Never Mind The Weather

by Sally Partridge

I suppose that I was warned about Tassie weather. “It’ll rain all the time just like England”, they said. It didn’t rain all the time though. We had snow, hail and sleet as well all within the space of a few minutes, and endless “showers contracting to the south-west”. And come on, we must have had some sun – how else could my nose have got burnt? (I purposefully avoided having any thing to do with the MSR). Anyway, I suppose that I had better start from the beginning really, which was when Douglas told me that he had booked me on a flight to Launceston, so after much wrangling with my conscience, I thought I’d better go.

The size of our paaaaarrrrty kept expanding, until there were seven of us. We had a meeting to discuss the trip (l0% useful planning, 90% gossip and Jokes). “Who has the biggest billy?” We’ll have to compare sizes at the Christmas Dinner walk” (and from what I’ve heard, they did!). I began to question my sanity as I realised that I would be spending 8 days walking with six men . It also seemed a little unwise to be spending the morning before we left moving house, but I made it to the taxi with minutes to spare and hopefully everything packed.

The taxi deposited me, Douglas and Mark at the airport, where Dave and Ted (and his suitcase) were waiting, soon to be joined by Justin. After an episode of ‘Blackadder’ and an almost non-existent lunch, we arrived in Launceston, where Gluggy was already ensconced in the Parkside Backpackers. We set off to buy supplies and after scouring Launceston for every possible flavour of ATM, we paid all the money straight back out again for National Park permits, bus fares and more bus fares. Finally we made it to the supermarket, where we stocked up on vast quantities of mac, rice, salami and soup.

As a warm-up, we visited Cataract Gorge – very dramatic due to flooding, with vast quantities of muddy water hurtling over rocks-a pity that we hadn’t brought our lilos. The first difference of opinion occurred when Dave, Gluggy and Douglas suddenly decided that they were hungry and headed back the way we had come. The rest of us thought that this was very boring and opted for the wobbly bridge route. We were a little puzzled by the signs warning of the dangers of swimming in cold water – drowning in the current seeming much more likely. For our final ‘real’ meal, we headed for O’Keefes Hotel, where we started as we meant to finish – with bananas. After stocking up on port and rum, we headed back to the backpackers and apportioned the loads for the following day. George seemed a little upset about something, but we soon all dozed off to the sound of the roaring engines of the local hoons and Ted’s snores.

Boy George awoke ridiculously early, but we all ignored him, so after his shower he went back to bed. After breakfast at the local ‘servo’ (or muesli and dried milk in Mark’s case), we set off for the Walls of Jerusalem, via Deloraine, were Gluggy had a nasty encounter with a train. Ted broke out the scroggin and there was much discussion of the security of the fields of opium poppies by the roadside. After a tour of King Solomons Caves – pretty spectacular – and “very dark” (wot a surprise!), the bus driver asked if anyone had been to the Walls of Jerusalem before and could advise one of the other passengers of the best places to walk. “Dave ‘The Legend’ can” we all yelled, while Dave did his best to hide under the seat – what modesty!

After helping to reorientate the luggage trailer, we donned our packs and headed off up the trail. Justin discussed the possibilities of dehydrated beer for bushwalking with a passing German, while I practised getting left behind. We stopped at Trappers Hut for lunch, where I was relieved to hear that this was the worst hill of the trip. “How high is this hut ?” inquired Ted, as he tucked into smoked salmon pate. ” Oh, about 10 feet, maybe 12″ replied the Legend helpfully.

