Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Boundary crossing - Washpool & Gibraltar Range National Parks

Low scrub scrapes against my shins and a branch catches at the arm of my shirt. My hands are smudged with charcoal from the trunks of old, burnt stringy barks. I've had to grab them for support as we duck and weave, push and shove our way through the bush towards a distant bunch of rocks that have disappeared behind the dense canopy.

I feel like a small, wild animal nosing my way through the smoke-bush and wattle: tripping on fallen sticks and branches, feeling my weight sink into deep, untrodden piles of leaf litter and loose soil. At a small creek, that is just accessible beneath a dense layer of saw sedge and fern, it is so quiet and still the animal feeling grows stronger as I rest: watchful, pausing for a moment to drink. Caz and I fill all our water bottles and then shoulder our packs for the final push up the slope to the summit of our un-named peak.

We walk silently, threading our way between the granite boulders and slabs and the growing stands of mallee that have managed to take root in every crack and crevice. There is little room for conversation between our heavy breaths. My backpack, with three litres of water on board, is biting into my shoulders and I can feel sweat turning cold and damp on my neck. It has been a long and tiring off-track bash and the final little climb up onto the peak takes the last of my energy as we haul my backpack up and over one steep bouldered section before reaching the flat open summit.

But, boy, is it worth it.

On top we find ourselves lifted above the dense bush, sitting on the crest of a high point out in the middle of a wilderness which stretches in all directions. Other rocky peaks break through the surface of the forest - Waratah Trig, Haystack and O'Hara's Rock. In front of us looms the square open face of another un-named peak that for all it's distinctive size and shape deserves some sort of acknowledgement. Caz names it Phascogale Peak. I am taken by another similarly unnamed but impressive rock - a round boulder balancing miraculously above the world on the distant horizon. How long has it remained unmoved, unvanquished from its precarious spot. I name it, The Indefatigable Rock. 

Apart from that I can give you very little information about exactly where we are except that it is along the boundary of Washpool and Gibraltar Range National Parks and out in the middle of the forest, somewhere between the World Heritage Walk and the Gwydir Highway. Caz has had his eye on these rocky peaks for some time, having spied them on other adventures in this area. After today's hard walking I realise perhaps their inaccessibility explains their anonymity.

Phascogale Peak

All the peaks around us are rocky and enticing. If lack of water wasn't such a restricting issue it would be nice to spend a couple of days here exploring the nearby hills and outcrops. As it is, we have enough supplies for one night on top and there is plenty of flat rock around for us to set up our mats and bivvy bags.

After a night's sleep beneath stars, meteors and full moon, we are off early the next morning. It is still a 3.5km bush bash across to the World Heritage Walk and then a 7km track and road walk back to our car. We descend off our rocky roost and plunge once again into the thick, unforgiving scrub. Forced to find our own path, we pick up a small wallaby track for a while but it disappears through a low tunnel of shrubs. The gully behind our peak is deeper than expected and its far side turns out to be a sheer cliff that forces us further west before dropping off the front of the surrounding ridges and into the next valley. We head down and then up again, aiming for the next peak where open slabs of granite offer easier, although steeper, going. Stopping for lunch on the top of this next hill, we can see back to Phascogale Peak and The Indefatigable Rock - still balancing neatly, despite a growing wind and the signs a storm approaching from the west.

From our lunch spot another eye-poking, knee scratching descent begins and this time we are welcomed by spikey holly grevillea and increasingly dense wattle saplings. The latter are a sure sign the track is close and before long we burst into the open and face the clear path ahead.


It is easy walking from here, down into the deep green of Washpool National Park's rainforest but, it is a long road walk up the hill to the top of the range where our car is parked. We pull out the topographical map and discuss a possible final, off-track detour to shorten the trip. However, at the bend in the road where we should exit, the scrub is uninviting. It is a mix of the hard granite plant species we have been tackling for two days and a new moist overlay of rainforest vines and trees. We decide to save ourselves from a final thrashing and stick to the road just as the storm we had seen building earlier crashes down on us with a stunning and surprising speed and ferocity. A minute ago it had been distant thunder. Now, a fierce frontal wind brings down a torrent of leaves and small branches. The forest creaks and groans around us and thunder and lightning make landfall nearby. The rain starts and we hurry on up the hill.

Phascogale Peak (just visible between the trees) and Haystack Mountain in the distance (right)

We reach the car at 4pm, throw the packs in and drive back down the hill we have just climbed as we plan to have a relaxing night at the Washpool campground before heading home. A break in the rain gives us enough time to change into our warm, dry, clean clothes, pitch our tent quickly and pour ourselves a glass of well-earned red wine before the next frontal wind comes smashing through, sending us diving for cover behind the barbecue shelter.

Through this latest driving downpour a woman comes running towards us to ask if we have a chainsaw. We don't. The storm has brought a large tree down across the road and she and her husband and their seven children are all trapped here. What we do have is a small tomahawk. We take our tiny axe up the road and begin a long, slow bush-bash of a different kind - chopping, chopping, chopping our way through a large black wattle, working in relay style with a few others, until an hour and a half later the tree has finally been tickled to death and cracks in two just enough to allow the stranded day visitors out and allow us to return to our now extra-well-earned beverages.

1 comment:

  1. I hope those 7 kids helping with the tickling. The area sounds magical. Very engagingly written, thank you.