Yearning for place

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
― John Muir

“Going to the woods is going home.”
― John Muir

“What’s the hurry to move in?” my friend asked when I declined an invitation for an outing the evening after I was to take possession of my new house?

Indeed. There was no real, or should I say logical, hurry to move in or be moving at night. I could go out for a few hours, surely. I wrestled with my heart and relented. However, the reason I so badly wanted to be in my empty house was that I have been experiencing a pain at being unattached to place.  I don’t mean to a dwelling, I mean to a patch of land, to a place I feel called to be.

When looking for a new home my number one criterion was that it be near the forest.  You see, I was drawn to stay close to that forest. A forest I have come to love and feel at home in.  It’s a place I find magical, where animals dare approach, where I meditate and escape the world.  When nothing became available I considered other suburbs with forests. I planned to inspect a number of homes for sale in those areas but, when I felt into it, those other forests were not my forest. Not my place. I didn’t feel drawn to be there. It’s not logical, you’re right. A forest is a forest, right? Well, no. This is not about logic it’s about feeling and about intuition and about what I can only call magic.

I am drawn to nature. I love to wander on the beach, in forested areas and the wild places, away from civilisation. I feel an intricate link with the natural world and connected to a power greater than myself when in nature. I feel at home in nature,so much more than I do when in cites and around people.  I have a real sense of the energy of “my forest”.  It’s like I can read the history of that place and I feel welcome there. It restores me to connect with the trees and the rocks and the bush. My new backyard feels like an extension of that forest. I can see the tree tops of it from my back deck.

So, when my friend asked me out and I really had no rational reason to be sitting in an empty house or moving boxes out of a storage shed into an empty house at night, this was the real reason. I was longing to be home. Longing to connect with my own sacred space and to set down roots.  You can’t reason with emotion, with the sacred and mystical.

I know I can live anywhere but to thrive anywhere? Perhaps not. I feel a fundamental pull to this particular spot. At first, I thought it was habit. In fact, the very same friend who asked me out had me consider if I was just in my comfort zone there.  That question took me by surprise and my hackles raised slightly at first.  However, living in temporary accommodation, before settlement, I examined that question closely.   Staying for a time by the river, a place I used to live, I wondered if I’d made the right decision to stay near the forest.  The river was so lovely, the sunsets stunning, the silky texture of the water, alluring. In my gut though, I knew that while I could appreciate the river and its beauty, I really didn’t feel connected there.  Then, living in a funky and vibrant inner-city suburb for a month, I began to question myself again.  I was enjoying the hubbub and the eclectic crowd but the throb of disconnection and being unattached returned.

I can’t explain the draw to the place I’ve chosen as home; except to say, that since I was a child I have felt the energy of places. From a very young age I’ve felt strongly uncomfortable or completely at ease in some buildings and environments.  When travelling I have been reduced to tears when stepping onto battlefields and I’ve vomited as a result of heavy and overwhelming energies of some places. This connection to “my forest” is instinctual and I am so looking forward to seeing what transpires when, in a few days, I set down roots and return home.

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The ache of beauty

Dashing by
your wounds
caught my eye.
I stopped,
struck
by the scars
scored deeply
into your surface

The beauty of your ravaged countenance
the fragility of life
and the strength of it,
both evident
on your façade
caused my heart to throb
with bittersweet knowing.

Our humanity is the natural world

To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.  George Haskell

Maria Popova’s recent newsletter, Nature and the Serious Business of Joy, resonated strongly with me and I was struck by how shared sentiments can connect us across centuries, borders, gender, time and place. I was delighted to discover Whitman, Thoreau and I share a love of trees. That the work of Michael McCarthy articulates the deep-seated joy I have when in nature.  Nature pulls me. I am drawn to it and feel very at home, embraced, when in the wild places.

Over the years I have realised the pull of nature and my respect and adoration of it can only stem from being of the earth myself and of sharing the same transcendent source as the natural world. Rachel Carson expresses it beautifully:

 “Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”

Michael McCarthy has walked the same paths as I. He too has felt, numerous times, that sudden and involuntary love of nature that bursts forth with such “a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.”  And yet what is joy? Sadly it seems a term used only by those delusional romantic types (like me), caught up in the fanciful, magical type of thinking that a weary, cynical populace denounces.

