17 December 2015
Youngcare Cradle Mountain Adventure – Mel Morrison
Almost a month on from the completion of the Youngcare Cradle Mountain Adventure 2015, Youngcare Operations Manager Mel Morrison takes us on the journey of six proud Youngcare supporters as they conquer one of Australia’s most beautiful, and dangerous, mountain walks.
Saturday, 21 November 2015
We all arrived in Launceston on a glorious 22˚C, blue-sky day with a lot of nerves as to what to expect. For some of us it was the first time we’d met everyone, and we were taken out to an ex-hanger to undertake a briefing, go through all our gear and rearrange our backpacks. We were all feeling good – until the head guide started to go through our gear, saying yes and no to what we could take. We were then given half a tent to carry, as well as food and our plate/cup for the week. Then came the arduous task of weighing the backpacks and realising we were carrying between 16-17kg each for the whole week! That night, we headed to a great Tassie pub for a big steak and beers/wine for dinner, filled with excitement and nervousness for the week ahead.
Sunday, 22 November 2015
We headed off on our 2.5 hour bus journey to the start of the trek; the ride mainly consisted of us getting to know each other. There began the start of the hilarious stories and banter that would keep us going for the week! It was beautiful blue skies for most of the journey but as the bus started to climb, along came the clouds. We got to the starter hut and that is when my nerves started to kick in. I could not get the pack to sit right on my back – 16kg was alien to me, having not carried weight like it since backpacking 20 years ago!
So we set off, looking out over green, rolling countryside with absolutely no idea what challenges we were about to face. We walked along boardwalk and gravel track to the base of Cradle Mountain in cloudy, windy conditions. A gorgeous lake was where we stopped for lunch before the ascent up. I had been told the first day was to be the hardest, and climbing the rocky ascent to cradle was tough (particularly for Ziena and me with a fear of heights). It was windy conditions, requiring you to manoeuvre steep rocks with your pack on and trying to hold onto a chain, all the while trying not to fall. When I got to the lookout I couldn’t believe we had all made it, and boy what a view! It was a very cloudy day but you really felt on top of the world, and Cradle Mountain looked so beautiful yet eerie with clouds floating around it. Unfortunately, what we didn’t realise was that this was not going be our most difficult day – that was all to come.
We started the descent in wind and rain. The first part was gorgeous, looking across all the mountains. But then the task began of descending for about two hours down wet slippery rock – apparently the guide who went ahead to get the food drop could hear us swearing two kilometres away as we came down! It was so tough. I just couldn’t seem to balance with the weight of the pack, so it made for a very slow descent.
We finally set up for the first night… and then realised there would be no fires and very little shelter out of the rain. This was the start of being wet and freezing for six days. So it was into bed early, after the best-tasting spaghetti bolognese I have ever eaten!
Monday, 23 November 2015
We woke early to a very wet day, battling horizontal rain to get to the toilet!
Off we set on the shortest trekking day, but still a bit of an achiever day. These conditions meant that it was very difficult to look around and admire the scenery as the footing was so slippery, so you had to really watch where you were going.
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
We walked through amazing forest today – it felt like we were in Lord of the Rings!
This was a tough day, not because of the number of kilometres (even though it was a long day), but rather the reality of facing three more days with no choice around what you were doing, where you were going, when you could use the toilet, what you were eating and no contact whatsoever with the world outside of Cradle.
It is funny though how little I thought of the world beyond Cradle; I yearned to speak with my family of course, but this adventure took up so much of my strength to get through that their everyday routine was only a distant memory. My thoughts were consumed by our daily route, what we were eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner and how far we had gone at any given time of the day.
Leeches out in full force today and I just prayed really hard that one was not going to get on me – they were even in the tent jumping around! This was the night I laid awake for hours, thinking – about whether I would make it; whether I would get back with no injuries; about family, friends, work, life. All the while, recognising how lucky I was to have this reflection time and experience this challenge, knowing that on Saturday I get to fly home to my truly lucky life!
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
We actually got a sleep-in today which, after the horrid sleep I’d had, really helped! It was very wet again, and in packing up the tent we all got soaked; but at least we got to eat breakfast in the hut and chill out until lunch before we headed off. Some of the trekkers were starting to really struggle with their feet, so a lot of strapping was done this morning. There was also a lot of repacking of backpacks and trying to dry some of our clothes on the tiniest gas heater you have ever seen, to no great effect!
There were lots of laughs and chat as we walked along. It’s amazing how the talking along the way helped you get through it, with lots of chat about how this trip was going to change our lives.
We got through the forest and wet, which brought us out on a ridge to the most amazing view back over Cradle Mountain, and all these other amazing mountain peaks including Mount Ossa, all with snow caps.
We had a great camp spot overlooking a glorious lake, but the lack of ability to sit around dry at night and chat was getting to me. The snowfall started as we got into our tents.
Thursday, 26 November 2015
Well, we woke up to a white Christmas – the tent was caked with ice which had to be cracked to get out. We looked out onto at least one foot of snow; it really was beautiful but then came the arduous task of packing up our tents. I never realised you could be so cold – I lost feeling in my hands and toes almost as soon as I stepped outside. It was like being in an ice-skating rink without the skates (or the fun)!
Without reassurance I don’t think I would have left the hut that day. The thought of lifting my pack onto my back, and hanging onto walking poles when I had no control over my fingers, felt too much for me today. But thanks to Kylie, I stood up, got the pack on, collected my poles and started what was our longest kilometre day.
So it was just me and Kylie again, trekking on our own, cracking jokes and singing about walking through a winter wonderland… it’s amazing what gets you through the tough times! The forest was gorgeous with snow everywhere but absolutely treacherous, so it was very hard to look around as the boardwalk was covered in ice. Our poles were no use as they slipped everywhere. Both Ziena and I had a big fall; I couldn’t even get up because of the weight of my pack. I never thought it was going to be this tough. But we kept on, finding strength from who knows where.
The wind was howling tonight and the snow kept falling, which made it really difficult to sleep. To pass the time, we reminisced on the last week and yelled at each other through the tents, taking the mick and laughing! It felt like I had not laughed like I have this week for 20 years, and did not realise how much laughter could conquer all challenges.
Friday, 27 November 2015
We woke at 5am to do the four-hour trek to the ferry that would take us all back to civilisation.
We eventually made it to the ferry hut… and then to top it off, the sun came out! We all proceeded to cheer, clap, laugh and call our loved ones to tell them that we had made it. What an incredible feeling this was! Back to flushing toilets, hot water and soap to wash your hands for the first time in six days. We then had the fabulous task of emptying our backpacks and all the rubbish we had to carry out of Cradle for the week, and changing out of soaking clothes, socks and wet weather gear. It felt incredible!
Looking back, the challenge of this trek wasn’t about the lack of amenities. It was the lack of control over everything: the weather; when we could go to the toilet; what and when we could eat; when we could have a break on the track; when we could have a drink. Those six days truly pushed me, and I found strength I never knew I had to get through it. But I faced all these challenges knowing I could come back to my life. The young Aussies with high care needs who Youngcare looks to support can’t do that.
For me, that tiny insight into the lack of choice some people face every day was life changing.
I had no idea what it would take to carry that pack and trek in those conditions, and I felt more connected to the Youngcare mission than ever before. I am so lucky to have had that experience and to share that journey with five amazing people, and I thank them for their amazing perseverance, patience, comradery, friendship and, above all, those incredible laughs! Youngcare is blessed to have supporters like them, willing to try something they had never done before, and to keep at it for six long days and nights, all with (mostly!) a smile on their faces.