We have had two long days. Seventeen kilometres followed by eighteen kilometres. The weather was kind to us on day one with only light rain. But yesterday ‘occasional showers’ clearly meant ‘it will rain steadily for 24 hours apart from a ten minute break which will not be the same ten minutes in which you decide to make a barefoot trek to the toilet’. So we decided that today will be a short day. Only three hours over a nice short distance of eight kilometres. It’s an indulgence alright but I’m looking at how we best arrive at Cradle Mountain, aiming to make a side trip up that mound of rock if we can. The decision to break the trip up this way is partly informed by the lack of accommodation at Ronny Creek.
It rains all the way in. Through beech and fern, along soggy bottom forest and mossy trails adorned with fungi of all sorts. We dropped over the other side of the gap into the headwaters of Douglas Creek. The wind was tempered by the geography, much to our relief. But if our ears were eased of the nipping wind, our feet were introduced to a new challenge – Douglas Creek, engorged by a night of heavy rain, overflowed its banks onto the track. Now the tracks of course tend to become streams in their own right under a little bit of rain but in this case we were walking down a torrent that forced us to be extra careful with where we placed our feet. Waterfall after waterfall, and churning water pooling at each step that gave no hint about what was underfoot.
This hut is one of the new and recent constructions but is far less charming and cozy that the early huts. It is open and airy but those qualities mean it is hard to heat. The wind picks up and the rain blows sideways. I try and get a text out on the satellite phone, to let folk at home know where we are. And to book accommodation now I am absolutely sure of our track itinerary. Of course these things don’t work under a tin roof so I have to stand in the weather. Bliss. I try using the toilet hut – it has a clear plastic roof. No joy there either despite numerous attempts. I am sure if anyone is paying attention they will think I have gastro. Eventually I notice the rain ease. The striking profile of Mt Oakleigh and its stabbing blades of rock ripping the scudding cloud apart catches my eye but even better I note the leaves are still. I carefully step up the track in bare feet and call ahead to book accommodation. I have given up on the text. It takes eight disconnected calls and broken conversations but eventually I have my name and the number of our party booked. Last of the logistics now complete. I return to the hut just as the rain starts. (I am later told that the only decent place for satellite phone communication is on the helipad further back up the track).
We settle in for a few hours by ourselves playing cards and trying to dry clothes over the gas heater which, unlike the coal fired devices, give up a soft and humid warmth and need restarting every 45 minutes. Whoever put these things in clearly have only been in the huts on warm summer days – though I do wonder to myself if those sorts of days ever exist in this place.
There is a sudden clumping of footsteps on the veranda as the gloomy grey starts to turn dark. A few profiles dart past the fogged up windows but no one enters until a tall lanky fellow strides in, feet bare and a broad grin splitting his beard. Turns out he is part of the leadership team from a girls school and he has fourteen teens in tow. They are all dropping their packs and ripping their boots off while still outside. They are followed by another five who are associated in some way with them. It makes for a very boisterous and animated atmosphere. But they are all bushwalkers an that makes them hospitable and accommodating. There are bunks for sixty so there are no issues with where to sleep. This hut is on the junction of three major tracks which mainly explains the size of the thing. The evening draws into the dark. Headlamps bounce around in the dark revealing nothing to anyone but looking like robust fire flies. Blue flames hiss and flicker, heating water and soups. We chat, play cards, talk nonsense and hope the clothes are drying out while we fritter the evening away. Uno!
The groups have arrived with some slightly disturbing news about the state of the track. They have walked through water above their knees, fast flowing so they say. And there was one deep stream that forced them to all link up to negotiate it. I am up for anything but worry a little for those in the group who are not experienced walkers. It’s tempered by long experience that has taught me that the war stories told by others on the track all need to be taken with a little bit of salt. And I am guessing that the crossings are a result of last nights torrential rain that fuelled Douglas Creek for us. I pray that the rain not fall to heavily through the night.
I step out at 0300 and happily discover there is no rain. A heavy fog lays over the scene, propped up by the inked outlines of trees. There must be enough moon above it all to light the place up for me to see clearly.
Day 6 Click Here
Day 4 Click Here
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