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Summiting Cradle Mountain

Tasmania is one of those places you hear about, but rarely meet someone who has been there. It’s the more modest side of Australia that often gets overlooked, and seems to have more in common with New Zealand than the mainland. We first learned of it’s beautiful walks, stunning beaches and exotic wildlife from our friends Max and Michelle from Hobart (Tasmania’s capital) that we met while walking the Kepler Track. Hearing their stories planted the seed of curiosity and lust to experience this rugged, unique place.

Jordan and I have seen A LOT of New Zealand so we were due for a new adventure. Tasmania was at the top of the list as it offered so many of the outdoor and adventure activities we love so much but in a new exciting environment. One spot many people told us not to miss was Cradle Mountain. Home to the world famous Overland Track, we would have LOVED to take on this premier 6 day walk, but with limited time, it just wasn’t going to be an option for us if we wanted to see more of the area. So after some research, we learned about an overnight trek to Scott Kilvert Hut that would provide a really good taste of bushwalking in Tasmania’s most famous national park.

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With the weather not looking great for our first day, we decided to take our time in the morning and wait for the rain to subside before getting on the track. Mid-morning we made our way down to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre where we parked our campervan and hopped onto one of the free (with a park pass) shuttles to Dove Lake. Although we would have rather drive our campervan there ourselves, to control the influx of people (and the very narrow roads), they only allow small cars to drive to the carpark. That wasn’t an issue though as the shuttles ran every 20mins throughout the day and provided some great local commentary along the way.

As we arrived at Dove Lake the famous changing, and dramatic weather known in Cradle Mountain was in full force. Winds were gusting up to 100km/hr, the rain was falling nearly sideways and at one point it started hailing! Despite the not-so-optimal weather, we set off on the track but were halted pretty quickly when the force of the wind ripped our pack covers off, resulting in us needing to use carabiners to secure them to our packs!  Finally sorted, we turned left towards Lake Rodway Track across the eastern slopes of Dove Lake.

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After passing Glacier Rock, a popular look-out point along the 2 hour Dove Lake Circuit, we continued upwards through the rocky track towards Hanson’s Peak. Taking a short track to the right of Hanson’s Lake to the cliff edge, we found a perfect viewpoint of the iconic Cradle Mountain. Knowing we had only a 3 hour hike to the hut, and with lots of daylight left, we took our time to enjoy the scenery.

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Luckily by now the rain had pretty much reduced to a light mist, and we were rewarded with some breaks in the clouds to reveal a bit of blue sky and sun. The wind though still hadn’t let up. You could actually see it rushing across the lake, forming little white caps in the water. In the distance, we could see the carpark filling up with tourists as the weather began to improve.

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Continuing on towards Hansen’s Peak, we climbed up the rocky slate, using the chain link railings to help pull ourselves up with our big packs. As per usual, Jordan and I never just carry a light overnight pack – we fill our 65 litre packs with as much camera equipment we can carry – and this trek was no exception. Many people on the shuttle assumed we were doing the 6 day Overland Track when they saw what we were carrying! “This is great! We’re training for mountaineering this winter” Jordan would say 😛

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The view at the top of Hanson’s Peak I reckon was the best we saw along the trek. It really made the mountain look dramatic and intimidating as I looking at the jagged, steep cliffs. I started thinking about our planned summit tomorrow and wondered how it was possible to navigate to the top!

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Descending down Hansen’s Peak, we made a quick detour towards Twisted Lakes. One of the staff members at the Visitor Centre recommended we make the 5 minute stop as it provided a beautiful view of the mountain over the crystal clear lakes surrounded by pencil pine trees – a photographers dream!

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With the day passing us by, we decided to quicken our pace and start making our way towards the hut. Passing the small rangers hut at the base of Little Horn, we took the detour to the left of the track into the valley towards Scott Kilvert Hut. This section of the track is not as traveled as the popular circuit tracks of Dove Lake therefore was barely any traces of other hikers along the way.

