Sunday, October 9, 2016

Overland Track - day 1

The following map gives you an idea of the track for the first day. The length was to be 12 km and to take about 7 hours. The steepest climb of the walk would be on this first day.

We set off through the slushy snow about 11 am. 

Robin with her pack. The green covering is extra rain protection for the actual pack. I estimate our packs weighed about 15 to 20 pounds.

Robin gives a thumbs up. You will see inconvenient blurs on some of the photos caused by drops of water.

Soon we left the forest and crossed an open area covered with snow.

Wombats. We were surprised to see them but our guides explained that they are very common in the area.

We all just kept in a line and followed a path or used duck boards over the marshy bits. It was not too difficult and we were making good time.

An example of the path with the duckboards. It was a little slippery but not too bad.

We started the climb up the mountainside.

Robin leading the way.

A tree branch had fallen down and some of the group moved it out of the way. Lazy Ray just took a photograph.

Time for a break.

We headed off towards Marions Lookout.

Suddenly there was another wombat.

It did not seem to be too concerned that we were so close.

We passed by a waterfall. Because of all the rain there was plenty of water.

Because there are no sheep or cattle higher up, the water is safe to drink.

We moved out from the shelter of the trees again and it was quite windy.

Hut at the northern end of Crater Lake.

We then got into some steeper climbing and soon the lake surface was far below us.

A rocky path like this is easier than slippery snow.

We took another much needed break.

The snow was getting deeper and our speed dropped considerably.

We finally came to the most difficult part of the climb where you use a chain to help you climb the steep rocky cliff. You don't haul yourself up using the chain but rather you use it as a secure handrail.

Robin arrives at the top of the chain. I think this was close to Marions Lookout.

Not that you could see much of anything.

Our guide Cat puts on some snow shoes to help blaze a path. the snow was much deeper up on the plateau, sometimes as much as 18 inches deep.

And so we headed off into this forbidding landscape through a howling gale.

Cat in her snow shoes. 

The snow had reduced our progress to a crawl. The duck boards were no longer easily visible and we were all constantly falling over. Robin told me later that Cat had a lot of trouble getting up from a fall since the snow shoes made it all very difficult. In addition, there was a wet layer of slush under the snow and very quickly we all had freezing water in our hiking boots, even with gaiters up to the knees.

At one stage near Marions Lookout, I fell over and felt a little dizzy when I got up. A short while later, Cat checked on me and noticed that one of my eye pupils was much larger than the other which was a matter off great concern up on the mountainside. After a while, the pupil returned to its normal size but I was already thinking that my continuing the walk would be in doubt. Thankfully the other guide Declan and a very strong 17 year old young man who was walking with his mother carried my bag for the rest of the day.

Our guides decided that we would try to reach the Kitchen Hut which is a hut for emergency shelter about 4 k before our original destination.

In normal weather it would have been an easy pleasant stroll. Not on this day when it was absolutely awful. The wind was very strong, we were constantly falling over and trying to deal with the deep snow. We were all very tired and we were overjoyed when the hut came into view. However the last hundred yards or so were a real struggle.

When we arrived, six men were already inhabiting the upper part of the hut. We referred to it as the penthouse. There was also a single bloke sitting on a bench that lines most of the hut. The eleven people from out group filled the hut and our guides made hot tea using some gas cylinders and a stove that are part of the emergency stores in the hut. The tea was most welcome and made me feel a lot better. 

All the bodies in the small 3 x 4 meter hut did not create too much extra warmth. It was very cold particularly since the insides of our boots were all wet. You can see that the floor of the hut is just stone with a puddle of water. Our guide Cat used some supplies she was carrying to prepare a hot meal which helped restore our spirits. Another group of four or five people turned up as well so we finished up with about 23 people in the hut.

Fortunately the guides had a satellite phone that they used to contact the company headquarters. The company sent a group of their experienced guides up the mountain side with sleeping bags for all of us. We got to the hut about 4 pm and the bags arrived at 11 pm. We all removed our boots and snuggled into the sleeping bags and then sat back down on the bench. There was no room to lie down. The flight across the Pacific on United Airlines was looking pretty good by comparison.

However we were all in good spirits and nobody complained or whinged at all. Most hikers are like that. We all realized the seriousness of our situation and were glad to get any kind of shelter. However, when the hot food appeared I did ask whether we would be having red or white wine to the amusement of all.

As we set off on the walk, I set a tracking app going on my cell phone. With all the excitement and my tiredness, I forgot to turn it off but you can see the results on the left part of the graphs. 

You can see that our speed had dropped so low that it would have taken us hours to reach the hut where we were supposed to stay. There was no way we could make it by nightfall.

I did not get decent photos in the hut but others in the group took plenty. I will be asking them to send some of them and hopefully I will be able to add them to the blog.

These photos came from Heather. Here are mother and son, still smiling despite the cold. As you can see we are huddled together with our backs to a rough wall. These photos were taken after the sleeping bags arrived.

Heather is the one in the middle. Until the sleeping bags arrived I had been trying unsuccessfully to keep warm under the silvery space blanket. One disadvantage to a space blanket is that every time you move, the blanket makes a crackling noise. I am on the right wearing the Russian Navy beanie that I bought in St Petersburg.

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