15 October 2016
0400 wake up. Howling gale, a southerly. I wanna ride south. Stand in the large dusty carpark and feel the blast, laced with dust. The trimmed stout eucalyptus trees are bending to the wind. No way am gonna take that on. Back to bed.
0600. Slight hint of wind. Amazing what two hours’ difference makes.
0745. On the road. The four-trailered mining roadtrains head east almost immediately after Auski, but other behemoths remain just not so frequently.
Climbing day. All day up into the Hammersley Range. Gradient pretty mild with just one section pushing 8%. Even with the mild headwind am doing ok.
Stunning scenery, the colours vivid, the landscape harsh. Tough place.
Thirty-six kilometres further on turn west on Karajini Drive, wind now almost a tailwind. Fly along.
Am on the plateau of the Hammersley Range. Road fast and good lightly trafficked though the odd roadtrain still trundles past supply Tom Price 100 km further up. Thirty kilometres done in good time, though the wind decided to get sneaky and swing around to a westerly.
Fortunately I turn north into Karajini National Park and the wind is again a cross-tail. Eight kilometres further I turn east towards Dales Gorge Campsite. Dales Gorge is only seventeen crow-flying kilometres from Auski. Unfortunately neither Dreamer nor I are much good at being crows. It takes us eighty-four kilometres to go around the long way.
The visitors centre is two kilometres deeper into Karajini than the Dales Gorge turnoff. When I head towards west Karajini I’ll check it out but not today. Eleven kilometres later I’m in the office of the volunteer campground host seeking a shady spot for Dreamer, Zi-Biddi, Soulo and myself.
The woman oohs and aahs as she scrutinises her map of the grounds and table of occupiers.
We make a deal, seeing as I’m on a bike and only a cyclist really knows what a cyclist really needs. I’ll go check out the Kangaroo Loop camping area and get back to her on where I end up and we’ll settle the cost then. I ask about water. A guilty silence.
“There’s the water tank” she tells me tentatively hesitantly. “Near the Visitors Centre.” I do the math in my head. “That’s like twenty kilometres return” “Ah, yes.” “That’s the closest water?” “Ah, yes”. She does give me a cold bottle of water for my electrolyte hydration needs. And points out the window to a small brown tank fifty metres away. “The previous Host left that tank. He used it for water. You can check if there’s any water left in there” I’m told. “What about in the gorge? Fortescue Falls for example.” “Yes, there’s water” again hesitantly “but you’d have to carry your water all the way up those steps” clearly put out by the idea. She’s probably twenty years my senior and lots of steps and lugging water would be off-putting. I, being a desperate cyclist, have few depths I won’t delve into for a water supply. Let’s see about the odd brown tank outback first.
I end up finding a good flat clear camping spot behind bay fifty where mulga bushes offer good shade pretty much all day. I return to the campground Host and tell her where I am. Since I’m not actually on bay fifty my camping fee is waivered too. Insignificance definitely has its benefits, though I’m sure I’ll end up with a Happy Camper and their 4WD in bay fifty.
Armed with both the MSR and the Sea to Summit six litre water bladders plus assorted bottles I rather apprehensively approach The Tank. I look inside. Plenty of water although it’s about a fifth full. A few dead moths on the top, a bit of debris on the bottom. Tastes great. I fill up all bladders and bottles and are pretty much done when a vehicle pulls up and grizzly old dude with Ranger emblazoned all over his lapelled long sleeved shirt gets out rather inquisitively: “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.” Australians as a race tend to be a lot more paranoid than the foreigners who travel in it. “It’s bore water!” as if that’s the ultimate sin of water supplies. “And it’s been standing in that tank for months and before that in another tank for months”. Paranoia is infectious. I wonder …
“Tastes great” I say. “Bore water’s fine. Although, if it’s been standing for months … “ “In the heat and sun” he interjects. “What made you think you could just help yourself?” he asks with a stern accusatory look in his eye. “I didn’t ‘just help myself’” I reply evenly. “The Hosts” indicating the building fifty meters away “told me I could use this water if I think it good enough.” He glowers at the building for a moment before softening, “Well, I still wouldn’t drink it” “Where can I get some water around here?” “Well, there’s the Water Tank …“ but he lets that trail off “ … though I guess that’s not much use to you.” “What about from the gorges, Fortescue for instance?” “Pretty scungy” “Fern Pool?” “It’s got three hundred fruit bats hanging over it” letting me figure out what that means. I’m getting a bit exasperated by Mr Morose Pessimistic, finding him hard work.
“I can give you some water” he suddenly says “UV treated rainwater” “I need about fifteen litres, for a couple of nights, days’ hiking and the ride out” “I’ve got about five or so I can give you” and pulls out a plastic container with about seven litres in it. He gives it all to me. Back to the tank. “I wouldn’t drink it unless you boil it first” “I’ve got a purification system” I tell him, “and I’ve drunk a L O T of bore water riding around Australia. Some great, some not so good, but all really great when it’s hot and I’m thirsty.” “You’ve probably got a cast iron stomach by now” he reasons. “Yeah, I’ve probably got a cast iron stomach by now” I say with real meaning.
Eventually he leaves me in peace. I return to the tank and patiently filter nearly ten litres using my Platypus Gravityworks system. No harm in being careful.
Back at camp I leave the water bladders and bottle and head down to Fortescue Falls for a late afternoon swim. There are a lot of stairs leading to the falls. The water is not the clearest although it is flowing with a delightful waterfall cascading over the horizontal layers of the Hammersley Range quartzites. I would have had to filter it. Am quite happy to have made do with The Tank and Mr Morose Pessimistic’s UV treated rainwater.
I return as it’s going to get dark pretty soon and dinner needs to be made. Sure enough a Nissan Navara with rooftop tent is in Bay fifty and a bunch of people are sitting around a table bedecked with snacks and goodies. There’s no easy way for me to get past them to my tent.
Be grumpy or be nice? What’s my strategy? No point in being grumpy in truth, won’t make ‘em go away. Their site has been allocated them by the campground Host whose infinite wisdom has decided I should have neighbours plonked pretty much right on top of me. A dome tent is off to one side and in bay forty-nine is a Troopy also with a rooftop tent. Everyone’s at Bay fifty though. Busy place.
