[Excerpt from Trekking with the T-Team:
Central Australian Safari 1981]
Friday August 7, 1981
I had to find the men, but the chasm’s majesty awed me. Forget about the men. The cliffs each side of the gorge glowed golden and striped with black. The cliffs’ texture was Violet Crumble, smooth and pockmarked with crisp inverted bubbles of caves. One side had sheets of rock sloped over the valley, the angle tipped, threatening to collapse on top of us. The other side possessed shorter more stunted sheets placed in layers, like pastry. A barrier of a third cliff plugged the end the gorge acting like a wall in a room joining with the other two cliffs. Behind a collection of boulders piled on the top of this rear wall the map promised a water-hole. I imagined it to be a slimy mud puddle as the creek in this current section of gorge offered nothing in the way of clean running water. Still I was curious.
I caught up to the fellers who lingered at the base of these three adjoining cliffs near a small rock-hole. We marvelled at the chasm, and the steady stream of tourists like ants trailing along the edge of the cliffs above.
‘Where’re they going?’ I asked Dad.
C2 (my younger cousin) gazed up at the walls, his camera almost glued to his eye, fired another round of shots to capture the scenic wonder.
‘How many rolls is that, bro?’ C1 (older cousin) asked.
‘I don’t know, at least a couple.’ C2 snapped away with his trigger-happy finger. ‘This is magnificent!’
Keen to explore, Dad scrambled up the side of the gully and rock-climbed up a ledge. There he splayed himself like a huntsman spider flattened to the vertical surface, his bald head switching every which way for the next hand or foot hold. ‘If we could just get over this cliff,’ he yelled.
TR (family friend) basked in the sun on a boulder and yawned. ‘This’s far enough, I’m happy.’ He smacked his pink lips and closed his eyes.
‘Ah, well, where there’s a will there’s a way.’ Dad inched down the jagged rise, rock-hopping to the tiny rock-hole. ‘Mmm! I wonder what the water’s like.’ He cupped the liquid in his hand, after staring at it for a moment, sipped it. ‘It’s fresh.’ Wiping his whiskers, he rose and then unscrewed the lid of his water bottle. ‘Come on everyone, fill up.’
We emptied our canteens and dipped them into this fresh water.
‘I remember now.’ My brother pointed at the army of tourists filing along the cliff above us. ‘I think there’s a track that leads to the back of the gorge.’
‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Dad screwed up his nose and peered at the people. ‘Could be just going to a look out.’
‘No, I remember, the track goes behind. There’s a bigger water-hole there.’
‘No harm in trying.’ C1 slung his canteen over his shoulder. ‘Let’s go.’
‘I’m not going anywhere.’ TR reclined up against his back pack, his Bible on his chest.
So, leaving our family friend behind to read his Bible, the rest of us scrambled down the valley. The lads leapt like mountain goats from rock to rock. Dad hunted for the route that would lead us up and over the gorge. I followed the men up the south side of the valley, walking along the ridge until a mountain of rocks blocked our way.
My brother stood at the base of these impassable boulders and shook his head. ‘Nah, it’s not this way, must be the other side.’
‘Oh, but, oh, but—’ Dad traced his hand over the wall of stones.
‘There must be a reason why everyone’s going on the other side.’ I gazed at the people trooping along the far ridge. I really didn’t want to follow the trend of tourists, but in this situation, I conceded that they may be on the right track.
‘Oh, alright, then,’ Dad said.
‘No harm in trying, Uncle,’ C2 said.
Down we climbed. I struggled, slipping on loose stones. Stranded, I froze to the spot, afraid of riding out of control and falling over the cliff. Richard returned to where I stood and guided me to the safety of the gully.
We stopped at the Rover to watch the sheer volume of tourists trailing up the hillside to the left of us..
‘Guess you’re right, Richard,’ Dad said. ‘I think I’ll join them. Should give us a good view from the top anyway.’ He strode along the thin path towards the people. My brother and C2 darted after Dad.
C1 shrugged. ‘Might as well see where it leads.’
I followed C1.
We stuck to the worn trail. People returning along the same track nodded at us and remarked the hike was well worth the effort. Young ladies in high heels negotiated the rough spots in the gravel path, and a guide helped weaker women over the bridge.
I pitied them.
At that same narrow bridge, did I ask for anyone’s help? No, I did not. What’s the big deal? It’s just a bridge. I stepped over the bridge in seconds.
The path led through a gap to a water-hole behind the gorge, a paradise. Beehive mounds of rock surrounded the pool, and a dry waterfall rose into a maze of grooves through a sandstone canyon lush with trees, shrubs and cycads. From this natural room, we spied an adjoining valley. Behind us the tourists crowded through the rocky corridor. They also gathered in droves on a lookout above us.
While the rest of the T-Team waited for the stream of tourists to clear, I discovered a narrow passage in the northern section of the valley and slipped through the crack to explore where it led.
(…to be continued)
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016