Cradle Mountain Area 2018 Nov

Cradle Area 2018 Nov

The forecast was good. I found a kind neighbour to mind my dog. I was off. I was excited … until I found myself at a locked barricade at the start of the Dove Lake Road. I had heard rumours of this, but my head has been in the sand this year. Bang. Reality hit me: We northern Tasmanians have now been officially locked out of our play area. The tourists have priority (although we are the ones whose taxes go to Sparks and Wildfire). I have had so many fun times in this playground – times when Bruce and I would dash up after work, have a picnic tea by the Lake, and then proceed to Waterfall Valley Hut for the night, doing most of the trip in the dark. We loved it: a bygone era, when Tasmanians were allowed to play in their own National Parks. They were also days when the paths were not littered with toilet paper, and our eyes were not assaulted by signs that assume the reader has an IQ of about 50, informing the intruder to hang on, to be careful, to walk in a single direction … pointing out that if we step over a huge cliff, we will surely fall. 

I sat near the barricade for an hour, after which time the precious tourists had finished being shuffled, so many sheep going baa (one guy [unprompted] complained to me that he felt like he was in a factory on a conveyor belt) to the lake, and I was allowed in, hotly pursued by others who wanted access for the evening. Unfortunately, I had camping in mind, so set off at a trot over the hills and far away, over the back of Cradle. Having been locked out, I had to speedwalk in the dark, but that doesn’t matter, as I’m just a local, a faceless nuisance whose needs don’t register on the great desks of the money makers. I also, of course, got to choose my tent spot and to pitch in the dark.

Despite my swearing at Sparks and Wildfire and the government, I did enjoy my evening in the mountains. It was a mild night, and I had fun with a spot of astro photography. Next morning, the scenery made me forget the travesty of the loss of my playground and I delighted in nature’s wonder (lots of photos here) before downing a quick breakfast and getting back out before the busloads began. The Wilderness runs to timetables now. If that is “wilderness”, we need a new word for the real thing that is being denied to us. What a pity these bureaucrats use words they don’t understand. How is it that the fate of all that beauty is in the hands of people who have no personal acquaintance with the object of their edacious decisions?

Cradle Mountain 2017 autumn

Quamby Bluff in the early light. I so love a dawn start to my jaunts. 
Whilst everyone else seemed to be dashing to Cradle Mountain for the fagus season, my interest lay in the fungi that usually appear at this time of the year, and in the waterfalls that should be flowing after our recent rains. I was impatient to get there and see what I could see.

I had a wonderful day – by myself, so I had head space, and yet not by any means alone, as everywhere I went I met new lovely people who wanted to chat to me, so had a delightfully companionable day as well. It was a perfect mix of solitude and sociability. Many, many of these people helped me in one way or another: one cleaned my car camera (for reversing) for me, one helped me adjust the stiff legs of my new tripod and taught me how to use it as a monopod as well. When I lost my black gloves at late dusk, people assisted in trying to locate them for me. On every trail I walked, I met people who wanted to discuss ‘fungi success’ on other trails, or camera gear, or to relate stories to me of this or that walk they’d done elsewhere. The mountains were full of nature addicts. It was so lovely to be helped rather than be the eternal helper, which my role as carer of my ill husband dictates. With every breath the air felt so fresh and clean: two lungfuls for the price of one, it seemed.
What follows is more of a photo essay than a verbal one. It is the story of my love of light, of nature, and of this beautiful, peaceful spot that I am privileged to call home.

Russula persanguinea 

And now we come to sunset. My battery is running dangerously low. I get into place, reckoning I’ll shoot until it runs out and then head for home. Shortly afterwards, a seeming crowd of photographers appeared. It got quite crowded, with tripod legs being intertwined with mine (but not spoiling my image). I was sure glad I’d arrived early.

I would have loved to stay at the party and shoot the stars. It would have been a freezing party, but jovial, I’m sure. Maybe next time I’ll be a little more careful when I pack my bag!!!

