01 Mar Cradle Mountain National Park (Summit Walk)
We’re going to climb Cradle Mountain!
Up at 6:30, out the door at 8, walking by 9:30, what a day. We’ve been looking forward to this for what seems like forever. It was Yasmin’s birthday wish a month earlier and we were finally about to make it come true. After making sure we packed all the necessary items for the long journey, we left for the base.
We stopped quickly at the main ranger station to collect maps, tips, directions, etc and then proceeded to our departure point of Dove Lake carpark. When we arrived at Dove Lake we registered ourselves as walkers for the day and went to the loos for the last time to squeeze out everything that would come out in an effort to stave off that inevitable bush wee (or poo) for as long as possible.
And we’re off…
We left Dove Lake carpark at 9:20 in a anti-clockwise direction and quickly turned towards Wombat Pool and Marion’s Lookout. We all thought Wombat Pool was aptly named based on the abundance of Wombat poo that was littered everywhere. The tracks were in fantastic condition, obviously maintained very well, and the views were spectacular from the outset; we were in for an amazing day.
We made our first break point at the junction where the Ronny Creek, Wombat Pool and Marion’s Lookout tracks intersect, about an hour in. As we sat there nibbling our sandwiches and fruit, all we could look at was the task ahead, which looked to be a near vertical path up the side of a huge mountain that culminated in Marion’s Lookout.
We made it, our first major milestone of the trip. The path up to Marion’s was every bit as steep as it looked from the junction where we had our earlier snack. The chains near the summit to help walkers were a good guage to the effort required to get up here. The views were exhilerating, with Marion’s being the perfect vantage point to take in all that Dove Lake, Crater Lake, Crater Falls, Lilla Lake, Wombat Pool and Cradle Valley have to offer.
The Kitchen Hut..
The walk from Marion’s Lookout to the Kitchen Hut was amazing. We were high enough to be almost permanently shrouded in the passing clouds. While there was lots of plant life to look at, although nothing grew over a few feet high, perhaps a testiment to the strong winds this place would experience on a bad day. Kitchen Hut, an emergency shelter for Overland Track walkers, was the first walkers hut I’d even been in and it had a magical appeal; almost instantly the full 6 – 8 day Overland Track trek was on my bucket list!
The wrong turn…
This is where things went a bit astray; a few minutes from Kitchen Hut is the junction of the Overland and Face Track and the map we were working off showed only two tracks at this point, the Cradle Mountain Summit track going straight and the Face track to the left, so we headed straight on the Overland Track, the wrong way. To our left, not 50 metres along the Face Track was the Summit Track and we’d missed it as the sign was obscured by cloud at the time. It didn’t help that our map didn’t even show the Overland Track at all.
While it was nice to experience an extra 2.5 hours of Cradle Mountain majesty, to be truthful it’s not ideal when you’re already planning an 8+ hour walk with an 8 & 9 year old in tow. This section of the Overland Track skirted around the back of Cradle Mountain and we just kept following it thinking it would veer up towards the summit around the next turn. We finally turned around after reaching the Waterfall Bay/Scott Kilvert Hut tracks and realising that we’d stuffed up.
The right turn…
After another visit to the Kitchen Hut toilet plus a quick snack, we decided to have a go at the Cradle Mountain summit track. With a 2.5 hour expected return journey, this was done knowing full well that we’d be racing the setting sun to get back to the carpark before nightfall, but we’d come this far and it was very unlikely that we’d be able to convince the girls (or our own bodies) to come on another 8 hour walk the following day.
Cradle Mountain Summit Track..
With a grade 5 rating, this track earns every one of those rating stars. While it starts off as a steep, shaley, up hill track, within 20 minutes of the junction it changes into just plain rock scrambling and dispenses with the track altogether. It’s literally just rocks with poles jutting up for guidance every 50m or so; it’s a real-life “choose your own adventure book” because you choose how to get from marker pole to marker pole.
As you near the summit, or what you think to be the summit, it gets steeper and the rocks get larger and larger. My wife commented a few times that she was glad of the dense cloud cover, because had it not been there and she had a view of the valley far, far below, she may not have been able to continue out of fear. Let me not kid you here, this track, or lack thereof, is steep and potentially dangerous.
