Walking Poles 101: Part Two

Norwegian technique, akin to cross country skiing is well covered on YouTube. It is useful for walking fast on flat smooth tracks and I often use it on the Heysen Trail if I wish to cover ground quickly. Your poles are pushing behind you to propel yourself forward. It is an energy intensive process and overkill for most group walks. On the generally rougher, more challenging Heysen Trail the biggest advantage poles offer is stability, increasing safety and saving energy.

As mentioned in Part 1, this exposition is very much a personal opinion, based on my experience, over twenty years, in all sorts of terrain.

Height of poles: When your poles are planted your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees. Obviously, the height of the pole will vary depending on the slope ie longer downhill, shorter up. In practice most people do not continually adjust for the terrain but start with a slightly longer pole to accommodate the more difficult / treacherous situation of downhills. However, if on a steep or slippery down, I always lengthen my poles. The longer the better. On steep ups you can use shortened poles like an ice axe to dig in and pull yourself. This is very useful in mud or scree, but requires upper body strength.

Gripping the poles in the most efficient manner is very important to avoid hand fatigue and help with the best walk rhythm. Slip your hand into the loop from below, reaching for the sky, then grab the straps and the poles together. The loop should be long enough for the strap to fall across the back of your hand lightly. If you can feel pressure the loop is too tight. If the loop is flopping around, it is too long. The pole and the straps should fit comfortably in the webbing between thumb and first finger. Be aware that this webbing can be quite soft and a potential blister area when you begin using poles in this manner, easily overcome by wearing sun gloves. The advantage of this grip is the control it offers over the pole. You do not have to clasp the handle tightly, indeed, only first finger and thumb is sufficient. No need for hand fatigue at the end of long day. Going downhill, the weight is taken by the back of the wrist, controlling the pole easily.

However, the biggest advantage of this grip is the ability to move the pole forward with a small flick of the wrist. No need to laboriously pick up and place your poles when you are moving on the flat. Your elbows will hardly move when you are using the poles for stability rather than propulsion. This saves energy over the course of a long walk.

The flick is also quicker than lifting and placing your poles. This becomes very important if you are on a steep down where it makes for a smooth efficient descent, but like anything it takes practice. Eventually you won’t have to think about it, and on flat tracks it increases the time spent enjoying the scenery rather than looking at your feet.

Having mastered the grip and flick you are ready for two challenges:
Stability Technique:
Used for rough terrain e.g. broken ground, creek beds, and when gazing to the horizon or navigating.

Just as the name implies your poles remain in front or level with your feet. The left pole moves forward with the right foot and vice versa. The flick makes this effortless.

If your footing is insecure, the pole in your opposite hand becomes your stabiliser. Once your ankles are conditioned and strong you can move just as quickly on broken ground as flat, which is a huge advantage in bushwalking.

Downhill technique:

Used on any slope.

The safest descent (this is an example of do as I say, not as I do) also requires that you keep your poles in front of you. The steeper the descent the further in front, therefore you definitely need to lengthen your poles. Dig them in 60 – 90 cms in front of you. This is why I prefer tungsten tips to rubber stoppers. Leaning forward with bent knees, keep your centre of gravity just forward of your waist, making it very difficult for your feet to slip from under you. Again, use your poles with alternate feet to hands. You will always maintain at least two points of contact while all the time leaning forward. On very slippery ground you keep three points of contact and take very small steps, bending as low as you can go. If you go slowly, you will have three points of contact for much of the time. Moving smoothly down the slope avoids the temptation to stop, prop and lean backward, but requires smooth flicking to keep your poles in front of you. Best to start slowly even if the slope is not slippery (again do as I say rather than as I do).

Hopefully you will have years of fun downhills ahead of you. If you would rather watch than read, just ask.
See you on the Trail.

Walking Poles 101: Part One

There is not much science when it comes to walking poles. Just opinion and plenty of it. I have seen biomechanical studies showing 20 to 30% reduction on your knees, but they have all been very small studies in laboratory settings. Alternatively, there are counter claims that they increase the work load on inefficient arm muscles. So, I do not invoke any evidence, simply relate opinion from two decades of use.

Why do I use them? In order of value;

  1. Primarily as stabilisers so that I do not have to do much foot gazing. I prefer to gaze on the landscape and look to the horizon. Then if I trip or stumble on the unexpected, my arms stabilise and correct. This is particularly useful if you are navigating a trail or terrain, when your vision is determinedly distant. For this to work you have to be using them as stabilisers. This is a matter of technique, which we will come to. On broken ground, such as creek beds, scree and boulders, two stabilisers save time and energy. I was taught this lesson many years ago in New Zealand walking through scree covered by snow grass. I was only a solo pole user and would be left floundering way behind my more experienced double poling partner.
  2. Downhill propping would be the second most common function, facilitating fluid, flowing descents which preserve both energy and your knees. Once again it depends upon technique.
  3. Propulsion, in true Nordic style, but this only applies to a flat level track. It can be very useful on road sections and climbing slippery slopes when shortened poles can act like ice axes.
  4. Stop my hands swelling in hot weather, and I love walking arid mountain terrain which can get quite warm.
  5. Protection from dogs and mad cows, but I have never had to use them so in 20 years.

There are two principal reasons not to use poles:

  1. You do not have the coordination to master them, but I think this is rare. Double poling feels awkward just like every new skill.
  2. You do not have the upper body strength to use them to maximal advantage, in which case you can use them just as the occasional prop.

There is also an environmental consideration because they can increase the damage to fragile alpine terrain as well as inoculate fungal diseases. Both can be mitigated with good handling and knowing when to use rubber stoppers or when to put your poles away.

Before discussing technique, it is necessary to deal with safety. Being poked with a sharp stick is never fun, worse if it is tungsten tipped. Just covering the tips is not enough and the tips are too valuable to sheath permanently, as you will see when we discuss technique. The safety rules are very simple, but require constant vigilance. Never let your pole/s point backward. That means if you are not using them let them drag along, hanging from your wrist strap, or hold them with the tips forward. Too often I see someone swinging their arms with their poles scything the trail behind them! A very effective technique to become a solo walker.

Never walk too close to the person ahead. Spiking the front walker is the commonest mistake. This rule is just as important to the non-pole user. A pole slipping during an ascent can catch the walker behind. I have seen this too often and one eye injury too many.

Do not walk too packed shoulder to shoulder. Your poles are tripping hazards to the parallel walkers. And now we come to the great strap debate, which can get very fervid. Many propose that if you put your hand through the strap, you can break your wrist. I am sure you can, but I do not think it makes it more or less likely mechanically. Gravity is doing the damage. The advantage of using the straps far out weighs the risks as you will see when we come to technique.
I have heard of professional guides berating pole users as soon as they ‘strap in,’ citing the risk of tripping to your death on a defile because you could not let go of your pole. This may be so on a narrow ledge in which case your poles should always be in front of you anyway. However, be aware that in the absence of evidence, dogma takes over, so do not debate the issue.

Poles can collapse on you at critical stages, particularly downhill, so it is always safer to maintain them well, and check the locking mechanisms at the start of each walk.

So, how to be safe around them and with them may be all you need to know about walking poles. However, if you want to use them to their full bushwalking potential (and lift your eyes to the horizon) then it is all about technique.

Part Two: Technique

Orchids – Hidden Gems of the Trail

James Wenzel advises us to slow down on the trail and add orchid-spotting to the pleasures of bushwalking.

We all love walking for different reasons, whether we’re viewing stunning landscapes, observing interesting wildlife, or doing it purely for fitness and relaxation. I have added a new reason to go walking to my list over the last few years, especially in spring, and that is searching for native orchids.

Sometimes we are that busy looking about we walk past and miss some of South Australia’s most interesting flowers. Instead of looking down only to make sure you don’t trip over that rock or tree root, slow down and pay attention to the ground around you. You may be rewarded by spotting a native orchid.

We are lucky to have over 250 variations of native orchids here in South Australia and you can find different varieties growing all year round. I have found winter and spring are the best times for spotting the more common ones.

If you go walking in any of our national or conservation parks in September you are bound to spot a King Spider Orchid, one of the most common and most stunning, in my opinion, of the spider orchids. When you see them it is a sign that the bush is in good health. Some varieties are dependent on an associated fungus in the soil for them to survive, which is why they can be hard to grow in captivity. If the land has been cleared or heavily ploughed they may never grow again. Most of them rely on tiny insects like native flies, native wasps, ants and a fungus gnat, a tiny mosquito-like insect, for pollination. Some can also self-pollinate.

