The Overland Track in Tasmania is a fantastic 6 days hiking experience.
It is isolated, can throw up tough conditions and challenge you both physically and mentally.
In fact, unless you are adequately prepared for bitterly cold and mind numbing conditions in winter, you risk serious problems (and the possibility of death) No joking.
Walking the Overland Track in winter needs thorough planning, excellent gear and experience in tough Tasmanian conditions.
In this post we are shamelessly plugging our Hiking the Overland Track eBook, not as a way to make us rich, (at $A14.50 each, we reckon it will take us 200 years plus to become rich!) but as a good resource to help you plan your trip and reduce the risks to a manageable level.
Why the plug?
We have just finished reading Aaron White’s blog Aaron’s Assonant Advertures In Australia and want to share some of his posts with potential Overland Track hikers. We highly recommend reading Aaron’s Overland Track posts to get the full story.
We really enjoyed Aaron’s writing style and story telling ability – it is great read.
This first post : Overland Track Chronicles – Rugging up sets the scene for his recent winter trip.
Sue and Frank – hiking in Tasmania – winter – can’t be too bad, we are smiling!
As reasonably experienced Tasmania hikers, reading his story immediately created warning bells in our minds, so we decided to post some snippets of his experiences and make a few comments about them so others who attempt the Overland Track in winter can be better prepared.
So read on, snippets from Aarons posts about a “hearty native Minnesotan” hiking the Overland Track in early winter. (with our comments below):
Without hesitation, he led me to a corner that was a forest of hangers with only rainjackets. “It rains a lot in Tasmania, so you’ll need a good shell layer. This jacket here is 100% rain and wind proof. Feel it. Real gortex.”
Mmmm gortex. I felt the smooth, yet rubbery sleeve and subtley turned the affixed price tag to my direction. $800.
“So will this keep me warm as well?” I asked.
“Oh no, sir!” The definity of his answer jabbed a hole right through what was left of my not-ignorant face. “This is just a shell layer. You’ll need a good fleece jacket, coat, and of course (chuckle) thermals. I mean you at least have thermals right?”
Read this post: Best Hiking Clothes for a multiday hike in Tasmania – the layering principal
I found a cheap rain jacket for sale at a random Sydney shop for $40. In Launceston, I bought my stove, fleece coat, fleece gloves, tent and some wool socks at the local K-mart. I wasn’t a Super Backpacker Man, but I think I was alright.
In the Overland Track book we go into detail about gear selection, what you need to take and what is not required.
That night though, I didn’t sleep, not even for a minute. I tossed, turned and froze to death under my pile of blankets in the heated Tasmanian room. Launceston isn’t even in the mountains. I already knew my light summer sleeping bag would not be enough, even when fully clothed. I thought of my gear, my garbage bag gaiters, my lack of sleeping mat. Why did I buy potatoes?
I rolled out of bed at 5:59, yelling at my 6:00 alarm to wake up. I saw that it was the morning of May 13th (duhn duhn duh!!!!). I repacked my bag, cut back on some of the food, tossed out my potatoes. I removed the one pair of comfort clothing I saved for my first night off the mountain and cut back on a few other odds and ends. The bag was still too heavy, but it was at least manageable.
Read this post: Hiking gear what are the basics to get started
I still wasn’t content. I threw on my hiking boots and headed to the 24hour Kmart for a camping mat. Freezing to death from no ground insulation was not the way I wanted to kick it. I walked a half block before I hit another obstacle to my coming hike: my ankles were in intense pain.
Three hours later, I arrived and Cradle Mountain National Park, ready to go, pain or not. I caved in a bought some actual rain pants at the inflated middle-of-nowhere price of $60
Many hikers leave on a sunny day, unprepared, without raingear or warm clothing and die when trapped in a snowstorm. I was undertaking it in mid-May, when you don’t have to pay the fee, but have to deal with less desirable weather and very short days.
Hiking during the non fee paying season is Ok if you are experienced and prepared. There is minimal support from Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and less people around to help get you out of trouble.
The Overland Track:
“Continue on? Isn’t this the hut?”
Kitchen Hut in better weather – May 08- note the second level door and shovel for access during heavy snow and also leon in jean shorts – they got wet the first 10 minutes and stayed wet for the rest of the trip (wrapped up in the bottom of his pack)
“Oh no, this is just Kitchen Hut, an emergency shelter. The first overnight hut is another two hours further on.”
That put me at just more than halfway done with the day. I was already exhausted: my back hurt, my ankles hurt, and one layer of face had been not so carefully removed by unhindered, blowing precipitation. There was thankfully only 30 minutes left on the open mountain face.
