15 December 2011

Day 6 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Bert Nichols' Hut via Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair  
Distance to cover: 9.5km walk, 16km ferry ride
Forecast: Fine and sunny   
Dinner to look forward to: Rehydrated Indian takeaway - Goat Masala and Dhal Makhani!
Socks and Boots: Still wet but I have decided to treat myself with the pair of clean fluffy socks I have been saving!! <3

another scenic water bottle refilling point
A pretty easy walk today, it looks flat and boring on the map but we are fine with that! The forest we are going through today is much lower altitude than we have seen previously. It looks very familiar - similar to drier Karri/Jarrah forest in the south of WA. Just replace karri with gumtop stringybark, splendid fairy-wren with superb, golden whistler for olive etc.

Olive Whistler in a silver banksia
By this point, Sean has twitched all of the Tas endemics except for 40 spotted pardalote. For anyone interested, this has included; Tas wedge-tailed eagle, Tas native hen (Hilarious, noisy, looks like a giant moorhen), yellow-tailed black cockatoo, green rosella (which is actually yellow??), Tas scrubwren, Tas thornbill, Tas scrubtit, yellow wattlebird, yellow-throated honeyeater, strong-billed honeyeater, black-headed honeyeater, dusky robin, grey shrike-thrush, black currawong. Plus some other cool non endemics such as the pink robin, olive whistler and swift parrot.

I love this button grass! And also boardwalk!
We have been slightly concerned about missing our bus tomorrow, it is due to pick us up 5km south of the end of the track tomorrow. So if we stay at the next hut tonight (Narcissus), we need to cover 20km by 11.30am. After talking the options over with a few of the other hikers, we decide it would be a better idea to skip Narcissus, catch the ferry across Lake st Clair to the end of the track this arvo, and camp at the visitor centre. Then we only need to walk 5km in the morning to be at the bus stop.

Narcissus River crossing

Some dead people I found

At the ferry pickup, there are a lot of exhausted hikers soaking up the sun. On the right are the 3 guys we spent the most time with - Nick, Pat and Peter. They kindly donated us some spare vitaweets for lunches when I realised we had miscalculated and only had enough for half the journey!! This worked out OK for them too, as they had spent a few days arguing about whose fault it was they had bought too many, and their packs were overflowing with vitaweets...

View from the Narcissus Hut Jetty, north end of Lake st Clair

Everybody else who finished the track today opted to stay in the caravan park cabins or hotel down the road. Not us!! We have one more day to go so we will tent it at the free campsite!! Also, there's no point having a shower now when we have no soap or clean clothes to get into. Our little suitcase with clean clothes for the conference, shampoo etc is waiting for us just 5km down the road, at the bus pickup. Yay!

We have been told that this is a good place for platypus and quoll spotting, so after the cafe has closed we take our trusty trangia and dried food supplies over to the picnic tables and set up. Sean spots a furry echidna but lost it before I got to see it. There was another awesome black tiger snake curled up in the sun right about 3m from the sign that said "Beware - Tiger Snakes in this area". There are more friendly pademelons grazing nearby, as well as some cute fat skinks on the rocks. A persistent currawong is disgusted to have only stolen our box of matches rather than something delicious.

Ocellated skink - Niveoscincus ocellatus
Zen - Hugel River
It turns out to be a very social place to stop, Sean's PhD supervisor just happens to drop by (he is in Tas for the same conference Sean is attending), as well as several of the people we have been walking with for the last week.

When it finally gets dark, they all head off looking for platypus. We pack up our stuff and are surprised by some small hissy shadows scampering around - eastern quolls!!! Two are pale, one black. Awesomely cute.
Zen II - Lake St Clair
Well, that's the end of the walk! Tomorrow we have a casual 5km stroll on a road, down a hill, with a greasy fry up at a service station to look forward to. Whee! And clean clothes, and a shower. I feel quite a sense of achievement at having done this trek- especially when we got up the top of any of those peaks that looked back toward Cradle Mt, our start point, getting further and further away.

Next time... Walls of Jerusalem. http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=3904
Who wants to come? :)

Hot chocolate on the jetty, looking for Platypus

13 December 2011

Day 5 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Kia Ora Hut to Bert Nichols' Hut
Distance to cover: 10km
Forecast: Fine and sunny
Dinner to look forward to: Chilli con Carne
Socks and Boots: Ridiculously muddy. I have given up hope of them drying.

