Walk from Parachilna Gorge to Mt Hopeless

Originally published in the Trailwalker magazine: Spring 2001, Sep 2001

There is what could be called an “unofficial extension” of the Heysen Trail, going from the northern end of the Heysen Trail at Parachilna Gorge, to Mt Hopeless. The route is unmarked, and follows roughly the path taken by the Patron of the Friends, Warren Bonython AO, on his epic walk of the Flinders Ranges, which he and his companions completed in 1968, and is described in his book ‘Walking the Flinders Ranges’.

In May 2000 a small group of experienced walkers from the Friends who had completed walking the Heysen Trail, and had thus walked from Crystal Brook to Parachilna Gorge, set out to set out to complete the emulation of Warren’s walk, by walking on to Mt Hopeless.

Their walk was descibed in three articles published in Trailwalker.

Part One – Parachilna to Angepena by Gavin Campbell

Map showing the area of the walk from Parachilna Gorge to Mt Hopeless, Part of Australian Geographic Map

Map showing the area of the walk from Parachilna Gorge to Mt Hopeless. part of Australian Geographic Map.

We set off for the Flinders on a morning when there was a two inch snowfall at Jamestown and rough weather over most of the state. There were nine of us and after dispersing from John’s Glenelg home, seven in Les’s bus and Jeff and John in John’s car, we headed or Moolooloo Station north of Parachilna Gorge, to continue our Flinders Ranges odyssey.

All of us have completed the Flinders Ranges leg of the Heysen Trail, and under the inspiration of Warren Bonython’s Book; “Walking the Flinders Ranges, we intended to complete walking the Flinders, not necessarily in Bonython’s footsteps, but complete it nonetheless.

I for one had read the book several times over the past twenty or so years and each time had said to myself “One day I will do that”.

I completed The Heysen Trail section from Crystal Brook to Hawker with friends from work and my constant walking companion Robert, and from Hawker to Parachilna with Robert alone.

Responding to a letter to the Editor in the February edition of Trailwalker, I rang Les Skinner and asked if Robert and I could join his group on the rest of the walk. Robert declined, having had enough and being unable to get a ticket of leave. My wife on the other hand had been the one who read the letter and suggested I go. Is there a message in this somewhere?

The bus arrived at Moolooloo at about 4pm on Saturday 27th of May, and with John and Jeff having arrived earlier, there were nine of us ready for action. The plan was to stay in the shearer’s quarters for two nights doing the walk from Parachilna Gorge to Moolooloo with day packs. Then with full packs into Narrina Pound staying the first night near Patawarta Gap, the second night in Narrina Hut, the third night near Mount Hack in Main Gap and the fourth night near Evans Outstation, and walking out to Angepena on the last day.

Saturday night was a cold affair and we were thankful to be sleeping with a roof over our heads. There were several books and magazines in the shearer’s dining room but what attracted my attention was a framed article about one of Australia’s greatest bush walkers. I copied the article and will impart its wisdom to you in a later article. On with the saga.

On Sunday morning we awoke to clouds covering the higher hills and a definite chill in the air. After bussing it to the official starting point at the end of the Heysen Trail, and taking the obligatory photographs, we set off. Firstly we walked along the road and then along the Oratunga Creek, I had photocopied the appropriate pages of Bonython’s book and tried to notice any of the features he mentioned. The first feature to look for was aboriginal rock carvings near a six-foot bar in the creek. I think I found the bar but not the carvings. We were in a hurry and didn’t have time to look around, maybe next time.

It was in this creek that Mark imparted his first spark of wisdom upon us. Because of our tight time schedule some of us doubted that walking in the creek was sound judgement and Mark advised us of the “wiggly factor” of walking in creeks.

It was in this creek that Mark imparted his first spark of wisdom upon us. Because of our tight time schedule some of us doubted that walking in the creek was sound judgement and Mark advised us of the “wiggly factor” of walking in creeks. With the “wiggly factor” one multiplies the length by something, divide by something else, take away the first number thought of and that is the distance. He must have been right because we got back to Moolooloo at about 2pm, giving Les and John enough time to take the bus to Angepena and come back in John’s car before bed time.

Oratunga Creek is beautiful like most big creeks in the Flinders and although “wiggly” in the beginning opens out into a wide, straight and noble riverbed when the hills become less mountainous. We made rapid progress along the creek with the last seven kms of the days walk being along the road to Moolooloo Station. It was along this road that we passed over the 31st parallel. We arrived back, as I have said, at about 2pm with the bus leaving for Angepena at about 3pm. It was only after the bus had gone that on checking my gear I realised my tent had been left on the bus. This incident reminded me of Warren Bonython doing the same thing on one of his walks and I can understand not only the embarrassment he must have felt but also the annoyance with the brainpower that would have allowed such a thing to happen.

The following morning we were awakened bright and early when Les started the generator at 6:30. After breakfast as we started off from the homestead’s front garden, we could just see Mt Patawarta in the distance, and could not believe we would be walking almost that far in one day. The morning started out cold and sunny, as did the walkers, setting off for our first target, Hannigan Gap. The walk was slightly undulating and through well wooded country. There were thousands of small pine trees and I blessed the eradication of rabbits. John however suggested that many might have been bonsaied, relating a tale of how Mawson had observed a small pine at Angepena that didn’t grow for 30 years. Whatever the cause, I was pleasantly surprised at the tree life, as I was to be throughout the walk. We had morning tea at Hannigan gap, Mark handing us out a musk stick each. Musk sticks were to become prizes over the next few days for feats of observation and endeavour.

