Overland Track – Winter – wet feet, mountains and a cold hut

We join the second part of Caitie and Lauren’s winter Overland Track trip where they have reached Kia Ora Hut after spending three days on the track that meanders from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair in central Tasmania.

To read about their adventures at Waldheim, Waterfall Valley, Windemere and New Pelion Huts, head over to Part One –  The Overland Track – Winter trip with Caitie and Lauren first.

New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut – Monday 26th June

Coal fires are the best invention!! We are in Kia Ora Hut tonight and have stoked the fire so that it is very warm and cosy inside, with snow falling outside. Great walk today from New Pelion. We started through rainforest with a nice little waterfall along the way, with a fairly hidden entrance, but well worth the look. A steep ascent to Pelion Gap followed, causing us to swelter in our thermal layers! We met Carolyn and CJ at the top of the climb and boiled up some water for a cup of tea to help block the icy wind that was starting to pick up and rapidly bring our temperatures down.

Mt Ossa turn off- fuelling up- Overland Track - Tasmania

Mt Ossa turn off - fuelling up for the climb

After a rest and energy hit we all headed up to Mt Ossa via Mt Doris, even though there was low cloud and no chance of views from the summit. It was a really icy walk up to Mt Doris and required some serious concentration… an over confident step sent us flying several times! Thick snow then covered huge rocks on the steep climb up to Mt Ossa.

Nearly at the top of Mt Ossa - Overland Track - Tasmania

Nearly at the top of Mt Ossa - not Sue's favourite spot!

We made it very close to the summit, but even though we had done a lot of rock scrambling already, we decided it would be pointless to venture into the boulders with such limited vision. Most of our descent off the mountain was completed sliding on our bums, which made for a fairly speedy return trip! As we passed Mt Doris we spotted a platypus hiding in the snow covered moss and he popped out to say hello for a while before burrowing back into his icy retreat. Fantastic to see one so close and unperturbed, I didn’t even know they lived out here in the snow!

When we got back to our bags we discovered the sneaky currawongs had opened our zips and eaten one of our precious snack bags… there was even a trail of m&m’s leading across the platform which Lauren and I seriously considered eating! We knew about these birds and their talents, but for some reason assumed they wouldn’t bother us on such a cold and windy day… apparently this does not bother them however! We headed off down to the hut quite quickly after that and had a bit of fun sloshing through the knee deep mud along the way. We are trying to stick to the ‘stay on track’ rule and have probably enjoyed the experience more as a result.

Winter Ice - Overland Track - Tasmania

Ice and they are still smiling!

It’s been a great evening with CJ and Carolyn, and the four of us are taking over an 18 person hut very successfully! After hours of mud, snow and water trudging today, our boots are finally starting to get damp inside… although we are fairly certain that’s from submerging ourselves, rather than the water permeating the sides!

Kia Ora to Bert Nichols Hut – Tuesday 29th June

This morning we counted our rations and immediately regretted sharing our chocolate and biscuits earlier in the trip! We are down to basic meals and our bodies are asking for a lot more fuel now. In future I will certainly bring more snacks for the evenings (custard, biscuits, chocolate) and larger meals for dinner and breakfast. Although overall we have eaten well and have been quite satisfied. Our packs were only 15kg in the beginning, which although it’s nice for day one, they are ridiculously light right now and I would sacrifice that for some more chocolate!!

We had a really warm night last night, with all of us on the top platforms to make the most of the rising heat. As this was our last day all four of us would have together, we headed off at the same time and walked together until the turn off to D’Alton and Fergusson Falls.

D'alton Falls - - Overland Track - Tasmania

D'alton Falls - Love a good Tassie river

CJ and Carolyn continued on at this point, as they were hoping to make it to Narcissus tonight, so we said our farewells and hopefully our paths will cross again one day. Lauren and I dropped our packs by a tree (covered with the tent fly this time!) and headed off to D’Alton Falls. After a fairly steep, slippery descent we got to the base of them and they were amazing! So much water falling and tumbling down between the cliffs, it would have been disastrous if one of us had fallen in, and not all that unlikely to be honest! After a few photos we scrambled back up to our packs and decided against the other falls, as we were just about ready for lunch and keen to get warm out of the drizzly rain.

The walk today was through lush, dripping rain forest, across very tricky, slippery tree roots and rocks the whole way, which really takes a toll on your ankles if you don’t take care. It was stunning surrounds, and being Day 6 of the trip we were off with our own thoughts for a lot of the day… very cathartic. Every time I looked behind at Lauz she was checking out some sort of new moss or fungi, or staring up into the beautiful tall eucalypts that bordered the track.

As we came through the Du Cane Gap we were bordered by the massive snow capped peaks of Falling Mountain and the Traveller Range. After a climb into the Gap, it was a steady descent down to Bert Nichols Hut, which we were thrilled to find a ranger had been to earlier and the fire was roaring! Lunch consisted of a cuppa soup and improvised pizzas – wraps with cheese, cooked on top of the wood fire – very tasty! We had to improvise with our wraps, as our packaged coleslaw had lasted extremely well until it was left in a stinking hot hut last night, then it fermented! Oops!