Crater Falls 2017 Apr

Crater Falls 2017 Apr

I needed some breathing space, some time out from being stuck at home as a carer., some solitude to regain some sanity. Only the wilderness could do that for me. off I set. I had never photographed Crater Falls before. I had just rushed past, giving it a nod in acknowledgement of its beauty, but always being obliged by the others I was with not to linger long enough to do it photographic justice, which takes rather a long while, actually. I had a lovely day rectifying that, and searching for fungi, which were playing hard to get, despite its being autumn. Groups of fagus hunters went merrily by. There was a great mood in the forest that day.

Cradle Mountain 2016 Dec

Cradle Mountain (yet again).
“Na. We’ve done Cradle Mountain,” said a relative visiting from the mainland when discussing options of where to go. I was speechless; utterly dumbfounded. They’ve been there once. I’m not convinced they’ve even walked the Dove Lake circuit, but they claim to have “DONE” Cradle Mountain. What is this “done”?

In the summer we moved here with a six and an eight year old, one of the first things we did was to climb Cradle Mountain (having climbed it as uni students shortly after our marriage). I feel guilty that I’ve only climbed this friendly giant eight times. Apart from anything else, each climb is different – different sky, different clouds, different shadows. New aspects of the overall scene strike you each time you summit. So much depends on the weather or the time of day you are there.

But “Cradle” is so much more than just that mountain. The name encompasses a variety of other wonders, such as the Plateau area, with its masses of tarns and fabulous winter skiing for children (we used to walk up carrying XC skis), the magic of the Ballroom Forest, the drama of the Hanson’s Peak approach, the plethora of hidden tarns in interesting crannies within a kilometre’s radius of the summit, and the lines of ridges emanating from the main massif, each with interesting views into gorges below. The forest at the back of Waldheim (or any other approaches to the high land) is “enchanted”; the forest officially called “enchanted” (the one behind the lodge) is not the only one to harbour a magic spell. Wombats forage here; fungi flourish. In autumn, tiny orange leaves make a wonderful tapestry across the pattern of tree roots that weave across the path.

Ancient trees over a thousand years old still stand as guardians of the wilderness they inhere. And what about the other mountains within cooee of the main attraction? Campbell, Kate, Emmett, Barn, Brewery Knob or Recondite Knob, to name “just” the Abels? In the photo two above, you can see Emmett peeping out behind the cradle part of the Big One, and Barn poking its distinctive head out of the yellow to the right. If Cradle is the only thing you have eyes for, then climb these to get a different view of the only thing your heart can hold.

To say you have “done” Cradle after a single visit is like saying you’ve “done” King Lear or Pride and Prejudice after a single reading. After one, you’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve read Lear at least twenty times (never counted, possibly more … one just keeps reading, and gaining more each time), but I sure haven’t “done” Lear, and I will die before I have “done” Cradle, because she has so much more to offer than a single person can hope to reap, even in a lifetime.

No drama in this spot: just gently, subtle beauty that left us feeling so very calm and peaceful as we sat and stared at it.

Maybe you need high drama: huge pointed peaks and a giddy height if you read the numbers on an altimeter. Although height is, of course, absolute, it is also a relative thing, and a mountain rising hugely from sea level (e.g. Wellington), or from land that is still not very high, can make a far bigger impression than some peer with a greater absolute altitude. But if you do need your peaks to be over 4,000 ms, well, good luck to you. That keeps “my” Cradle from getting too crowded. I am reminded of the story told by our employer in England once, of when he took a man from a nation whose citizens are renowned for wanting everything to be big and bold to the Lake District, and proudly showed him a magnificent lake of subtle and delicate beauty. The man was totally dismissive: “Why Richard,” he bragged, “we have much bigger and better than that back home.” Richard, normally a man who could argue any point, had no answer to that mentality, preserving the story only to laugh at people who thought like that. Thomas Kuhn would say they had reached a paradigm chasm (or ‘revolutionary’ divide), across which there is only partial communication due to the different assumptions each side makes as a foundation to what they think, say or do.