Any of our conservation parks close to Adelaide such as Belair, Cleland, Morialta, Black Hill and Anstey’s Hill are prime spots for spotting native orchids. I frequent Black Hill and head back to the same spots at different times every year to see the same orchids blooming.

Also patches of bushland and even roadsides can be good locations while you’re walking the Heysen Trail. One of my favourite finds was a Spider Orchid that we found on an End-to-End walk not far from Moralana Gorge Road in the Flinders Ranges.

Orchids can camouflage quite well so they can take some spotting. The alien-looking Greenhoods are a good example of this; you will see one and look at it and the next thing you know there is a whole carpet of them. This is why when we leave the trail we should be careful where we are treading. You could be standing on a rare orchid! On the other hand the Donkey, Purple Cockatoo or Pink Sun orchids can be bright and stand out, which makes them quite easy to spot. Quite a few orchids are not flashy, like the rare Potato Orchid. Some might say they are even ugly. But remember all native orchids are protected and picking the flowers or digging up the whole plant is illegal. Some can be quite rare and endangered because of loss of natural bushland.

Identifying some orchids can be a bit difficult because they are so small and delicate. There can also be different variations such as albinos to make it that bit trickier. Looking at the leaves can be a good identification tool. I find taking photos is a good means for identifying orchids because you can look and study them at home. Remember to take a photo of the leaves to help with the identification process.

You don’t have to be an expert; amateurs can enjoy them too. One of the references that I have used is an online document called Common native orchids of the Adelaide Hills, published by Natural Resources, Government of South Australia. It has some great photos. NOSSA, the Native Orchid Society of South Australia, has a free eBook to download called Orchids of South Australia. And the reference book It’s Blue with Five Petals – Wildflowers of the Adelaide Region by Ann Prescott also is a good resource.

So if you’re a walker or photographer like me and enjoy our native flora, on your next walk slow down and check out the ground around you. You might get addicted to native orchids too.

James Wenzel completed the Heysen Trail in 2016 with E2E6 and is a walk leader with E2E12.


Hiking with children

Amelia Veale writes of her family’s tradition of walking the Heysen Trail as a child and now as a parent with her children.

Last year we started walking the Heysen Trail as a family again, but this time with children of my ownA hiking chant: ‘Left, left, I left my wife in New Orleans with 45 cents and a can of beans, I thought it was right, right, right for my country whoops-ee-do!’ I’m not sure when or from whom I learnt this walking ditty, but I clearly remember many of my childhood hikes chanting this with my brother and sister, accompanying the ‘whoops-ee-do’ with a double-hop-step! To this day, when I set out on the trail, at some point the chant still sneaks into my consciousness!

Since childhood, walking and overnight treks have been a consistent family activity. Together we have covered much of the Heysen Trail; we have hiked in Tasmania and even New Zealand’s Milford Sound.

An early photo of Amelia (back row centre) with her family at Parachilna

An early photo of Amelia (back row centre) with her family at Parachilna

I was a reluctant walker when I first started walking the Heysen Trail as a child. I preferred reading books and making craft. But, spearheaded by my Dad, my family was an active one whether we liked it or not! By the time I was in high school, however, I had well and truly caught the activity bug and to this day I am still a keen walker.

Some of my most poignant childhood memories are of walking the Heysen Trail. Joined by extended family or friends we would set off with backpacks and scroggin in our side pockets. There was always some misadventure or another, some as minor as blisters and sore feet, and others more dramatic such as torrential rain that flooded our tents.

Yet through it all, even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was building character, resilience and the appreciation for an active life. At the same time sharing these special experiences with my family. I am a stronger, healthier person today because of this regular time spent hiking during my childhood, youth and early adult years.

Angus with his Dad, brother and grandparents continuing the family tradition

Angus with his Dad, brother and grandparents continuing the family tradition

With the ever increasing rates of obesity and depression within our community and, most alarmingly, within our children, I now see how incredibly lucky I was to have had the regular inclusion of hiking and physical activity in my upbringing. I sincerely believe that if more children were encouraged to get outside, get active and get off their screens, that not only obesity but other issues such as depression, lack of motivation and direction would be reduced. This is a view shared by my husband and something we are very conscious of as parents.

So last year we started walking the Heysen Trail as a family again, but this time with children of my own. Our aim is to cover it from end to end but with our youngest just under two years old, we’re not looking to do it quickly. Yet the great thing about the trail is we don’t need to try and tackle it all at once. There are so many wonderful sections that we can tick off, bit by bit, starting with the easier sections. We’ve started doing short walks close to home, then we’ll build up to longer trips. We also have walked a few short sections through Kuipto Forest where we were able to take the pram along on some sections. This gave my husband a break from carrying our youngest son who is getting heavier!

I asked my eight-year-old son his thoughts on the walks we’ve done so far on the trail. His responses were so wonderful that I’ve included them here. I think there is no better way to explain why hiking with my family is such an important endeavour than his words. So here’s a recommendation for the Heysen Trail from Angus:

One of my favourite sections was the boggy bits. The others squelched into the mud probably because you’re bigger. But me, I got through easier and was dancing around waiting at the end of the bog.

Amelia's yougest son on the Heysen TrailOther things he said were: ‘I liked the green and the tweeting of the birds. I liked going over the fields in the sunshine. The long boardwalks were awesome. I loved looking at the old mines with their deep, dark holes. I liked the feeling of the grass rustling against my leg because it was so long. I loved going through the valleys and hearing the echoes of our voices, cooo-eeee.’

I am very thankful for the wonderful privilege our family has in freely accessing this incredible resource, which is carefully maintained by many wonderful volunteers. I strongly encourage others to do the same. Get outside, share time with your loved ones – surrounded by nature – there is magic in this. As a Mum, I know it is right, right, right for my family. Whoops-ee-do!

Amelia Veale lives in the Adelaide Hills with her husband, two children, their dog, four chickens and three sheep. Amelia is a member of the Friends of the Heysen Trail Marketing & Membership Committee, a passionate storyteller and CEO of Narrative Marketing where she develops strategic marketing solutions for clients, and investigates storytelling in business through her podcast Be The Drop.

5 Ordinary people – 1 extraordinary family

5 Ordinary People hiking the Heysen Trail

1 extra-ordinary family - 5 Ordinary People

1 extra-ordinary family – 5 Ordinary People

Footloose and kid-free, a nice long hike seemed just the thing to prescribe myself amid fears of an imminent depressive episode in mid 2014. With three days and three nights to spare, Luke, a friend and I ventured off to attempt hiking the southernmost 91km of the Heysen Trail, from Cape Jervis to Inman Valley General Store. Unfit, inexperienced and having only glossed over the guide book, it would be no mean feat. What I lacked in experience, Luke’s rigorous army training more than made up for. What I lacked in fitness, I apologise and hang my head in shame for. What I lacked in knowledge of the trail’s unrelenting terrain I soon gained as I put one foot in front of the other. Uphill. Downhill. Uphill. Downhill. Walkers follow beach. Walkers follow road. Walkers follow fence. Repeat. Nonetheless, we beheld all that is the glory and the beauty of the southern tip of the trail and we fell in love with nature all over again. Limping into Inman Valley–out of food, blistered and in agony–we felt such elation. Such pride in our achievement.

Ready to start the journey - 5 Ordinary People

Ready to start the journey

Light headed with vanity and fuelled by chicken pies and hot coffee, something of the pain was erased as we loafed at Yankalilla Bakery. And that’s the defining moment when we gave voice to our desire to hike the beautifully difficult Heysen in it’s entirety–and the kids would come too we announced–much to their surprise.

To say they were delighted would be a lie. A big fat lie. Worried about missing friends and being disconnected from their electronic vices were the biggest complaints. If we were going to pull this off we needed to gain momentum. Fast. So we applied for a Summit Club Adventure Sponsorship with Kathmandu. We nearly fell over dead when they agreed to kit our kids out with gear. Finally, as we begun to get the children to venture outdoors in preparation, the idea grew on them.

The months that ensued were full of training and research, planning and packing. Forty-two boxes filled to the brim with 10 weeks of food and resources to sustain our life in the magic outdoors. Seventy-two kilos of gear and rations compressed into five packs. Thirty something encouraging letters from classmates and teachers. And hundreds of kilometres of training hikes. There was no stopping us now.