As we reached the top of the hill, lakes began to appear and Dave pointed out some of the distant peaks peeping out through the clouds. We carried on across the duck (predictable sound effects at this point) boards until we came to the Walls themselves and set up camp in a copse below the Temple. As it was New Year’s Eve, we all crammed into Ted’s Palace and started on the port, with a fair amount being used to christen a Thermarest or two. A special dinner of saveloys, mac and tomato sauce was followed by a raid on a neighbouring camp-site, but as I stayed behind, I don’t know what happened. More port, a few rounds of the Wild West Show, the National Anthem and Auld Lang Syne rounded off 1993. It was now 1994 and Hughie seemed to have got out of bed on the wrong side, as it was cold, wet, and windy. Mark decided to try out a new cure for the flu and went for a walk in wet volleys with no socks. Dave, Do-gas, Justin and I set off to climb the Temple and, lots of rock-hopping later, we arrived at its windy summit. There were limited views of the surrounding lakes and mountains, but we soon headed down past the skeletons of pencil pines, victims of past bushfires, and tried to work out why anyone would stay in Temple Hut – very cramped and halfway up a hill in an unsheltered spot – rather than lower down.

As the sun (and Ted and Gluggy) had eventually decided to emerge, we had lunch outside, before setting off to climb the West Wall, minus Mark, who had retired to the tent to nurse his flu (or was this just an excuse to listen to the cricket?). The views were great, although there was some dispute as to how many ‘chicks’ there were in the party walking up the track below us even with the aid of Ted’s binoculars. Back at the tents, it was time for tea and chocolate cake – 97% fat free, much to the disgust of everyone – “We need all the fat we can get!”

A lone female walker appeared and started to set up camp nearby. The binoculars were quickly deployed once again, despite a whole battery of withering looks and snide comments from me. ”When are we going to see a devil?” asked Do-gas. “You’re going to see a horny little devil very soon” replied Dave, continuing to ogle. None of them actually had the guts to go over get acquainted, however, and several of them claimed the whole performance was just to wind me up (Hmmrnm).

Once they could all bear to stop ogling, we set off on our final expedition of the day, to Dixon’s Kingdom. Once again Mark stayed behind due to the flu (or perhaps this was just an excuse?) . At the hut, we signed the log book and using great detective skills, worked out that the solitary walker was Lisa. Back at the camp, we had a visit from a park ranger, who found a stray tea-bag. Luckily, we also managed to persuade her that the evidence of the Legend’s illegal activities was due to problems with the MSR, or things could have proved rather expensive.

“This is like a ski trip without the snow” commented Justin (he was later proved wrong), as we huddled round cooking dinner. “And without the warmth!” Dave added. We made port wine jelly for desert – this being the next best thing to port, which, alas, was nearly all gone. After the inaugural session of the nightly tent-shuffling ritual, we settled down for the serious business of the evening – an introduction to a few new friends – mostly of dubious gender and very inappropriately dressed for bushwalking.

After a night of possum attacks, we awoke once again to the sound of rain, so we stayed put for breakfast, morning jelly (it had finally set! ) and lunch – an exciting morning really, the highlight of which was Mark’s discovery of 12 much-needed Strepsils. After lunch we set off though some great scenery, with lots of photo stops. The excitement proved too much for Gluggy’s new camera, which went into spasms. Past Lake Ball, with its solitary black swan, we came to our first serious creek crossing. I wimped out at the log and in the process managed to get a chunk of tree stuck under my left thumb-nail, a very painful experience. My pack and I finally made it across the creek separately, both getting a little damp in the process, but at least my camera stayed dry. The others had failed to use the time available with me out of earshot to catch up on the cricket score, while Dave wittily accused me of trying to form a “splinter” group.

On towards Chinaman’s Planes (spelling courtesy of George), we boinged (some more than others) across a patch of sphagnum moss before stopping for our resident medic to bandage up the thumb and administer pain killers. At the top of the hill, we stopped again for one of Gluggy ‘s many meditation sessions and Mark managed to gel a photo of the elusive ‘liar’ bird. I took advantage of another creek crossing to get my as yet wonderfully dry boot-encased feet thoroughly wet, just so that I was in the same state as everyone else. As I squelched up to the others, they all ran off to photograph an echidna, which was busy trying to bury itself. We decided to set up camp and, right on cue, Hughie decided it was time for more rain. Dave and Mark retired to Dave’s tent, to listen to the cricket, while the rest of sat in The Palace and worked out the tent rota – a complicated mathematical process – and ate snakes and space food sticks.