I go for Be Nice and are invited to join them. I eat their snacks, enjoy their company, tell a few tales and answer a few questions. Fay and Sam own the Nivara. The Dome tent belongs to Annelli, from Estonia, and Sofie, from Finland who are hitchhikers picked up by Fay and Sam. I can’t remember the names of the Troopy couple. They are all pretty young, with Annelli and Sofie in their early twenties, the rest are Australians no older than mid-thirties. Nice people.
It’s pitch-black and I’m hungry. I excuse myself and set about making dinner. Later as I’m chilling in my Soulo Sam comes up and asks if care to join them in exploring some of the gorges in western Karajini. This could save me quite some effort, especially as they are interested in checking out Kalamina and Weano Gorges. Both at the end of long one-way dirt tracks. A good day’s travel saved. Yup, I’m happy to join them I tell Sam.
16 October 2016
We pile into the Navara and take on Banjima Drive. It has a reputation. Not a good one. It deserves its reputation for it is well corrugated and gravely. Doable, but it would be slow. The six kilometres of track to Kalamina Gorge isn’t any better and has a nice steep hill at least eight percent if not more. I’m glad am in a car and not facing this on Dreamer, especially as I would have been fully loaded. Although I had the idea to leave Zi-Biddi and most of my panniers hidden at the start of the road it still would have been quite a ride.
It’s about a kilometre and a half’s walk from the carpark down into the gorge then along the gorge’s base to where the intrepid walker can walk no longer.
Visually stunning. I’m not used to groups but it’s kinda fun. Nice to share the experience with others and see the gorge through their eyes. On the way we encounter a large perenti goanna. The perenti is Australia’s largest lizard and one of the largest in the world. Ours is an adult but not one of the giants. It remains cautious and still as we look at it and snap the odd photo. It does not let me get too close and each time I approach it it moves off keeping a safe distance. It’s the first large goanna I’ve seen in the ‘wild’ except for the sand goanna on the Cobourg Peninsular in Arnhem Land. All the other large goannas I’ve seen have been at caravan parks, like the one at Auski.
The trail ends at a wide shallow pool. The only way forward is to wade across to the other side and see how far that goes. There’s a certain hesitancy about doing this. I leave my backpack and sandals at the end of the trail and cautiously step into the water.
The flat rocks have a fine layer of algae all over them and they are very slippery. Careful management of slipping and sliding later I get across. Perhaps one hundred meters downstream the trail ends again in a shallow-ish pool of water abutting steep cliffs. I’ve a waterproof camera and board-shorts on. The very worst that can happen is I get a dunking from losing my footing. Carefully I step into the water which is almost hip deep and make my way around the cliff. On the other side is another short section where the intrepid can clamber over broken rocks, fallen trees, the odd grassy bit until finally it is not possible without great effort to continue. The gorge widens out here and there’s not much incentive to push forward.
Instead I decide, since I’m not alone the pool is quite deep to try walking out on one of the trees which jut out over the water. First I try a dead one. It’s quite narrow and after nearly ten metres I realise I may just have pushed my luck a bit too far. The trunk narrows, is wobbling quite a bit. There’s nothing to hold onto for stability.
Now what? Can’t walk backwards. Turning around is going to push my balance and agility to levels I’ve not attempted for years. The dead tree has a number of sharp protrusions which used to be branches making placing my feet difficult.
Calm down, relax, (re)gain control. Slowly but surely. Otherwise … a dunking it shall be.
I deliberately start deep relaxing breathing to calm my nerves and very carefully turn my feet a bit at a time, slowly rotating myself until I face the way I came. That done, all I need to do now is walk back.
Safely on the bank again I try the next trunk. Larger, living, it has thin branches which I’m sure won’t support my weight but should aid as a balance support. Works fine. I take a few photos and selfies, make my way back to where I must go around the cliff. The others have all crossed the first pool but have decided against the wade around the cliff.
They are all sitting on the rocks under a rock-window, enjoying the moment.
Fifteen minutes later we begin the walk back to the car.
Weano Gorge next. As the Navara takes on the incline on the way back to Banjima Drive I again count my blessings and upgrade it to a ten percenter. A rocky gravely ten percenter.
Banjima Drive turns into asphalt which lasts until just before the Karajini Eco Retreat campsite which lies on the road to Weano. Four gorges come together here: Weano, Hancock, Joffre and Red Gorges. The main walks include a two kilometre walk to Handrail Gorge along Weano Gorge, so named coz the intrepid must use a handrail for the final bit. And a walk down some ladders into Handcock gorge then past the Amphitheatre, Spider Walk until Kermits Pool. Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts complete the attractions.
I am again glad to be snug in the back of the Navara as again there are some pretty steep and nasty inclines as well as the usual poor quality National Park gravel road. This time it’s fourteen kilometres from the turnoff to the gorges. Quite a ride if by touring bike.
The group opts to take the long way down into Weano Gorge, heading for handrail pool. Which is again but a kilometre or so, with a short cut back to the top.
Another spectacular walk. Indeed there is handrail to help people down to the small amphitheatre at Handrail Pool. The pool itself is perhaps ten metres wide and on the green side. There’s not much enthusiasm for a swim. I ask the group “Who’s keen to go first?” only to receive an answer from someone else entirely who answers “The person who asks the question”. Hmmm …
I’m tempted. I’d like to see what down the canyon across the pool and the only way to find out is to swim across.
As I contemplate the water a large splash alerts me that the guy who answered me has taken the plunge. That settles it. I remove my top and sandals, take a good grip on my Olympus Tough and hit the water.
Another joins us and we gaze down the canyon where it narrows to a thin strip of water all but obscured by towering cliffs. I pick my way over a jumble of rocks towards and see a small monitor lizard splayed out on a rock sunning itself. Warily it watches me approach and snap a few photos before I succeed in catching the poor bugger. It doesn’t think much of this and bites me as best it can.
