Saturday, 24 December 2016

Overland Track (TAS) - New Pelion to Kia Ora


Day four of an eight day hike on the Overland Track, New Pelion to Kia Ora is arguably one of the track's most spectacular days. Rising continuously for the first half of the day to the junction at Pelion Gap, a side trip takes hikers to the summit of Mt Ossa - the tallest mountain in Tasmania. A rocky ascent through beautiful alpine environments, the incredible 360° views are one of the highlights of the entire track.

Distance: 13.2 km (one way - 8.2 km for the main track + 5 km for Mt Ossa side trip)
Gradient: Continually uphill to the summit of Mt Ossa, then continually downhill to Kia Ora with one minor ascent. Some steep sections over the day, especially up Mt Ossa. 
Quality of Path: Clear and largely well maintained, but occasionally muddy. The Rainforest sections are slow going due to a constant tangle of roots. Mt Ossa side trip is very rocky with some scrambling required in spots. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with clear signage at the side trip junctions. Ascent of Mt Ossa is marked by fairly obvious markers and cairns. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 8 Hours, including lunch
Steps: Many steps, both formal and informal
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply and an Overland Pass is required to walk the entire track during the hiking season
Getting There: Walkers looking to tackle Mt Ossa can do so as a day hike from New Pelion Hut by walking in along the Arm River Track, however the whole day must be done with the previous days as part of the Overland Track in season. Access to the Overland Track is via Cradle Mountain Rd (Route C132). Regular shuttle buses run from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to the Ronny Creek trailhead. 



Waking up after a restful night of sleep with a bunk room all to ourselves and no angry Old German Man to be seen, Alissa and I made use of the space to get most of our gear packed and ready to go for what we were sure was going to be an epic day on the track. Bringing our bags outside and setting up our stove for breakfast, our early wake up was rewarded by the incredible sight of sunrise from New Pelion's verandah. The fluted Dolerite columns of  the nearby Mt Oakleigh were bathed in the red glow of the rising sun, as were Barn Bluff and a now distant Cradle Mountain. With mist rolling through the Pelion Plains, this was magical way to start a truly memorable day of hiking.



Although Alissa and I were once again the first two to depart from New Pelion, we made plans with Shirley and ST that we would wait for them at the start of the side trip to Mt Ossa and make our way to the summit together. Since Alissa and ST had not be convinced that they wanted to would go all the way up the summit, and Shirley and I were determined that we would, joining forces meant that Alissa and ST could stop when they felt like they had had enough and Shirley and I would have the safety of each other if we wanted to keep going.



The climb from New Pelion to Pelion Gap begins relatively gently, passing through a mix of vegetation types. There are a lot of tangled roots through pockets of rainforest, although there are some easier sections on board walking through heathland and grassland.



Along the way, there are two short unmarked side trips that are worth checking out. The first is a somewhat impressive waterfall along Douglas Creek with another waterfall visible just around the corner. While these were only minor compared to the massive waterfalls we would see the next day, this was nevertheless a pleasant surprise that was worth the short detour.



Continuing along, the track crosses a few creeks with their own small cascades. Another short side trip leads to another small series of waterfalls along Douglas Creek. 



After the second waterfall, the climb becomes much steeper as it continually rises to Pelion Gap.



With the ascent continuing ceaselessly, walkers are well catered for along the ascent with many logs and dead trees conveniently located for a quick rest.



It took about an one hour and 45 minutes to reach Pelion Gap, and Alissa and I were surprised to discover we were not the first people to reach the side trip junction. George, a tall and fit African-American hiker who was always amongst the first people to arrive at camp was already there when we arrived. Given how early Alissa and I wake up and how quickly and efficiently we pack, we did not think anyone would have set out from New Pelion before us, and we would learn that George had double hutted the previous day from Windermere directly to New Pelion, and that he had walked back up the track to tackle Mt Ossa. Being by himself, he asked if he could join us to the summit, and we of course agreed. After taking off our main packs, covering them with our pack covers and waiting for Shirley and ST to arrive, the five of us commenced the 5 kilometre return journey to the summit Tasmania's highest peak.



From Pelion Gap, the trail rises steadily. This first climb is quite steep in places, however the track eventually levels out for a more gentle incline as it skirts the southern side of Mt Doris. An added challenge however was the lack of cloud cover and uncharacteristically hot weather. We would learn later that Tasmania had experienced a heatwave while we were out on the track. It definitely felt like it - while the clear skies were welcome, the heat was definitely not what I would consider 'fine' weather for hiking!



