Here we go.The big day had arrived, it was a very crisp cool morning but the forecast was for, an unusual warm, sunny day. We walked the 500m down to the bus stop and, already knackered, took our packs off to wait for the bus. The bus took us the last 5km down to ‘Ronnie Creek’ (beginning of track) with a number of other groups and day walkers, there is plenty of magnificent day walks from here too. There were number of other groups beginning at the same time as us today but similar to ‘The Great Ocean Walk’ (refer previous posts) the track can only be walked in one direction (most of the year except winter) so you are never with crowds of people, well while walking anyway.
My 3 goals for this trip were 1: the obvious walk the Overland track, 2: climb to the top of Cradle Mountain, that would be today and 3: swim in an alpine lake. 1 and 2 I’m pretty sure I can do, number 3 however, I’m told the water is a balmy 11 degrees.
Today’s walk would take us from Ronnie Creek carpark (roughly 900m) to Waterfall Valley (slightly over 1000m), which is a 10.7km walk. We would also be doing the 2km side trip to Cradle Mountain summit (1545m) so todays trip would definately be no walk in the park with our full packs.
The track started out on duckboard running through Buttongrass (Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus) moorlands and gradually winding its way up and into dense forest along a creek towards Crater Lake. The first half hour of this walk goes from gradual ascent to rather steep and was absolutely punishing (maybe I wont got through goal 1). A guy from one of the other groups almost passed-out and other members had to go back for him. I felt totally breathless also and I remember thinking to myself what am I in for, but that was the only time I felt like this for the whole trip, as if my body had to adjust to the pack and thinner air, I felt fine from then on.
Every step you take on this trip leads you into another place of beauty beyond words. We emerged at Crater lake where we stopped, had a drink and admired the view.
Now from here the track really turned steep and got to a point where there was a chain to help you climb, reminded me somewhat of the top of Mt Warning (NSW) except I’ve never climbed that with a full backpack. Once we got to the top of this it was like another world. I felt an incredible feeling of euphoria looking back down at the valley we had come from. Although the day was a mild 23 degrees Celsius the air was crisp and alpine fresh (now I know what that saying really means, wasn’t like any dunny spray I ever smelt though). We were now on the plateau and the walking became much easier for a while, at a couple of stages we had to put our jumpers back on because of the cold air. You can see in a couple of the pictures below, white poles with red on top. these are to tell you where the track is when it is snowing.
We eventually got to Kitchen Hut near the foot of Cradle Mountain. We left our bags in the hut taking only some water with us for the ascent to the summit. It was important to secure your bag, not from humans, hiking folk generally look out for one another, I’m talking bird thieves. They have even learned to undo knots.
The trip to the summit is definitely not for the faint hearted, it is step (mostly rock scrambling) and in many section requires climbing where one slip will be bone breaking or fatal. That, of coarse, is also the fun of it as it is a challenge where you need to leave your fears behind. We left Simon behind about half way up at a section that was probably the most challenging. Sam and I continued on to what looked like the top but wasn’t. There was quit a lot of ups and downs until we finally hit the summit. The views were incredible from here. During the last Ice age (10,000 years ago) this entire area was under glacial ice except the very peaks such as Cradle Mountain. These peaks are what is know as nunataks which means they were above the ice line. When you look at the mountains it becomes obvious because everything that was below the ice line is smooth and anything above it is jagged and weather beaten (like Sam’s beard). Well that was challenge 2 met, the decent was much easier on the lungs but hard on the legs. We met up with Simon down the bottom who was a little disappointed (but that’s ok) and headed on along the track.
We travelled on, stopped for a bit of lunch, the rest of today was a breeze as it was all down hill towards today’s destination at ‘Waterfall Valley’ which is like a valley on a plateau. As I mentioned before the scenery is breathtaking at every turn but the walk in towards camp was so spectacular it almost didn’t look real. It sort of reminded me of those old Hollywood movie sets where you would see a painted backdrop.
We walked into the campsite at Waterfall Valley in the mid afternoon. All the campsites consisted of camping area, usually on platforms, group camping areas specifically for groups so off limit to the common man, helipad (for emergencies, etc), water tanks (these are safe to drink out of or your other alternative is the exquisite water out of the creeks) , drop dunnies (don’t forget to take toilet paper unless you enjoy the feeling of a dry gum leaf on your bum) and the hut itself (there is 2 at this site old and new). The huts varied from the sublime to the ridiculous, I have taken some photos at each stop. Today’s hut was modest, they all have bunks to sleep on and tables. There is a small heater in each as well that you can turn on only if temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius. It does get very cold at night, today had been a warm day, retrospectively, but we soon started to cool down once we stopped moving. Many of the other walkers chose to camp outside tonight and we ended up sharing the hut with around 15 people (by the way if you like privacy forget it).
The other groups gradually rolled in and the ranger came later that evening to give us a briefing on what lay ahead tomorrow. He also advised us that the warmer weather we were having would come to an end with cooler conditions tomorrow. We settled in for the very cold night, played some card with friends we met on the bus and soon went to bed ready for the next days adventure.
Hope you enjoyed day 1. Will see you next time for day 2 of the Overland track.