three capes and cradle mountain experiences
I’ve recently returned from a hiking trip in beautiful Tasmania, Australia. It was a combination of two trips. One was four days of hiking on the beautifully curated Three Capes Track and the other was a few days of day-hiking in the stunning but much more rugged and challenging Cradle National Park.
Let me share with you my experience of what it felt like to do these hikes without the proper physical preparation versus how my hiking felt last year when I was fully prepared.
Like so many of us, my life is hectic. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been working a couple of jobs whilst studying, overseeing a hugely engaged Facebook group, preparing my house for sale, caring for my elderly mother whilst wanting to spend time with my daughter and enjoying many outdoor pursuits. I’m not alone or unique here; I know a lot of you are nodding as you relate to similar demands in your own lives. We all have our own ‘stuff’ going on and sometimes, even when we implement our best time management strategies, we feel overwhelmed. Our lives are a constant juggling act.
On top of all of this, we need to train to make our outdoor pursuits easier and make us less prone to injury. Where do we fit it in and do we really need to? The short answer? Yes!
I first started training with Summit Strength around March 2020. I was unfit and struggled to hike much further than 10kms with just a day pack. Hills? Ugh, no thanks! Not to mention the knee pain. I needed a goal and decided I was going to tackle the Overland Track in Tasmania the following year with a bunch of friends. 8 days of hiking, full pack, remote wilderness. I hadn’t even done an overnighter yet! I needed to pull my finger out and whip myself into shape, stat!
Long story short, I trained hard and that hard work paid off in spades. My knee pain was gone, I came to love hills and I did the Overland with no fatigue and no injuries. I even climbed the highest peak in Tassie; Mt Ossa with a bunch of awesome friends! There is no better feeling than feeling strong and capable. The knee pain I’d had for decades had gone. It wasn’t magic (although it felt like it). It was down to consistent strength training.
And then the reality of daily life hit.
Last year, I had no less than 7 multi day hikes cancelled due to Covid lockdowns. I know that a lot of you were in the same boat. So many of us had our dream hikes cancelled last minute due to snap lockdowns, freak weather events etc. It’s been heartbreaking reading about the experiences of others going through the same thing. We’d trained long and hard for these hikes. We’d got ourselves to peak physical condition. The first few times my hikes were cancelled, I kept training. But then I started to lose motivation. Why train for something that, time and time again, doesn’t eventuate, right? It’s also emotionally draining.
Around 6 months ago, my focus shifted from hiking to other activities. Running and open water swimming specifically. With the occasional day/overnight hike thrown in. On top of all the other stuff like family, work, study etc, something had to give. And it did. Training.
Mid 2021, a friend and I had booked some hikes to do in New Zealand in March this year. It got to December 2021 and I thought it was time I really should get back into my dedicated strength training program rather than the odd hit-and-miss sessions I was currently doing. I decided I’d start next week. Which became the week after. And the week after that. My mojo had gone. I didn’t really care. I was having a great time running and swimming! Of course, New Zealand also got cancelled due to Covid. But I was lucky enough to get a last minute spot on the Three Capes hike in Tassie followed by a few days at Cradle Mountain.
I’d already done Three Capes last year with my daughter. It’s a stunningly beautiful hike. It’s not a full pack-carry as the huts on trail provide much of what you’d normally need to carry. My pack this time around weighed only 8kg with food and water for the four days. It wouldn’t be overly challenging due to the lighter pack and the wonderfully curated trail.
So I didn’t train. At all. Here’s what happened.
I’d been following a running program for a few months as I’m training for an event mid year. I felt a niggle in my left quad. I ignored it. It got worse. Runners also incorporate strength work into their training but I didn’t think I needed to because I wasn’t running long distances yet. Wrong! I developed more new pain, this time in my left adductor. I started to panic. The Three Capes hike was only a matter of four weeks away and now it was getting too late to start back on the strength training. Not only that, the injuries meant I actually couldn’t have done the quad-centric exercises anyway. I was in a bit of a pickle. In hindsight (which is always a wonderful thing), had I been doing strength training all along, the quad and adductor injuries from running most likely would never have happened.
