|13-20 November 2004
|The Overland Track, Tasmania
|Maps: Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair 1:100000; The Overland Track - A Walkers Notebook Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service
I did this walk as a participant on a guided camping expedition with Craclair. There were 9 clients and 3 guides. It seems as if there is a shake out of the industry in Tasmania - 7 clients and 1 guide were from Craclair in Devonport, 2 clients and 2 guides from Tasmanian Expeditions in Launceston and the 'goss' was that both companies were being taken over by World Expeditions. Perhaps this is due to the additional controls which were talked about as having to be introduced from next peak season in the area - such as (1) limiting numbers; (2) walk from north to south only; (3) move on every night. Our local guides were amazed that, even in November, on the first night of the track in Waterfall Valley, there were close on 80 walkers.
Guided camping is a soft option but, for a 56 year old, was hard enough. I'd last walked Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair as a teenager, 42 years ago in 1963. Guided camping means you pay your money and our guides carried tents, food and cooking gear, and do the cooking. All major equipment was supplied by the company; I took clothing and boots only (although I did decide to take my pack).
Of the 9 clients, 3 were female. 1 came from Germany, 1 from WA, 1 from SA, 3 from Qld, 2 from NSW and me from the ACT. The Queenslanders didn't take their jackets and gloves off all the trip, it was so cold! As far as I can recall, client ages were 70s (he was fit), 58, 57, 56, 53, 52, 28, 24 and 22. Our guides were young and fit, although one already had bad knees from the pack weight he had to carry.
I flew from Canberra via Melbourne to Devonport, then took the local shuttle bus from the airport to Craclair - a very large garage full of equipment at the home of the proprietor.
Day 1 - 13 November. Canberra to Waldheim Huts (Cradle Mountain)
Arriving late morning at the Craclair depot, we met our guides and fellow walkers and were kitted our with all the gear we required. This included Gor-Tex jackets and trousers, pack and pack cover (although I took my own), sleeping bag and liner, a plastic sheet for a ground sheet, sleeping mat (Therm-a-Rest), gloves and over-mittens, beanie, gaiters, torch (I took my own headlight), eating irons (well, plastic plate, bowl, mug, fork, knife and spoon) and park pass. We were advised to select several plastic bags - garbage bin quality for a pack liner and a lighter weight one for the inside of our sleeping bag stuff sack. This was added to the personal clothing and gear we brought. Our trusty guides carried our 2-man tents (just a tarp for themselves), food and fuel for all for 3 days (they have a food and fuel cache about half way through which they refill by carrying in supplies along the Arm River track and carrying out rubbish). Our packs were weighed to give us an idea of the load we would shoulder. Mine was around 13kgm, before I added a kilogram of water and 1kgm of port and chocolate to be shared around one night through the trip. At one stage I tried to lift the head guide's pack - it was around 37kgm. No wonder he had bad knees and we clients were paying a substantial fee!
A mini-bus with trailer took the 12 of us plus driver via the town of Sheffield to Cradle Mountain. We drove past the old Hydro camp at Gowrie, were I'd lived and worked on the Mersey-Forth hydro scheme during university holidays in 1967-68. The day was mainly overcast with some rain, but also patches of sleet, hail and sunshine. In fact, we got our only view of the snow capped Cradle Mountain from along the road around 10km out. We saw none of it as we climbed nearby and it was a day later and from the south that we next saw it. The organisation was wonderful and we alighted outside our first night's accommodation at the Waldheim Huts, well inside the northern park boundary and free from day-trippers. We explored around the huts, already feeling we were in the wilderness, with magic scenery to match. Green mosses and lichens everywhere, dripping in the rain.
After settling in, we drove to Dove Lake and walked a little way to Glacier Lookout. Cradle Mountain was not to be seen. The weather was foul and it started to snow, so we doubled back to the old boathouse and took the Dove Lake Track via Lake Lilla back to our huts.
