Eight Days of Madness: Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair (1 of 3)

I’d always been a keen lover of wilderness and bush walking. However, I had never done more than a couple of hours at any one time, certainly not overnight. So what possessed me to drag my poor partner (Mal) off to the wilds of Tasmania to attempt one of Australia’s hardest long distance walks? I have no idea, but would I do it again? – yes, in a flash!!

We flew into Launceston laden with 20kg backpacks, stayed overnight in a gorgeous colonial style guest house and then took a six o’clock bus ride though beautiful scenery to Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. It was pouring with rain and very cold. Mind you, we had taken this trip in the middle of February when the weather is supposed to be still warm (and dry!!).

Jumping off the bus at 2pm, keen as punch, we decided to try and make the first hut into the Overland Track – talk about the first sign of madness! What we should have done was stayed at Waldheim Hut which is so quaint and DRY and then attempted the track next morning when we were fresh and it was dry. No instead we set off – totally missed out on seeing Cradle valley and Dove Lake, in fact couldn’t see more than 10 meters in front of us, the fog and rain was so dense.

The 20kg packs became heavier with each step and of course we decided to take the most direct route which turned out to be straight up. It’s very hard to CLIMB up rock faces with a sodden 20kg on your back, rain pelting into your face and and the wind biting into your face and fingers. Why we continued on, I’ll never know.

We passed Cradle Mountain (didn’t see it either) and made our way against gale force winds along the narrow ridge line to an emergency hut called Kitchen Hut. It looked very rickety and unstable. We flung open the door and got the biggest fright of our lives – inside standing shoulder to shoulder had to be about 30 other trekkers and their packs. Of course there was no room for us two, but heck, it was cold – they looked warm so we crammed ourselves in. I couldn’t stop laughing because we were all so squashed it reminded me of the game “sardines” and all we needed was someone to come find us.

After the body heat warmed us up, and I’m sure there were a few hands where they shouldn’t have been (could have been the walking poles though), we made our way to the first overnight hut at Barn Bluff. Now there are two huts here. The first is a very swish newly erected hut, the other looks like it’s about to fall down any minute. Of course, there were too many bodies in the swish hut, so we tramped down to the rickety hut and found a lovely pair of English trampers to share with. Just the 4 of us in a hut that could sleep 12 – it was great. The other hut had something like 34 bodies and they were using the floor and tables to sleep on. Hmmmm, nothing like a comfortable first night!!

Three days into our trek we finally saw Cradle Mountain. We were 30kms away standing on Mt Oakley – it was Valentine’s day, the sun was shining, it was fabulously warm and of course very romantic…. and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The trek up to Mt Oakley was great. It began with wide open grassland, crossing a couple of fast flowing springs. The flat grassland led into tall eucalypt forest at the beginning of a steep climb. After an hour or so, we began traversing upwards through incredible pandine forest which looked like something from when time first began. These beautiful palm-like plants towered over us, their long spikey leaves brushing our bare legs and arms – I strongly recommend wearing gaiters when trekking this area.

Upon reaching what we thought was the top, we took a full roll of film, the countryside was stunning. Below us was the pandine forest and we were standing in what appeared to be a field of beautiful wildflowers with huge granite boulders jutting out amongst it.

Turning around we started following a track which, upon turning a corner, went straight up. We hadn’t reached the top at all, there was still another 300 metres to go!! This bit was a very tough climb but eventually we reached it and were stunned at the incredible 360° views. We could see forever… and that’s when we saw Cradle Mountain – some 30kms away and looking awesome. To our north east was the incredible Walls of Jerusalem which one day I intend to climb.

Read Part 2