Friday 1 July 2016

Overlandish Part 3: "Rescued"

Worse than yesterday” never came. Instead we wake to another dreich, damp Waterfall Valley day. Barn Bluff is playing hide and seek with us, as fresh clouds swirl around the heights, dropping a few careless showers. It’s what you’d expect of winter on the Overland Track, really. As opposed to what we’d experienced, and what had been forecast.

[Not much visibility: a dreich day] 
Some of our hut mates are keen to keep walking south, and face whatever befalls them. They include Melbourne-based Lee, and German couple Manuel and Julia. And suddenly, over breakfast, Mick tells us it includes him too.

We’re not greatly surprised. He’s got friends coming in to meet him at the other end of the Overland Track. They plan to then walk back into Pine Valley. Rather than have to rearrange everything, it’s simplest if Mick sticks to the original plan. And this way, hopefully, he’ll also achieve his first complete Overland Track trip.

We feel strangely parental farewelling Mick, first foisting a tent and then a personal locator beacon on him, “just in case”. I resist checking whether he’s got a hanky. And then we walk our separate ways, Mick and friends to the south, ourselves to the north.

[Ian on the ascent out of Waterfall Valley] 
Leaving the valley, we ascend into the cloud that licks the rim of Bluff Cirque. It is moist though not rainy, and we debate whether rain gear is necessary. Despite feeling like a cooked lobster, I exercise the precautionary principle and leave mine on.

[Cloud walking along Bluff Cirque] 
We walk through thinning cloud most of the way back, catching occasional glimpses of valleys and mountains, and even the odd patch of blue sky. The track is still wet, or what we would once have called wet. In comparison with our walk in, it’s luxurious. Kitchen Hut feels that way too. When the sun threatens to break through, we even consider digging out our sunglasses.

[Walking out of the cloud near Cradle Mt] 
By the time we’re approaching Marions Lookout, we’re getting real views again. And when we get mobile reception and can ring Tim D., the weather is as cheerful as his news. He’s on target to meet us at Ronny Creek around 2pm.

[Back safe, at Ronny Creek] 
I’m not sure Tim is used to the kind of reception we give him, unless it’s from his dog. And then, like a pack of dogs, we’re busy exchanging news, talking nineteen to the dozen. We quickly find out how serious and widespread “our” weather event has been. Tim tells us three people are missing, presumed drowned, in the floods. And hundreds of cattle have been washed away, as towns like Latrobe and Longford have gone under.

[Tim our "rescuer", between Ian and Larry] 
On the drive down to Sheffield, where Tim and Merran have kindly offered us a bed for the night, we start to see the flood damage firsthand. We detour around some flooded sections; see numerous fallen trees; and ease past sections where road verges have slumped seriously. Our experience has been mild in comparison, though we soon find that Facebook has told it otherwise. News of our “rescue” from the flooded Overland Track has already hit our fb feed. It seems many people have been quite worried about us, so we quickly reassure them.

Our “rescue” gets very fancy when, after a blissfully hot shower, Tim and Merran break out cheese and wine as a pre-dinner treat. And it feels complete when Tim fires up his pizza oven, and he and Merran deliver an abundance of perfect home-made treats. Eventually, when we can’t eat another thing, and all our tales have been told (a few times), we retire, each to his own soft bed. And if that isn’t bliss enough, there is no snoring to be heard!
* * *

Postcript: What became of Mick?

The day he left us Mick did an almost 7 hour day, walking past Windermere and on to New Pelion Hut. He’d been very concerned about potential flooding at Frog Flats. But, he says, “I was so tired I walked straight through the area without even realising it.”

[Mick contemplates going on: old Waterfall Valley Hut] 
At New Pelion he caught up with Lee, and reunited him with the torch he’d left in Waterfall Valley Hut. Mick and Lee then walked on together over Pelion Gap to Kia Ora, choosing not to climb Mt Ossa in cloudy, showery conditions. The highlight of the next day was the “incredible sight” of a flooded upper Mersey River thundering over D’Alton, Fergusson and Hartnett Falls.

Mick’s adventures didn’t end at Narcissus, as they do for most Overland Track walkers. Instead he picked up a resupply that had been ferried in by friends. Together they headed back up to Pine Valley, along with Lee, Manuel, Julia and other walkers he’d met on the main track.

To top it all off it snowed at Pine Valley, with three inches at the hut, and nearly double that up on the Labyrinth. He had what he described as a fantastic day of wandering in my favourite winter wonderland.

Eventually even heroes have to come home, and Mick did so with “lots of mixed feelings. I dawdled behind the others for most of (the walk out). I wasn’t looking forward to ending what had been a pretty amazing 9 days…”.

There’s always next time Mick!

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