Thursday, 11 March 2010

Back to Cradle

[Savouring the summit of Cradle Mountain, Tasmania]

Recently I returned to the summit of Cradle Mountain. It was partly in the spirit of getting back on my horse, although the proverbial dog returning to his vomit could be another way of looking at it.

Last October I fell off the mountain. Or at least I slipped and fell off a part of the mountain, somersaulting backwards down a snowy chute for a few frightening seconds. You can read about it here http://auntyscuttle.blogspot.com/2009/10/cradled.html

But March is a very different time of the year to October. I often tell visitors that autumn is Tasmania’s most reliable season. So the plan to spend the March long weekend at Cradle Mountain with my wife Lynne and some of my mainland family looked good on paper. That was until a rogue low pressure trough began slouching across Bass Strait towards us. It looked as though card games, eating and reading might be our only forms of exercise.

But you’ve gotta love the fact that Tassie is a relatively small meteorological target. I’ve seen cold fronts mysteriously slip beneath the island, or just softly caress the south-west, and leave the populated parts basking. And ugly low pressure systems can sometimes wobble dangerously off the east coast, yet hardly land a precipitative punch.

This time the trough decided to linger over the flesh-pots of Melbourne, deluging the Victorian capital, denting it with golf ball-sized hail, and even stopping several sporting events (no mean feat in sports-mad Melbourne). In contrast the day that Lynne and I planned to climb Cradle stayed clear, warm and sunny.

Marions Lookout has to be climbed first, and there’s no way around it being sharp and steep. It’s good training for what’s to come once you amble across the plateau, past Kitchen Hut, and reach the face of Cradle itself. There’s no ambling after that – just one foot in front of the other, until it becomes one foot and one hand in front of the other.

I’m always in two or three minds when it comes to telling a first-timer what a walk or climb is like. Is it really helpful to tut, tssk and mutter things like “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” as they gasp and pant and beg for a stop? On the other hand, will your memory of the walk be at all accurate? In my experience, the answer is “rarely”. Time, rose-coloured glasses, and neuronal glitches often combine to make my memory hazy.

In this case, however, it had only been 5 months since my last ascent. And I had plenty of reasons to remember it vividly! Fortunately Lynne was feeling particularly determined, and my hints of dire boulder scrambling ahead didn’t dent her confidence. She was more interested in seeing where I had fallen – and so was I!

The absence of snow made the site of the fall both more and less dramatic. More, because the chute looked even steeper without its cushion of snow. Less, because the snow had been intimidatingly deep. We paused for the obligatory “here’s where you nearly lost me” photo, and then it was another couple of hundred metres of scrambling before we could celebrate summiting the lovely Cradle Mountain. For me it was ascent no. 5 (or is it 6); for Lynne it was a first. Her eyes bagan to water, I must report. And why not? It was a significant ascent for someone who had so often stayed behind looking after children while I was off on mountain tops.

We topped off a superb morning by having lunch, and then finding a quiet spot to simply lie down and soak up the wonder of it all. It was a much gentler surrender to gravity than last October. It was good to be back.
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