Monday, 18 January 2016
Side Trip: Cradle Mountain - 2k, 1545m
After a restless night for me at least (which was a shame as it was the last night with a mattress for a while) we were all up and out the door by about 9.30 after a delicous cooked breakfast.
Then we posed for some photos, saddled up and wandered the 1/2 k down the road to the official start point (stopping just a few times for Jonno to say his final facebook farewells).
Then we were off. At the speed of, well, reasonably slow moving things. By 10 minutes in, Bjørn had reverted to standard Norwegian hiking attire, whilst Jett had been bitten by the first of many mosquitos while posing for a quick photo by a waterfall.
The first small climb brought us to Crater Lake...
Then it was onwards and upwards as Day 1 contains the steepest section of the entire track - the climb up to Marions Lookout. With full packs it was fairly brutal but not as brutal as in 1989 when Clare and I climbed up the Face Track up from Dove Lake instead (we thought we were being clever by saving a kilometre or two but instead we gave ourselves an even rougher and steeper ascent). On that day the rain was pouring down and I remember falling face first into the slope and being unable to move from the weight of my pack. This time around the weather was much nicer, and despite heavier packs the route to the lookout was a lot less harrowing.
Which was good as I'd been dreading this section since we walked up with daypacks in October - so it was also great to get it out of the way so early into our journey. I'm not sure why I don't have any photos from the top of Marion's lookout - perhaps we were all too out-of-breath to reach for the cameras. We did have the strength to break into the first of our chocolate supplies though.
Bjørn missing the point of the sign, just near Marion's Lookout
Then it was on to the junction of the overland track and Cradle Mountain. Regular readers will know that we had an unsuccessful attempt at Cradle Mountain in October, when we turned back and what we dubbed the Pillar of Despair, as it looked like the already difficult climbing simply got harder and harder and everyone who was returning told us stories of sketchy snow patches we would have had to cross.
Bjørn & Zali approaching the pillar of despair
This time around, Me, Clare, Bjørn and Zali were all keen to give it a go (Bjørn also had to rectify a not-quite-completed attempt on the summit from 2009). Jon wanted to join us but I didn't think his back would be up for it, and Jett was happy enough to sit it out. So we let them continue onto the first campsite at their own pace (about 6 k away), while the rest of us ditched our packs and joined the throng of people heading up the trail (most of them having absolutely NO IDEA what they were in for!).
We reached the Pillar of Despair about 45 minutes into the climb, and sure enough it was at that point that 1/3 of the climbers were turning around brokenhearted. Knowing what to expect helped and we scrambled and hauled and dragged ourselves up to the top in about 1hr 15mins -yay! another of the 60 Great Walks ticked off my list! I was really proud of Zali who I would have thought would be the least likely member of our party to be going up voluntarily! At the peak we opened a version of Kvikklunsj that is Bjørn's favourite - and we discovered that it is the best hiking/adventure chocolate in the entire world - all the delicousness of kvikklunsj and chocolate but with hints of sea salt thrown in. It was so great we ate the whole bar, which, when Jon (who was head in charge of snacks) discovered this later, caused him to rethink his entire snack distribution strategy and give us all a stern lecture on rationing.
Back at the bottom of the track, I discovered that the signs that I had practically leant my pack on (like a chump), warning that the currawongs could open zips on packs, meant that the currawongs could actually open zips on packs, and I found my emergency supply of lollies spread about the grass. It didn't stop us collecting them up and eating what remained though. Then it was time to resaddle ourselves and head off towards our first campsite.
Due to the weather in 1989 we didn't see a thing in the entire first two days worth of walking (which we raced through with raincoats on and heads down all in one wet day) - so in 2016 it was as if I'd never been there before -the views were absolutely spectacular - some of my favourite of the whole trip. An hour or so of delightful walking later we arrived at beautiful waterfall valley, worn out but surprisingly as the first Overland Track campers of the day.
We were greated cheerfully by a volunteer ranger whose job it is to let us know about the hut and where to wash, clean, camp etc. I was impressed that she already knew Jett's name by the time we arrived. Later that day a professional ranger came in by helicopter (each site has a helipad) and he made a point of chatting to everyone and ensuring we all had our OT passes. It was all very friendly.
Barn Bluff behind our campsite, and the Waterfall Valley Hut
Setting up camp was the first time we got to see who our travelling companions would be for the journey. 35 people can book each day and I was a bit worried the trail would feel a bit busy. But it wasn't at all - the campsites are very relaxed, even with full bookings there was always plenty of room for everyone and no reason to rush into camp to secure a spot (and in any case 50% of people chose to sleep in the huts). We met hikers from Sweden, Belgium, Austria, the UK, and the mainland made up the other 50%. We were the only locals we encountered.
And so it was time for dinner (pasta with the last of our fresh vegetables), hot chocolate, and bed by 9. A perfect start to the week.