10 lessons from hiking the Overland Track in winter

Three of us headed off on the Overland Track in late June,  first off stopping for the mandatory photo at the magic new Overland Track sign.

This sign will become an iconic image for the thousands that hike the track each year. Well done Parks and Wildlife Tasmania.

Hannah,  our mid 20’s daughter, was until then the only member of the  family who had not hiked the Overland. This trip was her chance to experience our favourite place and join one of the many who have experienced this fantastic World Heritage area.

heading off on the Overland Track from Ronny Creek - Cradle Mountain

New Overland Track signage – a magic photo opportunity

There are many articles around Our Hiking Blog about planning and hiking the Overland Track so this article will focus on some lessons others many find useful.  If you want comprehensive information about planning the trip, arranging transport, selecting gear, planning meals and stacks of other information, check out our eBook – How to Hike the Overland Track.

1. Clothing

We walked in the first flush of winter. It had snowed for a couple of days and on the day we left there was a bushwalking alert. Not unexpected,  so we were well prepared.

What to wear on the Overland track hike

Breakfast at Pelion Hut – down jackets are in!

Tips?
  • Layers of clothing are winners. You get hot even hiking in snow and cold weather, so being able to remove (or add) a layer or two can make you much more comfortable.
  • Down jackets are magic.  They pack up small, are relatively light and oh so warm once you stop for the day and cool down. We all took them and had them on within 5 minutes of reaching the huts at night.
  • Don’t over pack. Think carefully about what clothing you really need. Even though it is winter, if you have good waterproofs your inners should stay (relatively) dry.
  • On this trip Frank did not wear:
    • two pairs of thermal longs
    • one light weight thermal top
    • one merino mid weight long sleeved top
    • one mid weight polypropylene top
    • one pair of hut socks (Explorers)
    • waterproof pants
    • two pairs of gloves —- in total, that is a LOT of weight!

 

2. Prepare quick snacks for lunch

Each morning, before you pack up and start hiking ,  pop your head out of the hut and check out the weather. Is it raining or snowing? Is the wind strong and are there black clouds on the horizon? Is it freezing cold?

If any of the above exist, and you plan to stop for lunch along the track that day,  think about how you will access and prepare your lunch.

Tips?
  • Prepare wraps or dry biscuits and toppings like cheese and salami in a zip loc bag ready to grab at a stop. They need to be  easily accessible and not in the bottom of your pack!
  • There are protected areas from the wind and rain, and a cup of soup or coffee might be great. Have your cooker, cup and a pot right at the top of your pack ready to pull out and fire up some boiling water.
  • Have your scroggin or snack bars in the pocket of your coat and remember to eat them regularly. Just a few jelly beans or nuts will give you almost instant energy when you are struggling against a bank of sleet. You can almost feel the energy flow through your body!

3. Don’t rush, its ok to relax and enjoy the walk

Oh the frustration and sadness of seeing a pair of hikers up and leaving a hut pre-dawn to get on the track. Alternatively, while we were having breakfast in Bert Nichols Hut at 10 am, greeting a couple of hikers who had walked the first hour in the dark to get there from Kia Ora hut, made us question what was the purpose of their walk. A time trial or one of relaxation and enjoyment?

You don't see these little jewels in the dark.

You don’t see these little jewels in the dark.

Why rush? Why hike in the dark?

Ok, many people love the physical challenge of a long distance hike. They want to burn the miles and achieve their goal of “doing” the Track. Fair enough but what are they missing out on?

We had allowed 6 nights for this trip. The standard is usually 5 but we allowed an extra night in case of bad weather or heavy snow. Even though the weather was ok we still stuck to walking from hut to hut each day. Some days were only 3-4 hours walking so we often left at lunch time and arrived in the next hut well before dark.

It made for a very relaxing trip.

 4. Expect the huts to be full or busy at any time of the year.

So, you decide to sneak off to Tasmania in winter and hike in glorious isolation? No one else will be around, it’s cold and wet and winter……

Think again, it was VERY busy during our trip.  It was school holidays in a couple of Australian States but there were also people who thought it would be quiet.

Steamy sleeping quarters at  Windemere Hut in Winter

Steamy sleeping quarters at Windemere Hut in Winter

Our experience:
  • Around 20 the first night at Waterfall Valley in the new hut. There were also a few in the old hut.
  • The least we had were 9 lovely people at Kia Ora Hut.
  • There were about 15 at  Narcissus and Bert Nichols
  • 20 damp souls spent the night at Windemere Hut
  • 30 plus enjoyed the cold cavernous  Pelion Hut

We will be publishing a “hut etiquette” article in the future. A few people should have read it before they shared the huts!

5. Wet Feet

After long consultation with other walkers on the track we decided  “waterproof” boots are a myth perpetuated by hiking shoe manufacturers.

Nearly everyone had wet feet for most of the Overland Track.  It is possible to avoid some of the deeper mud and water but not ethically right. You can ‘rock hop” or go wide on tracks but it only leads to track degradation and ultimately you will slip and get wet feet.

 

Best boots overland track walk

Some tried plastic bags others just accepted it! Wet feet are a certainty.

 

Some people tried to dry their sock and boots each night, not sure how successful they were. Frank just put on wet socks, wacked his feet  into wet boots and took the icy cold hit. Sue and Hannah spent some time drying their socks but usually ended up wet after a couple of hours.

