Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tackling the Peaks of Wilpena

The plan was a simple one, walk into Pound, tackle some of the peaks on the south-western rim - pack light so we could camp at the summit or saddle. Easy. Flexible.

Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges National Park



The southern side of Wilpena Pound taken in 2009. This drought ravaged scene contrasts with 2010's very green season.

Photographer: The Sentimental Bloke

However. Simple it did not turn out to be. Our packs only weighed in around 13 kilos, we had some basic light-weight wet weather gear just in case of rain. But rain it did not, pour it did. On the Friday night, we camped in the carpark near Arkoo Rock. Some hours into the night the heavens opened and it rained, a lot. Unfortunately, one of our party's tents failed. It had had a long reliable life, but I guess the water proofing had just worn out, the heavy rain causing a dramatic equipment failure.

Not detered, we continued with our plan. We had some notes from others who had tackled the peaks - Beatrice Hill (1148m), Pompey Pillar (1168m), Dorothy Peak (1016m), Harold Hill (1073m) and Greig Peak (1044m). Most had tackled them from the inside, one from the outside of the pound. As it turns out, perhaps we too should have tackled it from the outside. The vegetation was dense, very dense, progress was slow - around 1km/h. From the track near Cooinda Camp we followed a creek west, then a ridge south, but I think it was more an exercise is slapping each other with wet laden branches in each other's faces than it was in hiking. By lunch time we had made little progress, the peaks around the rim of the pound were still shrouded in mist, there was no hope of drying out the wet sleeping bag. Our light weight weather gear hadn't feared too well either, it wasn't cold, but it could be a cold night if you have wet gear.

All these factors combined, it was unanimous, we retreated. We would return another time, better prepared. For one thing, it seemed prudent in future to bring other wet weather gear in the car, and leave it there, but have it there just in case the weather turns prior to leaving the carpark. Further research showed that people who had used the in-pound route had done so years ago, in drier seasons where vegetation had not had the opportunity to grow so thick, or where fire had cleared the vegetation.

Sorry, no GPS map this time around, no photos. Had a house break-in, lost it. Pity. Below is a generic map of the peaks of Wilpena Pound.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pewsey Vale to Greenock

A catch-up walk with Hilary, she is set to complete the Heysen Trail for a second time next year. We finished the Trail together back in 2008.

Pewsey Vale to Greenock


Today's walk was a sharp contrast to the conditions we did the original walk in back in December of 2007 when it was very hot.

Sorry, no photos or GPS map, stuff was stolen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Grampians - Mt Difficult and Briggs Bluff Circuit

The climb up to Mt Difficult from Troopers Creek is a tough one, but rewarding. The loop around to Briggs Bluff via Long Point is also beautiful - all a very rewarding walk.

Grampians National Park


The 470m climb up to Mt Difficult, is, um, difficult. The trail follows follows the cliff face up. I guess it is a long, steep climb, which is where the difficulty comes in.

We hiked the circuit out to Long Point and around to Briggs Bluff, then back to Mt Difficult, in one day. It was a long weekend, there were many people out, some doing day walks, others camping overnight.



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Stats

Grampians National Park
Sunday Monday
03/10/2010 04/10/2010
Troopers Creek to Mt Difficult via Long Point and Briggs Bluff Mt Difficult to Troopers Creek
Distance 19.2km 3.8km
Start Time 7.38am 6.52am
End Time 4.33pm 8.26am
Overall Average 2.0km/h 2.0km/h
Oodometer 19.2km 23.0km

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Grampians - Mt Stapylton and Mt Zero

A day walk up to the summit of Mt Stapylton and over to Mt Zero.

Grampians National Park


The track ends just below the summit of Mt Stapylton.

We followed up the day hike by a two day hike up to Mt Difficult and Briggs Bluff.



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Stats

Grampians National Park
Saturday
02/10/2010
Mt Stapylton and Mt Zero circuit from Mt Stapylton campground
Distance 16.8km
Start Time 7.14am
End Time 1.29pm
Overall Average 3.0km/h

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mt Bryan

Just a short wander up to the summit of Mt Bryan, doing some reconnaissance for another hike, so just drove along the roads at each end from Hallett and the old schoolhouse at Mt Bryan East.

Heysen Trail, Mt Bryan




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Stats

Mt Bryan
Sunday
26/09/2010
Distance 7.86km
Start Time 9.48am
End Time 12.22pm
Moving Duration 1h49m
Stationary Duration 39m
Moving Average 4.3km/h
Overall Average 3.2km/h

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blocked by the South Para River

We had planned to cross the South Para River and walk into Hale Conservation Park, but the river was swollen and a little too difficult to get over, especially since we would have to return by the same route later in the day.

Warren Conservation Park




I have crossed the river here before, what a delightful surprise to see it so full of water. We walked up and down the river a little, by now sign of an easy way to cross it.

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Stats

Warren Conservation Park
Saturday
18/09/2010
Distance 13.26km
Start Time 8.50am
End Time 1.12pm
Moving Duration 3h05m
Stationary Duration 1h14m
Moving Average 4.3km/h
Overall Average 3.1km/h

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mt Lofty circuit

A classic walk from Chambers Gully up to Mt Lofty summit, then back down the Pioneer Women's Trail.

Cleland Conservation Park


A good catch-up with Vicki, we spied a group of walkers from the Heysen walking club.

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Stats

Mt Lofty circuit
Sunday
12/09/2010
Distance 16.48km
Start Time 8.55am
End Time 2.03pm
Moving Duration 3h24m
Stationary Duration 1h44m
Moving Average 4.8km/h
Overall Average 3.2km/h

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Water at home

Having just returned from four months travelling around Western Australia and the Northern Territory - hiking over 600km of trail through gorges with waterfalls - I was a little surprised by how much water we saw in Mt Remarkable National Park, and, by how much I enjoyed this hike near home.

