The Overland Track
Definition of knackered: Debbie McGrath
I have walked 93 klms over the past 7 days with my son, my hubby and my father-in-law. My legs are tired, my knees are sore and I am in desperate need of a shower, a refreshing ale and a tasty meal (one that does not require hot water to be poured over it).
Did I enjoy it?? Absolutely. Would I do it again?? Definitely.
The Overland Track is one of Australia’s iconic walks. The track undulates through the heart of Tassie’s world heritage wilderness area and attracts visitors from all over the world. It is categorised as a ‘medium’ walk in terms of difficulty. Walkers must be self-sufficient, prepared for all seasons and physically fit. Apparently there is no such thing as bad weather here, just bad preparation for it. I am sure most people train for months before embarking on such a journey. Our training consisted of a 21klm overnight walk in The Walls of Jerusalem and I think I did one run. Were we prepared? Clothing and gear wise – yes, fitness wise – no; mentally – debateable.
I am a bushwalking novice. I can count the number of walks I have completed on one hand. I fit into the category of a person with ‘all the gear and no idea’. I now own a pair walking poles (a pressie from Stew), the type that I used to think were only for oldies. I am a big fan. They saved me from many falls and helped the knees. I was sponsored by Icebreaker, North Face and Macpac. I definitely looked the part.
My bushwalking companions….Stew, he’s a bushwalking pro. He has grown up with bushwalking. He recalls memories of bushwalking when he was 8. He was in cadets at school and missed the opportunity to walk the Overland Track whilst at school due to glandular fever. He walked part of the track with his brother 16 years ago so he was super keen to give it another go. Lachlan, the only 11 year old I know that has all the gear. He bought himself a $50 titanium knife fork and spoon set out of his bday money (so young and innocent with no concept of the value of money). He has done more bushwalking than me. He is growing up in his dad’s footsteps and loves a challenge. He is a gear sport man and is already talking about walks with his mates. Brian, the father-in-law, he is at home in the bush. I have lost count of the number of walks he has completed and he can’t remember. This was his third time on the Overland Track and he was an absolute pleasure to be with. I looked forward to each afternoon being welcomed by a flying flag of Brian’s icebreaker undies gently blowing in the wind outside the huts.
I have learnt a lot about bushwalking and the preparation involved. It took us a couple of days to get organised with the most discussed topic being the choice of drinks. Not the type to stay hydrated on as that is easy, WATER. It’s the pre-dinner drinks that caused the most discussion. Will it be scotch, Black Russian, port or schnapps?? What is the right mix for a Black Russian? Only one way to test is to try. Stew and Brian spent one afternoon making sure the mix was right. Needless to say we required a couple of trips to the grog shop. I was a little concerned about the weight. How do we carry a few extra kilos? “Not a prob, Deb” I was told. It’s easy. You pack light on the clothes. No need for the extra undies and socks. I even had to cut my book in half. And by the way…we need salami and cheese for the pre-dinner snacks. Now we were talking. Bushwalking with luxuries. Count me in!!!!
We set off on day 1 full of energy and into the unknown. I must say I was a little anxious. I didn’t quite know what to expect. 10 mins into the walk we came across a lively bunch of 8 females ranging from 42-65 yrs old and 70-130kgs in weight (not including backpacks). I was looking forward to hearing their story and thought if they can do this surely I will be okay. I was carrying 1/3 of my weight on my back. Not that I should complain as Stew’s pack was close to 30kgs. The weather was in our favour, sunny and only 17-20 degrees. Perfect walking conditions. Thoughts of how good is life passed through my mind. If only Courtney and Hamish were old enough to be doing this walk with us.
We walked on average 13klms per day. Doesn’t sound like much now but we had 2 consecutive days of 20+klms .It was a relief to see the hut at the end of each day and to take off the boots. Each day brought new challenges, new aches and pains and changing scenery and landscapes. It is difficult to capture the moments on camera. We walked through alpine herb fields and rainforests, mossy valleys, button grass moorlands, pencil pines, clambered over rocky boulders, weaved our way through spaghetti like tree roots, slushed our way through muddy pools (knee deep in parts) and dodged a number of leeches, tiger snakes and white lipped whip snakes. Stew and I climbed 2 summits: Mt Ossa (the tallest mountain in Tassie at 1617m above sea level) and the Acropolis (1471m). The first is known as the rooftop of Tasmania and offers stunning views back to the beginning of the walk and Cradle Mountain. The latter was attempted in testing conditions, rain, gale forced winds and full cloud cover. It tested our rock climbing skills we learnt 12+ years ago in London. What did they say again Stew? Was it make sure you have 3 solid footings before moving your 4th? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself vertical rock climbing up the face of a cliff. Now this was hairy and definitely had the adrenalin pumping. Surely I didn’t sign up for this. I was also on my hands and knees climbing over rocks with Stew having to give me a hoist up in parts. The reward at the top….not the view as we couldn’t see diddly squat but a swig of home brewed schnapps from our fellow Austrian hiker. Thank you Manuel.