Our new friend Dave (above) tried plastic bags that failed 5 minutes after the photo was taken……..

6. Food to take

Winter is a great time to take food that would usually spoil in summer. The air is cold and conditions perfect to carry some fresh supplies.  As usual, we ate pretty well on the track. Fillet steak and pepper sauce was a highlight on the first night after a very hard slog through ice and snow.

We took some dehydrated meals that worked out really well other than one small disaster caused by Frank rushing the packaging and adding dahl to a mincy type meal. Strange tastes but filled our bellies……

Dinner recipes on the Overland Track

Cabbage lentil chow dahl with damaged and uneaten cucumbers ready for the composting toilet.

With little opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the views,  or bask  in sunshine,  having tasty meals and snacks can keep your morale high. We took a couple of serves of pancakes, packets of honey and jam  AND a slab of butter. Delicious!

Overland Track meals

Cooking pancakes at 10am in Bert Nichols Hut

7. Take a great headlight

It gets dark early in winter and the light was still weak until about 7:45 am.

Most of the huts don’t have huge windows as they are designed to keep in the heat, not let it leach out through glass. That means you often need to use your headlight in a hut.

Torch on the Overland Track

Windemere Hut and a group playing cards under headlight.

You do need a good reliable headlight. It is probably something worth not compromising on.

Points to consider when purchasing a headlight
  • You need a quality one that has variable intensity
    • it should dim down to save battery life
    • by dimming, the light won’t blind everyone you accidentally shine it at
  • Consider one that has a good strong spotlight beam in case you need to hike in the dark to get to a hut.
  • Many people also used red lights to protect their night vision. A handy option.
  • Check how much power the headlight uses and take the appropriate number of good quality batteries. Frank didn’t and had to swap a treasured Cherry Ripe for some spare AAA’s……

8. Heating in the huts

Yes it was winter, yes the Overland Track Huts have heaters and yes it was cold.

But do they work? Not all of them do.

Do they warm up the huts? No not at all.

Do they dry your clothes and boots? Some of them, maybe.

heating in Overland Track Huts

Heater at Bert Nichols Hut. Special.

On this trip we discovered the fires in Kia Ora and Bert Nichols huts have been replaced with gas heaters. Excellent. The small problem was that neither worked. There was gas in the tanks but neither heater would ignite.

Is it a disaster? Should we write a letter of complaint to Parks and Wildlife Tasmania? Is it their responsibility to heat the Huts?

Our view is that we decided to bushwalk the Overland Track in Winter. It is our responsibility to ensure we have the correct gear and warm clothing. It is up to us to ensure we stay warm and comfortable. It is not Park’s responsibility (at great cost to the Tasmanian people) to provide heaters to keep us warm.

A bonus if the heaters work? Yes!

A right? No.

9. Yippee it’s free in winter! Let’s “do” the Overland and save some money.

We decided to hike the Track in Winter because Sue is a teacher and we are stuck taking our breaks in school holidays. We also love the challenge of walking in variable weather and always have our fingers crossed for “blue bird” days. The dream of stillness, blue skies and a white,  winter,  wonderland is always in the back of our minds.

There were three of us so it did save us $600 on track fees. A substantial amount.

We did inject a significant amount of cash into the Tasmanian economy. The credit card statement that arrived three days after our arrival home tells the story:

  • Flights – into Launceston out of Hobart – around $600
  • Transfers – up to Cradle Mountain with Howard of Cradle Coast Tours (ph: 0407 335 925) and from Lake St Clair to Hobart with Ian from Mountain Bike Tasmania – $500
  • Accommodation at Cradle Mountain Lodge for a night, dinner at the restaurant and assorted coffee’s , wines and snacks – $700+ (extravagant we know,  but we were on holidays)
  • Ferry from Narcissus Hut down Lake St Clair – $120
  • Accommodation at Shippies in Hobart (including a couple of wines in the bar) – $180
  • Incidentals including meals in Hobart, airport transfers etc – $200

The total? You work it out, it’s too scary for us!

10. Lighten the load

We have never been obsessed with lightweight or ultralight bushwalking. Sure, we have been careful in our gear selection and made sure it was as light as possible and especially versatile. We never double up gear with others in our party and try to share the load where possible.

This trip we both bought new Aarn backpacks. There is a lot of interest in these and a full review article will follow.

Aarn pack review

Sue with her Aarn pack heading through some mud

The Aarn packs were around 1.5kg lighter than our One Planet Strezlecki’s. This combined with new, lighter,  One Planet sleeping bags (review to follow) saved over 2kg each.

That is a significant weight loss and made the trip so much easier.

In short Frank found his new pack excellent. Very comfortable and managable. The reduction in weight was fantastic and there were no sore feet or blisters on this trip, a first!

 

Finally:

“Doing” the Overland Track in winter is not something for inexperienced bushwalkers. Tasmanian weather can be brutal any time of the year but winter can throw up particular challenges. This is a very isolated area where you are generally on your own, there is no mobile phone service for most of the Track. We carried a PLB but would have only used it in an extreme emergency. We were well prepared (as were most of other walkers we met)

 

That being said, winter is a fantastic time to enjoy the Tasmanian wilderness and we had a brilliant time.

We have also posted a few more pictures over at our Facebook page you might enjoy.

 

 

 

Powered by WPeMatico