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A MID-WINTER HIKE ON TASMANIA’S OVERLAND TRACK

The Norwegians have an interesting saying. It concerns the weather, and it goes along the lines of there being no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I’m not in Norway – I’m about as far from there as it possibly gets – but the saying applies equally well. Here, in Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, it pays to be suitably attired.

Rain and cold are constants in this part of Tasmania. It has drizzled persistently since our 11-strong group set out from Waldheim Hut on our mid-winter Overland Track hike four days earlier. One minute it’s misty, the next it’s bucketing down and clouds have blanketed the peaks, obscuring any views we’d hoped to get. Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, Mt Pelion West and, today, Mt Oakleigh – all have been hidden behind clouds.

All that rain has meant waterlogged tracks, and waterlogged tracks means sodden feet, regardless of how new or expensive our hiking boots are. On that, the Norwegians got it wrong. There’s been no way of keeping our feet dry when buckets of rain have been pooling on the track.

At first we’d all tiptoed around the puddles. Then our guides suggested we embrace the mud. “It’s better to have wet feet than to slip and fall on treacherous tree roots,” added one Yoda-like sage.

So inevitably we’ve succumbed, allowing nature to beat us. Like our guides recommended, we’ve embraced the mud and the rain. And we’ve enjoyed ourselves more since.

It makes sense. We knew to expect rain at this time of year so it’s wise to accept some discomfort. Most of us have hiked this trail before – in summer, when the beauty of the mountains and valleys and waterfalls are more likely to be framed by blue skies and warmed by the sun. But even in summer the weather here can be notoriously fickle. It may be 25 degrees in Hobart but teeth-chatteringly cold here.

Those summer experiences made each of us wonder what it be like to walk the track in the middle of winter when the elements are against you? What would it look like when it snowed?

There are two ways of hiking the 65km-long Overland Track. One is independently, where you organise your own permits and national parks fees, carry everything you need on your back and sleep in national parks huts each night. The other – the one we’ve chosen – is softer. It’s also more expensive.

Cradle Mountain Huts offers guided walks that eliminate the need to cart a week’s worth of dehydrated food packs in your backpack. Even better is that the guides prepare gourmet meals washed down by Tassie wines each night. You also bunk down in their exclusive gas-heated huts rather than the draughty national parks equivalents, and there are heaven-sent hot showers to soak in at the end of each day. So, unless you’re a diehard wilderness nut, the choice between the two options is a no brainer.

Our wish was granted too; snow replaced rain halfway through the trek, heralding in the state’s biggest snow dump in 10 years. Before we’d gone to bed that night we were jumping about in the fresh snow outside our hut. Then we hiked through that snow all the following day.

Ploughing through thigh-deep snow for seven hours straight can be mighty fatiguing, and there were multiple times when we lost our balance and toppled over. But that was part of the fun and we giggled our way through it.

Best of all was that we managed to stay dry and warm as long as we kept moving. The snow hadn’t yet turned to slush and layers of clothing kept us toasty. Like those hardy Norwegians, we’d come to think that ordinary weather might just be given a bad rap.

 

Words and photos by Mark Daffey

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