Let us return to this notion of having “done” a mountain, or Tasmania or whatever. As the girl serving us on our way home said, it denotes not a desire to see anything, or to experience anything properly, but rather, to tick a box: “Done Cradle Mountain”; “Done Tasmania” (I’ve heard that one too, from someone who spent a week here). Such ticking apparently earns you bragging rights amongst certain groups of people. Terry Eagleton, literary critic and social commentator of excellence, talked of (in disparaging tones) “the commodification of experience”, whereby marketers had taken up the idea of parcelling and selling experience so people could purchase / consume it. (Commodification is the turning of something that does not normally have a market value into something which is a commodity and can be sold). All of a sudden, your holiday to see Lake St Clair became the “Lake St Clair experience”. Tick. Hapless shopper-zombies were to tour the world, purchasing these “never to be forgotten experiences”, outdoing each other in the outré and adventurous nature of each one. Their lives could not possibly be complete without the X experience, now purchasable for the price of Y (a very big number). Poor shallow, frenetically-gathering experience hunters. Always worrying that the experience they just purchased would not cut it amongst the audience they were trying to impress. Perhaps they accidentally purchased last year’s must-do experience. I’m afraid this blog is failing you, as I have lost track of what is the latest experience you are supposed to have had, and so cannot help you.

But as for me, I will go to places that please me because they are beautiful and have subtleties and complexities that keep me entertained. I will keep visiting favourite haunts because to do so is to renew my acquaintance with places where familiarity means I already know a great deal and am on the watch to renew and strengthen a deep acquaintance. I will mix this up by exploring new places that tempt me by images I have seen or things I have heard of their beauty, but I will not always be chasing new friends, as old ones, ultimately, are more special, just like people.

Cradle Mountain 2016 Aug Snow camping

Cradle Mountain, camping in the snow.

If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have been trying to get out snow camping almost every weekend since I returned from Europe, but that something has always come up to prevent it. At last this weekend I got my wish. Angela had time free and wanted an adventure; snow was predicted: we were off. Initially we were (we thought) going to climb Blue Peaks and be on the Western Tiers, but road access problems meant that we had to choose the Cradle area in order to get both an open road and snow. I wasn’t sad. I love this place, and don’t always need to be somewhere new.

We were both feeling a bit out of practice at Tassie-style snow work, so I also enjoyed being in an area that offered us plenty of dramatic snow and yet was only a couple of hours from the lodge, so somehow that felt less remote if anything went wrong. It was good to have a chance to refine our methodology and test some of our new gear here before committing ourselves to the really deep wild wilderness. Mind you, during the night, with the wind howling and the tent making explosive whiplash noises, I didn’t feel so terribly secure, and kept wondering if I’d survive if the tent broke in one of these furious gusts. Plenty of people have died within five kilometres of Cradle, so it didn’t feel particularly wussy during the night.

I am “naturelover”, so it goes without saying that I love nature: this does not mean some National Parks attenuated idea of nature, some metre-wide levelled out highway through what is dubbed wilderness for the sake of city tourists, but which is tamed with infrastructure to defang it for timid  human toleration. I am not against the existence of such tracks – everyone begins somewhere, and my love of extended bushwalking began with the Overland Track, and it serves a need either as a beginning point, or even an ultimate achievement for many people. However, I think if we really want to meet nature in its supreme form, we need to expose ourselves to some of its less “pretty” and comfortable aspects. A snow storm in winter is one such.