With a break in the weather, we walked the few yards down to the rebuilt Waldheim, took in the history of the Gustav and Kate Weindorfer story and strolled through the magnificent King Billy pines in Weindorfers Forest. Met a local wombat coming back. With our guides hard at work producing dinner on the last kitchen range for several days, all we had to do was spread out our sleeping bags and sit around the gas fire till dinner was served. A very tasty stew and mash, followed by apple pie and cream. Bed beckoned at ¼ to 10.
Day 2 - 14 November. Cradle Mountain to Waterfall Valley
After appreciating the last shower, shave, flushing toilet and cooked breakfast (juice, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee) for several days, we were at last packed up and ready to head off. There was much adjusting of gear and protection of cameras (in the end, waterproof jacket and trousers and gaiters on and camera well protected in a waterproof bag was the correct decision and at 8.50am we signed the walk register and set off on the boardwalk past Lake Lilla, Wombat Pool and up the many steps past Crater Falls.
Our first stop was at Crater Lake at the boatshed, where driving rain then sleet started to pelt down and the scroggin was handed around.
Then the really steep climb to Marions Lookout began. Towards the top there was a chain hand rail for assistance, but we were literally blown up the steep path. Virtually nothing could be seen from the Lookout - certainly not Cradle Mountain and only glimpses of Dove Lake and its car park down through the clouds. A couple of pack covers blew off and had to be reined in before they parachuted pack and walker away!
By 10am we were stepping out towards Kitchen Hut, which we reached by 11am. The hut is for emergency shelter only and the ground floor was crammed full of walkers having lunch. Our trusty guides took us to the first floor, where the 12 of us could just stand. As we warmed up, our body heat produced a thick fog in the small area. Kitchen Hut looked amusing with it's barn-like door opening from the first floor and a shovel hanging beside it; but that would be the only way to get out after a decent fall of snow. Lunch was pocket bread and salami and salad, plus a cuppa.
We pushed on the 4.5km to Waterfall Valley, walking around Cradle Cirque and down the spur to the hut. Not many photos could be taken, as the weather was foul. Waterfall Valley Hut was full to overflowing so, with the local knowledge available to us, we went on a few hundred metres to the Old Waterfall Valley Hut. It just fitted the 12 of us (on the 2 double bunks = 8) in its rustic building, but there was no heating. Later, we had to turn other walkers looking for accommodation away. We were very, very wet and the place soon looked like a Chinese laundry as we got out of our clothing and tried to dry socks for the next day. Dinner certainly tasted good that night.
Day 3 - 15 November. Waterfall Valley to Windermere Hut
After a fearfully windy night, we woke to a light cover of snow on the ground and the waterfalls behind the hut raging. The little creek had overflowed its banks and was nearly lapping at the door. We clients looked after our personal effects as the guides prepared our breakfast. I think at this early stage I had the luxury of clean, dry socks, but there was no changing of clothes! The composing toilet struck a throne-like pose 50 metres down the track.
Whilst our guides packed up, we wandered up the the new Waterfall Valley Hut, where other walkers were still preparing to leave. It had been crammed full last night, one brave soul even tenting on the helicopter platform. He said he'd got to sleep after his ear plugs stopped the noise of the raging wind! A quick stand by the gas stove was welcome, as there had been no heating in the old hut.
We started at ¼ to 10 and the day's walk took us through button grass plains to Lake Windermere, then on the few hundred metres to Windermere Hut. The weather was mainly poor - rain with short patches of sun. No side trips, as I presume our guides were focussed on getting us to the next shelter in the prevailing weather conditions.
After 'bagsing a bed', a couple of us went for a wander, first back to Lake Windermere, then a kilometre or so the other way, south from the hut. We met a pademelon and a wombat and I enjoyed my companions' knowledge of the local flora.