Mt Remarkable National Park




I have hiked here three or four times over the past five years. I was impressed. Green was everywhere, the creeks flowing, even large waterfalls. Lots of roos munching on green grass. A winter wonderland.

A great weekend hiking a track I had wanted to do for a number of years. We hiked from Mambray Creek campground along Mambray Creek Track, over Black Range - climbing up 500 metres - through to the Racecourse Track in the shadow of Mt Remarkable summit. We walked along Spring Creek, strongly flowing, we crossed the creek more than a dozen times. In all, we did water crossings over twenty times, far more than I had done in the entire 1,200 kilometre Heysen Trail.

We spent the night at the very nice Grays Hut, in the Racecourse clearing. A modern hut built around the ruins of an old dairy farmer's hut.




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Stats

Black Range Trek, Mt Remarkable National Park
Saturday Sunday
28/08/2010 29/08/2010
Mambray Creek campground to Grays Hut via Sping Creek Grays Hut to Mambray Creek campground
Distance 22.1km 16.1km
Start Time 8.15am 8.20am
End Time 3.30pm 12.25pm
Moving Duration 4h50m 3h24m
Stationary Duration 2h30m 41m
Moving Average 4.2km/h 4.5km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 3.7km/h
Oodometer 22.1km 38.2km

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

It's an image every Australian has been overexposed to. Uluru. The Rock. I didn't have high expectations, but when I first saw it on the horizon, I was still left breathless. It really is awe insprining.

Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, NT




The rock climb. I'd be interested to know, how many Australians who visit the park do the climb. Is it mostly internationals? The climb is not noted on the map amongst the other walks, the distances and times are not mentioned. There is no information on how to access the walk, only a request not to climb it, and safety advice should you wish to, including listing the symptoms of a heart attack.

The national park was created in the 1950s, the land excised from the adjoining Aboriginal reserves created in the early 1920s. In 1983 the federal government agreed to close the climb. In 1985 the park was returned to the local indig people, on the condition the land be leased to the government - to be jointly managed as a national park - and they reneged on the climb - it was to remain open. There is no longer any real discussion as to whether the climb should be open or not, it now a matter of when it will be permanently closed. Last year, in a draft of the next 10 year management plan, it was recommended that the climb should be permanently closed.

Uluru or Ayers Rock? Well, since dual naming was officially adopted in Australia in 1993, either, both. So in December 1993 Ayers Rock was renamed Ayers Rock / Uluru. Then, in 2002, the order was reversed, Uluru / Ayers Rock. Most Australians though simply refer to it as Uluru. The road signs are a real mixture, near Alice, Uluru or the dual name. Closer to the rock, they revert to using Ayers Rock. In the national park, exclusively Uluru.

Then there is Yulara, the town created in 1984 some 20 kilometres from the rock. When it opened, all the existing motels, airstrip and other buildings at the base of the rock were demolished and the land remediated. The road signs point to Yulara, but when you get there, you are left wondering if you are about to turn off into the town or not. There is no mention of the Yulara name, it is called Ayers Rock Resort. The town was created by the NT government - hotels, motels, caravan park, supermarket, all the hallmarks of a designer town. When the town in it's enterity was divested of by the government to a private company in 1997, that company adpoted the name Ayers Rock Resort. No Uluru, no Yulara.

Modelling the socks and sandals look, my feet were too injured for those hiking boots, I hiked the short circuits of Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta / The Olgas, and a walk I was particularly looking forward to, the base walk around Uluru.



The Valley of the Winds walk, through Kata Tjuta / The Olgas, is pretty special. We are not overexposed to images of the Kata Tjuta, so it is all a pleasant surprise. Just 30 kilometres from Uluru, each visible from the other, they are similar, yet very distinct from each other. Uluru is an inselberg, the term monolith now frowned upon. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Australia's largest inselberg. Just down the road, it number three, Mt Cromer. Think western movie, Utah, the granite plug look. Over in WA, Mt Augustus claims the first prize. 1,000 kilometres inland from the coast, it looks every part a mountain, covered in trees and plants, and nothing like a single rock. Uluru, the second biggest, but every bit rock. Kata Tjuta is a different type of rock to Uluru, Uluru being granite, Kata Tjuta being conglomerate. It is a a series of 36 steep-sided domes, plenty of trees and grasses spread throughout it. Pretty special walking.

I saved the best till last for my four month holiday. I had been looking forward to this, the 10 kilometre base walk around Uluru. To see it close up, to see the waterfalls and vegetation that benefits from the rainfall running off the steep sides.



Uluru Base Walk map

Download kml file of the Uluru Base Walk to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


The Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata Tjuta

Download kml file of the Valley of the Winds Walk in Kata Tjuta to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An abrupt end at Ellery Creek

Like I said, my hike of the Larapinta Trail (see earlier blog post) came to rather an abrupt end midway along it, at Ellery Creek. I'm at pains to describe exactly what happened, but one moment I was excitingly opening my food drop package, and moments later it seemed to game over.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs


I didn't want to taint my previous post about the Larapinta Trail with this ending. It was with great reluctance and disappointment that I decided to exit the trail here, at Ellery Creek. I had hiked five days and 100 kilometres, six days and 120 kilometres remained.

At the campsite, the open food drop box beside me, I removed all my various foot bandages, some merely for protection, others for injuries. What I saw had me a little gob smacked, for I knew this could only mean the end of my hike. As some of you know, my immune system conspires against me. One author of a novel I read when talking of a similar condition, described the double edged sword that medication treatment held, "it was not so much pain relief with side effects, but effects with side relief."

