And so we were off. After six months of planning, the shuttle picked us up from Launceston and drove us two hours to Cradle Mountain. There we were met by a ranger who provided an enthusiastic overview of what lies ahead on the Overland Track to Lake St Clair, all while checking our packs had the mandatory equipment.
Another shuttle took us the final twenty minutes through ancient Snow Gums to Ronnie’s Creek where the Overland Track begins. Swinging the 16kg pack onto my shoulders, I remembered our first time I visited Cradle Mountain over ten years ago. Back then I thought it extremely unlikely I would ever undertake the six-day trek to Lake St Clair. And yet, here I am.
Standing alongside my 71-year-old father, it felt good to be undertaking this adventure with him. He is an inspiration with so many distance events under his belt; it would be impossible to list them all. Let’s just leave it that he has crossed the Sahara in a 250km, a seven-day event called the Marathon des Sables on more than one occasion.
Packs adjusted, and off we set. Being my father, the six days it takes to complete the Overland Track was viewed as too simple and was shortened to three days with an additional 18km day added to the end. This would mean skipping one hut each day along the usual route. The plan; an 18km first day up Cradle Mountain to Windermere Hut followed by a gruelling 25km second day to Kia Ora Hut, a 19km third day to Narcissus and a final day of 18km to Cynthia Bay.
Day one: Ronnie’s Creek to Windermere: 18.5 kilometres completed in 6.03 hours
When my father told me the plan to skip a hut, it did not sound too bad. As we began the climb to Crater Lake, I was starting to have misgivings. The first day is the hardest in terms of elevation gain. There is a gradual ascent to Crater Lake followed by a steep, short ascent to Marion’s Lookout. Views from here over Dove and Crater Lakes make the trip an excellent day hike or start to the longer Overland Track. Once at Marion’s Lookout, you reach a mountain plateau, first passing Kitchen Hut before descending to Waterfall Valley. This is where the day hikers typically turn back and you are left alone with only a small group of multi-day hikers.
As we passed Scott-Kilvert Hut—the usual stopping point for the night—, I had to agreed that this scheduled camp is a little too short at around 10 kilometres. Passing rangers and other hikers along the way, I felt strong and proud that we were going the extra distance. The next section to Windermere Hut features undulating button grass plains, heathlands, alpine lakes and tarns. This is a very exposed area, where you are at the mercy of the wind, sun and only a few weeks before, snow.
Two hours before Windermere, I began to tire, and my right knee ached as we descended into the valley. The thing I like about these adventures is that you just have to keep going. There is no turning back. This means you need to draw on your internal resources to provide the additional stamina, positive attitude and will to keep going. One foot in front of the other and eventually you will get there. This is a good lesson for life.
As we set up camp, I reflect on a day that had so many beautiful moments. The climb to Marion’s Lookout is intense with strong winds our ever-present companion. However, the views are sensational over Dove Lake and provide the first glimpses of Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff, a magnificent, jutting rock formation that comes into view after you leave Kitchen Hut. Passing Kitchen Hut, the numbers of hikers on the trail drops significantly leaving you with a feeling of pleasant isolation.
Food for the trip was homemade dehydrated chicken, rice, peas and parmesan cheese. This proved to be much better than the preservative-laden commercially available products. We ate on the tent platform and enjoyed the cool, turning cold temperatures before going to bed.
Day to Windermere to Kia Ora: 25.4 kilometres completed in 8:53 hours
Waking the following morning, the recovery power of sleep always amazes me. We had completed 18 difficult kilometres the previous day with 25 kilometres ahead. Filtering water, packing and eating breakfast occupied the frosty, dawn hours before we set off for Kia Ora. The 17 kilometres to Pelion Hut went well and was completed in around five hours. The terrain features undulating button grass plains and forested sections, undertaken with views of the mountains in different directions. A couple of hours in and I was feeling strong, looking forward to completing another double.