As we progressed we saw little wild life except for herds of goats and a very wary wild donkey who kept a very safe distance on the treeless Home Rule Flat. Lunch was had at Home Rule Flat and it was during lunch that Mark imparted another thought. In the mood of the person who named this area, (Hannigan Gap and Home rule Flat) maybe Patawarta Gap and Mountain had been wrongly spelt and had in fact been named after that well-known Irishman Pat O’Warta. This would lend credence to Hans Heysen calling the Mountain “Old Pat”. Mt Patawarta is the subject of his painting “Land of the Oratunga”. After lunch we passed through Patawarta Gap and set up camp near the foot of Mt Patawarta. On John’s recommendation some agreed to climb the Mountain the following morning, not me though. I hate climbing mountains. When it came time for sleeping, Les with exceptional grace offered me a berth in his tent, a gift I will always be thankful for.

My decision to go with the others was never regretted, for although Patawarta appears angry and gnarly from a distance, it in fact was one of the sweetest climbs I have ever done. 

The next morning again started cold and sunny, beautiful weather for mountain climbing, so off we went to attack the northeast ridge. My decision to go with the others was never regretted, for although Patawarta appears angry and gnarly from a distance, it in fact was one of the sweetest climbs I have ever done. On the summit of Mt Patawarta in all of the rock crevices there was some sort of plant, the most predominant being a flowering grevillea with its red through yellow flowers. There was a sprinkling of many other types of plants some flowering in their yellows and purples but most just green, waiting for their chance to flower in some other season. The climb was over sandstone, the summit being reached in very short time. If the climb up was beautiful, the view from the top was stunning. All ranges from the North through West to the South could be seen with absolute clarity, a haze caused by the recent cold front preventing us seeing much further than Wilpena. The easterly scene, into the sun, was also partly obscured by the sun shining through the haze. The temperature on the summit was 7 degrees. Mark again showed great wisdom at this stage in handing out little chocky eggs. With all photos taken and the summit book duly inscribed we headed down, the steepness of the rock face astounding me. Rubber soles are certainly an amazing rock climbing tool, “sticking” to some amazingly steep surfaces.

We arrived back at camp, packed our things and set off for Patawarta Bore, Mark and Les navigating. After a cross-country hike, we traversed a small hill out of a creek bed and there, right on target, was the windmill and bore, “Perfect navigation men!” After lunch we again set off, this time across a stone covered plateau at the base of some mesas along a fence line, heading for Narrina hut. Trevor making the comment that we had not seen much wildlife except for the occasional kangaroo bounding across the foothills of these mesas. The scene along these foothills was beautiful, mountains in the distance beyond a plain to our left, hills with cliffs at their summit to our right. Again Mark’s navigation was spot on, for as we came over a small hill, there among the trees was the hut and shearing shed.

After the evening meal we went to bed, half our number in the hut and the others in the shearing shed.

Around midnight a mouse about the size of my thumb discovered some food and proceeded to spend the rest of the night scratching and rummaging through the packs for food. What a racket, I didn’t know that one small mouse could make so much noise. To quote Elmer Fudd, he was “One pesky rodent”. He must have been a gourmet mouse because he nibbled at several types of food. The wish for more wild life had been answered, “Well done Trevor!” The following morning before dawn I climbed the small hill behind the shed to watch the sun come up. This spectacle was to be one of the highlights of my trip for the views of the Pound were extensive. This was one point where the Pound could be seen in its entirety.

Don’t anyone tell John, because he would have liked to be there and reminded me of my oversight for the rest of the trip. He even reverted to name calling, mainly doubting the authenticity of my parents especially my father. I promise to take him next time.

After Mark and Gunther came down from the same hill we set off towards Main Gap at the base of Mount Hack. Along the way we stopped off for water at Claypan Bore. Some of us had filled our containers with rainwater at Narrina Hut while the others filled up at the bore. It was at about this time Jeff started to lag with a sore shin and although in some considerable pain, he continued on without complaint. After an uneventful day walking in some beautiful country, we walked through Main Gap and made camp on the banks of Pinda Creek. Close by there is a rock formation that glows at dusk and on this occasion it didn’t let us down. Evidently it is mentioned in Stavros Pippos’ book of photographs. Before dusk we looked over an abandoned gold field with its mining machinery and fallen down shacks.

I think the main track we were following joined all of the gold mines in the area, for this was to be the first of many we were to encounter along this track. Another early night was had by all. In bed by seven. I haven’t done this since I was a baby. I liked Dennis’s comment, “If you are good, you can go to bed early.” Any parent would understand the significance of the comment.

The following morning we set off early for the Frome River, again the walk was uneventful other than being surrounded by beautiful country with stunning hills and abundant plant and bird life, the predominant little bird seemed to be a robin, with its red breast and crown. Other birds, of course included correllas always raucously protesting our presence in their most demanding way, crows giving their mournful cry of despair at having to make a living in this country (did Graham Kennedy interpret their call correctly) and the ubiquitous galahs in their beautiful pink and grey, noisily going about their business. Maybe we would appreciate these birds more if they weren’t so abundant.

Along the way we called into another abandoned mining camp possibly the one Warren Bonython mentions as having a beer garden. Several of us collected little rock samples, and after showing them to our very noncommittal retired geologist Norrie, stowed them in our pockets for future examination.Near Angepena Goldfield We missed Angepena Goldfield, by electing to miss a loop in the track, so cutting off several kilometres. Again John missed out on seeing something he wanted to see, maybe next time. Around lunch time we stopped at Evans Outstation to fill up with bore water. This water was a bit sour but the boys filled up just the same, any water is better than no water. At about 3pm we arrived at the Frome River and almost immediately Mark found a perfect camping spot on its banks.

After tea we stood around watching satellites go across the sky. Such is the exciting nightlife of camping. Norrie turned on his radio but no one wanted to hear about the outside world.

