how I survived the Wilson's Prom. Nat. Park storm & flood.

How I survived the Wilson’s Promontory Nat.
park storm and flood.

By Taariq Hassan.
VNPA member, Solo overnight hiker and now possibly a ‘solo man’ without the can.

On Saturday march 19th I went with a Victorian Nat.Parks Association group on a pack carry hike led by Denise Fernando to Little Waterloo bay. The weather was fine and the whole party enjoyed themselves.
When we parted company on Sunday afternoon , the rest of the VNPA hikers went back to Tidal River village and I continued to Roaring Meg campsite where I halted and camped for the night.
The next morning I hiked to the Lighthouse. The weather was cool and dry and the visibility wasn’t too bad.
I stayed in relative comfort at the Light station cottages for a night.
So far I had hiked 30 km with a full pack.
The next day was raining and windy but one had no reason to assume or way to ascertain that the conditions would degenerate into an outright hostile and dangerous storm that was wreak havoc on all those who would end up stranded in the park.
I just put on my waterproof clothes and gaiters and headed out for Little Waterloo bay along the SE coastal track.
The weather became hostile , winds were gale force and the rain was coming in endless horizontal sheets that reduced visibility to a couple of metres.
Then the leaches came out in their legions and I had to put my pack down to find my salt. Other hikers that I met on the trail were no less impressed with the weather but so far it was just a stormy day at the Prom.
I then put on my over pants and gaiters and soldiered on.
When I reached Waterloo bay the surf was just feral and the wind knocked me over a few times. Rivers that never existed before were rushing towards the sea.
One had to ford the usually tame river mouth at the head of the beach to reach the last part of the track to the Little Waterloo campsite.

When I got there the campsites was underwater, the usually trickle of water of the stream had broken its banks was rising. A school group had camped on the only high ground and was looking stricken by the elements.

I sat down and quickly decided that there was no way I was going to camp in those conditions.There was no way to cook anything filling such as rice or pasta or erect a tent in such extreme conditions.
The time was according to one of the adults with the school group, 1430. The 10 kms from the lighthouse to Little Waterloo bay campsite , where I had a booking had taken nearly 5 hours in dreadful conditions.
I am a very fit and fast hiker with waterproof equipment but crossing the ordinarily tranquil river estuary was now very hazardous and the high tide and pounding surf was rushing into meet the raging torrent of the creek.
I had decided it was a matter of survival with the weather worsening, to hike back to tidal river village, non stop ,some 13 kms at least , from Waterloo bay via the telegraph track and arrive before dark at around 1900.I had hiked 11 kms already non stop .

