Overland Track - July 2006
Matthew Watton & Tony Watton (this report written by Matthew Watton)
Link to Tony's report of the same trip - His page has photos from our trip
Day 0 - 20 July 2006 - drive from Hobart to Cradle Mtn
I got up early and drove to dad's house. I put all my gear in his car and we headed off to drive to Lake St Clair. The plan was to leave a car at Lake St Clair for when we finish so we could easily drive back to Hobart after the walk.
The drive to Derwent Bridge was a bit misty and cool. When we got to the Derwent Bridge Shop we stopped for some toasted sandwiches and a hot drink. We then drove to the walk finish at Lake St Clair and found that they are doing work on the car park area and we had to park more to the west of the old car park. We changed into our walking clothes and got our packs out. We then caught the bus up to Cradle Mtn, stopping at Queenstown and Zeehan before getting dropped off at the Information Centre just before entering the park. This is where the Cosy Cabins/Camping area is. We also found out that we could get a hot meal at 'the pub' which was about 3km down the road - just before the entrance to the National Park. We put our packs in the room and then had a short walk around the cosy cabins park area. There was a wallaby that stood at the door to our room (no we didn't feed it).
At 4.30pm we headed off walking down to the pub and 30 mins later we arrived. The meals weren't on until 5.30pm but it was just nice to be sitting near a roaring fire. After a nice hot meal (trevalla chips & salad for me and a steak & onion pie (huge) for dad) we walked quickly back to Cosy Cabins - 25 mins.
When we got back we found that a tour group was cooking in the shared kitchen area and they had the heater going. It was quite pleasant. There were people from US, Ireland, China, French ...
We went back to the room and within 30 mins we had two other room-mates. They were heading to Corinna the following day using a fold up boat and motor to go down to the Pieman Heads to camp. The room was warm during the night with a heater on a thermostat.
Day 1 - 21 July 2006 - Ronnie Creek/Cradle Mtn park to Scott/Kilvert Hut
I woke up at approx 6am and started up pack up my gear for the Overland Track by 7.15am. We then lay on the bunks as the bus wasn't coming through past the information centre until 9am. Our room-mates kindly offered a lift down the road into the park. We accepted the lift and dad rode inside ute while I sat under-cover in the back. I was quite cosy sitting in between boxes of camping gear and an outboard motor in a box.
We got out at Ronnie Creek and got our packs out at 8.30am. The weather was very cold and bracing. It was misty but not raining. We wrote in the logbook and headed of towards Dove Lake as we planned to head around the Hansons Peak side of the lake towards Scott/Kilvert Hut.
After a 2.5km brisk walk we reached Dove Lake. We couldn't see Cradle Mtn due to the fog & mist. We put on our boot chains which would hopefully prevent slipping on the ice that was on the slippery track. The track around the eastern side of Dove Lake soon headed off to the left up the Lake Rodway Track - that would eventually lead us to the Scott/Kilvert Hut. We headed up the gradual slope above Dove Lake and soon levelled out and reached the left hand turn-off to Mt Campbell (1248m or 1260m in the Chapman book). We left our packs and headed up the hill. We couldn't see the mountain in the mist initially but it soon appear. It looked steep and eerie in the mist. The climb had lots of loose rock and we soon reached the top. It was shaped like a big dome and didn't have any clear summit but we found a cairn on some rocks that must have been it.
We then headed back down to the Lake Rodway Track. We could see Lake Hanson covered in ice down the hill to our left from our ridge and Lake Dove even lower to our right. It looked spectacular. We continued along the Lake Rodway track that climbed steeply with a steep scramble up a gully to get on to the peak. The track sloped down more gently on the southern side. We then passed Twisted Lakes that were also frozen over. It was still misty but they looked great but photos didn't do them justice.
We then reached the junction with the Face Track (that goes under the main cradle of Cradle Mtn). We walked down the 100m to the emergency hut for lunch. It was a small, 1 room hut that was quite cosy. It didn't have a heater but I am sure it would be very welcome in a blizzard. After lunch we headed down the Lake Rodway track that passed to the eastern end of the Cradle Mtn & Little Horn. The Little Horn cliffs were covered with ice and frozen waterfalls. It really looked awesome. As we stopped and looked at it a big section of ice snapped off and fell to the base of the cliff.