A great way to experience the outdoors - 5 Ordinary People

A great way to experience the outdoors

Somehow it was still not enough to prepare us for what lay ahead. The first three days on the Heysen were painful. We dragged ourselves only six kilometres on our first day. It was pathetic. We didn’t even make the first campsite. (Sorry if the owner of the private land at Parachilna Gorge is reading this; we left no trace, promise.) The second and third days were not much better. It was hard going. Noah, our youngest, couldn’t bear the feeling of his pack, or shoes, or shirt. Every time we started off again after a break he complained for 20 minutes straight and dumped his pack in protest. It wore thin very quickly. We could’ve packed up and gone home but we still would have had to walk to Wilpena Pound first so we kept on.

Rain that threatened to be confidence-breaking, hit just as we had Yanyanna Hut in our sights. We ran like turtles but made it inside just before the 16 hour down pour. We delighted in not having to set up the tents and in the opportunity to lie shoulder to shoulder and take turns reading from the log book. It told of hikers like us, that had gone before us, proving that the trail could be conquered. Hikers we felt we knew. Even if their entries were only short.

Exhausted and not having seen a single soul (other than each other) for 6 days, we arrived at the humming Wilpena Pound Resort. It didn’t matter that the rain persisted. We downed hot pies and cold ice creams while rummaging through the first three of our 42 food resupply boxes and then soaked off the hiker-hobo grit under steaming hot showers. We set up camp in nothing more than thongs (the shoe variety), thermal pants and rain coats. Everything else went in the washing machine and Noah and Emily idly played cards next to the laundry, waiting for the machine to thump to a stop. A new routine was birthed.

An upgrade from our unpowered tent site to a suite at the resort, along with an invitation to dinner and breakfast to boot, came from the resort manager while we perused the kiosk for items we might just need.

Life was looking up. Morale went through the roof. We gladly traded in our tinned chicken and cous cous for surf and turf and a side of greens.

I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing from there. But it wasn’t. We still had to summit Mt Arden. That day we learnt that hiking is a type and shadow of life. There are ups and downs. And more ups and downs. And false crests after false hopes. But then there are triumphs and victories shrouded in spectacular sunsets and life is worth the living, once more.

A few short days later we lost the trail on Pichi Richi pass, not being able to see the trail markers for the scrub. We had already been delayed leaving Quorn, having to wash and dry one of the down sleeping bags at first light, and having left a hiking pole at the railway station when posing for a photograph. We never made it to camp that night. And that’s the first time we uttered aloud some choice words and the unspeakable question; “Why are we really doing this?”. Only, no-one had the answer. The days turned into weeks and the still unanswered question remained.

Friends along the way weren’t afraid to ask the question. Family friends with fresh popcorn from Port Augusta Cinema’s asked over a campfire at Buckaringa North. (We didn’t get the memo that the fire season was extended). New friends asked over dinner at Quorn. The Spalding publican asked while informing us we were a day behind potential trail friends. Good friends asked over Black Sheep Pizza and Barber Shop haircuts in Burra. True friends from our other life asked while picnicking with us at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. Woodhouse, Marabel, Tanunda, Norton Summit, Crystal Brook, Inman Valley, Balquidder. Old friends. New friends. Good friends. Trail friends. True friends. And our beloved extended family too. They all asked.

Experiencing incredible views - 5 Ordinary People

Experiencing incredible views

Every day held new experiences that showed promise of holding the answer. Red range held the first backtrack for lost items; a tidy 9km round trip – a lesson in that for everyone. Eyre Depot held water rations and a fire experience we should probably never mention in print. Wonoka Creek held mud baths and the thrill of underage driving in a trusty farm ute. Hallet held the promise of a new kitty for Emily, having worn me down after years of begging and kilometre after kilometre of hearing what her imagined life with a pet cat would be like. Mount Crawford held a busload of sweaty year 7’s who didn’t seem to notice that we got lost. There are not enough markers in that forest! Somewhere else held hours of Yo Mamma jokes being told to Grandpa in drizzling rain. Curnows Hut held our hopes of dry firewood and a cabin after a day of pelting rain and fierce winds along a ridgetop. Smith Hill tank held a cold water hair washing experience and splitting headache. Laura held another hobo experience; drying our long hair under the hand dryers. A paddock with a gazillion cows held the 1000km mark. Kapunda held the realisation that Luke would be forced to leave the trail due to stress fractures in his shins and the children and I would go on without him. Rusted out cars. Bee hives. Cows. Bulls. Baby lambs. Dying sheep. Mountains. Dried up streams. The Milky Way. Processionary caterpillars. Bardi grubs. Rain moths. Ant bites. Fly stings. Squelchy wet boots. Solitude. 360 degree sunsets. Misty mornings. Muddy bums. Ladybug colonies. Reroutes. Flat GPS batteries. Trail buddies. A night off the trail. Pebbles in shoes. Prickles in socks. Watching grass grow. A finishing welcome party at Cape Jervis, with an honorary arch of hiking poles and hot pies at Yankalilla Bakery once again.

So why did we, 5 ordinary people, really spend 69 days carrying heavy packs so we could sleep in teeny tents and eat rations from fold up bowls for 69 nights? I can’t tell you. Except to say that we did it for us. Because we could. And you can too. Eli, Emily and Noah (our three children); of whom we are incredibly proud, are only 9, 10 and 12 years old. The youngest ever to hike the spectacular and confronting Heysen Trail. And they loved it. No lie.

End-to-End Minus 1

Hello happy readers,

Morris in ThemeTo start our final year on the trail we had an easy one-day walk – a catch-up for the postponed last walk in 2014. Our numbers had reduced due to a couple of our walkers suffering injuries in the ‘off’ season. So it was down to The Woods of Mount Crawford with a random assortment of teddy bears and a screaming baboon called Super Morris Major!!!

At the end of May we were back on track with a weekend walk through the areas burnt out by the Sampson Flat fire of early January. There was much evidence of rebuilding with new fences and logging of burnt forests presenting challenges and detours. However, it was a cleared house site that was “very sobering” where all walkers appreciated the devastation faced by many in the fire’s path. I spent the weekend riding with Neil and Ann of the Greening Committee and I am not sure if they took my ideas for replanting the forests seriously.


fantastic wooden boardwalk

The month of June saw us well and truly into the Adelaide Hills – and there were lots of them. Robert carried me up all of them on the first day, even the big long steep climb away from Sixth Creek towards Montacute Heights. It was tough going for him having just returned from China where he had scaled thousands of granite steps and taken one huge leap when he proposed to Lucy. On Sunday I was challenged in ‘The Cutest Backpack Accessory’ stakes when the Kelly’s daughter and son-in-law joined us from Third Falls lookout to Colonial Drive with 9 month old grandson Leighton on board. Robert had passed me over to Albert who had shown that he could quite easily carry extra load. Maybe I became too heavy for Albert because at one point he stumbled and cracked his head, requiring some first aid. Anyway, we all made it through a long tough weekend ending at Cleland Wildlife Park.

Albert's Answer to a Heavy Pack

Christmas in July rewarded us the returning presence of Marlene, Dom and David. The day started with perhaps just a hint of a possibility of snow, but it didn’t. However, we did suffer a white-out when fog shrouded Mount Lofty summit. Our leader aborted the intended detour to the top to look over the city then promptly declared it was “all downhill from here to Cape Jervis”! On reaching Mylor we were amazed at how much bushland we had walked through along the most densely populated section of the Heysen Trail. The overnight storms had cleared to greet us with sunshine on Sunday morning. The boardwalks near Long Gully were really appreciated as all waterways were running. Most walkers took the opportunity to take the underground trail option at Jupiter Creek Gold Diggings. Next up was entering Kuitpo Forest where, for the second time in FoHT history, two End-to-End groups met, with E2E9 sharing the trail with us. Once again the weather was kind although the trail was soggy under foot.

Only two more walking weekends remain before we hit the south coast for a 6-day walking week which sees E2E-1 completing their Heysen Trail at Cape Jervis on Saturday 24th October. I extend an invitation for fellow walkers, friends and mascots to join us for any or all of our remaining walks. Maybe you would just like to greet us at the ‘final stile’ and/or join us for our celebration dinner at the McCracken Country Club at Victor Harbor on the Saturday night? Check the walk program for details ( Note: There is a separate registration for the last walking day/dinner).