Our sleeping quarters…various huts have been built along the track which sleep anywhere from 8-24 people. Tent platforms are also provided at most of the huts. The huts typically consisted of sleeping bunks (usually in one room) a table, bench seats, coal heaters, a composting toilet (holding of nose required at most) and a rainwater tank. Staying in the huts is like one big slumber party although with strangers. We were serenaded by an orchestra of snorers! Must remember to pack the noise cancelling aircraft grade earplugs next time. Lachlan was a huge fan of the huts. As soon as the hut was within 5 klms he was off. This ‘hut rush’ was a daily occurrence. The fast finisher we called him. He liked having 1st dibs on sleeping spots. By the time we arrived at the hut, Lachie’s sleeping mat and sleeping bag were neatly laid out and he was dressed in clean clothes.
Food. I am known to have very stringent food rules, much to the delight of Stew. I am particular in the creation and layering of a sambo (who puts tomato or beetroot straight onto bread?). Bushwalking tucker. A whole new world to me. The thought of dehydrated meals was not so appealing. This was one of those moments in life that I was just going to have to suck it up. Our daily food rituals included: MORNING: coffee and porridge, LUNCH: Wraps or crackers with PB, Vegie or cheese; SNACKS (usually had a rest stops) muesli bars, dried fruit, nuts; LATE AFTERNOON: cuppa soup. I looked forward to this meal each day. Stew was extremely strict with this meal as it was only allowed to be had on completion of the days walk and no earlier. DINNER: a delicious serving of dehydrated meals (beef & pasta hotpot; thai chicken curry; roast lamb and vegies, honey soy chicken and beef teriyaki). The favourite…Mmmmm. It’s a tough one but I have to say the thai chicken curry. I was even spoilt with apple pie for dessert one evening. Stew didn’t have to sweat over the camp oven this time. All he needed was boiling water and 5 spare minutes. It was a real treat. Not everyday do you get to celebrate your wedding anniversary with 20 strangers.
Hygiene and cleanliness is an interesting topic of conversation along the track. You begin the walk with complete strangers and by the end of day 7 you are sharing the smells of sweaty clothes, socks and boots. Luckily there were lakes along the way. Those brave enough were rewarded with a refreshing swim and a sense of feeling clean for a brief moment. No soap allowed of course so it was a very quick wash indeed. The water was icy cold, icecream headache material. It was a running joke before we left that I would be hanging my knickers on the back of my pack to dry. I even went and bought some bright coloured icebreaker knickers just to impress my father-in-law. Lucky for Brian I saved him this embarrassment. The same cannot be said about Brian as per notes above with respect to the hut “welcoming flag”. I’m sure a selling point of icebreaker was that it can be worn for days without smell. Isn’t that right Brian?
The Overland Track is a social walk. Everyone has a story. You meet many people along the way and share beds with complete strangers. Not the keys in a bowl type of party. I looked forward to chatting to our fellow walkers each afternoon. We shared huts with other Aussies, Germans, Austrians, South Africans, and the French Each were completing the track for different reasons. The most admirable or some would say insane were a bunch of 8 vivacious ladies from Canberra. As mentioned earlier they varied in age and weight. The latter being the major concern. They spent many gruelling hours on the track setting off at dawn and arriving at dusk and carrying packs in excess of 20 kgs. One lady even fainted 3 times and stopped breathing. They never gave up and despite the aches and pains they were always chirpy and full of stories. Whilst they were not the most organised bunch, they gave it a go and made it. They learnt a lot about themselves and each other. What a huge achievement and I am sure they will look back with fond memories…one day
I am now back in the comforts of our camper trailer. Reflecting on the past 8 days I feel a great sense of achievement. I feel lucky to have completed this walk with Stew, Lachlan and Brian. A big thank you to Elizabeth, my mother-in-law, who entertained Courtney and Hamish whilst we were away. It has been a highlight of our trip thus far. Stew is already beginning to plant seeds of attacking Kilimanjaro, Base camp Mt Everest or the coast to coast walk in the UK. I better invest in some earplugs!