Prince Albert National Park (2020): Day 3

30 July 2020

My first day of packrafting!

I woke up early and left camp by 7:00 AM, skipping breakfast to maximize the early morning time frame when Kingsmere Lake is beautifully still. Packrafts don’t track nicely like a canoe or kayak does, but adding weight to the front of the boat helps, and with my backpack positioned there I could steer more easily than in my practice runs on the tragic city pond.

Preparing to leave
The water may be calm, but my general principle is ‘paddle like you’ll die if you move more than 20 metres from shore’.

Despite paddling leisurely, I arrived at my next campsite, Bladebone Bay, in only 2-2.5 hours. Coming from a thru-hiking background, I’m used to walking from breakfast until supper, so the thought of just lounging around for the rest of the day seemed egregious. I decided to investigate the decommissioned Bladebone Canoe Route, which leaves from a trail behind the outhouse, and to potentially camp up there if I found a nice location.

I don’t know why the decision to decommission the canoe route was made, but possibly it was when the other access point by road became inaccessible, because the portage from Kingsmere Lake is longish (2 km, according to a random website), partially uphill, boggy, and would be utterly brutal with a canoe. With the amount of deadfall across the trail now, I’m not sure that it would even be possible with a canoe, but I try never to underestimate the power of human perseverance.

$10 to anyone who does this with a canoe. Pics or it didn’t happen.

The nice thing about the trail was that it was still distinct the entire way.

Perfectly visible!

Bad things: deadfall, heat, bugs, bog. I was up to my ankles in water a few times, and it was a delight to be wearing shiny (relatively) new hiking boots that were still waterproof.

Wet and muddy.
They just love this elbow.

After what seemed like a long time, I reached the first lake. A Parks Canada canoe was chained to a tree nearby, filled with water. The place for entering the lake looked sharp and pokey with submerged logs, and reeds impeded access elsewhere. There was nowhere obvious to camp and I didn’t feel very inspired to search for another launching place, so I decided to just have lunch and then return to Bladebone Bay Campground.

Lucky Parks Canada staff.
Pokey.

The trip down was miserable, and by the bottom I was thinking to myself, ‘this was a good experience, because it taught me that I won’t want to return and do the entire Bladebone Canoe Route’. I’m already doubting that decision though, because I hate leaving things unfinished. Nothing learned after all?

I saw more wildlife in Bladebone Bay than at the other campsites: a loon, a pelican, a beaver and dozens of shorebirds. The campground has three sites and is as nice as the others, except for how the path to the outhouse/Bladebone Canoe Route passes through one of the campsites. The people in the campsite had escalated the situation by setting up camp chairs on either side of the path. They were nice people, but by the fifth time passing through their conversations, I had run out of small-camping-talk-with-strangers topics and had to just smile awkwardly and scuttle past quickly.

Bladebone Bay

One of the pros of the general bugginess (yes, there are pros!) is that it supports great spider biodiversity. When I returned to my tent for the night, I found that a spider had built a beautiful web between my rolled up tent doors, with three bugs already captured and one wrapped in silk (I felt bad for taking it down). Then when I had settled in to sleep, a different type of spider came to lurk in the fold of fabric beneath one of the doors, and I saw it pounce on and kill multiple mosquitoes. ❤

Prince Albert National Park (2020): Day 2

29 July 2020

I ate breakfast on the beach this morning to avoid the mosquitoes. I never ended up meeting the people camped in the other site – they returned to the campground after I went to bed, and were still in their tent when I left. The walking between Chipewan Portage and Sandy Beach was entirely through forest, and the mosquitoes were atrocious. I wore my mosquito suit, but had to resign myself to being bitten.

“The Land of Mosquitoes”
Can you see my elbow beneath the mosquito bites?

I took a long break on the lovely beach at Sandy Beach Campground in an attempt to postpone re-entering the forest until the mosquitoes went into hiding for the day (it didn’t work). I got distracted by them from a random memory from a physics class in high school: we had to protect an egg from breaking after being dropped from the second floor of a building. My group placed it in a foam container that we coloured like Kenny from South Park, then when it hit the ground I called up at the teacher ‘Oh my god, you killed Kenny! You bastard!’. It was prime performance art and I still don’t understand why we didn’t receive a 100%.

Early in the afternoon I arrived at North End Campground, which is much larger than Chipewan Portage or Sandy Beach. Along with individual sites, it has a group camping area open to individuals when not reserved. I pitched my tent, collected water and set off on a day hike to Grey Owl’s cabin with my scented items. I’m only climbing that food storage ladder once, and yeah, I know that I’m a wimp.

Grey Owl (or more appropriately, Archibald Belaney) is a polarizing figure in Saskatchewan’s history. He was an esteemed conservationist, but pretending to have an Indigenous background. This was discovered during his lifetime by certain individuals, but people in the 1930s weren’t as keen on cancelling people as contemporary society, and the truth was published only after his death. The cabin in Prince Albert National Park is where he lived with one of his wives and pet beavers, wrote multiple bestselling books, and was buried.