Robert Macfarlane in The Wild Places, a book searching for wild locations in Britain, spends a night in midwinter on a Lake District mountain exposing himself to the fury of a storm in order to experience and appreciate nature’s unleashed force. When I read his book (which I loved) I felt so sorry for the people of the British Isles, that there were so few places where they could experience the might of undiminished nature. We are somewhat spoiled in Tasmania to have reasonably easy access to abundant places that satisfy this longing – but we need to be wary. People who only see nature as the means for making money and who wish to thus subject nature to their concept of what tourists want and who are willing to sacrifice what they neither know nor understand to the great god of dollar are encroaching on the wildness and wilderness we have left and are chomping bits out of it at an alarming rate.

Many, many Tasmanians mourn the loss of the access to wilderness that we used to enjoy in our own national parks as our old freedoms are removed with each new development, for the most part brought in to allow better management of visiting tourists rather than any motive of caring for the land. Our love of this land is being ignored. Our attachment to the land, our sense of spirituality that comes from being in infinite space and beauty, and our culture of camping and walking in it are treated as nugatory. Of course the tourist industry has myriad excellent features, but that does not mean we allow it to run out of control so that the only wild thing left in our state is that government department. Like alcohol, tourism should be used in moderation. I would love to live in a land where values other than money ruled our ethos and regulations. I fear this worship of money above all other values will ultimately bring about the collapse of western civilisation as we know it, for it is fast running out of control in a destructive solipsistic spiral. The object so valued because it can bring so much can also be the object of demise when not controlled.

I thought of Robert Macfarlane during the night of not-all-that-much sleep, and pondered such issues. We cannot respect nature if we don’t know what it is, and if we fail to respect it, we will harm this beautiful earth beyond repair.

For those who have not tried snow camping, but who are already thinking they want to take this step, I will tell you what we wore to bed. One size does not fit all. We are both small, lean females who feel the cold. Our needs will probably not be felt by those with more padding, and will not suffice those with less. This is what I had on to survive the night, and Angela’s story is similar. On my head I had a silk balaclava, an icebreaker buff and the hood of my Arcteryx jacket (as well as the hood of my bag). On my upper body, I had an icebreaker singlet, a long-sleeved thermal top, an icebreaker T-shirt and a cosy Arcteryx jacket, as well as the warmth from my sea-to-summit SpIII goosedown bag (850 loft, 400g fill). My hands were warmed by possum gloves. On my legs, I had thermal longs (over woollen knickers), orienteering pants, another pair of icebreaker wooden long tights and the bag. On my feet I had woolly socks (two pairs would have been nice). Over all of that, I had an SOL bivvy bag (which adds five degrees to what you can tolerate), and over that, my trusty tent. The temperature difference between the other side of that flimsy wall and the protected inside was easy to note. I also had my Goretex jacket spread over my feet area. In my pillow bag, I had another jacket should I need it, and another thermal, but I felt fine. We both used four-season mats. I also had a carpet underlay.
My knees were sometimes a little cold during the night, but as long as the temperature didn’t drop any further, I was fine as I was, and didn’t pull out my reserve gear. I was absolutely definite that I was NOT getting out of that bag to go to the toilet, which I unfortunately needed to do from about 9 p.m. until 7 a.m., but there are some bodily needs that just have to be taught their place. Angela likewise refused her body this request.
Dismantling the tents was probably the least enjoyable part of our excursion, but once we were underway walking again, the pain in our hands soon eased, and I was left wondering exactly how slippery the steep part of the Face Track descent would be. We chose that route as it is the least exposed in our opinion, but still could be challenging in icy conditions where the steel chain is frozen over and the land drops dramatically away over rock that has few vertical holds. We were both carrying minispikes just in case, but, on this occasion, the powdery snow had not melted to make slippery ice, so all was well. And meanwhile, the sight of gums drooping with icy mantels, of filigree branchlets capped in a delicate white covering, of wombats caught unawares whilst burrowing in snow all thrilled me as I scanned the landscape for signs of where a track might be when not masquerading incognito as bland white wilderness. The powdery snow made a delicate sort of squeaking sound as our feet compressed its mass. I wish I could have taken more photos, but I was far too cold, and was having trouble with my camera lens clouding over in these conditions.