Not so many photos from today - I think it's because I was on Struggle Street for the day and just wanted to get to the next hut and rest. After yesterday my feet feel sore in a bruised sort of way, perhaps from clambering on the rocks of Mt Ossa yesterday. But worst are my achilles - I guess I must have strained them sometime yesterday. After about an hour of pathetic hobbling in my boots I have warmed up and can soldier on.

About 4km down the road we pass an old hunting base camp, Du Cane Hut. There are photos on the walls of guys with hog-tied wombats, skinning quolls, etc, from around 1910. They used the biggest (now threatened) King Billy Pine in the vicinity to build the hut. The last entry in the visitors book for the disused hut says "i had sex in this hut". Hm. Perhaps it is just a place of self indulgence?

There are a few waterfalls that we visit as side trips. Again this means putting the packs down (yay!) and going on a couple of km loop. The sun is out again and I see a healthy sized black Tiger snake basking on the path. I make a rugged sort of "Eep" noise and jump to the side. How exciting!

D'Alton Falls
The falls are lovely, thundering white veils of water crashing down the rocks. It's hard to comprehend these sorts of volumes of water in summer. We talked about how the large rushing creeks we were passing didn't even have names on the map, whereas if they had been in WA they would have been major rivers.

Hartnett Falls

Unnamed falls near Ferguson Falls

Hartnett Falls

Next we struggle up the shoulder between 2 hills, called DuCane Gap. It's not the steepest hill we've climbed, but we are both a bit over it today. It's easy to just look at your feet but we are actually in some fabulous forest. Down another tree-root covered path and into Bert Nichols' Hut. This one has been newly rebuilt and is MASSIVE. It takes a while of wandering around in amazement before we realise it's probably been built with school groups in mind. Instead of being a big open plan hut with bunks like the others, this one has a drying room for stinky socks, a big dining area and 3 separate rooms with bunks. If you were coming from the south end of the track, it's only 1 or 2 days hike in so would be perfect for school camps.

We have too much chili con carne and trade some of it with the French couple we have made friends with. In return, they made us some delicious garlic flatbread in their frypan. How awesome - I didn't even think of carrying flour and yeast for damper.

11 December 2011

Day 4 - Overland Track, Tasmania

New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora
Distance to cover: 8.2km
Forecast: Fine and sunny
Dinner to look forward to: Tuna with pasta and rehydrated veg
Socks and Boots: Wet, despite being next to a heater last night

In happy news, the old couple have decided to rest up today at New Pelion Hut. Some of the other hikers have kindly donated them spare food so they have enough for an extra day. This officially makes them S.E.P. (Someone Else's Problem), so we will notify any rangers we see along the way of their situation and not be surprised if we hear helicopters overhead in the next day or so.

Today is a fairly easy trek from hut to hut but most people choose to check out the side trips along the way; a couple of waterfalls and Mt Ossa, Tasmania's highest mountain at 1617m. On setting out today we are both feeling a little sore after the long stretch yesterday and decide we'll have a look at the falls but not climb the mountain. The ranger we saw on day 2 recommended that people at least climb the first 20 mins of the 4 hr Mt Ossa side trip, as the view from a small "shoulder" mountain is pretty spectacular too. That sounds like a good compromise.

waterfall near Douglas Creek

Lunch stop at Pelion Gap.
Beware the currawongs that are adept at opening zips!
Today, as with every day so far, we are caught up by the Cradle Hut group. This is the guided tour version of the walk, with private huts, guides and all gear provided. At about lunchtime, one guide stays with the group while the other sprints ahead (quite impressively, with a proper backpack), prepares the next hut and the evening meal. The group stroll past us each day with casual 45L daypacks and enjoy 3 course meals each evening upon arrival. It is very demoralising for the half hour after being overtaken but then I remember that they paid $3000 for the pleasure and I will have much more satisfaction out of having done this myself. Truly.