Unlike its larger cousins it hasn’t quite got the teeth to pull off a heroic David verse Goliath act. My fellow canyon explorers are from Germany and never been this close to a monitor before. After a few pats and touches and some more photos I let it go. One of the dudes comments that it’ll go back home with tales of giants which will be largely ridiculed and debunked. “No, I’m serious” the monitor will say, “They are real”.
The water is a lot clearer than the green pool behind us and a lot, lot colder. I doubt it gets much if any sun. Only one of the Germans continues with me and we swim perhaps forty meters along a narrow canyon aiming for a patch of bright light on the far side.
The canyon widens out into a small silo and we clamber onto the rocks. My blood has thinned since being in Australia. I’ve goosebumps all over me, shivering from the cold. Parks and Wildlife have erected a short chain with a No Access sign hanging off it. No explanation either. A small trickle of water follows another narrow canyon to another pool about ten meters away. It’s just a bit too tempting. Though I am concerned as to why they don’t want us to proceed. These narrow winding canyons would be a nasty place to slip and sustain an injury requiring emergency services to rescue someone. Conrad’s looking at me.
He’s eager so I proceed with caution and make my way towards the pool. The narrow canyon discharges over a two or three metre drop into a shallow pool. It’s not the easiest place to enter and clamber around but it’s also not that difficult or dangerous either. We crawl out and to our right along the edge of the silo until we can stand. There’s but a short climb and we can continue along a series of narrow ledges following yet another narrow canyon where the water from the pool runs. Eventually though we reach a point where we’d have to do some more difficult climbing to get down to the canyon floor which has widen appreciably, is bathed in sun and largely dry.
Conrad’s pretty ecstatic of our achievements. Apparently he’s scared of heights. This kind of activity helps address this fear and his enthusiasm is infectious. We laugh and high five and start our way back.
Back at Handrail Pool I am not surprised to find my companions have moved on. They’ve left me a note telling me they are taking the short-cut to Hancock Gorge and Kermits Pool. Saying bye to Conrad I make my back up the canyon find the steps of the short cup, reach the top, find the path to Hancock Gorge and chase after my companions.
As with every gorge there are a bunch of steps and steep paths and even a bit of clambering before I’m wandering past the Amphitheatre until I reach the Spiders Walk. Here the water occupies the entire base of the canyon. It looks like a swim to me. Another tourist points to a couple of young dudes on the side of the canyon. They are climbing through the canyon I’m told. If they can do it, so can I.
The ledges are much narrower than those Conrad and I had dealt with at Handrail Pool. It’s a matter of being sure of where I put my foot. The rocks are siliceous, metamorphosed. It means they polish up beautifully into a nice glossy sheen. It also means they are smooth. And slippery. Add water and the rocks are like ice. Care is definitely needed.
Still, it’s quit fun to rock-hop over them and pretend I’m a mountain goat. Spiders Walk behind me I follow the canyon, now only twenty-thirty centimetres wide rising in a tight V for tens of metres. Very impressive. It widens again leading towards a pool and this time I am actually apprehensive of my footing to go around the pool to its far side. Other people simply swim through it. If I did not have my wallet in my Osprey rucksack I would too for there is nothing else which would be troubled by getting wet. But I make it.
Another chain, another No Access sign. This time there is a collection of about eight people wearing odd fetish attire: round helmets, black thin neoprene clothing, rubber climbing shoes, belts with oodles of climbing ropes, carabiners, strange pieces of metal. Definitely lost in their own world, they are abseilers. This time I will not be going past the No Access sign. Even if the abseilers were not here, it doesn’t look doable.
And, the real problem? My companions are not here. There’s no way I could have missed them in the narrowness of the canyons. Must have been and gone I surmise. But to where?
Nothing for it. Back track, return to the surface and see if they are there.
Clamber back along the wall with its very narrow ledges past Kermits Pool, and are making my towards Spiders Walk when I meet the woman from the Troopy in a bikini. I didn’t quite recognise her, but fortunately she did me. The rest are coming she reassures me. Seems they had taken a detour to the lookout thinking they still would have time to get down into the gorge before me. They are all quite concerned and apologetic that I got here first, thereby causing me some consternation. Not a problem I point out, I am still in the canyon, they are here and so all good.
She then looks at me, fully dressed with rucksack sandals and clearly dry clothes. They are all stripped to bathers, left all their stuff at the upstream side of Spiders Walk and swam. Imminently sensible approach I mention and wonder why I didn’t do that. Would have addressed quite neatly my apprehensions of clambering the narrow ledges at Kermits Pool.
We all return to Kermits Pool. Which means I have to face my fears multiple times by having to climb around the pool at least another two times. I begin to understand how Conrad must have felt back in Handrail Pool.
Finally, time to go. Annelli’s in front of me picking her way over the various obstacles as we negotiate our way back. At one point the intrepid explorer must manoeuvre themselves up over a large boulder lying in the tight V of the canyon. Annelli is almost there when she slips and comes hurtling backwards. It happens so fast I have no time to react and watch in horror she loses her grip, her hands slipping on the smooth walls of the canyons causing a cascade effect whereby her feet lose their grip too and down she comes. Fortunately the canyon here is really narrow, the base but twenty centimetres with steep V walls. She actually falls against the wall of the canyon and it is her body which slows her fall and again fortunately she falls ass first, back against one wall, legs up and along the other her body conforming to the V, her head well out of impact’s way. At worse she’ll get a bruise on her ass, perhaps her legs and back. At best she may not even make it to the canyon base. But then … I see her extend her right hand down, below her, to do what? Cushion her fall? Stop her fall? Her hand, her wrist? No matter how much I will myself I simply cannot cover the distance and use my body weight to cushion her fall to prevent what I can really see happening … a broken wrist. I see her fingers touch the canyon floor, giving way to her palm as her weight pushes down, her arm straight. Not good Not good I’m thinking. I am waiting to hear the snap and the scream when her ass hits the canyon floor, for the canyon is not flat. It’s sloped. And her ass hits before her wrist fails to arrest her weight.
By now I’m there. Too late to do anything other than calm her, help her up, help find out if she has banged herself badly somewhere. She’s almost but not quite in shock. I get her to control her breathing and tell her not to worry about the others behind us, tell her to take her time, calm down for she still has to climb over that rock. She holds her wrist. No, it doesn’t really hurt, but she feels it. Just in time she stopped. No damage done. I walk really close behind her for the rest of the way until the canyon widens out into a path and all is good. Thank fuck for that, for that was close.
