Ascent of Mount Ossa on 1993-10-30
|Others in Party:||Sharon C. (Stayed behind)|
Holger (Stayed behind)
|Date:||Saturday, October 30, 1993|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||5305 ft / 1616 m|
Ascent Trip ReportSummary
I climbed Mount Ossa while doing a four-day, three night through hike of the Overland track, north to south. This is a classic Australia bushwalk, but has a well-deserved reputation for muddy walking and bad weather. My trip was also hampered by lack of a car, but we lucked out and got various rides to and from the trailheads. Below is a detailed description of this trip, starting from when I arrived in Devonport after getting off the ferry from Melbourne.
Thursday, October 28
At a Devonport bus station I was told to go to Backpacker's Barn, a hiker's store and information bureau, sort of a central traveller's haven for Tasmania. I went in and started asking the guy there about getting myself to Cradle Mountain so I could hike the Overland Track, and he introduced me to an English woman with the same problem I had. Her name was Sharon, and she too was interested in hiking the Overland Track, was sort of looking for a partner, and, more importantly, she thought she had a solution to our transport problem. She had met an Irish lady on the Abel Tasman ferry who knew someone who was going to give her a car, and Sharon had been offered a ride to Cradle Mountain by her.
Sharon and I talked, got to know each other a bit, decided to partner up for the Overland Track, and waited for Geraldine, the Irish woman, to arrive. She did, somewhat late, and told us she would return with a car in half an hour. So Sharon and I went to a nearby Cole's supermarket, bought food, and, back at the Barn, stored stuff in a locker and got ready for our trip. Geraldine returned after a bit, with her friend, an older guy, and we were taken to his car dealership, where he let her have a cheapo car that she, Sharon, and I piled into. I had no idea how Geraldine knew this guy or how she arranged the car, but I was still glad to get a free ride.
We drove south for fifty minutes to Cradle Mountain National Park, the starting point of perhaps the most famous hike in Australia, the 40-mile Overland Track, running south through the Tasmanian wilderness to Lake St. Clair. We stopped at the visitor center, where Sharon and I got trail information and paid for special park-use and camping permits, then parked at the trailhead at Lake Dove, right underneath the impressive face of jagged Cradle Mountain. Geraldine wanted to do a hike, so she decided to accompany Sharon and I for the first few kilometers of our multi-day trip before turning back to return to her car.
The three of us hiked along Lake Dove, then up a very steep, jungly, tangled slope at the lake's far end--Geraldine was much faster than Sharon and I, since we had heavier packs. When we reached the base of Cradle Mountain the weather was looking very threatening, with dark, ugly clouds almost making it prematurely dark, and soon it was raining. Geraldine turned back, deciding to return to her car on a faint path just discernible on Hanson's Peak, while Sharon and I set off down the Overland Track in increasingly heavy rain. The weather precluded our climbing of Cradle Mountain--we skirted its base, passed the Kitchen emergency hut, and plodded on through marshy bogs occasionally overlaid with boardwalks. The path was often exceptionally muddy.
At 5 PM or so Sharon and I arrived at the Waterfall Valley Hut, a mountain cabin where we planned to stay the night. We found some people there already--a vacationing couple from Whitefish, Montana. The hut was small, with only four large bunks designed for two each, and after Sharon and I each grabbed one and had taken off our sopping wet clothing we settled in for an enjoyable and social evening. There was a coal-burning Franklin stove for warmth, and the four of us dried our clothes, ate out dinner, and looked out at the cold rain lashing our cozy, remote cabin.
I hadn't spoken to Americans at length for a long time, and it was great to find myself slipping back into familiar conversational patterns as I chatted with the Montanan couple about the mountains and ski areas we both knew well in the western U.S. I was worried that Sharon was feeling left out as we prattled on, and mentioned this, but she said she was fine.
