Tassie and the Overland Track
It has been a while since I got out of Darwin to see something new and explore places where I didn't know my way around. Four years to be exact. So when I arrived in Lauceston, I actually got a (pretty unexpected) culture shock, even though the town felt like the most romantic mix between Aussie nature & people and European architecture which should make me feel right at home. Or maybe it's just the fact that my plans are becoming more tangible. Doing the Overland Track will only be the first adventure of many to come. I quit my job that I had been so happy to get just half a year ago to finally go traveling again. I still enjoy working there a lot which makes it harder than leaving the workplaces I had left before. But I've been in Darwin for too long already. My travel bugs are stirring like a locust plague!
Sarah, who I hadn't seen since I left uni 6 years ago joined me to spend pretty much the whole day dozing in a park; backpacker-style in our sleeping bags and the big backpacks piled around us—we were both exhausted from the flights and in addition Sarah was fighting a cold. And despite being bundled up in a hooded fleece jacket and scarf I was freezing in the shade, while the locals walked around in shirts and shorts, complaining how hot it was. I guess four years Darwin does that to you.
In the evening our couch-surfing host Sean picked us up from the city and while we were happily waiting for him another lady asked us if she could give us a lift anywhere. What an incredibly nice city! We spent two great nights at Sean's place, cooking together, being positively surprised by Sean's special green smoothie (if you had seen the whole lot of ingredients that went in there, you would have been surprised, too), playing with his charmingly mischievous dog Dudley, talking about Tassie, traveling and the world and trying to get all our meals prepared for the track. Unfortunately we couldn't convince Dudley to accompany us as a pack-dog so we would have to carry everything on our backs for more than seven days, which meant dried and lightweight foods only. Read: Oatmeal and instant-noodles. While fussing over our shopping list we completely missed the last bus on the second day so Sean came to our rescue again, picking us and our ridiculously big cartons full of groceries up from town and showing us the fantastic Cataract Gorge by moonlight so we wouldn't have to miss it just because it had taken us so long to get our things together. Well, what else would you expect when two girls go shopping...
We actually managed to press our two cartons of food into neat piles of ziplock bags and into our already pretty full backpacks but it took us until 2am and we had to get back up again at 6:30am to catch the bus to the start of the track.
Here are the notes I made in my journal on the track:
Day 0, 15th Jan. Dove Lake to Henson Summit
Difficulty Level: What the hell were we thinking?
We were supposed to start the walk tomorrow but spoilt rotten from couch surfing at Sean's place we didn't feel like spending $30 each for accommodation and decided to start early and walk to a shelter behind Henson's peak that the guide at the visitor centre told us we could use. By now I'm pretty sure she hadn't realised how big our backpacks were because the climb to Henson's peak soon turned into a steep almost-rockclimb. And as if that hadn't been enough of a challenge we've had the awesome idea to take the left-over fresh fruits with us that we had bought the days before. In a separate paper bag because there had been no way to squeeze them into the bursting 20kg+ backpacks. So here we were, climbing with all fours and on our knees at times, trying not to be toppled over by the brick-filled sacks on our backs and dragging along a ridiculous paper bag. In the end it turned out a good idea though because we soon ran out of water, so at least we had some juicy fruits to munch on.
As the sun went down we finally found the most romantic little hut framed by mountains and forest next to a little pond and made ourselves comfortable on the hard, small bunks. As it is just an emergency hut we have it all to ourselves and enjoyed an amazing sunset in the wilderness, singing songs and drinking cups full of surprisingly good dry milk.
I'm pretty sure this alternative start to the Overland Track was way more complicated than the main route but at least it allowed us to split what is apparently the most difficult part of the track into two days so we have a better chance of doing Cradle Mountain summit tomorrow!
We're full of "oh we should have brought more dry milk" and "I should have bought more comfy pants" (mine ripped wide open at a rock...) and we should have this and should have whatnot. But considering that we're complete noobs at through-hiking I think we're doing quite well so far. Let's hope we won't be too sore tomorrow.
Day 1, 16th Jan. Henson Summit to Waterfall Valley
Difficulty: worse than yesterday. Really.
It was a massive day and I definitely challenged my slight fear of height today! We woke up after a tough and stormy night and in my case on a (brand new) flat mattress. We were already halfway into the first day's route but we had no time warming up our somewhat tired muscles as the track started with a steep climb straight away. Not as bad as the worst bit from yesterday though and a seemingly fit guy without so much as a light water pack made us laugh as he complained about the difficulty of the track. In contrast a bit later during the day an old guy overtook us effortlessly while we were struggling to put our feet forward in the right order. Even with our backpacks left at Kitchen Hut, the Mt Cradle Summit sure was hard work! Easily the hardest climb I've done so far (not that I've done many) and hadn't there been so many people going up, I'd have seriously doubted that it's possible at all for someone as challenged with body coordination skills exceeding typing on a keyboard as me. Most of the climb there was no track. Only rocks the size of humans and some poles roughly marking the way. A lot of false peaks and a just-don't-look-down type of view. Up we went, slowly making our way from pole to pole and chatting to the people struggling alongside us.