On the way to Grey Owl’s cabin

The hike to the cabin begins with a trek up the beach from North End Campground. Near an inlet stream, I followed a path into the forest. Up until then, the Grey Owl’s Cabin trail had been perfectly maintained, so I was surprised by how rough it was… until it crossed the inlet stream on a log and headed back towards the lake. Taking the trail consumes more time than just removing your boots and wading through the stream at the beach! Don’t do it!

The actual trail into the forest begins at a picnic area and outhouse at the end of the beach. The (well-maintained) trail soon splits in two, with one path providing access to Ajawaan Lake for boaters and the other providing foot access to the cabin. I slogged through the mosquito-ridden forest to the cabin, which was beautifully located on the shore of the lake. I sat on the picnic bench for a snack and enjoyed the absence of mosquitoes, which a wind from the lake was blowing away.

When I returned to the picnic area, I met a family who had come there by motorboat to have a barbeque. Motorboats are allowed in Kingsmere Lake, but they must be portaged in using a rail cart, which is impressive dedication. Back at my campsite, I had a less appealing hiker supper of peanut butter and pasta.

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 5: Arrival At I-75

The mosquitoes were thicker overnight than those in the Diamond Peak Wilderness during my 2017 PCT LASH, and that’s saying something. Those that crowded into my vestibule were easy to kill by pressing my tent mesh against the doors, so Florida played witness to a bloodbath in the morning when the mosquitoes and a burst of rain had dwindled and I wanted to start walking.

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More wading in the morning and showers throughout the day, but the sky was mostly blue. I repeatedly put up and took down my umbrella. The weather was hot and walking through the deep, cool water of the cypress domes was pleasant.

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I saw frog (?) eggs hanging cloudlike around stems in the water.

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The main buggy road in Big Cypress marked a transition from wading to periods of wading interspersed with walking on dry ground. My wading footwear had worked perfectly thus far – Altras, Superfeet, no socks – but the no socks part started to irritate my skin when I was walking partially on dry ground and no water was flowing between my flesh and the gritty interior of my shoes. I tried to wash them out well in the puddles a few times as I walked the rest of the way to the interstate.

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Swamp buggy road
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Gate at I-75

The northern rest area has spigots where I cleaned my muddy feet and shoes before contacting an Uber to return to Miami. Coincidentally there was a driver only a few minutes away, so I quickly gathered up my gear and hoped that I didn’t smell too much of swamp.

In conclusion:

What a fantastic hike! I love seeing new ecosystems and this one was very different from most of the others I’ve visited. I’m not sure whether the entire Florida Trail is on my radar yet, since it includes lots of road walking and clean water is scarce in areas, but if I have the opportunity to do more swamp hiking I definitely will.

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 4: Day of Wading

Beautiful weather today! Soon after the mile 27 marker (which actually marks 21 miles from Oasis Visitor Center), the route became 99% wading with a few sections of mud. The mud was more difficult than the wading, having incredible suction.

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Muddy.

The water level was below my knees most of the time, but still made for tiring walking that required a lot of concentration. The swamp bottom is a layer of muck covering limestone karst with solution holes, so every step requires careful foot placement.

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Sliding my feet forwards was most effective, then I could detect whether one was going to enter a depression. The muck infiltrated my shoes and built up on the insoles, but they were easy to clean by removing them at intervals and swishing them around in the water.

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Oak Hill Camp, which is located on one of the strand’s densely vegetated pine islands, had daytime mosquitoes and they were atrocious. I only stopped long enough for a short rest and snack.

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Black Lagoon, a cypress dome that perhaps got its name from the inkiness of its water in the shade, was gorgeous.

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The Black Lagoon

The Black Lagoon contained alligator flag, which by growing only in deep water indicates where water will remain and alligators will retreat to in times of drought.

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Alligator flag
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I finally saw another hiker! He was heading past Oasis Visitor Centre to Loop Road, the old southern terminus of the FT. After two years on the PCT, I keep expecting hikers to jump out of nowhere, but that’s not the FT experience.

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At small Thank God Island I decided to camp.

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Friend on Thank God Island

Wading through the swamp was such an intense experience that I kept remembering my body movements while trying to fall asleep.

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 3: Suddenly Dry

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The trail was suddenly dry this morning. I encountered no water until a notorious alligator hole located directly beside the FT, where a small amount of water was visible. Guthook claims that the alligator lives underneath a ledge inside the hole, so despite no alligators being in sight, I wasn’t going to stick my hand in there. I continued along, reaching a wet cypress strand when I had about 300 ml of water left.

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The route was confusing in the vicinity of the gator hole and within a forest packed with long grass. I heard a strange sound that I thought might be a black bear vocalizing – they don’t hiberate in Florida, where they can find food year-round, and I’ve seen their droppings along the trail – so I backed off and shouted ‘bad dog’ and clacked my hiking poles to scare the beastie away. Without determining its identity, I regained the FT’s orange blazes.