The abundance of native pines and patches of grass that had been 'mowed' into clearings by marsupials made the area look like quaint, manicured gardens rather than native Australian bushland. Nevertheless, this was a wild and untamed area filled with endemic species - many of which were relics from Australia's Gondwanan past.



Walking along the saddle between Mt Doris and Mt Ossa, we all marvelled at the beautiful wildflowers that were in bloom. As with many of the colder, alpine regions in Australia, the wildflower blooms are often at their best in Summer rather than Spring, and it definitely felt like we had arrived at the perfect time to see the flowers along this stretch of track.



Across the saddle, the lower levels of Mt Ossa were covered in Pencil Pines. Once past the natural screen of trees just below the treeline, the hard part of the ascent would begin.





Almost immediately, the track increases in steepness as it follows a series of markers and cairns to a false summit. Unlike Cradle Mountain, there was not a lot of scrambling required for most of the ascent. As such it was more straightforward but no necessarily easier; walking continuously up Mt Ossa's steep ascent got the heart rate up much faster than the scramble of Cradle Mountain did on the first day



Halfway up to the first summit, the views were already pretty spectacular. Mt Doris could be seen immediately in front of Ossa, with the turret-like peak of Pelion East being the most distinctive mountain on the horizon.



With George powering ahead, we agreed to meet up at the false summit before continuing on. The trail passes between to two rocky towers, with the false summit lying in between.



Looking towards the south-east, we could see Lake McFarlane and the beginnings of the Du Cane Range.



While George was very fit and walked up very quickly, he had missed the cairns pointing towards the false summit and had initially attempted a more difficult, seemingly improbable climb up through a slot to the left. I point out to him where the actually path was meant to go, and he said; "I always do things like this! That's why I had to wait for other people".



The final climb to the false summit is a bit tricky as it requires a bit of a scramble. The most obvious way up is a bit scary as the rock has been worn smooth by some many climbers and is on an awkward angle that could result in a fall backwards if you're not careful. Just to the left of this, there is an easier climb with a vague painted arrow on the rock suggesting this as another way up. This was much safer, and I would thoroughly recommend that hikers use this alternative instead. Given that Shirley, Alissa and ST were a bit behind us, I told George that I would wait for them so that I could pass on the information about taking the easier way up the false summit.



Looking across to the true summit, I was excited to see patches of snow on the saddle! Having taken too little water with us when we did the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk a week earlier, Alissa and I had taken the risk of again only taking one litre each as we were banking on being able to refill our bottles with snow. Seeing the snow was definitely reassuring, as ice cold water was just what we needed given the heat and the physical exertion.



With Shirley up and over the tricky scramble and happy to take over from me to pass on the advice to Alissa and ST, I made my way across the saddle to the patches of snow. Coming from Western Australia, I'd never seen snow before so this was a special moment for me. Clearing the dirty top surface, I found some clean snow and scooped it into my water bottle. Given how thirsty and hot I was, the ice cold water was just about the most satisfying drink I've ever had, and after drinking it all up, I scooped more snow into the bottle so I had a full litre. I suddenly wished I had brought some red cordial or some other fruity syrups as this snow would have made a delicious frozen dessert treat! While I was enjoying the water, the fit Frenchman passed by as he quickly made his way to the summit.



Continuing on to the true summit myself, I was surprised to discover that Mt Ossa features a relatively large expanse across the top, and that there was a sizeable field of snow on its south side.



The summit itself is located in a jumble of boulders that are a lot of fun to climb over to. I arrived to find the Frenchman having scrambled up the tallest Dolerite pinnacle to be standing on Mt Ossa's absolute peak. Meeting up with George on the flat rock just beneath it, we both agreed that this was good enough for us as we took in the spectacular view. Not long after, Alissa met me just below the summit. She and ST had spurred each other on to make the summit, however Alissa said that she felt like she was fighting a bad cold and that all the exertion had taken a lot out of her.



It is often said that Tasmania is one of the most mountainous islands in the world, and the 360° views from Mt Ossa definitely give this assertion a lot of credence. There are literally mountains as far as the eye can see in every direction, and this was one of the most incredible views of the entire walk. Given the size of Ossa's summit area, there was plenty of space for everyone and it never felt crowded even though more and more hikers were slowly joining us up there. Alissa and I found a good spot to sit down and have our lunch while enjoying the view.



After about 45 minutes up on Mt Ossa and filling a zip lock bag with more snow to take with us, Alissa and I decided to head back down to Kia Ora. Since Kia Ora is a smaller hut with sleeping shelves rather than separate bunk rooms, Alissa and I had decided that we were going to be sleeping in our tent that night. George had mentioned to us that there were not a lot of tent sites when he was there the day before, so we definitely wanted to get there as soon as possible to avoid the nightmare of having to share Kia Ora hut with the angry Old German Man. The initial part of the descent was a lot of fun, especially since Alissa and I got to head back through the snow. At one point I got to slide down a section of snow, and if we were not in a hurry I would have considered walking back up and sliding down again!