The group decision is to head back to Dales Gorge taking in the lookouts at Joffre and Knox’s Gorges on the way. The difference between a person who travels using their own power and those who use who use vegetation that rotted away hundreds of millions of years ago is that when they are in a lookout gazing down into an expansive gorge with but a few hours left until it’s gonna get dark and dodgy, the self-mover knows how much power and energy they have available to pull off a hike there and back. Whilst the decomposed vegetation user doesn’t. Add to it the effect of growing up in a nanny-state whereby NO! DON’T! seems to be the key message and my companions decide not to hike into either Joffre or Knox Gorge. Whereas I would have.
Fay is driving the Navara back towards Dales Gorge. I am asked about what I found down the gorge after I crossed the Green Pool at Handrail Pool. I tell them. Including the bit about ignoring the NO! DON’T! NO ACCESS! sign and promptly get my ass chewed off by Fay.
“There would be a reason why that No Access! sign would be there” she admonishes me.
“Sure, I agree. ‘They’ put it there for some reason. But I don’t know why and I couldn’t see a reason why. So I ignored it”
The admonishments continue for quite some time. Fay is a medical professional, a Doctor if I remember right. Fear of risk is trained into her psyche. Add then the Australian National Paranoia and she’s firmly convinced all signs all rules must be obeyed. I on the other hand am arguing that all rules must be questioned. History has shown that if we do not question rules and blindly follow them, bad things can happen. I and Conrad both evaluated the situation based on our own individual capabilities and drew the conclusion the No Access! sign is a suggestion, a warning, but that’s all.
Fay does not want the individual to have their own decision making determine what they do and how they do it. Stop smoking, don’t drink too much, avoid casual sex, don’t ride motorbikes, use a (cycling) helmet, don’t go off down narrow canyons. Otherwise you’ll end up depending on some medical professional and The System to rescue your sorry ass.
She paints a very unattractive picture of life in a country whereby The System knows what’s best for you.
I argue that the more the individual is empowered to know their own limitations, capacities and vulnerabilities the more likely they will make informed choices. Not knowing why the No Access! sign is there meant Conrad and I either accept it blindly – and Conrad, being German, knows all too well the pitfalls of ‘following orders – or question it. Once we questioned it we found we could not justify the sign. So we ignored it.
“What if you had injured yourself? It would cost thirty thousand dollars to rescue you!”
“And? They should rescue me. It is what a modern, civilised, well-governed society should do for its citizens”
Annelli’s near brush with serious injury in a ‘authorised’ place which could have required the same rescue effort is somehow downplayed. My point: risk is inherent in life. The best arbitrator of risk is the person going to take that risk. The more informed they are the better risk-management decision they shall make. Simply saying NO! prevents them making an informed decision and thus they may not make the choice they would have had they known their abilities and the magnitude of the risk. They are also put in an intractable decision: blindly follow The Rule. Or break it. Neither is optimal.
It is a disconcerting discussion. Not what I expect from adventurous young people. Are Young Australians really buying into this? I think to myself. Giving up individual empowerment for institutionalised control … “And did they get you to trade … cold comfort for change” so warned Pink Floyd four decades ago.
The collective conversation is muted for the rest of the trip back to camp.
As I’m making dinner, aware that everyone else is making dinner too, a sort of collective feeding imperative, I notice Sam and Fay departing significantly from the norm. For Sam is packing up the Navara. “A bit late to go exploring” I speculate. “We’ve run out of water” replies a somewhat surprised Sam. Ironically we had passed The Tank no less than twice and even stopped there in the morning to dispose of garbage at the garbage trailer which shares the same space. “I’m going to The Tank to get some.” And there you have it, the basis of Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Roads’ policy and planning concerning provision of water supplies in remote regions, and campsites. With an internal combustion engine at his disposal Sam can quite easily drive twelve kilometres fill up his sixty litre tank and return. All within, what, forty minutes. With the basis of their policy being that if a traveller does not have an internal combustion engine at their disposal, well it’s their own damned fault!
Forty minutes later he returns and continues making dinner.
17 October 2016
A mass exodus around 0800 or so sees the Navara and the Troopy, and a bunch of other campers head off leaving me alone in Kangaroo Loop as the temperature rapidly rises. It’s a strangely intimidating sensation, as if I’m the last person on Earth having missed all the rockets transporting people to safety and a dire gruesome end awaits me.
So I go for a hike. The plan is to do the walks around Dales Gorge. A hundred metres from where I’m camped a trail begins which will lead me to the Circular Pool lookout, then the steps down to Circular Pool. After which I can continue two kilometres down the Gorge to Fortescue Falls, where I swam on day one, and on to Fern Pool. I can exit the gorge up the steps at Fortescue Falls and follow the rim walk back to my camp. With swims at Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool, and any pool I find on the way, it promises to be a nice day and I look forward to it.
Superlatives superlatives uperlativess perlativessu erlativessup rlativessupe lativessuper ativessuperl tivessuperla ivessuperlat vessuperlati essuperlativ ssuperlative superlatives … getting the picture?
Aside of the usual Australian Nanny State Avoid Any Possible Litigation Warnings: “Blue Asbestos Risk”, which apparently is “not considered hazardous in its … natural state”, and the rather obvious “Cliff Risk Area”, the view from the Circular Pool Lookout is, well, superlative.
The rocks of the Pilbara Craton are about 2.5 billion years old. Yet the canyons are small if you compare them to the Grand Canyon or the fjords of Norway. Sognefjorden (twice the size of the Grand Canyon, so a Norwegian told me). They are also very narrow in places. I suspect it’s due to the rocks being not only outrageously hard, far harder than the sedimentary rocks of the Grand Canyon, they are also horizontal. Not only is it easier to wear away soft(-ish) rocks it is also much easier to wear them away along their plane. Unfortunately, with horizontal strata the water will have to cut through the hard way. Once through one really tough siliceous layer … it’s got another really touch siliceous layer to cut through. And another. And another, and so on. Would take forever. 2.5 billion years-type forever.