With excitement building as the end approaches…

Morris Minus.
(Photos by Mary Cartland)

Fifteen Years of Assisting with Maintenance on the Heysen Trail

The Wandergruppe Bushwalkers of the South-Australian German Association (SAADV) are celebrating 15 years of membership in the ‘Friends of The Heysen Trail’, and with it, 15 years during which the Bushwalkers have been helping to develop and expand the Trail and boost its recreational potential.

Since its foundation in 1991, the Wandergruppe has undertaken 700 walking trips in South Australia covering over 9,000 kilometers of trails, including the full 1,200 kilometer length of the Heysen Trail.

Early one morning in 1998, an idea for a project hit bushwalking group leader Hermann Schmidt. On first putting the idea to the Wandergruppe Bushwalkers, Hermann could read from the face and body of each of his fellow bushwalkers the extent to which the project he proposed struck them as nothing short of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing and awe-inspiring.

The idea put forward by Hermann was to try an end-to-end walk of the Heysen Trail, and the Wandergruppe – made up of dedicated bushwalkers aged forty to ninety – decided to give it a go. Together with deputy group leader Fred De Ceukelaire, and many a hard-earned feat later, the Wandergruppe completed their final stage of the Trail in Bundaleer in 2010, coming away with the feeling that the Heysen Trail springs a surprise or two for even the most experienced bushwalker.

Achieving the end-to-end walk of the Heysen Trail also coincided with the Wandergruppe reaching its 10th year of responsibility for maintaining the Myponga section of the Trail.

“Our focus is on the safety of the walker”,

Hermann points out. “Since 1999, we have erected three bridges with a length of up to 20 meters, four creek crossings and 70 meters of board walk”, Hermann is pleased to report.

Maintaining the Myponga section involves some large and a fair bit of small routine work. The Wandergruppe sees to it that paths through the Conservation Parks are accessible, pruning bushes and shrubs. By far the most complex and demanding work though is the regular upkeep and maintenance of the bridge constructions. Hermann Schmidt gives each of the bridges a close inspection once a year, carrying out on-the-spot repairs where necessary.

Two years ago, the Wandergruppe took charge of another stretch of the Trail, Section 3, which increased the Bushwalkers’ workload. “I put together a crew of five walkers and we went on an inspection walk”, Hermann explains. “We found that some spots needed major changes, including changes in the way the route was located, because initially the section was far from fit for walking.” The job done, the Wandergruppe rounded off by setting up ‘monitor boxes’ for the walkers’ better orientation.

On top, the Wandergruppe volunteered to carry out necessary additional work that popped up in adjacent sections of the Trail. “It’s our way of showing how much we have the Heysen Trail and the walkers of the Trail at heart,” Hermann explains the extensive track record of the Wandergruppe Bushwalkers.

Maintenance on the Trail

Early one evening, Wynen household, phone rings.
Peter W: Hi there, Peter Wynen speaking
Colin E: Hi there Peter, how would you like to come away on a trip to check out the huts, shelters, toilets, tanks, platforms etc on the northern parts of the Heysen Trail. There is some maintenance to be done and I am trying to get a crew together to help out.
Peter W: I would love to help out, BUT I am the world’s worst handyman.
Colin E: You can handle a broom can’t you? I’ll email the details to you.

Tank at Smiths Hill campsite being inspected… and on that understanding I became part of a 4-man crew that met at Cobblers Creek at 8:30am on Saturday 20th January ready to hook up the Friends of the Heysen Trail trailer to the car we would be traveling in. Present were Colin Edwards, Julian Monfries, John Quinn and me.

After checking we had all we needed in the trailer, we hooked it up and were off …. well nearly. We had hooked the trailer up inside the shed, pretty close to the door, but inside the shed nevertheless. We only needed another inch or two to clear the side of the door. After half a dozen attempts to get that two inches by reversing and forwarding, defeat was declared, we unhooked the trailer, wheeled it forward through the door and rehooked it to the car…and we were off…again.

We arrived at Quorn in time to interrupt the caravan park managers’ lunch break and checked into our cabin a couple of hours earlier than we would normally be permitted.

We unhooked the trailer and headed off for the first of many sites to inspect – Waukerie Creek. We drove along a rough 4WD track as far as we dared while still able to turn the vehicle around, scaring a herd of goats on the way, then got out and walked about 500m to the tank and shelter – listening for any sounds of gunfire that indicated feral control that we knew was occurring in the area.

No work required here – tank about 75% full. Back to the car – next stop Dutchmans Stern. This is a large hut with two inside, flushing toilets. Here we removed a few cobwebs and gave the hut and toilets a good clean.

The plan for tomorrow was to visit the tank at Eyre Depot (quite a long drive) and take a short cut back through Thompson’s Gap to the next site after getting permission and instructions from the local landowner as to how to do that. A phone call established that he was actually in Adelaide until Monday – this necessitated a change in the plan. The revised plan was for Colin, Julian and me to visit those 2 sites in June as part of End to End 5 – a group we belong to.

The rest of the afternoon we inspected and tidied the tank and platform at Buckaringa North and the tank and toilet at Calabrinda. Both tanks were at about 50%.

Sunday 25th January

The day started with a long drive to the northern extremity of the trail – Parachilna Gorge. At the trailhead there is a tank and platforms which are accessible from the road. This tank had a leaking tap (“it always leaks”) and was about 75% full. There is another tank about 500m down the trail accessible only by walkers. This was about 50% full.

We had arrived at around 10am – it was nice to see the gorge in morning light for a change.

Uh-oh. We have just lost a wheel!Our next site was Middlesight Hut. This involved traveling a couple of kms up a rough 4wd track off of Brachina Gorge. We stayed long enough to check the gutter, remove a small termite mound that had formed in the fireplace, removed cobwebs and gave a sweep.

The next site was Yanyanna Hut. This is about 20km further down the rough 4wd track. Shortly after climbing out of a small dry creek crossing, a loud “clunk” was heard from the rear, followed by an exclamation from Julian of “Oh, oh. We have just lost a wheel!” Yes indeed – the left hand wheel had come off of the trailer and was just coming to rest about 10m away in the bush. I knew immediately that my “broom-handling skills” were not going to be of much use.

The ball-bearing casing had disintegrated. This trailer was not going anywhere until we were able to replace it. We abandoned the trailer and took what was left of the ball-bearing casing. We would see if the servo in Hawker could do anything for us when we got there. It was now 1pm. We continued on to Yanyanna Hut and gave it a good going over before having a break here for lunch. The tank here was only about 10% full.

After lunch we continued on the track that took us out to Bunyeroo Valley Rd and back to the main highway. Colin needed to speak to the people at Arkaba Station about Red Range campsite which is on their property. After a brief stop there, we arrived at Hawker at around 3:15pm. We left Colin to discuss wheel issues with John Teague at the service station, while Julian, John and I headed off to Mayo Hut, a short distance away. The tank here was full.

We were back in Hawker at 4:45 – in time to see a new ball-bearing casing arrive. The solution to our problem involved not only a new casing, but a new wheel as well (something to do with studs not fitting, and I heard mention of 13” and 14” – well outside a broom-handling technician’s understanding).

We arrived back in Quorn just before 6, confident that the wheel problem was now fixed.

Monday 26th January

Packed up and left Quorn at 7:30. We had to stop off at the servo in Hawker on the way through to the abandoned trailer (they needed to grease the ball-bearing casing). The trailer was fixed and hooked back onto the car by 11am. We drove slowly into Wilpena Pound where we needed to check out reports of trail-marking being confusing around the campground area.

Colin fits a new door to Bowmans HutThe next major undertaking was to replace a door at Bowmans Park (Crystal Brook) and some alsynite roof sheets at Hiskeys Hut (Georgetown). The plan was to visit Hiskeys Hut and see what was required, then travel to Crystal Brook, book into the caravan park there and then measure the door at Bowmans Park ready to buy a new door in the morning (today being a public holiday). We visited Mt Elm on the way to Georgetown. The tank here was about 90% full. The greening committee had planted trees at Hiskeys, so the opportunity was taken to inspect these also.

We checked into the caravan park at Crystal Brook, then drove to Laura for tea – being a public holiday meant that there were no eateries open in Crystal Brook. On the way back, we visited Bowman Park to measure the door. Another drama almost unfolded when it became apparent that we did not have a key that fitted any of the padlocks to the gate. After contemplating the matter for 5 minutes or so, the broom-handling technician inspected the problem and was able to resolve the matter by simply sliding the chain over the top of the post – I derived some satisfaction from this.