McCarthy weighs the precariousness of joy in our modern world: “Joy is not a concept, nor indeed a word, that we are entirely comfortable with, in the present age. The idea seems out of step with a time whose characteristic notes are mordant and mocking, and whose preferred emotion is irony. Joy hints at an unrestrained enthusiasm which may be thought uncool… It reeks of the Romantic movement. Yet it is there. Being unfashionable has no effect on its existence… What it denotes is a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.

Nature speaks to so many of us, it awakens our senses and, at times, offers us a glimpse into the extraordinary, yet so few speak of these experiences publicly.  We should extol nature’s virtues loudly. Share the revelations uncovered while in the wilderness. Thoreau recognised nature as an antidote to the diminishing of spirit amid a fast paced, ego-driven society — “In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean,”

McCarthy takes Thoreau’s idea further and reminds us of our origins, the roots of our being and our evolution with the earth and our connection to her —

“They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

We are not separate from the natural world, we do not simply walk upon it, we are part of it as it is of us. We belong to the natural world and ought to rekindle our connection to be once again filled with joy, substance and beauty.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.” Whitman.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting


In life we wait.
There is a distinction between the kinds of waiting one is required to abide.

There is waiting that must be endured such as waiting for—a bus, an appointment, test results, news from a lost loved one …

There is waiting that is observed with tolerance. We wait for the traffic lights to turn green, the kettle to boil, the pizza to arrive …

Outside these watch checking, magazine flicking, foot tapping, finger drumming, carpet pacing moments of waiting there is anticipation—a different kind of waiting.  Anticipation flutters, it tingles.  Anticipation contains expectation—like the countdown to a holiday or a long-awaited reunion with a dear friend.

Today’s prompt took me back to the top of Brinkley Bluff on the Larapinta Trail, in Australia’s Northern Territory, where we waited in anticipation for the sun to set.

Nature’s micro structures

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge from The Daily Post is for the topic:

STRUCTURE

Here’s the prompt the good people at The Daily Post offered:

Today, take a moment to notice the structure of everyday things around you. Note the lines, freckles, and tiny hairs on your arm, and imagine the biological blueprint that created them. See the bricks of a building, and realize that they were individually placed there by another person. Then, share with us a photo of the structure of something wonderful. We’re eager to see details through your lens.

There are examples of structure all around us.  I am fascinated by the intricate way things fit together and work in conjunction with each other.  I marvel at architectural structure and the process of building but my focus today went to the natural environment. With so much on offer I could not settle on one image, nor do the several below fully sate my curiosity.

Looking into the micro structures of life

Winter hiking — in Carnarvon

The Amphitheatre

“Somewhere between the start of the trail and the end is the mystery of why we chose to walk.”  Author unknown

Rock hopping across creeks, tottering on a swing bridge, scrambling up a steep gully, traversing a shale scree slope, kicking up dust in sandy valleys, negotiating boulder lined gorges, walking on narrow ridges, basking on spacious plateaus, luxuriating in the shade of a magnificent forest and sleeping under a trillion twinkling stars. All this and more filled six glorious days on the beautiful Carnarvon Great walk. Yep. I went hiking again.

Long term readers know I am a fan of multi day hikes and have headed into the wilderness on a number of occasions. Our, (my beloved and I) recent hike took place in Carnarvon National Park. We ventured forth on an 87 kilometre, six day independent hike.

View from Battleship Spur lookout

A feature of the National Park is the Gorge. It is literally an oasis in what is classified the  ‘semi-arid’ heart of Central Queensland. Don’t be mistaken, the landscape is anything but barren or lifeless. The countryside of Central Queensland is something to behold; there is a beauty and majesty in its expansive golden hues and resilient plant life. The Carnarvon National park rises from a flat landscape and is strikingly green on approach.

The Gorge itself is about 30 kilometres long and was created in the most part by water erosion.  There is evidence of wind erosion in some areas. The walls of the gorge are white sandstone while the narrow side gorges display hues of red and pink. It’s a magical place, full of history and stunning natural features to appreciate.