We stopped for more photos at Artists Pool and Flynns Tarn. We met a man & woman who had left Waterfall Valley hut that morning and were taking this route back for some variety. It didn't take long to reach Lake Rodway and Scott/Kilvert Hut. It was a tall 'A-framed' 2 storey hut. Inside the hut it was colder than outside and it was only about 2 deg C outside.
Our first task was to get the coal fire heater started. We gathered some dry twigs and some kind walkers had left a few sheets of newspaper from a week prior. It took a while to get it going and it slowly warmed the hut - although it did fill the hut with smoke - causing us to have to open windows to clear it.
We had a look around the hut and Lake Rodway in the afternoon and took a few more photos. We intentionally did a short first days walk to ease our bodies into carrying a pack again (about 24kg). We enjoyed our dinner and a few hot drinks and then went upstairs where we slept on the wooden floor on our sleeping mats.
Day 2 - 22 July 2006 - Scott/Kilvert Hut to Windermere Hut (with Barn Bluff side trip)
We got up between 7.30am - 8am and had a relaxed breakfast. There were clear skies and great views to the southern side of Cradle Mtn. We packed and left at 9.45am (later that I hoped - but we slept in too long). The walk up the hill from Lake Rodway up to Cradle Cirque & the Overland Track gave us terrific views back to Cradle Mtn, Lake Rodway and Hidden Lake. The track had lots of patches of thick ice and we had to be very careful. As we emerged up on Cradle Cirque the views were awesome over the valleys to the west (Barn Bluff) and east (Cradle Mtn & Lake Rodway & valley). There was a bit more of a walk to reach the Overland Track and some snow covering the track on the southern facing hill. It took about an hour to get from Scott/Kilvert Hut to the Overland Track.
We reached the turn-off to the right that headed to Barn Bluff and left our packs, putting some emergency gear in our day packs. The walk to the base of Barn Bluff took about 45 mins and then we headed up the boulder scramble and climb up to the peak. Near the top there was a lot of snow and ice. The views were great from the top (1559m - Tas 3rd highest behind Ossa & Pelion West). We could see some dark clouds approaching and there was light mist blowing up the cliff and over the top also. There were nice views over Lake Will to the south.
We only stayed a few minutes and then headed back down. We reached our main packs after 2hrs 45 mins and found that a Forest Raven was perched on top of dad's pack and the contents of our outer pack pockets were scattered everywhere. There was stuff spread over a 5m radius. We collected the stuff and were annoyed with ourselves as we had heard that some birds could open zips but we just forgot when we left our packs. I didn't realise at the time but I later found that I had lost a bag of 12 small chocolate snickers bars thanks to the raven.
We reached Waterfall Valley hut at 3pm and considered staying there but decided to go on because it would mean that in 2 days we would still only be half a days walk away from the start of the Overland Track and we wanted to make a bit of progress.
We were already tired and a bit cold but we continued to the south across Waterfall Valley and up a small hill where the track briefly turns to the west before turning south again and opening out to light, low scrub again. We crossed an area of open heath for about 2km until we reached the sign post and turn off to Lake Will. At this junction was the smaller Lake Holmes right next to the track. There was plenty of fresh water and we never carried more than 1 drink bottle each.
From the Lake Will turn-off we continued for another 2km and headed up an easy hill and across the top of it. We could then see a view down to Lake Windermere to the south. Dad was sort-of pleased to see the lake but it still looked a fair way off. I told him that the hut was about 500m past the lake. We both plodded along, feeling cold and tired and finally reached Lake Windermere. The lake was totally still and had perfect reflections on it. There are lots of small islands of bushes on the lake and it was beautiful. There was an area of ice in the sheltered northern side.