So we leave our packs at the track along with all the others who have already departed for the climb. They look very colourful as everyone has put their pack covers on to keep the currawongs from stealing muesli bars. We take a small bag with our lunch, "scroggin" (a healthy mix of M&Ms, clinkers and liquorice bullets) and a water bottle. And out cameras of course. But we won't be long, since it's just a short way up to Mt Doris.

From Mt Doris looking toward Mt Ossa. It doesn't look that big or far away! We can do that easy!
The view from there is great. But maybe it would be better from just a little further along? And those pesky Cradle Hut guys are on our tail again. We'll just go a little further. We find ourselves at the bottom of the track up Mt Ossa. It doesn't look that bad. Sean is unconvinced - we don't have much water, I didn't bring my hat, he doesn't have his asthma puffer. Some of the guys coming down tell us that there is water in a little lake at the top. That sells it (for me) and up we go!

It's hard to get perspective of how steep this is... but those guide posts are vertical
When we reached the top of what we had been looking at, we realised that it wasn't the top. And neither was the next section, scrambling over huge rocks that had eroded from the top. In fact, we could probably only see the first third of the climb from the bottom. Ha! I'm glad we had our lunch already.

It took ages and my legs were quivering when we finally scrambled up the last bit. There was indeed a little lake and some clean snow to refill the water bottle. Sean is sunburnt but scrounges some sunscreen off some of the others who made it up before us. And the view is Magnificent. You can see all the way back to Cradle Mountain to the north, where we started, and Frenchman's Cap and Lake St Clair (our destination) to the south. Womby enjoys the view too, but the climb wasn't very hard for him as he was in the backpack the whole way. I guess we have been extremely lucky with the weather again as there wouldn't be too many sunny days this high up, and you certianly wouldn't do the climb if it was wet and foggy.

Still climbing! Looking back to Mt Pelion West

Finally!! View from the top of Mt Ossa, looking north. Cradle Mt on the horizon to the right.
The climb down is faster but more nervewracking as slipping wouldn't be much fun. I have images of Winnie the Pooh falling from the beehive and bouncing off each branch on the way down to the ground. The walking poles come in handy for Sean whose knees crack with each step downwards.

Sean is less than impressed with my decisions
We don our packs again at the bottom, much later than we had intended. Both of us have slightly shaky legs but we climbed the tallest mountain in Tassie! The rest of the walk to the hut is fairly easy going, except for the giant mud puddles right before the hut. Just when you are feeling fairly fed up and looking forward to getting those boots off, they fill up with mud!!

Since it's a fine night and I have been carrying the bloody thing all this way, we decide to put up the tent tonight. The relationship is still intact after all parts of the tent have been slotted, tied, zipped and secured so I think we are doing pretty well. A "bird bath" in the freezing cold creek (where you fling it around a lot but don't actually get very wet) and we are definitely ready for some dinner.

10 December 2011

Day 3 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Windermere Hut to New Pelion Hut 
Distance to cover: 17.5km
Forecast: Snow clearing
Dinner to look forward to: Rehydrated Lamb and Pumpkin Tagine with Couscous
Socks and Boots: Frozen and snow covered

This morning we awoke to a magical sight outside... snow! Just a light dusting, like icing sugar, over all of the forest and rocks. It's pretty cold but just spectacular and I would rather walk in gently falling snow than rain!

I wish I hadn't left my boots in the snow!

The track today takes us out of the forest the hut is nestled in, up and over an extensive buttongrass moorland with Mt Ossa, Mt Pelion East and West visible, and columns of Mt Oakleigh in the distance. We wind our way up to a beech forest that is also dusted with snow, including some blooming Tassie Waratahs.


buttongrass flower head

Passing by Mt Pelion West

Tasmanian Waratah

The track goes downhill gradually to the swampy area called Frog Flats, then back up through rainforest to finally pop out at a huge grassy valley. I was expecting to see marauding herds of wombats grazing the grassland but no such luck. We did see some quoll poos near Old Pelion hut (disused) which was pretty exciting.

I am so glad we didn't try to tack today and yesterday together in the rain as it would have been a really long and hard slog. I spoke to some of the guys that did continue on in the rain and they said they didn't see any of the mountains we passed because the rain and mist were too dense! Shame.

