When to pull the plug?

Discussion specifically about the Overland Track should be posted in this subforum, including side trips and the Cradle Mountain day walk area. Alternative access routes and connecting routes belong in the parent forum.

When to pull the plug?

Postby pattycake » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 10:45 am

Hi all,

I am a long time lurker, first time poster! I've been getting into bushwalking over the last year and have found these forums invaluable in helping me plan my adventures across Victoria.

I have planned to walk the OT for the first time with two others next week - from September 23rd to 29th. I've been refreshing the Cradle Mountain webcam each day and watching the increasing amount of snow with a lot of trepidation! :shock: As a group, we are by no means experienced walkers. We have completed a few overnighters in cold Victorian conditions, copped some light snow/sleet, but have never seen big snowfall or had to deal with much snow on the ground.

The weather forecast is showing a likelihood of snow up until the 16th at least - should we be worried? We are not afraid to pull the plug on the trip if need be, but as we are inexperienced, we're not sure exactly when to make the call! What factors would you be looking at if you were in our position?

We're a sensible bunch - we've got good sleeping bags and insulated mats, we are reasonably fit and in our 20s, and we're not afraid to stay in a hut for a day (or 2) if need be. In fact, we can take up to 8 nights to complete the OT.

Any and all advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance, Patty.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby pazzar » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 2:33 pm

It is really hard to say. There is a lot of snow there right now (somewhere between 1 and 2 metres in places), and a bit more on the way, but it only takes a couple of warm days to make a big difference. There is already a big difference just at the Dove Lake carpark from a few days ago. If you walk north-south, you will know on day 1 whether you will be able to get through or not. There is no shame in turning around.

My advice would be to leave it as long as you can, and to come up with a back up plan. Talk to the Parks and Wildlife staff at Cradle and get an update on how deep the snow is a week out from your trip. You will almost certainly require snow shoes right now.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby pattycake » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 2:42 pm

Thanks pazzar, that's very useful! I suppose my first task will be obtaining snow shoes, and I'll take the rest from there. :D I appreciate your tips.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Nuts » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 3:45 pm

Echo what Pazzar said. Perhaps just to add that if the conditions are similar, you probably want to rethink leaving, regardless of using snowshoes. There are some stories doing the rounds of people having a hard time of it lately, as always with deep snow out there. The 3/4hrs walking can easily become long day or even overnight epics between huts in such heavy conditions. No fun. Using a plb other than in an emergency (as I heard one group considering) (not that you may have any intention of doing so) is not a good idea. Emergency services could easily be busy with a life threatening situation somewhere. Also keep in mind that late Sept can get very busy, without a booked place, an unknown regarding space in a hut.

Have Fun :)

PS> Paddy Palin Launceston hire Yowies (s/shoes)
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Tortoise » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 5:33 pm

Hi Patty, and welcome to the forum. :)

I strongly support the idea of having a good plan B somewhere else in Tassie where there's not going to be snow. You may be able to make a late call if lots of snow melts (e.g. by heavy rain) and it stops snowing when predicted. There are heaps of other wonderful places to walk here.

I just spent 2 days in the Cradle area. We had snow shoes, but the snow isn't nicely packed down. I couldn't count the hundreds of times I fell through, sometimes up the top of my thigh. Sometimes I had to dig down with my ski pole to my stuck snow shoe ,nearly a metre down, unclip the snow shoe, extract my foot, then dig more to extract the snowshoe, once with my foot sitting in a previously invisible icy creek. Pretty exhausting with a 2-day pack. Would be much more exhausting with an 8 day pack. Snow shoes can be fantastic (and they were at other times), but it still took us more than 3 times as long as we would usually take to get to our destination. With bare rocks in some places, and deep snow drifts in other places, there was also the on-again-off-again snow shoe cycle, which adds more time and saps more energy. They also add a fair bit of weight to your pack for the rest of the trip.

Some folks we met (without snow shoes) were very experienced in other bushwalking contexts, and very fit, but were pretty shocked by the difficulty they faced post-holing through the snow. In the same time that would usually get them 20km, they were able to go 2.5km. And they were far more exhausted. They wisely made the decision to abort their trip and go elsewhere.

This has been a very unusual season, with more snow than many people can remember. And it's continuing, as you said. Given that, and your limited bushwalking experience, I would be leaning towards not doing the through walk this time. Do you have your own transport? That would open up lots of options. You could explore a lot more around each end of the OLT and in the middle if the weather did cooperate. Then you'd only be a day or 2 back to the car instead of a potentially impossible distance.

One option could be to start by going in to Scott Kilvert Hut at Cradle. You could get an idea of how you're going if there's still snow. if it's ok, you could go on to Waterfall Valley, with the option of continuing or completing the loop back to Dove Lake.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Peaksnik » Wed 13 Sep, 2017 11:43 pm

Lots of really good advice here. I too suggest that you take snowshoes but, as Tortoise points out, their use won't necessarily mean that things will be easy-peasy.

Do take a tent. If conditions crap-out between huts, and you can't make the distance because of slow conditions, a safe refuge is essential. If you have your own shelter, you will be more inclined to stop -- get out of the wind, get warm, eat, and rest -- rather than attempt to push on in the dark and cold, with increasing tiredness and a heightened risk of an adverse event occurring.

Make sure that the group looks after each other and sticks together. Hypothermia is a sneaky bugger but if everyone is on the lookout it can be prevented. Please do take a tent.

