I'll preface today's entry with a note that due to life being what it is, I haven't had enough time to properly map the area around Aoranca. If you close your eyes and imagine real hard, you can see the mountains all around the town. Open them up again before you start reading, though.
Mystery in the Mountains
The mountains of Vadiorare make their slow rise up from the Queensborough plains from the southern parts of Silverton. As you travel along the M8 motorway, you begin rising up into the hills, and in the distance, the rugged shape of the Vadiorare Highlands become ever clearer. The Loudran River makes its way through a pleasantly wide valley, guarded over on either side by hills thick with jungle. It is here that Vodeo gets as close to its pre-colonial state as possible, for this is a land that man has barely tamed. A person can just as easily get lost as touch their nose if they head into the impenetrable wilderness of southern Vodeo without an extensive knowledge of their surroundings and a great deal of respect for their environment. Over the years, many people have vanished into the mountains, but not all have been found; today’s story concerns one such incident, perhaps the most infamous disappearance in Vodean history: the Bonny Valley incident.
On the afternoon of August 9, 1968, five hikers from the University of Vadiorare arrived in the town of Aoranca, in eastern Vadiorare. It was the middle of the wet season, and the weather was particularly poor at this time, for the monsoon of 1968 was the worst in living memory. Some of the locals at the Pass Hotel took an interest in the group and struck up a conversation with them. They learned that the hikers were in town to take on the Bonny Valley track, a hike known for its difficulty. The publican warned the group that the track was only for the most experienced hikers, and had probably been damaged by the heavy rain that had been pelting down seemingly non-stop for weeks; the weekend’s weather forecast called for even heavier rain and the likelihood of flash flooding.
The hikers laughed and said they weren’t worried; they were well-prepared for the worst the weather could throw at them. Two of the group had undergone jungle survival training during their time in the Army, and the group was confident that their experience with hiking in various parts of the country would see them through. The local constable happened to be at the pub that night, and warned the group that while he could not stop them from taking on the track, it was extremely ill-advised, but nothing could dissuade the group. As the group left for their accommodation for the night, the constable is said to have turned to the publican and said “I’d better get the search and rescue equipment ready for this lot.”
At around midday on August 13, the telephone at the Aoranca police station rang. Five hikers who had been due back in Radern days earlier had been reported missing. Friends and family had expected the group to be back by Sunday night, but with roads closed and power and phone lines down, they had presumed the group had simply been forced to stay put in Aoranca until they could either leave or get word to Radern that they had been held up. But no word had been received, and nobody in town had seen the group return. The police chief travelled out to the car park at the start of the track, and found their car, a 1961 Cobalt Panelmaster, parked neatly and without any sign of interference, but with no sign of the hikers.
It was an hour before nightfall when the first search and rescue teams descended upon Aoranca. The weather was still too poor to send up helicopters in, and with light fading and more rain on the way, the teams had to sit tight until daybreak the next day. Searchers combed the track and made some interesting finds: even though the terrible weather had made the track even more hazardous and had damaged it in some places, it was evident the group had pushed ahead, even going around a washed-out bridge along the way.
Eventually the news was radioed in that the group’s tents had been found a little north of the halfway mark. The group wasn’t here, but that wasn’t the biggest mystery. The tents were full of their bags and equipment – they had even left their boots inside. One of the tents was open, while the other had collapsed, and chillingly had a huge rip in the side that an investigation would find had been made from the inside. The group had definitely stayed here on the Saturday night, but where had they got to since then?
The answer, as it seems to be with everything in this case, made things all the more confusing. The first body was found late in the afternoon, face down in a creek not far by, and wearing nothing save for undergarments. The body was found to have been scratched, possibly by branches or bushes, but was otherwise untouched. The next body was found that night by searchers nearly two miles back in the direction of the car park; this poor soul had died of a broken neck sustained from falling out of a tree, as evidenced by the broken branches quite high up; this one was in his pyjamas. Two more bodies were found several miles down a river the next day, and again, they were dressed only for sleeping. With four bodies found, the search intensified to try and locate the fifth and final hiker, but after a two-week search, rescuers were no closer to tracking him down, and the search was called off. He was declared officially dead in 2008, forty years after his disappearance, but with no body to give loved ones some sense of closure.
