The first thing you need to know about bush-walking is not to be afraid of the mud, and there is plenty of mud on the Overland Track. We hit it on the second day.
We shouldered our backpacks and covered 7 1/2 miles, stopping in early evening at one of the six huts Anthology owns in the park. The sun had been bright and clear and hot. We slathered ourselves with sunscreen and drank from the cold streams that cut across the trail, but that night the clouds poured in, nothing more than a mild storm front from the Southern Ocean.
They say you can experience four seasons in one day in western Tasmania, and we weren't far off. The next morning we were hit with a pelting mist. Gusts of wind blew us sideways, and less than two hours out, we faced a broad puddle of water, no duckboard, no stones, no branches.
To not sink in would mean stepping onto the heath, widening the trail and committing an egregious faux pas in the realm of responsible bush-walking. Those with hiking poles fathomed the depths, those without followed; we all ended up with wet boots and gaiters.
But like the blisters we taped each morning, the tree roots we tripped over in the afternoon or the last mile at the end of each long day, the discomforts of the trail disappeared amid the vistas and tableaux: tall dolerite peaks jutting over forested valleys and alpine plateaus, ancient forests unfolding in carpets of imperial green.
"This is paradise," Margie announced as we approached Lake Windermere, wandering through flowering tea trees, silver-barked eucalyptuses and lichen-mottled granite.
Postcard writers often search for familiar equations for what they see, but here our imaginations were soon taxed. The pandani plant, we decided, looks like a yucca, the columns of stone like Devil's Postpile, and the call of the yellow wattle bird like a belch, but how would we explain the echidna, the wallaby, the platypus, the wombat, pademelon, quoll and devil, animals whose names alone made it clear we weren't in Kansas anymore.
Our days fell into a simple rhythm, destinations less significant than the walking itself, and as we grew familiar with the nuances of the trail, we became a freight train moving in single file, pausing to photograph a flower, savor some chocolate, marvel at the quiet in the heart of the rain forest.
Side trips became our diversions, a chance for some to explore an abandoned copper mine, a series of waterfalls and, on one sun-brightened afternoon, Mt. Ossa, the highest peak on the island. At 5,295 feet, Ossa is about as high as Mt. Wilson, but with 1,640 feet of gain in a mile and a quarter, almost three times as steep as Mt. Whitney.
But we were game. Vertigo be damned, we carved through talus and threaded the Gates of Mordor, two spires of stone, and from the summit we breathed deeply of our accomplishment, stunned by the sight of the Du Cane Range to the south rising and falling in a succession of valleys, glacier-carved more than 10,000 years ago.
That late afternoon we raced the twilight in our descent, eager for the hot shower and warm meal that had become the staple at the end of each day. With nearly four miles ahead, the pace was brisk, lightened in the end only by a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free,
We've golden soil and wealth,
Our home is girt by sea . . .
In the distance we heard a reply, Margie and the others with "O, why are we waiting . . . " -- it's a pub song sung to the tune of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" -- " . . . slowly de-hy-draa-ting. . . . "
The Anthology huts are a triumph of practicality and plywood, two-story designs with a combined living room and kitchen, a room for showers and toilets, and bedrooms upstairs. The design invites familiarity, and 12 strangers soon become 12 friends.
Over breakfasts -- typically porridge, cereal, homemade bread and canned fruit -- and dinners -- a rotation of pizza, lentil salad, sausages, risotto -- we learned about the son who was married in the park, about a plan to ride the route of the Tour de France, rock climbing, water management, music education, and we debated Tasmania's future.