Overland Track Day 1 : Dove Lake – Waterfall Valley

Sunday 16/11/08

Before I start on the Overland Track itself, I should describe our day leading up to the track. We had arrived on a Friday night and discovered that our prebooked hotel accomodation was on the first floor of THE happening pub in the centre of Launceston. As a result, sleep did not come easy until about 2:30am. We were awake a short 4 hours later and walked to the bus terminal where we left one bag of comforts to be transported to Hobart through the Tassie-link service. The weather in Launceston and even through Devonport was clear – very few clouds around and the air was crisp and cool. As we headed inland toward Cradle Mountain however, the elements closed in and by the time we arrived at lunch, rain was pouring and the temperature was well below ten degrees. From a distance, the peak of Cradle Mountain had already started to gather snow and an advisory warning had been issued for trekkers to reconsider starting the Overland Track. We had planned to overnight at the Waldheim Chalets anyway and were thankful for that decision based on the wild weather. We were concerned that a few of the visitors were still determined to climb to Cradle Mountain wearing nothing that would keep the elements out. As far as we heard, they did not become casualties of the area. After signing our trip intent, obtaining our backpackers passes and purchasing a large canister of fuel, we caught the bus toward Waldheim.

The Waldheim Chalets are located very near to the traditional start of the Overland Track at Ronny Creek and is easily accessible through the park bus system which runs regularly to and from the visitor centre and Dove Lake.  The Chalets themselves are comfortable wood cabins with separate shared shower and toileting blocks.  They are also very close to some lovely forest walks through the Weindorfer forest area and make a great base for exploring the Dove Lake circuit.

No sooner had we arrived at the chalet when snow began to fall! Marianne was particularly excited as she had never been in snow before. We took the bus down to Dove Lake but the conditions worsened to the point where snow, sleet and hail at times were falling horizontally. Somewhat deflated, we headed back to our chalet and napped while the weather abated. When we woke in the evening, the whole area had literally transformed into a winter wonderland! The pandani were snow capped, the handrails of staircases crusted with snow and the Weindorfer forest a real winding maze of white! There were even snow covered wombats waddling their way around in the snow – they were however deceptively quick to hide whenever we pointed a lens their way resulting in many pictures of wombat bums. These are some of the images we still carry in our minds :

Waldheim in snow

Weindorfer Forest Path

As we slept through the night, more snow continued to fall and the weather conditions were still wild at times. At 4am, we woke with the intention of photographing Dove Lake. It was freeeeeezing outside with occasional strong gusts of wind and no bus to take us to the stop. We ended up walking an hour to the lake through thick snow and found the old boat shed. Dawn itself broke through subtly rather than spectacularly but there was enough good light to get a few good images despite our frozen hands. Another investment we have since enjoyed in recent times are some fingerless gloves with an easily attachable finger ‘hood’ for lack of a better description.

Dove Lake Boat Shed : Exposure Blend of 3 images

Golden Dawn over Cradle Mountain

After a warm breakfast in our chalet, we began our trek in earnest. Around Ronny Creek and heading up to Crater falls, the track is board walked and the ascent is relatively gentle. The ascent from Crater Lake to Marion’s Lookout was every bit as extreme as I remember and worse due to the slippery stones in the wet. There was a larger group in front of us but we really didn’t encounter anyone else walking on this day. Walking times were longer than in 2004 thanks to the heavy snowfall but it was such a wonderful experience to trek through vegetation like we had never seen before and the isolation only added to the feeling of awe. The most isolated and exposed we felt was once we had reached Marion’s Lookout and experienced the full force of the elements along the Cradle plateau. Once again horizontal precipitation made the novelty of snow run thin for Marianne.

Snow Rimmed Crater Lake

The desolate snowstorms atop the cradle plateau

Horizontal hail, sleet, snow, rain . Oh, where's that boardwalk?

By the time we reached Kitchen Hut some 2.5 hours after starting out, we were pretty tired, a touch wind burned but thankfully, dry and warm thanks to the gear we had brought. The image of kitchen hut in the previous blog was during a calm moment which was rare on the day. Because of the poor visibility, we didn’t ascend the summit of Cradle Mountain though a very heroic looking chap dressed in a jumper and sneakers seemed keen to test the elements. That kind of experiment, I’m not willing to undertake. Cradle Mountain was completely obscured from Marion’s lookout as was Dove Lake below. As we walked further though, we caught glimpses of the peak from the Barn Bluff side of the mountain.

Cradle Mountain in a rare moment of visibility from the plateau

Thumbs up to the view from Marion's Lookout

Cradle Mountain from the Barn Bluff side

For the rest of the day we were treated to clearing views of Barns Bluff and a 1 hour descent to Waterfall Valley Hut. The swtichbacks were as bone jarring as I remembered from 2004 but thanks to a better fitting backpack, and more resistant outer shell, both of us were simply fatigued and not suffering from joint pains or hypothermia. After 3 hours of snow trudging in the morning around Dove Lake and a further 6 hours , rest was the first, second, third and fourth priority – after eating of course. The group that had set out before us were settling in to some warm meals and we did likewise. In fact, by the time late afternoon arrived, there was even a hint of sunshine coming through the clouds! As the afternoon progressed and some warm cups of soup rehydrated and renourished us (albeit insufficiently), we watched as more tired looking walkers trudged in through the door. Some of them had even considered turning back at Kitchen Hut but in the end , we were all glad to have persisted as we would be hut mates for the next 5 nights along the trek. For me , the pleasure of hiking is not only the freedom of being in the wilderness but the camaraderie that develops between everyone on the trail. We know that most likely, we’ll never see them again after the trek is done but during the week on the trail, perhaps its survival instinct, perhaps its an indictment on the social nature of human beings, but bonding to some degree helps ease those doubts and pains of continuing on.

And so day 1 ends to the symphony of snores in Waterfall Valley hut!

Barn Bluff from Waterfall Valley in the late afternoon light



Posted on March 23, 2010, in Photography, Tasmania and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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