Day one of the hike is on the main walking track.  You don’t immediately get away from civilisation but it is a fabulous day. While only 10 km from the visitors area to Big Bend walkers campground, hikers rack up more kilometres with the many side trips on offer.  You don’t want to miss the side trips. We dumped our packs several times to head in and explore the cool, damp lushness of the Moss Garden, the remarkable, ‘washing machine spun’ hollows of the amphitheatre, the dark, protected cavern of Ward’s Canyon and the impressive Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave — both display striking examples of aboriginal rock art; poignant reminders of the heritage of the land.

Day two is when the real fun begins. Firstly, there are no more tourists. just you, your walking buddy and nature. Secondly, hikers experience tremendous diversity over the course of the day. It begins with a walk over a boulder strewn dry creek up a small gorge followed by a scramble up an almost vertical 200 metre gully.  Yes, scramble.  I don’t normally like this sort of thing but it was immensely gratifying once I got the measure of how my 17 kilogram backpack balanced while I was on all fours grabbing onto tree roots, laying away off cliff walls and hauling myself up. It might not have been an elegantly executed ascent but it was enjoyable.  Above, the landscape changes. You are out of the gorge and heading for higher ground. There had been some back burning prior to our hike and the land was blackened, open to the sun and hot.  There are ladders to climb, narrow tracks to follow and a scree slope to negotiate as one heads for the top of Battleship Spur, over a 1000 metres above sea level,  where the view of the gorge below is gobsmacking and the weariness slips away.  The trail continues along a long grassy plateau where, if you are lucky, you’ll see wild Emus running about.  Making camp my mind wandered to the past and images of stockmen herding cattle and making camp, on that very spot, played like a movie behind my eyes.  Gadd’s walkers camp is on an open plain and is a stunning platform from which to watch the sun sink behind the trees and marvel as the sky pricks with thousands and thousands of tiny lights.

I found day 3 tedious. Compared to the previous days it was more desolate and less diverse.  It was exposed and followed dusty, sandy trails.  On reaching the top of a particularly steep uphill section there is a magnificent view of Battleship Spur and the gorge in the distance. The vantage point provided an opportunity to witness how far we’d walked.  It is possible to find shade in spots to rest and revive. A highlight is the suspension bridge that leads to the campsite. There were a number of Kookaburras around camp which came close enough for us to enjoy their proud demeanour.  The river was dry and so we were lulled to sleep by the swish of the wind, high in the trees, rather than gently cascading water.

Day four I imagine will be a favourite for many hikers as they wander through the stunning Mahogany forest. While eating breakfast we were alerted to the flight of red-tailed black cockatoos by their less than melodic screeching. A good signal to start walking. It is hard to describe the Mahogany forest. It’s peaceful, lush, cool and moist.  The trees, silvertop stringy barks, soar overhead while ferns and smaller plants grow below. We decided to throw down a tarp, lie down and take in the splendour around us for an hour. Arriving early to a bush oasis campsite allowed plenty of time for reading and relaxing. A note to potential hikers; you do need to carry toilet paper and a small shovel as a couple of campsites do not have toilets provided.

Day five is a very short day at only 13.8 kilometres and it is tempting to join it to the last day and hike out. It is possible to rise early and make the 29 kilometre hike back to the visitors centre and while I sat reading during the afternoon I felt perhaps we should still be walking. In the end, my love of nature and being away from civilisation supported sticking to the original plan.  Savouring the experience is better than belting out big kilometres and missing the landscape. The track to Cabbage Tree campsite wound through an area of grass trees with towering spikes. They looked like sentinels standing aloft.  It was fascinating and another display of the diversity this walk has to offer.

Having survived a wild and windy night with a significant rainfall we woke to a splendid, misty morning for our descent. From the tableland the trail leads close to the edge of the plateau. There are striking views and if you are lucky you’ll  see large falcons gliding the thermals. Falcons are just one of 173 species of birds in the park. The birdsong along the whole walk is delightful.

