Let’s do the Overland he said (with a certificate in outdoor education & minimal experience in snow adventuring.)
Great idea she responded (having not been on an overnight hike since high school, a long time ago).
And so on Wednesday the 27th of September 2017, after one of Tasmania’s coldest winters and during a freezing spring, we started our Overland journey.
The Overland track runs from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair in Tasmania. It is a 65km walk, with multiple day hikes. There are huts along the way, camping is encouraged where possible. The highest point is 1250m at the plateau between Marion’s lookout and Kitchen hut. The lowest point is at the Forth River crossing at 720m. During the peak hiking season (October 1 to May 31) walkers must travel North to South, however outside of peak season hikers can walk the track whichever way their Gortex boots fancy.
On arrival at the visitor center at Cradle Mountain, we were told in no uncertain terms that A. we were ill equipped for the weather, B. too late to complete the planned day 1 walk to Waterfall valley and C. without an emergency response beacon we were asking for trouble. We were shown a picture of Kitchen hut, which was practically inaccessible due to the amount of snow blocking the entrances.
So, we swiftly shoved an emergency beacon into our already overfilled bags, changed the night one hut plan from Waterfall to Scott Killvert and held hands while whispering ‘crazy cats.’ We have excellent thermal and ski gear and had enough food to last approximately 47 days and feed 6. We also (thankfully) had no understanding of what we were up against, shrugging our shoulders in TYPICAL tourist fashion “how hard CAN it be?”
An hour later, and practically vertical on a rock face with a cliff behind and no view to be seen thanks to the very dark and rain filled clouds with our heavy packs nearly turning us upside down and inside out and I declared my first “I’m not designed for this, not at all. My back isn’t designed for this bag, my feet aren’t designed to be soggy” and my fear of any form of danger or injury is really not that useful. Richie, (in an almost rehearsed response…) assured me we could turn back at ANY point, and that it would be fine if we needed to. But that I was quite capable of this and that it would be OK. (Between us we have the stubbornness of a rhinoceros, and turning back was never an option).
Arriving at Scott Killvert hut was a warm welcome, it was incredibly dark with only an hour of sunlight left, but the coal heater had been transformed to a wood fire and we gobbled soup while relishing our sensible ‘dry clothes.’ The sign at the door identified importance hut etiquette ‘the last to arrive are as welcome as the first.’ And just before sunset, the gorgeous group of 6 Irish arrived; they had trekked around the lake (as opposed to up and over and vertical) in mud and snow but still came in laughing, like they did each time we found them.
We snoozed among the top snorers in Australia that night, giggling at the absurdity of 25 grown adults who have never met all lined up as if a dedicated day care nap post the most exhausting bed time story of all.
A hike up a steep incline (1100m at the summit) on day 2 and we found ourselves being blown over by snow and ice filled winds that stung our cheeks and buckled our knees.
I let Richie know I didn’t think his snow experience was up to this, and that he should have listened to my hourly pre trip weather forecasting. I felt an inner fury at my inability to cope, and questioned my toughness. Richie clearly and calmly (while turning his awful shade of anxiety) stated we should probably turn back the way we came, where we knew that whilst there was thigh deep powder snow, there was also shelter and a path that would lead us back to the hut.
Just as it came to crunch time, the Irish stumbled up the snow banks, and we all joined forces to find the path together. The friends we had known for approximately 22 hours turned back often to make sure we were still with them, and offered precious commodities of nuts and chocolate.
Throughout the next five days, we hiked through a snow filled rain forest whilst waiting for Aslan and Mr Tumnus to appear, adored incredible and ancient trees. Marveled at cold clear streams. Cried at the challenge, and swore at wet socks and heavy packs. Occasionally we would get a glimpse of mountains surrounding us, and would feel protected by their enormity. The famous button grass was a snowfield, but we would walk all day without seeing a soul and it was magic. We laughed together, and forgot the woes of the world as we focused on arriving safely and keeping it together whilst staying together.
Each night, we would scramble into the hut to find our people. Slowly but surely we found our army along the way; and with the weather entirely unappealing to sleeping outdoors in tents, we would sit and share soup stories and games of cards with people who quickly felt very important, very precious and very true.
Our little tribe at the end of the trip included two 12 year old kids. These absolute heroes talked us through the map each night and morning, identifying areas that would be challenging and the highest and lowest climbs for the day. Playing cheat was a giggle feast (their poker faces beautifully innocent).
These raw and new friendships, where there were no phones, no computers, no brands, no cars, no houses, no news, no trump, no terrorism, no guns, no nonsense.
Extra water was boiled for tea, and teabags were shared when supplies were running low. Lives were talked about, and dreams discovered. There was a kindness and a friendliness that equaled the expansive forests and curious wallabies of the beautiful Tasmanian wilderness.
Our last morning was full of ‘congratulations, good luck and thank you’. We all beamed with pride, not of ourselves – but of one another. The suns had cleared to fully expose the mountains surrounding us, their true enormity only becoming clear.
In a time where the world is tough, where people are fragile and where we live so very quickly this walk reminded me of the beauty of humanity, of the potential we have and how the environment brings out the best of this in us. How life really is simple, but that our extra additions complicate it. How the silence of snow allows for a still and clear head and how being in the real forest is far more therapeutic than any forest Apple has to offer.