| Cradle Mountain. Tasmania, Australia.
Tasmania. The mention of the word has always engendered a certain wild in my mind. I’ve been wanting to return here since my last trip here years ago was cut short by bad weather. "Tazzie" is an island state, the southernmost in Australia and considered to be Australia’s “natural” state.
The objective for this specific trip was to climb Cradle Mountain. (if not already selected, click "View with Large Photos" above to see more detail)
Cradle Mountain is the signature peak in the region and the namesake of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, which is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, an area of 3.5 million acres encompassing several national parks, rivers, lakes and streams, mountains, forests and alpine regions filled with wildlife.
Standing at 1545M (5069ft), it is not its height that makes the mountain stand apart, but its rugged character, the surrounding scenery, southern hemisphere alpine landscape, its natural history and unique wildlife you'll inevitably encounter.
This was my third attempt to climb Cradle Mountain after two prior failed attempts in 2004 and 2006 (I lived in Sydney for a short while back then). The first two attempts were thwarted by some combination of snowstorms/sleet, wind and rain and generally miserable conditions. I’d soon learn why this climb was not recommended in such conditions for reasons other than merely being uncomfortable.
As we were coming from Sydney, we needed to take a flight to get down across the Bass Strait. We landed in the southern port of Hobart before 9AM, rented a car and with a spirited G'Day mate to the counter attendant, headed north up into the Bush (the “boosh” using a proper Aussie accent). Along the way, much like New Zealand, most of the island has been unfortunately developed into farmland for livestock, with all the original native forests all but wiped out. However, what does remain as wild land in the state is truly wild and really makes for a nice wilderness experience. Kangaroos still abound here; mostly the smaller varieties of wallaby and paddymelons.
Although we didn’t have time to visit the more remote Southwest part of the state, rumor has it that much of that vast area has never seen a human and still remains untracked wilderness. This was where the recent film “The Hunter” was filmed (supported by helicopter), a story about the Tasmanian Tiger, (Thylacine) and the long standing political and territorial battle between environmentalists and loggers involving the ultra-elusive, if not extinct Thylacine. Most of the old growth Tasmanian forests have been cut down with only a small fraction remaining. The clearcut methods used here involve cutting the trees, burning the remaining ground from the outside in and then applying poison to ensure nothing lives. It's really a shame and awful way to treat the land...(do a Google search on it)
After a 6 hr drive we arrived in Cradle Mountain National Park with enough time to catch a local Ranger to discuss conditions and the weather forecast. There was a bit of traffic on the way up from some locals…local sheep that is. We stopped and got out of the car here and watched the sheep. The lone sheep herder was in no rush to move his herd. We were not going anywhere for a while.
The temperature was about thirty degrees cooler than Sydney, despite being only a 90 minute flight south from the city. Although it was presently cold and rainy, the forecast for the next day was improving and better yet, dry! So, we aimed to get up and hit the trail first thing in the morning.
The hike starts off pleasantly on a nice boardwalk, which was constructed to protect the fragile alpine plants and habitat underneath. The boardwalk continues quite a distance into the bush before ascending into an aromatic Eucalypt forest. The first mile traverses open meadow-like tundra filled with tussock grass and in some areas Kangaroo grass among the native bushes.
The grasses cover the alpine meadow casting a reddish hue on the landscape which is very characteristic of the Tasmanian and New Zealand subalpine zones under timberline - beautiful and quite unique.
A tannin stained creek runs nearby the start of the track, which surprisingly held decent size trout further upriver. Native trees and plants surround the water as it winds its way into the woodlands.
The walk is deceptively easy for the first two hours or so, carrying on along a nice boardwalk as I mentioned.
As you pass the final stands of the now smaller, climate-dwarfed Eucalyptus trees, tree line appears and the trail steepens significantly as the boardwalk disappears (how spoiled we can become).
The roundtrip distance for this climb varies depending on where you start. We started at the Ronnie Creek trailhead. Even from here, there are a couple different route options, but roundtrip from here is roughly 10 miles. Trailhead to summit difference is 2,115ft, not including the ups and downs along the route which puts overall vertical gain at 3,500ft+ depending on route selection. I’ve turned around twice on this hike, so I’ve never been further than 2/3 of the way to the base of the mountain.
Rangers peg the roundtrip at 8-10hrs in good weather, which I thought was being a bit conservative given the seemingly short distance and gain, especially relative to a typical Class one or Class two Fourteener. Moral of the story: Never judge a climb by looking at a map.
Clouds from the morning were still lingering and obscuring the last thousand feet of the summit. From the point above a small cabin, the route climbs relentlessly from here on in and soon you begin talus hopping along large broken pieces of boulders that have fallen off from the mountain above. The clouds were slowly lifting and clearing as we moved up and Cradle Mountain would begin to peek through.
The terrain now changes from class 2 broken and chipped rock into broken Dolerite columns that make for solid class 3 climbing. This is the same volcanic rock that gives Cradle Mountain its unique shape. There is no trail any longer, but occasionally a steel pole appears every 50-100 meters or so indicating you’re sort of on the right track, but its up to you to navigate in between.
The hiking ends, trekking poles need to be stowed and the climbing begins in earnest as each forward move requires hands and feet and in many cases searching for suitable holds. Slowly we continue up the rust colored, lichen covered boulders, many of which are Suburban sized.
Towering columns of dolerite reach up alongside you as you climb and soon surround you.
Occasionally, a window onto the flatlands appears and you can see distant alpine tarns, lower peaks, trail segments in the Aussie bush as well as what we’ve climbed already.
Sharp and jagged ridgelines characterize the rock all along the route. I am very glad it is not raining or sleeting, this is no place to be when wet. You can't let your guard down on this climb. It is all Class 2+/3 for the last thousand feet or so and to complicate things, it is not a simple climb up. You must descend a few gulleys in between before being awarded the summit ridge.