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Rain on and off throughout the afternoon. I brought my sunbrella for this hike, and while I haven’t needed it for the heat, Florida is the first place where I’ve found a sunbrella effective for the rain. It’s hot so you don’t want many rain clothes, there hasn’t been much wind, and the weather does this thing where the sky is innocently blue with sporadic white clouds but every cloud passing overhead rains on you. Wearing rain clothes would require constantly putting them on and taking them off, as opposed to an umbrella that’s easy to take out and stow away throughout intermittent rain.

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For the first time I saw other people, two men passing in a swamp buggy along a swamp buggy road. They asked whether I needed anything, but I was doing fine with my umbrella bobbing cheerily overhead.

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I random camped just before the big cypress strand, which will require around seven miles of wading broken by a few islands to rest on. For company at supper I had butterflies and a variety of birds, including a downy woodpecker, cardinals, a brown version of a cardinal (?), and warblers (?). After I got into my sleeping bag, something small hit the bathtub floor by my waist hard, then tried again halfway down my legs and hit hard again before leaving. Rodent? Snake?

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 2: Still No Alligators

Day two on the FT. Everything was misty and wet this morning and I felt little incentive to get up, but get up I did. The sun emerged just before I entered a section of wading.

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7 Mile Camp
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I don’t know what I was expecting from the swamp water, but I was surprised by how lovely and clear it is. I read that one shouldn’t go near the water at dawn or dusk because alligators can sometimes mistake people for prey, so I’ve been abiding by that advice. No alligators seen yet.

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In places, the trail was only a channel of flattened grass. I imagine that beating back overgrowth is an endless task in this lush ecosystem, and the FT doesn’t get many thru-hikers. I’m not sure how many hikers the section from Oasis Visitor Centre to I-75 receives in general – I didn’t see anyone today or yesterday, but that could be the time of year.

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I random camped. A bird and the vegetation are being noisy outside my tent. I’m taking great satisfaction in seeing the mosquitoes batter my tent mesh and being unable to access my soft appetizing flesh.

Florida Trail (2019-2020) 1: Escape to Florida

On December 21st, I flew down to Florida to hike the first thirty miles of the Florida Trail and engage in some touristing. Aside from my working holiday in Australia, I’ve taken no winter holidays since childhood, but this year the stars aligned with a work holiday and general antipathy on my part towards facing another commercial Christmas where people exchange unnecessary bits of plastic. I told my family that if they wanted to give me presents they could make charity donations, furthermore told them that I would not be getting them (except my sister’s kids) presents aside from charity donations, and escaped to somewhere with a surprising general absence of Christmas decorations.

After purchasing supplies and downloading the southern FT segment on Guthook, I took Lyft out to the Oasis Visitor Centre, the FT’s southern terminus in Big Cypress National Preserve. The basic reason why I chose Florida for my vacation is obvious: heat. I chose the first thirty miles of the FT because they were supposedly extremely difficult and involved wading through swamp, and swamp-wading is an essential activity for any tourist in Florida. I chose Lyft because it was substantially cheaper than Uber.

The Lyft driver was wary about dropping me off at the isolated visitor centre; I think he thought I was engaged in the ‘young person in Europe’ variety of backpacking, since he seemed unable to register the information that I was walking to I-75. He continued hovering around as I rearranged my backpack on the curbside, as if he thought that I would change my mind, but finally drove off. The visitor centre was small, but had some interesting displays and a short informational film that I sat and watched before filling out my hiking permit at the desk. The employees warned me that they had heard the trail was extremely dry, which is what I had heard as well – no water for over twenty miles. The last few days had seen some heavy rain in Florida, so I was hoping to encounter a decent amount of water, but just in case I had brought five litres.

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I quickly discovered that, as predicted, the trail was fairly wet and I encountered water across the trail multiple times in my first day of walking. The deepest was in a cypress dome and reached my mid-calves. Generally when my feet are wet on trails I’m fording and trying to get across an unpleasantly gushing watercourse as quickly as possible, so the wading through calm, clear water was novel and I enjoyed it.

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I had devoted a lot of thought pre-trip to what kind of footwear I would use for the FT. Boots seemed out of the question, especially for wading, and I had read trail journals where people mentioned throwing away their shoes after passing through the swamp, so I didn’t want to wear new ones. I decided to use my somewhat old Asics trail runners + my orthotics for dry hiking, and a very old pair of Altras + Superfeet for wading. I didn’t want to carry shoes, but I learned in Mission Canyon this past spring that my orthotics don’t take kindly to prolonged submersion, and I wanted to wear them as much as possible to ensure I had no foot problems.

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A cement alligator surprised me in a lush area where the vegetation was growing easily and enthusiastically and wildly and loving life.

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This little guy has seen better days.
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Jungle-like trail

I random camped, not difficult since my surroundings were flat as a board. Having read that the mosquitoes could be bad in Florida, I was delighted when they didn’t emerge until after dark, when I was already in my tent.

