Monday 31 August 2015

Rocking Cradle 1: Small Expectations

Unexpected gifts, by definition, are not expected. 
You cannot prepare yourself for them.

In the case of weather, no matter how fervently you hope for a particular outcome, or how much faith you put in forecast accuracy, weather is still driven by a chaos engine. Que sera sera!

[Could we hope for weather like this?] 
So in preparing for our recent 3 day trip to Cradle Mountain, we needed to cover all manner of gloomy possibilities. The weather station in Cradle Valley receives just shy of 3 metres of precipitation a year. That falls at least every other day, more often in winter, and average maximum temperatures for August are below 5 degrees. As we’d be staying at a higher altitude, we knew it would be windier, wetter, colder, cloudier and snowier. Over 3 days we’d undoubtedly have rain, and probably snow, sleet and hail.

In light of all this we booked a hut, and made sure we stocked it with food, beverages, books and games. Good conversation and companionable silences in a warm and dry place would help us while away our days if – or more likely when – the weather stopped play.

Add to that mix the previous week’s weather. Heavy snowfalls had blocked the road to Waldheim and Dove Lake, and covered the mountains with thick snow. A day or two out the forecast for our three days was for showery weather, with snow at higher altitudes. That would surely include our hut, which sat at nearly 1100m.

With suitably small expectations, we arrived at a cloudy, showery Waldheim early on Sunday afternoon. That morning Tim D had made himself a pair of snowshoes, and was keen to test them out in a snowdrift near the carpark. I was more than happy to join him, as I’d just procured some second-hand Yowie snowshoes that also needed trying out.

[Tim tests out his bespoke snowshoes] 
As Tim stomped about in the snow I eyed his creations – a confection of lawn mower grass-catcher bits and bread crate cast-offs tied up by wire – with a mixture of suspicion and mirth. Still they passed their (not exactly rigorous) test run, and were soon strapped onto his pack for the 1 hour wander up to the hut.

The boardwalk sections near the start were only partially snow-covered, so snowshoes weren’t warranted. But the whole landscape was cold and icy, with low clouds scudding by, occasionally dropping rain on us. We kept our waterproofs on despite the warm work of trudging up-slope.

I had tried not to talk up the hut to Lynne, but I was hopeful she’d be pleasantly surprised by its level of comfort. A Scout-owned “lodge”, it was opened in 1960, but has been greatly modified and updated over the years. As we trudged through the now deep snow, we were all pleased to see the hut. We ascended the snowy steps that lead from the track to the hut’s deck area and entrance, already impressed by its well-kept appearance.

[Approaching the hut] 
The inside smelled clean. We’d passed the previous hut occupants on the track, and they’d obviously used disinfectant liberally. From my previous visit in the 1980s, I could recall only the hut’s airy feel and pine-lined interior. It had retained those, but the layout seemed neater, better equipped, and the stainless steel lined kitchen was an eye-popper. It felt truly modern and comfortable – not something I would normally associate with mountain huts.

That in itself was something of an unexpected gift. But there was more to come, once we’d unpacked and claimed bunks. Through unspoken agreement we knew we hadn’t yet earned rest or refreshment. Besides, we had snowshoes to test out, and snow to play in. So despite ongoing showers, we put our waterproofs back on and went out to play.

[In search of a good downhill run] 
At the first good snowfield Tim and I put on our snowshoes. To be honest Lynne and Merran didn’t look at all envious, as showers had made the snow slushy. Their realism was soon confirmed when, a few minutes into their maiden voyage, Tim’s creations fell apart. It seems lawn mower grass-catcher isn’t snow-tempered, and it soon parted ways with the rest of the shoe. Tim hid his disappointment – and his defunct snowshoes – and post-holed his way up to a decent snow bank. His flesh and blood toboggan wouldn’t fail so readily.

[Lynne takes off on her waterproof-gear toboggan] 
If getting up to the snow bank took effort, sliding down didn’t. We simply sat on our bottoms, lifted our feet, and slid and yahooed our way down a good 50 metres. Then we did it again. But the effort of climbing back soon combined with a mini-blizzard to cut the sport short. Through icy bullets we mooshed and hooshed our way back down to the hut. We were convinced – in our own minds at least – that this bit of adventure had earned us some rest. Tomorrow, as we would discover, would be another adventure.

[Heading back to the hut] 

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