When we had all set up camp he discovered about 50 metres up stream some beautiful rock pools, the pools were healthy because of the abundant and varied aquatic life in them. Gunther on seeing this beautiful clear water got very excited, emptied out his bore water and filled up with pool water. I was expecting him to have a bellyache during the night but he must have a tough constitution. After tea we stood around watching satellites go across the sky. Such is the exciting nightlife of camping. Norrie turned on his radio but no one wanted to hear about the outside world, we had spent a week not knowing and didn’t want the spell to be broken. Again we awoke to find ice on some of the tents. The degrees must have really tumbled during the night.

The final day was only a short walk out of the Frome River through Mudlapena Gap where there is a school of native fish in one of the pools created by the spring that flows through the gap. Again the day was cold and on the plain heading towards Angepena Station we had to don jumpers again. It was a feature of this walk that the temperature never got much over 100 C, although the walking kept us warm. From this plain we could see Mt Serle, and the Gammons beckoning us in the distance.

At about 11 we reached the Station and after a short talk with the Station Owner, Syd Nicholls, we boarded the bus and made a hurried trip to Copley where we got stuck into pasties, cream buns and Coca Colas to satisfy our cravings for city food. After filling up we went on to Parachilna Pub for a quick beer before heading home. I’m sure that if a brewery had sponsored us in some way it would have got a mention at this stage.

On our trip home we had plenty of time to think of our next walk, Angepena to Arkaroola, later in the year.

It should be noted at this point that although the walk for most of us was a magic experience, there was a lot of detailed planning done by John, Mark ,and Les, and my thanks goes to that trio.

I would not recommend anyone else do the walk without the same amount of preparation. … It should also be mentioned that this is very isolated country and should not be tackled without proper consideration, for an injury could mean at least a 40km rescue.

I would not recommend anyone else do the walk without the same amount of preparation. Part of this preparation included getting permission from the station owners over whose land we crossed. It should also be mentioned that this is very isolated country and should not be tackled without proper consideration, for an injury could mean at least a 40km rescue.

Part two – Angepena to Arkaroola by Gavin Campbell

Walk from Parachilna Gorge to Mt Hopeless

Owieandana Outstation

Early in September we again met at the Fleet Street Café, in Pulteney Street, to plan our next walk into the Flinders. All were present except for Geoff and Trevor, both who had work commitments and would not be able to be a part of this next walk. Angepena Station with walk in background Mark, John and Les had done quite a bit of work since the last walk and had more or less planned our route. We were to start where we had left off, at Angepena Station, walk with day packs to Owieandana where our packs and water would be left, walk up Arcoona Creek to its source, climb over Yackie Saddle into Mainwater Pound, pick up water at Yackie Waterhole, walk along Mainwater Creek to Mainwater Spring where another water drop was to be made, walk down Mainwater Creek to Bolla Bollana Smelters and walk along the Umberatana Road to Arkaroola. I had some trepidation about it being so late in the year and the heat but was reassured, so accepted my fate. The walk was set for the first week in October 2000

On the morning of the 30th September we again set off for the North Flinders. A cold front went through Adelaide on the previous night with another to follow on the Sunday so it looked a good start for the week. Hopefully the cold weather would last all week, thus keeping the temperatures where we were going in the low twenties.

Dennis, Les and I went in Dennis’s car arriving at Angepena Homestead at about 2:30PM. Syd Nichols and his wife were at a “Back to Beltana” event so we were greeted by Don. Don had been looking after the place while the Nichols were taking some leave at Wallaroo and was due to leave the following Tuesday for his home at Whyalla. We were shown to our quarters and with Don’s company we boiled a kettle and had a cup of tea and a yarn. Don is an interesting character, full of revolutionary ideas probably developed during his hard 60 odd years of life. I tried not to be dismissive of his comments but I reflected my belief that Australians are caught up in the “Beach Culture” which basically follows the principle “If things get too hard we would rather go to the beach (or bushwalking or to the footy) than fight”. Our discussions went on until about 4PM when he left us and we left for Arkaroola.

By this time Gunther had arrived with Peter and Norrie and we were to go in both cars to Arkaroola, leaving Dennis’s car there while we came back to Angepena in Gunther’s Pajsero. We arrived back to be greeted by Mark and John who had spent the day making a water dump at Mainwater Spring. This act was to prove invaluable later in the week. After tea we had an early night in preparation for an early start the next morning.

Sunday morning started cold and clear and we were greeted by two of the farm dogs, a female Kelpie and her son, a pint sized little fellow who followed us everywhere. Les and I decided to go for a small climb up a rocky outcrop behind the homestead to see what the view was like while we waited for Peter and Mark to take the packs and water to Owieandana. Mum and pup followed, with the pup following Les to the very top. He traversed rocks that I thought too big, occasionally getting stuck and whimpering when confronted with an untraversable object. He did however find his way to the top but when it came time to go down he wanted to stay, so I had to pick him up and show him the way down. We arrived back at the shearer’s quarters, having a short wait for Mark and Peter to return. We were worried about the pup following us but found him lying under a chair fast asleep, totally pooped after his climb.

With the group together, we set off at about 8:30 with daypacks. I went to say goodbye to Don but he was nowhere to be found. We set off across country for the valley between Noah’s Ark and Constitution Hill, soon meeting up with the main track to Owieandana and going between the two mountains of Serle and Rowe. There was a beautiful clear blue sky with a cool Southerly blowing, and the walk was just like a stroll in the park. Occasionally there would be an Emu or Kangaroo running or bounding away, disturbed by our presence. One thing I noticed was the lack of birds, Corellas, Galahs and Crows, which had been so abundant during our last walk.

While walking in this valley we came across a cairn inscribed with the story of how Painter had used a set distance in this plain as his base line for surveying of the whole North Flinders.