In saying that, the adults, with all our often irrational fears, didn’t handle it nearly as well as our kids did. At this point I’d like to say, Layla (9) and Libby (8) did an absolutely terrific job; we were nearly 7 hours into our day now and they were flying up this hill like it was being done in the first few minutes of our journey. It was amazing to watch them go and all without complaint, well mostly without complaint.
Just when you think you’re at the top, the track or marker poles go through a crack in the face, curve around and down a small valley and then go sharply up towards another peak. This is by far the most challenging point and I’d be surprised if many didn’t end their journey at this point. Not us though, we pushed on and nearly 20 minutes later, 90 mins in total, we arrived at the summit monument.
What this meant is hard to explain as it will likely mean different things to different people, but the feeling of elation is incredible. The feeling of pride in seeing your small-for-their-size 8 and 9 year old daughters up there with you, was simply priceless. What an amazing accomplishment and hopefully something they’ll look back on with fondness and with a great sense of pride. You can achieve anything now little cherubs!
It’s time to head for home…
The journey down, while faster, was not without it’s issues. The clouds were now thicker than ever and light was starting to dwindle. While it hadn’t been getting dark in Tasmania until well after 8:30, it was an overcast day, nearing 5PM and we had at least 3.5 hours of walking to go. We had to resist the temptation to go to quickly because it was a dangerous decent in good weather, let alone in floggy, overcast and blustery conditions.
And Murphy’s Law says…
Murphy’s Law basically says that when you don’t want or need something bad to happen, that’s when it will happen. And it did. About half way down, Libby’s left knee packed it in. While it was likely to be just a simple overuse injury from her first ever 8 hour bush walk (go figure), it would slow us down and that’s exactly what we didn’t need. Plan B kicked in quickly and we simply resorted to carrying her when possible for the remainder of the trek, all 3 hours of it.
The Face Track…
The Face Track was amazing with terrific views across Lake Wilks, Dove Lake and Hanson’s Peak. Unfortunately for us, it was more rugged than we’d hoped with an injured child and Libby had to hobble along for a fair bit of it as it was dangerous to carry her. And even more surprisingly, when we expected to be going down towards Dove Lake and the carpark, we actually ended up climbing again here and there. While it wasn’t quite as challenging as the Summit track, it wasn’t far from it in parts.
Wilks Lake Track…
About 30 minutes along the Face Track we came to the Wilks Lake Track Junction, which connects the Face Track to the much easier Dove Lake Circuit Track. This is where we lost most of altitude we’d gained earlier in the day over a short distance with the track literally diving into the valley below. It was near vertical at times and for the first part down to the Wilks Lake plateau was loose, shaley rock and then once you started the descent down to Dove Lake it transformed into a dense, dark, wet, moss covered wonderland that would have been a perfect setting for the next LOTR or Hobbit instalment.
As beautiful as it was, the terrain again meant Libby wasn’t able to be carried, but in true-trooper form, she borrowed her sister’s trekking pole to reduce the weight on her injured leg and just hobbled downhill as quickly as she could; all this was complaint free I might add. Amazing just doesn’t do her effort this day justice!
Dove Lake Circuit aka the home stretch…
We finally hit the bottom of Wilks Lake Track and was able to carry Libby without hinderence from the terrain. While it was still going to be a very tough trek back to the carpark, it was much better than watching your daughter grimace with every step she took. Again this walk wound it’s way through some amazingly diverse landscapes; one minute you’re on the brown tainted water’s edge of Dove Lake, the next another you’re in yet another ancient rainforest and then you’re traversing one of the many small watercourses that flowed across the track; absolutely amazing.
Finally at 8:40PM, nearly 11.5 hours after leaving it, we stumbled back into the Dove Lake carpark. We’d all just experienced one of the most mentally and physically challenging days of our lives, but I don’t think any of us would have traded it for anything in the world. It was a pleasure to experience, and witness, what the human body, both large and small, younger and older, can achieve when it puts it’s mind to it. It was an amazing personal experience, but also an amazing family experience and one I’m sure we’ll all hold in high regard for the remainder of our lives.
See the full photo gallery here