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Overland Track: Concluding Thoughts

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Overland Track complete! I would recommend it to anyone in this part of the world, especially if you have a decent chunk of time to take advantage of side trip opportunities. The area is lovely and the trail less crowded than I thought it would be, probably because of a lucky pick of start date. If you have a flexible schedule, I recommend waiting to book and selecting a date with fewer people (or hiking in the off-season). Or maybe you’re a different personality type and want to zoom through the trail and party every night with a huge group of people. That’s cool too. Let’s be friends. But I keep strictly to hiker bedtime.

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Some final comments:

1. Someone always snores in the huts. Always. If you’re alone in the hut, you’re snoring.

2. Often the trail is rocky to the point where you start questioning whether dirt exists. Choose your footwear accordingly.

3. If in need of entertainment, read the hut journals. Consider whether you really want to write awkward poetry in the hut journals.

4. If not planning to climb Mt. Ossa, consider camping at Frog Flats.

5. Order from the Lake St. Clair Lodge lunch menu, and don’t pay to camp there unless you would pay $25 for a shower and flush toilets.

6. If a German guy comes into the hut to get a cloth and a bottle of disinfectant and tells you it’s because he found animal **** at the edge of his tent platform, don’t laugh at him. Remember the disgustingness of camping amidst cow patties on the AZT. Remember and sob quietly.

7. BEWARE THE POSSUMS

Till next time!

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Overland Track Day 8: How Much Would You Pay for a Boat Ride?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

I woke up, dried most of the condensation off my tent, ate the dodgy couscous for breakfast, mulled over the possibility that the dodgy couscous had already been cooked, and set off towards Narcissus Hut. I had decided pre-hike to take the ferry to Cynthia Bay instead of walking around the lake, doubting the scenery of a forest walk would be rewarding enough for more kilometres and more food weight with an aching foot. After eight days of hiking, the status of my foot has actually improved – the pain subsides with a certain stretch that I now do often, though I don’t know whether that’s treating the problem or a symptom of the problem. Maybe I should consult a physiotherapist with this new information. Or just chop off my foot! Wheee!

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Forest walking. I arrived at Narcissus Hut around 1:30 PM, investigated the pier, returned to the hut and saw a sign stating that the minimum ferry charge is 240 AUD. With six or more hikers each hiker pays 40 AUD, but with fewer hikers the charge gets divided, so one person would pay 240 AUD and two people would pay 120 AUD and so on… and I was the only person waiting for the ferry. The booking website said $40, but maybe I missed the fine print.

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Even if I had been willing to pay 240 AUD for a boat ride, which I wasn’t, I wasn’t carrying anywhere near that much money. The obvious solution was to walk out; the problem foiling the obvious solution was that my only food remaining was a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, a small amount of granola and gross cashews flavoured like everything else in my food bag. Not fancying another day on the trail with those provisions, I sat down outside Narcissus Hut and waited for more potential ferry-goers to arrive. Two hikers were arguing loudly inside the hut about something one had said about the other in front of other people and whether or not they felt the same way about completing the hike together and independence and so on. I have problems, they have problems, everyone has problems. Problem Hut.

The first hiker to arrive was a German woman who said that she was planning to take the ferry out, but not until the following morning. She kindly offered to share her food if I wanted to spend the night at Narcissus Hut, but I didn’t like that idea – I would have done the same in her situation and not considered it a big deal, but hikers shouldn’t have to bail out other hikers, and I wasn’t going to starve on what I had. The next hikers to arrive were three women who started considering whether to spend the night at Narcissus Hut or take the next ferry. I can do 60 AUD! I can do it! While they were considering, a fifth woman arrived. She was planning to hike out and offered me food if I wanted to do the same. I didn’t want to accept that offer either, but we ended up talking for awhile and she was a potential long-distance hiker, which was cool. Frequently I meet people who say it’s awesome that I hiked the AZT, but rarely do they mention wanting to do something similar.

The group decided to take the ferry, so I was saved. Two Parks employees joined us sans fare, and two tourists were already on the ferry, so we only had to pay $40 each. Despite some rain, I enjoyed the ride. The boat stopped at Echo Point for the tourists, and we all got out and looked around. The hut was dingy but there was a nice sandy beach with clear water. The guide(?) pointed out a tree with blossoms that taste like honey, and suggested that some of us taste them. I tried one (how hungry was I?) but it didn’t taste sweet at all. A ploy to trick tourists into eating plants…?

I ended up having supper with the ferry women, who were also interested in the Larapinta Trail. I had been warned about the food at the Lake St. Clair Lodge, but it was worse than I thought it would be. The menu after 5:00 PM is very limited (there’s also a ‘fine dining’ option) and tasted like fast food at a 800% markup. I bought a pizza off the lunch menu the next day though – there’s nowhere else to eat – and it was good, so if you eat at the lodge, go with the lunch menu/pizza. The German woman I had met at Narcissus Hut showed up at the restaurant after dark, having decided to hike out that day. She informed us about a free campground for hikers with no showers but also no fee. I was paying $25/night + coin shower, so I wasn’t happy about that, but it seemed an appropriate end to a muddled day.

