for Lake Windermere Hut. There were a lot of trees down over the track and it’s generally just a long day of walking but once again made it before dark.

Panorama of views from Pelion Hut
Stunning panorama views from Pelion Hut over Mount Oakley

Friday morning was decision time. With the weather looking pretty terrible and forecast to get worse we ultimately decided it would be best to try and push on over Cradle Mountain to our car at Ronny Creek rather than stringing the trip out by staying in Waterfall Valley Hut. This clearly was the best option but I had some reservations given the poor weather and fatigue levels in the group. Based on what I knew about the route and the weather I was expecting it to be the toughest day of walking in the worst conditions we had faced. After loading up my pack with as much extra stuff as I could cram in, making sure the emergency shelter was right at the top of my pack, we donned rain gear and got moving.

Walker standing on top of a rock, in bad weather
Sascha still smiling despite the weather!

The weather was very miserable, driving rain, hail and snow greeted us along the way and we stumbled along with our hoods drawn tight against our faces in a futile effort to block out the icy conditions. After a couple of hours we made it to Waterfall Valley Hut where we stopped for some muesli bars before we pushed on.

The climb up from Waterfall Valley was pretty steep but thankfully there wasn’t anything much in the way of ice. Everyone was tired wet and cold. I tried to keep everyone motivated with promises of a hot lunch once we made it to Kitchen Hut, the last shelter standing between us and the end. It was a big relief to see the archaic roof of the hut poking out of the mist and we trudged through the snow and all piled in to the cramped shelter where I started to get lunch together. We had a big meal of hot burritos with heaps of cheese. I transferred some more gear from the other guys packs in to mine to try and cut down on the weight they were carrying and we abandoned the shelter of the hut to once again brave the snow.

Hut in snow
Arriving at Kitchen Hut was a big relief – good to get out of the weather for a bit

The next couple of hours were quite strange and alternated from enduring brutally unpleasant weather to enjoying moments of tranquility with the light patter of snow hitting the ground or clouds clearing to reveal rainbows and blue skies. Soon enough the track transitioned to downhill and we began to lose altitude returning to below the tree line. Snow runoff was pouring from Cradle Mountain forming some large waterfalls that cascaded in to the alpine lakes they we were aiming for. Before long we had arrived and the duckboard and grassy plains down below and with relief we walked through the open area stopping to watch all the wombats running around.

Walker down climbing a steep slope
Climbing down out of the snow was a good feeling!

I got a quick shot of everyone at the end of the track before we all dumped our packs in the tray of my ute. We got in to dry clothes and scrounged around for as many snacks as we could find to fuel us through the long drive back home. I’m not sure the Overland Track will become a regular thing for me. Its touristy nature and overall easy standard makes it not really my scene, but it certainly is a beautiful part of Tasmania and sharing it with a great group of people like I had here really made the experience. I certainly would recommend it.

Walkers at the end of the overland track near the track sign
We made it to the end! Everyone looks both very wet and very proud.