It was a perfect day when Chris and I set off to climb Cradle Mountain after a lovely restful night at the Lodge. I was really excited about this challenge because the track to the mountain is the start of the Overland. I wanted to re-live the excitement and apprehension I had felt in 2009 setting foot on the boardwalk, fully decked for six days hiking in the wilderness. We came across other hikers, struggling with the steep climb to the Cradle plateau, the weight of their backpacks dragging. I could sense their fear and trepidation as they wondered what the hell they had got themselves into.
I also wanted to take this challenge because Birgit and I had decided not to climb the Mountain (an Overland side trail) and I held some regret about that. The weather closed in that day in 2009 and you couldn’t see the top of the mountain so we rationalised the climb would not be worth it as you wouldn’t be able to see the view. Deep down, if I’m honest though, I was terrified about the Overland challenge before me and I was just too darned scared to give it a go.
The first part of the day’s hike was enjoyable though challenging at times due to the ascent. But I was not really prepared for the clamber to the summit! The track disappears and markers, peeping out of strewn boulders, show the way. It is a scramble on all fours more than a climb and even using hands, arms and legs, sometimes it was a stretch to find a suitable line. All the while my heart was beating in my head such that I thought it might burst, with rests needed more frequently, the higher the ascent. Yes, I made it but it was a push and at times I was left wondering why the hell I liked to take on such challenges! I was glad Christopher waited and stayed with me through the most difficult sections. But what a view at the top!
We returned to the Lodge after 6.5 hours climbing, walking and descending. Everything hurt. Why had I thought that I didn’t need to prepare … that I was fit enough??? I wasn’t and I knew the next day’s challenge would be even more demanding. Thank God for a glass of wine … a justified reward.
I have to admit I was rather nervous when I awoke the next day. We prepared ourselves for the hike into the Walls of Jerusalem to camp and take a look around. We were delayed entering the park until the heat of the day, fully decked carrying 15-16 kilos each. Unfortunately we had no track maps and no idea what to expect.
It was worse than I anticipated. The first two hours were a sustained, steep and quite difficult climb. Was my heart thumping again? You better believe it! At times the pain in my chest had me wondering … my heart and lungs were working so hard. Chris was ahead and out of sight. He made it to the Trapper’s Hut in about an hour but retraced his steps to help me with my pack for 300 metres of the climb. I was slow and needing to rest more frequently trying to keep my heart rate manageable. Why did I think I didn’t need to prepare????
Two hours sustained climb and we emerged within the Walls. The track was easier … pleasant even, except for our fatigue and the need to lug our packs to the camp site. We arrived at the Wild Dog camp ground in just under 4 hours! We were exhausted, me more so.
We had the camp to ourselves and ventured no further, electing to setup, rest and eat. It was a beautiful night though cool. I do love the isolation of camping in the wilderness. It is something special … makes you appreciate your surroundings in a way nothing else can.
Despite this, I did shed a tear that night as I went to sleep, wondering again, “Why the hell do I want to take on such challenges?” To make our haul into the camp site worthwhile, meant hiking around the Walls in the morning. But my fatigue and energy were such that I wasn’t sure I could manage it. I just wanted to hike out and have the adventure behind me.
Chris survived the night with no mattress. He padded the wooden platform with clothes and seemed to manage better than expected. No doubt the bottle of wine he’d carried in his pack helped!
After a good night’s rest, I managed to muster the courage to take a look around. We left our camp to explore the Walls. I’m glad I did, despite my reservations. The walls were spectacular imposing structures. We followed the Western Wall for a couple of kilometres. The track was easy and we had no weight bar water and light refreshments. We explored for several hours and as we returned to camp to pack up I marvelled at the scenery around me. I remembered why I made myself take these challenges. In making such an effort, I had been able to see and experience things beyond the reach of most people. Putting in some real work and pressing through some difficulties was the only way to experience some of nature’s majesty.
We packed up and hiked out. Yes of course it was easier going down hill but a sustained descent presents its own challenges and is hard on feet and knees. My God, we were glad to get back to the car, take off our packs and boots and move onto the less challenging aspects of our holiday!
Would I do it all again? Yes I would and will! I’ve learned that some rewards are only found by pushing through to new thresholds but next time I would definitely prepare myself with suitable training! The whole experience made me reflect on something my girlfriend Susy Goldner shared with me once. She believed such a physical challenge was fun in the preparation and planning and wonderful to share and brag about with friends and family afterwards but considered that the doing was not necessarily the best part. Maybe she’s right, but I do love being in the wilderness.
Though I’m tempted at times, I can’t stop pushing and trying. That would be like giving up … and that would be like getting old!!