Climbing Cradle Mountain in winter has been a walk I’ve wanted to do for a while, but I needed to find the right opportunity. A work conference in Hobart provides the chance for an ambitious plan, leaving Hobart around 5pm after my last meeting, driving to Cradle Mountain and flying out of Launceston the following evening. I have managed to secure a booking at one of the Waldheim cabins at Cradle Mountain, which is inside the national park and make it easier to get an early start. The biggest risk in July will be the weather – I’ve experience snow in the middle of summer, and a year later my Barn Bluff attempt is thwarted by miserable weather.
This time, fortune favours my crazy plan, and I’m on the track at 6:30am with clear skies above. I’m taking the Lake Rodway Track up to the Cradle Mountain summit, which starts to climb almost immediately from the Dove Lake car park. It’s dark when I set out, but with the first light there’s a nice view of Cradle Mountain reflected in Dove Lake below.
As I near Hansons Peak, there’s a nice view over Lake Hanson to the east. The track here is steep, rocky, and icy – and slippery. This is one section of the walk where I’m glad I’ve brought my microspikes – it would otherwise be pretty treacherous.
After Hansons Peak, there’s a view back over Dove Lake, with the carpark just visible at the far end.
After the ice-covered rocks at Hansons Peak, the track is easy to walk on, with a short section of boardwalk just before the Twisted Lakes. Ahead is LIttle Horn, the northern-most peak of Cradle Mountain.
The track descends towards Twisted Lakes, their name derived from their twisted shapes. I’m not normally a morning person, but I’m glad I was forced to make an early start – the photos don’t really do justice to the sunrise over the odd-shaped lakes.
Soon after the Twisted Lakes, the Lake Rodway Track reaches the Face Track, which starts ascending again as it traverses the front of Little Horn and Weindorfers Tower. There are views again over Dove Lake, with the Honeymoon Islands at the southern end.
There’s a bit of snow on the track for the first time as I get to about 1200m above sea level. As I gain altitude, Lake Wilks appears almost directly below me, and above Dove Lake.
The Face Track gradually rises above the tree line, and just before reaching the Overland Track there’s a junction with the Cradle Mountain summit track.
The trail heads up the side of Cradle Mountain towards the summit; just before the track drops down into a gully and climbs back up again to the summit there’s a view through the rocks of Suttons Tarn to and Little Plateau to the west.
You can see the track as it dips behind Cradle Mountain; the snow is only a foot or so deep and the track is quite well-trodden and easy to follow. However, as the snow is covering what is basically a boulder field, care is needed not to slip between the rocks.
Looking back along the track, you can see that snow shoes wouldn’t be of any help, but the micro-spikes are marginally useful in providing a bit of extra traction. I’m soon on the summit plateau of Cradle Mountain (1,545m asl). There’s no-one else up here – in fact, I haven’t seen a single person yet. One of the advantages of doing this walk in winter!
The summit marker is pretty clear of snow – I’ve seen photos where the snow is right up to the top, indicating a solid metre or more of snowpack.
There’s a clear view of Barn Bluff to the south (it’s the second highest-peak in Tasmanian, and also accessible via a day-walk from Lake Dove; Cradle Mountain is the sixth-highest peak.) To the left of Barn Bluff is the snow-covered Mount Ossa, at the northern end of the rugged Ducane Range.
To the right of Barn Bluff is Fury Gorge, looking toward Lake St Clair National Park.
And to the west and north-west is Suttons Tarn, with Cradle Plateau behind it.
After admiring the views from the top (and enjoying the solitude), I head back down. I’m returning via the Overland Track, which passes past Kitchen Hut emergency shelter not long after the junction with the track to the summit.
From the Overland Track, there’s a nice view looking back to Cradle Mountain, with Little Horn to the left, and Barn Bluff in the distance.
The Overland Track takes me back over Marions Lookout, with Dove Lake to the east…
…and Crater Lake to the west.
The steep descent takes me down to the Dove Lake Circuit track, and past the iconic boat shed before I reach the Dove Lake Park.
I’m back at the carpark by midday; plenty of time for lunch at Cradle Mountain Lodge and to make my 6:30pm flight from Launceston back to Sydney. It’s been an outstanding walk – I’ve had whole of Cradle Mountain to myself, and the snow has added another dimension to a walk I’ve done a few times before.
When to climb Cradle Mountain
It is possible to climb Cradle Mountain at anytime of the year – but if you’re going in winter, you’ll want good weather and no recent snowfal unless you have alpine experience. Crampons or microspikes (I found my Kahtoola microspikes invaluable) will be useful on the rocky sections where there’s ice on the track. If it’s recently snowed you may need snowshoes and a detailed topo map; otherwise you the track should be easy to follow.
Although there is more rain and snow in winter (July and August are the months with highest precipitation), the number of days with rain/snow is more consistent over the year.
Summer is the best time to get good weather – but It can snow at anytime of the year (I had to turn back at Kitchen’s Hut on a different walk due to sleet, in March). Do staying near Cradle Mountain for a few days so you can pick a clear day would be my recommendation.
Accommodation near Cradle Mountain
The most convenient accommodation for Cradle Mountain walks are the Waldheim Cabins. This is only place you can stay inside the Cradle Mountain National Park, and you can access the Overland Track from the cabins. They are very basic, and you need to book a long way in advance during peak periods. The Cradle Mountain Highlanders cottages are just outside the park, and are one of the cheaper accommodation options near the park.