Waterfall Valley Hut held two Canadians, a Swiss couple, a German soloist, two Aussie guys under forty, and seven Aussie guys over fifty. Most of the oldest guys were turning back the next day because of the weather. One of them, with seven OLT’s under his belt, told me he’d never seen conditions worse than this; “I’d rather walk on eight feet of snow than this SH*T” he told me over muesli next morning. I was still numb from lack of sleep. Packed in like sardines on an upper bunk platform, it was hot all night. With two guys performing nose-trumpet duets, random local and international farting, and Hans von Two-Minute-Noodle-Breath from Churmanny exhaling in my face all night, I didn’t sleep much. Tomorrow night I sleep in a tent, I silently promised; but I had to get there first.
Slipping out of the hut at about 7:30am, I had little opportunity to admire the beauty of Waterfall Valley, so-named because of the number of silvery cascades splashing down the walls. Water, everywhere, overwashed the path in many places, hung in the air like a grey veil, scraped across the tops of even the lowest mountains, teasing you with glimpse of things further away, like walking in a tunnel lined with dirty cotton wool. Once I rose out of the valley itself, a cold wind pushed the fog and cloud aside, replaced it with with a slanting persistent drizzle. It felt like I was crossing Scottish heath, or Siberian tundra, a landscape alien to anything I’ve encountered in Australia. Alien and starkly beautiful, and once my damp clothes warmed up I enjoyed some easy walking through this tarn-studded moorland, past lakes wreathed in mist, to lunch with two guys who arrived at Windermere Hut only a few minutes before I did.
Too early to stop, they decided to have a quick warming bite then push on to New Pelion Hut, which meant finishing in darkness again. I’d found a promising spot on the map on the far side of Pine Forest Moor beside Pelion Creek, and told them I’d be camping out. They said they’d say hello to me on their way through, as I left before them. But we never did, because they passed my campsite in the dark, unseen. So, with my belly radiating the heat of chilli con carne, I pushed up through hilly terrain before dipping suddenly into a Tolkieneque woodland that was all Mirkwood minus spiders, before emerging abruptly on the lip of a broad moor where amid a sea of button-grass I was rewarded with ten solid minutes of sunshine. The only real view of blue sky I would have in six days. Of course, I misread the coming weather completely — here comes the sun! — but Tasmania, fickle bitch, was just toying with me.
I traversed Pine Forest Moor with the sun on my back, feeling happy, on the lookout for the fabled pine forest, or even a single King Billy pine, but saw none. When the path dropped back into the woods, so did my mood: more of this the bloody lichen-clad myrtle twisting overhead into a sun-blocking canopy that reduced the track to twilight conditions, perfect for losing your footing on the raised web of slick tree roots that constantly cross your path. I grumbled that nobody speaks of the OLT as a forest walk — but at least 50% is a rough, undulating track under a thick canopy. In my case, my strongest memory of the track is of soaking wet branches dumping their water-laden load onto you as you walk beneath, roots that suck your hiking boot into knee-deep watery sinkholes, and dozens of streamlets fissuring the path, a time-warp back to the Pleistocene Epoch maybe, with megafauna shouldering their way through the myrtle, fleeing some advancing ice age.
Back in reality, it was getting dark and I hadn’t spotted the fabled campsite yet, so I went off-track and found a relatively open, relatively flat patch among the trees where I could sling my tarp. Camp sprung up pretty fast. Nothing pretty about it, but at least I could sit in the mouth of my tent with my burner between my outstretched legs and make some food, keeping an eye out for leeches. Hard to explain the relief you feel, peeling off sodden boots and socks, ditching your gaiters and waterproofs, putting on that relatively dry, relatively warm set of spare clothes, then sliding into your sleeping bag. Nobody writes sonnets about that, but what’s a bloody rose compared to the bliss of ending a long day on the Overland Track? Things would be different if Shakespeare had strapped on some Scarpas and rambled the Pennine Way.
I’ve reviewed the videos I made on that afternoon, and admire my frankness. I’d recommend the Overland Track to anyone wanting to test their capacity, discover hidden character weaknesses, probe their physical limits, get a better mental picture of who they actually are. But was I enjoying myself right then, at the end of day two? Hell no! But that’s the wrong question. This was exactly the experience I signed up for — if this was meant to be easy, I would have done it in the summer with all the other peehards — the only thing missing from the mix was somebody else to share the pain. Instead of ending Day Two on the Overland Track joking abut that pothole in Mirkwood that sucked off my boot, I had to tell it to myself on my iPhone, with full awareness that day three would be both worse and better than those before.