So I went and hiked Three Capes with a dodgy left leg. And although I only carried 8kgs, my body wasn’t used to it. I hadn’t done a decent hike - and certainly not any decent loaded pack training - for months! I coped fine with the actual hiking. I had a reasonable base from running and swimming so I wasn’t totally starting from scratch. But I hadn't done any hiking-specific training. I noticed a big difference in my recovery. My recovery wasn’t good. Not good at all. My body seized up at the end of each day. All those old aches and pains I used to get before I started with Summit Strength back in 2020 - they were back. The aching back, neck, shoulders, hips, glutes. You name it! My feet were fatigued.
Although I had no issue tackling those 4500 stairs on the last day, my knees were not happy and were screaming later that night. That much loved and simultaneously despised SS cork torture ball got a real workout at the end of each day. But it can only do so much when your body isn’t in peak condition.
So, here I was, hobbling around like a 90yo when last year, on that very same hike, I was bouncing around full of beans and pain-free at the end of each day. The difference was astounding. And not in a good way!
After Three Capes, we headed to Cradle Mountain to hike with others. My body was still fatigued despite the day of rest in between. Our hosts had a lovely hike planned for us. A climb to a mountain peak which involved loads of uneven rocks to negotiate on both the ascent and descent. It was tough. Already weary and with knees that were now painful with even the slightest bend, I just wanted to go home! This was the sort of stuff I lived for only 12 months ago. The harder the better. But this time, even the slightest riser to push up from or lower myself from caused intense pain. I think you get the picture. I think most of us have been there at some stage in our hiking lives.
I struggled not only physically with the demands of this second hike, but also mentally.
Where was the person I was only 6 months ago? I’m so much better than this. I remembered how awesome I felt when I had trained. How I felt strong and knew that my training would help my body conquer anything. How I was always looking for the next big scramble.
Right now, days later, negotiating my front doorstep is a complex exercise of delicate movements! It’s pretty deflating when you know what you’re capable of but fall sensationally short. I knew that things had to change when I returned home after the trip. Not only for my enjoyment of hiking but for everyday life and functionality.
The good news is that the fix is easy! Train. Train consistently. Train to be strong. Train to be pain-free. Train so you can do things you want to do and the things you never thought you could do. It’s all achievable with the right prep. And mentally, that headspace you get in when you’re training, is an awesome place to be.
Although I struggled with a lot of aspects of these recent hikes because I didn’t put in the training, I don’t regret any of it. Ridiculous thing to say, right? But hear me out. I’ve taken some really important lessons from this experience, I’m currently studying Cert 4 in Fitness to be a Personal Trainer. I think it’s a great lesson for me both personally and professionally to have experienced what it’s like to have tackled the same hike when fully physically prepared v not prepared. I can pass on my experiences and can also relate to clients who don’t know what a huge difference training will make to their hiking experience. Lived experience is a powerful thing that can be shared with others. If you’ve never been weak, vulnerable or fallible, how can you ever relate to your clients and how can they ever relate to you? How can they relate to you if they think you’ve only ever been ‘perfect’ and haven’t made mistakes or errors in judgement on your fitness journey? Aside from that, it’s been a valuable lesson to me about how I need to make strength training a priority rather than an afterthought if I have some spare time. Investing in ourselves physically and mentally improves quality of life in general and grows ever more important as we age. And whilst I already knew this intellectually, the reality of how bad it felt when I let it all go was quite a shock.
So now it’s time to saddle up and get back on that horse. I’m actually excited to start strength training again! Can’t wait to feel strong again! And I’m so excited to share this journey alongside so many of you who are on the same path. We all have ebbs and flows with training. Maintaining a high level of motivation all the time isn’t reality. But there are strategies to employ when your mojo has gone AWOL. Your program can be adjusted. Don’t just let it all go.
If you’ve ever doubted that this process of training for your adventures works, take my word for it. It does work! This experience showed me just how much of a difference training makes. Don't just take my word for it; there are countless Summit Strength client success stories you can read about.
about the author
Andrea is a coach with Summit Strength, who specialise in helping hikers get strong and pain-free for their adventures.
At the age of 54, she discovered a real passion for hiking. But she also discovered just how limiting physical fitness and pain can be on the trail.
After signing up to one of the Summit Strength signature programs, she discovered just how much of a difference the right training can make to a hiker's enjoyment and comfort on their adventures. She knows that the journey isn't always easy and 'life' can sometimes impact on our training goals. She shares her insights and experiences with us in her blog articles.
These days, as an Online Adventure Coach with Summit Strength, she helps hikers all around the world get fit, strong and resilient for their adventures.
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.