The first part of today’s hike was through a forest. It was easy going, on a track and a fairly nice atmosphere. I noticed quite a bit of helicopter traffic and figured there were a lot of tourists being flown in (there’s an airstrip near Top Forks Hut). As I came out of the forest into the open and another confluence (where I had another side trip planned) I noticed 2 people spread out in bright colours scampering around the river a distance off to each side of me. It looked odd. Ready for a meal, I got out my foam seat (courtesy of a lovely Norwegian I met a few years ago), my thermos of tea, wraps, hummus, cheese and capsicum and made myself at home on some rocks down near the water. It started to drizzle a little so I put on my raincoat and started eating. Then a helicopter landed nearby, which was very obviously Search & Rescue!
It was not long before one of the pair came over to chat to me. He asked me where my group was. When I said I was alone, he grilled me with a number of questions before departing. Then someone from the helicopter came over. You know you’re in trouble when a stranger greets you with your first name (which must have been radioed in). His mind wasn’t put to ease when he asked me what I was doing in the valley by myself and I pointed at the mountains around me and I asked him why I’d be anywhere else (politely!). After a lot of grilling and making me promise NOT to cross Rabbit Pass alone and that I would return the same way I had come after visiting Top Forks Hut he left me to my lunch – admitting he was impressed at my spread. I promised to search the trail for the missing man and report it at the next hut or set off my beacon if he required medical assistance. I abandoned my side trip plan since it was located in the middle of the search area.
If you’re wondering about the details, the missing man had chosen to leave his family to walk the path through the forest whilst he made his way through the gorge. They were to rendezvous at camp that evening, but he never turned up. He left behind a wife and 2 young kids. I prayed that the newspapers would report that they were searching for a male. My safety contact would have a heart attack otherwise as my schedule put me exactly where the search and rescue team was! (Thankfully they did and it put her mind a at ease… a little)
This encounter clearly had an impact on me. It felt weird to walk along a valley knowing a man had died there the day before (I didn’t believe he could have survived the gorge I was looking at through the trees). Also I was put off from doing anymore river crossings that could be avoided. So I took the high route to the hut which added a lot of time to my journey and was not particularly fun or well trodden. I should have just walked a straight line through the water and flats. I was definitely out of patience when I hit Top Forks Hut!
When I finally arrived there was only a handful of beds left so I opted to pitch my tent nearby. The clouds were low and I made a few friends and inquired after anyone traversing Rabbit Pass the next day (only a guided group). Sitting outside on the deck before sunset I jumped to my feet as a massive avalanche happened on the side of Mount Pollux! It was impressive to see, yet a little sad because it was most likely from the glacier receding.
A few more smaller avalanches were seen that evening.