Overland Track Day 7: Beware the Possums

Monday, March 07, 2016

It poured during the night and my tent floor soaked through below my air mattress. The sky still looked ominous in the morning, so rather than hanging up anything to dry, I propped up my mattress against the tent wall and hoped that everything would dry while I was gone (my tent would sooner commit seppuku than dry in the shade, but hope is healthy). Despite my puddle I was luckier than the campers beside me, who woke to a possum eating food that they had stored within their tent vestibule. ‘I thought the zipping sound was you unzipping your sleeping bag,’ said the wife to her husband. Nope. Beware the possums.

I was excited for the Labyrinth because I had read that it was beautiful (a good reason) and because it has a cool name (not a good reason). The trail there didn’t involve scrambling, but it was steep. Is that a waterfall, or is it the path? On this trail, it’s both! I was using a dry sack as a daypack again, and (while acknowledging that I wasn’t using it for its intended purpose) not only was it totally useless against wet leaves, but it developed small holes. I’m not impressed.

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The Labyrinth had beautiful trees, beautiful lakes and ponds, beautiful views. The sky cleared while I was up there, so I was provided with both misty mountain views and clear blue sky mountain views. I didn’t explore much since my body informed me that it would need cheeseburgers for that, but I would have liked to.

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I haven’t mentioned yet that I’ve eaten my extra food and also resorted to taking some odd-looking couscous from a free food box at Windy Ridge. Along with the couscous, there was mysterious brown powder and white powder/pale sticks that the Backgammon woman thought were powdered milk/bamboo shoots, but I wasn’t desperate enough to touch those.

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Descending the trail was more difficult than ascending it. A man behind me fell on the waterfall section but didn’t hurt himself. Back at camp I found that my tent hadn’t dried at all, but friendly sunlight had emerged to help. I spent the evening eating my last dinner food aside from the dodgy couscous and listening enviously to other hikers describe their fancy dehydrated meals.

Overland Track Day 6: Mice vs. Possums

Sunday, March 06, 2016

I left the Overland Track at the Pine Valley junction and walked to Pine Valley Hut, where I plan to spend two nights with a day trip to the Labyrinth. The walk was mostly flat, crossing suspension bridges through meadows and a mossy forest as silent as a crypt.

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The trail was most scenic near the hut, where it ran alongside Cephissus Creek. I saw a white-lipped snake and heard what I hope was a ‘common froglet‘, since that’s the cutest name ever. On a related note, ‘common death adder‘ should not be a name. Common + death adder do not belong together.

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The hut is average-sized and surrounded by normal campsites without tent platforms. The toilet was almost full and stank horribly. Two douchey locals were sitting in the hut when I arrived and having no interest in their asshattery, I pitched my tent despite expecting rain. Happily those men left and were replaced by a friendlier group of Aussies who for some reason assumed I was Swedish and asked me how to pronounce ‘Trangia’. I said ‘Trahn-gee-ah’, which was apparently wrong since there’s no ‘gee’ sound in Swedish. Fake Swede fail. One of the men recommended the Larapinta Trail. Sounds like a nice prospect for Australian winter.

A note in the hut indicated that it has mice and hikers shouldn’t leave food around. As I mentioned before, possums will steal human food (but not vegetables, according to an entry in one of the hut journals. Smart little buggers) and hikers normally store their food in the OT huts. Having once lived in a mouse-infested house though, I’m more afraid of mice than possums, though those particular mice may have become supermice from eating my vitamins. I decided to store my food in my tent in an opsak and hope for the best.

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In an odd twist, one of the other hikers got lost while collecting water in the dark. When I heard him shouting, I thought that he might be a hiker from somewhere else who had gotten lost in the wilderness. It was reminiscent of that time I was sharing a hostel room with a woman who had night terrors (never again). In the end he saw the light from our headlamps and was able to make his way back to camp, so all was good. A few tense moments there though.

Overland Track Day 5: Waterfall Day

Saturday, March 05, 2016

After breakfast I said goodbye to the Belgians, Ontario Guy and the French(Belgians?) who were planning to walk to Narcissus Hut. The French(Belgians?) pointed out that they were leaving earlier than I was. You win, get-up-early-kings. My quads felt like they had been skewered from descending Mt. Ossa. I thought ‘oh, maybe I should have trained for this’. Too late now.

The trail was entirely through forest today. I encountered the tour group with Tour Guide B at Du Cane Hut, then the Backgammon couple and a pair who thought that I had hiked the AT. And thus my legend grows (incorrectly). The OT is easy to follow and was usually distinct in this section despite the ground being covered in leaves, but I lost it once and had to backtrack to consult a directional marker. The Backgammon couple approached and the woman said ‘I just go where I think the trail should go’ and they headed off… in the wrong direction. If there’s no snow on the OT and you’ve been walking for two minutes without seeing a clear path, you’re probably not on it.

