1+2 - 9 -17 – Karijini
Unfortunately I don’t have reception in places like Karijini. What I can tell you though is that it is absolutely worthwhile spending a few days there. How do I know this? I could say I have the proof of all the data about this park posted online. You might argue that you can’t believe everything the internet says. But when the overwhelming posts, photos, and articles about the park come up with the same opinion, I think it is safe to say this park is a natural wonder. Or maybe a remnant of how this part of our world used to look like thousands of years ago. Another reason why I recommend this park is Valentina’s opinion. When she came back she was completely overwhelmed. Again, you could say she’s overwhelmed a lot when it comes to natural beauty. But isn’t that fabulous? This world is just too beautiful and precious to walk about it with closed eyes and not pay attention to it.
We checked in at Karijini Eco Lodge for a night so Valentina wouldn’t have to drive there early the next morning for her guided tour. Since I don’t have any reception here in the park, I stayed in the car while Valentina did her first gorge exploration for the day or rather afternoon.
“How did your trip down Hancock gorge go?” I asked Valentina when she came back from the trip. She looked a bit disappointed.
“It was okay, but I made the mistake to take my shoes off at point because other people had done that too. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get my shoes wet or not and then decided not to walk through the water with them. I should have kept them on.”
I asked her why.
“Well, first of all it would have made walking through the water and gravel part easier. Then the walking n the rocks would have been better I think. I came to the part called ‘spider walk’ and both sides of the rock wall just looked too slippery. I didn’t know how deep or treacherous the little water stream would be and decided not to proceed just to get to the pool of water behind it. Not risking my health for that.”
“That was a good decision. Especially when you are unsure about things. That just makes you doubt things and become insecure and that is when accidents happen. This park is very remote, it would take forever to get you out of there.”
“You’re right, Siri. So, I’m a bit disappointed for today, but I might try again tomorrow or the day after. With shoes on then!”
She will be fine.
We went to bed quite early again so she could be fresh and awake for her upcoming tour.
When she returned from the tour, the look on her face was quite different from the day before.
“Tell me, how did it go?”
“It was so good!” she replied.
“We met quite early in the morning to fill out an information sheet with our details, like name, address, emergency contact and such. They also wanted to know about any medical issues or allergies to medication. They explained it was absolutely for them necessary to know the truth about these things so they could help us accordingly in a case of emergency or accident. It all made sense when they told us stories later during the tour about accidents that had happened on these tours.
After the group , we were twelve tour-ists, had filled out the sheet we climbed onto this big off-road truck and drove to the team’s headquarter. By the way, I noticed that the ‘h’ is not silent here; they pronounce the ‘h’ here like ‘hage’. OK, at the HAGE Q we were outfitted with our gear which consisted of a neoprene suit, a long-sleeved shirt (that dries very quickly I must say), an additional pair of neoprene shorts, neoprene socks, a pair of Keens sandals, a hard-top (helmet), a waist harness with climbing equipment on it, a breast harness, and finally a floating jacket. It took a while before we were all dressed properly and sat before a map on a wall where they showed us again what our route would look like. I must admit I was a bit intimidated and wasn’t quite sure if I fulfilled the required level of fitness. I knew there would be parts where I would have to overcome my claustrophia and fear of heights. But I looked around at some of the other group members and decided if they could do it, so could I. I would leave my comfort zone and just do it.”
“Good for you. I’m proud of you.”
One more time they explained the rules to us and the absolute necessity to follow their orders. We had signed our lives over to them and so it only makes sense to do what we are told. Once again we climbed back onto the truck and now we drove a good 15 minutes over the red gravel dust road to our point of departure. When we arrived we all received a big backpack which carried our water, an extra jumper in case we were cold, a snack box and our lunch. Everything was packed watertight and this way we had an additional buoy on us which would make us float when in the water. You would think handing us the backpack would have been a quick thing, but far from it. Each backpack had a name of a local animal on it and each of us had written the same name on our waist harness. This harness had also a yellow back part that looked like big yellow diapers but was made of a sturdy material so we could use it to slide on when sitting and sliding down the rocks. But we weren’t just given the backpacks, no, we learned a little bit about each animal we were. It was very nicely done and very informative. I was the spinifex pidgeon which is a pretty little bird and lives in the area where the spinifex grass grows.”
There you go.
“After we had all thrown our backpacks onto our backs we also received a big black truck tube we which needed for our tubing part of the tour. I quickly learned how to carry the thing so I wouldn’t lose my balance or block my view.
