Sunday, 24 January 2016
Side Trips: D'Alton, Fergusson & Hartnett Falls - combined 3.5k return.
Day five started in a bit of a hurry - it looked like it was going to rain just as we were getting up, which would have dampened our tents and our enthusiasm for carrying them (which was low at the best of times!) . So at Bjørns behest, we sprang to action and got all our gear together. Zali and Jett only narrowly avoided being rolled up and packed within their tent - a fate they probably wouldn't have minded, but they tumbled out sleepily just as I was pulling out their tent poles.
Once packed we decided to have breakfast in the hut (which had already been abandoned by the hut sleepers). It was nice and dry but the drawback to using the huts is that you have to clean them (sweep and wipe the tables) after you have used them - such a boring task when you are out in the wilderness!
As it happened the rain didn't really hold so our raincoats remained packed for yet another day and we set off..
I've walked this leg twice, once from south to north to climb Mt Ossa, and once from north to south, as I've mentioned before. Both times my travelling party has chosen to just do the shorter side-trip to two waterfalls, and miss the longer side-trip to the third waterfall (it seemed like better value). Back in 1989 we actually left Kia Ora and walked all the way through to Echo Point - 2.5 days worth of walking and about 25k. Why? I dunno. We were teenagers, and as Clare has mentioned on her blog, our attitude was more about racing through and ticking it off, than enjoying it. We're smarter now of course. And taller. The time we had together on this trail was precious, so today there was no question about skipping any side-trips. In addition, the weather was clearing up really nicely.
Our first stop of the day was actually Du Cane Hut - a pretty little hut that Andy and PaulM and I camped beside, on our way Mt Ossa assault. The hut is in similar condition, but the grassy patches around it seem a bit overgrown. Nevertheless it's still a nice stop for a snack and a drink.
Then it was onto the shorter side trip with two waterfalls. - D'Alton and Fergusson. We had a steep descent and then some nice views to the water tumbling over the rocks - despite the overall dryness of the area they were both performing pretty well.. We stopped for more snacks (you can never have enough), then returned to the main trail and continued on to the turnoff to Hartnett Falls. Bjørn was keen to get into the water quickly so he took our fully loaded lunch bag and loped off down the track. Our plan was simply to catch up at the waterfall, when we had finished stuffing around with sunscreen and cameras and the like.
The trail down to the falls was really beautiful - gently sloping and in parts it was like a fairy tale forest, with cute stepping stones through mossy clearings. After a km we came to the top of the falls and bumped into the Austrain Brothers, who pointed us down the smaller trail which went to the bottom of the falls. Thinking that this is where Bjørn would have gone (and keen to go to the bottom ourselves), we walked the further 10 minutes down to the lovely sunny waterhole at the base of the falls and a great place to have lunch. Only there was no lunch. And there was no Bjørn. Hmmm.. we thought, thinking back to the great Toby incident.. perhaps he stepped off the track to go to the toilet (he seems to have a very small bladder after all), and he would catch up. So we waited. And waited…and waited.. Waiting was kind of nice - we swished our legs around in the water and relaxed. The only problem was that we were hungry too, so eventually we decided to go back up to the top of the waterfall.
As we arrived back we bumped into Sporty Family and asked if they had seen a semi-naked Norwegian, possibly recently well fed. Yes ,they nodded, but he'd headed back to the main trail to try to find us, about 10 minutes ago. Dang. We decided to send Jon back (running) to retrieve both Bjørn and the lunch while we had a closer look. Pushing a few metres through some bushes we realised here was an even better swimming hole right there - which is actually where Bjørn had been waiting for us all that time. Clare and I took advantage of the opportunity to have a quick skinny dip while Jon rounded up Bjørn.
Zali discovered that there were fish in the river, and clearly sick of pasta and noodles spent the next half an hour attempting to catch and eat one. Lunch (of wraps, salami and decidedly-dodgy-by-now hommus), was delicious as we were really really hungry by then. Further swims were had then it was time to hit the trail and take on the last climb of the overland track - up to Du Cane Gap.
Despite the fact that Bjørn had insisted on carrying my 3.2kg tent from this day forward, making a big different to my pack weight and comfort (he said he couldn't bear the site of it hanging messily onto the outside of my pack anymore, but i suspect he was just being kind), I felt a bit weary climbing up the hill. The kids were setting a cracking pace, proven by the fact we soon passed Sporty Family who had left the waterfall sometime before us. It was seriously hard to keep up with the kids! Nevertheless my one-foot-in-front-of-the-other strategy worked for me and we were soon descending the trail down to Windy Ridge hut. (which is called Bert Nichols hut now) . The descent was really pretty too - much nicer than yesterdays allegedly 'favourite' section.
At Bert Nichols Hut, we found some camping platforms (Bjørn and Clare got the best site on the entire overland track I recon - sunny with stunning views of the acropolis) and set ourselves up. Then it was time for the other great excitement of the day - rediscovering the food cache that Jon had left a month ago. Our weariness was forgotten as we skipped the 1k or so down the trail to a nondescript track bend, near a nondescript log which luckily jon had GPS tagged when he laid it.
It was so exciting! Just like buried treasure but more edible! We were all excited. Although I was a bit worried about expectations - we'd planned to leave the cache for months, and discussed what should go in it (we didn't have all the much space), but what with everything else we had to do at the time Jon was going to put it out, it was suddenly needed to be packed in a rush, and I wasn't sure I'd done a great job - mindful of this I'd been careful to keep expectations low, so the kids (all 4 of them) were happy to discover a lollypop each, some Darrel Lea Giant Jaffas, some weird mini toasts that Zali had requested and proceeded to dole out one by one over the next few days, and, excitingly for the grown ups, 2 packets of gnocchi with spicy tomato sauce. And goodness that gnocchi tasted delicious. Especially as we ate it on the viewing platform, where other campers and the hut-dwellers had gathered to enjoy the sunset and to chat - it was a really lovely evening.
Bert Nichols is the newest hut on the Overland Track, and by all accounts, the most hated! We read the visitors book - and despite the lovely drying areas, separate sleeping rooms and spacious eating areas, it is apparently freezing, literally, inside. Many commenters noted that the outside temperature in winter far exceeded the inside temperature - and despite the large dining area, the gas heater looked like it was more suited the ensuite of a caravan. Very strange.
This note in the visitors books says:
"Burn this bloody hut to the ground, at least it would be warmer then, and better designed too..ps outside temperature is 6 degrees, inside it is 1 degree…Another camper is staying here, we haven't seen her since she went to the freezer room (sleeping platforms), we should probably go and defrost her.."
I must say the construction raised some questions too, even to my untrained eye - there were many gaps in the woodwork and the orientation of the hut seemed to position it in the spot least likely to get any sun at all. Very strange. Once again it was a lot more pleasant to be outside.
Basking on the observation deck was the first time I felt that our fantastic amazing OT experience was coming to the end. And to this point we couldn't have asked for any more. The weather had been great, the company excellent, the laughter was plentiful. Bjørn was still well on track with his swim-every-day-in-Australia regime, and we'd lacked for nothing. In fact when I'd written the motivational messages on the outside of our food-cache container I was thinking that we'd would have suffered a lot more hardship up until that point and thus we might have been in need a bit of perking up! But no, we only needed to be cheered up because it was feeling like it might end soon.
It hadn't quite finished yet though- we had one more night and big day of walking still to come.