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A test of resilience, endurance and spirit. Overland Track April 2018.

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When I say a test of resilience, endurance and spirit I am actually serious. Not everyone has this experience but I certainly did. I have wanted to do the Overland track for more years than I can remember but I have never been in a position to actually achieve it. When Landscape photographer Cam Blake from Tas Photo Workshops advertised Autumn dates for the Overland, I was (way too) eager to join in and have the safety and comfort of heading into the unknown with someone experienced and someone I knew.

For the next 6 days I fought my self, gained a whole new level of determination, met amazing people and captured some beautiful scenery on the way. I cannot thank or recommend Cam enough for taking me on this amazing journey. If it wasn’t for his patience and hilarious personality I may not have made it through, I was a victim of my brain telling me to quit and I almost did.  I think I completely underestimated my anxiety, but I also think it completely underestimated me. Although it almost beat me I won and I pushed through to the very end and that is something I am proud of. I completed the Overland Track carrying my own gear and (after a few little scares that I may blow the entire place up) cooking my own meals!

I kept a little electronic log of my thoughts and experiences along the way. I’ve edited it severely (you don’t need to hear my language that could make a sailor blush)! This will not be a short read and I am sorry for that, for me writing is a way to detangle all the thoughts and feelings and iron out where I am heading.

Reflections on Crater Lake
Reflections on Crater Lake. At the top after Crater Falls this was a welcome sight. The beautiful autumn colours and the small remains of the snowy week before, just the perfect combination.

Day 1 – Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley

I didn’t stay in the huts. When I was preparing for this trip it was the one thing I didn’t want to do, I wanted to experience it rough (well as rough as sleeping in a tent that could keep you warm in Antarctica could be). Preparing was something I under did. My fitness levels were high and I knew I was ready when I could climb Marion’s with few stops. I wasn’t racing, I could go in my own time and if that meant I needed to take some breaks along the way I was ok with that. The idea was to enjoy and see. The one thing I didn’t prepare for was my brain. From the moment I put that pack on my shoulders at Ronny Creek something wasn’t right in there and I instantly went into anxious mode. I had barely made it to the start of the climb to Crater Falls, and I was in a full panic.  My heart beat was booming through my ears. It’s hard enough to climb with 17 kg on your shoulders without the added heart racing, breath-taking anxiety! I was about to walk into the wilderness for 5 nights with no way to contact home. No way to check in on my kids, none of my usual coping mechanisms. I was scared and excited and the entire rainbow of emotions in between.

The first day is the hardest. I had been told this and whilst it isn’t the easiest part to walk with the climb to Marion’s and the uneven surface after Kitchens Hut, I think it’s the hardest because everything is new. The pack is so heavy you think you may have over packed, my 17.1kg felt like 30.1kg. All your muscles are new and starting to realise their future and everything screams with every step. I’m not sure if anything can prepare you for that. I had pack hiked and it still didn’t fully prepare me for what was to come.

Autumn takes over the Fagus
Autumn takes over the Fagus. The colours of the Fagus were by far one of the amazing highlights from our trip.

Day one was the longest 10km I had ever walked. I will use the word had because the longest was still to come. But also let me make one thing very clear, it was also the most amazing day I have ever walked. I left my anxiety at Crater Lake, if you find it I am sorry; I didn’t intentionally litter there but it was something that was not needed and it was also not welcome to join me on the trip. I was not carrying that burden across the most beautiful place in the world. I suffered one more panic attack (not anxiety and not even related) after this one and have not had one since and I will not allow that back into my life. I am done with it. When I spoke of spiritual earlier, this was my moment. I took that moment at Crater lake to breath in the fresh air, listen to the silence and dump the load of unnecessary burden.