Although Sharon and I hiked at the same fast pace and got along OK during our trip, there was a definite lack of chemistry between us--somehow, we just didn't totally connect, and remained somewhat distant for the four days we travelled together. She was traveling the world in much the same way as myself, but in much more a "backpacking" spirit than I: she spent several months in India and Southeast Asia, and had spent several months working at a youth hostel in Cairns, Australia for slave wages.
After a while the four of us crawled into our sleeping bags (it was getting very cold out) and got to sleep.
Friday, October 29:
It was very cold in the morning at the Waterfall Valley hut on Tasmania's Overland Track, and getting out of our sleeping bags was hard. Sharon and I, with no hot food, ate our breakfast quickly and were out on the trail well before the couple from Montana, who we thought we'd see again later, but never did.
Outside the cabin it was snowing, even beginning to accumulate on the ground a bit, but as the day went on the weather changed radically every ten minutes or so, from rain to sunshine to snow to cloudy to windy and back to sunny. We stopped briefly at the Cirque Hut to get out of the snow, where we met a solo German hiker named Holger. From there to the Windermere hut the path was muddy, but with some nice plankways, as it traversed very scenic upland moors.
Beyond Windermere hut, though, the path became a giant bog, with thick black mud that Sharon and I often sank into up to our knees. Our feet and pants got totally soaked and muddy--this was really miserable going here, folks. We stopped briefly and the Forth Valley overlook, then descended down into forest, the trail became drier, we filtered water from the Pelion Creek, crossed boggy Frog Flats, and, at the end of our long day of hiking, arrived at the New Pelion hut at 3:20 PM.
This small hut was jam-packed with people, though--there were 12 Australian soldiers on a group outing, 2 solo German backpackers (one was Holger), a Dutch couple, Sharon and I, and a group of Tasmanians off in tents nearby. It rained a lot in the evening, and we kept the coal stove burning to generate nice heat as the predictably outrageous, profane, and entertaining soldiers were constantly cracking jokes, goofing on each other, and otherwise having a good time. It was a rowdy bunch, but a lot of fun.
I spent a lot of time chatting with the Dutch couple, and I ate my cold food, tried to find nails to hang my wet and muddy clothes and stuff in the chaos of the hut, and otherwise observed the crazy scene. Sharon and I were carrying my tent for our hike, in case huts were crowded like this, but somehow we crammed 17 people into the 12-person capacity hut--Sharon got a bunk, I slept on a table, and others on the floor or benches. It was noisy, but the soldiers had banished their worst snorer to a tent, and I didn't mind anyway--the experience of spending several hours in a remote hut in the Tasmanian wilderness with a bunch of crazy soldiers and miscellaneous Europeans while it rained was well worth it.
Saturday, October 30:
Today Sharon and I continued our trip along the Overland Track in Tasmania. We left the crowded, boisterous New Pelion hut and climbed up a gradual uphill to the Ossa/Pelion East col, where I wanted to go off to the west on a side path to the summit of Mt. Ossa, the 1617 meter (5305 foot) highest point in Tasmania. It was the nicest day of our hike, with some low clouds on the summits the only real threats visible, but the side path to Mt. Ossa was covered with between a few inches and a foot of fresh snow.
We climbed up past minor Mt. Doris, crossed a col, and then started climbing the blocky, snow covered massif of Mt. Ossa, guarded by steep cliffs all the way around. The snow on the rocks created a minefield of sorts on the jumbled rocks, the footing was treacherous, and the trail soon led into a very rocky and steep cleft. Towards the top there were some pretty steep and exposed cliffs to climb, and Sharon and Holger, right behind me, decided to turn back here--they felt the pitch was beyond them, although to someone with my climbing experience it wasn't too bad at all.
At the top of the cleft the route descended easily more blocky terrain, then climbed the main summit dome of Mt. Ossa with no further difficulties. At the summit of Tasmania there was another bunch of crazy Ozzie soldiers--one of them told me he had never seen snow before in his life (there was a lot of it up there), and others took off all their clothes and got totally naked and had me take a picture of them, naked in the snow. The views were pretty nice, too--the low clouds had temporarily disappeared, and the unbroken Tasmanian wilderness, punctuated by other butte-like mountains, was very pretty.