Ellery Creek was a good spot to exit the trail, the main bitumen road lay just one and half kilometres to the south. The following morning, I bid farewell to my new trail friends, as they continued on eastwards. I plugged in my iPod, I hate it when I see hikers walking with iPods, but my hike was over and I needed cheering up. If anything, it helped me remove myself from the natural world, an attempt to pull me back to our world of cars and cold supermarkets. I walked slowly, hiking boots carefully attached to my pack, crocs on my feet, out to the bitumen road. I stopped by the emergency phone, checking out the criteria for it's use. On the road I hitched a ride into Alice Springs with a local retired butcher doing some plumbing work for his son. He had spent almost his whole life in Alice, he had seen it transformed from a town of 1,500 people with an unreliable railway to the south, and a hastily constructed world war two single lane bitumen road to the north, to a town with 25,000 people. He recalled from his childhood how the train came almost to the main street, how there was just one house on the other side of the Todd River, now there is urban sprawl.

In Alice I phoned each of the four medical clinics in town. None could fit me in for a further five days. One rather hopefully offered me an appointment on August 26, some 14 days away. In terms of infections, five days was an eternity, 14, well, at least four times an eternity. So I had no choice but to wait four hours in Emergency, simply to get some antibiotics.

The following day I decided I would pay a little visit to the Old Telegraph Station, which is where I would have finished hiking the Larapinta Trail. The trailhead stood some distance from, and well out of sight, of the Old Telegraph Station. Shunned to a obscure corner of the carpark, the trail's presence was left unmentioned amongst the short walks trailhead in the Old Telegraph Station's grounds.

On that sunny afternoon I gave up the idea of completing the trail. When I exited the trail, I thought I would spend a week recovering, checking out some Alice sights and the distant Uluru and Kings Canyon, but having partook of the convenience of the supermarket with it's boundless food choices, and realistically assessing the health of my feet, I realised returning to the trail in seven days time was impossible. I tallied up my time spent on hiking trails in the previous four months of travel, and it rather neatly totalled 600 kilometres. It had been, in anyone's book, an excellent hiking season.

Hopefully a few kilometres remain in my feet, I want to walk around Uluru and Kings Canyon, but we shall see. What else could anyone do. The Larapinta Trail will wait for me.

The Larapinta Trail

This is my first trip to the Red Centre Green Centre. Yup, very green Centre. This has been an excellent season for rainfall in central Australia, the infamously dry Todd River in Alice Springs has flowed five times already. Everywhere is green, and desert wildflowers are in bloom.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs




On the second day of the Larapinta Trail hike I met two girls from Alice. They were hiking the Trail because it had been such an excellent season. They assured me the landscape was covered in green plants, normally it was dominated by dry spinifex and red rock. One had lived in Alice for 20 years and knew her flowers well, some of the ones we were seeing are so rare she did not know what they were. They only flower after consistent rains, and that hasn't happened in twenty years. In the first four months of this year, it rained 372mm, last year only 116mm of rain fell, 302mm the year before that.

Almost every day I saw flowers I did not recall seeing previously. Some on mountain tops - many, some in open country, some only in sheltered gorges. They came in every colour: red, purple, yellow, pink, blue.

The Larapinta Trail took me somewhat by surprise, not least because of how green it was and the flowers, but also how magnificent the landscape was. It struck me as a kind of mixture between the Flinders Ranges and New Zealand. Dramatic red parallel mountain ranges, rocky outcrops, gum lined creeks - some with large pools of water, some dry. New Zealand? The mountain tops, vast windswept valleys with small, almost alpine like plants.

The weather in the desert winter is perfect for hiking. Warm, sunny days, between 18 and 20 degrees. Cold nights, about zero to five degrees. Nice for a small campfire, although, of course, we didn't have any, the collection of firewood is not permitted in national parks.

There are a few curiosities along the trail. Firstly, the debacle of Mt Sonder. All the literature and signage suggests you climb to the summit, when you do not. The cairn, marking the alleged summit, even states it is Mt Sonder summit, 1380m above sea level. You can't miss the Mt Sonder proper summit, laying immediately in front of you, across a small gully some 750m or so to the north east. The false summit is about 30 metres lower than the proper summit. This theme is continued, between Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek lies a trig, with a somewhat homemade look about it, which it would have, since it doesn't even mark the highest point of the low rocky outcrop, surrounded by larger mountains.

One website describes this section as "This is arguably the most boring section of the entire trail." Going further, "prepare to tear your hair out in frustration," referring to the constant hills and ridges the track follows, when there is a seemingly good route a few hundred metres to the south over flat land. "If you are a bird watcher or bushwalker this section may not be too bad," they state. Too right. Didn't mind a bit.

The trail regularly went up to the top of a hill or mountain, providing wonderfully scenic spots for breaks. From many of these Mt Sonder, and further beyond it, Mt Zeil, Northern Territory's highest peak, dominated the distant west.

I started from the western end of the trail, the alleged end of the trail. The trail starts just four kilometres north of Alice Springs at the Old Telegraph Station, running 223km westwards along the West Macdonnell Ranges to Mt Sonder. It made more logistical sense for me to start from the western end. I paid Alice Wanderer, a local bus company, $400 to transfer me from Alice Springs to the western end, which included two food drops along the way. The food drops are securely stowed in locked rooms, and they provided me with a plastic tub for each drop. If I hiked the trail out from Alice Springs, I would have to pay for the food drops to be driven out, and pay to be collected from the end. This would have cost something like $580, and I would have a schedule to meet.

I met several parties of hikers on the first day and night. The Mt Sonder summit (read false summit) hike is popular amongst day hikers. As it is a return hike, the campsite near the trailhead often has more people camping there: those starting out on the trail and about to undertake the summit hike, those just completed the summit hike, and those completing the trail and waiting for a lift back to Alice Springs. The campsite is not marked on the 2006 map edition, but is located just 200 metres from the trailhead, on the banks of Redbank Creek.

