Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Mission Aborted


She who climbs and runs away, lives to climb another day - maybe

I set out to climb Cradle Mountain this weekend. I missed it while doing the Overland Track, because it took all my energy just to reach the next hut by the end of the day.
This time I thought I could do it at my leisure, carrying only some lunch, a raincoat, water, torches, a  sunhat, a beanie,  thermal  gloves and the usual necessities, rather than my body weight in food, a cooking stove, a sleeping bag and a tent as well. And it still didn’t work!

Onward and upward. Still no sign of the Mountain

I drove the strange Lakes Highway over the Plateau (more on that later) and stayed just outside Cradle Mountain National Park for an early start in the morning because the weather bureau had promised rain late in the day. There was a new wrinkle however, since the last time I was here. Campervans and anything other than small cars are no longer allowed past the Chalet. Normally they have shuttle buses covering this route, but not at daybreak on a Sunday morning, so I began the 6 km trek to Ronny’s Creek Carpark where the base tracks start.  Luckily I had taken the road and not the boardwalk. A few km later I was picked up by a campervan of all things. I’m not sure if I was entirely pleased about that, but I cheerfully accepted the lift.


Looking down on Crater Lake.  The one beyond is Dove Lake

Remembering how hard it was hauling self and pack up Marion’s Lookout, and wanting to save my strength for the assault on the mountain, I wanted to take the longer and less scenic Horse Track because the grades were supposed to be less steep. Unfortunately I couldn't find the start, so I first had to walk to Waldheim so that I could follow the Overland Track  to where it turned off. There is always lots of wildlife here. Today small poteroos with even smaller babies peeking out of their pouches were busily bustling about.
Then it was onward and upward.  At each elevation I expected to see the mountain over the next ridge but there was always another ridge and another. It was so hot that I drank all my water quite early. I also thought that after climbing all those hills in Hobart and doing those longish walks I would find the climbing easier now, but that wasn't true either. It took a good three hours just to get to the start of the Summit Track and then it's another  two and half hours from there. Maybe it was the altitude. At 1545m Cradle Mountain is only 72 metres shorter than Mt. Ossa, Tasmania’s highest Mountain.
Obviously there's no future for me as a peak bagger! There was still a little snow in the hollows and I filled my bottle again with snow melt.

Still no sign of the Mountain!
At last, the mountain comes into view
Then suddenly - no, actually three hours later, there it was before me. The weather was fine. The track went straight up ahead. It didn’t look far to the top, so onward and upward I went. From here the views over the valleys and mountains were splendid, but then the track turned westwards and it all turned to rock. 
Looking up - notice the lovely blue sky!

Looking West. That's Barn Buff with the volcanic plug at the top.
Looking back down the track - that's it where the spikes are

Another ridge down, at least one more to go
Once again, you could see only one ridge ahead and the rocks got bigger and bigger, with huge drops in between. As I was clawing my way upwards, the wind grew stronger and stronger and the skies darkened overhead.

Looking down between two ridges

Too hot before, I was freezing now and glad of the warm clothes I had brought.The rain started just as I neared the top of the third ridge and the wind blew so hard that my ears hurt. As I braced  myself between two large boulders, I was almost mobbed by people scrambling down helter skelter.  The rain stung like needles on my face and the wind made my eyes water as I scambled down after them. The top of a mountain in Tasmania's Highlands is not a good place to be when the weather changes. I hated the thought of quitting and don’t even know how close I came, but I was sure that my offspring would never forgive me if I didn’t come home. I can hear them now, nagging me in the afterlife, if I failed to come down, or worse still, they had to get me evacuated by helicopter, dead or alive.

Going down is worse than going up
At one point I missed my footing and fell - no, it was more like bounced and slid from one patch of rock to another.  This is where you need hard hats! Never mind in the caves. Luckily I escaped with some interesting bruises down my back and a couple of nasty scrapes on my leg. It could just as easily have been a broken leg and I was the last one up there.  By the time I reached the Kitchen Hut at the bottom, the clouds had departed and the weather was fine again. Damn you weather and damn you Cradle Mountain! No way though could I attempt it again. It was already quite late in the afternoon and just getting back to the carpark would take another 2.5 hours.

Note the blue skies. That's how quickly things change!
Descent to Crater Lake
There were some very pretty spots on the way down, but I was past caring.
This is deciduous beech which grows to tree height in sheltered places. Along with pencil pines and celery top, it is another Gondwana relic which we share with New Zealand and South America. When the leaves turn in autumn (it's the only Australian native plant that does), the Lake is an absolute picture, but today all I was interested in was getting back down.

Crater Lake - not a crater but a Cirque carved by ice.
Passing glimpse of Crater Falls

I’d worn my sandshoes on this trip. Great for the rock climbing, but very painful now.  I must have almost worn the soles through as I could feel every stone and even the wire netting on the boardwalk.  I kept praying for some giant bird to pick me up and carry me away, but there was nothing for it but to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t look back. Don’t look down. By now the car parks were empty of their matchbox cars and it began to rain again. As I finally signed off on the walker's register, I wondered if I would be spending the night there. I was sure that the buses had finished for the day and no way could I have walked back up the hill to the Chalet. The little shelter wasn't too weatherproof and there wasn’t even anywhere to sit down.

Friendly wombat near the end of the boardwalk

Boy, did I run when I heard a car! It was an Asian family in a people mover, who kindly made room for me and took me back to my van.  We even passed a bus heading the other way, but I have never been so happy to see my little van, all warm and waiting with a bed and a thermos of hot coffee.
I managed to drive just far enough to be out of the National Park. Then I put ointment on my bruises, made some soup and fell into bed. I must have walked twenty kilometres that day, never mind the climb. I was sad that night and wondered if I should ever attempt it again. Was this another thing I had to say goodbye to? Then again, maybe things would look better in the morning. They usually did.

So who knows? Will Cradle Mountain stay an enigma for me forever? Will I ever see the view from that last ridge? Should I have pushed on through the rain shower? At least I have tried it and lived to contemplate the possibility of doing it again some day.

As my oldest son said when I was having a teensy moan,
" Don't worry Mum. The Score for today is:
Veronika: Nil, Common Sense: 1"

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