Thursday, 7 May 2020

A Long-Awaited Reunion: Part 4

Plans change, even long-settled ones. Originally we were to walk out together on day 4. Then, once we’d reached the cars, Jim, Lynne, Brita and I would farewell the four who were going home early, and we’d go on to Blue Peaks. That required driving around to Lake Mackenzie, re-packing, and getting walking again in the late afternoon for the 2-3 hour walk up to Blue Peaks.


[The track between Pelion and our cars] 
That all sounded good on paper, and looked very do-able on the map. But there were two flies in the ointment. Firstly the forecast for the days ahead included quite a bit of rain. Secondly Lynne’s knee/hamstring issue was still of concern. Jim and I had independently been pondering the dilemma: how could we help Brita to make the most of her limited time in Tasmania, while not further damaging Lynne’s knee? Amazingly we had come up with the same possible solution. Merran and Tim D had some extra accommodation, a cottage next to their house in Sheffield, and we hoped we might prevail upon them to use it for two nights. We’d be able to visit Cradle Mountain on the day in between.


[An unidentified wildflower brightened up the walk out] 
Jim and I laughed when we finally had a quiet little tête-à-tête about the issue, and discovered we’d had the same idea. (I guess that happens when you’ve been friends for nearly 40 years.) We put it to Tim D and Merran, and they were more than happy for us to use the cottage. We checked it with Lynne and Brita, who were happy to go along with the new plan. Problem solved, the only thorny issue was how to nurse Lynne through the potentially arduous walk out to the car. To allow the maximum time for her to walk as slowly as she needed, we were all up very early. And Lynne left before the rest of us, as she didn’t want to slow anyone down.

That seemed wise to me, although I expected I’d catch her within the hour. Instead the kilometres went by: buttongrass became forest; forest gave way to heathland. We toiled through rocky sections, then walked some more through scrubby forest. We were now walking in gender groups, and we boys were having a fascinating theological discussion, as you do between three Christians and a Buddhist. It didn’t slow us down at all, but however fast we walked, there was no sign of Lynne.

To say we didn’t see her again until the cars would be a slight exaggeration. But we only caught up with her when she stopped for a scroggin break, and to wait for the rest of us. We weren’t walking slowly. Lynne was simply walking like a new person: fluently, and without knee pain.


[The track was rough and cryptic in a few places] 
Still, it was a long and tiring walk out. On the way in to Pelion we’d taken more than 6 hours, and walking out still took us well over 4 hours. Yet there was elation at getting back to the cars before lunchtime. I gave Lynne a congratulatory hug, and we both thanked Brita for her great work on Lynne’s hamstring. She just deflected the thanks, and said it was all to do with Lynne’s “super tough body”. Lynne looked both surprised and delighted with the compliment.

Once we’d stowed our gear back in the cars, the prospect of getting out to a hot lunch before too long was uppermost in our minds. Apart from anything else, we had to farewell Libby and TimO, who were leaving us once we’d had that café lunch. We were aiming for Mole Creek pub, but decided to stop and try Earthwater Café, a few km short of Mole Creek. Changing plans seemed to be going well for us today: it proved a fabulous find. We sat outside, partly so other diners didn’t have to share our ripe bushwalking odour. Once we’d pulled a couple of tables together beneath some beautiful trees, we settled down to the kind of meal that’s especially welcome after time in the bush.


[Our lunch stop at Earthwater Cafe] 
Sooner than we hoped, but later than they needed to, TimO and Libby departed for the south. The remaining six of us were going to Sheffield, and were very thankful that we weren’t having to hoist packs and walk again that day. We were even more thankful we’d have actual beds, with real mattresses, for the next few nights. Call us soft, we don’t care!

There was one other major item on Brita’s “must see” list. Despite having seen wallabies, pademelons, eagles, cockatoos and dozens of other creatures that aren’t to be found in Austria – and most of New Zealand – we had not been able to find a wombat. That gave us a focus for our day at Cradle Mountain. But that was tomorrow, tonight we needed to find food, while leaving Tim and Merran to settle in and get ready for work tomorrow. We took a dining short-cut, deciding to eat what we still had in our packs. Yes, we had catered for more nights out, but the prospect of more dehydrated food wasn’t hugely enticing. A visit to the pub for a pre-dinner drink took the edge off our disappointment, and a little wine with dinner helped wash it down happily.