While walking in this valley we came across a cairn inscribed with the story of how Painter had used a set distance in this plain as his base line for surveying of the whole North Flinders. At about 2 in the afternoon we arrived at the Owieanda shearing shed to pick up our packs and water. After our pleasant walk with daypacks the weight of the large packs and water was almost too much to bear. I could hardly lift mine and was thankful when after about 2Kms Mark directed us to a camp site on the banks of the Arcoona Creek he had used at other times when he had been in the same area. It was a great spot and because there had been no dew the night before I decided to dispense with my tent and sleep under the stars. Les followed suit.

At dusk some very sleepy ants ventured onto my ground sheet. I assumed that in this climate to work in the heat of the day would be unbearable so they had probably evolved into nocturnal or dusk working ants. I had no bother with them after going to bed, again at about 7:30. 4AM saw me awake and I lay there admiring my ceiling of the Milky Way galaxy. Just before dawn a bird decided to welcome the dawn with a beautiful chorus which went on for a couple of hours. It doesn’t get much better than that, lying in bed watching the dawn and listening to beautiful birdsong.

After breakfast we again set off rock hopping up the Arcoona Creek. I left behind a crushed up biscuit for the ants. It was a warm day with little to no breeze. During one of our scheduled stops someone noticed a goat perched high on the cliff edge above us. There didn’t appear to be any way for him to get in or out and we marvelled on their agility. It was during this walk that I saw what I consider may have been a small meteor remnant among the rocks in the creek. I had to leave it however for it would have been too heavy to carry. We reached Sambot Waterhole at lunchtime and were disappointed to find it almost empty. If it was empty what were the other waterholes going to be like?

Along this creek I noticed a lovely aroma and discovered it was given off by a little bush with a yellow flower. Also in the creek bed were Emu bushes in flower and others with white and yellow flowers. One flower was the most beautiful deep blue. At about 2:30 we found what we considered to be the last camp site in the creek. We reasoned we would not have been able to get over Yackie Saddle that afternoon. Our decision was proved correct the following morning. So we set up camp and spent the afternoon contemplating the best route into Mainwater Pound.

The creek climb was beautiful and as expected, offered us a staircase, not quite to heaven, although the scenery certainly was heavenly.

Again I slept under the stars and again a little bird entertained us with birdsong at about 6AM. Peter was the only one to get up before him. He was first up each morning, much to Gunther’s chagrin, for he started with his barrage of lighthearted, derogatory comments aimed at Gunther, which tended to last on and off all day (our own Morcombe and Wise show). We got going just after seven, deciding to climb up the creek as far as we could and then to climb over a ridge aiming at Yackie Waterhole. The creek climb was beautiful and as expected, offered us a staircase, not quite to heaven, although the scenery certainly was heavenly. At what was considered the best spot, we donned gaiters, climbed out of the creek and headed for “Hill 1002”, a hill between Arcoona and Yackie Saddles. Although this turned out to be one of the highest points in the Gammons, it was chosen because the contour spread both up and down seemed to be the most gradual. This was a tough climb, with us oldies struggling in the heat. I was thankful that people who had considered joining us hadn’t, for this climb might have caused them some anxiety. At one stage Mark, who was the group’s rear guard, noticed a snake we had all stepped over. Mark was the first to notice most of the snakes seen during the walk.

We all made it and were rewarded with one of the great views of the whole area. Mainwater Pound and Yankaninna Range to the North, the Blue Range to the East, Lake Frome in the extreme distance. To the South was The Plateau and Mount Serle with Campbell Bald Hill Range to the distant Southwest. We rested here for a while, taking pictures and generally recuperating. After this rest we set off down again heading for Yackie Waterhole, the notes saying it had water 95% of the time. The gradual descent turned into a rather steep scramble into Yackie Creek which, we were pleased to discover, was a pleasant walk. At lunch time we reached the waterhole from upstream and were disappointed to discover it took up the whole of the creek and was down a cliff of about 50 feet, vertical cliffs on both sides. What a dilemma, 6 tired old blokes, although Mark and Les were still fresh and full of beans, and we didn’t have many options but to climb again. There was a ledge that showed a way down but it was steep, although wide enough to offer some safety. If any one was to slip however, they would have been in trouble. It was chosen and after some harrowing slipping and sliding we all made it down without a mishap. I must have been desperate, for on several occasions I grabbed hold of spinifex, suffering its spikes in my hands rather than slipping.

Norrie and Dennis were desperately short of water and were relying on this water to replenish their supplies. To say the water was disgusting is an understatement. It was green and viscous with Mark commented afterwards that he felt a rubbery backbone when he stuck his hand in. Desperation leads to desperate measures, so John got out his water filter and although constantly clogging up with green algae we managed to get some clean water into some bottles. Unfiltered water was also put into bottles and any bugs present were killed with iodine, later to be filtered through a pair of pantyhose. Iodine must be a great sterilising agent because no one got sick.

Yackie Creek from the waterhole

Yackie Waterhole

Yackie Waterhole

It was later that we read that Yackie Waterhole is the home of Arkurra, the serpent of the Dreamtime, who drank Lake Frome dry, crawled back, making Arkaroola Creek and Mainwater Creek and finally making its home in Yackie Waterhole. With so much salt in his belly you can still hear it rumbling every now and again. White fellas think the small earthquakes that are often heard in the Gammons are the cause of the rumbling. My guess is drinking that water that covers his lair would give anything a bellyache, even Arkurra, and it is about time he tidied things up a bit. The Gammons were considered out of bounds to the local Aborigines.

After leaving Yackie Waterhole we were running a little late, so we walked until 4PM, found a good campsite and settled down for the night. We were all pretty tired after such a hard day and were very relieved to be able to put our feet up. Flies were a constant nuisance but as usual they went away at dusk. It was at this point that Les asked the question, “Where do flies go at night”. He answered his own question with the profound explanation that they follow the sun around the Earth in a great swarm. It seems a reasonable explanation until someone can come up with something better.

