Whispered ominously around camp like a dirty word, day 3 of the Overland Track demands about the same trail kilometres as we’ve racked up on the previous two days combined. Still, the morning’s moderate ascent quickly gives way to an undemanding trail that carries us all the way to Pelion Hut in under 5 hours, where there is plenty of time to relax in the camp kitchen and pamper ourselves with bush showers (essentially just standing naked in the trees while your partner empties a Camelbak bladder over your head, but it’s amazing what can start to feel luxurious after several days of sweat). Perhaps the true reward, though, is watching the sun descend over Mt Oakleigh from our little perch on the Helipad and knowing that all the steps have been worthwhile.
Trail stats: Windermere to Pelion
Trail hours: 4.5hrs
Highlights: Views of Forth Valley; shaded walking through myrtle-beech rainforest; expansive buttongrass moorlands in hues of yellow and orange; dolerite spires of Mt Oakleigh towering above the campsite
Lunch spot: Pelion Creek
Campsite: Pelion Hut (tent platforms)
After a delicious breakfast of tortilla soup, the group sets off, Eileen giving herself and her aching hip a bit of a head start, me and Cal following about 10 minutes later, and dad bringing up the rear. The first 4km of our morning are spent on a gradual ascent towards Forth Valley Lookout, rising slowly above gums and distant peaks eerily framed by thick fog. Much of this first section is on boardwalk, but even as they give way to natural trail, the ground isn’t terribly crowded by roots or rocks, making for a leisurely morning.
After quickly strolling out to Forth Valley Lookout and finding the mountains only minimally obstructed by fog, Cal and I continue onwards with plans to rendezvous with dad and Eileen for lunch around some tarns that we estimate based on the map to be an hour away. The trail is either flat or very gradual until we reach Pelion Creek, a lush, magical, shaded spot just beyond the tarns that is perfect for our break. Cold creek water only adds to the allure. We chow down and take this opportunity to rest our tired shoulders, but decide after nearly 40 minutes that we should continue onwards and hope to meet up with the family at Pelion Hut. We still have about 10km to travel from this point, and even though my ankle has been holding up beautifully all morning, I’m wary of the stiffness that inevitably follows long rests.
Despite reports of a gradual descent, we find the next hour to be an uncomfortable blend of slipping, twisting, and “ouch”-ing over the, at times haphazard, trail. By the time we are nearing Frog Flats, though, the boardwalk has gloriously reappeared and my mood dramatically improves in concert with the easier terrain. We take a small break out of necessity, resting shoulders that are practically on fire and hips that have bruised from the weight of our packs, but we don’t allow ourselves to get too comfortable. Eyes on the prize.
After the pleasantly flat journey along boardwalk, there is a bit of a climb along another natural trail. The incline isn’t absurd, but we still maintain a brisk clip that means we are sweating into our eyes by the time we level out and begin the short descent towards the hut. Just as I’m figuring we probably have another hour left, we reach a sign that indicates the hut is only 10min away. I could scream I’m so excited. We half-walk/half-run the final stretch towards Pelion Hut, arriving before all the other hikers save for one indefatigable man who is doing the entire track in 3 days (much to his less athletic friend’s chagrin).
To make up for being last to the hut yesterday, Cal and I now have first pick of the tent platform sites, saving what we believe to be the best two for us and my parents. Ominous cloud cover has been rolling overhead for the last few minutes, so we throw our tent up and gather our things to head to the hut. Only about a half hour after us and still well before the other hikers, dad and Eileen materialise, strolling towards our tent in high spirits. While they situate themselves, Cal and I dash off to the bushes for a quick mountain shower (dumping freezing water over ourselves and scrubbing vigorously) and then spread out on a table inside. This is where we spend the next 5 hours, nibbling at some snacks and eventually our dinner of beef stroganoff, drinking another bottle of the red wine that we’ve been hauling around in plastic flasks, and chatting with everyone as they arrive.
As much as my neck aches and my feet hurt, it was totally worth making it to the hut just for the overwhelming community vibe. Since we are all walking on more or less the same schedule, we have come to know many of these people: Dov, an native Arizonan who now lives in Sydney and owns a hammock company, and his brother Douglas; Jackie and John, a charming couple from the Gold Coast who eagerly demo their JetBoil for us; Sarah and Jara, an invincible mother daughter duo from Tassie; and countless other characters who are keen to share stories of their day and hear about our own adventures, particularly how my ankle is holding up. This is what makes the huts, and indeed the Overland Track itself, so appealing— the sense of camaraderie, that we are truly all in this together. By the time Cal and I hit the tent, we are full and happy and ready for our next day on the Overland Track.