Saturday, 23 July 2016

Half-Lap Day 79: Karajini

I was awake before the sky started to lighten. I did some karate practice in the dark (I haven’t done much for a while, it always helps me feel so much more centred and I’m glad that I’ve started it up again) and then walked down to the lookout above Fortescue Falls to watch the sunrise. I took a cup of tea with me and was the only person around. I had a couple of crows for company and other than that it was still and quiet everywhere.

It was a cloudy morning and the sky to the east was soon filled with oranges and pinks. I was facing south and could see the edge of the gorge and the hills beyond, to the south and west, becoming clearer in the morning light. I didn’t know if I’d get any sunlight, then the tips of the hills started to glow yellow. The light slowly moved down the hillside and soon it was not far from the top of the gorge. As I watched the rim of the gorge lit up and then I could actually see the edge of the sunlight creeping down the cliff wall, it was amazing. Soon the sun reached the cloud cover and the shadow started to creep down the wall like it was following the edge of the light. It didn’t take long for the gorge to be all in shadow again, it was pretty cool to watch. The falls looked beautiful throughout the whole process – the sunlight didn’t reach down that far at this early hour, but I think it could get there later in the day if there were no clouds.

I walked back to camp and started to get breakfast for people. LiAM and Caitlin were up as they were hoping to go walking with our Kings Canyon friends. I packed a bag for them and made sure they were fed, then wandered over to our friends’ site to see what the plan was. She was happy to take the older 2 with her to walk down into Hancock Gorge, and Millie and Tony and I would meet them over there for lunch, then we’d walk Weano Gorge together. These other gorges are about an 80km drive away, we have to leave the National Park and drive west, then enter the park at the other side. There is a quicker road through the park, but it is 4WD only, so we’d be taking the sealed road. I asked if Millie’s friend wanted to stay with us for the morning, she wanted to go and do the walk with the others instead.

They came over once they were ready and Millie’s friend said she would stay and play with Millie, then at the last minute changed her mind and wanted to go with her mum and do the walk. Millie was pretty upset and we had a big cuddle on our double chair until she felt like playing again. Tony played with her for a while, on the iPad and with her animals, while I got the 3 of us ready for the day. Tony put up the annex in case it rained while we were out – best to have the tent door in the dry area, and have somewhere dry to put our chairs and things.

We stopped off at the rubbish trailer to dump our bags of rubbish (so glad we don’t have to take them all with us to dump at the next town) and then drove to the other end of the park. Millie played on the iPad and Tony and I listened to music from his iPod, it was great to have music playing again. I’m loving listening to the Harry Potter books, I’d forgotten how much I love listening to music when I’m in the car, especially on long drives. We listened to a bit of Radiohead then put it on shuffle and got a bit of everything.

As we drove and I was looking at the large hills to the south, I was once again wondering which one was Mt Bruce. We drove around a slight bend and Tony said ‘I’m guessing it’s that one…’ and there was a much larger, stand alone mountain that was obviously the tallest in the region. We could see the mine behind it as well. I’d vaguely considered climbing Mt Bruce (a 6 hour walk) – looking at it I could see that the vegetation was pretty low and sparse, so there’d be no shade for most of the walk, not really worth it on this trip I think!

Heading back into the National Park the road was good (and still sealed) for a while, although had a few areas that had recently been damaged by floods. There was rain as we drove into the park and we thought we might not be able to walk in any of the gorges – but it cleared as we headed further in and we were fine. We reached the unsealed part and it was pretty good too until after the Eco Resort, then it became more corrugated. There was 13km of dirt and we drove it very very slowly otherwise everything in the car rattled and bounced and it hurt our heads. Most of the time there wasn’t any part of the road that was easier to drive on. It was quite exhausting, even for me as the passenger. Tony really didn’t enjoy it.

There was a car behind us and we soon realised it was the others, so we arrived at the lookout at the same time. We got out and had lunch, and we could see gorges all around us (on 3 sides). The kids had loved the walk into Joffre Gorge, had done it in half the advertised time, and had a cold swim at the bottom as well as walking or swimming around to Joffre Falls and standing under them. LiAM’s camera seemed to be suffering a bit from having been in the very cold water – it can go underwater but was having condensation problems from the changes in temperature, so he was a bit worried about that.

