Many months ago the Monday of this weekend had been set aside to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday on top of Cradle. She’d had several attempts, and was still to get there. So after making sure I’d have my usual two days off (Easter is the busiest time at work, and I wasn’t sure of that) I’d blocked it out. Unfortunately, issues with leave meant it was called off at the last minute and she has still to make the summit.
That technically meant Cradle wasn’t a must, but the weather was pretty average everywhere, and plans had already been made, so we decided to stick with it unless the weather got really REALLY nasty at the last minute. It didn’t, so Cradle it was. We tentatively hoped to climb Campbell and Little Horn on the way in to Scott Kilvert Hut on the Saturday, do a day trip out to Emmett on the Sunday, and walk out via Cradle on the Monday. It would all depend on the weather really, but I had some confidence that all could be climbed in relatively foul conditions anyway, if the desire was there and care was taken.
So after work on Saturday two of us headed up, and were pleasantly surprised to run into two other friends at Banjos in Campbelltown! After a chat and exchange of plans, we said our goodbyes, and departed with a bag of very tasty dehydrated yoghurt (thanks Bec, wish you could buy that stuff!!!).
That it was Easter didn’t really sink in until we arrived. Once as a kid Easter meant books, chocolate and church obligations (in that order of importance 😉 ), but that was a long time ago! For a few years now Easter has been about hard work and no holidays, with little other significance (more on that later). I hadn’t really thought that it’d mean more people would be out, and had a rude awakening to the implications of that when we arrived at the visitor car park at Cradle, only to have to wait for ages in a line for the coach, feeling most out of place amongst the fashionably dressed hoards of tourists! Not what you want when you’ve been sitting in a car for over 4 hours, are going bush for a few days, it’s cold, and you just want to get walking. Grrrr….
That was forgotten soon enough, as we took our first few long strides, leaving the tourists standing a few metres from where the bus had dropped them. Many looked as if they weren’t going to venture any further, which I found amusing and interesting to ponder for a while. We were to see plenty of more adventurous souls on the track that day though too, with whom we exchanged hellos, or nods, and on occasion a few more words. Quite fascinating the people you can happen across.
One who caught my attention was a young boy out with his mother, who thought they were going for an easy 2 hr walk around Dove lake, but had allowed him to take her on the more interesting route up towards Hansons Peak. She was doubting whether she could make it, and seemed keen on turning back having realised that to continue would mean more than a 2 hr walk. I could see a little bit of me in the boy, and wished we could have taken him with us! Instead we talked them through their options, placing a bit more emphasis on maybe continuing along the track as far as they could get in an hour, then returning, rather than just heading back straight away ;). I hope they got a bit further along the track!
We headed left around the lake, and up to the saddle between Mount Campbell and Hansons Peak. Although we’d had sunshine all drive, the weather here was much cloudier and very fresh, though for the time being we still had some blue sky (so long as you looked east, not west!). The wind was up, and the eastern side of Dove lake looked like the coast of a beach, with surf-like white lines running parallel to the lake’s edge. The sun and clouds made for a lovely moody atmosphere, which I quite enjoyed, if with a touch of trepidation about what the weather had in store for us (and a bit of annoyance at wanting to constantly take off then put on layers! It was going to be one of THOSE trips). It was clear we weren’t going to be seeing Cradle today, in fact I thought we’d probably be lucky if we saw it at all!
We were on the saddle within 30 minutes, packs were dropped (with pack covers on just in case!), and we headed up the short cairned and staked pad to the summit of Campbell. 15 minutes later, and the ‘lonely huddle’ of pencil pines mentioned in the Abels was indeed the only other feature marking the high point, aside from a cairn erected on a seam of rock (quartzite?).
I thought I’d seen people up here when we were back down at the saddle, but after realising at least one was in fact a tree, I’d doubted that the other was a person too. But from the summit we spotted movement out east, and I didn’t feel quite so crazy. I thought no more of it, until a Facebook friend asked if we explored east of the summit, which is supposed to be really quite beautiful! Bummer, pity we didn’t know about it, but a good excuse to go back! So if you’re going, take a little extra time to head east – it’s open walking as far as the eye can see, at least.
With Campbell ticked off, our sights were set on Little Horn. This was the one I was most looking forward to climbing. The first time I’d been here it had stole my attention, because from certain perspectives it looks nice and craggy. More recently, a friend had sent me an old newspaper clipping with a photo of a climber sitting on one of two rock pillars, and you can guess where I wanted to be!!
