Conquering Cradle Mountain

No experience or training. Unprepared! Or so I thought.

I love going to the mountains, have done my whole life, but this was quite a different experience from when I was younger. Those excursions were more of the roaming kind, but this was going to be something I hadn’t done before – trekking up mountain slopes carrying a pack, and it had me a little nervous about how I’d fair.

The issue of carrying a pack

This had been one of several “main” concerns, given my history of knee, neck, shoulder, and feet issues! Being quite an experienced trekker herself, my daughter Gita who’d invited me to make this trip, prepared me perfectly in terms of gear.

Luckily, we only needed to carry day packs with a few layers of clothing, emergency supplies like plasters to catch the blood when we pulled the leeches off, sunscreen, and enough water for a day. My pack only weighed around six kilos, and once strapped on properly, it felt more like an extension of my back than any kind of albatross. Brilliant!

I had my walking poles, a feather-light puffer jacket, rain jacket and rain pants, enough merino layers and an assortment of hats to keep me warm, and a pair of knee-high gaiters to stop the leeches from creeping their way up my pants. These worked like a charm. Pity there wasn’t anything to stop the creatures from landing on my face where one little marvel found its way into the corner of my eye!

Routine stop to check for leeches

There we were, thirteen of us in the group, plus our three incredible guides who worked their way in and around the forest, weaving their way through like the head of a Chinese dragon at New Year with all of us, their charges, following behind as the tail. Mostly, I was at the back of the group, with a guide behind me whose “you’re doing great” offerings of encouragement were always welcome. I didn’t mind at all.

On the contrary. I’d decided that for me, this wasn’t going to be about getting to the top ahead of everyone else, or about how little time each day’s trek had taken me. For me, it was more about the means whereby I could complete the walk while taking care of myself. With a cracked sternum that was taking its sweet time in healing, I wasn’t going to compromise my wellbeing chasing some notion of having to outdo the others or even myself. And besides, I was in a magical wonderland, an extraordinarily beautiful environment left mostly untouched, so there was plenty to appreciate and enjoy.

To say that the scenery was spectacular is such an understatement, but I don’t have a grander word for it. And over in the nearing distance, the majestic Cradle Mountain stood its ground as we hedged closer and higher through the extensive slippery mesh of tree roots, placing each step carefully so as not to trip up. Sometimes our journey took us along the boardwalk straddled on either side by the wetlands of St. Clair National Park. Other times we’d trek along narrow winding paths through fields of button grass or forest trees whose bark lay host to blotches of brilliant fire-red Funghi up along the trunks.

Oh gosh, my hair! The wind was ferocious! But check out the majestic Cradle Mountain!

As I climbed, occasionally like a four-legged animal when the rocky paths required it, I took my time, pacing myself. I thought about my breathing, mostly in and out through my nose. I thought even more about how I navigated some of the steps along the way, challenging my short legs. At every step, I thought about sending my whole back, back; asking myself if I was sinking onto my legs – especially towards the end of the day as the tiredness crept in. Could I come up off my legs from under my pelvis? Could I send my head forwards and up, leading the rest of me in a more coordinated way? I leaned forwards, hinging from my hip joints on the downhills, like a little chimpanzee climbing down through the jungle.

It was such an incredible adventure, and to my surprise, I came home after the five-day trip in pretty good shape. No sore knees, no sore neck, no sore shoulders or hips. Thankfully, I was more prepared than I’d first thought, and I accomplished more than I’d thought I could.

My takeaway? Trust. The more conscious control I could bring to this activity, the  Some years ago this might have been a disaster of pain and injury. Instead, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

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