A Wintry Walk

New Zealand in winter was cold with short days and long nights, not great weather for camping and walking so we retreated back to Australia. Once there we then set off for wintry Tasmania to walk in the cold with longs nights and short days. Everyone said we were mad to walk the Overland track in winter but the lure of huts with gas fires and hopefully the bonus of snow drew us there. Three of us arrived by bus in the morning so set off for a scenic walk from Dove Lake to Ronny Creek via Crater Lake. Cradle Mountain peeped out from the enclosing clouds and Crater Lake was bleak and grey. The deciduous fagus had all turned to brown and mostly dropped to the ground. As we headed to Ronny Creek snow was falling in fluffy flakes that melted as they landed.

We spent the night in a cabin to save packing up wet tents in the morning and awoke to the excited sounds of children’s voices in a wonderland of fresh snow. We were afraid there might be too much for the vehicles but made it safely to Ronny Creek. We then picked our carefully along the snow covered walkway and up into monochromatic world of snow covered trees and rocks. It was beautiful but as we ascended to the clouded plateau the wind blew and cold set in. Scroggin got me to Kitchen Hut where a hurried lunch was eaten as our bodies shivered to keep us warm. It was then on with the walking to Waterfall Valley just to keep us warm and unfortunately the photography suffered as I just wanted to make the hut.

The mountains were again hidden in cloud the next morning as so we decided to press on. The wet weather brought out the colour in the much photographed snowgum above Waterfall Valley and the waterfalls were running well but we didn’t brave the boggy terrain for a closer look. Lake Windermere loomed out of the mist after a short day’s walk and a brief lull in the afternoon gave us the chance to venture out to explore. A platypus had the same idea and was happily puddling in a very small pool below the path before wandering off back to larger waterways.

The next day’s walk was the longest between huts with 17 km to travel but a lot of boardwalk made it reasonably easy. The cloud broke for a brief glimpse of sunshine and mountains before we headed back into the trees and used their roots to traverse the muddy path. (I don’t know why I bothered as my boots were wet from the first day and stayed that way for the whole trip. It was a luxury if I could put on dry socks in the morning though they were only dry for five minutes.) It was pleasant to stroll on boardwalk across the biggest bog of our walk in summer 2013. The forest was green and mossy with splashing streams before it again opened up to the plains surrounding the large and well designed Pelion Hut.

Even though the weather continued cloudy and damp we decided to spend one of our extra nights at Pelion Hut. This gave use the opportunity to visit Old Pelion Hut and spend more time in the wondrous forest. We also had fun playing with the flint lighter and making magnesium sparks as our clothes struggled to dry on the overloaded heater. Mt Oakleigh popped out of the clouds for us to enjoy its rugged, dramatic profile.

A brief glimpse of Mt Oakleigh before it vanished back into cloud set the scene for the morning walk. The Mersey River provided a set of cascades before we climbed up into the fog at Pelion Gap. As we descended the other side the clouds started to break up and gave us glimpses of distant snow speckled mountains. This encouraged three of the group to return and climb Pelion East though they didn’t manage a view. The rest of us continued on via a large bog hole for a belated lunch at Kia-Ora Hut.

Breaks in the cloud cover gave promise for a better day and encouraged us to return and climb Mt Ossa as a day trip. It was liberating to return up the path minus backpacks and we quickly set off on the side trip. The sidle around Mt Doris was through an enchanting garden of alpine vegetation but the daunting slope up Mt Ossa quickly came into view with snow blanketing the top of the pass. We saw others ahead and knew it was possible so continued on upwards. At the snowline it quickly became more treacherous and I was very pleased to have my walking poles. We passed one fellow walker retreating but we kept climbing and then sidling through knee deep snow to a rocky slope. This gave a brief respite from the snow and a chance to recharge energy with scroggin. At the top of this slope was a large gully to be crossed that was covered with snow. A fall through had us floundering waist deep at times but mostly we could use previous foot steps or sink only ankle deep in the firm snow. We finally reached the last gentle slope to the summit where the others carried on but I started my retreat as we were battling time to return to the hut in daylight. As I descended the cloud lifted and the sun shone creating a dazzling sight. It was hard to keep walking as every footstep lead to a new vantage point of the breathtaking scenery that was opening up. We finally got back down below the snow but by then the sinking sun was creating even more reasons to be distracted. A final mad dash down the path had us back at the hut before the dusk was too dark for walking safely.

The following day was waterfall day with side trips to the three falls that were now flowing furiously in comparison to the gentle flow of summer. DuCane Hut was a historic pause from photos of crashing water.

The downhill walk over firm terrain to Narcissus Hut was done in quick time and gave us the chance to compare our muddy selves to people fresh off the boat in clean boots. The walk through the forest to Echo Point Hut was made longer by the frequent stops to admire and photograph the diverse fungi. Echo Point Hut is an historic gem with a wonderful position on the lake opposite the photogenic Mt Ida and the coal-fired pot belly stove finally had our boots drying off.

The last day was a gentle stroll back to civilisation and a chance to reflect on a walk that had lived up to expectations with drizzle, fog, mud and snow and a chance to see the track in a very different light to a summer’s walk as shown by the following contrasting pictures. It was also a surprise to be joined by so many fellow walkers so that the huts sometimes seemed fuller than in summer.