Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Overland Track (Tasmania Part 3)

After a hefty breakfast, we were shuttled over to the Ronny Creek trailhead by the shuttle services at 10:00am. At the walker's registration, I noticed that another group had already left for the Overland. We started in beautiful sunshine and lifting fog. Walking along the level path that was the boardwalk at the start of the track gave me a fit of optimism that this would be a relatively easy walk, even with the heaviest pack I've ever had in my life.

All that evaporated an hour later, when I was faced with a steep trail. Sweating and breathing heavily, we got to the top only to discover after a short flat section another trail going up, this time with cables to assist what looked like an almost vertical ascent, much like what one sees at the top of half-dome. Doing so with a heavy pack felt like suicide, and when I got to the top I had to drop my back and immediately go back to help Lisa up. Even then, there was still a little bit of extra climbing before getting to Marion's lookout and the end of the steep section, where we met Sarah and A.

We took a deep breath and looked around --- all around were mountains (not high mountains --- there's nothing taller than 1663m in Tasmania), and Dove Lake far below showed us that we'd climbed a thousand feet or so. With that feeling we headed to the true high point and then made for Kitchen hut, a good spot for lunch but had no drinking water. There we ran into Sarah and A. again, but they were heading for Cradle Mountain's summit and Lisa & I were feeling low on water, so opted to move on. I was to later discover that Sarah and A. had a ton of water and would have been happy to donate some to us.

We met Vladimir, a Russian living in Queensland who was hiking the track as well. He had just done Cradle Mountain summit, and walked along with us exchanging stories. We were then passed by a bunch of fast walking hikers --- these were the folks who paid $2500 a person in exchange for guides to carry and cook their food, mountain huts with hot showers, and no need to carry anything but clothing in their packs. We felt envious of their speed and obviously lighter packs, but felt a little less envious when we saw that they looked a little herded together.
By and by, we reached the first hut we would stay at, Waterfall Valley hut. The group camp site was up in the trees, and Lisa and I pitched our tent on one of the tent platforms. The drinking water was down by a secondary hut, so we chose to cook there. This was the first time I'd ever used my Trangia stove indoors and I was impressed --- I had never seen it boil water so fast! At this rate, I was definitely carrying way too much fuel! Then more trackers came in, having all taken the Tassie Link shuttle from Launceston, which got them into Cradle Mountain around noon. Despite all that, most of them had done the Cradle Mountain summit.

We exchanged equipment tips, and stories. These were people whom we would share the track with for the next few days, and it was worth getting to know them: Monique & Yuri, a Dutch couple now living in Perth, Dana and Satoshi Kato, a Japanese couple from Tokyo, Annabel, Jen, and Tara, from Perth as well, John and Connor Fitzgerald, a father and son pair of musicians, who were commemorating John's impending retirement.

The next day we started the trek with overcast skies and low fog. We spent the time to the Lake Will turnoff chatting with Jacob, an American from Arizona. The walking was relatively easy and we opted to visit Lake Will for lunch. Lake Will was pretty but by the time we got there we felt little rain drops, and so ate a fast lunch at the beach and then headed back to the intersection to find that most folks had decided not to do the side-trek, instead opting for an easy rest day or combining two days together to make a 25km day to save time on the track.

Windermere Valley hut was situated nicely enough, at the bottom of a valley. By the time we got there, the sun was out and it was warm. The location wasn't particularly inspiring, but Lisa preferred the tent to the hut so we camped out. At this point we learned that Sarah's backpack had been broken into. At dinner, we met a Frenchman who was doing the track in 4 days.

We woke up in the middle of the night to hear a wombat scratching at our tent trying to get into our food! Turning on Lisa's headlight made him go away, but the next morning we found that he had bitten through one of the tents, creating in it a hole the size of my fist! That taught us that no matter what the rangers told us, we should keep backpacks and food in the huts, not in the tents!

This was to be our longest day. The hiking wasn't particularly hard, walking through plains with a few ups and downs, but the scenery was spectacular, since when there aren't any trees, the mountains really do come out and show themselves. There was also not a cloud in the sky.

The 16.75km took its toll, however, and by the time we got to Frog Creek Camp, we were quite worn out. By the time we got to New Perlion hut, we were quite done for the day. Someone mentioned that there was a swimming hole at the old hut 25 minutes away, but an extra hour round trip did not seem worth the effort, so we just pitched our tent, had dinner, shot a few sunset pictures, and then went to bed.