On the second night, at the excellent Finke River campsite, I was enjoying the free gas hotplates in the evening light, the sun having set just moments before, when a solitary hiker stumbled in. Cutting it fine, he had only left Redbank Gorge to hike the 26 kilometres at 11am. He had to catch up with his son, who had started out three days previously. I met the son the following day as i passed through a campsite, and the pair of them stumbled into a my campsite further down the trail just moments after the sun sunk over the horizon. We had similar hiking schedules, so hiked and camped together for the following days.

The trail is well marked with blue arrows, and generally well formed. Only on the rocky mountain tops did I ever stray from the trail, and usually it was just a matter of looking for the rocks crushed underfoot, or the white dust from within the crushed rocks.

Trail facilities are generally good. The shelter at Finke River was particularly impressive, of a similar standard to the Bibblimun Track and Munda Biddi Tracks in Western Australia. It included ample roofing, sleeping platforms, a vermin proof cupboard for food, multiple water tanks, a picnic table and benches, and, yes wait for it, a couple of gas hotplates. This shelter isn't shown on the 2006 edition maps, so a little research pays off. A good website for that would be the larapintatrail.com website, look at the Sections page for details of camp facilities and an honest, if not brutal, appraisal of the trail terrain. A little overwhelming perhaps to sort through before hiking any of the trail, but regardless a good supplement to the maps.

Water seems readily available at water tanks, and we had to drink none of the bore water that was about. Naturally, with so much rain, there was ample flowing water in the creeks. Many of the larger rivers required detours of several hundred metres to skirt around the widest, muddiest sections of the large pools.

I wasn't sure how long the trail would take me. The trail is divided into 12 sections, but some of these are defined as two day sections, with campsite options midway. That said, they didn't seem to be uncheckable far apart for a hiker like myself, so I used that as my template. So the trail could be hiked in as little as 11 or 12 days, but many hikers take their time, using up to 19 or 20 days. I had food for 16 days, and a few options to spread that food further, and there was kiosk near the end with a few basic supplies.

That said, my hike came to rather an abrupt end at Ellery Creek. I had hiked five days and 100 kilometres, six days and 120 kilometres remained.

There are two albums this time, one general album, and one devoted to all the desert wildflowers I saw.

General album:


Desert wildflowers album:


Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit.
Download file in GPX format to directly upload to most GPS units.

Tracks and waypoints sourced from two sources. Source 1: Sections 7 through to 11 (excluding the last 6km of Section 11) - handheld GPS device. Source 2:- sections 1 through to 6 and Section 12 - from www.larapintatrail.com



Stats

The Larapinta Trail
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday
07/08/2010 08/08/2010 09/08/2010 10/08/2010 11/08/2010
Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and

return
Redbank Gorge to Finke River Finke River to Waterfall Gorge Waterfall Gorge to Counts

Point
Counts Point to Ellery Creek
Distance 14.55km 25.91km 22.86km 17.68km 18.97km
Start Time 10.36am 7.41am 7.51am 8.11am 7.10am
End Time 3.15pm 3.27pm 3.56pm 5.46pm 2.57pm
Moving Duration 3h14m 5h21m 5h35m 5h38m 5h24m
Stationary Duration 1h25m 2h27m 2h38m 3h57m 2h23m
Moving Average 4.5km/h 4.8km/h 4.1km/h 3.1km/h 3.5km/h
Overall Average 3.1km/h 3.3km/h 2.8km/h 1.8km/h 2.4km/h
Oodometer 14.5km 40.5km 63.3km 81.0km 100.0km
Overnight Low -0.2C 1.1C 0.9C 2.6C -0.4C

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Um...

It is with great relunctance and dissapointment that I have been forced to exit the Larapinta Trail early. I have walked five days and 100km, six days and 120km remain.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs


A blog post of those five days to come...



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Jatbula Trail

"It's a tough track ya know." The ranger was scrutinizing my walking plan for the 58 kilometre Jatbula Trail. Four days seemed reasonable to me, but the Jatbula Trail is a trail that demands that you take your time. This is what I, like many others who have walked it, have learnt on the trail.

Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Northern Territory




The comments book at the kiosk at the end of the walk reads the same, again and again - "It took a couple of days before we worked it out." Rising early - before first light, walking - preferably slowly - in the morning, swimming and relaxing in the shade of a tree in the afternoons. I even got up at 6am once or twice, Graham you would be proud. The terrain is not difficult, it is the tropical heat that beats you into submission. Venturing into the sun, away from the water's edge, you suddenly realise just how hot the afternoon has become.

The Jatbula Trail starts from the Katherine River in the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, 30 kilometres east of Katherine, in the Northern Territory. It follows the escarpment across the park to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The campsites are ideally spread about 10 kilometres apart, each beside a picturesque waterfall, creek or rockhole.

In the queue for the ferry at Katherine Gorge, I met two fellow walkers, two women who had escaped their partners and children in Melbourne for a week walking. We looked around for the other seven hikers who would be beginning on the same day, only to see none of them. How odd, we thought. The trail, or so we thought, was limited to 10 hikers starting out per day. We soon learnt though, that this was not the case. We saw no-one else on the trail until the fifth and final night, at Sweetwater Pool, where anyone can hike the four kilometres in from the end of the trail at Leliyn. Perhaps it was limited to 10 hikers on the trail. We had both had trouble booking a place on the trail months beforehand, it certainly seemed to be fully booked.

My four day hike turned into a six day hike. It was so relaxing just to take it easy and relax each afternoon. I spent six days - six hilarious days - with Kris and Kristen, who I had met on that first day, hiking, swimming, relaxing and playing cards on our makeshift picnic rug. We exchanged tales of our hiking adventures, all of us becoming converts to hiking in the previous five to ten years.

Our first campsite, at Biddlecombe Cascades, was the entree of what the Jatbula Trail held in store for us. Water flowed from the escarpment over the terraces into large rock pools. Being swamp fed the water was deliciously cool, warmer than other nearby pools.

