Monday, July 13, 2009

Beyond the Heysen

It took two attempts to summit the optimistically named Patawarta Hill, two nearby mountains of similar height had achieved mountain status. And amongst them Patawarta was the most prominent. When we reached the cairn at the top we sought out the log book, stored in a steel container donated by ABW. "Sophie and Kelly were the only girls who didn’t cry, " a recent entry left by a school group of year sevens said. Oh ok, crying or not, there must have been an easier way up here then the way we came, so we sought it out descending by a different route.

7 days hiking, Parachilna Gorge to Angepena Station

Our first attempt the previous day had a few lessons contained within. We had made camp about 3.30 in the afternoon, set up our tents, and set out to walk along the flat pound floor, following the edge of the range until we reached a pre-determined spur, from where we would start climbing. Patawarta Hill would be ours within an easy hour. After climbing the spur for some time, we headed to the saddle that would get us to the summit, only to find ourselves looking at the cairn atop the peak from across a valley. Opps. We should been walking and comparing with the map, we ascended one spur too early. Map reading without a marked trail requires an altogether new skillset, one which none of us had except Simon.

Patawarta Hill was painted by Hans Heysen in 1932 in a painting titled The Land of the Oratunga, and the painting which supposedly* inspired Warren Bonython to walk the Flinders Ranges, which later led to the creation of the Heysen Trail. * Supposedly just means I haven’t researched this to verify it.

We were hiking for seven days beyond the Heysen Trail. The trail ends at Parachilna Gorge, 1200 kilometres from Cape Jervis where it started. Most of us had already finished the trail, and this mission was about walking beyond the marked trail. Warren Bonython inspired the Heysen Trail, the original concept being that the trail would follow the entire Flinders Ranges, from it’s southern point near Crystal Brook to it’s northern end at Mt Hopeless. The walk from Parachilna Gorge to Mt Hopeless would take about three weeks, this was our first week, the following two be tackled next year. There is no trail to follow, so some very careful planning is needed, especially in respect to water supplies. We camped along the way, carrying our packs, just leaving a car at each end of the week’s walk. We gained permission from station owners to walk across their land. We had carefully read Warren Bonython’s book, Walking the Flinders Ranges (published 1971, reprinted 2000) for potential route details.

We climbed a further two peaks, Mt Tilley and Mt Hack, which it must be said involved more map planning and map to real world comparisons. From the summit of each, clear sunny days allowed us to see the 100 kilometres to Wilpena Pound in the distance, the distinct twin peaks of St Mary Peak and Mt Boorong** clearly visible on the horizon. Every other direction other than south though, pretty clueless really as to what we were looking at, this was new territory for most of us. We were the first people to reach the peak of Mt Tilley in 2 years, although that was difficult to verify with certainty. Perhaps the truer statement would be that we were the first people to reach the peak of Mt Tilley carrying a pen, as the logbook box contained no pens. Again we descended by a different route, eager as always to explore this great land.

On our ascent we had stumbled across an emu, who only took it’s so called flight moments before reached it. It had been guarding it’s eggs, a half dozen or so large black eggs.

Our third peak, Mt Hack, reminded me of climbing Mt Ossa in Tasmania in that our final ascent was to a large gently sloping plateau that we wandered up to reach the stone cairn and the highest point. From here we marvelled at the distant Wilpena Pound, and looking north took guesses at peak names. Again we discussed our Peak Bagging Plan. I don’t want to go into too much detail yet, but Nick had the idea several weeks earlier that we should climb all of South Australia’s peaks over 1000 metres in height. A good idea, I thought, as we researched mountain heights on Wikipedia. Ten or so of them, seemed pretty easy. The only one I had already climbed was St Mary Peak, in Wilpena Pound. We have had year-long plans to climb Mt Aleck in Elder Range, and we had just climbed three peaks on this walk - all over 1000 metres. Simon, delighted with our idea, was kind enough to add half a dozen or so other peaks, also mentioning the dozens of unnamed peaks in the Musgrave Ranges. Back in Adelaide doing some more research, we have now compiled a list of 36 peaks over 1000 metres, confined to three locations – Wilpena Pound (and Elder Range just south of it), the Gammons (and the three peaks we just climbed to the south of them) and the Musgrave Range in the far north of the state which holds no less than 19 of the peaks. This has turned into an ambitious goal, one which will require great planning. Meanwhile we enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the views from Mt Hack. Scouring the logbook Steve was keen to get a glance of Warren Bonython’s entry from 1969. From an earlier logbook, now in small pieces, we found an entry from 1967, but finding Warren Bonython’s entry would require the careful skill of a fine art or antiquity restorer.