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Passing the beautiful glacial lakes, Artist’s Pool and Flynn’s Tarn, the track descended gently towards the hut near Lake Rodway. The cosy A-frame structure, Scott-Kilvert Hut has a sad history as it was built as a memorial to David Kilvert and Ewan Scott – a student and teacher, who died in the area in a blizzard in 1965.

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The hut system in Tasmania is similar to New Zealand’s backcountry huts as it’s on a first come first serve basis, however you’re required to carry a tent with you at all times. Even the popular huts don’t have a booking system and often have very different hut sizes along tracks requiring many to sleep in tents some nights if they’re late arriving. The other difference is none of the huts in Tasmania offer mattresses or stoves, so you’re required to carry a lot more gear on these tracks. When we arrived we were surprised to see only one other person in the hut, a young frenchman, so were relieved we weren’t going to have to brave the below zero temperatures overnight in our tent.

Jordan tended to the camera while I fixed us up a hot serving of roasted lamb and vegetables (thanks to our freeze dried meals). We enjoyed our dinner overlooking Lake Rodway as we watched the colorful sunset. On our way back to the hut, Jordan spotted a little creature nearby, and while at the time we had no idea what it was, we later learned it was a red-bellied or Tasmanian Pademelon. Abundant throughout the area, the pademelon is a similar species to Wallaby’s and Kangaroos but a much smaller size and shorter tail (we weren’t able to get close enough to get a good picture)

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With no bunk beds or mattresses to sleep on, the best sleeping option was upstairs on the wooden floor. I have to admit, considering we were in Tasmania, I had nightmares of spiders crawling into my sleeping bag during the night, and coupled with the fact that it was FREEZING inside the hut, I didn’t sleep that well.

In the morning it was still hovering over zero and I was glad we had packed several extra layers for warmth. Setting off just before sunrise, we debated taking a loop around the other side to Cradle Mountain, but decided to re-traced our steps back out of the valley to give us more time at the summit.

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Once back at the turn-off near Little Horn, we headed left and started climbing up towards the Face Track as we gained a beautiful view of Dove Lake and Lake Wilks. Some sections of the track here were pretty full on, and I wondered how some unprepared tourists managed to navigate their way through some of the steep rocky sections. Maybe it felt worst with all the gear on our backs but it definitely had a higher degree of difficultly than you would expect for such a popular location.

Just over 2 hours into our hike we arrived at the turn off to the summit track. The sun was shining and there was little to no wind – a very rare occurrence in Cradle Mountain! As we stared up towards the jagged, dolerite columns I really wondered how this summit was going to be possible as it looked impenetrable without some serious rock climbing gear.

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The beginning of the track was straight forward and easy. Most people drop their packs and race up to the top, but with all our camera gear in our bags there was only one way up – with them on our backs. Our early start meant there were few others around with only another couple just a hundred metres ahead of us on the track. The easy-going track was quickly replaced with huge boulders, making it much slower and tougher to navigate with no real path to follow – just a few stakes in the rocks.

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I was really happy we had recently been taking a rock climbing course with the NZ Alpine Club as our bouldering skills definitely came in handy. With an extra 20kg on my back it was really difficult trying to manage my centre of gravity and not fall backwards through the boulder field. This turned out to be a pretty serious climb. What made it worst was when the rock underneath my feet or hands would give way or shift, completely crushing my confidence moving forward.

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Thinking we were nearly at the top, I was pretty much devastated to see that the track continued on through a rock valley and was no where close to the top. For whatever reason this next section really got to me. With deep holes between boulders and harry sections with the pack, every move required some serious calculation and made me hold my breath till I was safe on the next rock. And this took way longer than we expected – well for me anyways. I was just happy the forecast snow the night before didn’t arrive as I couldn’t imagine the climb with ice and snow in the mix! Jordan of course was completely fine with the near 25kg pack – again it was ‘good training for mountaineering’.