As we were now outside the National Park (or so we thought, until we consulted a map at Lake St Clair), we lit a fire and drank lakes of tea, before having dinner, catching up on the fates of Paula Prince (dead) and friends, and trying to dry our socks without setting fire to them.

Next day, Hughie still appeared to be a little confused, giving us alternating bursts of sunny skies and rain, so we huddled round the fire while he decided what to fling at us next. The skies eventually seemed to be more blue than grey, so we had lunch and set off. Gluggy seemed to be the next victim of the flu, threatening to go down with an acute attack of hypothermia, while I managed to fall in another creek and whack my shin on a rock. We eventually found a nice camp-site, apart from a few leeches, and Gluggy made a miraculous recovery once the tents were up and the fire going. He then took Mark’s flu cure even further and walked round for a while without any shoes on . After dinner and custard (thankfully not the cat variety), the story continued – they were dropping like flies with Lorraine Lamont taking a nose dive from a car park. We managed a record-breakingly early start the next morning – 11 am – despite Ted’s protestations every time Dave suggested that we were leaving in five minutes. Hughie was obviously in a better mood this morning, as the sun came out and Mark coated his face in pink zinc, much to the amusement of everyone else, while I tried to stick the end of my nose back on. We found a good lunch spot and sampled some of Dave’s fizz. ”Don’t stop stirring” yelled Hot Pants, while Gluggy tried to steal my spoon.

The afternoon saw the serious scrub-bashing part of the trip. Scoparia surrounded us as we headed down to the Ling Roth lakes and I just couldn’t stop falling over – walking through scrub seems to have the same effect on me as a few too many ciders (thanks for waiting for me, Ted, or I might still be there now ! ). The scoparia eventually merged into fagus and we fought our way down to the lake for a quick rest and drink, before fighting our way up to the Mountains of Jupiter.

It was definitely getting colder, but I discovered that it was actually a distinct advantages to have numb knees while scrambling up rocks. My hands however, were still lovely and warm much to the irritation of everyone else. We had thought about camping up there, but as all sorts of meteorological horrors were threatened for the following day, we decided to head down to camp near Lake Artemis. We slithered our way down to the lake and crossed another creek – I actually managed not to fall into this one, having decided not to even bother to try and stay dry and just wade through it.

We set up camp across the track and got down to cooking dinner, after which the readings continued. People were being beaten up left, right and centre and Chicka Chandler’s involvement with the hot dog scandal was starting to emerge. The weather seemed to be getting worse as we settled down for the night.

By the morning, the water level seemed to have risen somewhat – the Palace had a squelchy bit at one end under the ground sheet and the Club tent had sprung a few leaks, but at least we didn’t have so far to go to get water! Hughie [note the English spelling, ed.] decided to treat us to a special selection of several years worth of weather condensed into a few hours. The brief bursts of sun were enough to tempt us out with our plastic shovels, but a couple of minutes later a well-timed blizzard would appear. We settled down to try and amuse ourselves for a tent-bound day. Cricket results were relayed from tent to tent – Mark having lost his voice and Dave seeming a little deaf, this was a complicated process. George and I put great time and effort into making next phase of the tent rota as fair as possible, but alas, it was to be abandoned after just one night. everyone seemed reasonably happy with the arrangements, except Gluggy – “s’pose it doesn’t matter what I think anyway” George and I defeated Gluggy and Ted two-nil at 500, much to my surprise and then Mark and I explained the intricacies of DNA to Justin, before it was tent shuffle time again.

After I had ventured out to collect the tea, an examination of the thumb revealed that gangrene had thankfully not yet set in, although the doctor looked a little worried and amputation was mentioned. We decided it was time for dinner and due to the snow, which was becoming more permanent, it was cooked from inside Ted’s Palace. Curious things were going on outside, with heads emerging from tents to take photos and the occasional snowball flying. As we tried to sleep, the weather got worse, with a sprinkling of thunder and lightening.