Looks can be deceiving, however, as we would discover. But first a quick detour by Twisted Lakes, which weren’t looking as good as they promised, given the dull light (the mist was in at this stage) and the fact that the fagus was only just beginning to turn and wasn’t nearly as colourful as it could be. We didn’t dawdle, as a result, and headed instead for the emergency hut to drop our packs and organise summit packs.
We weren’t sure of the route, or if there was a decent pad, though one lady who’d asked Graham to take a photo of her on Hanson’s Peak had said there used to be, which was reassuring, and that you headed round the side from off the Face track. That fitted with what info I did have. As it turned out, there was a cairn and very decent pad leading off the side of the Face track. It was well marked and very easy to follow right to the summit too. In fact, it was such a decent track that there were no exciting climby bits at all, much to my disappointment. We passed the two rock pillars, and decided to save closer inspection till the return.
25 minutes from the junction between the Face track and the Lake Rodway track, and we were on the summit. Perfectly (not) timed for when the mist was nice and thick, and any attempt at a photo resulted in one very white picture. But it did lift a little from time to time, and a whistle down to a string of walkers on the Face track below had them looking up to see us :). Pity we didn’t get any views of Cradle, it’s reputed to be quite a different perspective along the mountain.
It was a little bit cold, kind of damp, and the views weren’t going to materialise any more than they had, oh, and there was a rather strong desire to go and check out those pillars! So we did, Graham’s foot sliding out (a bit of a warning) on the very wet and slippery rock as we climbed around the base to have a closer look at what getting on top would involve. It looked kind of manageable without equipment, in good weather, if just a little dangerous. It would involve a rather wide stretch of feet (especially for me) and, probably to Graham’s relief, I wasn’t actually prepared to do that in the wet. It would require care even when dry. But I will be back ;)!!
Slightly, but not too disappointed (I’m getting better), we headed down, picked up our packs again, refuelled on snacks (it wasn’t weather for having lunch) and started off along the Lake Rodway track, to the Scott Kilvert Hut. We hoped it wouldn’t be too packed, or that getting there a bit early would ensure we got an ok spot.
Our timing was perfect. There were a few different groups already settled in the hut, so we set up camp, just before the arrival of 5 inexperienced Overlanders (who weren’t actually Overlanders after all, as they’d missed their start time and weren’t allowed to start a day late), who did likewise. Shelter sorted, our stomachs came next. We settled on lunch with soup, followed by custard and strawberries, port and chocolate (some things are worth the weight ;)!). We decided we were settled on walking out to Mount Emmett and back the following day, had a bit of a long chat, and then crashed.
As usual at the end of a work week, the following morning it was a struggle to wake up, and the grey weather didn’t really help. But we had a plan, and weren’t going to be stuck in the tent or hut all day. So I dressed for the occasion, the holey leggings came out, shorts, thermal top, and even an insulated jacket, then rain jacket and overpants (it was cold, ok?!). I knew I’d be hot after 5 minutes, but cold again once we reached the ridge and had the wind to deal with too. And I was.
After 40 minutes we’d climbed up on to the ridge line, and were at the junction where you turn right to get onto the Overland track, or left to head off track towards Emmett. The cloud was in and you couldn’t actually see Emmett, just the first bump you go over. So we wandered off across the open terrain, and even when we were standing on its top you still couldn’t see Emmett, and barely had a clue as to where it was. But as we dropped down, we caught glimpses of a scrubby saddle and had an idea of what was to come.
There were numerous pads, all pretty much leading to the same place, some better than others though. We deviated once or twice, just for a taste of scrub, or was it because the Abels suggests fanning out so as not to form pads ;)?! But by and large we did a pretty good job.
I can remember thinking as we duck and wove through scrub that I was about ready for the scree to start. That was a mistake! It started soon enough, and was less scree than decent sized boulders. Not as big as they come, but enough to require a bit of climbing rather than just walking. Throw in the fact that they’re not worn, and the black and white fungus/lichen is ubiquitous and super slippery, and if you’re Graham you can’t see anything out of fogged up and drizzled on glasses.. and you get two of us moving in a cross between a crab-and-monkey-like scuttle-swing-step-slide motion! Very rarely were we moving with less than three to four points of contact. It required concentration, was tiring, wet, cold, windy, and (VERY) frustrating for people who usually hop and skip from boulder to boulder! Not surprising then that upon reaching the summit (the second one, an hour and a half after having left the track), we promptly retreated.