As we put our stuff back in the fridge after lunch Tony discovered that the fuse in the cord had blown again. We didn’t have a spare as the parts place where we bought the replacement only had that one in stock. We tossed up what to do and decided to buy some ice at the Eco Retreat on the way home, freeze our freezer packs in our friend’s fridge overnight, and just use the fridge as an esky for the 2 days until we go through Tom Price on our way west.

We walked out to the lookouts, stopping at Junction Pool lookout first. Nearby there was a cross, a memorial to an SES worker called Jimmy Regan, who had drowned in a flash flood trying to rescue some walkers. The kids were fascinated to see my surname on the memorial and wanted to know if he was a relative (not as far as I know). The gorge dropped away very suddenly and was 100m deep. I approached the lookout very cautiously, there were 3 gorges branching off from underneath the lookout and the vertigo started a fair way back from the edge. It got worse the closer I got, as I still couldn’t see the bottom! Eventually I did make it to the railing and the view was magnificent. There was a pool directly down below the lookout, with a large column of rocks rising from it that was only attached to the gorge wall for about half way up, the top was leaning way from the edge. At the base of the column the gap between walls was very narrow, and there was another pool on the other side of the gap. The water was flowing through the gap and continuing on past the pool down one of the gorges. The opposite gorge wall was reflected in the pool beyond the column, and at first glance that seemed to be where the bottom of the column was as well – but that was only halfway to the base of those rocks, it was a long way down from there to the narrow gap. It was a weird illusion and messed with all our heads a bit. I had to keep looking up to the horizon from time to time to stop from feeling dizzy, but I was able to stay out there for a while, soaking in the incredible sight of all these gorges, carved out of 2,500 million year old stone. This is the oldest stone we’ve seen and the whole scene was awe inspiring.

We all walked around to the Oxer lookout and could see another 2 gorges as well as the 3 we’d already been looking at. Again the view was incredible (and a little scary). The boys pointed out to me that the lookout we’d been standing on was suspended beyond the edge of the cliff wall – I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was first there, but it didn’t bother me in retrospect. I was even able to go back out there later and not worry about it. The younger girls were playing in the middle of the look out and it amused and impressed me that in the midst of this amazing panorama they’d just settled in to being together and playing their games like they wanted to. I love how they live so completely in the moment and don’t worry about what they ‘should’ be doing base on anyone else’s standards.

From there we drove up to the day use area and used the toilets, then the 9 of us set off to walk down into Weano Gorge. Millie had forgotten her runners so Tony went back to the car to get them, and the others went ahead. We walked down fairly steep but easy rock steps to reach the bottom of the gorge, then followed the water along the gorge floor. We soon caught up to the others. Twice we reached points where we had to either hold on to the rock face and walk sideways around the protruding rock (not too hard because of the flat, terraced rocks again) or take our shoes off and walk through the water. Most of us did a combination of the two, and walked barefoot for most of the rest of the track so weren’t constantly taking our shoes on and off. Other water crossings had stepping stones so our feet didn’t get wet.

Edging around the rocks and walking through the water
We reached a point where the gorge narrowed considerably – the trail changed here from a Class 4 to a Class 5. Talking to people who were coming back the other way, we decided to leave our bags here, and change into our swimmers if we were considering swimming. The kids and the other adults went barefoot, I decided to put my shoes back on as I’m really not confident on slippery rock. I left my camera behind too, I wanted to be carrying nothing so I could concentrate on balance. Tony and the others had gone ahead, and LiAM and I followed last.

The trail here followed the creek down between the gorge walls, which were now only about 1.5m apart. There was room on the edge of the water to put our feet so that they didn’t get wet, if we were careful. It wasn’t too hard but required concentration. LiAM was ahead of me and rounding a slight bend said ‘ooh Mummy, I don’t think you’re going to like this…’ I followed him around and saw what he meant (although I’d been expecting it so wasn’t too freaked out) – there was a handrail attached to the wall for the last part of the narrow chasm, and then the water and the ground dropped away and we couldn’t see what was below it. I asked LiAM to go slowly so I could still see him, and we gradually made our way to the handrail and then could see beyond. There was a very tricky corner to navigate as the gorge walls opened up again and ground dropped away into a waterfall. Once I could see it I told LiAM to go ahead and I’d take my own time. It was slippery but there were places to stand, and the handrail made it steady and safe enough. Once around the corner there were stones jutting out of the wall so that we could climb down the almost sheer wall, holding on to the handrail. I was pretty scared coming around the corner, but made it easily, then going down the wall was hard but not too scary.
Path to Handrail Pool