After a rest at Pelion Hut, the next section to Kia Ora features a four-kilometre climb to Pelion Gap. After the 17 kilometres to Pelion Hut, this felt like a slog, and I focused on placing one foot in front of the other. Over this last section, I slowed a lot, with my father well out ahead as my knees ached and shoulders screamed against the weight of the pack. As before, this is where you have to look into yourself to find the strength to keep going. I tried many things. However, it was making myself walk upright with good posture—instead of being slumped over—that had the biggest impact. There is something about maintaining positive body language seems to work, making the one-step-at-a-time mantra seem more manageable.
Arriving at Kia Ora, we set up camp and went for a dip in the stream. The water was cold as this area had been receiving snow until only three weeks before. I note that every time you have a wash, you feel reinvigorated and see this in other hikers too. Early to bed that night I slept well and awoke rested for the day ahead.
Day three Kia Ora to Narcissus: 18.6 kilometres completed in 7 hours
This morning we were quicker at breaking camp and set off for the 18 kilometres to Narcissus; the typical stopping point for the Overland Track. The 9.6 kilometres to Windy Ridge was primarily spent in the rainforest with the main issue being not tripping over tree roots which make up a significant section of the path. I felt pretty good that morning as we stopped for lunch at Bert Nichols Hut.
After lunch, the nine kilometres to Narcissus featured a gradual, easy descent through eucalypt forest and across button grass plains. This latter part of the trip was completed in the blazing, ultra-high UV sunshine. As your energy fades, it’s important to remember that walking is what you’re here to do. Not to reach camp and not complete the Overland Track. To just get it done would be to miss the point of the trek. When you are tired, it is good to remind yourself of this, and not to wish your time away; something I needed to be reminded of in the last ninety minutes.
Arriving at Narcissus, there is a good feeling in the camp as most people have finished their walk and will be catching the ferry to Cynthia Bay the following morning. A rejuvenating dip in the river was the start to a good evening, swapping stories of where other hikers had been and where they hoped to go in the future.
Day four: Narcissus to Cynthia Bay: 17.5 kilometres completed in 5:05 hours
Waking refreshed, we broke camp and set off in the chilly morning for our last day of the hike. Starting out with magnificent views of Mount Olympus, we quickly made our way into the forest. This was a lovely day’s walk in dappled sunlight. Eucalyptus trees made way for ferns and moss, with views through the trees of Lake St Clair; Australia’s deepest lake. This was my best day as I seemed to have walked myself into hiking fitness.
On the trail, I felt that this track had the optimal walking conditions for me. Some people have power, others stamina (my father), some speed while I have agility. I can step from rock to rock, over tree roots and across streams with ease.
Further along, I spotted an Echidna. From some reason, I love these animals for their pluckiness and the ponderous way they move. It simply walked up to me a sniffed my boot before wandering off into the forest. A lovely experience to have had on this last day.
Completing the Overland Track with my father was a life’s ambitions achieved. I reflected that this was one of life’s precious opportunities; to share a hike with my father. It could have been so easy to have put off this walk and then never have shared it with him. I am glad that I did not do this.
As we walked in, we saw hikers from the Narcissus Hut. There is a great sense of accomplishment for all who have completed the trail. This comes through as we talk to the various people at the Visitor Centre before finishing our adventure with a shuttle ride back to Launceston.
Day 1: Ronnie Creek to Windermere. 18.5 kilometres. Started 11:34 Finished 17:57. Elapsed time 6:03
Day 2: Windermere to Kia Ora. 25.4 kilometres. Started 7:52 Finished 16:45. Elapsed time 8:53
Day 3: Kia Ora to Narcissus. 18.6 kilometres. Started 7:28 Finished 14:28. Elapsed time 7:00
Day 4: Narcissus to Cynthia Bay. 17.5 kilometres. Started 7:21 Finished 12:26. Elapsed time 5:05
Total: 80 kilometres completed in 27:01 hours