[Cradle Mountain reflected in Dove Lake] 
The forecast for our Cradle Mountain day was not great, although the amount of rain predicted seemed to diminish by the hour (which was how often we checked it). By the time we left Sheffield the showers had stopped. And when we got to the new visitor centre at Cradle Valley, the cloud had lifted off Cradle itself. The plan to walk the Dove Lake Loop Track wasn’t looking so daft after all. Dove Lake itself was very busy, as this honey-pot has been for many years now. But once we walked beyond Glacier Rock, just a few hundred metres from the carpark, the foot traffic dropped significantly. As we ambled closer to Cradle, we showed Brita some more of the kind of rainforest she had come to love in both Tasmania and New Zealand. 


[Rainforest on the Dove Lake Loop Track] 
We talked about the common origins of those forests in ancient Gondwana. This kinship even goes down to the kinds of fungi found in both forests. We pointed out some myrtle orange fungi (Cyttaria gunnii), which are very closely related to Cyttaria species found on the beech trees of both New Zealand and Patagonia, even down to their resemblance to golf balls.


[Myrtle orange fungi in myrtle beech trees] 
After dipping beneath Cradle itself, the track took us around to yet more rainforest, the wonderful Ballroom Forest. But there was an elephant in the ballroom. Or more correctly, a large, rotund, furry marsupial (and no, I’m not referring to Jim) was missing from the ballroom. We weren’t likely to see wombats here, so we walked quite quickly back to Dove Lake. The one sure-fire place to see wombats in the wild was Ronny Creek, so we caught a shuttle bus from Dove Lake and got off at Ronny Creek.


[Jim in Ballroom Forest] 
Within a few minutes we were meeting other walkers coming towards us with smiles on their faces. Yes, there were wombats here! I’d like to say we stopped, snapped a few quick photos, and quickly turned for home, where we had a date to eat home-made pizza with Merran and Tim. But no, this was Brita’s new happy place. 


[Brita's happy place: watching wombats near Ronny Creek] 
She took a hundred photos of distant wombats. Then a couple of them started wandering down towards the track. After she took another hundred closer photos, and became a little annoyed with the noisy, impatient and pushy behaviour of some other observers, we thought Brita was finished. 


[Wombat approaching!] 
But then one wombat climbed onto, and over, the boardwalk, close enough for Brita to touch it (which she knew not to). She had an extended period of wombat bliss – while we basked in its vicarious glow – before we signalled it was time to head back to the shuttle bus stop. Brita belatedly joined us – after a deal of waving and calling – only moments before the bus pulled out. But somehow not even that was going to stop her smile!

Back in Sheffield, we hunted for pizza toppings, the deal being that Tim would make the bases, and we would supply, and put on, the toppings. We also wanted to search out some little thank-yous for our Sheffield hosts. That done, we went “home” again, and freshened up for dinner. 


[Master chef Tim. Who wants some pizza?] 

[Not your typical bushwalking food. Thanks Tim!] 
Tim excelled himself, as usual, with three courses of pizza: entrée (pizza bianca); main course (many and varied) and dessert pizzas. We supplied the wine, and sat back to watch the setting sun painting the clouds around Mount Roland. It was a magical end to a very special few days together. We met no resistance from Brita when we suggested we must do it all again. But perhaps we might not wait eleven years this time!


[... as the sun sinks slowly over Mt Roland.] 

Saturday, 2 May 2020

A Long-Awaited Reunion: Part 3

When I was young, some car owners opted to buy eye-catching two-tone cars. A rich uncle had a very fancy two-tone Ford Ranch Wagon, with fetching brown sides, and a custard coloured roof. Today confirms that our walking group has turned into a two-tone model.

This starts to become clear while we’re discussing our walking options. The forecast is good, and climbing Tasmania’s highest mountain, Mt Ossa, is high on some agendas. Yesterday’s more adventurous quartet has Ossa and maybe more in mind. I start thinking of them as the “brown” side.