The highest rock was a steep, triangular boulder projecting above the flat summit plateau, and a couple soldiers at its base told me it was unclimbable. However, I climbed it, using my rudimentary rock-climbing skills, and had my picture taken after throwing my camera down to a soldier. Once I was down, the six or so soldiers who were nearby all had to climb the boulder, even though some of them almost fell.
I finally left the top of Mt. Ossa, my fourth and final Australian state high point, and climbed back down, taking extra care in the cleft. Sharon had promised to wait for me in the next hut, so after reaching the main Overland Track I cruised south alone for a mile or so of easy downhill to the Kia Ora hut. Sharon was waiting for me, and after a rest we set off, bound for the Windy Ridge hut. The trail was now much drier as it easily made its way through forest, and we made good time, our conversations as strained and uninteresting as always. It was actually pretty nice and sunny out, too.
We stopped to filter water through my now-balky pump, made a wasteful detour to see some unimpressive waterfalls down a steep side-path into a dark glen, and arrived at the Windy Ridge hut at about 6 PM. Holger (basically a third member of our group at this point) was there, and three others: a solo Danish hiker, a British birdwatcher, and his Aussie girlfriend. It was nice to spend a quiet evening in a hut after the noisy soldiers last night, and we all chatted, ate our dinner (again, Sharon and I with just cold food), and threw coal into the Franklin stove to warm the hut during the cold evening.
I had never played around with coal before, and I thought it was neat that these black rocks (helicoptered in by the rangers so people wouldn't use wood) actually burned. I was elected stove-master here, since my headlamp looked like a coal miner's lamp and my hometown was where this type of stove was invented. We got the fire going so hot it burned some of Sharon's socks that were hanging next to the stovepipe. With only six of us in the hut there was plenty of room, and we all got to sleep easily.
Sunday, October 31:
Sharon, Holger, and I left the Windy Ridge hut and hiked the easy nine kilometers along flat trail south to Narcissus Bay on Lake St. Clair. The Overland Track continued south by paralleling the west shore of the long, narrow lake for 17 more kilometers to the road at the lake's south end, but we didn't want to hike that stretch--people we had talked to had told us it was a solid 17 kilometers of deep, ugly mud. Therefore, I found a radio in the Narcissus hut I used to call for a boat to come pick us up, as described on my map.
The three of us waited on the sunny dock on the lake for half an hour or so, three people from three different countries chatting about whatever came to mind, and the small motorboat finally arrived at 1:10 PM. It docked, let off some tourists, and then Sharon, Holger, and I clambered aboard, and the captain took us on a scenic, fast cruise down the fjord-like lake (deepest in Australia--240 m) to the ranger station and roadhead at its south shore, charging us each A$13. Sharon and I had to get back to Devonport, where we had left stuff, and our plan was to hitchhike the 150 kilometers or so on back roads, not a happy prospect.
However, the boat captain told us there was a taxi that happened to be at the ranger station, and we found the cabbie, who said he'd charge Sharon and I A$40 (US $26.80) each for a ride to Devonport. Sharon felt this was a big ripoff--"I can get a bus from Cairns to Sydney for A$40"--but I was willing to pay to avoid a long, miserable hitchhike, and since she didn't want to hitch alone, she had no choice but to pay, too. It was a fluke there was even a cabbie here in the middle of nowhere--he had said he was ready to leave until he heard about three hikers coming in on the boat.
So Sharon and I took a few minutes to use restrooms, buy a snack at the small store there, admire the wallabies hanging out in the parking lot, and say goodbye to Holger, bound for Hobart on a bus or by thumb. We got in the cab (Sharon still grumbling about the cost), but, during the three-hour ride back to Devonport, mostly on deserted roads with little traffic and even a short gravel stretch, I think she saw how silly trying to hitchhike would have been. We arrived back in Devonport at 5:30 PM, our Overland Track adventure over.
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