Tuesday 27th January

We were at the hardware store waiting for it to open. They had a door, but did not have any alsynite of the right size. While Colin fitted the door, I had the task of cleaning the hut, gutters, toilet etc., while John and Julian remarked the trail in the area. The door proved to be a problem to hang, the lock proved to be an even bigger problem to install. By 2:45 the jobs were done.

We called into Georgetown for the alsynite, then fixed the roof at Hiskeys hut. It was now 3:30pm. The remaining sites were in the Burra area, so we headed off to Paxtons in Burra for the night.

Wednesday 28th January

First stop today was Wandallah. A quick clean up of the shelter, then off to Blackjack…..BUT a brief inspection of the trailer before leaving revealed that the electrical coupling to the trailer had not been connected for some unknown time. This was now not working properly. Still, we had to continue …..BUT we were now getting a strange warning light appearing on the dash: re-connecting the damaged electrical coupling had blown one of the car’s fuses. After a read of the manual and a bit of fiddling in the fuse box we fixed that little problem and decided to visit Black Jack shelter before returning to Burra, and have the plug replaced.

We had a choice of roads between Wandallah and Black Jack – one long and one short, but with lots of gates. We chose the short. While driving through one of the gates, our gate-opener noticed an unusual noise coming from the trailer wheel. A brief inspection revealed that another set of adjustments needed to be made to the recently fitted bearing case. Not an issue, but lucky to have picked it up.

Back to Burra for the new plug, coffee and lunch, then a visit to the final 3 tank sites on the way home – Burra Gorge, Webb Gap and Smiths Hill, before arriving home to a familiar comfortable bed – mine!

Stage Seven – Sliding Rock Mine to Arkaroola

Why did it always rain when I camped at Wilpena Pound! I pondered this as I lay in my sleeping bag in the annexe of Bob and Maureen Nicolle’s caravan with the rain drumming steadily on the canvas roof overhead. It was Thursday 22 May 1986 we were about to begin the seventh and penultimate stage of our Heysen Trail walk from Cape Jervis to Mount Babbage. As the rain continued to fall I remembered back on the many previous occasions I had been at Wilpena, and how it seemed to rain every time.

By early the next morning the rain had cleared, although conditions were still overcast. As we were driven to the Sliding Rock Mine site, east of Beltana, by Maureen Nicolle and children Greg, Dean and Paul, radio reports indicated there had been heavy and widespread falls of rain throughout the Central and Northern Flinders Ranges. This was confirmed by the very boggy conditions we encountered on the rough track between Beltana and the Sliding Rock Mine site. In fact we were lucky to get to the starting point of our next ten day stage. At least, I reasoned, obtaining sufficient water for our needs for the ten days as we walked to Arkaroola was not going to be a problem.

It was at the Sliding Rock Mine site that Bob Nicolle, Dick Grant and I had finished the previous stage in early October the previous year. Bob, Dick and I were again the sole participants in this next stage.

After the mandatory photograph session we stepped out on our way to Arkaroola in the mid-morning. Soon we crossed Sliding Rock Creek and walked north-east along Turner Creek, passing Hills Camp Well. Walking was difficult due to the wet slippery conditions. Mud was building up under the soles of our boots and several near-falls occurred.

We followed a rough track on the banks of Turner Creek. After lunch we left our packs near the track and climbed Mount Goddard (~770 metres), one and a half kilometres to the north. Excellent views to the east towards Mount Hack was a more than adequate reward for our efforts. Returning to our packs we continued walking up Turner Creek. Several kilometres on we diverted up a major tributary entering Turner Creek from the south. After passing through a short rocky gorge we continued to follow the creek as it swung towards the east.

Although our map failed to show any track along the route we were following, we were in fact following the remnants of a very early made road. In places the construction of the road had required considerable earthworks and reinforcement of the road with dry stone embankments. At one point a stone embankment at least three metres high had been constructed. Although the road and stone embankments had deteriorated in places the road had obviously been well constructed and was an important road in its time. We speculated on its destination. Perhaps it led to Old Angepena which was our immediate destination. We considered finding and following this road a real bonus. It was taking us to where we wanted to go and it was a feature that added a lot of interest as we passed through the area. Soon after passing over a ridge we entered the catchment of Windy Creek and selected a suitable campsite.

Fortunately the weather had improved rapidly during the latter part of the day and conditions the next morning were clear and sunny. Our course continued east along the old road and as we expected it lead us to Old Angepena, not much more than a kilometre on from our campsite. We spend some time inspecting the site. A number of dilapidated buildings and a stockyard provided interest. Old Angepena was located amid an attractive forest of native pines and it was easy to understand the decision by the pastoral pioneers of the area to build their head station in this beautiful area, although its eventual abandonment would likely to have been due, in part at least, to its isolation.

From Old Angepena we continued east along a rough track. The first evidence of approaching the Angepena Goldfield was a deep open vertical shaft adjacent to the track. At the main goldfield the numerous decaying open vertical and horizontal shafts were scattered over a wide area. A full appreciation of the extensive nature of the goldfield was apparent when we left our packs and climbed nearby Angepena Hill (838 metres).

After returning to our packs a short walk brought us to a delightful lunch spot on the banks of Windy Creek. The rain of the previous two days had left a series of clear pools in the major creeks, resulting in numerous attractive scenes and consequently our lunch spot was one of the best.

An hour later we commenced walking north up a creek, meeting a track which continued to lead us north past Evans Bore and Outstation.

Later in the afternoon we reached the banks of the River Frome, an important river in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The River Frome flows northwards and eventually flows into in Lake Eyre South. Arriving at this point was a significant, a further indicator that we were now a very long way from where we started our walk at Cape Jervis on 25 April 1983, and that we getting ever closer to Mount Babbage. Soon after we selected a campsite on the banks of the River Frome at Mudlapena Gap.

The next morning we continued following the River Frome to the north-east, passing by Angepena Station to the east and Mount Serle Station to the west. We continued to follow the River Frome downstream as it meandered in a north-westerly direction around the northern end of Mount Serle. In the mid-afternoon we selected our next campsite on the banks of the Frome. We then commenced climbing the steep northern face of Mount Serle, arriving at the summit (912 metres) in an hour. Most visitors to this part of the Flinders Ranges see Mount Serle from the south, a much gentler slope to the summit. From the summit we enjoyed excellent views to the Gammon Ranges, now to the east, and we spent some time assessing our proposed route up onto Arcoona Bluff the next afternoon. After ascending Aroona Bluff we were to spend the next three days on the Gammon Plateau.

After returning to our campsite in the late afternoon we prepared our evening meal with a considerable feeling of excitement, but also trepidation about our now imminent journey up onto the Gammon Plateau.

Soon after setting out the following morning we left the River Frome and walked to the north-east towards Owieanadana Outstation where we had a planned food re-supply meeting with Maureen Nicolle and her boys. They were staying at Wilpena Pound though the period of the stage. On the way to the Outstation, after crossing Crowsnest Creek and Diamond Creek, we left our packs and walked north along a meandering ridge for two kilometres to the summit of Extension Hill (612 metres) where we obtained further helpful views of our proposed route up Arcoona Bluff. Shortly before noon we reached Owieanadana Outstation and found Maureen and the boys had already arrived. Over lunch we shared our news, learnt something of the news of the world over the previous few days and packed our new food supply.

Shortly after 1.00 pm, with seven days food and water, sufficient for the next two and a half days, we commenced our ascent of Arcoona Bluff, struggling under the heaviest packs we had carried so far during any stage of the walk. After crossing Arcoona Creek, by way of the gentlest of a selection of very steep slopes, we slowly climbed the 450 metres to the top of Arcoona Bluff (953 metres), and established a campsite on a cliff top in the early evening. This, at a height of 953 metres, was the highest campsite since commencing the walk, until the following two nights when we camped right on summit of Prow Point. We prepared and then ate our evening meal during sunset with the most superb views imaginable to the south and the west.

After walking east along the relatively flat Blue Range for some time the following morning we left our packs, ensuring they were at a prominent spot so we wouldn’t have difficulty returning to them, and walked across a high saddle to the summit of nearby Gammon Hill (1,012 metres). Our lunch spot whilst still making our way east along Blue Range had great views over Arcoona Creek. Later in the afternoon, we descended into Arcoona Saddle and then into Yackie Saddle were we again left our packs, also at a prominent spot, and descended into Mainwater Pound to Yackie Waterhole.