After such a tough day we all went to bed fairly early, very soon after sundown. I lay awake for some time looking at the stars through my binoculars, looking at all of the Novas, Stellar Clusters and Binary Stars I could find. My thoughts went back to an occasion when I was sailing at the bottom of York Peninsular on a particularly windless night. The stars were reflecting in the mirror sea. Kate Cottee in her book tells of such a scene and feeling like an astronaut surrounded by stars. It was a truly magnificent experience, for I think the stars down there are brighter than anywhere else. I also tried to make out figures by joining stars. I was able to do so and thought of some kid in ancient times making up figures of a crab, a bull, a scorpion and so on, not for one second thinking that at the start of the Third Millennium his star figures would be the foundation of a new religion.

I drifted off to sleep and again was awakened by the same birdsong as the previous morning. Again we were away by 7:15, following Mainwater Creek. This was to prove to be another tough day spent rock hopping in the creek bed. The temperature gradually climbed into the thirties and any shade was welcome. A light breeze, which occasionally blew in our faces, was also most welcome, but on the whole it was an uncomfortable walk. An outstanding feature of this walk was the cliffs and two particular rock falls. The first being about 500 metres at its base and the other of exceptionally huge boulders. It is certainly spectacularly beautiful country which I wouldn’t have missed seeing for quids.

We arrived at Mainwater Spring at about 1PM and were very relieved to be able to sit in the shade of some large trees who’s foliage looked a little like that of an Olive tree. After a short break we recovered the water and were overwhelmed by Mark and John’s thoughtfulness when a carton of cold beer showed up. Well done boys. God bless ‘em. The water was stowed, with the Yackie water being quickly discarded.

Les subsequently rescued a frilly-necked lizard that had run into and got himself buried in the bulldust, which was about 6 inches deep. I guess he would have drowned if not for good old Les. I often feel like that lizard before his rescue.

After a short lie down on a rock, I was awakened by Mark ready to get going with his often repeated call” TWO MINUTES!” There were several cans of beer undrunk so we collectively put them in our packs. They were to prove quite refreshing over the next few days. If left out overnight they became chilled. What a way to start the day! The afternoon’s walk was to prove a painful affair, for it was along a road, which was hot, long, dusty and hilly. At one stage we could see some tracks in the dust that stopped in the middle of the road. Les subsequently rescued a frilly-necked lizard that had run into and got himself buried in the bulldust, which was about 6 inches deep. I guess he would have drowned if not for good old Les. I often feel like that lizard before his rescue.

There was little shade along this road and with the temperature in the low 30s, the walk became quite tedious, I call it trudging. At 5 o’clock we turned off the main road and found a good campsite in a creek bed near the Oodnaminta Yards. It was the first reasonable campsite we had seen all afternoon. Les, Dennis and I slept in the creek bed under the stars, not the correct thing to do but it was only a small creek and it was certainly not going to rain that night.

When all of the flies had followed the sun and left us for the night I cooked some tuna mornay and bingo they all came back. They must surely love it for they were all around it until I had finished it and sealed off the container. Again I watched the stars and a small bat that fluttered around us during the night. Sleeping under the stars is the way to go for they are a beautiful sight and the show lasts all night. There is even the occasional shooting star, some of them exploding like fireworks.

Next morning again another little bird woke me up. Not the same song as before, but beautiful non the less. When Les woke up he made a startling sight. He was head to toe in blue thermals with the leg of a worn pair on his head as a beanie. At one stage he had his hands on his hips and I half expected him to crow the dawn, our own “little blue rooster”. We were again ready early when I noticed Gunther scampering up the adjacent hill. Why not go too, so I followed.

As I climbed out of the cool valley air, the temperature rose about 5 degrees in about 5 steps half way up the hill, the cold air had convected into the valley. All indications were, it was going to be a hot day. I have a theory that the views from small hills are usually the most spectacular and this one didn’t disappoint. The views were magnificent in all directions and looking over a cliff we appeared to be flying as we looked down on Correllas flying here and there, kangaroos bounding away on the distant valley floor and crows crying away in the distance. We could have stayed there all morning but that was not to be.



Soon the spell had to be broken and we joined the others for the morning walk into Arkaroola. Firstly along a track, then into a creek bed that led into the Wywhyana Creek. Again Mark and Les showed great navigational skills, putting us right on target when we went across country, cutting off bends in both the track and the creek.Arkaroola Village and Griselda Hill The walk again was to prove hard going, mainly because of the heat. It must have been about 35 degrees in the shade, a measure that is of little value when there is no shade. With the glare, the heat off the rocks and the lack of shade, it must have been around the 45 degree mark or higher, which makes for tough walking. We arrived at Arkaroola around noon and were thankful for the effort we had made the previous afternoon. Instead of walking outside in the heat we sat in the cool of the restaurant drinking the lemon squashes the bar shouted us.

While standing at the reception counter I started to read a book about William H. (not Henry) Thomas. My great grandfather William Henry Thomas had been a leaseholder of Umberatana station, the adjoining station to Arkaroola in the 1850s and 60s, with his brother James. The biography was about one of James’ sons and was of special interest to me. I intended to buy it when I could get my credit card. Imagine my disappointment when the shelf book, being the only one left, was sold before I could buy it. If anyone has a copy, or knows of a copy, could they lend it to me please or at least tell me who is the publisher and author.

After a small rest, some of the others went back to Angepena in Dennis’s car to bring back the other two cars and our overnight gear, my credit card and money included. After resting during the afternoon and replenishing our body fluids we went for a meal at the Arkaroola restaurant. The meal was a pleasant change from the meals of the last week.

The hills and mountains we saw were ominous and forbidding but no doubt we will find a way over and around them.