The canyon bottom is characterised by wide expanses of flat surfaces, wide shallow pools, multiple outrageously appealing short waterfalls, vivid green bushes and trees neatly contrasting the reds and browns of the rocks and that amazing blue sky (noticing the adjectives?). It looks like some super Feng Shui Mistress designed it all, not just the rocks and the water but also the fig trees, eucalypts, maiden-hair ferns on the walls, reeds in the water, small fish darting about, abundant bird life, lizards the same colour of the rocks. And let’s not forget that sky and the intensity of the light. Phenomenal.
Whilst The Sites – Circular Pool, Fortescue Pool, Fern Pool – cap it all off in a grand way, I find it impossible to simply walk past and not indulge my senses in the glory of it all.
Circular Pool is another hug silo which the water has somehow managed to gouge out of the rocks before being channelled down the canyon. Fed this time of year by spring water it is as refreshing as it is beautiful.
I’m keen to see if I can find any of the deadly Crocidolite. How wide-spread is it? I’m even more keen to find it’s fossilised form Tigers Eye, perhaps my most favourite rock. Back in the seventies, my family and I were in the area, in Wittenoom Gorge if I remember right – now not quite closed to tourists but tourists are certainly strongly encouraged not to visit – and we are looking for Tigers Eye. A little bored of the fathing around of my parents I sit on a boulder in the gorge and ponder the depth and extent of my boredom. It’s a kid thing. They are on A Mission. What’s The Mission, I ask. Tigers Eye, they explain, we are looking for Tigers Eye. What’s it look like, I ask. Golden, golden brown colour, hard, very pretty, fibrous (I doubt they really used such words, but you get the picture). Would it come in layers sandwiched between other layers? I ask, as I peruse the rock I’m sitting on. Yes, they answer. Why? Well, I think I’m sitting on it.
And I am. Not just a bit. My rock is a good half a metre cubed and it has multiple thick bands of Tigers Eye running through. Took dad quite some effort to haul it out. And I am hooked … wonder why I became a geologist?
There’s a trick to this. If Crocidolite is found in its pre-metamorphosed state, ie: as crocidolite, then it cannot be found in its fossilised state in the same place. It will all be crocidolite. Or Tigers Eye. But not both. It’s a geology thing.
It doesn’t take long to find the first wispy band of crocidolite. In fact it’s pretty pervasive in the walls of the gorge leading away from Circular Pool.
Crocidolite is a good example of how society can change and progress. Back in the day it seemed all so wonderful. Widespread, easy to mine, multiple beneficial uses: insulator, fire retardant, even as a building material. All too good to be true. And it was. People began to die. The miners first. Then other people got the same or similar diseases, Mesothelioma in particular, a cancer caused only by asbestos (http://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestos-caused-diseases.html). Takes almost but not quite forever to develop such diseases, up to fifty years. Took a while to isolate the cause and even longer for the authorities and industry to accept it. It’s a profitable business after all and why should it be shut down coz a few scungy miners die of something exotic. After denial, comes opposition (fight the law suites) and eventually acceptance. The miners won, eventually, although they all died. And asbestos became a by-word for a great idea terrible result. Now of course asbestos is seen as a virulently dangerous material requiring highly specialised experts to remove and dispose of it.
The walk to Fortescue Falls leads me through a broad gorge. I turn right at some point and start to walk upstream towards Fortescue Falls. That leaves the intriguing thought that both Circular Pool’s gorge and Fortescue Falls gorge meet at some point, where I turn right no less, and continue as another gorge. I’ve a burning sense of curiosity about that other gorge. Where’s it go, what’s it like, what would I find? And so on. No track or trail is marked. Hmmm …
Instead I turn right and follow the water past more Feng Shui water features I’d love to replicate in my own home. Not sure what the neighbours might think about sixty-metre-high hard-rock canyon walls mind you, but I’m sure they’d get used to them. Eventually.
If I’m on the path, it’s an adventurous one, I begin to think. Getting narrower and narrower sandwiched between the cliff and the wide pool of water. I can’t see a path on the other side of the gorge so continue, eventually having to climb and clamber along the cliff face to avoid the water. Then I get to a point where I’m going to have to be a monkey or a spider to get across the next bit. A rock climbing friend of mine called me a gorilla when he took me climbing one time, so I know I’m not a monkey, which also precludes being a spider too.
Back track. Find The Path. It’s godda be on the other side of the gorge. One of the benefits of hiking in a gorge in the north of Western Australia is that you don’t really worry about having to wade/swim across gorges – unless you are in the Kimberly where you have to worry about crocodiles. Rather than clamber back the way I came, I lower myself into the water and wade across. All part of the adventure. And sure enough, find the path.
Fortescue Falls remain as pretty as the first time I saw them. Today though I’m after Fern Pool, a little further upstream from Fortescue Falls.
Fern Pool is a delightful tranquil pool well arranged by our Feng Shui Mistress. Huge fig tree dominates the bank under which is a platform and some bench seats. A short set of steps lead to platform on the water with a ladder. It’s a sacred Aboriginal area, for obvious reason. We tourists are encouraged to respect the spirits and treat the pool gently, avoiding loud noises, diving in, splashing around. I can buy into that. Lower myself gently into the water via the ladder and swim around. A bunch of photos later, I’m sitting on a bench enjoying The Moment.
Tourists turn up, backpackers – a term which can be either derogatory: responsible for everything bad like all the garbage and the toilet paper liberally strewn across the Outback, for instance. Or contributively: there was a mini revolt by all people Outback, farmers, station managers, roadhouses, pubs, etc, when the authorities decided backpackers should not receive any tax-breaks from working in Australia and proposed to hit them with a 33% flat-rate tax. If the backpacker labour supply dries up Outback Australia would have to shut down permanently.
My three backpackers dive into the water making a huge splash, hollering when they surface calling out to each other in loud booming voices. Not quite in line with what the Aborigines are hoping from us Infidels. I’m sure loud French is as disturbing as loud English to the spirits. I decide to return to camp. I’ll come back later in the afternoon for another swim.
