A Snowy Walk - Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain
Bogong staffer Mark heads south in search of adventure, tackling the popular Overland Track in Tasmania with the added challenge of winter conditions.
The plan had been to make my way up onto the Acropolis and traverse Mt Geryon and the Du Cane Range to Mt Massif, then over to Falling Mountain, before dropping back to the track near Du Cane Gap. But it rained all that night, and in the morning, the visibility was OK in the valley, but looked atrocious up top. So I went back out into the rain, and onto the track towards Bert Nicholls Hut. Around lunchtime, the sun poked through the clouds, and then cleared all across the Du Cane Range, and I kicked myself for not committing to the traverse that morning. But as I arrived at the hut in the early afternoon, Mother Nature proved me right as the heavens opened up and it rained hard all afternoon, finally turning to snow as it got dark.
It was a glorious walk up to Du Cane Gap the next morning, with 10 to 20cm of snow blanketing the landscape, and a little sun occasionally coming through the clouds. The snow seemed to energise me, and I made good time up to the Gap, a spectacular spot between Falling Mountain and the Traveller Range, and the Narcissus and Mersey Rivers. The track loses height quickly down the other side, and soon I was walking through a dripping and wet Myrtle-Beech forest, with a little wet snow still in patches. Most of the track was under a few inches of water here, and, though I never needed to take boots off, my feet were constantly wet. Finally I came out of the forest at the historic Du Cane Hut, where I stopped for a block of chocolate and to wring out my socks, before pressing on to Kia Ora Hut in time for a late lunch. That afternoon it rained again, and I happily whiled away the afternoon by penning a crossword in the logbook.
The following day, my fourth so far, I hoped the weather would clear at least some, so I could try to climb Mt Ossa, Tasmania's highest. And indeed, I awoke to the first real sunshine I'd had, with spectacular views of the Mt Massif-Falling Mountain Range and the bulk of Mt Ossa's many ridges, spurs and lesser peaks. I packed up quickly and made good time up to Pelion Gap, with two firsts along the way: taking my jacket off in the heat of the sun, and putting snowshoes on for the deepening snow near the Gap (1123m). Here I left my backpack, stocking my pockets full of scroggin and slinging my axes and crampons on my back, and continued on up, through deep, softening snow (the rain from yesterday had fallen as rain all the way up to the top, so the snow was very deep, unconsolidated, and soft), around Mt Doris, and then up Mt Ossa itself.
Notes on Gear Used
I took MSR Evo snowshoes, which were useful for Pelion Gap and Mt Ossa, and the final day walking out from Scott Kilvert Hut, but they were probably only used for 3km in total, which isn't far when you have to carry them for the rest of the journey. But I think that for a winter traverse of the Overland Track, they are necessary to take because the snow conditions are so difficult to pick.
I bought Mont PowerDry thermals a few weeks ago, and was interested to see how they would perform in such wet conditions. And they definitely came through. I literally did not take them off for the seven days, and they were often getting wet around the wrists and especially ankles, but they stayed incredibly warm when they were wet and took no time to dry out each evening. Definitely a piece of kit I would highly recommend for anywhere wet and cold. I also had a Mont Neon down jacket, which was lovely and light, and great to have, but perhaps not quite as warm as I would have preferred. A down jacket would be a must, but something a little warmer would have been ideal. Likewise, I did not take any fleece pants, but these would have been very nice to be able to put on in the evenings in the huts.
I used the Mont Highland, which was also a new purchase, and I was very impressed at how light it was, and how warm it kept me. I could wear wet clothes to bed and the down didn't seem to get wet at all (it's DWR treated), and kept lofting up really well.
I used the Rab Latok jacket, which was brilliantly waterproof and durable against all the trees and bushes that were bent over the track with the weight of snow on them. I also had Mont Austral pants, which have long been my go-to pant for wet weather bushwalking, and these worked as they always do – perfectly.
My Asolo Flames, which I've had for a few years now, and are nice and worn in, were very comfortable, but it appears the Gore-Tex has worn out. Drying boots out every evening was futile, as I was worried about the glues splitting if they were too close to the coal heaters, and most evenings they were just too soaked to dry anyway. And within ten minutes the following day, they'd be wet through again. So I became quite zen about having wet feet, and don't think there would be any boots out there that would keep your feet 100% dry, except for perhaps a full grain leather. Each morning, I would wring out my socks (Bridgedale Trekker, which were comfortable and warm as always), put them on, and then put my wet boots on, and as soon as I begun walking, they'd warm up.
Other bits of kit that were useful:
Sea to Summit Hut Booties were very nice and warm to pad around the huts in each evening, and, with a rubber sole, dry enough to go to the loo or collect water even with snow on the ground. Also my Black Diamond Traverse poles, which, strictly speaking, are ski poles, but they were great to have for the entire walk. Slippery tree roots, narrow board walks covered in snow, boulder-hopping across creeks, they were great to aid balance for most of the walk, and certainly a helpful boost on the long uphill and as an extra brake for the downs.
Resources: The full walk is covered by a waterproof 1:100 000 map. Cradle Mt-Lake St Clair Map. There are a number of guidebooks available:
Overnight it snowed 15 or cm, and the world was a beautiful wintery wonderland. The track here traverses under the south face of Cradle Mountain, to near Dove Lake, and it was spectacular walk with deep snow covering everything, and long slog up to the pass above the lake. I was disappointed to not be able to do the side trips I'd wanted – the Du Cane Range, and Cradle Mountain, but was happy with the decision to call it early and head home, and was pleased that I'd seen the track in all it's wintery beauty. Above Dove Lake, I walked along the snowy ridge, in the windiest of weather, and finally made my way back down to Dove Lake and the parking lot. That afternoon I was eating hamburgers in Launceston, and was able to pull my flight forward, and was home in Melbourne early the next day. It had been a long and difficult walk, but lovely to see it in such wintery conditions, something I'd wanted to do for a long time, and a very satisfying trip.