The following day Dennis and Les drove back to Adelaide while the rest of us had a look around. It certainly is an interesting place. We tried to plan the route of our next walk, which will be to Mt Babbage or the Strzelecki Track via Mt Hopeless. The hills and mountains we saw were ominous and forbidding but no doubt we will find a way over and around them. That evening, at dusk, we went to the old Bolla Bollana Smelters and Bolla Bollana Spring where we had originally intended to spend Wednesday Night. If we had, we would have seen Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies coming in for an evening drink, along with other birds and animals but, all in all, not walking on Thursday afternoon in the heat was a bonus.

The following day we headed back to Adelaide, not however going past Umberatana Station, as I had originally wished, because we were told the road was almost impassable. Thus making two disappointments in my quest to find out a little more about my great grand father.

Part three – Arkaroola to Mt Hopeless May 7 – 15, 2001

At 9.55am on Monday 14th May 2001 six members of the Friends of the Heysen Trail reached the summit of Mt Hopeless (126 metres). In summary, the walk had started eight days before at Arkaroola, and had initially followed the Ridge Top Tour Track through the Sprigg family’s spectacular Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary to Siller’s Lookout and then continued on to Paralana Hot Springs. From here we climbed the granite escarpment onto the Mawson Plateau, camping for the third night at the beautiful Tee-Junction Waterhole, and continued across the Plateau to Hamilton Creek. We followed the Hamilton downstream past Con Bore, through Brindana Gorge, and left it just after the Terrapinna Waterhole.

We then climbed one of the most northerly outcrops of the Flinders, Mt Babbage. Leaving the Flinders Ranges behind we started across the most southerly portion of the flat, arid, almost featureless plains, of the Strzelecki Desert past Twelve Springs and Bellinger Bore, where we topped up our water, crossed the old dog fence at Mt Yerila and then the electrified dog fence before reaching our final campsite on the Yerila Creek. We then continued across the gibber plains to our major objective, Mt Hopeless. From here we walked the remaining 14kms over undulating gibber to Mt Hopeless Station. The official trek finished on the Strzelecki Track at the Mt Hopeless Station turnoff on Tuesday 15th May, a total walk of approximately 122 km.

The idea for the trek was conceived when a group of walkers, who had recently completed the Heysen Trail at Parachilna, asked the obvious question, “Where to next?” “Follow in Warren Bonython’s footsteps to Mt Hopeless, as described in his book Walking the Flinders Ranges,” was the unanimous response of Les Skinner, Mark Darter and John Quinn.

The idea for the trek was conceived when a group of walkers, who had recently completed the Heysen Trail at Parachilna, asked the obvious question, “Where to next?” “Follow in Warren Bonython’s footsteps to Mt Hopeless, as described in his book Walking the Flinders Ranges,” was the unanimous response of Les Skinner, Mark Darter and John Quinn. A small advertisement was placed in the Trailwalker. This received several positive enquiries and planning started.

The first walk from Parachilna to Angepena was undertaken in May 2000, and was completed in six days by nine walkers. The walk followed the Oratunga Creek to Moolooloo Station, through Patawarta Gap into the magnificent Narrina Pound, exiting the Pound east of Mt Hack through Main Gap, past the Angepena goldfields, camped on the fifth night at a lovely waterhole on Frome Creek, and the following day walked through Mudlapena Gap and then Angepena Gap to complete the 75km to Angepena Station

The next section from Angepena to Arkaroola across the Gammon Ranges was accomplished in early October 2000 by nine walkers and took five days. The route from Angepena passed under Mt Serle to Owieandana Station. It then followed the boulder strewn Arcoona Creek, crossed the thick bush covered 1002m ridge to the Yackie waterhole (source of dubious drinking water) and then followed another boulder filled creek, the Bolla Bollana Creek, in the narrow Mainwater Pound to Mainwater Bore. Here we refilled from our water cache and then followed a track to camp for the last night at Oodnaminta Yards. We completed the 72km trek to Arkaroola about 11am the following morning. Again we had excellent weather, although it was perhaps on the warm side.

So to the last, longest and most isolated leg of our journey, Arkaroola to Mt Hopeless. This required careful and detailed planning, although information on this area was scant. The party, now reduced to six through two late withdrawals, set off from Adelaide in two vehicles about 5am on Sunday 6th May and rendezvoused at Port Wakefield. The party was Mark Darter and Les Skinner, joint leaders, Dennis Cowling, Norrie Hamilton, Gunther Schmitz and Geoff Wilson. After the compulsory stop at the Copley Bakery to sample their scrumptious pies, pasties and quandong tarts we reached Arkaroola about three o’clock. One vehicle went on to Paralana to make a water drop.

Day 1 Arkaroola to Mt Gee, 13 km

In ideal weather and a temperature in the mid 20s, which was to continue for the remainder of the walk, we set off from Arkaroola Village up Wywhyana Creek, carrying ten days supply of food and two days’ water. We then took the Ridge Top Track to our first camp near Mt Gee, crossing several steep ridges and then down into their consequent valleys. From the track we had magnificent views of the rugged mountainous terrain of this part of the Flinders. As we approached Mt Gee, our leaders decided it was shorter to leave the track and follow a creek which would lead us to our first campsite. This

we soon found to be a taste of what was to come, climbing over and around monster boulders before we found a waterfall blocking our way, close to our projected campsite. This was passed on the right without too much effort. On reaching Camp One three intrepid peak baggers, Mark, Les and Gunther, set off almost immediately to climb the nearby Mt Painter. Taking the shortest route possible, they scrambled up the steep face over much loose rock to reach the summit, and were back within ninety minutes

Day 2 Mt Gee to Paralana Hot Springs, 14.5 km

The route continued along, or rather up and down, the Ridge Top Track past the Armchair and other spectacular peaks, and about lunchtime we reached Sillers Lookout. From here we had superb views in all directions although much of the Mawson Plateau was obscured by a ridge coming off Freeling Heights. The steep and tortuous descent from Sillers to the Yudnamutana valley was down an old disused and badly washed out four wheel-drive mining track which was decidedly unstable underfoot. It was a relief to reach the valley floor and then follow the pleasant tree-lined creek to Paralana Hot Springs where we collected our water cache and made camp.