The descent is steep in sections, though it’s not all downhill, apparently you have to go up to go down. Wild dingoes can be heard howling in the distance (distance, being the operative and preferred word here).  All too soon signs of the outside world begin reappearing. In the last two kilometres there is a  side-track which leads to a lookout, with views over the mouth of Carnarvon Gorge. It is a popular day walk from the visitors area below. Despite the ‘traffic’ on the trail it is a pleasant ending to an enjoyable walk. The track descends through woodland to Carnarvon Creek and is very distinct with stone steps and a few short ladders.

The Carnarvon Great Walk is the perfect winter hike. It is closed between November and February, the hottest part of our summers.  We walked in the middle of winter and wore short-sleeved t-shirts each day and only donned a jacket in the evenings and early morning on rising.  There are bores or tanks at each campsite as running water is not guaranteed.  All water should be treated before consumption. A hat is a must and a long-sleeved shirt for the open sections will protect you from the sun’s biting rays. It is recommended hikers have experience and be self-sufficient to complete the Great Walk.

We drove from Brisbane to Carnarvon, about a 9 hour drive.  You could fly to Roma and hire a car.  I haven’t investigated tours though we did see tour buses so that could be an option also.  Families love the two camp sites; one for caravans and one for tents, at the base of the gorge.  There are cute little cabins for rent also. There is much to see and explore and something for everyone.

It’s a happy place, even the trees smile

 

Is it a plant or an animal – exploring Queensland rainforests

Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he’s a fungi!
Louis Tomlinson

Rainforests are magical places. There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell. There are giant trees, twisting and looping vines, melodic birds, dank soil, tumbling waterfalls, and rough, fuzzy, hairy bark along side smooth and mossy rocks. Another feature of rainforests that deserves some attention are organisms that are often overlooked. Fungi.

Fungi are fascinating. Being neither plant nor animal, despite sharing some properties common to both, they are recognised in a kingdom all of their own. There are five kingdoms used for classification of organisms: Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Monera (bacteria), Protista (unicellular organisms). Unlike plants fungi do not photosynthesise. Having no chlorophyll they can’t convert sunlight into food. Being unable to produce their own food like other plants they scavenge it, like animals. Another trait shared with animals, or more correctly insects, is the existence of chitin in their cell walls.

Fungi’s role in the rainforest while not terribly glamorous is functional. Fungi recycle and decompose material. Many people don’t realise that the soil in rainforests is quite poor. To ensure rainforests continue to grow in this poor soil fungi break down organic material allowing nutrients to become available to plants for growth. These tiny fungi enable the huge trees to live. Now that’s pretty cool.

To be accurate, there are three basic types of fungi that feed off dead or living flora and fauna. There are Saptrotrophs that break down animal and plant remains so nutrients can be released and taken up by new living plants and animals. Parasitic fungi, on the other hand, attack living tissues and divert their resources to their own use. Mutualists digest wood to help other rainforest beings such as insects and help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. Not glamorous but definitely functional and way cool!

The dampness of the rainforest is essential, as some fungi need it to pump up their cells to keep their shape. Stronger fungi don’t need water for their form but to grow they require a high concentration of water in the wood they digest.

Have you ever hiked in a rainforest or national park and been required to dip and scrub your boots? Often this is because of the way fungi reproduce. They produce large numbers spores; some fungi release up to 200 million spores an hour. These spores are tiny and once discharged can travel huge distances. They are mostly distributed by wind but in the rainforest, the spores of many fungi are eaten and dispersed by insects and animals. Humans are animals. The grooves of hiking boots can carry many spores from place to place and be deposited when the caked on soil dries and falls out. Unwanted or troublesome strains of fungi spore can easily and inadvertently be transported this way.

Of huge importance is that rainforest fungi are not for human consumption. My best advice is to never eat fungi; many varieties can be toxic or fatal to humans. Leave the slugs, snails, cassowaries, rat kangaroos and insects to feast on fungi. Eat your trail mix instead.

Next time you are in the rainforest explore the small magic; look down, pay attention to the fallen trees and stumps. Enjoy the shape and the colour and the arrangement of the fungi on display. They play a vital role in our rainforests.

If you are not quite convinced, I leave you with some fun fungi facts.

  • Without fungi, dead plant material such as leaves, twigs and logs would pile up on the forest floor to form a massive heap as high as the canopy.
  • Some fungi glow in the dark.
  • It is possible there are more fungi than plants or animals.
  • One individual fungus of the species Armillaria bulbosa covers an area of 15 hectares. It weighs an estimated100 tonnes (the same as an adult blue whale), and is thought to be over 1500 years old.

