What a way to spend the winter solstice - in the wilds of Tasmania.
The Overland Track is still one of our favourite walks but the downside of being so well known is that it gets crowded. So if you walk in winter , the crowds are down and the enjoyment factor is up, weather permitting. The weather is of course, the great unknown at the time of booking leave and flights and I have learnt to anticipate the walk but not count on it.
This time, the day we arrived at Cradle Mountain was Ok but the following day was forecast to have high winds, 2 cold fronts coming through and snow down to 700 metres, We ummed and ahhed about waiting a day but decided to go anyway. The climb up to the base of the montain is steep and we were both down to short sleeves and hot by the time we reached Marions lookout. After that the windchill factor and snow meant we donned many layers, walked briskly and hid from the weather in Kitchen Hut to make a hot drink. As it turned out, it was too cold for the butane gas stove to work properly!!.
Walking in squeaky, dry fresh snow is so much more pleasant than the ice slicked rocks we had last time. We reached Waterfall Valley hut pre dark, no drama and enjoyed having the hut to ourselves,giving us plenty of room to hang up wet gear,
The second day is a short walk on to Windamere if you don't compress the stages as many winter walkers tend to do. It snowed lightly all day, was really pretty but the hut was cold and the heater not working. Heaters in the huts are small gas ring burners at the base of a cyclone wire cage. I have been known to sit on the cage to maximise the warmth in the past, but this time there were too many people, and too much wet gear and no heat anyway.
The third hut is Pelion and comes afer a long days hiking. Around lunchtime, you first glimpse Mt Oakleigh and it seems not too far but the wet muddy track goes on and on down into Frog flat and then up and up until you finally see the button grass plains again. Another cold night with no heater, but a sociable group of walkers, and one surprise - a lone walker who walked in from a side track after 11 pm!.
Last time we had clear skies and views down the valley when we went over Pelion pass - this time Mt Pelion East peeped out of cloud some of the time, but Mt Ossa was completely covered. Fresh snow and a biting wind meant we didn't tarry; nor were we tempted to climb either of the mountains. Kia Ora Hut had a heater which worked - bliss- we were able to half dry our boots and warm our socks. One of the things I really dislike is putting on wet footwear in the morning. I was surprised we were warm enougn at night - but we did wear thermals, long sleeve shirt, fibre pile jumper, themal long johns and socks to bed,and used a hot water-filled metal drink bottle as a "hottie" and tucked the down parker around us inside the sleeping bag . Add a fluffy neck warmer and a woollen hat and we were warm enough to sleep!
We needed crampons on the boardwalks at times, but the fresh snow makes it less slippery. The day we walked over Du Cane gap, we didn't have to wear our ponchos - we still got wet from falling ice etc. but it wasn't really raining or snowing.
Neither of us like Bert Nichols hut , an architect designed , large cold hall, probably good in summer, but not so good in winter. We had heard a helicopter while walking and when we arrived, there were a couple of rangers / plumbers removing the old old wall mounted tiny heater and installing a real, gas log fire type heater. Even that wasn't enough to tempt us - we decided to walk on all the way to Narcissus. It was a long day, 18 km or so, with lots of wet mud and rock hopping track, but we arrived at dusk to mirror smooth lake and lovely evening reflections. We taught the 2 ANU students to play "500", and shared the cosy, old style hut.They were still sitting exams in Canberra on Tuesday when we started walking, had driven down to catch the ferry across, driven up to Cradle Mountain and then walked double stages the whole way - on oatmeal. Poor students indeed. Their plan was to then walk south to north, back to Cradle Mountain and pick up their car. In their words though, they were trashed. We gave them a hot dinner and fruit and tea and talked them through some other options, like walking out and hitching back to Cradle, or finding a bus.
Louise and Annette had told us how special their night at Echo Point was, and in light of the "improvements" national parks keep making due to visitor numbers, we decided this might be our last chance to spend the night in an original old rustic hut with a coal burning fire. The sun shone all day out of a clear blue sky - so the day was lovely as long as it was. Sunrise around 8 am, inside due to no sun (dipped behind th hills) at 4 pm, maximum tmperature perhaps 4 degrees.
Inside the old hut was toasty due to the coal fireplaceand we thought we were set. About an hour after dark a tired, fractious group of four students turned up and our cosy warm hut turned ito a crowded, wet, smelly place. They were exhausted after a long day and were in bed by 7 pm. It is not very sociable in those circumstances so after reading quietly for an hour, we also turned in. The walk out was fine, warm where the sun hit and cold and frosty anywhere in the shade. We heard later that it was minus 10 overnight a few miles away!.
We are not planning to walk again in winter - I am happy to know we can, that it is still a stunning walk and I do really like the way the weather thins the crowds. On the negative side, to carry enough gear to keep us safe ( I refuse to say warm) means a heavy pack and the tracks are wet and icy and difficult enough that a lot of the time it is eyes down not looking around enjoying it. I will leave it to younger, fitter, more keen walkers.
As Tassie link buses stopped running a few months ago, we were uncertain how we were going toget back to Hobart but our friends , Vicky and Brian , organised a private support party! We were met, chauffered back to Hobart via a visit to the stunning wood sculptures at " the Wall" near Derwent Bridge. Not only have they solved our transport issues, they have been superlative hosts, and we are thoroughly enjoying being warm, clean, well fed, entertained and are having a holiday after our walk.