Day 3 Paralana to Tee-Junction Waterhole, 9 km

This was the day of the big ascent, a 520 metre climb of the granite escarpment to the Mawson Plateau. The first section along Paralana Creek proved a comfortable walk of about 3 km with long stretches of sandy riverbed until we branched north along a tributary at 489622. After another kilometre the climb started straight up the face of the escarpment, following a creek. A rock shelf loomed near the top and caused some concern. However, the 20-foot waterfall proved only a minor hindrance and we entered a flatter, semicircular area which today was coined Mark’s paddock (486642). Here we had lunch, then climbed a short way onto the Mawson Plateau and followed a ridge along and then down to the mapped waterfall at 479667. This was comfortably negotiated to the right. The waterfall had scooped out a giant sump at its base and this contained crystal clear potable water. We then followed the creek down to Tee-Junction Waterhole and this campsite we ranked as one of,

if not, the most beautiful in the whole Flinders Ranges with several tree lined rockpools filled with shimmering clear water. On the cliffs above a large wedge-tailed eagle watched our every move. We were well satisfied that one of our primary objectives had been achieved as planned.

Day 4 Tee-Junction to Hamilton Creek, 10 km

The Mawson Plateau is a large granite batholith and has a much more rounded topography when compared with the deeply incised and mountainous Mt Painter area. It is gently tilted to the north with the numerous creek systems oriented down this regional slope – we were on a downhill run or so we thought. We soon found out that nature had its own way of determining our passage. Just downstream from Tee-Junction the map is clearly marked “numerous rockholes.” We can confirm this is no figment of a cartographer’s imagination – it took nearly three hours to clamber through and around the numerous giant smooth sided washbowls and huge granite boulders which almost always filled the creek floor. This proved an extremely tiresome and, in some cases, difficult task. At one of

these we topped up our water from a small but clear pool, the last we were to see for sometime (with the uncertainty of water sources we carried two days supply, where possible). Shortly, we left behind this difficult section (2km) of the creek and climbed up a tributary which joined the main stream by a waterfall (504692). Another two km of easier walking followed before we stopped for lunch (497705).

Here we came across some footprints, apparently recent, in the soft sand of the creek bed – who did they belong to? We headed up another tributary and then followed several ridges, via knoll 624 (501716) and then along to knoll 568 (511732). Walking became progressively more tedious as wobbly granite slabs threatened to topple us into the abundant sharp pointed spinifex or porcupine grass. Fortunately, only one person slipped over and he was more concerned about puncturing his water containers than the numerous spines he kept removing from his extremities over the next few days. From the ridge, for the first time, we had an unhindered view of what lay ahead with the northeasterly trending tree lined Hamilton Creek in the foreground and Mt Babbage clearly recognisable in the middle distance. There was some debate as to whether or not we could see Mt Hopeless in the flat featureless country beyond. We continued along the ridge and, with the afternoon wearing on, we dropped down off the ridge into a creek at about 518743. This creek turned out to be another steep sided gorge strewn with large boulders and rock steps. Thankfully, after a few hundred metres this joined Hamilton Creek at 518748 where we found a good campsite, some 2.5km short of our programmed destination. Thus ended what proved to be the longest and hardest day of our trek.

Day 5 Hamilton Creek to Con Bore, 15.5 km

Today, we found walking much easier along the wide, sandy Hamilton Creek. About 6km downstream we walked off the edge of the 50,000 series map to the 250,000 series, the only published map available for this far north area of the Flinders. Our esteemed leaders adjusted to this change of scale without batting an eyelid and continued to find our position with pin point accuracy. Early on, we came across an echidna, one of the few animals of any description we were to see during our walk. It had been more than 24 hours since we had last replenished our water supplies so we were fortunate to find a rockpool below the sheer cliff dropping off Mt Shanahan at approximately 555765, containing clear, potable water and populated by several small fish. Here we recharged our water bottles. A short distance downstream we left the creek and followed a little used 4WD track for a way then took to the higher ground and a straighter, undulating route parallel to the creek with reasonable walking till we

found a pleasant sandy campsite in the early afternoon near Con Bore. We were now back on schedule.

Day 6 Con Bore to Mt Babbage, 14 km

This portion of Hamilton Creek proved to be one of the most picturesque sections of our walk. We passed numerous rock pools in the Brindana Gorge where a colony of yellow footed rock wallabies scampered across the cliff face. We continued on down the Hamilton and stopped at a large pool for lunch. One of our party couldn’t resist the temptation for a swim and how refreshing it was! On we went down the now ever widening river until we reached the last low ridge of the Flinders through which the Hamilton had cut its path and created the impressive Terrapinna waterhole. Our intelligence suggested it wouldn’t be full and easily passed. Wrong! It was full to the brim and thus we had to climb out of the gorge on the right to reach the far end. Here we had a long rest and as camping was not permitted in the vicinity of the waterhole we pressed on towards Mt Babbage for another half hour or so. We found a reasonably flat sandy campsite in one of several small gullies which incised its flanks. Thus ended a most satisfying day and to have bagged a few more kilometres was a bonus -well, a few less for the following day!