The sun was burning down from a cloudless sky, the rocks almost too hot to touch and we were running short on water again. I almost forgot to enjoy the view at the top. And to be honest, although the view was great, that alone wouldn't have been worth it for me. It was the climb itself, to know that I've done that. Going up on all fours, completely focussed in the moment because it needs all your attention and trying not to let the thought about having to go back down again creep up in the back of your head. Maybe it'll be one of those things I can look back at in difficult situations and say "I've done that; I can do this, too." When that old guy was almost running past us on the way down, Sarah watched him for a while and meant "He just isn't afraid of falling." I guess that'll have to be the secret to all the thing you want to achieve in life. Just do it and don't be afraid of all the things that could go wrong. Or as Nelson Mandela put it: "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."
The guide book said it would take two to three hours return. The time it took us was closer to four or five but we somehow managed to make it back to Kitchen Hut. We shouldered our backpacks and made our way to Waterfall Valley Hut, which was another three hours away. We finally arrived, physically and mentally exhausted, pitched our tent, made a quick dinner with the inefficient little burner I had bought and fell asleep.
Day 2, 17th Jan. Waterfall Valley to Windermere
Luckily today was only a short walk, 8km, three hours. When I had read that back at home in the booklet I thought "piece of cake, I run 5km in half an hour, I'll be able to walk 8km in a few hours!". But we were still exhausted from yesterday. Tired as we were we hadn't paid much attention to how we pitched the tent so it had ended up sideways on a slope and facing the wind the wrong way. So we were rolling down and on top of each other all night and woken up from a noisily flapping tent when the night became quite a bit stormy. My flat mattress didn't help improve my sleep quality. We are sore from yesterday, got a pretty bad sunburn and a sporting colourful bruises from our four-limb-approach to the climb yesterday. So the 8km today were more than enough and we were happy to have time for a wash in the beautiful lake, an afternoon nap and some time for ourselves. Have I mentioned that the landscape is absolutely beautiful? It's just a bit hard to notice when you're staring at your shoe tips all the time in an effort not to stumble on the narrow track. What we did see this way though was the cutest little platypus right next to the duck board track! Just sitting there, seemingly oblivious of us and even though I know it's a lame excuse, I didn't dare moving to get the camera... After a maybe half a minute he finally noticed us and disappeared.
Day 3, 18th Jan. Windermere to Pelion
Difficulty: toughen up princess
Today was another long one but luckily not too difficult compared to the first two days. Just long. My muscles are getting stronger and maybe the backpack is starting to get a little lighter, too. But the day was cold so maybe we just had more clothes on than usual. We were enjoying some spectacular views while trod ding along for 6 or 7 hours almost like in trance. By now everybody knows that our fuel stove sucks and is helping us out with hot water. We're getting to know the people that are with us on the track and are catching up on the way all the time.
There's a far travelled couple from the Netherlands that has hiked Mongolia and Spain among others. A dutch family with 3 little girls and a father with a daughter and two boys. A couple that's making this hike their first adventure together. A group of the most interesting ragtag girls and women from all over the place (who had managed to carry peanut butter which made me slightly jealous). 3 older lovely couples from Melbourne, among them a teacher who had taken his students to places like Nepal and the Cambodian Jungles before. All those open minds and the stories they have to tell. It's starting to feel very social and everyone seems to look after each other like a big family. I'm loving the experience.
I'm just still too tired to do much more than snapshots and am still cold from a swim in the nearby stream. Watching the sunset over the most amazing landscape reminding me of Africa (how it looks in my imagination, anyway): the last sun rays glowing on a mountain range that grows abruptly out of a flat steppe with long grass and scattered slender trees swaying in the cold evening breeze...
Day 4, 19th Jan. Pelion to Kia Ora
Difficulty: fighting a cold.
It's staying cold and the nights on my flat mattress don't feel very restful. We're out of dry milk and spam. From today, it will be oats and rice and noodles only. Well, and a few snacks, let's see how long they will last us. Today was a rather short walk, with a 300m climb but nothing too bad. There were side-trips on the way to Mt Ossa, the highest peak in Tasmania, and others but Sarah seems to have caught a cold so we didn't do any of them. Not that I would have had too much energy myself.
The views from Pelion Gap down into the valley were pretty amazing nonetheless. What a vast, beautiful landscape! We saw some snakes and even a Wombat with a baby on the way. The latter made a funny noise as Sarah approached which made her stop midstride and turn on the spot to walk back a few steps before she even looked what had caused the noise. There it was, a big fat hairy rock with the cutest face looking at us indifferently while we waited for it to slowly finish its meal and trot away with a tiny baby in tow.