A further plod for 5 mins and we passed the many tent platforms and reached the hut and the resident hut wallaby. We let out almighty groans as we took our packs off and sat on the benches outside the front door. There were no other people there. We got out of our damp walking clothes and went in to start the gas heater. This took about 5 minutes of turning to the off position then holding in and turning to the 'pilot position' before the pilot flame finally stayed alight. We then pushed the knob in again and turned it to the medium & high end of the dial.
The warmth coming from the heater was absolutely underwhelming and was only rivalled by my trangia when cooking a cup of tea. The 'heater' is just a small round ring of burning gas that puts out very little heat. To make it worse, it switched off every 40 mins and took a few minutes of the 'starting procedure' to get it going again.
I put a bowl of water on my trangia and heated up and used it to pour onto my chamois to have a wash outside the hut. This felt very nice to get the sweat off from the days walk.
Eventually the hut warmed up enough that we weren't sitting there shivering and we cooked some dinner (cheese & biscuits followed by freeze dried vege pasta with the freeze dried mince. We also had a few cups of tea and then went to 'bed'.
If either of us woke during the night we started the heater again to take the edge off the cold hut.
Day 3 - 23 July 2006 - Windermere Hut to 'new' Pelion Hut
We got up at 6.30am and had some breakfast and packed up. We walked back to Lake Windermere at 8.30am for a look (in better daylight than the evening before when we arrived). The Lake wasn't glassy and still as it was the night before but it still looked very nice. We eventually started walking at 9.05 am and headed over the first few buttongrass hills then across an open plain to the Forth Valley lookout. We stopped for some snacks and photos. We then headed back into the forest for a long section to Frog Flats. This is technically a camp site but the 3 times I have been there it has always been very wet and swamp-like.
We had some cheese and biscuits and a drink and then continued on. There were awesome views from Frog Flats of the southern end of Mt Pelion West, Mt Achilles and Paddy Nut on Mt Thetis.
From Frog Flats we headed into more wet forest for a while (with really annoying cross laid logs for the track that hurt your feet after hours of them) before reaching the edge of some buttongrass plains with Mt Oakleigh across to the north. After passing the left hand turnoff to 'Old Pelion Hut' there was only a short distance to the new Pelion Hut. We found someone's gear already in the hut and the logbook told us that Brendon Maggs had been there and was currently on a day walk up Mt Oakleigh. Brendon appeared after about 30 mins then went for a walk to the old Pelion hut and the old mines nearby.
We unpacked and had a hot drink and some tea. We each had an alleged 2 person freeze dried meal. I had thai curry and dad had lamb fettuccine. We then had an freeze dried apricot crumble and some chocolate custard followed by some more cups of tea. Even though the hut was cold we felt pleased with our efforts and good after our dinner.
We really weren't sure about going up Mt Ossa but after talking to Brendon we decided that if the weather was reasonable when we got to Pelion Gap we would give it a go.
Day 4 - 24 July 2006 - 'new' Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut (Mt Ossa side trip)
I woke up at 5.55am and listened to the weather forecast on 936am (ABC local radio from Hobart). I then lay in my sleeping bag for another hour to stay warm before eventually getting up. It was a very cold morning with clear skies and frost and ice outside.
We had some breakfast and started walking at 8.30am. We headed up to Pelion Gap. It was initially flat and easy walking but gradually sloped up. The creek ran parallel and close to the track on the way up to the gap and we reached the top at 9.45am. At the gap we had a look around for a while and then packed our day packs for a walk up Mt Ossa. There were clear blue skies and it was a great day.
After the previous incident with the raven getting into our packs we emptied all of the external pockets and tied up the zips so they couldn't open them. We immediately found that the track up the initial climb to Mt Doris was very icy. Some ice was 3 or more inches thick and covered the whole track - mainly due to the steps put in by PWS damming up the water which froze.
We scrambled up the initial climb up Mt Doris on the icy track and then followed the footprints in the snow around the southern side of Mt Doris. We eventually reached a saddle that separated Mt Doris to the slopes of Mt Ossa. We could see the initial slopes of Mt Ossa led to a snowy gully on the southern side. We headed up the hill. The climb was initially easy but fairly steep. We reached the top of the first section and then the poles led across an area of icy snow that was in the southern shadow of the cliffs of Mt Ossa.