Every now and again the grey would brighten to a white, and a hint of our shadows flickered on rock, as the sun tried to push through a slightly thinner bit of cloud, but it never quite succeeded, and was gone as fast as it came. As we walked back, feet now squelching in boots that had filled with the water that ran down our legs as we brushed past scrub, I began to ponder the significance of Easter and the parallels it has with life. Of crucifixion (fortunately none of that in the literal sense these days), of sacrifice, of loss, of pain, of giving up something for someone else, of right and wrong (sin, if you wish), and then of resurrection, of forgiveness, of life after death, of a new, different way of being to before… of hope.. I wouldn’t call myself Christian, I really don’t like those kind of labels actually (or maybe I’m just too lazy to sort out what I ‘am’), but it’s good to think about those kind of things every now and again.
This made the time pass at a different speed (actually, I always find that time is warped when I walk), especially in light of the fact that the weather and walking conditions were not so conducive to chatting (another way of speeding time up). As we approached the first bump we’d been over, very ready to be back at the hut in dry clothes and warming up in front of the fire, the mist lifted enough to give us a peek at the top of Cradle! That brought smiles to both our faces, and made the walk even more worth it. It was another reminder that while walking in the rain and mist is often cold, wet and not so much fun, when you do get a tiny bit of a view, or a hint of sun, it is so much more meaningful, and gives a lot more joy. Very true that you don’t know what you have, and often don’t appreciate it the way you should, until you don’t have it. Not to mention that there’s often many other gifts to be found in these conditions, including raindrops on spiderwebs, frost crystals on flowers or ice shards in water..
Back at the hut just before 4, priority was given to getting the fire going (thanks Graham!), getting into warm clothes, and drying our gear as best we could. We again had our lunch and soup for dinner (it would be the first time ever either of us would take back all the dinners we’d brought to eat). We spent the evening making light conversation with some new arrivals. Later on, some more serious exchange of ideas on those things I’d been thinking about on the way back from Emmett. There’s not many people I know who are willing to engage in that kind of intellectual and emotional exploration (I have tended to enjoy these kinds of conversations mostly with my mother), and I do very much value these interactions. It was a fitting and meaningful way to end the day.
The next morning, though Monday, seemed like it was a day late, and would have been more fitting for Easter Sunday. There was a frost, so it was crystal clear, Cradle was out, and it felt like a brand new day (in the way that some days just feel ‘newer’ than others). It was light, but the sun wasn’t up just yet, so I headed for the loo, and when walking back spotted a red glow through the trees, so I went straight for the lake. Hardly surprising to find Graham already there, camera in hand, knees bent, bum out, in a typical photographer pose!
The view (not of Graham, mind ;)!), was just stunning. The sky and lake were reds, oranges and yellows, there was a thin layer of mist floating across the surface of the water, and shards of ice by the water’s edge. Just breathtaking, and smile/laugh inducing. It’s mornings like these that I live for.
A breakfast interlude, and then Cradle was lit up orange for a minute or two. We had to get moving, as we had enough distance to cover (both walking and driving), and as we packed we also watched the misty cloud descend. I’d had hopes of a view from Cradle, but they were quickly dashed. Cold, half dry clothes were donned, and off we headed. By the time we’d made it round the back of Cradle and were on the Overland track we’d had views of the mountains further along the track (Oakleigh, Pelion East and West, Ossa etc etc) but Cradle was under mist again.
It only got worse the further we walked, and I wondered if we’d attempt Cradle after all. But Graham’s quite the peak bagger now (!), so we dropped our packs at Kitchen Hut and started out. It was shorter and faster than I remembered, and after the day before on Emmett’s slippery rock Cradle was a walk (stroll perhaps?!) in the park. It was quite enjoyable actually!! A happy birthday message to Jane from the summit, and a text to mum too (I’d promised her, but hadn’t sent anything because Emmett was just too cold and wet). Then back down. It was a happy surprise to encounter two young women who had decided to head up, despite the conditions, and just see how far they could get! That made me smile :). To top it off, after leaving the boulders and hitting the rocky track, instead of walking Graham started to run/skip/dance down to the hut. Sure, wet slippery rock, fogged up glasses (for him), and tiredness were probably not the best mix to be doing that kind of thing, but there’s really no better or more fun way to come down a mountain! It certainly had me laughing joyfully!
We chose the quickest way back (1 hr 40 mins from Kitchen Hut), because we were already short on time and still had a coach to wait for and catch and a 4+ hour drive back. Though it had been perhaps the easiest, most relaxed, weekend of walking I’d done all summer (only 33.3km, and 2578m ascent), I was absolutely exhausted!