Today was the longest distance from hut to hut so we started the day looking at one side of Mt Oakleigh and ended up camped in the valley next to it on the other side. The hut here is stunning, with a massive verandah to sit and take in the view (past all the drying socks hung on the railing)

Panorama of Mt Oakleigh and the button grass valley

Around the hut were some friendly Pademelons and Bennett's (aka red-necked on the mainland) wallabies. One of the female wallabies had a big joey that ventured out for a hop around. He did the usual thing of hopping bravely away from mum and then realising she had wandered away and hurrying back to hide underneath her. At one point a currawong wandered past them and he watched it so intensely, ready to sprint away if it got too close. I guess he hadn't seen one of those things before!

At 5pm, two of the more experienced hikers sent out a search party for the older couple, knowing how slow they were and that they didn't have a tent. They were last seen only a few kms from Windermere hut despite setting off as early as they could. The track was tricky in many places today because of tree roots and mud. When our search party had not returned by 9pm we considered sending out a second search party, but figured that the first group had probably pulled together some kind of camp by now.  Eventually they all turned up, the stronger lads carrying 2 packs each so that the older couple had nothing to carry. She seemed to find the whole situation quite amusing, and what a lovely bunch of people we were to be concerned for them. I don't think she quite grasped the gravity of the situation. They were found 5km from their destination, meaning that they had traveled 10km in 10 hrs and would have had to sleep rough at the swamp that night if nobody had helped them. Considering I was cold sleeping inside the hut I don't know how well they would have done. She talked loudly about her day's experiences until someone told her to shush at 10pm.

Sean and I shared some of the port tonight as a celebration for making it halfway!

09 December 2011

Day 2 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Waterfall Valley to Windermere Hut
Distance to cover: 7km
Forecast: Rain, snow
Dinner to look forward to: Tofu Panaeng curry with rehydrated vegetables
Socks and Boots: Damp

mmm... orange

A short day today, only 7km. The next stretch of track is 17.5km and many of the "group" from the first hut intend to double-hut and head on to the next one. We considered it, but knowing how slow we were yesterday (taking photos of everything that moved, and also things that didn't) I don't think 23km in one day would be a very good idea. This decision was reinforced as soon as we stepped out the door in the morning... the weather has properly set in!

Mt Emmett is not even visible this morning!

Off we trudged into the misty rain. Sean has very beautiful high vis orange waterproof pants so he was not easy to lose. There was quite a lot of luxurious boardwalk over marshland, but we did spend quite a few kms sloshing through some pretty awesome mud. Sometimes there were old planks submerged in the mud to get a foothold on, sometimes not. The rain was blowing in an unpleasant sideways kind of way, the kind that finds itself getting inside raincoat sleeves and dripping down necks. My boots, although comfortable, are not at all waterproof. I knew this before we started and just accepted that I would have wet feet on some days. I didn't really expect the kind of mudholes we saw so in hindsight would recommend people take waterproof boots.

Inpenetrable... not

We even skipped the side trip to Lake Will  that would have been across flat, open moors. The guidebook says "A recommended sidetrip in fine weather". Sean cracked it when he made a wrong step and was almost knee deep in runny black mud. Twice. At this point (after laughing only a little bit) I thought it best for all concerned that we put our heads down and get moving. We made it to Windermere hut by lunchtime and were glad to shed our sodden gear and have a hot cuppa. I read my book for most of the afternoon in a nice warm beanie and watched the clouds and rain continue to roll through.

An older couple who had been at the previous hut pulled in after lunch. Everybody was surprised that they had continued as we had overheard the ranger last night telling them that he thought they should turn back. As the trip went on, we learned more and more details of their situation; both over 60, the husband, Graham, seemed slightly senile or had perhaps suffered a stroke at some time. He had had a hip replacement in the past and wasn't coping at all with the mud. The wife, Marion, was strong despite her small stature but was not enjoying a heavy pack and had abandoned their tent back at Kitchen Hut. (Tents are an essential for this walk - every group is required to carry one as a safety precaution for unpredictable weather conditions.) We learned later that they didn't make the first hut in one day - they spent the night before we got on the track sleeping rough in the frost. Today they moved at about 500m/hour because Graham kept getting stuck in the mud and being blown over by the wind. They seem determined to press on tomorrow for the 17.5km distance.