Our party numbered 5 – Simon, Graham, Nick, Steve and myself. Saturday we drove up, Nick and Steve leaving Graham and myself to set up the tents and chat amongst ourselves. We compared pack weights to confirm my suspicion that my pack was heavy. Much to my relief Nick’s proved to be heavier. After their three hour car shuffle, to ensure one car was left at the end of the week’s walk, and one here at the start, we drove down to Parachilna to have tea at the famous Prairie Hotel.

I think it wasn’t so much a week of walking but a week of comparing food. Nick had the yummiest and by far the most food, but also the heaviest pack. Steve on the other hand had next to no food (and somehow not the lightest pack either).

Graham bought a new super-lightweight air mattress, and every time he turned or moved on it as he slept everyone within 500metres could swear they were in a coffee shop listening to a coffee grinder if it were not for the lack of the fresh coffee smell. It took us the full seven nights to find a solution which didn’t involve banishing him to the far side of the valley.

For two of the days Graham strode out far ahead of us, somewhat courageous you would think given we were free-walking cross country without a track, trail or markers. On his second stride-out day we reached our determined point to drop our packs to ascend Mt Tilley, and Graham was nowhere to be seen. After scrutinising our maps to plan our ascent of Tilley and several name-shouts, he returned. The rest of the week he never strayed from the walking group.

Enjoyed some good campsites with pretty good water, perhaps they only bad one was Claypan Dam which even when filtered wasn't a great colour, but still tasted kinda ok. We filtered and treated all dubious water. Had lots of nice campfires, making a regular routine of wood collection. Collecting wood though was surprisingly easy, I think mainly because I am so used to camping in areas where people always camp, where they collect every last scrap of firewood within 500 metres. We had a full moon early in the week so star gazing was limited to the couple of hours after sunset and before the moon rose. Nothing like a starlit night camping to remind you of just how many stars there are to be seen.

Saw next to no-one if you choose to ignore the cavalcade of six 4WDs that passed us near Artimore Station. Geez these guys have never heard of car pooling? In Hannigans Pass that same day we watched a 4WD pass us, evidently neither the driver nor the passenger saw us all lined up against a nearby rock eating lunch. He stopped at the top of a hill and sauntered back down to have a closer inspection of an old rusty car nearby, still showing no signs of having seen us. Sweet moment. We saw no-one again until the Alan, the local farmer at Narinna Pound, sought us out by following our footsteps one night for a hello.

**Is it really Mt Boorong? I don’t think so, I will check that out.

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

Download our walking route drawn onto topographic maps.


Beyond the Heysen
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
5/7/09 6/7/09 8/7/09 9/7/09 10/7/09 11/7/09 12/7/09
Parachilna Gorge to Oratunga 1st Spring Oratunga 1st Spring to Patawarta Gap Patawarta Gap to Narrina Spring via Patawarta Hill Narrina Spring to Clayplan Dam via Mt Tilley Clayplan Dam to Christmas Goldfield via Mt Hack Christmas Goldfield to Muglapena Gap Muglapena Gap to Angepena
Distance 17.7km 25.0km 15.0km 17.6km 19.5km 19.5km 7.4km
Start Time 12.25pm 8.21am 8.40am 8.42am 8.25am 8.39am 8.12am
End Time 5.17pm 4.45pm 4.05pm 4.12pm 4.50pm 3.03pm 10.00am
Moving Duration 3h46m 5h54m 4h40m 4h58m 5h14m 4h9m 1h35m
Stationary Duration 1h4m 2h12m 2h36m 2h19m 2h53m 1h46m 4m
Moving Average 4.7km/h 4.2km/h 3.2km/h 3.5km/h 3.7km/h 4.7km/h 4.8km/h
Overall Average 3.6km/h 3.1km/h 2.1km/h 2.4km/h 2.4km/h 3.3km/h 4.5km/h
Oodometer 17.7km 42.7km 57.7km 75.3km 94.8km 114.5km 121.8km


Julian said...

Great blog very interesting and makes me quite envious.
One point though, it's Mt Alec not "Mt Hack in Elder Range"
How onsessional is that?

vicki said...

Sounds like magnificent walking - not for the faint hearted - great story and photos as always

Sally-Anne said...

Jeremy great blog as always. First meeting you as an 'Indian' on the Heysen Trial and more formally on the ABW Grampians trip last year. Great to witness how your walking has been extended over the last two years - very envious! What an amazing journal it already is and will develop into in the years ahead. I will follow with interest.

Anonymous said...

great work putting it together like this - thanks for the excellent photos - a great bunch of memories. nick

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