When you book to do the Overland Track, they warn that poor weather can occur at any time. However, in February, extended periods of wind, rain, sleet, hail and snow are unusual. This February was "unusual", perhaps because so many Tasmanians were praying for rain to douse bushfires threatening communities during a hot, dry, windy spell. All Overland Track walkers should take heed. The conditions depicted below occurred in February, one of the most reliable months. Don't skimp on gear, and watch the forecast continually.
In January I was on Mt Jerusalem when a thunderstorm came through. It rained briefly, and proceeded on down the Great Pine Tier, shortly afterwards sparking the Central Plateau fire near Lake Fergus. Around the same time a fire started near the Tahune Airwalk west of Geeveston in the far south. This fire went on to seriously threaten communities from Lonnavale to Dover sparking a large evacuation. I live in Huonville. The rain that came was a godsend, so complaints are not allowed.
|This is the thunderstorm that sparked the Lake Fergus/Central Plateau fire|
Seen from the slopes of Mount Jerusalem, Walls Of Jerusalem National Park - 15th Jan 2019
Fullsize panorama available here. (30MB)
However, finding somewhere to bushwalk was subsequently tricky - fires actually still burning, roads closed, tracks and whole areas closed, large areas burnt, plus advice not to go anywhere "remote", and quite poor weather forecasts, especially given it was February. Talking to a friend, we tried to convince ourselves Frenchmans isn't "remote". It's only a day-and-a-half walk from the road to Lake Tahune (less for the fitter walker and Frenchmans has been day-jogged I believe). The Overland Track was free of problems it seemed, but there were no suitable bookings available, February being quite popular.
However, watching the booking system closely, I did manage to get a booking on Monday 11th when someone else cancelled. With some transport issues solved, it was on. One problem: The weather forecast was for solid rain and snow. The forecast was such that the firefighters on the Central Plateau were worried about being able to fight the fires, as the wind, cold, snow and all would make it very inhospitable without reliably extinguishing the fires. I went anyway, hoping for changeable weather, which often makes for quite spectacular landscapes (and photos) in the Tasmanian highlands. And it is the OT, with relatively easy tracks plus huts. I wasn't disappointed.
The 10th Feb was dismal at Cradle Valley and across the mountains (as observed, and as reported by punters starting that day), and at least one OT punter returned from the plateau having realised their gear wasn't up to the task. The forecast for the 11th wasn't quite so bad, although it didn't look good for any day before Friday 15th. I didn't have enough food to stay till then. (Yes I know, but that's partly what makes for a light pack...)
I did a very quick trip, thus a very light pack, which helps make it quick...etc. Regular but not constant rain through to Pelion was then enhanced by an accurately forecasted good snowfall on the Tuesday night. Pelion Plains and Pelion Gap were quite magical on Wednesday 13th Feb. While some of the punters were a bit disappointed by the weather they'd had to deal with, the snow at Pelion was a marvellous compensation for many. I did my bit by talking up the experience. I talked to one excited lady who had never seen snow, and hadn't expected to when she booked the OT.
The snowy scene at Pelion Hut, and the snow up to and at Pelion Gap was quite spectacular. I didn't realise it, but when I set off, nobody else had - there was obviously lots of activity, but little action. Thus, all vegetation bore it's full load of snow. I was the snowman. Beautiful, but very wet and cold. I dodged a few massive loads with off-track manoeuvres, but hopefully the three blokes who followed me fairly closely cleared it for everyone else. A nice girl from Seattle told me that night, at Windy Ridge, she'd wondered which poor sod had to go first. There was then also the issue of correctly locating the extensive boardwalk beneath the snowy camouflage, leading from the Gap towards Kia Ora. My new Pelion Gap friends were grateful for my continuing sacrifice. The heater at Kia Ora proved unlightable. Ranger Ken was going to fix it when I saw him at Windy Ridge.
I was a bit naughty with the heaters. At Pelion the starting of the heater produced a veritable mountain of wet gear arranged in a growing variety of imaginative ways around it, and hopefully improved a few people's experience of walking to Kia Ora in snow the next day. Later in the evening, I pulled my head in(to my sleeping bag) when someone opened the bedroom door and asked if the bloke who knew how to make the heater work was there. I think someone then managed to read the (admittedly confused) instructions. At Windy Ridge the assembled crowd were huddled glumly around the communal area in hats, scarves, gloves and down jackets, but livened a lot after the heater was turned on. I have to admit it was actually 11 degrees, but they were all damp and cold (your honour), and had been for some days. An excited Queenslander told me she hadn't been warm for four days, as she stood rotating below the wall-mounted gas heater.
Some ferry issues were encountered when high winds whipped up waves on Lake St Clair, described variously as "six-foot" and "two-metre" by some punters and the captain respectively. This unfortunately cancelled Belfast Tony's carefully and expensively chartered (and subsequently heavily subscribed) 11am service, but we all managed to get out on the 3:45pm, and Belfast Tony even managed to change his transport operator and get a ride to Launceston that evening, along with the Seattle crew and some others. The boat captain (Mick? Mike?) was also from Belfast, so they got on very well, despite the furious rebooking required by Mick/Mike's earlier cancellation of the charter.
The photographic opportunities were limited by rain, sleet and snow, and the water-averse nature of my new tiny Canon mirrorless camera, but nevertheless, I'm pleased with the results, presented below.
|Some punters leave Kitchen Hut a little reluctantly - 11th Feb 2019|
|Misty views to the Forth valley from Pine Forest Moor - 12th Feb 2019|
|Panorama from Pine Forest Moor - Mt Oakleigh in cloud, Mt Pillinger and Dean Bluff most obvious right of centre - 12th Feb 2019|
|Mt Pelion East from Pine Forest Moor - 12th Feb 2019|
|Myrtle at Pelion Creek - 12th Feb 2019|
|Mt Oakleigh as some weather moves in, from where the Overland Track emerges on Pelion Plains (It started to snow here) - 12th Feb 2019|
|Mt Oakleigh from Pelion Hut in afternoon light - 12th Feb 2019|
|Evening comes, Mt Oakleigh from Pelion Hut - 12th Feb 2019|
I'll note here that stepping outside to photograph things was a very chilly experience, with a nasty cold breeze blowing from the west (or somewhere).
|Early morning, Mt Oakleigh and Pelion Plains - 13th Feb 2019|
|Mt Oakleigh and Pelion Plains - 13th Feb 2019|
|...and the sun shines, briefly, on Mt Oakleigh and Pelion Plains - 13th Feb 2019|
|Bleak view towards Mt Ossa from Pelion Gap - 13th Feb 2019|
|Panorama from the Pelion Gap - Kia Ora Track|
Cathedral Mountain, Mountains of Jupiter, Traveller Range, Castle Crag/Du Cane Range
13th Feb 2019
|Mt Pelion East from the southern side of Pelion Gap - 13th Feb 2019|
|Panorama of Mts Ossa and Doris from below Pelion Gap - 13th Feb 2019|
|Mt Pelion East from near Kia Ora - 13th Feb 2019|
|Panorama of the Cathedral Mountain face from near Kia Ora - 13th Feb 2019|
Thanks for looking.