Although descending doesn't get the heart rate up the way ascending does, the descent was not to be taken lightly. With so much of it being a constant walk downhill, we could definitely feel it in our knees.



Back at the trail junction, we collected our packs from the sizeable pile. The UV rating for the day must have been in the Extreme category, as Alissa and I felt really burnt and dehydrated by this stage - I took off my wedding ring and the difference in skin tone looked like the difference between Off the Wall-era Michael versus Dangerous! As the snow in my bottle had not melted enough to drink properly, Alissa gave me some of the water she had stored in her main pack while I gave her some snow from my zip lock bag. Usually when hiking, I don't tend to drink more than two litres while out on the track, however by this stage I had had at least three litres of water to drink and I still felt like my thirst had not been quenched. 



The remaining four kilometres to Kia Ora Hut were largely downhill, however the lack of shade and the heat made this a bit of slog. The mountains of the Du Cane Range made the walking very scenic however, and in cooler weather I think we would have enjoyed this section a lot more. 



One thing we really loved along this stretch of track was the profusion of Tasmanian Waratahs. Known in Tasmania as the 'Christmas decoration of the bush', these stunning flowers were just as beautiful as any of the incredible wildflowers in our home state of Western Australia. 



After two hours of walkin, Alissa and I were glad to reach Kia Ora as it meant we could finally get out of the Sun, refill our water bottles and cool off. Alissa and I divided up the last of the snow I had brought down from the mountain and had one last drink of icy cold water. There were quite a number of people who had made it to Kia Ora before us, as those less fussed about bagging mountains had decided to skip Mt Ossa and have an easy day instead.



Kia Ora hut was very similar to the main hut at Waterfall Valley, having four sleeping shelves and a dining area that was not separated by a door. Due to the heat, the hut was stiflingly hot, and even if we had planned to stay in the hut, we probably who have had a change of plans given how uncomfortable it was inside. Alissa and I found a good tent platform not far from the hut to set up on, and with no rain forecast for the next two nights, we decided to only set up the mesh inner of our tent so we could camp out under the stars. 

Across the way, Alissa and I noticed that Old German Man had also decided to set up his tent. The tent platforms are designed to allow two tents to be set up, however he had aligned his tent in such a way that he was taking up the whole platform by himself. Alissa and I inferred that he had done this so no one else would set up next to him, which given his unaccommodating attitude would not have surprised us in the least.

After setting up our bedding and moving the rest of our stuff into the hut for safe keeping, Alissa and I went down to a stream nearby. The water was freezing cold, but given how hot it was we were glad to jump in for a very refreshing dip. We also used the opportunity to wash some of our clothes so that we had something clean to wear for the second half of our trip. 




The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling out around Kia Ora. Near sunset, two of the kids spotted a Wombat near the hut's helipad, and we all rushed to see the cute marsupial going about its business. The Wombat seemed pretty used to humans being around, and went about its business eating the next shoots of Button-grass with little concern about the throng of onlookers gather nearby. Alissa and I had hoped to see another Wombat after that first one near Ronny Creek, and this second sighting was the perfect way to complete a very eventful day.

At the time, the hot weather had taken away some of the enjoyment of this day, however with the memory of sunburn, heat and sickness dissipating, New Pelion to Kia Ora has stood out as one of the best days of the Overland Track. From the spectacular sunrise at New Pelion Hut to the snow-covered summit of Mt Ossa to the Wombat sighting at sunset, this had been a magical day, with the view from the mountaintop being one of the defining images of our Overland experience. Although we would have preferred cooler weather, we were very lucky to have had clear skies - given Tasmania's changeable weather, it could have been a repeat of Cradle Mountain! Weather permitting, Mt Ossa is an absolutely essential side trip on the Overland Track that reasonably fit walkers will definitely find to be a rewarding experience. 

2 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blogs! I'm going on Overland Track next Tuesday and not a very experienced bush walker, so I'm feeling nervous. But by reading your blogs I feel much better as I have a better idea about what is waiting for me.
    Sorry about your encounter with the old guy. I lived in Germany and found Germans normally quite friendly. Maybe he found it too hard to do the hike and therefore was grumpy. :(

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    1. Hey! Glad the blog has been of some help to you!

      Yeah, most Germans we have met are very friendly... we definitely didn't think of it as a cultural problem so much as that he was a grumpy old man.

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