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.

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