Overland Winter Trek

The overland track is known as probably Australia’s greatest multi day walking track. $200, was enough to persuade me to stay away from Cradle Mountain National Park until I became aware that its free in winter! The weather is forever changing in Tasmania and its even more volatile in the mountains in winter. I suppose the mentality is, Anyone silly enough to go on a 6 day hike in the snow and dark deserves to do it for free. Furthermore, the track is completely booked out through the summer. The huts would be overload and the track crowded when the weathers good, I’ve plenty of experience in the snow so I decided to give it a crack in August.

The track is officially 65km long with an extra 17 or so to walk around the lake instead of catching the ferry. There are many opportunities for side tracks, each one worth the extra time and effort. I took full advantage of the side tracks, extending the walk by almost double to 142km in total.

I drove my van to the visitor centre in the evening before I wanted to start walking. There was a shuttle bus leaving at 9 the next day but I figured if I get up early enough, I’ll just start walking from the visitor centre, adding an extra 10-15km onto the track but avoiding a bus ride that I couldn’t be bothered catching or paying for. I woke at 4:30-5 and struggled to open the van door because it had been welded shut from the heavy snow. When I finally yanked it open, I boiled the kettle for my morning coffee with stiff frozen fingers. Thankfully I had prepared a kit for the horrible conditions. I packed a few extra emergency warm socks and whatever else would fit in. I wore my rain jacket and glasses to shield the snow and started walking via the boardwalk track to the official beginning of the overland, Ronny Creek.

My pack contained a hennesy hammock, sleeping bag rated at -7, inflatable sleeping mat, pots and pans, three pairs of thermals, too many socks, undies, and enough food if rationed to last me eight days. Food included 6 packets of freeze dried meals, a full bag of oats, toppings for morning porridge such as nuts, dried fruit, kakao powder, pea protein powder, chia seeds, peanut butter, and a few dates. For lunch I had tuna tins, tahini, mountain bread, and a dozen or so homemade bliss balls.

I followed the boardwalk track past the visitor centre, One hour later the snow stopped and I stuffed my oversized raincoat in my bag. A friendly wombat came up to say hello, the only creature so far that id come across. I made it to ronny creek where the overland track sign welcomes walkers to the adventure and a chance to the sign the walkers registration. From here the track winds through valleys and passes by a tranquil lake. The view opens up when the track ascends via a staircase. The 20kg pack makes it one hell of a calf workout but The view is spectacular at the top, looking back over the scenery id just passed. Im making good ground and the howling wind forces me to press on further.

Up on the hill snow covers the ground floor and ice is slippery on the duck board track which slows me down. I had no spikes but a sound knowledge of how not to slip over on ice by smashing through it or avoiding the shiny bits. The track gradually ascends and finally reaches kitchen hut, at the base of cradle mountain. The peak was invisible from the hut, blanketed by a heavy snow cloud. It looked like a dodgy one to tackle and it was getting late Two hikers appeared from the snow cloud and assured me it’s a safe but slow climb to the top. They said I’d be fine which was more than enough encouragement to tackle the peak. I left my bag at kitchen hut and ate some lollies that the couple shared with me as we chatted about their travels through the Himalayas.

I bolted up cradle mountain in record time but decided against climbing the peak because the snow was too loose underfoot and it was impossible to see even ten meters in front from the fog. Back at Kitchen Hut I met Tarrant, a fellow overland walker. Tarrant was living in south Australia, and spent a lot of time in the northern territory and was clearly not used to the conditions. He appeared to be a fit and capable walker though, so we accompanied each other to the next hut with the goal to make it by nightfall.

We were pressed for time but made it with the help of our headlamps down the icy staircase to waterfall valley hut, a 19.2km distance on day 1. We were greeted there by Matt, a 50-something year old pilot from south Australia. The hut was more like a hotel with an epic view of barn bluff in the foreground. The hut even had heating but had run out of gas, which wouldn’t be re-filled until summer. There were four rooms with multiple bunks, enough space to sleep about 30, so we claimed a room each and joined each other for an evening freeze dried meal in the common area. Our headlamps were the only lighting in the hut, and now the sun was down and we’d stopped walking the fresh tassie air was creeping into our bones. I prepared overnight oats with chia seeds and observed the almost full moon and stars with the sound of nocturnal animals in the bush. Overnight temperatures dropped well below zero, it was early night to bed where the only place free from the cold was inside the sleeping bag.

In the morning the sun shone brightly. The air was fresh and piercingly cold. The taps were frozen over but I had enough water to make coffee and porridge while it thawed out. After brekkie I headed backwards on the track, up the slippery staircase to climb barn bluff which I had passed by the previous evening. The mountain sheltered me from the wind and I was down to a thermal top as I neared the peak. Snow conditions again prevented a safe climb to the top but it was an epic view nonetheless. On return to Waterfall valley hut I considered spending a second night there as it seemed I would have the place potentially completely to myself. I cooked lunch and made a coffee while sun baking on the helipad. The combination of caffeine in my veins and sun drenched track persuaded me to press on to the next hut, Windermere.

A relatively flat walk with some spectacular views of the mountains in the background from whence I came. Approaching windermere its though ive entered a tropical forest on a lake. Which I had. I maintained a fast pace, clocking up 19.2km for the day, arriving to watch the sunset with the other two south aussies from windermere lake as the last rays of sun hit cradle mountain in the distance. A small cloud hovered like a halo and the white peak now had a pink and purple hue.

