Distance: 68 kilometres (give or take)
Location: Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania
Time: 6 days
The Overland Track isn’t something that should be approached lightly. The length of time alone it takes to complete (6 days and 5 nights) is enough to deter even the most avid day hiker. This being said, I began this hike with limited backpacking experience accompanied by Alice for whom this would be her first ever overnight hike. Consumed by exams and end-of-year stress, we barely had time to fit in a packing session together, let alone a practice hike. This being said, we left for Tasmania feeling pretty confident. It wasn’t until we boarded our Overland Track Transport bus the next morning that the worry set in. Our lovely (albeit foreboding) driver Dan began telling us about the conditions up at Ronny Creek, where we would start the trek. His descriptions of waist deep snow and 50 kilometre an hour wind made us feel anything but prepared. In the four hours between Launceston and Ronny Creek, Alice and I managed to add pack covers, waterproof pants, gloves and a set of gaiters to our already-full packs.
The last words Dan yelled at us over the wind at Ronny Creek were ominous: “you can always turn back!”. Faced with increasing anxiety about our under-preparedness and our bus driver’s evident lack of confidence in our ability to even make it a day on the Track, we could do nothing but sign the walker’s registry and begin walking. We aimed to get to the top of Marion’s Lookout, the highest point on the track and the steepest climb, before our first break. Battling wind and slipping through increasingly deep snow drifts, we thought the worst was over when we reached the top. We were wrong. Past the lookout we were faced with a daunting tundra, covered in knee-to-waist deep snow and blasted with sleet. All thoughts of admiring the view were abandoned as visibility only allowed us to see three to four markers ahead. Alice and I have had our fair share of anxieties, but when I looked back at her face, it was clear we were both pretty terrified.
Yelling over the wind, we decided to try to make it to Kitchen Hut, an unofficial halfway point and emergency shelter, instead of turning back. Two hours of trudging through snow later, missing a pole and any feeling in our toes we arrived at Kitchen Hut. It was small, damp and played host to five other hikers and a family of four that had somehow stayed the night before, but it provided a welcome break from the wind. Most importantly, speaking to other hikers made us realise just how difficult the weather had made the hike for everyone. Fuelled by Cup a Soup and feeling more comfortable now that we were united in discomfort, the three hours left to Scott-Kilvet hut suddenly seemed easier. We slipped and slid downhill in the mud until we rolled, exhausted and relieved, into the coal-stove warmth of the hut. Barely having the energy to hang damp socks up and half heat up some dahl, we jumped at the opportunity to squeeze into the shared bunk and sleep.
One thing I learned on the Overland was how easily wet socks and boots go on when you’ve had a few hours of sleep and a big breakfast. Feeling energised by the promise that day 2 would be our last day of bad weather, we put our heads down and made it through the last of the sleet to Waterfall Valley hut for lunch, and then down the boardwalks to Windemere. I’ll be honest, despite snow-related anxiety on Day 1, Day 3 nearly broke me. After a morning spent admiring mountain views in the sun, we ran into other hikers who told us it would only be another half an hour down through the saturated rainforest to Frog Flats. Boy were they wrong. We picked our way through tree roots and around mud puddles for almost two hours before we finally made it out into the open again. Mentally exhausted and confronted with a Currawong who eyed my trail mix too closely, I had a little bit of a meltdown. By some miracle, when we finally rolled into New Pelion Hut we found my parents waiting for us. Having elected to do the track on a paid tour, they were meant to be a day behind us but had been turned round due to the extreme weather. Since diverted, they invited us up to their fancy hut for a shower, wine and dinner. Alice looked like she would cry with relief.
Fuelled by homemade garlic bread, a wine-induced sleep and the knowledge that we had just two days of hiking left, the road to Kia Ora hut was breezy. We discovered the genius that is jatz dipped in peanut butter, enjoyed the view over Pelion Gap and bandaged various aches and pains. The next (early) morning brought our final challenge: our last day of hiking that was a double due to the early ferry we had booked. Battling warmer weather (though not missing the snow), a wobbly stomach (on my part) and a sudden desperation for pizza, we absolutely smashed it. It felt surreal making it to Narcissus Hut which marked the culmination of our hike. From there, the morning brought a last minute platypus hunt (unsuccessful), a ferry ride (sleepy), and a terrible coffee (courtesy of the Lake St Clair visitor centre).
Before leaving for the Overland, I was looking forward to six days without service, where I could unscramble my mind a bit and get some life planning done. What I found instead was six days of pure happiness. What cannot be overlooked is Alice’s part in this joy. Despite never having hiked before, her willingness to jump headfirst into the deep end with me was so inspiring. Thank you for delirious card games, terrible dance moves and the best pizza I have ever tasted. I am so proud to be your friend.
I’ll sign off this recap with a little video I made. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any footage of our first day and a half through snow (we were more focused on putting one foot in front of the other), but I’m pretty stoked at how it turned out. Also check out these photos I took!