We were finally on our way down to the first gorge.”
Let me quickly explain one thing here. This first part was a class 5 hike which is the most difficult grade for the public. The park has different levels when it comes to hikes. The easiest one is, of course, class 1 which means everybody including wheelchair users can do it. Then the difficulty increases and with classes 4 and 5 you are supposed to have a good level of fitness and hiking ability. The paths down to the gorges can be steep and very rocky. You can often get down more easily than up again because when going down you can sit on your behind. When you have to go up again, there may be bigger steps you’ll have to take and not only do you need enough strength in your legs but also endurance.
“This walk down was very steep and rocky. It was quite a challenge in itself and more so with the big tube we had to carry. When we arrived at the bottom we were one hundred meters below the top. What we were looking at were two huge red walls. An iron band wall, Geoff, one of our guides explained. We received a little geological lesson and we soon learned that we were standing among the oldest rock formations in the world. Older than the Himalayas, Older than the European Alps or the Andes. This here was the rock from the time of the ur-continent Gondwana.”
Ah, yes, Gondwana. Those of you who don’t know what Gondwana was, here’s a little image of it.
Gondwana was the one of the two big lumps of landmass on planet earth. It was immensely huge. Just think of South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica together. We now know that there are different tectonic plates (which means the structure on the earth’s crust) that our countries and oceans are situated on and these plates are in constant motion. Theses plates drift towards or apart from one another and thus change the location and superficial look of our continents. Gondwana existed about 180 million years ago and slowly began to move and form the continents as we know them today. The naturally caused earthquakes show us that the tectonic plates are still moving and we know that the Himalayas, for example, are still growing. Remember when Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man to climb the highest mountain on the world? Well, okay, some of you weren’t even born then so you can’t remember that event. But the interesting fact of that is event is that Mount Everest was then 8848m above sea level. When you climb Mount Everest today, you will still climb the highest mountain in the world, but now it’s even a few centimetres higher than when Hillary climbed it. Luckily for Hillary he won’t lose the entry in the history books for being the first man on top of Mount Everest, but the one for having climbed the highest mountain in the world. One thing is certain: the only record nobody will ever be able to beat is being the first at something.
“On we went after this little interlude and hiked through the gorge until we came to a part that is restricted to the public. This is also where class 6 starts. You need a special permit to go through here and you can only get it if you have the qualifications to hike and climb an area like this. Inexperienced hobby explorers have nothing to do here. It’s just too dangerous.
We reached the part where a big boulder was stuck in the gorge. Here we were roped in and Geoff slowly let us down behind the boulder onto a log that was stuck underneath and behind the boulder. Once we were standing on our feet again, we loosened the rope and sent it back to Geoff. When I was coming down I couldn’t get a good footing on the wall left of me and my foot kept slipping off. Unfortunately I banged my left elbow against the rock wall and I will have a nice bruise for the next two or three weeks. But nothing is broken so it’s all good.
Now came the next fun part: the water slide with the plunge into the pool. I had heard the screams of some of the people who went before me so I was excited. Since I had the order to take photos during the tour, I decided to film the whole thing. I have no clue how the video turned out. We will get access to our photos online in a couple of weeks and then we’ll see. The slide was so much fun. You sit on your yellow padded bum and just slide with the water. Gravity pulls you down and all you need to do is enjoy the 5m fall. Everyone did. The biggest shock was really the cold water you landed in. I was very grateful for the neoprene wetsuit I was wearing.”
You should see her eyes right now. She’s really happy.
“It always took a while before every group member was through the obstacle and sometimes we were looking for a spot where the sun shone through to warm us up a bit. The best way to get warm again was the part on the water in the gorge. There were three longer stretches of water we tubed through. Despite sitting n the tubes n the water you could just lean back and enjoy the sun and the quietness of the gorge. Every now and then you need to paddle a bit to get forward, but other than those sounds you could only here a bird here or there. It was heavenly. Josh, our other guide, said this was his favourite part of the tour. He told us that he had done a tour through a gorge in this park at the age of 14 and from that moment on he knew what he wanted to do in his life: show people the beauty of this area. He later studied outdoor education at University of Victoria, Australia, and 14 years later he was back in his gorge. He is living his dream. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Another highlight was the abseiling part next to a little waterfall. The tricky part here was to trust yourself, your equipment, and listen to what Sims, the third tour guide, said. He explained to us how to abseil and then let go of the rope once we are in the water or else we’d land under the waterfall which would give us a nice strong shower. Everybody got through this part without an incident, too. We had a snack and lunch break in between to gather our strength. The meals were a clever mixture of healthy food and some sweet sugary stuff to feed us some energy. I didn’t touch my water bottle much because I didn’t want to have to go to the toilet. I decided it was too much of a hassle to take everything off. Mind you, I was also wearing a swimsuit under my wetsuit. That’s what they had told me to wear when I booked the tour.