The walk from Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley is one of the most scenic days on the track. I have very few images because I was battling my own demons but I remember it like I am walking it again. Cradle mountain towers you for most of the way changing at every step, her impressive cliffs and jutted rock formations have you in awe. That iconic view from Dove Lake is nothing like the views I seen! And for the next 4 days she was my home beacon cheering me on as I walked. Yes, that is that spiritual thing again. Perhaps it’s because I have such a strong affinity to this land, being here in Tasmania, or perhaps it’s because of my ancestors that I feel such a strong connection to the beautiful rock and glacial formations I encountered.

Camp was definitely a welcome sight that day, I slowly stepped my final ascent to the tent platform to set up my bed (which I would visit for the night before 7pm)! I missed the biggest aurora of the year, but something bigger was happening for me; I had made it to through the first day on the overland track.

Barn Bluff
Barn Bluff with a little left over snow.

Day 2 – Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere

Today was pain day. When I say pain I want you to think of leg day at the gym and multiply it by one million! I am serious! I flexed my feet and near screamed, then I moved my neck and my shoulders gave me a twinge that made my stomach turn. Everything hurt and I had a headache from lack of sleep. Once I got up and stretched out and seen where I was the smile could not be wiped of my face. There is no pain strong enough to kill how amazing the landscape is! Barn Bluff glowed that morning with the sunrise and it was such a beautiful thing to witness!

We started day 2 with a visit to a waterfall (not mapped and I have no idea what it is called)! No packs, just wandered down and braved potential leeches. As we stepped through the forest and the waterfall came into view I was pretty much having one of those jaw dropping experiences. You know the ones that give you goosebumps and you feel so good about what you’re doing. There was nothing that could ruin that experience, it was just so perfect!

Waterfall

The track from Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere was one of my favourite days. Walking was relatively easy-going in terms of the day prior and the scenery was just stunning. Although easier it is hard to convince your body to carry forward when the memory of the pain is still very much present. That being said every time you stop to readjust you notice so many beautiful scenic distractions that the pain becomes less and less obvious. Towards the end we walked out onto a hill that overlooked beautiful tarns  and rocky mountains for kilometres!

The one thing you notice about other hikers is their smell, and I’m not talking about the bad smell because it’s definitely an even playing field where that is concerned. The good smells. I think because we all smell bad the good smells become so noticeable. I walked by another lady this morning and she smelled so good and so fresh I instantly wanted to cuddle her in the hope that some of that smelly goodness rubbed off on me! It apparently doesn’t take me long to become a feral creeper in the bush… My own personal scent is a combination of baby wipes, fresh and old sweat, anti inflammatory cream and the baby sunscreen I managed to score of an exiting hiker yesterday. Yes I forgot sunscreen! If you’re doing this trip, don’t forget sunscreen or wipes!

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Reflections on Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere was a stunning view from all angles! As soon as I spotted it I became a little obsessed with capturing all its moods and reflections. It was simply one of the most scenic lakes I have ever encountered and also my favourite stop on the entire track! It was so peaceful and everyone seemed to be relieved for a short day.

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Dead Tree at Lake Windermere

After setting up camp and chatting to a few other camera toting hikers we headed back up the hill to watch the sun set in the picturesque west and hopefully catch some left over aurora action… Sunset was a win but as we had missed the biggest aurora of the year any glow was really nothing in comparison.

Day 3 – Lake Windermere to Pelion Hut

This was the morning everything changed… I woke in pain everywhere! My hips were hurting from sleeping on a tiny 9mm thick surface, but I was warm and that was all that mattered. I did what was becoming my usual waking stretch routine to wake my muscles, point toes, flex calves, stretch shoulders and lower back and try not to grunt and moan too much. But this morning things seemed to be relatively less painful.

I prepared for a long walk, I knew this day would be one of the longest and involved several hill climbs, but excitement was high because today we crossed the Forth River and I get to see the new Pelion Hut which has been on my bucket list for a very long time.

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Lake Windermere at Sunrise

We spent the morning capturing the sunrise on the beautiful valley (I’m assuming we were in a valley, its amazing how exhaustion can take away some of your usual observation skills). It was truly magical watching the sun wake up the misty lake and melt the morning frost. There was moments on this trip that will stay with me forever and this was definitely one of them.