I hung back before the D’Alton/Fergusson waterfalls side trail, hoping to admire the falls in privacy. Naturally, everyone was still there when I arrived at the junction. We passed each other on the short but steep spur trails rather than at the waterfalls though, so I got some time alone. Fergusson was better than D’Alton.

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Tour Guide A was at Hartnett Falls with his tour group, giving the ladies some fan service by bathing in the river. Excellent job, Tour Guide A! Keep it up! I think it must have been awkward for him to be the only almost naked person, though. Like he called ‘c’mon guys, join in’ and no one joined in. The tour group left and I spent some time at the falls. On my way back to the main trail, I went too far along the river and ascended an animal trail, but got back on course after backtracking.

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Forest, forest, forest. I arrived at Bert Nichols Hut, which was huge, especially in proportion to the number of people there (six). We talked about TV, that thing I haven’t seen in a month. ‘Heartland‘ is the only Canadian television show the Backgammon couple know. For Australian shows, I only know ‘Please Like Me‘ and ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here‘, which we agreed is terrible.

Overland Track Day 4: Mt. Ossa

Friday, March 04, 2016

Coincidentally the French(Belgians?) and I both got up at 6:00 AM, making us the best of roommates – almost. One of them snored and had a comically loud air mattress. I once received a complaint about my Thermarest Neoair, but his mattress sounded like a thunderstorm. I have no idea what it was made of – possibly tin foil and packing peanuts.

Thinking the light would be best in the morning, my goal was to climb Mt. Ossa before noon. I left the hut first, but the French(Belgians?) soon passed me in the forest. We reunited at Pelion Gap, where the Mt. Ossa side trail begins, and while they discussed which items to carry up the mountain, I set to work constructing a daypack from a dry sack, my rain jacket and a piece of paracord. A trail maintenance worker arrived and asked what I was doing. I showed him and said ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’. He said ‘it will get you there and back’. Such a lukewarm reaction…

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The Mt. Ossa trail began with a steep climb, then levelled out for awhile before changing to a mix of steep trail and scree. Trail markers with arrows offered some guidance through the scree. Near the summit I got off-course, confused by how a clear trail extended in one direction but an arrow pointed in another, and ended up scrambling up a rock shaft. I would normally have been scared, but on this occasion I was too filled with anger at Tour Guide A since he had told me the ascent was just a walk. I was just thinking ‘Screw you, Australian. Screwyouscrewyouscrewyouscrewyouetc.’. A few minutes after reaching the top of the shaft, I saw the other route. Well, whatever. Whatever forever. Continuing the slog, I encountered the French(Belgians?) descending. They told me the climb was worth it, which it definitely was! Clear, gorgeous views in all directions from the summit.

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There were a few small ponds up there as well.

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I stayed for about an hour before heading down, passing the Belgians, another pair who had made the same error as me with the route, and Ontario Guy. The trail wound through open and forested country to Kia Ora Hut.

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Echidna

I didn’t realize how knackered I was until I spent forty-five minutes pitching my tent and let my pot boil over twice while making one and a half dinners. The huts have journals where people can write random things and, as of March 2016, Kia Ora’s is the funniest. It includes a saga about possums being able to open the hut door (they steal human food if they can) and way too many entries by a guy named Jack trying to get a girlfriend on Facebook. Move it along, Jack.

Overland Track Day 3: Rocks, Rocks, Rocky Rocks

Thursday, March 03, 2016

At dusk yesterday I walked with the Belgians to Lake Windermere to look for platypuses, but none revealed themselves in the dim light. The night was chilly and my new sleeping bag overestimated, so I kept waking up to add layers. The stars were amazing in the clear sky though. The Belgians got cold as well and moved into the hut during the night. There’s an obvious lesson here: Tasmania, be warmer at night.

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Mushroom

The weather remained good for my walk today: 16.75 km to Waterfall Valley. The trail offered nice views back to Barn Bluff and from the Forth Valley lookout, but it was absurdly rocky. I was glad to be wearing hiking boots!

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Barn Bluff
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Rocky trail
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The trail entered forest and descended to Frog Flats, where camping is permitted. It was a pleasant spot and I would have been tempted if tomorrow weren’t Mt. Ossa day. Passing more streams, the trail climbed to New Pelion Hut, a huge building with numerous bedrooms.

I wanted to get an early start the next morning, so I decided to stay in the hut. I ended up sharing a room with two men who are either French or Belgian. To elaborate, there are two new pairs of men, one pair is French and the other is Belgian, both speak French, I had spoken to the French pair in the dark by the rainwater tank and confirmed they were French but now can’t remember which pair they were. I’m going to call my roommates ‘the French(Belgians?)’ and just look around awkwardly if the other pair has to be mentioned. I learned how to play backgammon from an Australian couple who had packed in a full size set *sympathetic stare while taking advantage of their effort*. The woman is a grade one teacher. When I mentioned that preschool teacher was on a list I had seen of the top ten jobs least likely to be taken over by robots, she told me that her son is a robotics engineer. Score!

