By now the trail was a steep outcropping of white rock marked by deep ridges. Chains ran along steel poles drilled into the rock. Using the chains, we hauled ourselves hand over hand. This seemed to be the only way up for anyone other than an actual mountain goat.
We were sweating like Niagara Falls. The forecast was 35 degrees with unrestricted sun, but surely, it would be cooler as we headed up the mountain.
Despite the heat, I was feeling peppy. I couldn’t see the top, but it felt like we were making great progress.
‘This trail isn’t very fun,’ Steve said.
I ignored him. As I climbed, I searched the surrounding bush for Tasmania’s native scrubtits. I was keen to see one, a desire that I will admit was based 100% on their name.
We were nearing the top of the rock face. I called below to Steve to hurry up, and with one last burst of energy I heaved myself the final few steps onto what I could only assume was the summit.
There, in the distance, was what appeared to be another mountain. A completely separate mountain. This new behemoth stood by itself against an empty sky.
Our current mountain had features such as vegetation and a trail and even thoughtfully installed chains to aid in climbing. The beast ahead had none of these things. It was a barren pile of rocks with thrusting upper ridges that looked like the inspiration for Mount Doom. The Eye of Sauron would have been right at home between the horrible crags at its peak.
‘Is that Cradle Mountain?’ I said.
‘I guess so,’ Steve said.
‘I thought we were on Cradle Mountain!’
‘I guess not.’
He looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, ‘Dove Lake is but a one hour descent away. No one has to know we turned back’. Except I’d already told all of the internet that I was starting my new year hiking Cradle Mountain. My pep was waning, but I steeled myself.
We arrived at the base of The Real Cradle Mountain. As the trail ascended, it quickly lost all the qualities normally associated with the term ‘trail’, such as being a surface suited for walking on, having edges, and guiding you to a particular destination. Instead, there was a stark metal pole every 50 metres or so, indicating roughly the direction you might want to head. This was the only sign that any human had ever been here before us. Earlier we’d heard cicadas buzzing and possible scrubtits chirping. Now there was no sign of life beyond the lichens on mountain’s brown rock. A hot breeze whistled over the barren landscape. I could have sworn it said go baaaaaaack.
We were walking on apple-sized rocks and then we were stepping over watermelon-sized rocks and then we were lost among prize-winning-pumpkin-sized rocks, piled up like they’d been dumped from a giant sack. Some seemed precariously balanced, as though one load-bearing rock could let go and all of Cradle Heap would collapse into the valley below, with our bodies crushed among the debris.
I was thinking that uncomfortable thought when the rocks around me became larger still. These were refrigerator-sized rocks, and all pretence of walking was gone. Clearly Tourism Tasmania couldn’t grasp the definition of great, or short, or even walk.
Steve and I started clambering skywards. Conscious of how easy it would be to slip and plummet, I placed my feet and hands with a cautiousness normally reserved for holding newborn babies. My heart raced and the whole mountain seemed to sway (cradle like, one might say).
Soon my heart was on the verge of exploding out of my chest, just like a baby alien, but instead of starting a homicidal rampage, it would plop to the ground and slither down the rock face, leaving a crimson trail of defeat.
This excerpt from my current manuscript-in-progress, How to Be Australian, was shortlisted for the Lane Cove Literary Awards and first published in their 2017 anthology.