Ian Skippen takes on Tassie’s Overland Track – Part One

Ian Skippen on top of Tasmania's snow-capped mountains.

So what are you doing on the first week in October, Ian? You know when someone asks an open question like that you’d better have some sort of excuse ready. But on this occasion nothing creative, like I’m taking part in a Naked Twister tournament sprang to mind. So “nothing I can think of, but I’ll check with my wife Helen” was the answer. Rebecca Wilson, the boss at Starts at 60, quickly informed me that Helen wasn’t part of this invite: “How would you like to go on the Tassie Overland Track with Ostelin ambassador Olympic heptathlete Jane Flemming and five competition winners? It’s a four-day Cradle Mountain trek with fine Tassie food and wine at the end of each day.” Before I could even google Ostelin or compare diaries with Helen, I found my jaws flapping a bucket list tick. “Yes. I’m in!”

I’m either a great negotiator or Helen was looking forward to me getting out of her hair for nearly a week because she thought it was a wonderful opportunity. I sense the latter was the case.
Next thing I know I’m on the email trail of the Terrific Ten from Ostelin. Rach Dobson is the gear and training coordinator from Small Journeys, who were running the trek. Her task was to make sure the Ostelin winners and me were fit and equipped for the trek in the first week of October. Bugger, the others had a few weeks of training under their belts already. “Have you got boots, wet weather gear, thermals, hiking poles, gaiters, fleece, pack? We’ll organise if you haven’t. Are you fit? Can you get a doctor’s certificate?” I was starting to wonder what I’d put my hand up for.

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Well from that first email and invite, I figured I had the whole of September to crank out the kilometres on the bush and mountain bike tracks around my place. I had my boots and a hiking pole from a Hinchinbrook and Larapinta hike a few years ago so I was on my way. Cradle Mountain here I come – via Mountain Designs to try on new boots to break in and wet-weather gear. You see there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, and if you can dream it you can achieve it – two little gems from our training and gear lists to help navigate and motivate the Overland Track.

Pack, boots, beanie - good to go!
Pack, boots, beanie – good to go!

I had a meeting in Brisbane with Pip and Renate, the two Brissy Ostelin winners, cameraman Dan, and Rach from Small Journeys as a check up before the big date. Rach had done the same for the Perth and Sydney winners. Nothing left to chance for this 29-time Kokoda veteran.

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Well the weeks hiked by and suddenly we’re all assembled in Launceston for the most excellent Ostelin Adventure. I now knew, because I’d boned up, no pun intended, what Ostelin was. I hadn’t done the d-test, but I knew they were the numero uno brand for Vitamin D and bone health. Seven-and-a-half million Aussies suffer from poor bone health. I knew all of this because I was sitting beside Ostelin Ambassador Olympian Jane Flemming at our pre-hike getting-to-know-you dinner. I also knew we would be dragging our bags of bones up hill and down dale in Tassie on the Cradle Mountain Overland Track for the next four days. No more Tassie Pinot tonight, it was off to bed – well after a couple of extra libations first to celebrate the Western Bulldogs knocking over the Swans.

Ian and Jane take a moment to enjoy the much-needed sunshine.
Ian and Jane take a moment to enjoy the much-needed sunshine.

We were all geared up and ready for the early bus ride to historic Quamby Estate on the outskirts of Launceston, the Cradle Mountain Walk’s HQ and assembly point. We met our guides Anna and Pat, who did a final gear check of the essentials required for the trek. We had our little lunch boxes and Scroggin and I was carrying a few emergency supplies, too: a kilo of trail mix complete with yoghurt crunch, M&M’s, chocolate bullets, nuts and seeds, a hip flask of single malt to ward off the cold, and a bottle of ‘Grumpy Old Bastard’ port from Severn Brae Winery near Stanthorpe, again to ward off the cold . I was like the St. Bernard of the group.

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Again to the bus, all provisioned up for the Overland Track kick-off point at Waldheim in Cradle Valley. Along the way we passed through Sheffield, the town of Murals. Photo opportunity time with Ostelin Ambassador Jane in front of the Waldheim hut mural. Waldheim was the name given to the chalet built by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer. They fell in love with the Cradle Valley and built the original chalet in 1912. Our first steps on the track after the bus dropped us were wary ones, past the replica of the original chalet following our guides and getting used to layers of clothing. It was a great day, belying the weather forecast – blue skies and sunshine – but for how long?

Spirits were high as was the first hour. We threaded over boardwalks dodging wombat poo since over 5000 of these little fellers take great delight in taking a dump on the boardwalks and tracks. It really should be called the Overscat Track. The silica in the button grass that forms most of their diet doesn’t give them much nutrition so they have to munch plenty. The end result is about 80 to 90 toot stops a day. No wonder they stick their bum in the air at the entrance to their burrows. So dodging the scat we were climbing what we were told would be the toughest part of the track. Wrong! The weather and the track had more up their sleeve. We had thermals under ours.

The track brought everything from sunshine to snow.
The track brought everything from sunshine to snow.

When we reached Marion’s Lookout overlooking Dove Lake it was spectacular. Cradle Mountain in it’s clear glory is a lottery, and we had a snowman to welcome us. If that was the tough part, it was still heavy going as we trudged and slipped through melting snow and mud, chopping and changing from boardwalk to track. It took over four hours around the base of Cradle Mountain into Waterfall Valley and our first night’s stop in the hut at Barn Bluff.

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The heat in the drying room was a defrosting relief from the temperature outside as we shed our layers and backpacks and scrambled for our two minute restricted showers. I did offer to shower with Ben the Ostelin man to save on water, but that rattled his bones. I suggested he take more Vitamin D for protection. Anna and Pat our chefs and guides whipped out some cheese and dip followed by a fantastic dinner with a little Tassie pinot. I shared a wee dram of single malt with some takers and a splash of the ‘Grumpy’ port. A few stories were recounted about day one as we, in varying degrees of tiredness, toddled off to our sleeping bags in the shared room. My roomie for the trip was Nick, our 75–year-old winner from Perth. I discovered he could drown out a jumbo, a jet and an elephant combined, with his snore. I thought about an Ostelin Vitamin D capsule up each nostril. His not mine.

Look out for Part Two of Ian’s adventure next week!

Have you visited Tasmania? Would you ever walk the Overland Track?

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