To our pleasure we found water flowing above the waterhole, obviously a legacy of the heavy rains four days earlier. We spent some time at Yackie Waterhole, and filled the water containers we had brought with us in anticipation, before returning to our packs for the final effort of the day to walk up to Prow Point, our campsite for the next two nights. The walk up to Prow Point (977 metres) was through increasingly thick scrub and on arrival we found the mix of thick vegetation and the rocking nature of the ground meant suitable tent sites were at a premium. In the end I selected a relatively flat and smooth rock slab for my sleeping position and gave up on erecting my tent. This campsite was now the highest for the walk. Possibly only eclipsed by a few metres at our campsite further north near Crocker Saddle two days hence.

We left our campsite intact the following morning, setting out at 7.00 am on a day walk to Mount McKinley. Taking day packs and sufficient water for the day we soon found ourselves in amongst the legendary thick Gammon scrub which was going to slow our progress for most of the day. After passing over Four Winds Hill (968 metres) we continued on to Mount Changeweather (928 metres) and then Octopus Hill (~ 900 metres), and arrived at Mount McKinley (1,050 metres) soon after noon. As a result to the slow progress it was going to be a race against time to get back to our campsite at Prow Point before dark. We therefore stayed only 30 minutes in the shadow of the substantial cairn on the summit, constructed by the team that occupied the summit for some time in the 1960s to assess the site as a possible location of the planned southern hemisphere observatory, before commencing our return. Excellent views down Amphitheatre Creek and Cleft Peak from Pine Saddle were a feature during our return trip. We eventually struggled into our campsite as light began to fade. We had travelled just twenty kilometres in eleven hours. Such is many parts of the Gammon Plateau.

The next morning we again left our packs at our campsite on Prow Point and walked down The Terraces, part of the headwaters of the South Branch Italowie Creek, which started just a few hundred metres from our campsite. We had only just started down The Terraces when we realised we were in for a morning of spectacular scenery. Water was trickling over most of the cascades and waterfalls in The Terraces and the stepped nature of the watercourse, as a result of the near horizontal dip slope of the hard sandstone, explained the reason for the name. After descending The Terraces for an enchanting hour we reached its junction with Fern Chasm (~600 metres) which we followed upstream to return to Prow Point. Reaching the waterfall in Fern Chasm we found deep water guarding the approach to their base so we detoured past the waterfall by climbing a high ridge on the right. After a few anxious moments due to the exposed route as we climbed high above the creek bed before descending back into Fern Chasm above the waterfall we continued upstream and reached Prow Point in time to load our packs and have an early lunch.

After lunch we walked north-east along the meandering Blue Range. The thick scrub and meandering made staying on the ridge a difficult navigational exercise, which coupled with the exertion of the previous day and the morning, contributed to slow progress throughout the afternoon.

Late in the afternoon we selected a sheltered campsite just north of Crockers Saddle.

We woke to cold, wet blustery weather. Overnight the weather had deteriorated and we were now high up amongst the clouds and visibility was limited to only thirty metres. Conditions had not improved as we finished our breakfast and commenced walking at 7.00 am. Navigation was now even more difficult as the top of the Range was flat and broad, heavily vegetated, and repeatedly meandered left and right. Constant vigilance was necessary to avoid following a side ridge that would eventually commence a steep descent, causing us to return to the top of the Range to discover and follow the main ridge, and as a consequence fall behind schedule.

By mid-morning we were approaching Benbonyathe Hill. We had not stopped for our customary five minute rest each hour because of the intense cold. We had to keep moving to stay warm. Soon after reaching an overgrown track, legacy of the observation party that also occupied Benbonyathe Hill in the 1960s to assess the area for the proposed great southern observatory, we reached the summit of Benbonyathe Hill (1,064 metres). In the end the Gammon Range were not chosen for the observatory. Known as Siding Spring Observatory the observatory was eventually established on Mount Woorat near Coonabarabran in Northern New South Wales. As at Mount McKinley, a considerable collection of rusting equipment, abandoned when the observation work was concluded, lay scattered about the summit cairn.

The weather was still poor and we stayed on the summit only long enough to leave a note in the container in the cairn before continuing north-east along the top of the Range. Soon after leaving Benbonyathe Hill the Blue Range commenced a gradual descent. As the descent became steeper we followed a ridge to the north which lead us down into Mainwater Pound, and we soon dropped below the base of the clouds. We stopping for a late lunch after reached Bolla Bollana Creek, during which we light a small fire to help us thaw out and dry some of our wet equipment.

Soon after lunch we emerged from Mainwater Pound and crossed the Yadnina to Arkaroola Track. Continuing to follow Bolla Bollana Creek downstream we selected a campsite on the banks of the creek in the late afternoon.

The next morning we continued to follow the Bolla Bollana Creek downstream, arriving early at the historic Bolla Bollana Smelter site for our planned rendezvous with Jubilee 150 Youth Trek students from Marion High School. Through arriving early we had time to climb nearby Greenwood Hill (583 metres). Although the current stage was nearing the end we were anxious to gain whatever glimpses we could of the country ahead, country we would be walking later in the year to Mount Babbage. The view from Greenwood Hill provided that opportunity.

After lunching with the Youth Trek students we again continued to follow Bolla Bollana Creek downstream, soon reaching its junction with North Well Creek at Nooldoonooldoona Waterhole. At this point the two creeks become Arkaroola Creek which we followed downstream for the remainder of the afternoon, before selecting a campsite on a broad sandy area a kilometre west of Arkaroola Waterhole.

A steep climb north out of Arkaroola Creek with packs the next morning brought us to Coulthard Lookout (~ 560 metres) on Arkaroola’s well-known Ridgetop Track. Excellent views to the north, well past Mount Painter to Yudanamutana Gorge and Freeling Heights beyond that gave us a good feel for the tangle of mountains and gorges we were to encounter at the start of the final stage to Mount Babbage. Walking south along the Ridgetop Track towards the end point of the current stage at Arkaroola we passed Dinnertime Hill to the east. After descending to and crossing Arkaroola Creek we continued to follow the Track and arrived at Arkaroola at noon.

The seventh stage of the walk was now complete. A challenging and exhilarating ten days of strenuous effort brought great satisfaction. We were now eagerly looking forward to returning to Arkaroola in Spring to complete the walk at Mount Babbage.

Jump to content:

Stage Eight – Arkaroola to Mount Babbage

The three remaining members of the eleven walkers who set out from Cape Jervis to walk the Heysen Trail to Mount Babbage, now three and a half years ago, were now just ten walking days from reaching that goal. None of us had ever seen Mount Babbage at the northern tip of the Flinders Ranges but Mount Babbage had been dominant in our thinking since setting out from Cape Jervis.

We could have spent the rest of the day on the summit, reminiscing on the shared effort of the 2,000 kilometres of walking over 80 days.

Planning the route and logistics for this final stage had been particularly difficult. The 1:50,000 topographical map series ends with the Yudnamutana map and the 1:250,000 series covering the northern tip of the Ranges are of little value in planning routes and identifying and finding likely water points.

Warren Bonython’s ‘Walking the Flinders Ranges’ was heavily relied on to plan this final stage. We intended to follow much of his 1968 route north of Arkaroola. That is until we met Arkaroola’s Information Officer Lorraine Edmunds. Whilst Dick Grant and I were filling our vehicle with fuel at Arkaroola’s public fuel bowsers soon after arrival on the afternoon of Friday 17 October 1986 we asked the attendant what he knew of the current water situation in the ranges to the north. ‘Not much’ was the reply followed by the helpful suggestion we seek out and talk to Lorraine Edmunds in the Arkaroola Information Centre. This quickly proved to be an invaluable suggestion.

We found Lorraine busily at work at the Information Centre and she very kindly offered to meet with us at her staff flat that evening.

Bob Nicolle and his family arrived soon after and after establishing our camping arrangements in the Arkaroola Caravan Park we went to Lorraine’s flat to gain as much knowledge of the current conditions to the north as she was able to provide. After explaining our proposed route to Mount Babbage and the areas where we were uncertain of the availability of water, Lorraine asked why we had not chosen to include the Mawson Plateau in our route. ‘Where’s that’ we asked. For the next hour we sat enthralled as Lorraine described the area north of Freeling Heights, showing us photographs she had taken during her visits to the plateau, and identified the plateau on our 1:50,000 Yudnamutana map. We immediately changed that part of our planned route to incorporate crossing the Mawson Plateau.