We followed the faint footprints up a steep hill that also angled steeply from right to left (and then dropped off a cliff). We were quite nervous because it was hard to kick some foot holes in to avoid sliding down the hill (and slipping would be fatal). We moved slowly and very deliberately to avoid mistakes and then reached the base of a steep gully. This had thick icy snow with the odd rock poking up. We tried to stick close to the rocks because it was easier to dig into the snow there and also gave us something to hold onto. At one stage dad (who was just above & ahead of me) slipped and started sliding down the hill towards me. He had only been about 3m above me so he didn't have much room to build up speed. My feet were firmly planted and I could see panic in his eyes as he slid towards me. He slid into me but I managed to stop him. Dad seemed a bit rattled but relieved to stop.
Near the top of the gully the track turned right and we climbed up over some rocks and found ourselves back out in the sunshine with amazing views to the north. We climbed back down to a flat area and had a drink and a snickers each.
From there we were faced with some quite steep snowy hills to get to the flatter area near the summit. It was slow progress to kick foot holds in as we climbed each icy/snowy slope. We were always on the edge of sliding back down to the base of each climb. I commented it was like playing snakes & ladders because you could go up 10 metres then slip back down 20 metres. Dad said that he preferred a few more ladders and a few less snakes!
We finally reached the top of a steep snowy hill (more powder snow than ice) and emerged on top of a thick snowy plateau. We could see the summit area to our right. We let out a cheer and walked across the snow towards the summit. It was amazingly warm on the summit with bright sunshine reflecting off the snow. It was a snowy wonderland (with clear skies great views). We climbed up a couple of less steep hills to the final summit area. Here there were bigger rocks surrounded by snow. We were a bit careful because there were gaps between some rocks that had holes that went down about 5 metres. We didn't want to step in the wrong place and fall in or get stuck.
We took some photos and had a look around and then headed back down hill because there were a few darker clouds around although most of the sky was still blue. On the way down, I slid down some sections of snow and after one slide I called back up to dad to have a go. I had slid on my side and used my feet to control my speed. When dad slid he lay on his back and kept his feet up. He started speeding along out of control and went over some rocks (mostly covered in snow) and launched into the air and landed heavily (doing a half twist in the air) finishing on his front. This experience turned him off any further slides. I had a few more. We climbed over the rocky ridge that took us back to the steep icy gully that faces the s/e.
We nervously climbed back down, staying close to rocks and landing each step very heavily with a pointed heal to make foot holes. This proved successful and we crossed the scary slope of ice and reached the more open hill that took us down to the saddle between Mt Ossa & Doris. Here we found Brendon sitting on the side of the track having a drink. He had been up Mt Pelion East and was now climbing Ossa as well.
We continued back down to Pelion Gap. The side trip took 4 hours due to the tricky ice conditions. We then headed down the hill towards Kia Ora. There is more track work being done here to remove the cross logs with newer duckboards. This will speed up the trip a lot more. We went past the private hut on the left and then reached the Kia Ora hut. There were great views of the mountains between Pelion Gap and Kia Ora hut. A few minutes after we arrived, Brendon also arrived. We started the coal heater and then head tea.
It was a warm and cosy evening in Kia Ora Hut and we were all happy with our efforts that day.
Day 5 - 25 July 2006 - Kia Ora to Narcissus Hut
I set my alarm for 5.55am to listen to the weather forecast on ABC radio 936am. The weather would be cool but reasonably clear today but changing to showers/rain tonight. The coal fire had gone out overnight and the hut was cold again - back down to 5 deg C. I started to pack up my sleeping bag & mat etc and put the trangia kettle on for a cup of tea. I could still see stars outside so it was encouraging weather for the day.
We had mountain bread with nutella, warmed on the trangia plate, for breakfast then cleaned out the coal heater and swept the hut. We started walking at 8.40am.