Overland Track Day 2: Lakes

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

We all went to bed soon after sunset yesterday, but one man started talking to his hiking partner in the dark about Europe and train fares. I laughed silently. Eventually a woman asked him to stop and he said ‘what? We’re going to sleep already?’. No, we were lying in the quiet dark to mull over the terrible meaningless of our lives in the vast universe… oh, that was only me?

The day dawned with gorgeous weather and I left early. Not grappling with a tent saves a lot of time. The trail was mostly open with beautiful views.

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I wanted to take a side trip to Lake Will, but mysteriously (since I was first to leave from our hut) ten backpacks were sitting at the junction when I arrived. Wanting some peace and quiet to enjoy Lake Will, I sat down to admire the view of Lake Holmes and wait.

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Lake Holmes

I spotted a man lurking in a grove of trees nearby, looking at me. At first I thought he was afraid that I would steal something from his pack, but later concluded that he was probably hiding in the grove to pee. Anyway, Suspicious Guy soon emerged and wanted to trade some of the fudge in his trail mix for my chips. He was careful about not touching the chip bag or fudge. I think he had his hand in the trail mix bag before the exchange though… well, let’s ignore that. He said that he’s never seen a hiker with chips before. Hey, not only are chips delicious, but apparently they can get you fudge! He introduced himself as a tour guide and the people currently at Lake Will as his group. There was another guide too, so we’ll call Suspicious Guy ‘Tour Guide A’ (sorry). When I mentioned being wary about ascending Mt. Ossa since I don’t care for scrambling, he claimed that it’s basically just a walk up the mountain.

The tour group left and I continued to Lake Will, which is an easy walk from the junction: 1.5 km over flat land. Following the advice of Tour Guide A, I walked further around the lake to a second beach that was larger and had clearer water than the first.

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Lake Will

After a lunch of sorts, I returned to the main track and maintained a strolling pace the rest of the way to large Lake Windermere.

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Lake Windermere

I soaked my feet before continuing to Windermere Hut, where I decided to pitch my tent. Rather than having dirt tent pads, the OT has wooden platforms to which you need to affix your tent with metal wires (this site) or metal chains, which are easier to use. The Belgians had arrived earlier and basically set up my tent for me, so I can’t describe in detail how the metal wires are adjusted. My theory: magic. I got a great site with a view of Barn Bluff.

Overland Track Day 1: Not Dead Yet

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

I’m not dead yet, therefore today was a net success! Sadly the weather was not my friend or even a casual Facebook contact. It was a continuation of the day before, windy and cold and damp.

I took the first shuttle at 8:15 AM (free) to the Ronny Creek car park, where hikers can/are supposed to register their hike. The OT began across the road.

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From the trailhead the track crossed a meadow before climbing to Kitchen Hut, an old hut that seemed about the size of a walnut when I arrived and 7-8 hikers were already crammed in. Crater Lake and Marion’s Lookout were on the way, but since the visibility was so bad (I’m pretty sure there were mountains somewhere, but I couldn’t see them) the main thing of interest was a rock outcropping/cliff that you pull yourself up with a chain. I didn’t find it problematic but some other hikers, probably with heavier packs, told me that they had struggled.

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Slightly steep
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A shivering day day hiker grouped with the OT hikers in Kitchen Hut wanted to ascend Cradle Mountain – this was her first hike ever and she wanted the accomplishment. When told that it would be fricking cold up there she said ‘it’s cold down here too’, earning herself a lecture from an older woman about the time and effort of the people who would have to rescue her if she got into trouble.

Beyond Kitchen Hut was more exposed terrain, including one insanely windy ridge being battered with mist gushing up from the valley below. I was worried that my pack cover would blow off (I found out later that several hikers’ did) and held it on with one hand as I scuttled along the boardwalk. Instead of listing distances, signage on the Overland Track lists estimated times that it will take to walk places, and I encountered a German hiker who noted that the most recent sign had said ‘half hour to Waterfall Hut’ and he was sure that it had already been more than a half hour. MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY. EVERYONE’S THOUGHTS.

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We descended into the valley and arrived at the hut in early afternoon. I played cards with the Belgian couple who had packed them in (gods), a fellow Canadian, and a handful of other hikers. The number of OT hikers who had chosen to start today was relatively low – the ranger mentioned that there were only 18 hikers who might potentially be staying in the hut/Old Waterfall Valley hut, so there would be room for everyone. The Canadian, hereafter Ontario Guy, has a huge alcohol stove. Dinner-plate sized.

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A sky finally starting to clear, as seen from Waterfall Valley.