The original plan was to head over the Traveller’s Range to the Overland Track, but the weather put paid to this idea, with Bushwalkers’ alerts on the radio. Dave decided that we should head for Junction Hut and take the low route. “Are you up yet?” asked Dave. “Get stuffed!” replied Ted. A few minutes later – “Have you eaten breakfast yet?” asked Dave. “Get stuffed!” said Ted “Packing up in 5 minutes” announced Dave. “Get stuffed!” said Ted. However, we managed to beat our previous record and set off into the weather shortly after 9am. Various novel methods were employed to cross the slightly swollen creek and I actually managed not to fall in. Back around Lake Artemis, we lost the track for a while, but were soon on our way to Junction Hut. Being a mean lot, we didn’t tell Gluggy when a tree grabbed his Thermarest, but hid it away to see how long it would take before he noticed. “Thanks guys”, he said when it mysteriously reappeared on his pack, following a lecture from Mark about the dangers of carrying things outside one’s pack (not to mention carrying cutlery in one’s unzipped pocket).

After morning tea (minus the tea) outside Junction Hut, we set off for the Overland Track and Windy Ridge Hut. It was very wet underfoot and got considerably wetter, as we followed the Mersey River, which seemed to be intent on turning itself into a lake. A tricky river crossing via another log was accomplished without taking on too much extra water – we were all pretty wet by that stage anyway. Then came some nice Tassie mud, up to the knees, and a few more river crossings. Passed the ‘real’ McCoy Falls – a bit pathetic really- we hit civilisation (i.e., duckboards) and dumped our packs for a look at Harnett Falls. We trekked on to Windy Ridge Hut for a late lunch (about 4pm) and Dave and Mark huddled close to the radio to catch up on the cricket (South Africa won by five runs – such a pity!). The hut was packed with people and damp clothes, so we decided not to stay.

By now, Ted had become the next victim of the flu, Mark was still ill and neither Justin or Gluggy was very healthy either, so they all decided to head for Hobart. George and the Legend were still keen to do Pine Valley, but the weather didn’t look as though it was going to cooperate. In the end we decided to head for Narcissus Hut. Dave, Justin and Gluggy shot off, while the rest of us followed more slowly and I managed to fall in yet another creek and acquire a few more bruises We made it to the hut in about two and a half hours and arrived to find Mark standing outside with a relieved grin on his face – there was space for us in the hut. Gluggy was chosen as cook for the evening and produced ‘gluggy’ rice – blamed on the cheese – but a worse fate awaited him when we worked out that he was the only one that hadn’t done the washing up yet and he had to scrape the ‘glug’ off the billys. Our readings seemed to interest the majority of other hut inhabitants, but a few of them weren’t very impressed. We retired to bed, after mopping up the drips, and coughed in chorus through the night.

We caught the 9.30 ferry, which finally made it to the jetty at the third attempt – the boatman’s mathematical and communication skills were little better than his steering ability, but we arrived at the other side of Lake St Clair without mishap and with a few tantalising views of mountain tops through the clouds. We found a fire to huddle round and braved flocks of vicious birds in our quest for hot chips. Thankfully, there was room for us on the afternoon bus, so we retrieved our clean, dry clothes, before heading off for warm showers – bliss!

We piled into the bus – a bit of a squash with luggage as well, as the spring from the trailer had gone through the tyre earlier in the day. Some people fell asleep as we made our way back to civilisation, via a stop for oozy rolls at Ouse. We found a Backpackers to stay in, and set off in search of real food at the New Brunswick Hotel. We had obviously pissed Hughie off yet again, as he really sent it down. Everyone felt much better with some alcohol and steaks/scallops/chicken inside them, and of course banana splits to finish – apart from Dave and Ted, who piked and went for the minuscule brandy snaps. After a quick read, we headed off to the cinemaaaaaaaahhhhh, to see ‘Mrs Doubtfire’.