Oh, I spared a passing thought of Mr Morose Pessimistic Ranger. There are fruit bats hanging around. Not many. The size of the pool and that it is flowing would negate any negative impact such bats have on the overall quality of the water. Funny dude. I’d still filter it though.
The canyon rim walk replicates the gorge walk only sixty or more meters up. I can see the mysterious Other Gorge snaking away north from where Circular Pool’s and Fortescue Fall’s gorges meet. I’m still curious. Cute Ring tailed Dragons scurry over rocks and are almost impossible to see unless they move. Great camouflage. Apparently Cliff Risk is less here for are no warning signs and the intrepid can wander right to the edge of The Void and peer into the gorge tens of metres below. Great.
The cycle of tourism means Kangaroo Loop remains devoid of other tourists. I can’t quite shake my post-apocalyptic feeling that I’m the Last Man On Earth and expect to see Godzilla trundling past at some point.
Tomorrow I head towards Tom Price. There I’ll hire a car and return to ‘do’ Joffre and Knox Gorges, rather than beat myself to death on Banjima Drive.
18 October 2016
Back on the road as the sun comes up. Asphalt riding. I expect a tail wind. Can’t get better. One hundred and nine kilometres to Tom Price.
There’s absolutely no wind as I begin my ride. There’s something ethereal about a perfectly still day especially at dawn. How can a space as vast as the world have no wind? Dunno, but I love it. I can feel the world around me waking up and getting ready for the day, life getting into motion. There’s no traffic. Tourism traffic tends to pick up around 0900. Works traffic about 0800. If I’m well away from tourism infrastructure or a town it can take even longer before they get to me. Today I expect them between 0900 to 1000.
So the world is all mine to enjoy in its stillness with the impending state of motion hovering around waiting its turn.
From one moment to the next I realise I’m racing along over twenty kilometres per hour. The wind, a tail wind, has started.
Mount Bruce dominates the southern horizon, whilst the Hammersley Range dominates to the north. Apparently it’s a four- to six-hour return hike up Mount Bruce. I don’t have this time, so I ride past.
Early afternoon I’m rolling into Tom Price. A mining town Tom Price has that strange sterile sense of organisation which results when you get an engineer to design something social. It’s all very pragmatic. It’s also creepy. Something’s missing. It’s not organic. It’s been planned and arranged on a drawing board and the human element has been omitted. It’s nice, neat, green, got the shops I need and the post office where my parcels are going to arrive. Only the caravan park is four kilometres out of town. Of course it is. Tom Price is a mining town. Why on earth would we want tourists hanging around here? So, the caravan park got built four kilometres away. It’s an example of how the human element has been negated. If the town’s businesses were dependent on tourism dollars, then the caravan park would be within walking distance of them.
I pick up parcel one from the post office. The tire Roz sent me from Perth.
I make my way to the caravan park. Green, large shady trees, decent camp kitchen, swimming pool, toilets and showers very clean, large laundry. A veritable tourist village. And … costs sixteen dollars per unpowered site. Auski, please take note. And … I can camp pretty much anywhere. Meaning I can actually camp under the large trees on the grass even in a powered site. Barn Hill, please take note. I love it!
I reckon I’ll be here for the week I assumed I’d spend crawling around Karajini. Time to relax, indulge, and then set about servicing Dreamer and my gear.
19 October 2016
Avis, Budget, Hertz, Thrifty all rent cars. But not from Tom Price. From Paraburdoo airport, eighty kilometres to the south. I ring them anyway. The cheapest comes in at a minimum of 250$ to rent for a day, including the bus ride there and back (60$), the 4WD – for they will only let you take a 4WD to Karajini, insurance, 25¢ per kilometre after the first free 100 km, not including fuel. I decide to skip the rent the car and visit Karajini plan.
20 October 2016
In the camp kitchen are a trio. An odd trio. A skinny young male with an entire arm tattooed whose legs are so skinny it surprises me they bear even his low weight. A young attractive tall and quite substantial woman who I figure I’d come out the wrong end in a wrestling match. A (slightly) older male of colour who doesn’t look like he’s of Aboriginal descent (South African, grew up Melbourne). They are clearly together, sharing meals, talking. But what’s the connection?
“What are you guys up to?” I ask
“We here raising money for the WAFL” Maddy, the woman replies.
“The waffle?” I ask perplexed.
“Yeah, once a year we go on a fund raising tour for WAFL” Stuart, the young male tells me.
“For a waffle?” I am still perplexed trying to reconcile the imagine of a waffle in my head with fund raising. “How’s that work?”
“We organise a raffle and sell tickets around the State” Maddy again.
“A raffle for a waffle” this is getting worse. Maybe they are on medication. Perhaps the Pilbara air has some therapeutic properties not available in winter Perth. Maybe I should eat out tonight and skip hanging around the camp kitchen.
“Do you know WAFL?” Maddy is finally twigging that I may be on medication, perhaps here for the healthy Pilbara air.
“I know what a waffle is” I replay cautiously. This could go any direction. “You know, about yay big” spreading my hands, well, about a waffle width apart. “And you eat it. Preferably with jam or honey or whipped cream. Popular in Belgium”
They laugh: “WAFL: Western Australian Football League. WAFL!”
Fuck me! WAFL. Of course, and join in the laughter.
I bought two tickets, though I’m not sure what I’d do with a car, 1st Prize, or five thousand dollars worth of household electronics from Rentovision (3rd). Second prize is doable: a romantic weekend with Ram at Cable Beach Resort in Broome. But I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.
23 October 2016
I am troubled still, doubts continue to assail me, something I can’t quite put my finger on. Rolling across a brutal swell, a massive bow slicing turbulent waters into white-spray at hurricane speeds etching tiny holes and lines in the glass of the bridge weakening it eroding it scouring it rendering it opaque, my doubts assail me. Why am I doing this? As temperatures climb. As equipment fails. As manufacturers hide behind corporate policy rather than assist. As vast distances with limited supplies remain. As the Western Australian authorities concerned with National Parks and Road Transport utterly fail to account for a demographic which travels less than twenty kilometres per hour and can’t carry sixty litres of water. Why am I doing this?