This hut was much smaller but had a far more cosy vibe. There was gas to light the fire and it warmed the hut and dried our clothes as we ate dinner and talked of the days adventures. A much better sleep at windermere prepared me for the long arduous walk through the mud to Pelian Hut.

21.1km for the day through forest, over tree roots, and puddles of mud. It was an uneventful day of sorts but was rewarding to arrive early in the afternoon and bask in another perfect day of sunshine from the exposed helipad. We walked to old pelian hut where the previous hut still stands as a somewhat museum piece. Some walkers arrived at pelian hut from a side entrance car park so for the first time on the trip I was sharing with more than just two other hikers.

Pelian hut is massive, enough for 30 or so people. Although we were now sharing the hut I still managed a room to myself, and hung my hammock across the bunks to get some extra warmth from inside the cocoon. In the morning the sun was again shining and had a little bit of warmth behind it. I had an awesome sleep and decided to almost literally run up Mount Oakleigh. I made it a confusing 9km before running into a group of hikers coming from the car park. I had gone the wrong way, missing the turn off to Mount Oakleigh which was hidden amongst shrub 8km behind me. I dejectedly headed back for pelian hut and made another coffee while packing my bag, determined to press on and climb a mountain peak before nightfall.

I left pelian hut and charged for Mount Pelian East, the mountain adjacent to Tassies highest peak, Mount Ossa. I dumped my bag and covered it with the waterproof cover to avoid birds opening the zip and stealing the food which apparently happens at this particular junction. At the peak, 360 degree view of the cradle mountain national park and without a breath of wind or cloud in the sky. I triumphantly bounced down the mountain, picked up the pack and headed for the next hut, coming in comfortably before dinner for a mammoth 31.2km day.

The next day was another big one, 28.9km as we charged onwards toward the finish line. Everyday on the overland is a completely new adventure. The scenery changes as the track progresses and the terrain underfoot always varies. One thing for sure is that the entire journey is jaw droppingly beautiful. We arrived at Narcissus after passing by a couple of other huts on the way. We were now 17 or so km from lake st clair visitor centre. It was still light outside so me and matt decided to jump in the lake for a much needed wash. I tried my best wim hof routine before entering the icy water and managed to stay submerged for a couple of minutes. There was a crew of people staying in the hut who had come in via the lake st clair car park to hike around Pine Valley. Two were full of enthusiasm and even offered us some wine and cider to celebrate our achievement. We played cards and laughed and drank with our new companions.

I was excited for The final day but could easily re-pack my bag and head back the other way for another week or two, Im a nature boy who thrives out in my natural environment. The fresh cool Tasmanian air is good for the soul. Its amazing to think what lengths humans go to chasing this perceived happiness we are led to believe will be attained through material possession. All the answers we seek come from nature, for free. If we start by looking within and developing a deeper connection and understanding with mother earth we can be happy with the simplest things. Somewhere along the way most of us forgot this basic principle of life. I was feeling energized, alert, buzzing, full of beans, without having a decent meal or shower in a week.

Me and the two south aussies have been treated to the most spectacular weather on the overland track. A local couple who made the trek because of that fact made us well aware of the rarity of such beautiful days in the middle of winter. It was as simply as good as it gets, consistent sunshine and near empty track. On the final day, however, it was miserable, cold, wet, and cloudy. At least we finally got to see what all the weather warnings was about. I charged to the finish line completing the final 17km before 1pm. There is no shuttle service in winter so I had to hitch hike back to the cradle mountain car park.

I had a quick shower in the visitor centre and realised how more refreshing it was to jump in lake st clair yesterday than getting a traditional warm shower. Matt joined me for the hitch. He was hoping to get to Hobart for his flight back home. Walking down the 6km long road to the main highway a couple stopped headed for new Norfolk. I jumped out at the junction and said a fond farewell to matt who’d become a close friend over the previous week on the track. We shared many great chats and many poor quality meals on the track. An hour later a car stopped headed for queenstown. It was a Phillipino family who worked and lived there, and were visiting cradle mountain for the day. I enjoyed telling these people of my adventures and listening to their own of life in Australia as a foreigner.

I was dropped at a safe stopping point as cars were on their way out of queenstown towards Cradle mountain. It wasn’t far away but it was Sunday afternoon and there were few cars driving past, some stopped but most were headed for Burnie. I decided to give up and walk to the closest hostel where I could stay in the empty building for just $40. I loaded up on fresh meat, veggies, and fruit and made a mess of the hostel kitchen. I had an amazing sleep and headed straight for the highway in the morning. Queenstown appears to be the next mountain biking town to rival derby over on the east coast. Im not a biker but it looks awesome from the city to see the tracks winding through the mountain side. Speaking with the locals they seem rather depressed about life in queenstown. The mountains crowd the city so in winter the sun passes under them early in the afternoon and it appears to rain a lot. It looked okay to me, On my way to the highway I stuck my thumb out and was collected by a father and daughter headed in the direction I was hoping to go.

Its been 7 days since leaving my snow covered van and for the first time since day one it finally started to rain. I got drenched waiting for the final ride to cradle, as is almost always the case when im hitch hiking, the last ride, which is usually the shortest, takes the longest to get. A Spanish couple picked me up in a rental van and took me the remaining ten kilometers to the van which was thankfully still waiting for me at the visitor centre car park. All my stuff was drenched but it was nice to be ‘home’. A few days in the surf was all that was on my mind at that point. To refresh and rejuvenate the body. I had one freeze dried meal left which still hasn’t been opened.

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