Overland Track Pre-Hike 3: Unconventional

Monday, February 29, 2016

I took the McDermott shuttle from Lanceston to Cradle Mountain today. Unexpectedly the shuttle was part of a day tour, so the driver was providing information in a stream-of-consciousness type of way, including points like ‘there are some people over there, I’m not sure what they’re doing’ and ‘there’s a student with his backpack’. He also stopped at a store to buy towels since the windows had fogged up. As noted by a fellow passenger, it was an unconventional tour.

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Passing through Kentish
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The weather at Cradle Mountain is foggy and cold. I picked up my Overland Track pass, a backpacker parks pass and a map at the visitor centre. Tasmania’s topography/trails have some great names, for example: ‘Falling Mountain’, ‘Little Sugarloaf’, ‘The Acropolis’, ‘Mountains of Jupiter’, ‘The Never Never’, ‘Gingerbread Track’. Oh, the Overland Track is also shown, but whatever.

My start date is tomorrow, so I’m spending a night in the Discovery Parks bunkhouse. My roommate is working at the Tasmanian devil sanctuary! ❤ She told me a highly questionable story about a fellow starving and dying on the Overland Track because he thought there were grocery stores along the route. Getting lost must have been an important unmentioned factor in that tragic tale, if it actually happened. I talked to another person on holiday who said something along the lines of ‘you’ll probably be fine. But I don’t really think so.’ Thanks!

Overland Track Pre-Hike 2: Launceston

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Launceston has a variety of hiking/camping stores, parks and signs directing you to public washrooms – so it’s essentially heaven. I purchased a fuel canister and enough food to remind me of the downside of eight days in the wilderness, and decided after feeling how heavy it was to not return to the store to buy the peanut butter cookies that I had forgotten.

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Small in size, huge in price.

Earlier my bed was a muss with gear and food and I kept being unable to find items, then getting unjustifiably suspicious that New Roommate #1 had taken them because she was cross that I was making noise at 10:30 AM. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice person but more importantly, no one wants my dirty Nalgene. Probably no one even wants to touch it.

I also arranged my end-of-hike transportation from Lake St. Clair, where I’ll be camping for a few nights, to Hobart. Backpacker dorms are cheaper than tent sites at Cradle Mountain, but more expensive at the lake.

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Overland Track Pre-Hike 1: Lady

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Today I flew from Sydney to Launceston. The security employees were suspicious of my water filter and Steripen and rummaged through everything in my carry-on, which was a plastic bag filled with random items. A man also swabbed my boots and pockets and asked ‘are you under or over 16?’

Maybe he was thinking that I look older but no one would wear such a dorky hat unless being forced to by their parents. I was flying with Virgin Australia, which allows you to select titles like ‘Doctor’ and ‘Master’ for your ticket. I chose ‘Lady’ for fun but then felt embarrassed in the airport. The employees were probably thinking ‘oh, another one of THOSE people’. Prove I’m not a Lady, though. PROVE IT.

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Should I have chosen Doctor?

Traditionally I’ve used plastic motel cups for scooping water for filtering. They work great and weigh almost nothing, but since I’ve been staying in hostels in Australia, I haven’t had the opportunity to get any, and the Air Canada cups I saved on my CAN-AUS flight are too brittle. The Virgin Australia one looked more durable, so I saved it. The snack served was probably the least appealing-looking snack to ever exist in this world. It tasted just like the turkey sandwich I was once served on a different plane, but the filling was egg. Mmm, the flavour of preservatives and spongey white bread.

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Tastes like something ambiguous that I never want to taste again.

My hostel roommate is leaving tomorrow for a guided Overland Track tour, which cost ~2000 AUD. The guides do the cooking, but she has to carry the supplied equipment, and her pack weighs 17 kg (37 pounds) with her own clothing, no water, some snacks for food, and only part of a tent. What the hell???? My roommate in Batemans Bay was also doing the OT with a tour and they were carrying most of her gear for her; I shudder to think of how much that must have cost.

Overland Track: Introduction

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No thanks, but recommendation noted.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Tasmania’s Overland Track, a 65 kilometre hike (82 kilometres if the walk around Lake St. Clair is included), will be a relatively short test after a persistent foot injury I sustained almost two years ago. The government claims that ’92 percent of walkers state that walking the Overland Track was one of the best things they’ve done’. While assuming that they shamelessly made up that statistic, I’ll remain optimistic about the experience.

From October to May, the government charges OT hikers a 200 AUD fee, along with park fees whether one drives or walks or bikes in. The website claims it’s for trail maintenance – considering that ~8000 people hike the OT every year, it had better be the best darn maintained trail of all time.

Some basic information:

  • The trail extends from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair.
  • There isn’t bus service to the park every day, including the departure date on my permit, so I’ll be staying one night in a campground near the park entrance.
  • Hikers usually complete the OT in 6-7 days, but I’m planning to take eight days. I’ll hike slowly and take several side trips, because if the government is going to charge me $200, I’m going to make the most of the experience.

Here we go. Do your best, foot!