Weeks became months which are now years. I remember my excitement when I hit the 1000 kilometres milestone. The first one-thousand-kilometre milestone. Now, now I’ve traversed specific roads exceeding one thousand kilometres. More than one. The number meaningless, just another distance to be calculated using a ‘kilometre-per-day’ coefficient based on a cocktail of surface, terrain, topography, prevailing wind, services. Mix in an alchemist’s pot, add a dash of contingency, another thousand kilometres.
Why am I doing this?
The sheer overwhelming wastefulness of a society without even the most rudimentary of recycling systems. “Too expensive” they claim. Besides it’s “easier to mine more stuff” as they scrutinise their beer bottle for there’s “plenty of it” casually ignorant that Our current ecological footprint stands at three Earths if the entire planet had the same per capita resource efficiency of the Consumer Class of the West – North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Korea and a few other smaller advanced state, and China’s 360 million and growing. If a billion people require three Earths how are we going to satisfy demand if all seven billion of us live with the same resource efficiency? Creative solutions like stockpiling glass, metal cans, plastics, even paper at remote communities, villages and towns until a volume cost effective to transport remain alien to them.
“There’s plenty of resources. In the ground” I’m told. How can they not know? Or realise. Or is it they don’t want to? For to realise is to understand change is necessary. For here change is an anathema. Keep mining that iron ore. Keep mining that coal. Keep sending it overseas. Keep digging to keep sending. Keep using diesel generators to power remote communities under an endless blue sky seared a pale, pale blue from countless megawatts of solar power whilst strong winds blow the dust into every crevice nook and cranny. They use dryers to avoid their washing turning red. Dryers powered by diesel generators whose soundtrack thwarts any sense of the Great Stillness of an Outback night.
Why am I here? The most frustrating thing is not being able to take part in the inevitable change that ultimately shall come. I don’t know how to start, how to begin how to get in. For this is a land where neither political party dares challenge the Oligarchs of fossil fuel dependency, resource industry dominance and animal agriculture requiring land the size of countries on which a normal citizen can be made into a criminal for No Entry Trespassers Prosecuted say the signs. No middle ground exists. Getup:
Vision: GetUp is working towards a thriving democracy in Australia led by the values and hopes of everyday people. We envisage a Fair, Flourishing and Just Australia.
Mission: GetUp gives everyday Australians the chance to make extraordinary impact – online, across the airwaves, and in the streets.
Getup is trying to fill the void. Glory the People prepared to join in civil action to advance causes. Pity the People who need such actions. Given up on their political choices, no middle ground, no Think Tanks, Research Organisations, Not For Profits, the people do a brilliant job. Only, why is it necessary?
Proud are They when They tell me of new laws requiring cars to give a cyclist a meter’s distance when the car travels at less than sixty kilometres an hour and a metre and a half if travelling over sixty kilometres. “See” they are trying to tell me “we ARE progressive!” What country needs a law to tell a driver to not risk the life of another human being? There isn’t a law telling a driver it is illegal to drive over the median line and head on into an oncoming vehicle. The law tells you to not go over the median line ‘unless it’s safe’. But they need a law to keep them from damned near killing a cyclist by driving past at high speed with but centimetres of thin air separating them. The existing law: Do not overtake unless it is safe, is not enough.
I tire of this. This country of people wondrous and friendly, yet callous and unempathetic when behind the wheel of a large automobile, who don’t understand that a People crushed and treated worse than animal for two centuries are not going to ‘snap out of it’ simply coz a law tells the Majority they can no longer discriminate against them overtly, who know in depth their special biodiversity and nature yet don’t want to change any behaviours to ensure its preservation and continuity, who are governed by political elites which no one seems to like and never admit voting for failing to see the relationship between governance and voter preference, who are terrified of foreigners and ‘illegal immigrants’ not seeing them as refugees refusing to acknowledge their own heritage as either children of immigrants or immigrants themselves and not understanding how they were at one time (and arguably are still to some) illegal immigrants to a land they conveniently termed Terra Nullius to justify their occupation and eventual takeover. I see the car coming towards me, on the asphalt, suddenly putting two wheels on the gravel and I know there’s a car juuust about to overtake me picking the gap between me and the oncoming car. Boom! It passes, it’s V8 roaring. Not a care in the world. Certainly not for me.
“Aren’t you scared” They ask “camped out in the bush, on your own? What about snakes, spiders?” No, I answer. The scariest thing I face is traffic. Nothing else frightens me.
Gravel roads may be slower, harder, corrugated dusty loose surface requiring careful driving techniques. But they are safer, the drivers more careful considerate forgiving.
The young ranger in Karajini revelling in a posting she knows is one of the best in the world. Revelling too in the glory and wonderment of the tourists plying her with platitudes of the National Park. Until a lone voice points out there’s an entire demographic completely ignored. Not only can I not pay park fees, I don’t have access to drinkable water for I don’t have a sixty litre water tank on board or an internal combustion engine which can effortlessly chew up the twenty kilometres and frequently more to The Tank, signs at junctions to the sites often do not tell me how far I need travel: five hundred metres a thousand ten thousand? But it’s my fault, she tells me, I should plan better, email people, use the internet. Internet? Internet? Call people? How? Regardless, am not sure how that would make water materialise in campsites, roadside rest places or even tell me the distances I must travel. For I have contacted people, Main Roads Western Australia, Department of Parks and Wildlife, poured over their online maps, bought the much lauded Hema maps, scrutinised them in minute detail trying to understand what I’m up against. I end up calling the stations along my route for when all else fails, when Main Roads can’t tell me if their roadside stops have water tanks or not, when Department of Parks and Wildlife tells me there’s no “safe drinking water” at the campsites, the stations don’t let me down. If I’m passing I’m welcome to drop in, even to the point they tell me where the water tap is in case they are “out mustering” at the time. The young Ranger didn’t quite get, in her criticism of me, that I have done my planning and preparation for I have travelled ten thousand kilometres across the World’s driest continent in temperatures which melt batteries and fry solar panels. It is why I know the organisation she represents do not account for my demographic. Nor the hitchhiker, the cameleer, the horse-back traveller, the walker. But the important thing is I do not know why not.