The track from Lake Windermere to Pelion Hut was stunning. A combination of rainforests, plains and mountainous views it was truly one of the most scenic days. You started to feel like you were getting somewhere, Cradle became more of a distant sight and the beautiful Forth Valley look out gives you some perspective on the distance you have travelled. I also enjoyed the rough terrain in and out of Pine Forest Moor, its was a complex stepping routine across tree roots, muddy tracks and rock crossings.

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The boardwalk is a nice relief on the feet after walking over uneven ground.

After a short stop at the picturesque Forth River and a rude shock at how tiny and creek like it was at the end, we started the climb up onto Pelion Plains where I seen for the first time a glimpse of the impressively stunning and jutted Mount Oakleigh.  Our camp at Pelion was by far my favourite night, even if 2 pairs of thermals was required.  The hut was by far my favourite on the track so far.

In the middle of the night all the water I had consumed throughout the long hike decided sleeping was less important and I rushed down to the loo. It was way too cold and potentially leech infested to go bush. The toilets on the overland are this 2 story type deal with a composting bin that catches your waste that is closed off when full and the helicopter takes it out of the park. You throw down a cup full of rice hulls after a visit to aid in the degrading process. The smell is like nothing on this earth, ammonia and something else I’m unsure of! I rushed up to the look hoping for a quick trip so I could get back into bed and there I met Mr Rattus. I opened the lid, looked down (why I do not know) and there he was, a big shiny brown rat! I had no time to whine but quickly did some mental calculations on the height a rat could jump and attempted to shoo him before poor Mr Rattus had to wear my trip and I quickly thew down some hulls for payment before fleeing. A young man followed me in and he looked like he was in for a long visit! Poor Rattus.

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Mount Oakliegh at Sunset from Pelion Plains.

 

Day 4 – Pelion Hut to Kia Ora

Its cold at Pelion. Some people woke to ice in their water bottles, I was lucky my tent was fairly good at sheltering me from the intense cold although I was still required to sleep in 2 sets of thermals and snow socks. We woke to a beautiful sunrise under the mountain and fog across the plains. It was such a pretty thing to see, the fog was stained with the early morning yellow of the sun, I don’t thing I have ever seen anything like it.

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Sunrise on Pelion Plains

Most of the other hikers left early, but Cam and I decided to leave later and spend the morning visiting a beautiful little cascade before drying our gear out ready for the climb. We wandered next to an adorable little stream which I think was called Douglas Creek and found this magical little fungi land with mossy cascades of cold tannin water! It made the cold frost instantly disappear! We spend a little while there, at this stage I was kicking myself for not bringing my good tripod, the cheap one I chose to bring because it was light weight couldn’t handle my mirror movement. I was also regretting not having a mirrorless camera or some kind of lighter version of my chunky and heavy DSLR.

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Cascades at Douglas Creek at sunrise

After we were packed and ready to leave I tricked my brain (or so I thought) into being excited for the climb ahead. It wasn’t until we were half way up the 300m climb that my brain retaliated and attempted to make me fail again. Nothing was hurting for the first time on the track but I was so tired and exhausted that I just couldn’t seem to get the motivation to keep going. I did get there, eventually however at this stage I should probably and thank and apologise to Cam for my tantrum and lack of motivation. Once I reached the top, and in retrospect it wasn’t actually that bad, I disappointed myself by not climbing up Mount Doris to see the view but I had very little energy left and what I did have I needed to get me through the rest of the day.  I will definitely go up on my next trip across the Overland, yes there will be a next time.

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As high as I could go… Still very disappointed that I didn’t head up and see the view.