At 8.00 am the following morning, following the mandatory photographs taken by Bob’s wife Maureen, we left from the front of the Arkaroola complex and followed a station track to the south-east. About mid-morning, as we neared Frome Lookout, we left our packs and walked south to the summit of Mount Warren-Hastings (~ 590 metres). The weather was fine and warm and from the summit we obtained splendid views of the Gammon Plateau, and particularly Benbonyathe Hill. After returning to our packs we continued to follow the track to Frome Lookout (~ 420 metres) where we had lunch whilst taking in the excellent view of Humanity Seat. After lunch we left the track and headed east and then north-east, crossing the Arkaroola entrance road before following a creek downstream through Kingmill Gorge to its junction with Arkaroola Creek.

At the junction we again left our packs and followed Arkaroola Creek downstream for a kilometre to the spectacular Tillite Gorge. After returning to our packs we proceeded upstream along Arkaroola Creek. In the late afternoon an attractive campsite was selected on the banks of the creek between Stubbs Waterhole and Barraranna Waterhole. Our campsite was enclosed by sheer rock walls on both sides of the creek and as light faded we were entertained by amazing lighting effects on the walls.

Reaching Barraranna Waterhole was our first objective the next morning as we continued upstream along Arkaroola Creek. In a short time we reached the waterhole. The amount of water and the sheer rock walls around the waterhole prevented walking further upstream along Arkaroola Creek so we left the creek and walked west and then north through Spotted Schist Pass and arrived back at Arkaroola Creek two kilometres upstream of Barraranna Waterhole.

Soon after reaching Arkaroola Creek we again left our packs and, by following a tributary, headed to the north towards Humanity Seat. From the headwaters of the tributary it was only a short walk to the summit of Humanity Seat (655 metres). We spent half an hour admiring the view, to the east over the plain towards Lake Frome, and to the north were our journey lay in the days ahead. A different route was taken back to our packs. We remained on the high ridges leading us to the south for as long as possible before dropping down to our packs at Arkaroola Creek.

Following lunch a midday lunch we continued upstream along Arkaroola Creek, past Mundoo Dopinna Waterhole. On reaching Echo Camp in the mid-afternoon we selected an attractive campsite and Dick and I climbed nearby Dinnertime Hill (~ 540 metres). On returning to the campsite we found Bob had been joined by his family who stayed with us for tea. Although we had left Arkaroola two days earlier we had only progressed three kilometres north of the latitude of Arkaroola. In fact we were still south of the most northerly point we had reached on the previous stage.

But that all changed the next morning as we headed north along Arkaroola Creek, soon coming to its junction with Radium Creek which we followed upstream through American Gap and Sunshine Pound. Occasionally we observed the remnants of a mining track that had been constructed along the creek bed, now being progressively obliterated by infrequent flood events.

After crossing the Ridgetop Track we continued up Radium Creek to East Painter Bore and the abandoned Mount Painter Mine Camp site. Obtaining regular water supplies was going to be the key to the success of this walk. East Painter Bore is one of the few reliable sources of water in the area, even though obtaining it was a slow and laborious task using a billy lowered into the bore hole at the end of a length of rope.

Mid-morning we headed east up a steep track. As we gained height the full extent of the tracks and drilling platforms associated with the uranium exploration program in the area in the 1960s was revealed. Whole hillsides were a maze of earthworks and the tremendous effort required to position huge drilling rigs on precipitous slopes was difficult to fully comprehend.

Skirting around the southern flank of Mount Gee we diverted off the track and followed a creek to Mount Gee waterfall where we stopped for lunch. Seeing numerous exposed quartz crystals, literally components of all of the rocks in the area, was an amazing experience.

After lunch we selected an attractive campsite on a sand bank at the base of the waterfall and set out to climb Mount Painter. As we neared the summit by following an undulating but steadily rising ridge my thoughts turned to our first sighting of Mount Painter, from our campsite on Aroona Bluff at the western end of the Gammon Plateau, eight walking days earlier, when it was strikingly illuminated at sunrise.

The view from the summit of Mount Painter (~ 790 metres) was excellent and we spent some time identifying those places to the south we had already visited and those places to the north and north-west we would visit in the coming days. Particular attention was given to assessing our proposed route to the summit of The Armchair the following day.

Mid-afternoon we commenced our descent and arrived at the Ridgetop Track at the same time a group of tourists on Arkaroola’s four wheel drive Ridgetop Tour stopped above the Mount Gee waterfall whilst on their return from Sillers Lookout.

Whilst Dick returned to our campsite Bob and I quickly scrambled up a rocky slope to the summit of Mount Gee (640 metres). From the summit we gained an even greater appreciation of the 1960s exploration effort and the setting sun in the late afternoon created wonderful shadow effects on mountainous terrain. We returned to our campsite well satisfied with the day’s northwards progress.

We left our campsite just after 7.00 am the following morning, heading north along a steadily rising creek bed until we reached a saddle at the head of the creek and then descended to Armchair Creek. At Armchair Creek, after a short rest, we left our packs and commenced the ascent of The Armchair. Following the route we had identified the previous day we walked west to the entrance of the scree valley that leads up onto the ‘seat’ of The Armchair. We then scrambled up the left hand ‘arm’ and onto the dome. Some spots during the ascent were quite exposed but we reached the summit (~ 720 metres) with ease, relative to our expectations. When we encountered the Ridgetop Tour Group the previous afternoon above the Mount Gee waterfall it was arranged with the tour guides that we would signal the following morning’s Ridgetop Tour group when they reached Sillers Lookout using a heliographic mirror that had been lent to us by Doug Sprigg prior to our leaving Arkaroola. We had also arranged that the tour guides would respond with mirrors.

Whilst on the summit of The Armchair which coincided with the arrival of the morning Ridgetop Tour at Sillers Lookout two way mirror contact was made quite easily. A short time later the Arkaroola plane was sighted out to the west, flying north. As the plane circled to the south we signalled the plane and it diverted towards The Armchair, flying past us at distance of just a few hundred metres. With Mount Painter in the background I took a photograph of the plane as it flew past. There was a tense few minutes as we left the summit because it was important to accurately retrace our steps off of the dome. Without care it would have been all too easy to descent in the wrong direction and end up on the very steep and dangerous slopes that are a feature of most of The Armchair.

After returning to our packs we followed Armchair Creek downstream for several kilometres before diverting up a tributary to the east to intersect with the Ridgetop Track. A very steep walk up the Track brought us to a ridge near Mount Ward where had lunch whilst enjoying great views of The Armchair and the deep chasm that was Yudnamutana Gorge looming to our north. Continuing to follow the Ridgetop Track we reached Sillers Lookout just prior to the arrival of that afternoon’s Ridgetop Tour. To our amazement we learnt that some of the people on the Tour were on the plane that flew past us whilst on the summit of The Armchair that morning – and that they had photographed us from the plane as I had photographed the plane. An exchange of addresses lead to an exchange of copies of the respective photographs.

After four days of near solitude it was a strange feeling to be surrounded by thirty tourists and we soon decided to move on. We left Sillers Lookout by way of a very steep and badly eroded track down to Yudnamutana Creek and established our campsite just upstream of the junction of the track and the creek. At just 230 metres above sea level this was the lowest campsite since camping at the base of Mount Cavern near the junction of Mambray Creek and Alligator Creek during Stage Four. As we had arrived at our campsite a little earlier than planned and the temperature was quite warm Bob and Dick decided to walk up the Creek into Yudnamutana Gorge to seek out a rock pool suitable for bathing. I elected to explore some of the numerous exploration tracks and drilling platforms that had also been constructed in this area.

That night turned out to be one of the most memorable of the entire walk. Just after dark an enormous gully wind came rushing down the gorge. For seemingly hours, with river sand swirling around and through the tent, I clung to the poles of my tent to stop it collapsing.

Despite the blustery night we woke to a calm morning and leaving our campsite intact we left early to walk to Paralana Hot Springs. After walking north-east, downstream along the banks of the Yudnamutana Creek downstream for nearly five kilometres we reached the Paralana Hot Springs on Hot Springs Creek. Our purpose for visiting the Hot Springs was twofold. To view the springs and to meet Maureen and her boys who had our mid stage food re-supply. Maureen and the boys arrived shortly after us and we stayed an hour inspecting the springs and Arkaroola’s nearby abandoned vineyard venture.

On return to our campsite we quickly cleaned our sand impregnated equipment and packed our new food supply before heading upstream into Yudnamutana Gorge.

Discussion when we stopped for lunch an hour later centred on our water strategy for the next two days. Water was available in increasingly irregular pools in Yudnamutana Creek. Lorraine Edmunds had assured us water would be plentiful on the Mawson Plateau but we had to decide when to pick up water for the one and a half days until we reached the plateau.