You might just luck it and have really great weather but even if it's ordinary and you are well prepared you can have a wonderful trip. Best wishes.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby jessicagrace » Thu 14 Sep, 2017 10:04 am

Just thought I'd jump in and say that myself and two friends are planning on doing the track on the same dates (also a group in our 20s). We're pretty keen to make a go of it, so hopefully the weather clears up for all of us :)
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby pattycake » Thu 14 Sep, 2017 10:15 am

Thank you all for your thoughtful and generous advice.

Although we wanted the Overland to be a challenge, we still want to have *some* fun. So the thought of trudging through snow for 12 hours a day, being constantly on guard to avoid slipping, sounds a bit much. We'll keep an eye on the forecast and make a decision late next week.

Tortoise, your suggestion of checking out Scott Kilvert hut sounds like a good one. Google is giving me conflicting info and saying that the hut itself may be closed, but I presume that it's still kosher to pitch a tent nearby?

(On another note, I'm somewhat bemused to find out that the hut is named for a student and teacher on a school trip who perished in a blizzard! Not a bad omen, I hope. http://www.examiner.com.au/story/306801 ... dy-photos/)

One final thing - we are lucky in that we have a friend who lives in Devonport, so we've got backup accommodation/transport if we need to change plans at the last minute (and a place to stash warm and clean clothes.... ahhhhhh!) We can get around Tassie, even down to Hobart. Are there any other walks that we should consider doing instead? If the Overland isn't possible, I'm happy to do a 3-4 day hike and spend the extra time drinking wine and eating cheese.

(Edited for grammar)
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Peaksnik » Thu 14 Sep, 2017 12:23 pm

The weather looks to be improving from Sunday through to Thursday. That should help to improve conditions underfoot. As it happens, I'm lucky to have chosen just those days for a quick trip into Cradle Valley for some snow shoeing on the plateau; yippee!

But you would want to be looking past this forecast settled period to your travel dates.
I find that this 10-day outlook is useful (not infallible): http://www.weatherzone.com.au/models/ You might want to keep an eye on this and adjust plans if warranted. The BOM MetEye is pretty good too for when you are closer to departure http://www.bom.gov.au/australia/meteye/?ref=ftr

You have to do what you are comfortable with, of course, but it won't necessarily be a trudge from beginning to end even if the weather is likely to be unsettled, because it might not be as serious as it has been the past couple of weeks.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Squiggles » Thu 14 Sep, 2017 5:04 pm

Peaksnik wrote:The weather looks to be improving from Sunday through to Thursday. That should help to improve conditions underfoot. As it happens, I'm lucky to have chosen just those days for a quick trip into Cradle Valley for some snow shoeing on the plateau; yippee!


I'm keen to hear how you get on and what it is like up there, we're starting on the overland the week after OP (30th) so hoping the track has cleared up by then.
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby Tortoise » Thu 14 Sep, 2017 8:34 pm

Hey Patty,

A friend in Devonport and transport sounds ideal! In terms of other options, how is your group at navigating? Are you reasonably good with map/compass? And GPS? Or are you looking at well-marked tracks at this point?

Stepbystep posted this interesting link on the Cradle Mountain Snow Reports thread:
http://www.abc.net.au/radio/hobart/programs/drive/steve-from-south-hobart-overland-track/8903124?smid=Page:%20ABC%20Hobart-Facebook_Organic&WT.tsrc=Facebook_Organic&sf113380935=1

But hopefully most of the snow will be gone!
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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby jmac » Fri 15 Sep, 2017 9:30 am

"Are there any other walks that we should consider doing instead? If the Overland isn't possible, I'm happy to do a 3-4 day hike and spend the extra time drinking wine and eating cheese."

When the weather comes relentlessly wet cold and snowy from the west, locals often head to the east for some relief. Three to four days on the Freycinet Peninsula is an obvious alternative for your group. You would love it. Great walking with fabulous coastal views. Carry the wine and cheese with you.

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Re: When to pull the plug?

Postby pattycake » Mon 18 Sep, 2017 10:37 am

Hi all,

We've decided to pull the plug, rent a car and likely do a walk on the east coast. There are a few things that we considered:

1. This warning has popped up on the Parks Tas website:
If you plan to walk between 1 June to 30 September PWS strongly recommends that all walkers at this time of the year are experienced and have a high degree of wilderness navigation skills for winter walking.


2. We spoke to a friend of a friend who is a wilderness guide, and he told us:
I had to abort a trip on Thursday because the snow was too deep.
[Another friend] took 10 hours to walk a section that normally takes two hours a week ago because he was in belly deep snow and one of the hiking guides got hypothermia. Could melt quickly, but it sounds like it has been crazy out there and that maybe 30 people have been stuck on the track cos it's too hard to walk between huts.


3. We did a quick overnighter this weekend at Wilson's Prom - just from Telegraph Saddle to Sealer's Cove and back - and it reminded us how much we enjoy walking in nice weather! With rain and snow forecast for the OT over the next week, at worst it would be really dangerous, but at best we would have a really miserable time.

Tortoise, we are all right at navigating unmarked/hidden tracks, but at this point we're probably looking for well-marked tracks as we don't have much time to prepare (I am over-cautious and like to *really* study the route before heading off).

Thanks again everyone for sharing your expertise. I'm disappointed not to be completing the Overland this week as it's been a dream of mine, but there will be plenty of opportunities in future. I feel confident that we have made the right call!
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