It was here I made a big mistake. After leaving the hut I didn’t ask Hiro to check that my pack was still in intact and equally he failed to notice that I had caught my strap on the door of the hut as I left, dislodging my sleeping bag. As we left the hut we saw the foolish Australian heading back towards Dove Lake. This provided me with a small amount of cold comfort, at least he hadn’t frozen to death on Cradle Mountain.
From Kitchen Hut walking conditions became much more difficult. The track was difficult to distinguish in places and my footing became very unsure. Several times I ended up on my knees or with my hand stopping me ending up face first in the snow.
After walking through a particularly difficult area of track I crossed a small creek and felt something flapping behind me. It was the plastic wrapping that I had used to protect my sleeping bag flapping in the wind. The awful truth struck me, my sleeping bag had fallen out. This may not sound too much of a problem but that sleeping bag could have meant the difference between me living or dying. It was also nowhere in sight behind me. I quickly headed back down the path towards Hiro waving and gesturing about my sleeping bag.
Then I saw it. It had fallen off my pack and rolled down the side of a small mound before coming to rest on the edge of a small stream. I thanked God for my good fortune, if the bag had ended up in the stream I would have been in real trouble. We were too far along and too late in the day to abandon the trek and drying the bag out would have presented real difficulties. I quickly picked the bag up and made sure it was correctly strapped to my back and in its waterproof wrapping. I’m sure my sigh of relief could have been heard at Lake St Clair seventy kilometres away.
We were now at the western face of Cradle Mountain. It’s natural castles looked solemnly down us in implacable judgement, perhaps considering whether we were worthy of it. After my piece of good fortune I put my head down and resolved myself to being worthy and getting to the other end.
Despite my earlier hopes that we had walked the hardest part of the track conditions continued to get tougher. We were walking on an angle with snow varying between knee and waist deep. Every other step I seemed to slip and end up on my side. This was both energy sapping and morale destroying, I simply wanted to get to the end of days walking and to our next target of Waterfall hut.
The wind was getting even stronger now and I began to really feel the cold. I was sweating profusely but was not warm. Mentally I could feel myself weakening. Hiro was dropping further behind and every time I waited for him to appear from behind a ridge or from round a corner the wind buffeted me and the cold bit into my inner core.
As Hiro caught up I asked him how he felt. Amazingly, he responded in the same way as normal.
“Oh, very good.”
As we slogged past the face of Cradle Mountain, Benson Peak took over as the mountain on our left. I set myself a small and simple goal of getting to the end of the peak and it would be all downhill from there. It seemed like a lifetime before we got to the end of Benson Peak and reached a sign giving directions. I cannot tell you how many times I slipped in the bank of snow on my left or my right foot dropping away beneath me as the packed snow gave away.
Upon reaching the sign I wasn’t heartened by what it said. It told us that Waterfall hut was another hour away. We had already been walking for nearly five hours over a piece of track that should have taken us about half that. What made matters worse for me was that the sign also pointed around the south end of Benson Peak toward the Scott Kilvert Memorial Hut, a lasting reminder to a previous death on the mountain. It is a very simple and powerful reminder of my mortality and the devastating effect of the weather. My morale plunged further as I again waited for Hiro to catch up.
Read Part 7