When I say “Tasmania” what is the first image that pops into your mind? How about the second? My bet is that Cradle Mountain would be up there in the top three for many people. That iconic view of the mountain sitting over Dove Lake is hard to forget, and one that draws people in from around the world.
Located within the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the mountain itself is surrounded by a stunning array of native wildlife, clear alpine tarns, and numerous rocky peaks, all connected by a first-class network of tracks.
When I visited the park in late January this year it was my second time to the area. My first trip was 5 years ago with my now wife, and having never been to Tasmania previously it was the only place that I knew was a must-visit. We only stayed for one night on that trip, but it didn’t disappoint. The easy walk around Dove Lake at the base of the mountain left a lasting impression of gorgeous views, tiny moss gardens and of course, a desire to return one day and sample the more adventurous side of the park.
This year I made the trip to Tassie on my own, but was hosted in Launceston by friends Scott and Laura who moved down there last year. During our scheming in the lead up to the trip we settled on the Cradle Mountain Skyline Traverse as a possible day out. As I discovered on my last trip, it’s always wise to keep a few plans up your sleeve when heading to the Apple Isle; the weather often doesn’t play ball. Luck was on our side this time though, and towards the end of the week we made the trip up to the park and spent two nights.
We arrived mid afternoon and after setting up camp at the holiday park headed straight in to Dove Lake. Being photographically like-minded, Scott and I spent the afternoon and into the night simply wandering around the tracks near the carpark taking shots, stopping intermittently to consult notes on our objective for the next day. Looking at the steep ridges on the picture-perfect silhouette of Cradle Mountain certainly had me excited, but nervous at the same time. Visions of scrambling unroped on narrow razorback ridges with huge drops either side kept jumping into my mind. Sleep wasn’t going to be easy that night.
After taking photos well into (and past) the never ending twilight, we eventually crawled into our tents after eleven. The lateness at least made sleeping easier as I tried not to let thoughts of the adventure to come crowd my mind.
After resisting the urge to throw my phone/alarm clock into the bush as it woke me, we ate a hasty breakfast. As we arrived at the Dove Lake carpark the sun was still sitting below the ridges to the east, but was high enough to light up the tips of those on the opposite side of the lake; a beautiful scene.
We made good time on the flat, easy walking around the lake. The morning chill was soon forgotten as we all made stops to progressively strip off various outer layers; all the while, staring up at the rocky faces on the mountain above us.
The easy walking stopped abruptly once we hit the steep turn off to the face track. Ascending from beside the lake to near the base of the exposed slopes of the mountain, this connecting trail picks its way over and between rocky outcrops, bubbling creeks and exposed tree roots. On hitting the face track we turned left and continued until an obvious foot pad appeared leading up the side of Little Horn.
The ascent of the lesser of the Mountains’ two separated peaks was fairly straight forward. We did get our helmets out at this point just to be careful though, as there was some steep scrambling. As tempting as it is to skip this part of the skyline and head straight up Weindorfers Tower from the saddle, the view after this extra effort is well worth it. The hulking form of the remainder of Cradle Mountain looms ahead as a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the day.
Not far from the peak of Little Horn is the first of two abseils needed for the day. After dispensing with this and a couple of hairy down-climbs we found ourselves at the main saddle. As we approached the base of the steep, rocky slopes of Weindorfers Tower a potential route became more evident. Sure enough, there always seemed to be just enough of a path to allow reasonably safe passage as we forged ahead.
After dealing with some stubborn alpine foliage and more scrambling we reached the top of the main tower. From this point things all became a blur of awesome views, exciting scrambling and an all-round excellent adventure. Two points along the ridge do stick out in my mind:
- The second abseil was fairly straightforward and obvious, made more-so because of various bits of tat still remaining. Ascending up from the small saddle after this was quite tricky though. Definitely a few “don’t-fall” sections.
- On approaching the final stretch of ridge we reached a point where a peak seemed to block our path. Eventually we found an exposed traverse up and around to the right where we decided to rope-up. I’m sure plenty of people would be happy without it, but we thought it best.
From this point the options for travel became more flexible as the ridge widened to the left, and before long we were intercepting walkers heading for the peak on the traditional “tourist route”. The views from here are once again spectacular as you gaze towards Barn Bluff and beyond into the Tasmanian Wilderness.
At this stage you would ideally swap in your spare knees to deal with the long descent; firstly back down to Cradle Plateau, then secondly back down to the Dove Lake level. We chose to follow an alternate return track via Marions Lookout. This provided a brilliant view of the full skyline not otherwise visible from the carpark.
At roughly 11 hours door to door it was a big day, but so often those are the ones that you remember most.