“Did I tell you about the time I nearly died?” asked Denzel Washington in the film Fallen.
I don’t know whether I nearly died or if the Grim Reaper even bothered to turn around and look Hiro and myself up and down before turning away again. I can tell you that I’ve never ever felt so utterly terrified and so completely at the mercy of Mother Nature than I did on the first day of walking the Overland Track.
The Overland Track is arguably the finest bushwalk in all of Australia. It runs between the beautiful Cradle Mountain and idyllic Lake St Clair and is most commonly walked in a southerly direction. It can take between four and ten days to complete depending on the speed you walk and whether you take any of the multitudes of side trips. I completed this walk in October 2000 and it took me six days, but I’m only going to tell you about the first day.
I had come to Tasmania with the sole intention of completing the Overland Track but had not been able to recruit anyone to walk with me. Instead, I spent my first week in Tasmania travelling in the company of an Irish girl named Celine who proved to be the perfect travelling companion, equitable, charming and fun. I can only hope that she thought the same about me!
On our last night, in the town of Stanley I was discussing my intention to walk the track with an American backpacker who helpfully suggested that there was a Japanese lad staying at the Tasman House Backpackers in Devonport who was also looking for a trekking partner. This is how I came to meet Hiro.
Hiro is fairly tall for a Japanese with their usual boundless enthusiasm and a ready smile. Within five minutes of meeting we agreed to walk the Track together and arranged to meet later in the day to go shopping for bus tickets, supplies and other vital equipment, such as thermal underwear. These tasks were completed quickly and efficiently enough to allow me time to properly prepare myself for the challenge to come. This meant going to the local pub and drinking a pint of Guinness, as I knew that it would be the last beer I’d get for nearly a week.
After finishing my beer I returned to the hostel and had a long conversation with Gary, Tasman House’s dread-locked Overland Track guide. Gary helpfully pointed out all the do’s and don’ts that we should follow on the track. Unfortunately, nothing anyone said could have prepared me for the following day.
The day started innocuously enough, with no more problems or worries than making sure I had purchased the vital baby wipes to use as toilet paper. We joined the bus at Devonport visitors’ centre. There five other walkers on the bus who we would develop a very close bond with after the first day that none of us could have foreseen at that point.
The bus wound it’s way through the wonderful rolling green hills of the Tasmanian countryside. Occasionally, bare mountains interrupted the hills, standing like stone guardians watching over their precious Tasmania.
Hiro rested for the majority of the journey while I questioned the driver about weather forecasts and his knowledge of the area. As we got closer to the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair World Heritage area, the scene from the window began to change from a green spring appearance to one of white alpine winter. The Cradle Valley area was snow covered.
When the bus finally arrived at Cradle Mountain instinct told me that we were in for a hard day’s walking. The snow appeared to be knee deep in places, even around the visitors centre. Unfortunately, the foolhardiness that seems to effect most of us, to a greater or lesser degree when we are attempting something difficult, switched on and I simply told myself to stop being stupid.
After we disembarked from the bus, Hiro headed for the toilet to put on his thermal long johns while the rest of the walkers and myself headed into the visitors centre to purchase our walking passes. As we waited in turn I weighed up the people who at that point I almost viewed as the opposition.
Read Part 2