Lauren and I filled in our afternoon by wandering around the surrounding bush and drooling over the food stores inside the locked Cradle Cabins. Cabin fever began to set in and we became absolute nutcases… although it was nothing an epic game of paddocks couldn’t fix!

Following the discovery of a notice informing us of no heater at Pine Valley Hut, and considering the weather does not look like it will clear to give us decent views of the Acropolis or Labyrinth, we have decided on a route change for tomorrow. We will head to Narcissus (or maybe Echo Point) and then walk out to Lake St Clair, rather than catch the ferry.

Our boots were sodden today, however we are willing to forgive them, as they were under water 95% of the time!

Bert Nichols to Pine Valley Hut – Wednesday 30th June

What a great night! A benefit of travelling the Overland during winter is the lack of people. Last night we were the only people in a hut that holds 60, so we slept directly in front of the fire!

Bert Nichols Hut - Overland Track - Tasmania

Sleeping in Bert Nichols Hut - that's where we would be!

We awoke to a fairly clear morning, and as we ate breakfast the skies turned a brilliant blue and the sun began to shine… miracle! So plans changed again, and after walking for an hour from Bert Nichols, we did not hesitate before turning off down the Pine Valley track… except to eat some m&m’s. The walk in through the Valley was absolutely stunning and we had been teased by views of the Acropolis all morning, so we were excited to get there. After we arrived at the hut (which was already like a fridge inside at 12pm!) we had a quick lunch and wrote our intentions in the book, then headed off to see how close we would get to the columns of Acropolis. The signs regarding Clare Hutcheson, a young girl who went missing whilst hiking in the area in 2000, helped to reinforce the importance of safety and preparedness at all times. Before we left, we layered ourselves with wind and waterproof gear and loaded a day pack with head torches, spare torch, PLB, snacks, water and mobile phones (just in case there was reception).

After a short section of relatively flat and easy walking, the track rapidly became a hillside scramble out of the Valley! At times was a little difficult to follow the markers, and our legs were at full stretch to get up some parts, however going up was nothing when compared to coming back down a few hours later! Once arriving at the plateau on top the walking should have been much easier, however the duck boards were covered in a thick layer of ice and there were regular sections missing chicken wire, so we spent a lot of time flying off the edges and debated whether it might be safer (although more damaging) to walk directly on top of the plants. We chose the boards of course. The view of the surrounding mountains and the Acropolis was breathtaking at this point!

After discovering service on our phones for the first time this trip, we made a brief stop to call home. Dad seemed strangely relieved to hear from me… I guess 6 days of silence had him a little worried! I told him we were about to climb to the Acropolis and hoped he wouldn’t Google it before I made it home! Following the duck boards we continued up the fairly intense rock scramble towards the summit, falling through large snow holes occasionally.

The Acropolis - Overland Track - Tasmania

The Acropolis

Due to fading light we were forced to abort the mission a little early, although we got very close and took some great photos. The return trip was completed with great care, both of us keeping a very firm eye on each other.

We made it back to the hut by 5pm, just on darkness. I do wish we had another day here, as the Labyrinth looks stunning, but the ferry is booked and we need a pub meal! If there was a fire available, we might have even considered another day, however at the moment the thermometer on the wall reads –3 degrees. My wet gloves are beside me on the table, frozen solid, and we are wearing every clothing layer including our sleeping bags! Lauz is sitting across from me blowing great clouds of condensation past her head torch as she takes notes from the flora and fauna information boards. It is dinner time shortly and I think I will be leaving the stove on just a little longer than necessary!

Our boots are wet today due to great chunks of snow falling down my gaiters and melting in freezing little puddles around my toes! It would be great to dry them tonight, however as Lauz says, we should have at least one morning of putting on wet boots, and it may as well be a three hour day before we catch the ferry and head to the pub!

Pine Valley Hut - Overland Track - Tasmania

Inside Pine Valley Hut - tough night without heating

Pine Valley Hut to Lake St Clair and Derwent Bridge Hotel – Thursday 1st July

And so the journey ends… 7 amazing days, capped off with brilliant sunshine for our final day of hiking. Last night in Pine Valley Hut the temperature dropped to –5! When we emerged from our sleeping bags this morning we discovered everything was frozen solid, including gaiters, boots and a pot of water on the table! We avoided putting on wet boots yet again; instead we slipped our feet into a couple of ice blocks and ceased to feel our toes! Sock liners and double thickness alpine socks helped prevent our toes actually dropping off.

It was a very strange night in Pine Valley Hut… we were quite edgy and our imaginations were definitely having a field day. After an hour of paddocks and lots of chatting we finally dropped off to sleep (huddled very close together, tucked up in our bags), however we were hanging out for morning to come and bring us some daylight. When the alarm went off at 7am we sprung into action at an alarming speed! After defrosting ourselves with our final coffee and porridge rations, we ventured off for our last stretch in this adventure. An incredible frost and snow blanket covered the mountains outside the Valley and puddles were frozen with such thick ice it was impossible to break through them with even a firm step.