The walk into camp was beautiful, and the scenery seemed to change to something a little thicker and the plants seemed less alpine and more Tasmanian bush even though we were still up quiet high. Perhaps it was just my perception. Kia Ora camp site was possum heaven. If you like possums this is the place for you. Those fearless little fuzzies were everywhere refusing to move out of your way as you attempted to visit the loo and visiting your tent platform to tap dance all night. Being a local, possums aren’t my favourite of our furry friends however these possums were so big I didn’t let them know I wasn’t a fan out of fear… I snuck into bed early on night 4, my entire body was absolutely exhausted and elated at the same time! It’s that realisation that you have nearly completed something so amazing, when that kicks in your brain goes into overdrive!

Day 5 – Kia Ora to Bert Nichols Hut

If I had to pick a day that was my least favourite, this would not be even close to the top of that list. Today was the Mersey River day. Growing up in Sheffield Tasmania there is certain landmarks that make you feel instantly at home. Mount Roland and the Mersey River are mine. I grew up camping in the Mersey Forest at Lake Rowallan and swimming and kayaking in the Mersey. Today I was at an all new excitement level. We would walk through the upper Mersey Forest, visit some waterfalls and then climb up across Du Cane Gap before heading into camp. This would be a long day, but it would also be a rewarding one.

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Du Cane Hut

After a short gradual climb we stopped at Du Cane Hut to refuel and soak up some sun.  This adorable little hut is full of history and the carved names of visitors, it is one of the most scenic views on the track. It was at this point that I knew today would be rewarding and I was right. The hut is slightly crooked so standing inside makes you feel a little off-balance, and it’s definitely on my list of places to see in the snow! Even with the hills we were facing today I was marching through with ease because it was my last day to enjoy this beautiful environment and the weather was proving to be a perfect combination for my first Overland trip.

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Visitors of the past at Du Cane Hut

After a short break we headed straight into the forest and towards the Mersey River. We dropped our packs at the intersection for D’Alton and Fergusson falls, we were both a bit disappointed with the sun as we had hoped (or maybe it was just me) for some clouds and maybe even some fog. I could hear the roar of the falls as we descended down the steep track and I was rewarded with a beautiful big waterfall in full flow with very little sun hitting it in the early morning! Both of the falls were beautiful and we found so many vantage points to capture some amazing images of their magnificence. The mosses get me every time, I see big mossy boudoirs, fungi and water and I’m instantly excited to start taking images. But because I am scared of height, and not just scared in a small way I was limited to the views I actually captured. Once I calmed my fear down I was rewarded.

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D’Alton Falls

The amount of water coming down the Mersey was just enough! Enough to capture something beautiful, enough to spray up and cover you in a chilly mist and enough to hear the roar and see the power of this amazing river.

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Below Fergusson Falls

All the scenery of the first half of the day fuelled me to get moving into camp crossing Du Cane Gap. On the way down I actually caught my foot in a tree root and hurt it. That when the hobbling started (and truth be told it hasn’t stopped yet!)  The fact that this was my second last days did however shadow the huge achievement I was hiking out of. I was eager to see my family and check in on my kids, but I was also sad that it was coming to an end. It had been nothing short of amazing. As corny as it sounds I actually felt a huge accomplishment for making it through the Overland. I was elated, excited, stress free and had been anxiety free for the most part. It was the perfect break from our technology dependant life style.

We had met so many amazing people along the way, heard their stories, shared our own it was very communal which was a shock. You could be as involved or as solo as you wanted.

Incredible.

Day 6 – Bert Nichols Hut to the Jetty

Today was the last day and as sad as I was that time had flown by I was also so excited! I quickly packed and managed to get everything in my pack for the first time. I was itching to go and poor Cam had to get moving quickly as I dragged us out and onto the track and possible walked way too fast the whole 10km. I think the end point overshadowed where we were, apart from the occasional views of the surrounding mountain ranges all I saw was the ground as I attempted to keep upright. It’s definitely a character building journey, for me, maybe not for everyone but it taught me so much about myself.

I cannot wait to do this all over again, even though I still remember the pain!

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Last photo before it was all over.

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