After our 'private' hut the previous night, sharing with others was a bit of a shock. The hut was extremely crowded (although some groups from the previous night had gone), with shifts required around the stainless steel covered tables (so fuel stoves could be lit on them for cooking) and much patience as we bedded down amongst a large group of very talkative teenagers. I must say that this experience was most off-putting, no doubt due to my lack of familiarity with the facilities and my introversion. The next night in the huts was better and then we were able to tent for the final nights.
|07 Snow and Barn Bluff
|08 Boardwalk under water
|09 Throne at Windermere
Day 4 - 16 November. Windermere Hut to New Pelion Hut
With plenty of time, we were the last to breakfast and leave Windermere Hut. We were soon comfortably tromping the boardwalk on an overcast day through typical button grass plains. Passing through a wet forested area, where the track was more like a creek, we came to Pine Forest Moor. As one can guess, there was forest and more moor. There were small tarns and alternating forested and button grass plain areas.
Then down to Frog Flats for lunch. We crossed the Forth River, here a gently flowing stream, but a raging river when we drove over it on the way in to Cradle Mountain. A huge mud hole in the track just south of the lunch spot had us all brown and dripping to the knees.
Up through more rain forest and we were out onto Pelion Plains and so to the New Pelion Hut with its views to Mount Oakleigh. Again, we were fortunate enough to be able to secure a 'bed site', dry our socks and cook inside. A bottle of Scotch appeared and our aches and pains lessened for a while. I started to chat with some of the walkers in other groups - whether it was this, a little more room in the larger, newer hut, or gaining familiarity with my environment and confidence in my ability (or the Scotch!) - but the crowded, loud community of walkers didn't seem quite so off-putting.
|10 Typical button grass plains
|11 Wind sculpture
|12 Forest track
Day 5 - 17 November. New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut
This was a wonderful day. For a start, the weather improved. Then, from the resupplied larder, breakfast of coffee, cornflakes and bacon and bread. The track took us through rain forest then out into the open up a last steep pinch to Pelion Gap. The Gap has a large area of duck boarding, not only enough to hold the large number of walkers on the day but, I presume, room to land a helicopter.
Some parties chose to attempt to climb Mount Ossa, Tasmania's highest peak at 1617 metres. It was snow covered at the top and we later learned that parties on the day only got to the snow line. With so many heading to the west, we chose to tackle Mount Pelion East, a mere pimple at 1126 metres and no snow. It's a spectacular looking hill, with scree slopes rising above the tree line and the peak composed of dolerite columns. Nothing like it around Canberra!
Dropping our packs and taking ultra-light day packs (enough for a jacket and water), we started up through areas of vivid green mosses and pineapple grass, until we found the start of the track. The track was well worn - knee deep in places until we got out onto the rocky surface. It was a short walk, but seemed just about vertical, so many stops were required to restart breathing. The slippery scree was daunting enough, but when we came to the base of the columns, I must say I though I'd not make it to the top. A couple of steep scrambles and we were there, me hanging on grimly and others confidently sitting on the very top spires. The view was magnificent! However, the longer we sat there, the more apprehensive I got, knowing the going down had to be faced. I was certainly just outside my comfort zone but, hey, I lived to tell the story.
Shouldering our large packs, we walked through more open country, surrounded by the grand peaks of Pelion Gap and the even more spectacular Cathedral Mountain. We made Kia Ora Hut in the afternoon sun and, for the first time, set up our tents on the platforms surrounding the hut. The rushing water of Kia Ora Creek beckoned for a body wash, the first decent one in 3 days. It was time for a complete change of clothes! The drying lines were strung and our platforms took on the role of a laundry. Beautiful waratahs. A relaxed tea of soup, dehydrated meat and couscous, followed by 'home made' cheese cakes cooled in the creek and a cuppa, went down well. It was then time to share port and chocolate, with gazes always drawn to the magnificent Cathedral Mountain.
|13 God's own country
|14 Mt Pelion East
|15 Vivid green mosses
Day 6 - 18 November. Kia Ora Hut to Windy Ridge Hut
Another excellent day. Passing through the ever-present button grass then wet rain forests, our first stop was at Du Cane Hut. It was the ants pants 45 years ago. My Mother had walked through with a group of ladies and I'd seen photos of the area. I took some pics to show my Mum.