Walk the Australian Alps with me

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

Okay – we don’t have Alps in Australia like Europe but we do have a beautiful Alpine area in Victoria that is the backdrop for a sensational new walk aptly called the Great Alpine Walk. It’s a 655km one way walk beginning at Walhalla and ending near Canberra.  It is estimated to take approximately 5-8 weeks to complete and is graded 4-5, which recommends moderate to experienced bushwalking experience as there are some sections that are unmarked, rough or very steep.

The walk extends across diverse landscapes of forest, alpine grassland, ridges, high plains and, in the right season, snow-capped mountains. It’s a walk full of history. The Australian Alps is the traditional Country of the Bidawal, Dhudhuroa, Gunaikurnai, Jaithmathang, Taungurong and Nindi-Ngudjam Ngarigu Monero peoples and is very precious indeed. There is evidence of white pioneering cattlemen’s huts, logging and the Hydro Electric Power Scheme along the way.

Over use has damaged the sensitive ecosystem of the high plains and for many years conservationists lobbied to preserve the area as national park.  Finally in 1989 a number of small national parks were joined to create the larger Alpine National Park to protect the fragile landscape, flora and fauna.

Over the Christmas New Year period I hiked the iconic Falls Creek to Mt Hotham section of the trail with my beloved.  What better way to welcome in the New Year than in the wilderness, breathing in the fresh air, sleeping under the stars with only the essentials at hand?

This section of the trail is a three-day 37km crossing which links the Alpine resort villages of Falls Creek and Mt Hotham. It’s a very achievable walk and does not require much bushwalking experience. Hikers are rewarded with stunningly picturesque views from the high plains, the breathtaking ambiance of the snow gum forests and the beauty of plains quilted with wildflowers.  Some of the flat lands reminded me of walking in the low-lying wetlands of Dartmoor and the heather moors of Scotland, with the woody heath like shrubs in abundance. I definitely felt comfortable and at home here.

Just a word of advice – sunscreen up; even if it is overcast. The sun on the high plains is strong as are the winds. On day two of the hike there isn’t much shelter to be had so being protected from the elements is important. Don’t think there’ll be a nice rock or tree to pull up under for a lunch break either.  Up there just find a nice dry spot to plonk down and enjoy the expansive landscape.

The two campsites are completely different in their magnificence. Cope Hut campsite is set amongst the snowgums on the Bogong High Plains and near the first hut in the area purpose-built for tourists. In bad weather hikers shelter in the hut, which is actually quite spacious and relatively comfortable. We luxuriated on New year’s eve under a majestic tree, looking out over the blue hued landscape dotted with skeleton like trees – snow-white and bare of foliage. From our perch (all campsites are on platforms, we rose to a glorious day and drank in the beauty that lay before us . Dibbins Hut campsite was reached by a long decent onto a snow grass plain.  We felt very sheltered here surrounded by mountains.  Our afternoon was spent in the shade by the creek fed by the Cobungra River looking across the plains at the grass swaying in the afternoon breeze. It was a very peaceful and as luck would have it we were joined only by one other couple.

A permit is required to camp at campsites and sites are allocated on booking. Each campsite has a drop toilet and we were grateful we’d taken our own loo paper with us.  Water can be collected at the tank at Cope Hut and from the stream at Dibbins.  We always sterilise water before drinking.

The Falls Creek to Mt Hotham walk can be walked in either direction though all the literature we read from Victorian Parks suggested the direction we did it.  There’s a small problem following this advice though. There is a lack of transfer options in summer. Most hikers on the track began (parked their car) at Falls Creek and caught the shuttle, that runs only on Saturday in summer, over to Hotham. Another couple did a four hour car shuttle prior to beginning the walk so they had a car at the start and end of the walk. Wanting to choose the date we began and the direction we walked only one option was open to us, it was a pretty expensive option but where there’s a will, there’s  always a way.  We drove to Hotham and had Brian from the Mt Beauty taxi service collect us and drive us back to Falls Creek. It’s a definite benefit in having your own transport at the end of a walk.