Soon after lunch we reached the junction of Yudnamutana Creek and Armchair Creek. Leaving our packs we followed Armchair Creek upstream to its junction with Commonwealth Mine Creek. A short distance further up Armchair Creek we reached a substantial waterfall and we spent some time scrambling over the rocks that formed the waterfall.

On returning to our packs we continued following Yudnamutana Creek upstream. The pools of water were becoming less frequent, and we decided it was time ‘fill up’. We did, in fact, manage to ‘fill-up’ at the last available pool of good quality water.

In the mid-afternoon we left the Yudnamutana Creek and commenced following Junction Creek upstream to the north. After several kilometres we reached the Wind Funnel, so named by Warren Bonython in 1968. This short rocky gorge contained water of doubtful quality. The extent of the pool of water necessitated a difficult detour high up to the left of the gorge and it took some time to regain the bed of the creek and continue our journey north. In the late afternoon we selected a campsite just south of Stanley Mine. Our map showed a number of historic mine sites in the immediate vicinity and we speculated about the early occupant of a ruined cottage near our campsite.

We set off without packs early the following morning. Our first objective was to climb Willigan Hill several kilometres north-west of our campsite. We spent some time on the summit (669 metres), looking at the myriad of rolling hills to the north and the west as well as the route we were to take to the east to Freeling Heights later in the day. Returning past our campsite we retraced part of our steps from the previous day before diverting to the east to climb Mount MacDonnell. We decided to climb this peak because there was confusion about its precise location. The presumed position of Mount MacDonnell is indicated on the First Edition 1:50,000 Yudnamutana map we were carrying but we had heard there was doubt if the position indicated on the map was correct. A steep climb brought us to the location of Mount MacDonnell (~ 820 metres) as indicated on our map. No cairn of trig point could be found, which we considered unusual for a named peak, giving weight to the possibility that Mount MacDonnell was in fact one of the other nearby peaks, all of which were about the same height of the peak we were on.

After hurrying back to our campsite, packing and consuming a quick lunch we walked east, passing more historic mine sites. Our campsite that evening had to be on water on the Mawson Plateau and we planned to get there by way of Freeling Heights. After passing over a watershed we entered the headwaters of north flowing MacDonnell Creek. A steady climb brought us onto the relatively flat Freeling Heights and we soon reached the summit (944 metres), marked by a substantial cairn.

The views east and south over Hot Springs Creek were magnificent. We also gained our first glimpse north over the Mawson Plateau. A campsite with water that night was now down to Lorraine Edmunds.

Because we were anxious to confirm the availability of water, we soon started onto the Plateau. A steep drop of 250 metres brought us down onto the Plateau. It was quickly apparent the country was different. The terrain was flat and softer and the type and appearance of the vegetation differed markedly. To our relief we soon came across the first pool of water.

An hour and a half after leaving Freeling Heights we came across the first evidence of the granite wonderland that Lorraine had described. A series of waterfalls with a steady flow of cascading water and a nearby grassy flat provided a stunning campsite.

We intended to follow this creek across the Mawson Plateau and onto its junction with Hamilton Creek. We set of the next morning in high spirits. To be prudent we had filled all of our water containers and were now assured of water all the way to Mount Babbage. Lorraine’s description of what we were to experience on the Mawson Plateau had already, in a short time the previous day, exceeded our expectations.

As we walked downstream the granite created landscapes entirely different from anywhere else in the Flinders Ranges. At every turn we marvelled at the waterfalls, deep tree-lined waterholes, and long continuous stretches of water. We could hardly contemplate that we were at the arid northern tip of the Flinders Ranges.

Frequent stops to take in the magnificent scenery contributed to slow progress, and some sections, choked with huge boulders, made walking with our heavy water-laden packs arduous. Our walk across the plateau ended at lunch time when the area took on a more typical Flinders Ranges appearance and water was no longer present. It was mid-afternoon when we emerged from a narrow gorge the creek had become and an hour later we selected an attractive campsite on a sandy bank adjacent to the creek.

We were now right on the upper edge of the 1:50,000 Yudnamutana map and soon after setting out early the next morning, continuing to follow the north-flowing creek downstream, we entered the remaining stage of the walk where we had to rely on the 1:250,000 Callabonna and Frome maps. It quickly became apparent that I now needed to pay even closer attention to navigating our way. By mid-morning we reached the junction of the creek we had been following for the past day and a half with Hamilton Creek.

We left our packs and walked to the west, upstream along Hamilton Creek for nearly six kilometres, to the base of Mount Livingstone. A 300 metre ascent from the bed of Hamilton Creek brought us to what we understood from our map was the summit of Mount Livingstone (635 metres). However the lack of a cairn or any type of marker on the summit gave us doubt. In climbing Mount Livingstone we had re-entered the area covered by the 1:50,000 Yudnamutana map and we were confident we were at the point on the map indicated to be Mount Livingstone. Interestingly the second edition 1:50,000 Yudnamutana map I subsequently obtained for a later Mawson Plateau walk does not identify the location as Mount Livingstone. In fact the second edition map did not refer to a Mount Livingstone at all. (The second edition map did have Mount MacDonnell in the same location as the first edition.)

After returning to our packs, which was also our lunch spot, we commenced following Hamilton Creek downstream. The creek started to broaden out. At our campsite in the bed of the creek later that afternoon we estimated the creek was three kilometres wide.

We set off the next morning with a sense of anticipation. Within few hours we expected our first glimpse of Mount Babbage. The Hamilton Creek commenced to narrow and soon after we passed through the two narrow gorges that comprise Brindana Gorge. Perched high on the right-hand side of the second gorge was an enclosed observation platform, established for observing the numerous, but shy, Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies that frequented the gorges. As we emerged from the second gorge we enjoyed our first view of the flat mesa top of Mount Babbage, about ten kilometres to the north-east.

After passing through Brindana Gorge the Hamilton Creek commenced a meandering path through undulating country. Leaving the creek we walked east for several kilometres and left our packs to climb Parabarana Hill. At least that was the plan! For just the second time in the whole of the estimated 2,000 kilometre walk I, temporarily, misplaced myself and my companions. As a result of the challenge of the transition from a 1:50,000 map to a 1:250,000 map, and perhaps also overconfidence, we walked in a more southerly direction than intended, and ended up walking towards Mount Neil.

Fortunately I discovered my error before we had gone too far and we re-traced our steps for several kilometres before walking east to the summit of Parabarana Hill (311 metres), arriving an hour late. Mount Babbage now stood out clearly, just nine kilometres to the north. Seeing Mount Babbage, now less than half a day’s walk away made up somewhat for my error.

After returning to our packs we followed a creek downstream to its junction with the Hamilton Creek where we established our final campsite. The next morning we would reach Mount Babbage. There was great expectation and pride in what we had achieved. As a result of the navigation error the previous afternoon we left our campsite before 7.00 am the following morning, walking north down the sandy bed of the Hamilton Creek, avoiding the many saline pools of water that were a feature of that part of the creek.

After an hour we entered another rocky gorge and passed a large metal structure extending into the creek bed, installed by the Engineering and Water Supply Department for the purpose of measuring the enormous flood waters that must flow down the Hamilton Creek from time to time. Soon after we arrived at Terrapinna Waterhole, the most northern and most likely the largest waterhole in the Flinders Ranges. Some time was spent in negotiating around the left-hand side of the waterhole. By mid-morning we had reached the northern end of the waterhole and emerged from the gorge.

Mount Babbage was now prominent, just several kilometres away.

Leaving our packs where the Lyndhurst to Moolawatana track crossed the Hamilton Creek we quickly set off for the summit. In addition to some food, water and cameras we also carried our Jubilee 150 flag, carried all the way from Cape Jervis.

Reaching the summit of Mount Babbage was an easy walk, much different from most of the seventy peaks we had visited since leaving Cape Jervis three and a half years before. As we neared the summit my mind was full of the journey the brought us here. And then we were on the summit (300 metres). It was Monday 27 October 1986.

Bob, Dick and I shared congratulations all round. We could have spent the rest of the day on the summit, reminiscing on the shared effort of the 2,000 kilometres of walking over 80 days. However our planned rendezvous with Maureen Nicolle on the track near Terrapinna Waterhole for transport back to Arkaroola meant we stayed for just an hour.

We arrived back at our packs just as Maureen and her boys arrived.

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