Crystal Falls is on a river, seemingly unnamed, so much water is there. Flowing over rocks creating eddies in the many rock pools. The shady trees on the bank offered numerous choices to set-up camp. Glorious riverside camping, the afternoon spent dipping ourselves in the rockpools or relaxing in the shade, as we pleased. The Crystal Falls themselves remained hidden down the valley, the following day we saw the falls plunging far off the escarpment into a narrow chasm below.

The falls weren't hidden at our third campsite, 17 Mile Falls. Walking in, we were treated to a clifftop view of the falls, the water dropping into a large plunge pool below. The campsite was bright and overpowering in the midday sun, but relaxed into the afternoon as the shade crept across it. We spent the afternoon, once again, at the water's edge.

The photos do no justice to Sandy Pool camp. The shaded campsite, set on the sandy banks of a large, deep pool. The Edith River enters over rocks upstream, dissapearing into reeds at the other. The edge, with it's lily pads, hiding the near vertical rocky sides.

It's not all picturesque creeks and falls though. The Amphitheatre is a little oasis on the escarpment edge. A narrow track leads down into the deep, steep sided valley. The sheer cliffs on the three sides, adorned with the ancient of the Jawoyn People. A stream, seemingly emerging from no-where, meanders through the landscape. If it were not for the tropical humidity, cool as the Amphitheatre was, one could mistake this for Tasmania - the tall myrtle trees dropping their leaves to cover the forest floor, dappled sunlight coming through the thick canopy.

The landscape is diverse: savannah, swamps, melaleuca stands, rocky escarpment outcrops. The wind whips through the trees on the turbulent escarpment edge, providing welcome relief to the tropical heat. At 17 Mile Falls, rain and lightning rolled around us, lighting the night sky. It did not rain on us, much to the relief of Kris and Kristen with their mosquito net, their Forcefield against the night's bugs but somewhat ineffective against rainfall.

Now, how much do you think such an exclusive hike would cost. Well, there's the six dollar ferry fare. Then, the three dollar nightly camping fee. Seriously, there are limited options on how to return from the end of the trail at Leliyn (Edith Falls) to Katherine, or to Katherine Gorge. The only services provided are by the several taxi services from Katherine, putting the cost at about $150 to Katherine. There are some rumours that as of 2010 Dysons buses are providing a service for about $100 but I haven't been able to confirm this. Nitmiluk Tours, via Dysons buses, provide an affordable shuttle service between Katherine and Katherine Gorge.

The Jatbula Trail, a unique and seemingly exclusive trail. I have two pieces of for you. Take it easy, get up early, walk slowly. And to ensure you can enjoy what this trail offers, book early.




Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit








































































































Stats

Jatbula Trail
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
29/7/2010 30/7/2010 31/7/2010 1/8/2010 2/8/2010 3/8/2010
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Biddlecombe Cascades Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp Pool Sandy Camp Pool to Sweetwater Pool Sweetwater Pool to Leliyn (Edith Falls)
Distance 7.9km 10.5km 9.8km 16.8km 11.2km 4.1km
Start Time 9.08am 7.49am 7.19am 7.20am 7.57am 6.41am
End Time 12.18pm 11.39am 10.48am 12.00pm 10.19am 8.05am
Moving Duration 2h04m 2h45m 2h16m 3h31m 2h11m 1h03m
Stationary Duration 1h13m 1h04m 1h12m 1h04m 10m 21m
Moving Average 3.8km/h 3.8km/h 4.3km/h 4.8km/h 5.1km/h 3.9km/h
Overall Average 2.4km/h 2.7km/h 2.8km/h 3.7km/h 4.8km/h 2.9km/h
Oodometer 7.9km 18.5km 28.3km 45.3km 56.6km 60.7km

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)

Occasionally, although thankfully, rarely, things can go horribly wrong on a hike. No, not an injury, getting lost, or even the much feared snake bite or croc encounter. One can run out of reading material. Even those who have meticulously packed for their hike, including not one, but two books, can be caught short. I completed both my books during the long, lazy afternoons at each campsite.

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Northern Territory


Maybe not horribly wrong, but as those of you who are fellow book lovers, this isn't a situation one wants to find oneself in. I had tried to fill my days with hiking, picking the furthest campsites with the most difficult trail ratings. As you might know, I waste no time in walking. I completed each day's hiking within four hours. The first day, this wasn't so much of a problem as I only started out at 10am. The second day though, I was eating an early lunch atop the cliff's edge overlooking Katherine Gorge and my night's campsite.

I could have done all the walking in two, not three, days, but I wanted to give my ever-injured feet a break, and to enjoy each of the spectacularly placed campsites on the Katherine River.



The day before my hike the Katherine River was closed to swimmers and canoeists due to a saltie sighting. A canoeist had seen what they thought looked awfully like a saltie, and not a freshie. Two days later, the rangers confirmed it. As is their way, the saltie had moved up the river undetected. It was only a little fella, only two metres in length, but still, it wouldn't pass up the opportunity to have a bit of a nibble on a German or Japanese tourist. It had snuck past the main swimming and boating area near the visitor centre, over the first set of rapids and into the second gorge.

There was no danger to my planned hike, or so I was assured. The croc still had to cross a few more sets of rapids to reach my swimming and camping spots. Even so, the thought plays on one's mind as one swims in the river. These crocs can move about undetected, let's not forget that.

I walked first to the Eighth Gorge, not deviating down any of the side trips from the main east-west track. The network of walks here is referred to as the Southern Walks of the Nimiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. It presents many options - one main track leads end-to-end, many side tracks lead down to the gorge and river. Several weeks ago I had walked a day hike into Butterfly Gorge and Pat's Lookout with Beni - at the time we had been limited to day walks as we needed to check daily at the post office to see if the new radiator for the crippled car had arrived.