Ted woke us the next morning with worrying news about the Bushfires in Sydney and that Springwood and Faulconbridge were threatened. Some breakfasted at Banjos, others went shopping for cereal and bread, while Mark insisted on eating left over muesli and dried milk. Brad and Helen arrived to take our tents to dry them at their house and we all set off in opposite directions . Mark and I braved the Hobart bus system to visit the doctor for antibiotics and a second opinion on the state of the thumb. Brad and Helen joined us for dinner at a pub and we watched the Bushfires on the telly. Then it was back to the Backpackers and all those stairs for a final reading to finish the book (I can’t remember what happened really, as I was writing my secret diary).

Ted left early next morning to see how things were at his house. George, Dave, Luther Huck and I set off for Mt Wellington on the bus, having mislaid Gluggy again. This proved to be our most navigationally challenging walk, with tracks heading in all directions. We nearly gave up when a downpour started, but after Dave and Justin amused themselves by traversing the very convenient hut we had found, the rain stopped. We decided to continue and were rewarded by reasonable views from the summit (in some directions at least) and disgusted by the monstrosity someone had seen fit to build up there. I tried to start a snowball fight, but this idea was met with little enthusiasm, so we set off down again to escape from the wind and have lunch below the Organ Pipes. The weather was unkind again, so we kept walking to the Rock Hut, where we managed to have lunch (except Luther, who had already eaten his) during a brief lull. “What is this?” inquired Luther, as we and the weather started off again. “It’s snowy-sleety-haily stuff” I replied and this answer seemed to satisfy every one.

We took in a few of the sights on the way down – the Octopus Tree, O’Grady’s Falls and, most importantly, the Cascade Brewery – and even managed a quick drink before catching the bus back to the city centre. Gluggy and Mark were ensconced in front of the cricket, as predicted by Dave. Boy George headed off to visit Nick and Arwen and make use of their shower, while the rest of us had tea and biccies. A chess challenge between Mark and Gluggy followed, with Luther the timekeeper putting on the pressure to make sure that the game actually finished in time for dinner. We headed to an Indonesian Restaurant and discussed school chemistry experiments while we ate, before heading back to the Backpackers and all those stairs. It was now Luther’s turn to be beaten at chess and then some of us settled down to watch ‘ Silence of the Lambs’, with running commentary by our resident psychiatrist, and aided by tots of Ted’s rum – for purely medicinal purposes, of course! Next day, we set off to explore Hobart, via the Tasmap and the Wilderness Society shops. A quick look at some boats was followed by a ‘snags and onion gravy’ or ‘steak sandwich’ lunch at a pub advertising ‘Cascade – for your health’ . We eventually found the Botanical Gardens and had a stroll, before collapsing in heaps and trying unsuccessfully to communicate with the cockatoos. Back at the hostel, it was time to pack, before heading off to meet Nick for dinner at the Black Prince – now the Coupe de Ville Grill complete with cars driven into walls, with salad bars in their boots. While waiting for the food to arrive, we sipped our drinks and tried to fathom out the reason for Gluggy’s fascination with ceilings . We were still none the wiser when huge platefuls of food were plonked in front of us. Although stuffed, some of us refused to be beaten and forced down hot fudge sundaes as well. Back at the hostel, we all retired to bed and with the alarm on my watch set at 5.05am, we dozed off the sounds of Gluggy coughing and swigging rum. Oh no! My watch says that it is 6.28am, that means our flight left 8 minutes ago – I’d better go and ring Qantas. Where did this nice, helpful woman come from? She wants to see my passport? Where am I? How did I get here? I wake up – phew – it was just a nightmare – I hope. I grab my watch t – 5.04.41 – beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep – time to get up. Great views as we take off and TWO breakfasts as we have to go via Melbourne, but alas no ‘Blackadder’. Bye Bye Tassie – back to reality – or is this the nightmare?