[Small falls between Pelion Hut and Pelion Gap] 
On the “custard” side, Lynne has never ascended Ossa, and would have been keen. But … yesterday’s work on her knee wasn’t a miracle cure. She will still have to nurse it a little, and I plan to stick with her today. Jim was up Ossa with me in 2017, the most recent of many ascents we’ve made. On that occasion we had the best conditions we’re ever likely to see. During our descent we talked about whether we’d ever do it again. We weren't sure then, but when he’s asked if he’ll go today, Jim simply says “Nup”. The “custard” side is firming. Brita then declares that she’s not a summit person, and with Ossa not on her list today, the score becomes Brown 4, Custard 4.


[Our 2017 summit experience on Mt Ossa] 
So the Tims, Merran and Libby are going up to Pelion Gap, then on to the top of Tasmania. TimO adds that he’s never been up Mt Pelion East, and I see that “can I do two summits?” glint in his eye. Jim, Brita, Lynne and I reckon we’ll go as far as the Gap, and then see how we feel. Our two-tone group at least agrees to be back in time for pre-dinner nibbles and drinks together on the grass beside our tents.


[Buttongrass heads and coral fern] 
Part of Brita’s coaching of Lynne is that she could try shorter steps, not striding out too much. A corollary of that is that she should go at her own pace. So the brown team leaves us in their dust, as we custards climb towards Pelion Gap in a more leisurely fashion. One of the advantages for me is more time to photograph, which also means more time to really notice the intricacies of the forest and woodlands we’re walking through. Jim and Brita stay with us for a while, but eventually they firm up a plan to walk past the gap, and up to the side of Mount Doris.


[A small grove of Pandani near Pelion Hut] 


[Celmisia - alpine daisy] 
Lynne is walking a little more easily today, but there’s still some pain, and she stops every now and then to stretch her hamstring. Eventually we top out on Pelion Gap, just as Jim and Brita are about to depart from there for Mt. Doris. 


[L to R: Peter, Lynne and Jim at Pelion Gap]  
Jim is keen to show Brita what he calls “The Japanese Garden” on the side of Doris. It’s a relatively level section of an otherwise steep route. Bright green carpets of cushion plant are interspersed with other ground-hugging species, mini-thickets of scoparia, and slabs of lichen-daubed rock. Little runnels and pools of clear water complete the picture: a perfect little natural garden.


[Sunburst on forest detail] 
Lynne reckons this is as far as she should come today, so we farewell the others and sit down to our lunch on the gap’s platform. Afterwards, with our new-found appreciation of walking slowly, we stop often. It proves as good for the soul as it is for the knees. We take the time to find small delights, and to smell the … well, not roses, exactly. It’s things like the pungency of sassafras, the tang of lemon boronia, and the earthiness of buttongrass. And there’s also that indescribable scent you get when you lie amongst all that is breaking down on the rainforest floor, as you try to photograph a King Billy pine that towers above everything.


[King Billy Pine trunk and forest floor] 
Meanwhile back at the “Japanese Garden”, Jim and Brita are surprised by TimO. He’s already been up Pelion East, and in Jim’s words is “looking knackered”. He pauses for a drink, and wonders aloud whether he really should “give Ossa a crack as well”. Politely ignoring Jim’s advice, he sets off towards Ossa. Jim and Brita shake their heads and head in the opposite direction. Jim gets back to Pelion only a little while after us, and lets us know TimO’s apparent plan, and that Brita has gone off for a swim near Old Pelion Hut. Within the hour Tim D, Merran and Libby are back, sounding upbeat after their ascent of Ossa.


[Flower heads of Billy Buttons] 
When everyone has recovered a little, we gather again at the delightfully grassy tent site, a little above the hut. The left-overs from the heli-pad party are reinforced with more cheese, and some extra wine is found. Our gathering looks like a product placement for Helinox chairs, as four of us sit comfortably above the grass in our “Zero” chairs. 