Butterfly Gorge is not so special. There are butterflies, true, but they aren't of particular interest. The monsoon forest here has been blackened by recent bushfires. The river's edge is somewhat inaccessible. Returning from out walk here, we diverted down another side track to Pat's Lookout and the Southern Rockhole. The lookout has panoramic views over the river from the cliff edge. We also enjoyed a nice swim in the river, not put off by the signs on the opposite side of the river stating, "Warning. Do not enter beach. Croc breeding ground." They were, of course, only harmless freshies.

Eighth Gorge is special. The campsite is beside a large plunge pool with waterfall. The river can be found by following the trickle of water leaving the pool's edge, growing to a creek, before it itself tumbles over the cliff edge to the Katherine River far below.

On the second day, I returned along some of the main track, but this time deviating into Jawoyn Valley. The indig rock art was hard to find, I suspect I found very little of it, but the views and surroundings were pleasant so the detour was well worth it.

Returning to the main track, I took another side track, this time to Smitt Rock where I would spend the afternoon and camp. Naming the place a rock is quite an understatement. The river is split in two by the huge rock formation, it as high as the surrounding cliffs. The campsite sits on the sand banks of the river. I had this campsite, like the previous night's, all to myself. There were no other hikers, and no-one was permitted to canoe up the river to join me. Pity, it was a wonderful place to spend a warm afternoon reading in the shade of a nice gum tree.



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Stats

Southern Walks of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park
Monday Tuesday Wednesday
26/7/2010 27/7/2010 28/7/2010
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Eighth Gorge Eighth Gorge to Smitt Rock via Jawoyn Valley Smitt Rock to Nitmiluk Visitor Centre
Distance 15.65km 15.5km 10.8km
Start Time 9.50am 8.10am 7.38am
End Time 2.10pm 12.40pm 10.06am
Moving Duration 2h55m 3h10m 2h08m
Stationary Duration 1h07m 1h23m 19m
Moving Average 5.4km/h 4.7km/h 5.0km/h
Overall Average 3.6km/h 3.3km/h 4.4km/h
Oodometer 15.65km 31.7km 42.1km

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Table Top Track - Litchfield

My main interest in Litchfield National Park was the 39 kilometre Tabletop Track. However the park was so good, and the offer of a friend to come down and join me for the weekend from Darwin was too good to refuse, so I stayed on for another three days.

Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory




The Tabletop Track is a loop walk, accessible from several different link walks that connect to car based campgrounds or natural attractions. So even though it is a 39 kilometre walk, one has to walk further to access the track, and further still to take in some of the side trips the natural attractions such as the rock holes and waterfalls. Well, if, and I mean IF, one can cope with walking during the day seeing almost no-one, then walking down a side track to a waterfall which has seemingly just been inundated with several tourist buses worth of people, each armed with an SLR camera and complaining about how tiring the three hundred metre walk from the carpark is.

Florence Falls is one of the more famous sites in Litchfield National Park, perhaps only Wangi Falls rivals it. I did the two kilometre side trip to Florence Falls, the link walk taking me through a humid monsoon tropical forest to the spectacular falls with a large, cool plunge pool. Somehow I quite accidentally managed to get a photo with no-one in it, how I don't know, as I swam another tourist bus load of people arrived.

The following day though, I couldn't bear to repeat the people inundation experience at Wangi Falls, so I skipped this side trip. I did return in the following days though with my friend from Darwin, and there were so, so many people, but it was still good, maybe helped by his tales of visiting Wangi during the Wet. No people there then, just lots of water and maybe lots of crocs lurking around too.

Much of what is easily accessible in Litchfield National Park, including the Tabletop Track, lies in the north of the park. The Tabletop Plateau dominates, the roads skirt around the plateau following the escarpment edge, frequent short roads in to the many waterfalls and water holes. The Tabletop Track likewise follows much of the escarpment, but on the plateau well away from the road and people. While most of the waterfalls are accessible by these short roads, some are only accessible from the Tabletop Track, which is what makes this track so special.



The walking in the savanna was hot, I really should have done the walk over more days and restrict my walking to the cooler mornings. The monsoon forests and many creeks and waterfalls though were so much cooler to walk through, always a nice place to sit and relax, maybe swim.

One campground was particularly special, only a very short walk from a link walk car park, each campsite with it's own private bit of creek, rock pool and waterfall. But if I tell you it's name I will have to kill you. So if you email me or leave a comment asking me, I will need to send a hit man around. And that wont be very pleasant, now will it? I would like to keep the Best Ever Campsite a secret as much as possible, although I shared it with my Darwin friend and I decided I would let him live (he was, after all, rather nice to talk to).

I lost my much loved and travelled hiking GPS unit, an insurance agent slammed into the back of my car on the highway, and I accidentally took too much of what I like to call my Deadly Drug (a medication), but these are all stories for another time...

Sorry, no map from the GPS for you this time. Too bad heh, you won't be able to find the secret campsite unless you come up here and explore it for yourself.

Updated 25/05/2011. There are GPS files available for this walk now. They come from http://en.travelnt.com/experience/walking-trekking/tabletop-track.aspx - I reconfigured the XML file as a GPX file and KML file. The path doesn't have a huge amount of points, but should be ample for navigating the trail should you wander off it (really only possible through burnt out areas of wide creek crossings.) I would place a caveat on the area around Walker Creek though, I'm not sure it looks correct, the trail goes from the main trail west to Walker Creek Campsite as a spur trail rather than the main trail passing through the carpark. If coming off the main trail you won't get lost, the spur meets to the carpark to campsites trail near the toilet, at about campsite 6 of 8. Turn left for sites 6-8, right for sites 1-5 and carpark.