There is so much to discover on this walk.  While I am always delighted by new landscapes, flora and fauna the touch of history was an additional bonus I hadn’t expected. Inspecting the pioneering huts and reading some of the information boards in the early section of the walk was enlightening and added a whole different perspective to my time there. If you plan on going be aware that accessibility is between November and April.  Perhaps if you are a cross-country skier you’d make the crossing in the winter months.

For a sense of what the walk is like, check out the video my beloved made of our time there.  Enjoy!

Visiting the heart of my country

“Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

                                                                       Karin Schuett

I’ve been struggling to put into words the beauty, the majesty, the wonder I experienced on a recent trip to the heart of my country.  I can’t seem to find the right words to describe how I felt, what I saw, heard and touched. My beloved and I often found ourselves in tears at various times such was the all-encompassing  nature of our experience. It’s all locked inside me, I feel it immensely in my very being but can’t quite describe it.

A wise friend of mine summed up my lack of words very aptly when she said that “Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

I cannot profess to understand how the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, feel about their land, but if what I feel is even a tiny bit similar I have a deeper and more profound respect for them, their culture and the land they love so very much.  This place is more than just land, it is a living place, a special and sacred place, a place to be protected and a place to be honoured by all.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are World Heritage areas for both cultural and natural values. The listing of the park in 1994 for its cultural landscape honours the traditional beliefs and recognises it as one of the oldest human societies on earth. Anangu culture is strong and alive today.

Uluru draws millions of visitors a year.  The rock is a sacred monument, one can feel it’s power on approach.  My beloved and I chose to walk the circumference of the rock, a three hour walk of approximately 10.2 kiometres. What an awe-inspiring experience. Every angle, every step was so very different.  The diversity of plant life around the rock, the features of the rock and the bird life were stunning.  We especially enjoyed learning about the ancient beings who shaped the landscape as we walked.  I remember, many years ago, an aboriginal elder told me that wherever I go in this country to ask myself whose footprints I walk in.  This advice has followed me on every journey I make around my country and was especially poignant on my walk around Uluru and then later Kata Tjuta.

Our journey into one of the most astonishing landscapes in the world continued with a visit to Kata Tjuta. This landform is about 50 kilometres from Uluru and again it is a sacred site. Visitors are reminded to be respectful and to stay on the tracks provided.  We enjoyed two walks here; the Valley of the Winds walk; a spectacular steep and rocky walk in places that took us into valleys and creek beds, the views along the way were breathtaking; and the Walpa Gorge walk, a short walk in comparison.  The gorge is like a sanctuary.  It was a cool place between high russet walls ending at a stream. The plant life was rich and varied. Again, we enjoyed learning about the ancient traditions, the significance of the area, the qualities of the plants and how they were used.

More than ever, I have come away with the certainty and conviction that we are all responsible for looking after the land upon which we live. I thank the Anangu people for the privilege and honour of visiting their land.

Hiking the Larapinta

DSC00735

Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir

My beloved and I recently spent six days hiking on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, Australia.  I sat just now with the intention of sharing the experience with you but I’m stuck. All that will come is a factual account as the words escape me to explain the experience that is locked away, savouring and maturing in my heart, mind and body. It was a walk of some enormity, not in days, or distance necessarily but in awe. Awe for my country, awe for the man I was walking with (my life partner), awe that I, without much preparation, managed to walk with enjoyment and relative ease. It was a time of reconnecting; with each other, our individual selves and with nature. It was an immeasurably personal, spiritual and sacred time that I don’t feel I can justly explain.  I’ll  see if I can share a little of what the hike was like and perhaps my words will unlock and tumble forth as I go.

Part of the Larapinta trail was established in the 1990s, with an extension added around 2002. More recent changes and upgrades have been made in the last several years, so it is one of the newest and very popular long walks in Australia. In its entirety it is 223 km and follows the West MacDonald Ranges. There are twelve sections so hikers can choose to walk the length of the track or sections of the track as time permits. We had six days so we walked three sections from Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm. There are no hiking fees though some camp grounds do have a small fee, making this one of the most affordable walks I’ve done.