I am plagued by doubts. About this land. If you are not within the median population demographic there are challenges I do not equate with a high income OECD country.
Fuck I miss my Mojo.
A year ago I was heading north through the Flinders Ranges. The temperature rising pushing forty then exceeding it then fifty. Back then I was not accustomed to such extremes. Now? Now it is de rigueur, business as usual. And I am heading south, away from the heat even though it follows me.
What is it that really bugs me?
Well, the Ride beckons. One way or another I shall continue. For there is no alternative. At least non I can contemplate.
25 October 2016
A week and more been and gone. And what have I achieved. Well, I’ve updated this blog. Which does take a bit of time. I’ve also done a comprehensive service on Dreamer and Zi-Biddi. Cleaning them up, replacing tires and inner-tubes, tweaking brakes and waxing leather handlebars and saddles.
Washing, of course. Even had to wash the tent. Stay in one place for a week under an eucalyptus tree and you’ll have to wash your tent too. First of all, the trees drop their blossoms on the tent. Being rich in sugar the blossoms tend to stick around and leave a residue. The blossoms leave behind a small conical nut on the tree which dive-bombs your tent remorselessly. Quite noticeable when you are in the tent trying to get to sleep. Add wind and your tent will fill with leaves, dust, blossom and the small nuts. If you are unlucky branches will snap off and crush your tent. There’s a reason eucalyptus trees are called Widow Makers.
Then the galahs. They tend to sit right above your tent and shit on it. Add the usual daily ant invasion which I am countering with adroit use of talcum powder which they don’t seem to like. However, I got something completely new, something I was not prepared for. A sub-macroscopic millipede invasion. Fucking millions of them. Barely four millimetres long, soft of body and, give ‘em their due quite benign, never the less millions of them wandering all over my ground sheet up and into my tent over my bedding over me, the ground crawling with them. Talk about a weird sensation. Not quite like an ant but disconcerting non the less. Break out the bug-spray. A carpet of death all over my ground sheet.
Consequently, I got the dust-pan and brush from reception took everything out of the tent, gave it a good brushing followed by a good wiping. Then I took on the outside of the tent with a pot of water laced with detergent and started to clean off it the birdshit and dust and residual blossom. Just as I was completing this task I hear a distinctive ‘plopping’ noise. Sure enough Ms Galah, sitting five metres above me showed me how it is done and dumped a load right next to me. Charming.
Finally today the last spare-parts. Clips to replace those failing on the Ortliebs. I tried to order them online but couldn’t. I contacted Ortlieb’s Australian distributer to ask what to do. Ortlieb sent me them without cost AND by express post, even though I offered to pay. Thanks guys.
So, am all back up to optimal operating standards and quality, shopping done, panniers packed, washing drying on the line. I am pretty much ready to go. Plan is … Ride West Young Man, Ride Ever West. First along the rather oddly named Nameless Valley Road before joining the Nanutarra Road which’ll take me all the way to the North West Coastal Highway, along which I ride south for a few tens of kilometres before turning west again on Burkett Road, then right on the Minilya Exmouth Road to Exmouth and the Ningaloo National Park. Nearly six hundred kilometres. Six days at a hundred per day. Five if I manage one hundred and twenty kilometres per day.
Under normal conditions one hundred and twenty kilometres per day is imminently doable. There’s a ‘but’ to my narrative unfortunately. The juicy beautiful sweet and thoroughly enjoyable easterly tailwind I enjoyed riding to Tom Price has, today, been replaced by howling westerlies. The sort which forces intrepid cyclists to return to bed in the hope of better when they wake up later. It’s going to be quite a ride into this wind and I may not make a hundred kilometres let alone a hundred and twenty.
Then there’s the thorny issue of distance. Six hundred kilometres is quite a hike. What are the water supplies? Taking the Hema Pilbara and Coral Coast Map at face value there is no water supply of any sort between Tom Price and Nanutarra two hundred and ninety three kilometres away. That’s a good distance requiring a lot of water, especially given the temperature (high thirties early forties) and that headwind.
Being the second most vulnerable road user (cyclists are one above pedestrians) it is apparently all my responsibility to deal with the consequences of a transport policy which assumes everyone drives a large 4WD and carries at least sixty litres of water. At least that’s what my young Ranger told me when I interrupted the Group masturbation of her ego telling her how wonderful Karajini is by pointing out it ignores the cycling/footpower demographic. The two official rest places between Tom Price and Nanutarra I am sure will have no water tank. Three solid days’ ride, three full days’ water, perhaps twenty four litres. Not a major issue. Just a hassle. What can I do to reduce the hassle?
There is at least three stations along the route: Cheela Plains, one hundred and twelve kilometres from Tom Price, then a further ninety one to Wyloo, sixty four to the Mount Stuart Station and another thirty-odd to Nanutarra Roadhouse and water and food and shower and and …
Well, back to my young Ranger and her belief that it’s all my fault for choosing to ride around Australia and it’s therefore up to me to be prepared, I do prepare. Thoroughly. Do you really think I’d trust a system which doesn’t walk more than one hundred metres from where they park their large 4WDs? No way. I phone the stations.
I am more than pleasantly surprised to find out that Cheela Plains is not only a station, they have a campsite. Yes, they are open. Great, see you soon. Then Wyloo. Admittedly I took quite a few days before I get through to Wyloo … “Hi my name’s Max. I’m riding a bicycle and will leave Tom Price in the next few days. I’m wondering if would be possible to drop in a get some water?” “Yes, of course. It’s bore water, with a lot of calcium but you can drink it” “Thank you very much, see you soon”
Mount Stuart tells me they may be out mustering, which is why I couldn’t reach Wyloo for so long. But … “If we are not here, there’s a shed. On the side of the shed is a tap you can use to get water. It’s bore water mind you, but you can drink it”. Thanks and thanks again.
Up Yours Ms Defensive Ranger. Of fucking course I prepare. And I love Australians (when they are not driving).
Now, it’s take it easy tomorrow aiming for a frighteningly early morning on Thursday.
Have a good one … M
Tom Price 25 October 2016