So, what had happened to have made the group flee their tents without any of their equipment? One of the group had kept a diary, but the last entry, made on the night of August 10, gave no indication that anything was amiss; the group had had a tough hike and still had the toughest part ahead of them the following day, but they were eager to get started early and hoped that the weather would ease. A camera was found in one of the tents, but when the film was developed, it could shed no more information on the case; all that was on it was scenic shots and pictures of the group during the day.
Theories as to what made the five hikers scatter from their tents and ultimately end up dead in various locations have circulated for over fifty years. Foul play is the most commonly suggested, and while police have never definitively ruled it out, it raises the question of who would want them dead, and why. Drug use was suggested early on, with the group perhaps hallucinating and running, then finding themselves far from their camp once the effects wore off; this was disproven by autopsies on the four found bodies, where no drugs were found in their systems. Another possibility raised was that the man who was never found killed his fellow hikers and went into hiding; he was known to have suffered depressive episodes on occasion, but he had been able to control it with medication. In the 1990s, a theory began to circulate on the Internet that suggested that the group had come across some sort of secret military activity taking place in the mountains between members of the Ingerish Commonwealth, and were killed to ensure their silence. The Army quickly debunked the theory, but it has stubbornly remained.
The local tribe of the area had a different theory, however. One of the local tribal chiefs had assisted in the search, and came across a chilling sight – three three-clawed footprints eleven inches long and four inches wide sunk into the mud not far from the tree where the second body was found. To the tribes, there was only one explanation: the feared Tanar, a horrifying cryptid that is said is so ghastly that the mere sight of it can strike a man dead from fear. The tribal theory was that the Tanar had come across the group and scared them from their tents in a blind panic; according to this theory, this is the reason behind the group scattering in different directions, but as the fear subsided, they found themselves lost far from their camp in the dark and torrential rain, and before long they would meet their fate. While there was no suggestion the Tanar had killed all of the group directly, it was posited that it had shaken the tree the second hiker had climbed violently enough to bring him crashing to the ground. As for the missing member of the party, it was accepted by the tribes that the Tanar had got him and left no trace for the rescue party to find. Some have rubbished the theory, but the Saturday night diary entry mentions “awful roaring sounds in the distance that drown out even the rain, they are really quite unsettling”.
We may never know what happened to the hikers that night in August 1968. The Bonny Valley track is still there, and it still attracts hikers drawn partly by its challenge and partly for its terrible history. In 2004 a small plaque was erected in Aoranca to pay tribute to the “Bonny Valley Five”, and a documentary and film were produced in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the fateful hike in 2018. The Vadiorare police have never closed the case, and until his death in 2009 the Aoranca constable wondered if there was something he could have done to stop the group from making their final hike into the mountains that weekend.
The disappearance of the “Bonny Valley Five” is based on two similar events from the latter half of the 20th century. In February 1959 a group of nine Soviet hikers were found dead in circumstances still unexplained in the northern Urals; something had made the group rip their way out of their tents and flee into the night, only to succumb to the elements. Three of the group were found with physical injuries, with two missing their eyes, and one of those two also missing her tongue. Likewise, in February 1978, a group of five men, all of whom suffered from mild mental or psychological illnesses, went missing in California; four were found months after their disappearance, but the fifth was never found. Neither case has been definitively solved one way or another, and there are any number of theories as to what happened in both cases.
Next week we will move from one end of the country to the other, as we visit St Anne’s in Avalon to hear of a bid for freedom that came to a sad end, and the strange goings-on around the city in the more than 230 years since.
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In the valley I walk...
It's a nice chilling tale. Heh I will soon be doing mountains in the State of Bo Sinh, Kuehong. I may adapt the same tale, for some brave ones who hiked up the mountains but never returned; locals have attributed the disappearances to the kidnapping by tribes who isolated themselves from the world but will take any hikers with them who dares venture into their unmarked territory... Anyway, hope to see more details on the map, especially the trail, the monument and the camp area where they were.--Happy mapping and God blesses you, ZK (talk) 11:12, 10 October 2019 (CEST)