We aimed for a 7.30 start and were on the track by 0740. Heads down into a smashing wind right from the beginning. The first leg was only five kilometres but it was across open moor along an exposed ridgeline and that nor’wester hammered us as hard as it could. I watched pack covers ahead of me ripple and shimmer. Walkers, myself included would pause in mid step as gusts hit them least they get blown off the boardwalk. Sometimes the wind caught us unawares and we were off anyway. We were aiming for Kitchen Hut from which we plan to launch a run up Cradle Mountain.We make the hut in a little under two hours. Even for our slowest walkers that is excellent going and I am pleased. But in the last half hour of walking though battering rain there have been three or four occasions when snow has let down through the showers. A cooler layer of air is just above us and threatening snow. Sure enough, about half an hour out I point out to those walking with me the sides of Cradle Mountain, decorated with patches of white when the cloud tears off briefly to show us her midriff. It’s an unusual effect – the wind is driving the snow onto only one face of the rock so the whole mountain side takes on a speckled look. Then the cloud fills the space and the view is lost again.
We arrive at Kitchen Hut to discover a group of recalcitrant walkers. They are none two excited about the prospect of pushing on in this weather and even though this hut is to be used for emergencies they have stopped overnight fearing they were suffering or about to suffer frostbite. Their leader is indulging them. They are a surely lot lacking an ounce of humour. This walk is not about anything other than your mind. If the head I sin the right place, humour and a capacity to overcome will follow. Okay, some gortex helps as well.
We drop packs, gather wits and turn for the mountain. It’s a great climb which rapidly loses its path and we follow poles lodged in large boulders. It becomes a scambling climb up into the snow which buffets and slaps us, and on occasions stings us as it turns to hail. Up over the first saddle, down and around, up over the second saddle and then we pause. Only a short climb now to the top, only metres away and clerly within reach. But we make a call and decide to retreat. The snow ahead of us is covers all the rocks and we are ill equipped with our bushwalking boots to tackle slippery surfaces. And the walkers are not experienced enough to handle what is in front of us. There are gaps in the rocks into which a body could slip and be nigh on impossible to retrieve. And even if they could be retrieved a broken bone up here would be beyond our capabilities to evacuate. So we stop out of the wind, grab a snack and drink the celebratory bottle of ginger beer intended for the summit. We have done well to get this far in freezing conditions and on treacherous surfaces. We remind the lads of the care needed to descend and off we go. All I am thinking and praying now is “get down safely.”
We ease our way back the way we came with the wind buffeting us and stinging our faces. We get back to Kitchen hut inside the time we had set ourselves and those we had left there. They brewed up hot cups of tea for us and then we were on our way.
The breeze is still up as we make our way across to Marions Lookout. As we head over the top the snow starts to fall in earnest and is no longer occasional flurries. We pass two Chinese girls as we reach the apex. They are delighted to be caught in the snow and are taking photos as fast as they can and are laughing. I am always delighted to find others out here who are enjoying themselves and I can’t but help smile. They are on a day excursion having travelled down here from Melbourne. We make it to Marions Lookout where we catch a breathtaking view. A chap from Darwin arrived there just as we did. He is ex Army and now working on Christmas Island. He happily takes some group photos for us and then proceeds to pull a bottle of red wine from his duffle bag and pours himself a glass. He tells us his wife is on the climb somewhere behind him. If we see her tell her he has started singing. The thickening snow and the red wine plus the grand view are enough reason to sing. Again I smile – another person just happy to be here. By now the snow is starting to thicken up and against the backdrop of the dark and deep Crater Lake the spots of white sail lazily down past us into the depths of the hole on our left. We pick our way down from Marions Gap and along the side of the lake before descending down to the small, sunken, wooden shingled boat house where Jim and Chris take a quick dip. The track winds down through our final stand of beech past Crater Lake Falls and the snow thickens up even as we walk through here. It drops through the foliage into the creek and adds a mystical and magical air to the place. It’s tempting to pause and watch but we are hoping to catch the last bus out of Ronny Creek and it is pressing towards 1500– the last bus is at 1600 Miss it and we have another 5km walk out.
We make it in time to Ronny Creek and the bus appears ten minutes later. The snow is layering down very thickly by now and the road and track is covered. Another hour of this and the anti skid netting on the board walks will be useless.
Our final evening on the track is spent at the backpackers and in a communal kitchen area. I stoke the fire and turn it into something that will radiate and dry us. It’s not long before steam is lifting off damp clothes and boots. We decide to pool our remaining food and Chris and Frances turn up four different noodle and rice dishes that vanish very quickly, followed by custard and coconut rice dessert. It’s a good way to wrap up.
Day 8 Click here
Day 6 Click here
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