I collapsed upon opening the door. I just wasn’t in enough shape for this first day of climbing, but a good nights sleep would hopefully give me the strength for the next. The hut was quite nice, with wooden bunks to sleep 25 and a gas heater to dry off all of our gear.
Even with a rain jacket, rain pants, fleece coat, hooded sweatshirt, t-shirt, and jeans, I was soaked all the way down to my thermals. I had a backpack cover over my water resistant backpack, but this proved useless: everything in my pack was wet. That day, even the super backpackers, with their $1000 dollar backpacks and special waterproof covers learned the lesson that “waterproof” is a myth.
Read this post by Matthias at Matt Downunder: Preparing for a 10 day hike in South West Tasmania
Do not take cotton clothes such as jeans or track pants, once wet they will NOT DRY .
The second morning – leaving Waterfall Valley Hut
I jumped out of the creek, gave it the finger, and stomped through the pouring rain back to the hut and threw my fifty pound pack in the corner.
“I’m done! It’s cold, rainy, everything is wet, it’s too f**king foggy to see anything, and there is a f**king knee deep creek right at the start of this horrible day. Now, I’m going to have to walk with wet feet for the next 25km. I paid $1000 to do this piece of s#$t walk and it has been nothing but one… big…f**king…disappointment. I’m not putting up with this. I’m going back. That’s it. F%$k this s*&t!”
The others at the hut were not really expecting such a tirade, especially minutes into the second day of the hike. Everyone, just kept on eating the breakfast in uncomfortable silence, until a young German woman finally asked the one question on everyones’ mind. “Is there any way around this knee deep creek?”
Five minutes later, I had my socks wrung out, I had my clothes put back on and was ready to move on.
Arriving Windemere Hut
I removed my completely wet gear and went into my backpack for my dry change of clothing. Even after repacking everything in garbage bags, my clothes were still damp. The left me with no dry clothes and the temperature was quickly dropping.
Within minutes, I was shivering uncontrollably and started feeling a bit faint. I could tell I was showing the early symptoms of hypothermia. I threw on my fleece coat even though it was wet. That is one thing I love about polar fleece, it is the amazing fabric that maintains warmth, even when wet.
Lightweight plastic garbage bags are not waterproof – they perforate easily and you gear will get wet. You need to double bag critical gear inside a pack liner (pack covers will not keep your pack contents dry!)
The previous night, Brian (a guy Aaron met on the Track) had slept in a tent in the rain, instead of the hut. Everything he owned, including sleeping back was soaked. His body was not forgiving him for the prior two days’ punishment. He was cramping, worn-down, cold. Instead of pushing on that day, he decided to rest another day. This was an option I chose to wave, despite the inconceivably worse weather that day.
Since I was not going forward, I wanted to head back and see all the various side trails along the way I had passed up. – At this point Aaron decided to return to the Cradle Mountain end of the walk and not risk worse weather conditions that were forecast – a wise move.
I awoke in the middle of the night with the startling discovery that the Socks Paradox was in fact a myth. Once I donned my fifth pair of socks, wrapped my feet in a sweater, put the bottom of my sleeping bag in a canvas shopping bag, I was able to make my feet merely cold. It was a long, blustery night. The wind tested the structural integrity of the cabin.
I wasn’t the only person who had a cold night. A young British bloke spent the night with merely a blanket. His one pair of socks was soaked from the previous day’s walk. The sneakers he brought were still wet and he had no rain coat. The temperature was below freezing that day. Despite this, he pushed on. This is how people die.
The End- back at the Cradle Mountain Area
I was in my element, until I reached the top of the mountain.
Suddenly, I found myself in North Dakota mid-blizzard or maybe on top of mountain mid-blizzard, same difference. I pushed forward through knee-deep snow, which was good, because it stabilized me from being toppled by the wind. I was glad it was only a couple of miles back to Kitchen Hut.
Inside the Kitchen Hut, I found an Aussie family from Brisbane, with a twelve year old child. They started the previous day, but got trapped from the excessive winds. I was actually quite glad to see them safe and alive; other hikers the previous night had told me of this family.
They decided to head back to the park with me, so we headed out into the blizzard. At first it wasn’t too bad, but after fifteen meters, the wind came back with a vengeance, the strongest I’ve faced on the trail. Being from Queensland, the boy had never seen snow before, now he was stuck in Antartica. They wisely turned back.
Many thanks to Aaron White for his great insights and honest appraisal of his Overland Track experience.
Remember, you can read Aaron’s eight posts on his blog, Aaron’s Assonant Adventures in Australia.