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I on the other hand I had had enough. I dropped my pack once we reached the other side, grabbed the camera and food necessities and headed off for the last section to the summit – pack free! This was SOOOO much better! I quickly re-gained my confidence and was able to skip and hop my way through the boulder field. The last upwards section though had some pretty big moves, so it was probably good I left my pack as I actually ended up helping hold the glidecam and camera while Jordan used all hands and feet to pull himself up the rocks. Once at the top though – WOW!! Incredible view of the valleys below with the towering rock columns surrounding the summit.

Can you spot me below?

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The mountains in Tasmania are very different from New Zealand. Poking up out of seemingly no where, they are piles of stacked rock columns that are pretty intimidating. At the summit (if you can see the ‘ants’ below) there’s a sheer drop off the one side that really makes your stomach churn the closer you get.

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The weather had stayed incredible as well – sun out and pretty much no wind we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We ended up being the third group at the top that morning, but when we arrived it was a very short window of having it all to ourselves as the crowds of pack-less people, climbing much faster than we were, started making their way to the top. We took our time and enjoyed some lunch at the summit, taking in the view (and of course flying the drone!)

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I could have stayed up there all day. The view was pretty spectacular, but mostly I was dreading the climb down -especially with the pack. As I made it back to my bag (assuming it would be still there as who would WANT to steal it if it meant they had to carry it down), I started across that tough section again but it was surprisingly easier than the way up. Reaching the downward section we began running into the crowds. Heaps of people were making their way up, but many were calling it quits at this point and not continuing on. That made for a tough climb down as we were usually trying to go the same path as the swarms of people heading up. Luckily many gave us the right of way as soon as they saw our packs.

At one point I was using all four limbs to try to get down to the next rock, but it was just out of reach. As I felt the rock behind me start pushing my pack forward I yelled for Jordan to support me as I had visions of rolling face first down the boulders. With his help I made it down safely without overturning, but it again did nothing for my confidence. At least we were nearly through the tough section!

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Jordan seriously amazes me. He climbed that mountain with his giant pack and not once did he complain or doubt himself. He truly lives for this stuff. And capturing it on film is his passion. He’s willing to do what most wouldn’t even consider to ‘get the shot’ and sometimes I can’t even look when he’s doing some of his crazy maneuvers – like the one below. Makes for pretty epic videos though as you’ve seen 🙂 – can’t wait to share this one!!

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By the end I was happy to be back on solid ground, we finished the round trip in just under 4 hours (not counting the hour at the top). Suffice to say we blew the recommended time, but that’s why we started as early as we did. Heading off towards Marion’s Lookout we followed the boardwalk path as we took in the view of Cradle Mountain from the westward side.

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Marion’s Lookout is probably the most popular short walk in the park. There was more than two dozen people snapping photos at the lookout with even more making their way up and down the track to the carpark. Crater Lake was situated just behind Marion’s Lookout which looked tempting to swim in after that challenging summit.

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From here we made our way back down to Dove Lake and arrived at the famous boat shed. Before arriving in Tasmania I must have seen hundreds of pictures of this boat shed on the small beach, so it wasn’t a surprise to find a sea of people snapping photos. Wishing the blue sky had stuck around a little longer, the grey clouds just didn’t have the same effect as some of the stunning photos I had seen.

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With the last shuttle scheduled to leave at 6pm, we made it back to the carpark with about 30 minutes to spare. After more than a 10 hour day I couldn’t wait to take off my shoes and curl up in our little campervan. The huge line for the shuttle unfortunately delayed that comfort, but it wasn’t too long before we were on our way.

If you’re looking for more than a day hike in Cradle Mountain, but don’t have time for the full 6 day Overland Track, I highly recommend staying at Scott-Kilvert hut and tackling the summit. The eastward side through Hanson’s Peak is much less crowded than Marion’s Look-out and provided a better vantage point of the mountain. Be sure to get on the track early to beat the crowds and hope for good weather!

Check out Episode 1 – Cradle Mountain – Wild Tasmania Series

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