Download GPX file - for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file - view in Google Earth


View in full screen format
The above Google Map shows the official trail file from TravelNT.com
Download GPX file
- for use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit
Download KML file - view in Google Earth

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Bungle Bungle

Although known to local pastoralists and indigenous folk, the Bungle Bungle was unknown to the outside world until the mid 1980s. It did not appear on maps - not even topographical maps - nor was it photographed, not even named. A helicopter camera crew discovered it by accident, making it's dramatic scenery known to Australians and the rest of the world.

The Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park, WA




The local pastoralists saw it only as a source of a river, the business of cattle kept them occupied. Gold was discovered in nearby Halls Creek in the 1880s, but still the Kimberley held the secret of the Bungle Bungle. To the indigenous folk it had special meaning, but we know they like to keep their secrets sometimes, and why not?

If I share, too many white men will come all right, and they will go on doing this. Sticky beak all right, and look for something. If they find something goody goody, they'll take it.

-- source: interview on ABC's Stateline, 28/5/2010, concerning rockart in Kakadu (url http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/05/28/2912636.htm)

Some stuff is still a well guarded secret by the indigenous folk. Their rock art, which includes depictions of crocodiles, and burial sites.



This is one of the iconic places I wanted to visit on my four month trip, I think you will see why in some of the photos. To enter Cathedral Gorge one is filled with awe. Walking through a narrow gorge, the shear cliffs towering 200 metres above on each side. The gorge floor is occupied by a flat creek. It feels like you are about to stumble upon an ancient city in the desert, Petra maybe. Not a noise can be heard, it's one of the places in the world that seems to call for silence. Walking several hundred metres through this narrow space, the gorge suddenly opens up, revealing a huge amphitheatre formation. The area, made round by rolling boulders as the water runs down the cliff above, open to the sky in a narrow opening. The middle occupied by a shallow pond, a reminder of how much water would be here during the wet season. The roof ceiling provides a perfect environment for your echo, the place calls for silence but at the same time wants sounds to reverberate around it's walls.

Naturally the Bungle Bungle has more to reveal than just this one special place. The drive from Kununurra down Highway One is spectacular in itself, but it is merely setting the scene for the Bungle Bungle. The 50km 4WD road in from the highway hints a little more, only very close to the park does one see for the first time the mountains of the Bungle Bungle. The orange cliffs rise abruptly from the plains. Dramatic as they are though, they are not the Bungle Bungle one sees in photos. It is only when you drive further in, or better still, walk further in, that one sees their iconic and true beauty -- the stripped beehive formations. These are the most exceptional examples of sandstone cone karsts anywhere in the world. Standing up to 250 metres tall, they create an intricate maze of twists and turns, almost a city of rock sky-rises (to borrow a phrase from the national park literature.)

The sandstone is an ancient riverbed, uplifted high above the surrounding plains. Weathering and erosion slowly formed the distinct shapes we know today, as new rivers were formed through the old riverbed. The sandstone is sedimentary, layers of gray or orange rock. The grey rock has a high clay and moisture content, allowing cyanobacteria to grow on the surface. The orange bands have a lower clay and hence moisture content, preventing the cyanobacteria from growing. This layer oxidises forming the distinct rusty orange colour. Occasionally recent landslides reveal the true colour of this band - a bright silver white colour.

It was through this that we undertook a two day hike. If we did not have a new radiator awaiting collection in Katherine, to be fitted to the crippled car, I think we would have spent three days on this hike. We spent a day hiking along the Piccaninny Gorge, camped beside a rock pool, then hiked back. Had we a third day, we could have explored some of the five side gorges that are present in the upper gorge beyond our campsite. Although only a 14 kilometre hike in, it is a difficult hike. Following the creekbed, it is either sandy, soft gravel, navigating eroded rocks or large boulders.

On the first day we had lunch at the distinct Elbow in the gorge, well, so we thought, until we came upon a more distinct Elbow further upstream. It really was slow walking.

We had the gorge almost to ourselves, beyond the tourist bus groups near the very start of the gorge we passed only two other parties. Both had chosen to hike in and out in a single day, both were jealous we would have so much time to explore and have such a magnificent campsite. The campsite we chose - we could camp anywhere we liked - was beside a rockpool. Cliffs soared high above us, the rockpool being in the corner of the gorge. During the Wet water would cascade down the cliff, filling the rockpool and overflowing into the main gorge creek.

During the day the gorge was filled with a cacophony of bird sounds, echoing up and down the gorge. As night fell, silence descended. Our voices could be heard echoing far up and down the gorge, in the silence we could finally appreciate how far the echo travelled. Our campsite was fitted with a security device, not that it was needed in this isolated place. The cliffs the other side of the rock pool amplified the sounds from the main gorge creek, we could easily have heard footsteps as they approached from either upstream or downstream.

After the hike, we visited nearby Echidna Chasm. We had missed the best time of day to visit, the narrow chasm, sometimes only shoulder width wide, was best seen at true noon, the only time the sun could shine down into the narrow space. The chasm is a fracture in the rock mountain, snaking it's way from the palm entry deep into the mountain, gradually narrowing until it's eventual abrupt end.




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Stats

Piccaninny Gorge, Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park
Wednesday Thursday
7/7/2010 8/7/2010
Carpark to Gorge 1 Gorge 1 to carpark
Distance 15.2km 13.1km
Start Time 9.27am 7.33am
End Time 2.52pm 11.27am
Moving Duration 3h33m 3h02m
Stationary Duration 1h56m 56m
Moving Average 4.3km/h 4.3km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 3.3km/h
Oodometer 15.2km 28.3km

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mitchell Falls


The Gibb River Road cuts through the heart of the Kimberley. It is a 4WD dirt road. True, it is possible to drive a 2WD on it, we saw two in ten days - countless 4WDs though. Thing is, the two wheel drivers, they will see almost nothing. The attraction is not the road, it is the various rough 4WD tracks that lead off to gorges, waterfalls and pools. These tracks are rough, but every one is worth travelling down.