As far as huts go, the New Perlion hut is unique in that the hut proper has much better scenery than the tent platforms, so if you visit it, stay in the hut instead of camping. By the time we figured that out we had already pitched our tent, and were too tired to take it down right away, but we really should have, as that night was the coldest of the entire trip!

We woke up the next to find the tent completely wet from condensation because it was so cold. At least the walk to Kia Ora hut wouldn't be challenging today, we speculated. Satoshi and Dana were planning to skip right over it and go on directly to Windy Ridge, but I harbored hopes that we'd do Mt. Ossa.

Well, by the time we got to the intersection with Mt. Ossa, Lisa was having her monthly cramps, so that shot that idea to hell. However, we did make it to the saddle to see the summit proper tower above us. Well, after that intersection, there was still quite a bit of up and down, and we arrived at Kia Ora properly tired. The tent platforms there were quite good, and after pitching the tent I tried going for a swim, but fell and hit my tailbone and sprained my right pinky instead. When John and Connor showed me the proper swimming hole which had no such risks I was quite embarrassed. The water was extremely cold, however, and none of us could stay in for long.

That night, I told everyone that Lisa's birthday was tomorrow. Everyone gave her good wishes, as we retired to an extremely windy night, with the wind howling and flapping the tent flies all night. This did have the benefit of granting us a completely dry tent in the morning!

It being Lisa's birthday, we sang Happy Birthday to her in the morning before setting off. We did discover that we had miscalculated the amount of toilet paper to bring, and thus Lisa's first birthday present this year was a spare roll of toilet paper from Tara!

The walk itself was uneventful --- we did a side trip to see two waterfalls, and then got to Windy Ridge hut after rainforests and various bushes. Since we had to walk out early the next day to the ferry on a schedule, we decided not to camp but to stay in the hut for the night instead. What a lucky decision that turned out to be!

At dinner, Tara, Jenn, Monique told me that the Cradle Mountain Huts guide had said that he would try to bake a chocolate cake for our birthday girls (Lisa's birthday was the 23rd, and Annabel's was the 24th). Lo and behold, right at dinner time a chocolate cake was delivered, and Happy Birthday was sung once again! Pete, a Canadian was making custard at the same time and we had a perfect blend.

After the cake was had and everyone settled down, John announced that he would sing a song for our birthday girls --- to my surprise he performed a song I knew, "The Rambling Rover", which I have a copy of, as performed by Silly Wizards on their Live Album. Not to be outdone, Connor gave a percussion performance with clicks, snaps, and fist.

By this time, the weather had truly taken a turn for the worse --- we saw sheets of rain, then lightning (followed by thunder), and then hail! Staying in the hut never felt like such a correct decision. Folks started moving bivy sacks, sleeping bags and entire tents into the hut to escape the rain.

The rain did not let up all through the night and the hut was cold as ice the next morning. By the time we left we had used up all our food, given away the rest of our chocolate, and gritted our teeth for a miserable walk. It turned out that the rain had softened quite a bit, but what trail was definitely wet and muddy. We pushed through, trusting our boots to protect us. Well, the insides of our boots got damp anyway --- I don't know why that would be. Lisa's made out of Gore-Tex, and mine is leather with a fresh layer of wax. It could be that my waxing job is bad, but hers shouldn't need waxing. Perhaps when the fabric is saturated it doesn't breath out any more and we get damp feet from our feet no longer breathing? A cursory Google search turned up nothing, but if you know something about this please post here. I mainly want to know whether the waxing job I did was inadequate, or whether even with a perfect waxing job damp feet is to be expected.

In any case, the walk out was boring, through rainforests and not much scenery --- shadows of the surrounding mountains through the clouds were as much as we got, in between long periods of staring at the trail so as to not step on a slippery rock or wet tree roots. We did stop to get out the camera from the dry bag at the suspension bridge, but the rest of the time just put our heads down and tried to make good time.

Getting to Narcissus hut and using the radio to confirm our ferry booking, I felt my load lighten up despite the rain. At 12:45pm, we walked to the ferry jetty, loaded onto the Ferry, and headed across Lake St. Clair in the light misty rain, ending our Tasmanian wilderness adventure. It's been incredibly pretty for the first 4 days --- the last 2 were a little boring but as my first self-contained really long walk, I can't think of a gentler introduction.
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