We carried food for six days, though food drops can be arranged at several key junctures for those walking further; a handy service considering the weight of packs. My beloved carried our tent, gas stove and majority of our water with a pack weighing over 25 kilograms, mine was about 19- 20 kilos at the outset, though joyously lightened with each meal. Water was plentiful on the track. Tanks were available at each trailhead, though between trailheads we carried at least 8 litres a day. Water sterilisation is strongly advised as the water may be sourced from bores in the drier months. The water we came across in creeks and gullies was not terribly inviting and during the warmer months when there is little rain there would be a tremendous shortage of drinkable natural water.

We walked in our winter, June/ July, the best time for an arid zone hike. The temperatures were around 20 to 22 degrees during the day but my goodness that sun had some sting in it. I cannot imagine the heat in the hotter months, it must be debilitating. We drank litres of water a day and were always grateful for the shade of a tree or rock or a cool breeze during our rest stops. A hat and sunscreen are essential, a long sleeved shirt is advised. I’m used to walking in humidity here in Australia so the dry air was a change and this too necessitated the intake of large quantities of water for hydration. At night the temperatures plunged to single digits, between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius so thermals and down jackets came out around camp.

Each section of the walk was breathtaking; the landscape and its features, the rock, the plants, the colours. We were mesmerised. There had been an unseasonal amount of rain in recent times and so the landscape was green. Where I had envisioned a red and raw earth, stripped of vegetation, we were instead rewarded with an arid kind of lushness. Many wild flowers were in bloom. The colours of these beauties were yellow, green, purple, white and red. Even the leaves of the trees and bushes were stunning in their many shades of green from silver grey through to army green. We crossed plains, hiked up and across saddles, climbed bluffs and plodded down gorges. Many waded through water in creeks, some waist deep, but we managed to find paths around and once we scrambled over gorge walls to avoid an early morning dip in very cool waters.

We camped in some beautiful spots. Ellery Creek campground is accessible by vehicles and so we discovered many family groups with caravans and RVs as well as a few bike riders and a couple of other walkers. Our second night was quiet by comparison. Rocky Gully was a little flat spot hidden away along, well, a rocky gully. We were one of three small groups that night. Here we met a family of three who were walking the same sections of the trail as us, in the same time as us. Day three saw us arrive at Hugh Gorge camp site. This one too was accessible by vehicle but there were only our trail buddies and us for the evening. My beloved and I made our camp on the sandy banks of a dry creek bed where we could look up at the walls of the gorge we were to travel through the next day. Fringe Lily campsite was one of my favourites. On arrival our trail buddies warned us there was a party of women bathing naked in the creek. Avoiding them my beloved trekked further down the gorge, and I mean much further. After a day of walking I wondered why he was adding another several kilometres to the tally and why we were scrambling over rocks and traversing rocky shelves but when I saw what he had discovered I was pretty impressed. Our camp was a secluded spot on a sandy creek bed with high rock walls on one side and rolling hills on the other. We enjoyed watching the reflection of the sunset in a shallow pool nearby. It was an oasis in the desert. On day four we arrive tired and hot at Birthday Waterhole. We did not camp at the waterhole but instead in the allocated campground with just our family of three to share with. Our plot was surrounded by a grove of trees and we were close to the many birds who sang us into the evening and heralded the next day. Our final camp, on top of Brinkley Bluff, had panoramic views.  After making camp quite early we sat with tea in hand and absorbed vast and beautiful landscape before us. We’d found a little sheltered wall to tuck into and couldn’t have been more pleased. It is hard to say if one place was nicer than the others, all were unique and endearing in their own particular way. I love the sense of ease that comes with pitching a tent and cooking on a portable stove.

John Muir says it best, in every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks. This walker is still processing, nurturing and treasuring the experience. I am filled with the joy of sharing every step of this journey with my beloved. I am filled with the sacredness and spirit of my country. I am filled with the wonder of adventure. This experience is so firmly held in the chambers of my heart, in the recesses of my mind and in the fluid movements of my body that I have no need of words to reflect and recall for myself. But as I hoped to share my adventure with you, perhaps, since words fail me, my photographs can explain some of the magnificence of what I experienced, so you too can share the wonders of the Larapinta Trail.

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