We then reached the part that Geoff calls the ‘Centre of the earth’.”
You mentioned the geology lesson before. What exactly did he tell you?
“The banded iron formations in the gorges originated more than 2500 million years ago. All that happened when the area was still under sea and the iron and silica-rich sediment accumulated. Over millions of years huge pressure was put on this sediment and further sediment was laid on top of the old one. Trapped water was pressed out of the rocks and turned the rock into tough, well-bedded rock. Later horizontal compression caused the rock to buckle and developed numerous cracks you can see today. That happened still under water and eventually, like in so many areas, the water receded and the surface formed dry land. A sharp drop in sea level caused the rivers to cut down rapidly and this is what created the huge gorges. In some areas of the park you can even find tiger-eye, the precious stone, because it was the huge pressure on the chemical structure that created it. Not diamonds but still very pretty if you ask me.
The smooth surface you find in the lower parts of many gorges comes from the flash floods that violently force their ways through the sometimes tight gorges.”
Exactly. What else did you learn?
“When we were tubing Josh also told about very rare algae that has been found in the gorge. The interesting thing is that this type of algae is nowhere else to be found, only here!”
Fascinating. Back to the centre of the earth. Do tell more.
The part of the geological formations you already know. But, do you know what the miracle mile is?”
I think so. Let’s just make sure and enlighten me.
“So, miracle mile is a hiking and really mostly climbing part in the gorge. Up until not too long ago some companies would just drop adventurers off at Weano gorge and tell them to hike to a certain point at the end of the gorge where they would be picked up again by the bus driver. Doesn’t sound too terrible, you think. Ha! If you have seen the part they had to climb to get to their destination you’d know why it was called miracle mile. It was a miracle if you survived this climb unharmed and alive. We went through it and we were secured with lines because there was serious rock climbing to be done. Serious for me, but even experienced climbers have to know what they are doing. To think those adventurers back then did all this in these walls without any safety gear is beyond my understanding. Due to many injuries and even death authorities finally decided to put a stop to this madness and closed that part. It’s now only possible to do it with special permits.
Another nice pool we came to was Regans pool. It was renamed after a rescuer who drowned in a rescue attempt of an injured hiker. Rescue times, as you probably know, Siri, can take many hours. Karijini is so remote that there is no mobile phone reception. So when somebody gets injured and needs help, you hopefully have another hiker with you who then needs to climb and hike all the way back to get to the emergency phone up on the gorge to call the ranger who then will call the rescue team. This team is mainly made up of volunteers who come over from Tom Price. That alone takes a while since it is over 50km away depending where in the park you are. The park entrance is 50km away but to get to the gorges you easily drive another hour or more. Lots of corrugated dirt roads, you know.
So when Regan’s group got the rescue call they hurried to the park to rescue the hiker. Unfortunately at that time there was lightning on the horizon which meant a thunderstorm with rain was on its way. Despite that additional danger the team decided to attempt the rescue and went down the gorge. They had just managed to strap the injured man onto the stretcher which then got stuck in the rocks. Regan jumped into the pool and managed to get the stretcher loose when the flash flood rolled in. The team and the injured man were all washed down the gorge and spewed out through the gorge to a broader part where they managed to get hold on a higher ledge of rocks. Regan, however, was trapped in the pool and the flood just whirled him around like in a washing machine. Regan drowned and they only found his body the next day further down the gorge. That incident made way for the decision not to endanger a rescuer’s life for an injured person’s.”
What a sad story, indeed. You are right about the rescue times. Depending on where you are and what the problem is it can take between eight to 16 hours to get you to the hospital.
“ I’m glad I did the tour though. I never felt unsafe. The team did a fantastic job, we were out with them for 10 hours and it was a super fun but also challenging trip. The water slide wasn’t as bad as I thought, the tubing wasn’t tiring at all once I knew how to sit comfortably. The most challenging part for me was the little rock climbing part because I had to trust the guides who secured us and myself. AU$285 sounds a lot but it’s not when you consider the time, the equipment and the man power. I would do that again any time!”