What I saw on Cradle Mountain

It’s a strange feeling the day before a Resilience For Families outdoor program.

20 people of varying ages, backgrounds and beliefs are to be thrown together in the close confines of cabin life in the Tasmanian wilderness.

Some know each other, others don’t. Some are boisterous, others are introverted. Some snore, others don’t admit it.

How these dynamics play out over the next four days is a mystery.

While the program focusses on family, the parents prioritise their teenager’s personal development above their own. It’s natural. They want to give their child the best chance of leading a happy life.

As for the teenagers, they often wonder why they’re there at all. Their parents have been suspiciously short on detail when it comes to explaining their upcoming ‘holiday’.

After arriving at our destination, a gentle sunset stroll culminates in a once-in-a-year view of Cradle Mountain and its flawless reflection in Dove Lake. Participants could be forgiven for thinking this program will be a literal walk in the park.

That is until we break the news that the summit, seen so clearly above and below the horizon from the bank of the lake, will be our goal for tomorrow. The weather looks ominous with rain approaching, so an early start is essential.

It’s a cool, but glorious morning with sunlight filtered through the lush forest.

After more incredible views from Marion’s Lookout, we take our final break at Kitchen Hut, nestled near the base of Cradle Mountain. From this vantage point it feels like we’re walking into a scene from Lord Of The Rings as the giant, craggy face of Cradle Mountain towers above us.

The climb begins gradually, but the looks on some of our party’s faces belie their apparent confidence as the track gives way to boulders and the gentle slope steepens considerably.

It becomes a physical grind, hauling each other up and over rocks the size of cars. But the mental strain is taking a greater toll. The higher we go the more fear and doubt rises.

As our pace slows, the report of rain looming on the horizon heaps more worry onto those already under strain. Minds, racing with concerns over their immediate predicament, are thrust into thinking what might happen in the hours ahead.

It’s at this breaking point others step up.

Not the adults, though. It’s the teenagers who, in seeing their parents and other grownups in a new, vulnerable light, fall back to help. A reassuring word here, help in identifying a foot or handhold there. There’s genuine care.

After five hours of hiking, scrambling and clawing our way up the face, we arrive, one after another, at the 1,545m summit. Fear and doubt are overcome through sheer perseverance. It’s resilience at work.

While there’s time to enjoy the awe-inspiring, 360-degree views of Cradle Mountain National Park, something still doesn’t sit well. The descent.

In mountaineering, 80% of accidents occur on the way down. And with rain clouds now moving inevitably towards us, there is a sense of trepidation and urgency.

But we are armed with an intangible, yet powerful belief which may not have been present when we left Waldheim Cabins as the sun rose. Trust.

We have trust in each other. We know that, whatever obstacle confronts us on our descent, the person in front and the person behind will do everything possible to keep us safe, to help us overcome testing sections and finish what we set out to achieve.

Some three hours later, as the rain falls around us, we look back to Cradle Mountain from the relative safety of the boardwalk. We’re relieved and tired, but equipped with a reference point to look back on when life throws up a future challenge.

“I did that so I can get through this.

A lesson becomes clear to me as we stand in the rain. The fear, stress and anxiety that washed over us as we clung to boulders on the face of Cradle Mountain is no different to what we feel in our everyday lives. The prospect of an exam, a heavy workload, a social occasion or myriad other stressors.

If the emotions and physical responses are the same, so should our response be.

Ask for help to overcome whatever blocks our path. There are people around us willing and ready, but they need us to open up, to show our vulnerability.

Wilderness places contain knowledge that we can only tap into if we invest time, welcome uncertainty, and take the odd risk.

Resilience is learnt indoors, but undoubtedly built in the great outdoors.

Places are now open for Resilience For Families Cradle Mountain departing 18 September 2021.

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