Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beyond the Heysen: Stage 3, Mt Hopeless to Arkaroola

Like last year, the La Nina weather effect transformed this hike - flowing creeks, full waterholes, green vegetation.

Mt Hopeless to Arkaroola, 7 days - 2/4/11 to 8/4/11

The average rainfall for Arkaroola for January through to March is 99mm, 375mm fell in that same period this year, and that on top of high rainfalls late last year, and a wet season the year before. Rain falls in this area during the summer months, the weather the left-overs of the wet season from the northern tropics of the continent.

This was a difficult walk, walking across gibber plain, along creeks, bush bashing along steep hills, hard to follow tracks and several summit climbs - difficult but all good.

The start point was Mt Hopeless, so named not due to it's diminitive size, but because the explorer Eyre declared it a hopeless situation. A giant horseshoe shaped lake surrounded the northern Flinders Ranges, blocking access to the north of the contintent. He was wrong, but it was a good while before anyone discovered that. It was not a continuous lake stretching for many hundreds of kilometres, but a series of lakes, which would have allowed Eyre to travel through them to the north of the continent. Alas, perhaps the mirage of a hot day tricked him. He had named Mt Hopeless before he even climbed it, it rises just 50 odd metres above the surrounding gibber plain, the last bastion of the Flinders Ranges. Arguably, it could be Mt Babbage to the south, I'm no geologist expert on these matters.

Access to Mt Hopeless was difficult, it is not that far off the Strzelecki Track, but due to the recent heavy rains it was only partially open. We had planned to charter a plane from Arkaroola to Moolawatana Station, just a day's hike south of Mt Hopeless, but their runway was rain damaged. A tourist helicopter service has just resumed it's season up at Arkaroola a couple of weeks ago, so we chartered that to fly us out to Mt Hopeless, which also saved a day, albeit at a greater cost - in part due to the two trips required, it was only a four seater, there were four of us and the pilot of course. We could have walked from Arkaroola north to Mt Hopeless, this finishing our six year adventure at the northernmost point of the Flinders Ranges, but it would be difficult for the helicopter to find us out there on the open gibber plain.

From 2006 through to 2008 I walked the entire Heysen Trail from Cape Jervis, south of Adelaide, to the start of the Flinders Ranges in Crystal Brook, through to the end of the trail at Parachilna Gorge. A week in 2009 we walked from Parachilna Gorge to Angepena Station, a week the following year we walked to Arkaroola, and now, we have completed that walk all the way to Mt Hopeless, a distance of some 1,500 kilometres.

The first three days walking was on a 1:250,000 scale map. It took some used to getting used the map reading, the map being five times smaller than the regular 1:50,000 most of the southern and more populated part of the state is mapped out in. The contours are only shown at 50 metre increments, I tell you, at that separation mountain peaks can hide in between those contours lines. The 1:50,000 map has 10 metre contour increments. It took us a day and a bit to reach the real mountains of the Flinders Ranges, those easily discernable from the gibber plains. Mt Babbbage, once suggested as the northern trailhead of the Heysen Trail - it was far too remote for that - was hidden between some of these contour lines. We realised this when we summited a false summit, which we knew to be a false summit, to see not one but two possibilities before us that might be the actual Mt Babbage summit, only one clearly shown on the map.

Mt Hopeless and Mt Babbage both had stone cairns on them, but both had collapsed. Photos from the 1960s showed the Mt Hopeless cairn as being taller than a man, now it was just a collapsed heap of loose stones. The logbooks for both, of which we know Mt Hopeless certainly had one, lay buried deep under the fallen stones. Dissapointing for us not to be able to write such an important entry into them. Later in the week we climbed the Armchair and Mt Painter, both had logbooks, although interestingly no-one had written in the Armchair logbook since 2006, indeed there were only three entries - all from 2005 or 2006, and no-one had written in the Mt Painter logbook at all last year, and we were the first for 2011. There were pens in the logbook box, so no excuse for someone who summited not to sign it.

The Armchair was a challenging hike, from the base it was difficult to establish how we would reach the summit at the top of the large bell-top that was the top of the mountain. Getting to the ridge a hundred metres from the summit seemed possible, if it were not for knowing that other people had climbed it I'm not sure I would have been keen to even try. When we reached the ridge, the base of the bell-top, we could zigzag up the bell-top, slowly spiralling around to the very top.

Hamilton Creek, which we walked along for three days, was flowing, a real treat that made our hike logistically easy. Not just that, but also very enjoyable, we swam in the cold, rock bounded waters of Terrapinna Springs, camping and swimming beside a waterhole. In Yudnamutana Gorge we camped beside a waterfall, the water flowing strong well above our heads. Each night, and often during the day's hike, we could easily find good water to refill our water stocks with. Others who have undertaken this hike before have had to rely on bores and either driven or flown in water drops.

We walked into Arkaroola after seven days, having seen no-one, not even footprints, no cars, just a single plane. The first person we saw, just as we walked in with our large packs, asked us if an old lady like herself could undertake a hike like we just did. I rather suspect she thought we had spent a couple of hours wandering out to the nearby Arkaroola waterhole, and not 130 kilometres from Mt Hopeless.

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Download our walking route drawn onto topographic maps.


Northern Flinders Ranges
Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
2/4/11 3/4/11 4/4/11 5/4/11 6/4/11 7/4/11 8/4/11
Mt Hopeless to Twelfth Station Creek Twelfth Station Creek to Brindana Springs Brindana Springs to Mt Shanahan Mt Shanahan to Greenhill Well Greenhill Well to Clean Chaps Waterfall Clean Chaps Waterfall to Mt Gee/Mt Painter Mt Gee/Mt Painter to Arkaroola
Distance 19.53km 20.19km 17.16km 21.94km 18.67km 12.42km 18.71km
Start Time 8.30am 7.19am 7.37am 8.01am 8.02am 7.43am 7.48am
End Time 5.02pm 4.10pm 3.15pm 4.47pm 3.46pm 4.41pm 3.37pm
Moving Duration 4h31m 4h51m 4h34m 5h33m 4h44m 4h45m 4h59m
Stationary Duration 2h25m 3h58m 3h03m 3h08m 2h56m 4h11m 2h59m
Moving Average 4.3km/h 4.2km/h 3.8km/h 3.9km/h 3.9km/h 2.6km/h 3.8km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 2.3km/h 2.2km/h 2.5km/h 2.4km/h 1.4km/h 2.4km/h
Oodometer 20.2km 40.4km 57.5km 79.5km 98.2km 110.6km 129.3km
Temperature 21.7 21.8 22.4 25.4 26.9 27.8 28.9


Ralcock said...

Great notes and detail - as usual from Jez. Great year to do this - to see the country at its real best. I'm looking forward to walking at Warraweena over Easer, it too will be so green. Thanks jez

Matthias said...

Beautiful photos! Really makes we want to go hiking in dry remote outback country, although it looks and sounds quite challenging.

Jez said...

Thanks Matt, it was tough walking. Now that you are not walking out west on the Bibblimum you might consider the Larapinta Trail, it's dry remote outback. It's a good time of year for it (May-August) and the days are warm and sunny (but the nights are cold in central Australia, you'll need to get up towards Katherine to get warm nights)

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