Day 7 Mt Babbage to Yerila Creek 17 km

We were away by seven o’clock, climbing one boulder strewn creek followed by yet another, our direct westerly oriented route taking us across the grain of the country. Eventually, one lead to a saddle just below the summit of Mt Babbage (322m). From here, we had our first clear view of the small conical hill, Mt Hopeless, some 20km to the north. Explorer Edward John Eyre, who had climbed it (and named it) in his expedition of 1840, had described it as a “haycock-like peak.” To the southeast we could follow Hamilton Creek from Terrapinna eastwards along its tree-lined route past Moolawatana Station towards its discharge area into Lake Frome. Now receding into the southerly distance, the Mawson Plateau merged with Freeling Heights. After taking the customary summit photos we retraced our steps to the saddle, collected our packs and proceeded along the north ridge of Mt Babbage until it dropped down some 100 metres or so to the gibber plains which stretched into the far distance. This was one of the defining moments of our trek – we had reached the northern limit of the Flinders and were about to step onto the arid plains of the Strzelecki Desert. Mt Babbage is, in effect, one of the last and most northerly outcrops of the Flinders Ranges. From the ridge we had a good view of the way ahead.

Twelve Springs was identified by a patch of rich green grass which contrasted with the yellows and ochres of the surrounding countryside and beyond was the flat-topped mesa of Mt Yerila. The spring was found to be a seepage rather than a mound spring and had been badly despoiled by local stock and, to put it mildly, only desperate walkers would use this water. Our inspection was closely watched by a huge bull who had been grazing by the spring and had reluctantly retreated a short distance as we approached. On we continued to Bellinger Bore (incorrectly located on the 250k map, its actual location is on the plain about 1km southwest from where it is marked on this map). This proved to be an excellent source of drinking water, although with a slight rotten eggs smell. The well itself was artesian, capped by well maintained control valves. We proceeded around the west flank of Mt Yerila (169m) where we crossed the old dog fence. And, as it was now late in the afternoon, our peak baggers decided to forego the climb of the mesa. On the north flank we crossed the new, electrified, dog fence before we reached a delightful camping spot on the surprisingly wide and sandy Yerila Creek at approximately GR719056. One more day was uppermost in our thoughts as we watched another beautiful sunset.

Day 8 Yerila Creek to Mt Hopeless Station, 21 km

Warren Bonython walks towards the summit of Mt Hopeless at the end of his epic walk in 1968. Photo from ‘Walking the Flinders Ranges’, by C Warren Bonython

Warren Bonython walks towards the summit of Mt Hopeless at the end of his epic walk in 1968. Photo from ‘Walking the Flinders Ranges’, by C Warren Bonython

Although the red splashed clouds of the sunrise might have suggested otherwise the weather turned out to be perfect for our ‘big’ day – the ascent of Mt Hopeless and our longest walk. A pleasant breeze wafted in our faces as we climbed a forty metre ridge out of a tributary of the Yerila Creek, then set our compasses almost due north for Mt Hopeless. The numerous small hills and water courses meant we could only catch the occasional glimpse of our “mountain” as we walked over the firm gibber.

The summit cairn of Mt Hopeless was reached after a 7km walk shortly before 10 o’clock under a beautiful cloudless sky. Although we had achieved our main objective our feelings were strangely subdued, perhaps it was the thought of the remaining 14 km we still had to go. The small capsule containing Warren Bonython’s note and those of other parties (surprisingly few) was found and we duly left our own messages. To the northeast across the undulating gibber plains we could just make out the tall radio mast located adjacent to Mt Hopeless Station which stands on the bank of a tree lined creek of the same name. Looking back to the south Mt Babbage and the hills behind effectively merged into one range. We set off down the north slope and made record progress across the treeless and shadeless gibber to Mt Hopeless Station where we found not a few bladders of water as we had hoped but a dray containing a drum of fresh water and an even bigger drum of washing water. Wow! This was typical of the wonderful help and advice we had received from all the pastoralists whose properties we had crossed during our trek.

Day 9 Mt Hopeless Station to Strzelecki Track, 8 km

The notes left at the cairn by various walkers. Warren Bonython’s from 1968 top left

The notes left at the cairn by various walkers. Warren Bonython’s from 1968 top left

This was the first morning that dark threatening clouds had filled the western sky, but only a few spots of rain fell, and the clouds cleared by mid morning. This was our “spare” day, the day we had up our sleeve to cater for any eventuality that might cause us to miss our plane. To complete our trek we walked the 4 kilometres to the Strzelecki Track. On our way back we inspected Mt Hopeless “International” Airport and pronounced it in good condition. It was from here that we expected to fly out the following morning. About four o’clock that afternoon we heard a low flying aircraft and lo and behold it was Doug Sprigg from Arkaroola to pick us up. Astonishingly, he was armed with an icy cold “six pack” which, believe it or not, was consumed with relish. We had 20 minutes to pack. Easy! It then took 40 minutes to fly back over the route that had taken eight days to walk. That night we had a sumptuous barbecue at Arkaroola Village.

The following morning we set off for Adelaide and sure enough the weather changed. Dark rain bearing clouds covered the Gammons as we drove down to Copley for breakfast, but little fell on the road. From Port Pirie we had rain squalls all the way home. So ended our journey.

Astonishingly, he was armed with an icy cold “six pack” which, believe it or not, was consumed with relish.

On behalf of all those who had the good fortune to take part in these walks we would like to sincerely thank Mark and Les for their leadership, route finding and organisation including countless faxes, emails and phone calls and to John Quinn whose knowledge of the area was invaluable. We would especially thank day all the pastoralist families for their friendly help, advice and ready access to their land. And finally our thanks to the staff of Arkaroola Village who found none of our requests too outrageous and were happy to help in any way possible.

This walk must rank as one of Australia’s great wilderness walks. We all felt privileged to have taken part. Where to next? Cameron Corner has been mentioned! Watch this space!