At the Pine Valley and Overland Track junction we came across a group of 20 year 10 boys from Sydney. They were excited to have completed the track in 4 days, which I think is unbelievable as well! As a result of them, it meant the ferry would pick us up from Lake St Clair for a very reasonable price.

It was a bittersweet experience walking out… we were looking forward to a warm night and a good meal, but at the same time it was so hard to say goodbye to that cathartic nature of bushwalking and the serenity of the wilderness. Our final hour of walking was through eucalypts and button grass, bathed in warming sunshine. Plants and paths were still covered in ice and with the sun shining over them it made for a breathtaking winter wonderland.

We made it to Narcissus and called through to the Lake St Clair ferry base to confirm our booking. Following a quick chat with the ferry captain I received a call back to the hut to pass on a message from CJ and Carolyn who had made it to Lake St Clair and overheard my little exchange! We then noticed they had left us a gorgeous message in the book. It was an unexpected bonus to meet such great people and make new friends out here.

Lake St Clair Platform - Narcissus Hut - Overland Track - Tasmania

Lake St Clair Platform - Narcissus Hut - Ready for the boat

Lauren and I headed to the ferry platform and sat in the sun whilst we had our final bush lunch. The ferry came an hour later to take us back to reality and we piled on with all the boys and their teachers for a lively ride back to visitor’s centre.

We have spent the evening at the Derwent Bridge Hotel, drinking red wine, eating steak and chocolate and sitting by the massive log fire. A great way to top it all off… and now it’s time to plan for the Overland in winter 2011!

We hope you have enjoyed this fantastic trip report by Caitie as much as we have! It is great to read about their experiences and the pleasure they got from this journey. It is also wonderful to see two young women having an adventure together and tackling some pretty tough conditions. We would be so proud of them if they were our children.

For those of you reading this who are planning the Overland Track, you might want to check out our eBook – Caitie never got around to buying it but we sent her a copy to check out after she got home:

This is her recommendation:

The book was great…. I used 20 different people and websites and books to get the information you have in one place. Definitely worth it.

Check out our Overland Track eBook

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for your story. I’ll be doing the OT with my wife in a few weeks time, so I enjoyed reading of your experience. I’ve done it in winter before, but my wife has not and is somewhat apprehensive, so I think I’ll get her to read this.

    • Frank says

      Yippee! Hey Nik, That’s great! Whoot! Heidi will be fine (especially with a big strong fella like you tagging along)

      Caitie and Lauren were great. btw, Caitie “admitted” to me when she got back it was her FIRST long trip…… BUT she got a heap of advice and they set themselves up with great gear before they left.
      Have a great trip you two!

  2. Steve Cockburn says

    Thanks for the 2nd part. Loved reading your account. brings back great memories and starts some plans hatching.I’d be a very proud dad as well!!
    Nik, I’ve tried to persuade my beloved to do the same but alas unless I am prepared to carry everything then I’m out of luck. The exposed cold is not for her unfortunately.She was however inspired by your pics(BWT) with your wife and kids to come up with me to the Scout Hut last year, so maybe I might have some hope !!!
    Steve c

  3. says

    Great hike ladys great report as well,
    If only my 13 y/o daughter would hike but alas she has found intrests else where,?
    Im heading to Tas to do the walk first week of june,2013,and to prepare i hiked the bogong high plains loop 70klms 5 days 4 nights,solo back in 1st week october this year.
    Plenty of snow but i had blue skies every day,-i realise i wont get that on the o/l track.
    What tent did you take,-3or4 season.
    And thanks for a great hiking blog.

    • says

      Forgot to mention,
      I got myself into trouble on the 3rd day of bogong hike,-steep climb out of ravine,-a side trip to a water fall,-going down was easy getting up was a nightmare.
      Snow face,with rocks,trees,etc,-the funny thing was i did not think about myself or my family,and i love them,-the over riding concern was getting out,and my relationship with God.
      Just an observation,-the mind can be very powerfull indeed.

  4. warren says

    love your story heading back to the track this July for my third winter walk solo so far September, June, next year August love the adventure and the other like minded travlers

    • Frank says

      Good stuff Warren,
      You must love it!
      We are off in June , can’t wait. We have been distracted building a house and it is time to get back into some long trips!
      Cheers
      Frank

  5. Graeme says

    Great blog. I stumbled across this when finalising the planning for a walk on the Overland starting in a couple of weeks and wanted to find out a bit more on the side-trip to Pine Valley. The most amazing thing though, is that CJ and Caroline are personal friends and even more coincidental is that CJ is coming with us on the trip – this his third. Hoping for a bit better weather, although Tassie at any time is unpredictable. Be great to be able to get to the top of Cradle Mountain and Mount Ossa, but we’ll just take it as it comes. Really looking forward to it.

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