We had originally planned to join an overnight Pandani walk to Rufus via the Gingerbread Track, but in the end had had to pull out due to work commitments. Instead, we decided to do it as a day walk and hopefully meet the group somewhere for lunch. We stopped briefly at Lake St Clair on the drive up the night before and were happy to see Mt Olympus covered in snow.
The start of the Gingerbread Track is not signposted and is only marked by a small cairn next to the road, just past the Navarre River crossing. Initially the track is somewhat overgrown, but soon opens up as it follows the western side of the Navarre River. Although there was some snow in the forest, it wasn’t until we reached the first button-grass plain that it started to get a bit thicker. From here we were able to follow footprints from a group who had walked up the day before and had camped somewhere along the track, and got our first glimpse of a snowy KWI which is also on the cards for future walks.
Large frozen puddles and very slippery treated pine logs kept our focus while climbing up towards Joe Slatter Hut, which we reached 60 minutes after leaving the carpark. There was no sign of any recent habitats, except for a pair of well-worn boots with a note saying that they will be picked up again shortly. From here we decided it was time to put the snow shoes on, as we were starting to sink in the deep drifts.
We lost sight of the markers once we reached the large plateau but continued following ski tracks left the day prior that led towards the western rim. Some time was spent here admiring the sandstone boulders overlooking Lake Undine, Gell and the Cheyne Range. Pyramid Mountain was also clearly visible, and its namesake shape accentuated with a heavy blanket of snow. As we climbed higher the views just kept getting better, but before long we had dipped back down into the sheltered bowl just south of the summit and looking onto the Gingerbread Hut.
We noticed three people at Gingerbread sitting outside looking out towards us and went over to say hello. They had walked up the day/night before and were somewhat disappointed with the amount of snow and icy conditions. With the conditions being much more favourable to snowshoeing, we then went off the track and continued straight up the large bank behind the hut, cheered on by the three skiers as we climbed the steep face. We were at the summit 10 minutes later and treated with 360 degree views of snow clad mountains, as well as a very strong westerly wind. Luckily the large cairn on the summit provided sufficient shelter to have some food and a quick break.
On the way back down we followed snow markers around the eastern side- which was longer but not as steep as our summit route- before returning to the Gingerbread Hut to say goodbye. By this stage the snow was starting to get slushy and we wanted to get back to the first hut before it would slow us down. Just before we reached Joe Slatter Hut, we bumped into the Pandani group who were on their way up. They had left a bit later than planned, so unfortunately we didn’t meet them for lunch but they were more than happy to talk poo tubes.
The track past the hut had started to get pretty muddy and unfortunately I found a thigh deep bog hole amongst the button grass. We arrived back at the car at 1:45pm and made the compulsory stop at the Hungry Wombat Cafe for a second lunch.
All up 13.4kms in 6 hours and 20 minutes with 734m ascent.
Getting there: Mt Rufus can be accessed a number of ways, the most common being a well-marked track from Lake St Clair. The less frequented Gingerbread Track is accessed from Rufus Canal Road, a few kms past Derwent Bridge on the Lyell Highway heading towards Queenstown.