Late in the evening (sunset is at 9.30pm) we see the rain turn to sleet, then hail, then back to rain. There is a female Pademelon sitting out in it with her ears back, gathering snow on her fur. After a while there is a rummage in her pouch and a small head pops out for a look around!

Nobody is game to camp tonight so those who are staying at Windermere all squash into the hut and it is soon warm(ish) with cooking stoves and body heat!

Day 1 - Overland Track, Tasmania

Dove Lake to Waterfall Valley.
Distance to cover: 10km
Forecast: Fine, late showers
Dinner to look forward to: Risotto with bacon and fresh mushrooms
Socks and Boots: Clean and dry

This morning we apprehensively start our trek from Cradle Valley, over Cradle Mountain, to the first hut on the Overland Track. We spent last night in the luxurious surrounds of Cradle Mountain Lodge, a stunning hotel nestled at the edge of the Lord of the Rings-esque national park. We wined and dined - well, I wined - and enjoyed our last luxurious hot shower for the week. I saw my very first Wombat here. So exciting!

nom nom nom

Contemplating the view of CM over a glass of Pinot
Vertical profile of what lays ahead. Huts in blue.
From http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=7827

The guide book has told us that today is the hardest day and the climb up from Dove Lake to the Cradle summit looks pretty steep on the map. Adding to that, today is the day where we have the most weight as we have full bottles of fuel (metho) and all the food we can stuff into our packs. I wish we had some bathroom scales this morning but I think we are both starting with about 16-17kg. Not too bad considering that includes all clothes, wet weather gear, food, cooking stove, sleeping bags and mats, a tent, water, toiletries and medical kit, a DSLR (each!!) and a couple of treats like fresh tomatoes and a bottle of port. I will link a packing list somewhere later as I think we did a pretty good job. *It's in the comments for day 6*.

Looking disturbingly energised, clean and matching.

From the start point. CM looks far away!
So, off we go. We are very lucky with the weather, it is a stunning day and nice and cool for walking. The bus driver tells us that there are only 32 cloudless days here so we are very lucky to have started on one of those. The days before and after were not so fine!

Boatshed on Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain in the background.

Our trek mascot Womby the plastic wombat starts the journey with us. Made in China, rescued from Geelong, traveling through Tasmania.

Womby, Japanese tourists in goretex, Dove Lake.

I notice that I have less high tech camping clothing than the group of Japanese tourists who pile off the bus with us at the lake, take photos and get back on the bus. Hm.

a wombat went over a mountain
The walk is steep but there's nothing you can't tackle by taking it slow. We stop at Marion's lookout for lunch and refill our water bottles with clean snow!! The views are breathtaking in every direction. We pass Kitchen Hut through some more snow that fell last night. This hut is only used in emergencies now. It has two doors, one at ground level, one 6ft high for when the snow is too deep to open the bottom one, and a shovel for when the snow is too deep to open the top door! From here, people can drop their packs and climb to the summit of Cradle Mountain. Even though it's a beautiful day, we are running a little later than expected so we push on.

Last night's snow, near Kitchen Hut.

Ahhhh, so this is what those walking poles are for.
Kitchen Hut and the CM summit is the end of where the day walkers go. After this point, we are properly on the Overland. The first thing we notice is that the track degrades significantly! Up until now it has been cleanly marked gravel tracks, steps made of rock or planks, and long sections of thin boardwalk where you walk over marshland. Immediately after Kitchen Hut we start prodding in deep muddy bogs looking for elusive planks or rocks that might be used as stepping stones. At this stage we naievely don't want to get out boots and socks wet. Ha.

After a few more km of rock hopping between puddles, we have traveled around the base of CM and walk out along a ridge toward the first hut. The habitat changes from "alpine" heath to drier eucalypt forest to marshland in the lower areas. I think we slowed down a lot toward the end of the afternoon as the last section took a lot longer than the recommended 1.5 hrs. Eventually Waterfall Valley hut is in sight and we can put down those heavy packs!

There is quite a crowd at these first two huts, both are full plus some extras camping in their tents. I think we had 34 in total tonight. It was nice to get to know a few people as we will be seeing them each evening for the next few days! We got in just as the weather came in and a fine mist of rain settled on the valley for the night.
Old Waterfall Valley hut (sleeps 8), with Mt Emmett in the background.