At the bottom was a beautiful round pool, with the cliff walls rising all around it, the waterfall splashing into it at the end we’d entered, and another narrow chasm leading off from the other side. Along one edge there were terraced rocks so we could walk around that side quite safely and reach the water’s edge. Caitlin had been in by the time I arrived, and I joined her. It was cold and it took me a while to become completely submerged – colder than the Circular pool I think, although a fantastic place to swim. I got straight out and felt rather warm, then decided to go for a bit more of a swim. Caitlin and I swam across the pool to a beachy sort of area (shallow water with small stones slowly sloping down on the far side of the pool) where the others were wading. It felt great to be swimming around in here and really experiencing the location. The boys and Tony came in as well.

The little girls wanted to climb back up the handrail and back down because it was fun – they climbed up and our friend took some photos of all the kids on the handrail – they wanted to go back around the corner but I said no, not just for fun, we could do it on the way out. A couple who we’d seen at Fern Pool yesterday were there as well – they’d been down into the further chasm, all the way to the end of the allowed trail. Caitlin wanted to go but they said it got very narrow and dark and cold and they had to swim most of the way. Tony went a little way down and said that the kids could join him there so LiAM and Caitlin went on. I stayed standing in the water in case they needed help getting out – it was cold staying still so I tried to move around a bit, then found a rock to sit on which was more comfortable. The kids headed back after a while and Tony went all the way to the stop sign, he said it wasn’t too hard and a bit exciting. He saw the top of a waterfall and it looked like it would be scary beyond that.

LiAM had had a couple of slips on the rocks and was feeling scared coming back so I swam into the chasm to help him. I saw something that looked like a twisted rope on a ledge in the rocks then realised it was probably a snake (checked it out later and it was most likely a python). I pointed it out to LiAM and he panicked a bit and fell into the water again. I swam out with him hanging on to my back, and we clambered over the rocks at the chasm entrance then quickly out of the water. Our friend and all the kids started heading back up as they wanted to do one more walk, Millie and I waited for Tony and we left not far behind the others. I was a bit scared about getting back around the top corner but I took my time and did it without incident.

We got dry and changed – I was shivering pretty hard – and headed back along the gorge, LiAM and behind the others and he soon ran ahead to catch up. I trudged along at my own pace – my hamstrings had started to cramp again in the cold water and I was feeling a bit sore now. I caught up with the other couple at one of the water crossings and walked out with them. It didn’t take long, and Tony and Millie were waiting for me at the top. The rest of our group had gone to to the Hancock Gorge walk, a Class 5 all the way with a Spider Walk along the bottom – another narrow part where you can walk through the water or like spiderman, with hands and feet on either side of the chasm (I’d done a bit of the handrail trail like that). Millie and Tony and walked back towards the lookouts as I’d seen one from the Handrail pool and wanted to look down at the pool – we couldn’t find the lookout though, and ended up back at Junction Pool and Oxer lookouts. We enjoyed the view again then walked back to the car, and headed our bumpy way back out to the Eco Retreat.

We drove in and were able to buy ice from the café (for $10!!!) and put that in our fridge. We waited there for the others, as Millie’s friend wanted to come back in our car. There were a group of French girls there who had had an accident that morning and their car was written off, they were looking for accommodation for the night and we were relieved to hear that someone had lent them a spare tent.

Millie had an ice block while we waited, and when the others arrived our friend bought me a hot chocolate as a thank you for waiting in the cold. The kids had all done really well on the walk, and Caitlin and the oldest boy had had another swim in more very cold water. There were some very tricky bits in this gorge and they’d had to walk or swim through water quite a bit. LiAM wasn’t tall enough to do the spider walk and hadn’t gone all the way to the end with Caitlin and their friend, but he’d enjoyed the bit he’d done. Three hard gorges in one day – that’s so impressive, although the kids didn’t think it was that big a deal.

Millie’s friend came back in our car and they played I-Spy for a while then watched a DVD. Our other kids went back in the other car. We drove home in the dark, with a full moon popping out from behind the clouds occasionally. We got phone signal as we drove past the mine and received a couple of texts before it dropped out again. Back at the tent the other kids stayed with us while their Mum cooked tea, then she walkie-talkied to tell them it was ready and they walked back. Millie was thrilled to finally have a good play with her toys and her friend today.

We had soup and noodles for dinner then got ready for bed. I read a couple of chapters of Inheritance and everyone was asleep fairly easily after an extremely exhausting day.

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