[Nibbles while waiting for TimO & Brita] 
It’s a warm and gentle early evening, and as currawongs pipe in the closing of the day, we’re happy and grateful for many things. All we lack is the presence of our friends TimO and Brita. We’ve got well into the bhuja and cheese, and have started the wine, when a very weary looking TimO traipses down the track from the gap. Almost simultaneously Brita comes up from the side track that leads to Old Pelion. Our group complete, we settle into hearing the varied stories of our party members. As I listen I can’t help thinking what a fine two-tone model we are!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

A Long-Awaited Reunion: Part 2


[Mt Oakleigh from New Pelion Hut] 
After a long and tiring day of bushwalking, thoughts like “I’ll sleep like a log”, or “I’ll definitely sleep late tomorrow” come easily to mind. Reality usually has other ideas, especially in huts, where there are always snorers, and usually the rustling, clattering and chattering of the early-to-depart brigade. But this morning we join in the noise. We have to get our breakfast done early-ish, because we have a morning tea appointment!

Tim D and Merran’s son Justin, who works for an Overland Track guiding company, is joining us for morning tea. The even better news is that he’s bringing some muffins to share. This quickly gets everyone’s attention, and especially Libby’s. She’s renowned in our company as a muffin-fancier, and – according to some – a muffin thief.


[Libby showing earlier form at muffin-fancying] 
It’s a sumptuous morning tea, and we all hoe in even though we’ve just had brekky. We then get chatting with Justin about his work, and are soon discussing the pros and cons of Overland Track commercial trips. The knowledge and cooking of the guides, and the comfort of soft beds and showers, certainly have appeal. Of course the trips are expensive too, and we conclude that they’re not primarily aimed at experienced walkers like us. That said, Jim is quite taken with the thought of an upgrade from the public hut. So he spruiks his abilities as a raconteur, saying he’s willing to offer his services to groups in exchange for bed and board. Justin rubs his beard mock-thoughtfully, and assures Jim he’ll give the idea deep thought. The rest of us laugh heartily before thanking Justin again as he heads back to work.

And now we feel the need to “walk off the smackerels” (as Winnie-the-Pooh would have put it). So we decide to have a leg stretch on the track towards Pelion Gap. Brita passes, as she has her eye on a recently vacated tent site, and wants to get the tent set up before the site is claimed by others. I’m not sure how much the snoring has to do with her relocation decision, but I ask her to try and keep a spot free for our tent too.


[Climbing towards Pelion Gap] 
We walk into a beautiful patch of myrtle beech forest just 10-15 minutes up the track. After yesterday’s knee pain, Lynne is wary of even this amount of walking. And soon she’s wincing with the pain of walking. She’s upset too at the possible implications for the rest of the walk. So on the way back down we discuss plans for the day. Lynne lets us know her day will be spent resting her knee at New Pelion. The rest of us are thinking about Mount Oakleigh, and possibly beyond.

Back at the hut, we fill Brita in on the options. It turns out she’s happy with a slow wander through the forest towards Oakleigh. Jim and I have talked up the splendour of the forest, and are happy to guide her. Merran, Libby and the two Tims have more ambitious plans. They’re wanting to go up to the Oakleigh plateau, turn east, and head off track in search of Tarn of Islands. Tim D has it all sussed on his GPS, although he adds that it’ll be a long day, with a number of “known unknowns”. Jim and I look at each other knowingly, and wish them well.

They leave as soon as lunch is packed. The rest of us go more slowly. I set up our tent next to where Brita and the others have put theirs. Half an hour later, Brita, Jim and I are finally ready. We wave Lynne farewell and head north towards Mt Oakleigh. It’s a very familiar walk across buttongrass plains, with expansive views of mountains in almost every direction. The weather is blue-skied and mild, and it’s wonderful being out among friends, both human and geographical.


[Walking towards Oakleigh, with Pelion West in background] 
Brita is soon learning that there are different styles of walking within our group. Some emphasise the journey over the destination; while for others the destination is the main thing. If that destination is a hut, or a mountain – preferably one with a mobile signal – then Jim can put on a surprising turn of speed. Brita, it turns out, is a journey person. I am too, so we trail behind Jim, taking time to stop, look, enjoy and photograph the wonderfully rich, tall rainforest.


[Forest on the ascent of Mt Oakleigh] 

[A Senecio daisy in the Oakleigh Forest] 
After a final steep and sweaty climb, we finally catch up with Jim on a dolerite outcrop atop the Oakleigh plateau. He’s already posted something on Facebook about being a “lonely little petunia” up there. We burst his loneliness bubble and join him for lunch. The day has warmed up, and the deep blue sky is daubed with just a few decorative clouds. Although Oakleigh is a minor Overland Track peak in terms of altitude (just 1286m), the views from it are stunning. As we eat lunch our eyes are drawn across the Pelion Plains to the highest mountains of The Reserve: the broad-backed bulk of Mt Ossa (1617m); the nipple-like top of Mt Pelion East (1461m); the loaf-like Mt Pelion West (1560m); the sharp-edged Du Cane Range (1500m+), and many more besides.


