Moments of Triumph customer story
Jo and Robert Shanks
Moments of Triumph customer story - Jo and Robert Shanks revisit Cradle Mountain
after first walking it four decades years ago, to celebrate the importance of the
environment, and 40 years of marriage
For Jo and Robert Shanks, the power and beauty and importance of the environment has been a central part of their lives together for over 40 years.
They first walked the Cradle Mountain overland track in 1973, just ten weeks before they were married. It was a wonderful wilderness, essentially untouched since trappers and miners left the region in the early 20th century, apart from track works and a small number of huts providing the most basic of accommodation (shared, as Jo reflects, with “leaks and leeches”.)
They had met on an earlier camping trip, and the 1973 Cradle Mountain trek was Robert’s suggestion, something of a Christmas present to Jo.
Forty years on and now in their early-sixties, they wanted to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary by walking the trail once again (this time in more comfort!) and also to reaffirm their commitment to the environment in the face of a request by the Australian Federal Government to remove 74,000 hectares of wilderness from the UNESCO Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
What was extraordinary was how little the Track had changed, except, as Jo notes, for the creature comforts.
The two walks did differ in a number of ways though. The original walk was very much a wilderness trek, from a start point to a destination. Jo and Robert took everything with them - tents, food and clothing. The weather (in December 1973) at the start of the walk was blizzard conditions with snow on the ground, and 37oC at the walk’s end (“which, it has to be said, was preferable!” comments Jo).
Jo describes the accommodation 40 years ago as “indifferent” - the occasional leaking hut at various points along the track, only marginally better than the tent they carried with them, Progress on day one was stymied because of the cold and snow. On their first night the couple shared a cold hut with other hikers who had been stranded for four days because of the weather, and who were relieved to discover that, at least in one direction, the trail was open.
They did though have time to enjoy the landscape and the natural beauty of the walk. Jo points out that then the challenge was “manage your camera film. Today, it’s manage your camera battery-life.”
Move forward 40 years to February 2014. Jo and Robert are set to walk the same trail, this time with the Tasmanian Walking Company, on its Cradle Mountain Huts Walk. “We wanted to remind ourselves of what Tasmania has to offer in natural wilderness,” explains Jo, “and we wanted to do so in comfort this time. We were also intrigued to see whether the environment had changed in the past 40 years, and if so, by how much.” What was astounding to them both was how little the environment had indeed changed. One example is the bridge over the Narcissus River, north of Lake Saint Clair. In 1973 it was a rope bridge with just two lines of wood acting as walkway. In 2014, it’s still a rope bridge, but with a third line of wood!
“It was important for us to tread lightly on the wilderness,” explains Jo, “and the modern walk lets us do just this. Forty years ago, very little of the track was groomed, with just a handful of corded walkways. Today, we were able to enjoy the scenery and the expert commentary of the guides on our walk, without having to concentrate as much on the ground in front us, also knowing that we were not doing environmental damage. It was nice not to fall over tree stumps or into holes!”
Jo and Robert also appreciated the modern accommodation and were impressed by its ecological credentials.
“It’s far ahead of what we experienced 40 years ago!” says Jo. “It’s comfortable, warm and more than enough for an overnight stay. Having our meals cooked for us was of course wonderful. And we loved how well the modern huts have been set into the environment, the careful way that solar power is used, and supplies carefully brought in and waste equally carefully taken out. Even today, from certain angles it’s impossible to spot the huts, which is it should be.”
The structured nature of the modern walk allows for more side-treks, something Jo and Robert were unable to do 40 years ago due to constraints imposed by the difficult weather conditions. “This time round, we had more opportunity simply to enjoy the landscape we were walking in,” explains Jo. “We weren’t walking to a destination or to a deadline, and we weren’t carrying supplies. It was a wonderful experience to remind ourselves of why we had first done the walk in 1973, and see and learn more about aspects of the landscape. “It was wonderful having the logistics taken care of for us. We had time and opportunity to savour where we were. Wonderful memories flooded back.”
And how did they both feel? “Exhilarated. And we remembered again how important these wilderness spaces are. How they put each of us as individuals into context. Robert and I feel that the scale of landscapes such as Cradle Mountain is important, that we need to protect these areas and also enjoy them.
“We felt liberated, returning to the first major walk we did together as a couple. It’s a beautiful part of Australia and a beautiful part of the world. It was a wonderful way to celebrate our own personal moment of triumph.”