Other than that, the whole "getting away from it all" and being alone with my thoughts most of the day seems to crack open a few things I had burried...
Day 5, 20th Jan. Kia Ora to Windy Ridge
My legs don't even hurt in the morning. I feel like I am finally getting used to the cold nights on a flat mattress and the whole day just walking and being alone with my thoughts. But it's day 5 already and a mood of "it's all gonna be over soon" has pretty much settled over us.
There were two nice side trips on the way today, leading to waterfall that made perfect lunch, relax and bathing spots. We spent the evening together with the whole group, kids and oldies alike, on a platform overlooking an amazing mountain range in the sunset. Sharing stories and travel bugs. It felt like the last evening together and for some of us, it will be, because many are taking the ferry across Lake St Claire tomorrow evening.
Day 6, 21th Jan. Windy Ridge to Echo Point
Apparently we've been very lucky with the weather so far. It has been cold for my taste and the nights were close to freezing but the days have been dry and sunny. Many couldn't believe how long the weather had held. Well today that luck left us. The whole day has been grey with a cold and annoying drizzle. We were supposed to go to Narcissus Hut but when we arrived there at noon we decided to push on to Echo Point to shorten the walk tomorrow. It's only an emergency hut, sleeping 8 right next to the lake. It's crowded and I'm a bit over cold nights on hard grounds by now to be honest. I'm looking very much forward to having enough hot water to cook a dinner, sleeping in a warm, comfy bed, having a hot shower... Oh and internet connection.
Day 7, 22nd Jan. Echo Point to Visitor Centre
Difficulty: running the last metres too fast
The weather had cleared up again over night but this also meant a terribly cold night, the worst we had on the trip. (Later we learned it must have been somewhere between 4 and 0 deg; certainly not what our sleeping bags are made for!). I woke up freezing in the middle of it, unable to go back to sleep, thinking "better tired than frozen" and was just waiting for the sun to rise again. And she finally did! I'm not sure if I have ever enjoyed just standing in the sun and slowly being warmed up so much. I noticed how beautiful the spot was, too. I must have missed that last night last night in the rain: a rugged beach, rocks and shrubs with beautifully weathered stems scattered around and a small creek trickling into the lake. We spent the last day walking through the beautiful rainforest–moss-covered, gnarled stems, tree ferns and swampy bits–in nice weather again, catching a glimpse of the lake and more romantic wild beaches along the way. I finally sprained my ankle (it had to happen...) and had to find myself a walking stick to go on but am just grateful that it didn't happen any sooner.
As we came closer to the visitor centre, we met people from the track again who had taken the ferry or another route for the last day, congratulating and hugging us and cheering us on for the last few kilometres which felt great. We made it. We even got free sandwiches at the visitor centre when I went in begging for hot water because we were almost out of stove fuel. Taking a ranger's advice we had been practicing the sentence "We just did the Overland Track, could we please have a shower?" but after the sandwiches decided that we would survive one more bath in the lake for our last night.
In some ways it wasn't as hard as I had expected it to be. After the first few days that really involved some tough climbing with the backpacks it got a lot easier and I got used to just walking for hours, got used to the weight of my pack which grew a little lighter every day, too as we ate our rations. That bit I could carry on for at least another week. In other ways we just weren't equipped well enough so those parts were (unnecessarily) tougher than I had expected: the flat mattresses that had us sleeping on the hard, cold ground. Our sleeping bags that weren't quite warm enough and our clothes that just weren't functional enough for the changing weather conditions (hot sun, sweating while walking, cold wind, even colder nights and the rain the second last day which could have been way worse). The fact that we didn't bring enough fuel for the stove and too little dry milk so we ended up with some real milk-cravings. But that's just the learning experience. I'd do it all over again tomorrow (packing some more dry milk and better mattresses).
We spent a last cold night in the tent at the lakeshore and having a last freezing catlick in the lake, but we didn't freeze this night thanks to some girls who spent the night at a hostel and lent us their functioning mattresses. What a difference that made! The bus picked us up in the morning and we arrived Hobart happy, exhausted and in dire need of a hot shower. We spent two nights in an amazing little hostel before moving to another couch-surfing host, Sam, for the Aussie Day weekend. We were greeted by two couch surfers from Launceston who had come down for the weekend. The whole couch surfing community in Tassie knows each other and does things together all the time which created a great atmosphere. More and more people arrived, most of them couch surfers and all of them open minded and easy going. At some point everyone spontaneously gathered to make music and sing together and we had some great conversations. I was talking to a girl tom Launceston who had travelled the Middle East all by herself, going on a road trip with local guys despite the fact that it "could be dodgy", had the time of her life and even gained an Arab speaking friend which made her travels there easier. This story sure inspired me! That night people slept on pretty much every space available on floors and everywhere and it wasn't even Aussie Day yet. It felt like one big traveler family. I couldn't stay for the whole Aussie Day though since I had to catch my flight back to Darwin in the evening.