In several places, I must do nearly complete pull ups to get up and over the rock, taking care to make sure I go up a way to be able to come down. The rock here and boulder hopping reminded me of the last section on Mount Harvard (at least as if coming from Frenchman Creek), but more vertical and never-ending.
As we near what appears to be the top, my mind begins to settle, we are almost there. However, it was only a subsummit, after which, we need to descend into a crater of sort surrounded by more of these complicated and unforgiving boulders. Climbing down and then back out consumes another 20 minutes before reaching the distant ridge, which has some nice vertical slabs that must be surmounted to gain access to above terrain. Luckily the rock here reminded me of Crestone congolmerate, nice and solid and confidence building.
This mountain as many others tend to do, likes to tease you with false summits. Another one goes by but we are making progress, and while the cloud cover is becoming lower, the weather is holding and importantly it is still dry. As if following our progress, the clouds also were beginning to lift! After 15 minutes of scrambling, we surmount the last difficulty and are greeted with flatter terrain.
We can now see the top summit blocks on the surprisingly large, gently rounded summit. After a relatively easy walk over to the true summit we are now on top. Finally! There is actually a bit of grass growing up here. The views from the top are quite nice, though due to the wide flat top of the peak, it was hard to get real panoramic views unfortunately. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to be on top of this relatively low, but magnificent peak. We were alone for quite a while.
Not wanting to tempt fate with poor weather coming in, I figured it was a good idea to head down to get past the difficult terrain pretty quickly before any rain came in. Walking down, we were treated to different views of the peak, the windswept slopes enroute and surrounding terrain.
Below is a shot of Cradle Mountain with its summit hidden in a cloud. I took this shot from Mt Campbell, another peak we climbed. In the foreground is Hansons peak, which we climbed too.
On the way down, we passed several people coming up, some clearly not ready for this climb and many were turning around or stopping to wait for their more prepared and able partners to go and come back. It is very easy to turn an ankle or just slip and get hurt here, which will leave you between a rock and a hard place, no pun intended. I wouldn’t want to have to carry someone down from this rough terrain. After someone recently slipped and fell to their death on this peak, I was being extra cautious.
Looking back, the sky was completely cloud free for a short period, then some moved in as we made our way down.
Here is a full shot of Cradle Mountain - the summit is towards the far right. I took this from one of the lookouts on the way up called Marions Lookout - a popular dayhike destination, which makes for a nice alternative hike if inclement weather prevents a summit trip to Cradle Mtn.
The area is also rich in wildlife. Several species of raptors can be found here as well as the regal looking Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo and more rare Black Cockatoos, cuckoos, water birds such as herons and egrets and the quintessential Australian bush bird, the Laughing Kookaburra. The poisonous Tiger snake can be found here. Several unique mammals are found here as well, such as the echidna, a porcupine-like creature (see below pic).
Tasmania’s veritable mascot and largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil is also found here. These are nocturnal creatures, filling the night air with their screams and growls, though occasionally can be seen in enough daylight to identify them.
These little fellas are suffering from a cancer-like very contagious disease that is killing large numbers of them and threatens to wipe them out. You can visit this link to learn more about them:
Click here to Learn about and help the Devil
Below is a Tasmania Devil we saw:
Soon we were down in the bush again, passing nice stands of Eucalypts and then into the tussock fields, where we were met with a nice surprise.
Among the other mammals found here, in addition to the Aussie possums and quolls, wombats and wallaby live and thrive here as well. One wombat was actually so focused on eating, we were able to just stand there and it walked right toward us within inches of where we stood.
Wombats are cute little cartoon-like fellows that make you want to pick them up and keep one as a pet. They really look like stuffed animals in a souvenir store and are fairly large, up to over 3 feet in length. These things are eating machines and love the grasses here.
Upon closer inspection, the tussock grass covered ground actually hollows out underneath the tops of the plants providing interconnecting ‘secret’ passages for the wombats to travel across the fields without ever being seen. I see why the boardwalk is here now.
Near the base of the beginning of the walk, there is a different forest, a cool temperate rainforest, also found in several areas in the state. Not to be confused with the rainforests of northern Queensland, or even Costa Rica or the Amazon basin, these forests while getting a healthy dose of annual rainfall are filled with ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi and are much cooler than you might think a rainforest would be.
Deciduous beech and tree ferns are also common here. Seeing these huge, ancient looking several meter tall graceful tree ferns, one cannot help but fully expect to see a Tyrannosaur emerge from the jungle in hot pursuit of a Stegasaurus. These forests here are very unique and create a surreal feeling as you walk through them; silent one moment, then bursting with the sounds of life the next.
Interestingly, many of the species of plants living here also can be found in the forests of Patagonia and New Zealand, hinting at a past time when these land masses were joined at the hip in a giant pre-continent known as Gondwana.
One little surprise bit of wildlife that we discovered while admiring these verdant forests were the presence of leeches. While taking a few photos, I spotted one of these insidious primitive little bloodsucking creatures clinging onto my boot its mouthparts flailing in the air, then I saw two others making their way up my pant leg, then one more *inside* my hiking pants, having crept through the hole in my pants, then yet two more looking for purchase on my skin under my sock as their writhing slimy little bodies moved beneath the hairs on my leg. Yuck.
Leeches notwithstanding, this climb up Cradle Mountain was more than I had imagined, was pretty difficult, unrelenting after treeline but well worth it! If you ever find yourself there, definitely look into this. Just beware of little hitchhikers when you finish any forest hike in the rainforest, particularly after it rains.
Ways to help the imperiled Devils: See link below
Click Here to Help The Tasmanian Devils
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):