As we left Kia Ora hut the track nestled between the mountains of Mt Massif (1514m) to Falling Mountain & Castle Crag (1482m) on the southern side of the track and Cathedral Mountain (1406m) on the n/e side. There was a large rockslide down Cathedral Mountain that had cleared a wide expanse of trees below the dolerite 'organ pipe' cliffs. The initial landmarks that we were watching out for was the Du Cane Hut and then the 2 waterfall turn-offs. As we approached Du Cane hut we saw a couple of cleared areas - big enough for tent sites. We emerged out of the forest to an open area around the hut. It is an old wooden hut with two rooms. There are some historical pictures and stories about Paddy Hartnett and family and their lives about a hundred years ago.
We continued past the turn-offs to the Fergusson/D'Alton/Boulder/Cathedral Falls and then Hartnett Falls - all on the Mersey River. Near the Hartnett Falls turn-off there was a pair of Scarpa boots sitting neatly on the side of the track. We wondered how the hell they came to be there and what was the owner now wearing. Upon closer inspection we found that the soles had become detached and the owner must have spat the dummy and taken them off and left them & worn something else.
We emerged out of the forest for an easy, steady climb up to Du Cane Gap. There were more sections of duck-boards and a nice creek (Campfire Creek) for a rest spot. From the gap we entered the forest section for a down-hill walk to the Windy Ridge Hut. We arrived at approx 12.30pm and had a snack. We discussed that there were two hours until the regular time for the ferry to arrive at Narcissus Hut. I realised that dad needed and wanted a rest - and we had already walked for 4 hours without much of a break.
We had a look around the Windy Ridge Hut area. Down the hill past the toilet there was a round fibreglass 'igloo' type building for the Parks & Wildlife workers to use. Nearby was a helipad and a narrow board track led to the private hut for people with more money than sense.
After having a few biscuits and a drink we headed off again at 12.45pm. I felt that I could have made it to Narcissus Hut by 2.30pm to catch the ferry but I could tell that dad was not keen to hurry.
I walked ahead and stopped after about 45 minutes - at a creek with wooden sides to channel the water. I told dad that we were making good progress and I would try and call the Lake St Clair ferry service with my cdma phone each time I stopped. I would ask when they would be able to come up to Narcissus to collect people. I was hoping that they could come up that afternoon but would still be happy if it was early the next morning so we wouldn't waste 24 hours just sitting at Narcissus Hut. We could always walk down Lake St Clair but I wasn't looking forward to this.
When I reached the Pine Valley turnoff I walked up a slope about 20 metres from the track and turned the phone on. I was happy to see '1 bar' on the signal strength level. As I was about to call, dad approached on the track. I told him that I would try and call the ferry service. It was now 2.30pm and we had 4km to go so I would ask if they could be at Narcissus Hut at 3.30pm.
When I spoke to them they said that 3.30pm was the latest that they could collect us due to the daylight. Dad headed off and I had a drink and took off a couple of layers of clothing because I knew that I would get hot. Dad said that when I get there try and stall them until he got there. Obviously I wouldn't go without him.
I charged down the track at my fastest shuffle and trot pace. I was very happy when I got to the Narcissus hut at 3.10pm. I walked straight down to the jetty and was very surprised to see that it was already there. The 'skipper' was a bit impatient and said "Isn't there someone else too?" I said "Yes he's just coming. He won't be long."
I thought that dad could be up to 20 mins more but I hoped that he would get there before the boat got sick of waiting. I was very happy to see dad appear at 3.20pm. We had a very relaxing trip down to the southern end of Lake St Clair and made it to the shop just before it shut - to get a pie and sausage roll. A sneaky currawong was lurking within a couple of feet trying to get some food.
We walked into the PWS office to tell them about the log books at Kia Ora & Scott/Kilvert Hut that were both finished and the Pelion Hut heater not working. I looked outside and saw the currawong on my pack about to pull the zip open on the top pocket. I 'shooed' it away and then we walked to the car to change and head hope. Overall it was an outstanding trip with terrific weather for winter. We had 5 days with no rain and mostly clear conditions. I was obviously cold but we were on mountains in winter so what do you expect. We had pretty good gear and didn't suffer too much. I couldn't wait to get home to have a closer look at my digital photos from the trip.