Another few kilometres along the track, we headed down to the Mersey River waterfalls. To the surprise of other walkers who were doing the side trip, we took our packs - most drop them and do the round trip. First to D'Alton Falls, then to Fergusson Falls. Both falls raging with the recent rain (the wettest November in Tasmania for many years!). Then came our surprise! From the side of Fergusson Falls we climbed a vertical bank and, with our guides' local knowledge, found ourselves on an unmarked Mersey Riverside track. It followed the river to the base of Hartnett Falls, which other walkers were visiting as a second side trip from the main track. The falls were spectacular! We walked to the top of the falls and set up a fly for lunch - the rain had started again.
On, then, to Du Cane Gap, at 1070m. It's the watershed for the north and south flowing rivers and from this point on the flora changed markedly. A little warmer and a little dryer, with flowering plants noticeably more advanced and the country more open. As well, we knew our walk was drawing towards the end.
We came down from the Gap to Windy Ridge Hut through magnificently tall trees.
Again, we used tent platforms at Windy Ridge (which certainly lived up to its name). Tea was made all the more exciting by watching our guides make an alcohol burner from a billy and the bottom of an MSR fuel bottle using a Leatherman, as water had got in the fuel at the food/fuel dump and they were running short of Shellite.
|17 Hartnett Falls
|18 Forest giant
Day 7 - 19 November. Windy Ridge Hut to Cynthia Bay (Lake St Clair)
The day dawned with drizzle. Snow was still on the peaks surrounding us. We packed up and were soon walking through open forest with colourful wild flowers. The waratahs, in particular, were splendid. A hail storm and the rumble of Tasmania's huge November earthquake (4.7 Richter) added yet more interest to the morning.
Open forest and button grass plain brought us at last to the suspension bridge over the Narcissus River, then on to Narcissus Hut. The place was full of walkers, some who we recognised from sharing other huts and places, waiting for the next scheduled ferry service. There is a radio in the hut to call the service at Cynthia Bay - and a warning sign that it will cost $120 per person for fewer than 3 people on an unscheduled service! Some walkers, arriving a day early, decided to stay over the night.
At last the 3.30pm boat arrived. We were lined up on the jetty and 22 passengers counted on board. The trip down the lake was pleasant, accompanied by the operator's stories of recent unfinished maintenance of the boat and the lack of hot water at Cynthia Bay (I bet he makes all passengers groan in a similar way with his stories).
It was still raining as we arrived and we stood about waiting for our bunk and communal shower block accommodation to be organised. Surprise - 4 star chalet accommodation was part of the deal. I don't know which was better - the log fire, the warm shower, the beautiful accommodation or the first beer.
That night we dined in the restaurant of the Tourist Information Centre (another part of our paid package) and had the opportunity to shout our guides a few beers. Delicious meal, the beers flowed and my headlight was used for the first and only time in anger on the trip as we staggered back through the darkness to our beds. Some of the group kicked on with some bottles of red; I made a good decision for me to hit the hay.
|19 Windy Ridge Hut signage
|20 Bridge over Narcissus River
|21 Narcissus jetty
Day 8 - 20 November. Lake St Clair to Devonport
Our last day began with dry mouths and some sore heads, followed by a huge breakfast. The mini-bus and trailer took us, via the Great Lake area, back to Devonport.
We handed back our gear, said our good-byes and headed our separate ways. I had decided to stay overnight at Riverview Lodge, a marvellous guest house overlooking the river in Devonport. Marvellous host, excellent accommodation.
I went for a bit of a wander round town in the afternoon and met two of my fellow walkers for an early dinner at a nearby pub. Early to bed in a soft bed.
|22 Transport for the return journey
|23 Great Lake
|24 I would have used a pack like this 42 years ago
Day 9 - 21 November. Devonport to Canberra
The local shuttle bus picked me up in the morning and took me to the airport. A flight to Melbourne, then Canberra. Home to loved ones, a huge load of washing in a stinking pack and the lawn to mow.
An experience of a lifetime! I hope to return on a private trip organised by an experienced walker in the Canberra Bushwalking Club in April 2005.
|25 The end