Mitchell Falls, Mitchell Plateau, The Kimberley, Western Australia


The track to Mitchell Falls is some 250km long and takes about five hours to drive. Walking a further 3.5 kilometres from the carpark one is struck by the immensity of the falls, cascading down from the river into three lower pools.

The 8.6km return hike on the Punamii-Unpuu Trail leads to Mitchell Falls, via Little Mertle Falls with the indigenous rock art behind the waterfall, and Big Mertle Falls.

View full Gibb River Road photo album and blog post.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mt Meharry - WA's highest peak

Mt Meharry is a relatively recent newcomer to the State 8 - the highest peak in each of Australia's states and territories. Mt Bruce was discovered by Europeans in 1861. Over a hundred years later, in 1967, detailed surveys were done of the area. A surveyor discovered a strange anomaly, 20 kilometres south east of Mt Bruce, the tallest mountain in Western Australia, lay an unnamed somewhat indistinct mountain which was 13 metres taller.



I have set myself the goal of climbing the State 8, although in no particular rush or timeline. So far the only peak I have climbed is Mt Ossa in Tasmania. South Australia's Mt Woodrooffe could arguably be the most logistically difficult, as I need to be Very Best Friends with Vicki, who in turn needs to be Very Best Friends with someone working in Ernabella, or that person being Very Best Friends with someone working there, and that person being Very Best Friends with a local, who is Very Best Friends with an elder. It quite isolated, some 300 kilometres off the bitumen road in a remote Aboriginal community in the state's north, near the border of the Northern Territory. From Uluru one can see Mt Woodroofe.



Mt Meharry is a strange one to access. Although in Karijini National Park, it can only be accessed from roads outside the park. I had read some magazine articles and online forums, it seemed an easy enough climb. Access was via some dirt roads off the Great Northern Highway. As a matter of courtesy, I asked at the national park visitor centre for the best way to access the peak. Contact the nearby pastoral station, they said, as you will need to cross their property. Armed with their phone number, but with limited phone reception, I managed to get their answering machine. At my chosen campsite, a rest area off the Great Northern Highway, I overhead some other campers talking about Mt Meharry. I sidled over to question them. They had already been up there today, having driven their 4WDs to the very top. They had asked no permission, they had followed the trip notes in a 4WD magazine. Having copied some of the details down, I could rest easy confident I was still able to do the climb the following day.

The road leading off the Great Northern Highway is a public road, but it is gated. There are no signs indicating Mt Meharry lies down this road. Hidden in the dry grass is a discarded sign stating that the road was only for access to the pastoral station, yet a sign beyond the gate had been erected by the local council warning of the road's poor condition. Deflating my tyres for dirt road driving, a mine worker pulled up. Yep, no worries, just don't get caught beyond the railway line. Rio Tinto's land, my advice, just don't get caught there.

Some 16 kilometres down this well made dirt road, shared by road trains and mine workers, is a simple sign indicating the track to Mt Meharry, to be tackled by 4WDs only. Carefully following the trip notes I had copied the previous night from the magazine, I proceeded down a series of roads. All 4WD but pretty easy going. I had no intention of driving to the summit, I am a bushwalker, not a four wheel driver. I drove to the base of the mountain, perhaps some two kilometres closer than what a 2WD vehicle could brave. I climbed the steep 4WD track, a 380 metre ascent, but an easy one. 45 minutes to the peak, a cairn marking the summit. Littered with trophies so easily brought here by 4WD, and a logbook buried in the stone cairn. Not much mention of people walking up here, but it was a lovely walk. The 4WD track immediately after the plain gets nasty quick, perhaps only negotiable by raised 4WDs.




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Karijini National Park

Jaw dropping. Gob smacking. This park is simply stunning: it's deep gorges, it's cool permanent swimming holes, it's coloured shaped rock.



My introduction to Karijini National Park was Hammersley Gorge. "Going to a swim at the bottom, " asked a woman in the car park as I was getting ready for the short hike. Oh my goodness yes I am! The pools are refreshingly cool in the heat of the day, nestled in a gorge lined with the most beautiful rock.

The park really is a series of jaw dropping, gob smacking moments as one sets eyes on each gorge or it's cool swimming hole. Deep gorges, maybe over a hundred metres deep. The day I hiked up Mt Meharry, I was able to come into the park in the afternoon and have not one but two gorgeous swims in pools, each at opposite ends of a gorge. A short half hour walk along the gorge between them. A peak climb, a gorge walk and refreshingly cool swims! The best day ever!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Travelling around WA and the NT

I'm travelling around Western Australia and the Northern Territory at the moment. Hiking some trails such as the Cape to Cape Track, and doing some riding as well. Visit my Magnetic North blog.

Kalbarri National Park

The Murchison River finishes it's long journey at Kalbarri. In the national park, the river winds it's way through deep gorges, seemingly in a series of straight lines.

Kalbarri National Park




The red Tumblagooda Sandstone that makes up much of this area has a series of straight fractures running through it. These straight, vertical joints allowed the Murchison River to deeply incise the rock layers and form straight river segments. At times the river is up to 170 metres below the cliff tops. Wherever the joints intersected the river could change it's course.

It was here that I could do a short 10 kilometre circuit hike, aptly named The Loop. The river here loops back on itself, separated by a narrow cliffline. The walk starts from a place called Natures Window, a high cliff featuring a prominent arch within the cliff, and follows the clifftop east before descending down into the sandy riverbed to loop back to Natures Window. The layers of rock within the cliffs form striking bands of stone in contrasting brownish reds, purples and whites.

I drove down the road to access The Loop and the Z Bend - a road to rival any of Kangaroo Island's dirt roads. I thought I had set out early, but when I arrived in the carpark I found half a dozen cars already there. Doh. When I completed the hike though, I discovered that it had been an early start, the day was getting hot by now but the carpark was full. This was no time to set out on a hike!


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