Big Question Marks

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To anyone who’s ever dreamed of hiking 20km…

Stop! Take off your boots, and turn back right now. Give your head a shake (get those silly thoughts out) and get back on the couch. The number “20” looks deceptively small on paper, but it’s hella far once you’re out there actually doing it.

That’s how it all began for us—our Lonely Planet book was raving about this place called Carnarvon Gorge National Park (which we still can’t properly pronounce in Australian—something like “Cah-NAHH-Von”… we always end up sounding more like Bostonians when we try to say it as the locals do). The Gorge was said to be filled with ancient Aboriginal rock paintings, nooks and crevices, and beautiful scenery and wildlife. And, tired of doing nature walks in our flip-flops, we splurged and bought some hiking boots. After gearing up in Emerald, the city closest to the park (about 2 hours north), Daisy hit the road and we were zooming into the Outback.

The sun began to set when we were still a ways from the park—we saw our first emu (a baby one) walking really strangely through tall grass, and passed a roadside campfire with silhouettes of cowboys sitting around it (so cliché!). Poor Adrian had to drive a winding, pitch-black 40 km road to the park—20km of it gravel and all of it unfenced cattle road, playing “Dodge’em” with kangaroos. Yikes! But we made it by about 7:30—learning later we melted our highbeams—and got ready for our huge hike the next day.

We were told to start early, and to head straight to the end of the trail (9.7km) into Carnarvon Gorge, then check out all the side trails and sights on the way back. No worries, we thought, and set off at 10am with a few water bottles, cheese sandwiches, and full of energy. After a goanna (a huge lizard) scared the crap out of us right at the trailhead, we were off.

The trail followed Carnarvon Creek, crisscrossing it 22 times. We hopped from rock to rock, snapping photos of cliffs and kangaroos grazing in the bushes, feeling very much like something out of a tourist brochure. Around 8km or so, we started to get tired, and trudged to the end quite ready and excited for a picnic. The gorge had become progressively narrower along the way and we ate lunch by a rock pool under a sandstone outcrop, with a sneaky crow-type bird that kept skittering over whenever we let go of our sandwiches.

And then it was time to head back. Our feet screamed in protest as we made them follow familiar scenery in the other direction. But there’s still so much to see, we told them, and drowned their shrieks out with our chatter (about anything other than the long walk ahead). We saw some amazing things along the way, which just extended our distance another 5km or so—Boowinda Gorge, a side gorge that blew ice-cold air and was narrow enough to almost touch both walls simultaneously; Cathedral Cave, a huge white sandstone cave with walls covered in ancient paintings of hands, weapons and tools; Ward’s Canyon, a steep walk up to a palm-fringed waterfall and red-bottomed creek; the Art Gallery, another rock wall covered in carvings and paintings. With each trip off the main path, we hobbled a little more, picking up the pace as families with skipping six-year-olds hiked past us (how were those rugrats hiking this far??). With water bottles getting empty we were soon almost the only people left on the path—and it was another race with the sunset as it approached 6pm. We counted down the numbered creek crossings and even stopped caring about cute kangaroo photo ops along the way. The flies were circling us like they knew we were about to keel over, and the vultures were probably nearby as well. We were pretty close to collapsing on the pathway when we spotted—eureka!—the ranger station at the base of the trail. We’ve never been so happy to see Daisy in our lives…

It took us a few hours of laying around like vegetables, it took the rest of our energy just to stand to hit the showers. Our feet ached for about two or three days afterwards, and our toenails felt as though they would snap off at any moment. We’re recovered now (a week later) but remind us to retire our boots the next time we start talking crazy about 20km hikes again!


Anonymous said...

you in the army now boy!!! (and girl)!

you gotta do, whatca gotta do!

its a nice journey isnt it..

nice hangin with ya again,


Paula said...

um, 10 am isn't really THAT early!!! ;) Sounds like a great adventure!!!

pauline said...

dude(s)... we live by a street called carnarvon... i mean ca-naiiirrrr-ven.

ca-nair-ven. who the hell talks like that? oh yeah, vancouver people.


sean said...

20kms is best done in a van!