Stage Seven – Sliding Rock Mine to Arkaroola

The First End-to-End walk of the Heysen Trail

The road to Old Angepena
Old Angepena
Overlooking the Angepena Goldfields
Decaying shaft at Angepena Goldfields
Following creekbed north from Angepena Goldfields
Towards Mount Serle
Cairn on summit of Mount Serle
Arcoona Bluff and the Gammon Ranges from Mount Serle
Descending from Mount Serle
Sunrise on Mount Serle
Early visitors to Extension Hill
Mount Serle from Arcoona Bluff
Cairn on Gammon Hill
Towards Yackie Waterhole
Yackie Waterhole
Cleft Peak on the return from Mount McKinlay
Returning to Prow Point from Mount McKinlay
Starting down The Terraces
The Terraces
Abandoned observation equipment on the summit of Benbonyathe Hill
Cairn on summit of Benbonyathe Hill
The descent into Mainwater Pound
Along Bolla Bollana Creek
Along Arkaroola Creek
Campsite on Arkaroola Creek
Mount Painter from Greenwood Hill
End of Stage Seven at 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.

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