[Brita and Jim on Mt Oakleigh] 
I sit back, enjoying warm sun, a wafting breeze, good conversation, and all of this!  It’s fair to say destinations can be pretty good too. We look out east towards where our friends have gone in search of a more adventurous destination. To the south, down Pelion way, there’s a metaphorical cloud for me. I’m fretting about Lynne’s knee. I’m sorry too that she’s missing this summit, but glad that we have been here together before, and in good weather. Brita and I chat about the knee issue, and she says she might have a few things she can try that might help Lynne.

After lunch, our route back down keeps knees front of mind. At times it’s a steep, knee-crunching trial. I’m glad of trekking poles to act as shock absorbers, gladder still of the beauty of the forest here. At one point I think of Sagrada Familia, the phenomenal Barcelona church designed by Antoni Gaudi. He said he was inspired by forests in his design of the vast arching ceiling and its exquisite sun-lit high windows. He convinced me, such that I was brought to tears by that interior.


[In the rainforest on the side of Oakleigh] 
The colours and textures that inspired Gaudi are here too. There are the mossy greens and speckled browns of the forest floor; the near luminous lichens and green, orange and yellow mosses gently smothering every trunk and branch; the deep leaf greens that fade and grade together towards a vast, vaulting canopy beyond which are only hints of bright blue. Brita is loving this too, confessing she is particularly a fan of lichen.


[Lichen and moss, Oakleigh Forest] 
Once we’re back at the hut we catch up with Lynne, and soon afterwards Brita puts her osteopath hat on. After an examination of Lynne’s knee, she suggests that the main issue might not be the knee, but a tight hamstring. Brita offers to work on it. Half an hour later – after hard work for one, and some pain for the other – they both walk onto the verandah, where Jim and I are socialising. Both women are smiling, and Lynne says she feels six inches taller. The knee is definitely improved, and there’s some hope that any ongoing issues can be handled via stretches and walking techniques. In short there’s a fair chance that Lynne will be able to walk out, rather than becoming a permanent fixture at the hut.

It’s been a day of appointments, and we have one more before we’re done. Our friend Libby recently married her man, Colin. But with him being Canadian, they’d snuck out of the country to get hitched in Canada over Christmas. As you do! Since we weren’t able to be part of that great occasion, we have planned a surprise party on the helipad to celebrate with Libby. The only snag is that she – and the other three – haven’t come back from their Tarn of Islands adventure yet.

It’s well after 6pm before we see the straggling group coming up the track. They look the worse for wear, and have tales of scratchy scrub to tell, as well as raves about what they’ve seen. TimO has had the extra adventure of being geographically embarrassed for a while. But apart from scratches and sunburn, they’re in good spirits.   


[Comparing scrub scratches after Tarn of Islands trip] 
Once they’re ready we carry our party gear down to the helipad for the celebration. We’ve each got special food to share, as well as a few small gifts. After the first round of cheese and dips, it’s time for “the speeches”. Actually, as Libby doesn’t much like being the centre of attention (and probably won’t like this part of the blog) they’re more a few brief words of appreciation for our friend, and lots of well-wishing for her future with Colin.


[Merran and Brita prepare the Feast] 

[Speech time at the Helipad Celebration] 
There are lighter moments as well, chief of which is Jim presenting each of us with some spare toilet paper. We’re unsure what we are supposed to make of this, until we discover that each square has a black and white portrait of Donald Trump on it. 


[Libby displays Jim's special gift] 
After some juvenile guffawing, we eat and drink a bit more, and watch the sun casting its last light across the plains and onto Oakleigh. It’s been a long day, and most of us are glad to head tent-ward. Once back at the tent, I greatly enjoy getting horizontal again. And I’m grateful that the noisiest neighbours here are the calling currawongs. As those sounds settle me towards sleep, I almost catch myself saying that I’ll sleep like a log.