I had no choice but to take my boots off and carry my full pack and stick shaped travel guitar slung around my neck and ford the surging river mouth.
I was knocked over by the surf rushing in and had a very scary few moments where I was out of my depth with 30 kgs attached to me. I swim 5 kms a week back at home and this came to my aid .I didn’t panic but I was afraid . I scrambled to the other shore and then up the sand , behind a bush out of the wind and driving horizontal rain and salt spray.
I felt sick and wanted to lie down and sleep there and then . I knew I was in shock and knew I had to change to a dry inner core of clothing to avoid contracting hypothermia a.k.a exposure.
I had no thing to eat but a handful or three of salted peanuts and some water in my hiker’s bladder.
I tied my over pants to my pack , changed into dry under clothes that stayed dry in my pack liner.
My chance to stop and rest, with next to no shelter came right there as I changed and put my boots back on. I was lucky I didn’t lose my grip on my now soaking wet boots in the surf. I had no idea that the trail out of the swamp lands behind Waterloo bay was now a river , often knee deep and surging towards the sea.
This was slowing me down but I knew the track well and every landmark reassured me that I was drawing closer to the junction with the Lighthouse vehicular track.
I met another school group who were outward bound and I warned them about the river crossing and the campsite at Little Waterloo bay.
At last despite the driving rain and wind I made it to the telegraph track junction. There was not a soul in sight and my last handful of peanuts and last drink of water was consumed there. There was no shelter, it was very exposed.
Now lay the 6.6 Km slog along the now inundated telegraph track. At first it is flat but usually docile creeks were now 200 metres wide and flowing at knee height and could easily knock a child over, such was their force.
At Growler’s creek, the creek was now ‘boots off’ river fording for about 300 metres!From then on I gave up taking my boots and gaiters off, it was using up daylight time.
However The numerous and very vocal frogs were loving this!!
Along the road large sections of the vehicular 4WD track had been washed away by immense amount of water and had opened up deep fissures and crevasses that would be only passable by tractor.
At the foot of the relentlessly steep and climb up to the Mt Oberon saddle car park the peaceful stream there was now like the Brahmaputra in monsoonal flood.
I just waded through that in now squelching waterlogged boots, with survival on my mind. I
Kept on going, not stopping once. My pack was much heavier having absorbed so much water, it made my shoulders burn with the effort. Each step was one step closer to being delivered from my ordeal and from the storm which was becoming progressively worse.
I was hungry, wet, but determined to reach Tidal River before dark. I was running on reserves of physical strength, stamina and endurance as well as mental toughness that few rarely are called upon to use.
Finally I reached the car park in torrential rain to find nobody there. It began to rain even harder, harder than one can describe adequately in words.
Having dropped my hikers permit [ which was wrapped in a water tight seal top plastic bag] into the Hikers’ returned permits box I headed down the now rather daunting telegraph saddle road for Tidal river.
The macadamized road surface was being chewed up by the rivers of water gushing down the mountain and over the road, boulders and trees were being thrown down over the road .It was just freaky , with nature letting all pandemonium loose.
A four wheel drive was coming up the hill, half way down the mountain side. The man driving it jumped out , asked me what the road ahead was like. I said “worse”.
He asked me if I’d like a lift. I said I would . He asked me where I’d come from and if I ‘d seen a school group outward bound on the Little Waterloo by a track .I said yes and that I ‘d cautioned the adult in charge.He said he was trying to contact them and that he was with them .
He offered me some biscuits, a glucose hit!.
I got to my car , dumped my pack , took some dry clothes and changed in the back seat and then slumped for a rest.
After I while I thought about driving out of tidal river. The road was cut on the approach and visibility was zero , absolutely driving blind, so I drove back to Tidal River and parked at the visitors’ car park opposite the police station.I was happy to sleep in the car but I needed food.
I went to boil some rice, daal and peas in a pot on my spirit burner in the mens toilet block next to the cafe where there was a roof and a light. The power was out so I had a head light torch to see.
Just as the rice was cooked the water started coming into the loo. I packed up my stuff quick smart and carrying my bowl of rice above my head & waded out . The water was thigh high in a few minutes and rising.
I refused to drop my rice !I found my car and dumped my pack into the boot and was about to start on the rice when the CFA or the Ranger came and said get into car and drive to Norman bay car park on the hill. I put the cooked food on the area behind the back seat headrest and. As I got into the car it started filling up with water and the ignition started but then it stalled.
The rescue worker said “grab your stuff and get on the truck!”. The car seemed to start floating as I jumped onto the back of the jeep.
I grabbed a dry woollen shawl , wrapped it around my neck and was taken , along with a family of Jehovah witnesses to a dry toilet block for shelter above the water at higher ground near the Norman bay car park.
I was the only source of light. The bizarre thing was that as we were being taken to safety by the CFA or ranger, guests in unaffected lodges were seemingly oblivious to what was a foot. When a woman in her pyjamas came into the women’s toilet block where were told to stay she had no idea there was anything serious going on other than foul weather which made her adamant that they were packing up their campsite at daybreak.
Finally we were taken to a lodge that was used as a cosy but cramped make shift shelter along with a school group. After the family of nine Jehovah witnesses complained about the rescue effort , and having lost their laptop PC in the flood!, they took umbrage to sharing the shelter of a room with me .I was given a mattress in a dark room to myself and I took off my wet clothes, wrapped myself up in my body sized Pakistani shawl and collapsed.

At day break the waters had receded and the extent of the flood and its damage was astounding. I found the Diamond Valley walking club acting a s breakfast caterers for what was now a disaster area. They did a great job.
Over the course of the day the way the SES, DSE, CFA, Parks VIC, RED CROSS and VIC POLICE did their jobs was faultless. We soon learned that the bridge and roads were just shot and that we were to be evacuated by helicopter.
The sewerage, power, phone lines, etc., etc were all out of action and there were some live power cables lying in water. For this reason a large area around the visitor centre was sealed off by the State emergency service (SES).Since even the team of contractors who were called out to clear the road in the middle of the night were now stuck in Tidal river, the realization came that many others were trapped at out station campsites such as Sealers’ cove.
Everyone was accounted for a number of times and all vehicles had to be left along with most of one’s possessions.
My Travel guitar was water damaged but still could be tuned so I took that with me. Food, water etc was provided throughout the day to every one free, since the shop and café were wrecked .We all spent the afternoon waiting to be taken to the Yanakie air strip by helicopter.I was exhausted so lying in the sun was just fine. The helicopter ride was fun . The Red cross took our details at the airstrip and the we got into a bus to nearby Gippsland town of Foster.There a simple meal and hot tea was provided at the Football club building and then we got onto a bus not that long afterwards and were taken to Spencer street station in Melbourne.
Everything in the rescue effort was done well and ‘for free’. Thank you to all involved. I will be back at the Prom next summer and autumn!..
Postscript:
Now my formerly submerged car has been towed out and is being revived in a workshop in Foster in SE Victoria.

how I survived the Wilson's Prom. Nat. Park storm & flood.

taariqhassan

Melbourne, Australia

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