year 9 fundraiser
Our route will take us 65 km to the east, towards Alice Springs, across six days of walking. Along the way we will cross over and through the Heavitree and Chewings Ranges, and through the traditional lands of the Arrente people. It’s an ancient landscape that is different to anything most of us have experienced before. We marvel at the differences and try to make sense of our new surroundings.
Our first campsite lies within a dry creek bed which offers both shade and sunshine. Leo and Narong roll their beds out on a rocky ledge that is warmed by the sun. Those brave enough to swim rely on the sun to warm them too – the water itself is icy. Others scale rocky walls and ledges around the waterhole as the last light to reach the red walls brings a warm glow to the natural amphitheatre.
We spend our first evening under a clear sky filled with stars. We never grow tired of these evenings. We lie content and comfortable in our sleeping bags, peeking out through tightly drawn hoods at the endless and ever changing night sky. Most of us spend more time in bed than we normally would – it feels like a form of hibernation. There are shooting stars everywhere and those who are able to keep their eyes open long enough spot plenty.
The next morning we head east toward the morning sun. After a few kilometres we reach a small gap in the Heavitree Range where we stop for morning tea. We get our first glimpse of the Chewings Range, which makes the place where we’re standing seem small in comparison. Below us lies a wide, flat, open valley and we pull out a map to work out where our path goes from here. The landscape features in the valley are so subtle that it’s hard to locate the route our trail follows. As the trail descends to the valley below it disappears into the landscape, and soon we do too.
We slowly discover that what looked like a featureless landscape from above is actually a landscape filled with detail. We drop in to and out of many dry creek beds before we eventually reach the one we’re looking for – Rocky Gully. We hop across a few final rocks and discover a delightful campsite with everything we need for the night – a toilet, drinking water, and flat ground. We settle in for the evening, content to have completed the first of two 15 kilometre days of walking.
We set off in small groups the following morning. There could be an hour between the first and last of these groups. We catch regular glimpses of our fellow walkers in the distance and occasionally it’s possible to trace a line between them and us. We meet others along the way too – including a father and son, a few solo walkers, a guided group, and some international travellers. One couple asks if we’re a travelling band – they have spotted a guitar, a water bladder that looks like bagpipes, and a folded sleeping mat that seems to resemble a piano concertina.
We enjoy an early lunch at Ghost Gum Flat. Luca produces a fantastic set of spoon carving tools and we soon find ourselves deeply engaged with cutting, carving, sawing and shaping our selected pieces of wood. This activity soon becomes a favourite pastime within our group and on this particular occasion, we feel no real urgency to leave. Time stands still for a while. We each set off when we’re ready and as we creep closer to the Chewings Range, it becomes possible to imagine where the trail might lead from here – directly into the mountains.
We camp in the bed of the Hugh River where it emerges from Hugh Gorge. The following morning we exchange open skies for towering rock walls as we make our way deep into the Chewings Range. We marvel at the sudden change of scene while negotiating the rocky riverbed with backpacks that are heavily loaded with two days and one night of drinking water. Within the high walls of the gorge it’s cooler and greener. Birds call cheerfully. Shallow rock pools support tiny fish and tadpoles.
We enjoy a leisurely lunch at Hugh Gorge junction, before climbing a path through neat clumps of spinifex to a scenic saddle. We find ourselves perched above two long, straight valleys. In the distance we spot a track that climbs steeply up the side of a hill. A quick glimpse at the map confirms that this is actually the trail we will take the following morning. While a realisation such as this could be a cause of concern for some, it has the opposite effect on us. As we make our way down to our campsite at Fringe Lily Creek, we begin to feel the excitement that comes with being in high places.
Fringe Lily Creek offers a perfect meeting point for two Alice Miller groups walking in opposite directions. We have this remarkable place to ourselves and we quickly make ourselves at home. It’s hard not to be amazed by the improbability of the situation we find ourselves in – two groups of students from Victoria, each three days walk from where they started, camping together in a remote gorge in the centre of Australia. Everyone seems thrilled to be here and we spend many happy hours together before silence eventually descends upon our home away from home.
In the morning, we say our farewells and climb steeply in glorious sunshine. It’s hard to imagine more perfect moments than these. Our bodies feel strong and our backpacks are lighter today than they were the day before. It’s even possible to forget we’re carrying them – they have begun to feel like an extension of ourselves. There are constant distractions as we climb and we regularly pause to appreciate the views. We follow a spectacular track along Razorback Ridge where we find ourselves torn between the joy of continually moving and the inevitably of reaching the top as a result of that movement. We slow our pace even further in order to fully appreciate each individual moment.
A small group walking with Bettina have already climbed and descended these mountains when we eventually catch up with them near the end of Spencer Gorge. We decide to push on to our campsite for lunch. In the afternoon, we rest in the shade of a well-constructed shelter. Esha and Amy paint while the sun warms their backs. The spoon carving continues until Keir carves himself. Sam cannot resist an invitation to play cards, and he is a hard man to beat. Bettina supplies sudoku puzzles. Later, we wander to nearby Birthday Waterhole to enjoy a refreshing swim.
Some people set up beds in the shelter but the roof limits the expansive views of the night sky that we’ve grown so familiar with. The rest of us find suitable spots to sleep outside. We’re struck by how little we need to be totally content at night – some flat ground, a clear view of the night sky, and a sleeping bag, mat and thermals to keep us warm. One by one we fall asleep, content and happy to be where we are, on this grand adventure together.
The gradient profile on our map shows a significant steepening on our fifth day of walking. We wander alongside a wide riverbed until we reach the base of the climb to Brinkley Bluff – our home for the night. The opportunity to spend an evening camped on the summit of a mountain is all the incentive we need to begin the climb. An excellent track meanders gently around the lower slopes and we make surprisingly swift progress. We break for lunch beneath the steepest section of the climb. The track itself is not visible from below, but we watch another group descend and the route becomes clear. It’s another delightful climb and before long we’re able to celebrate our arrival at the summit cairn. We have almost the entire afternoon ahead of us.
The views from Brinkley Bluff are sublime. To fully appreciate them we wander regularly – not far, but enough to see the landscape from a slightly different angle, to gain another perspective. We watch as the country slowly changes with the advance and retreat of light and shadow. Narong and Bettina time dinner preparation and serving to perfection – we enjoy a delicious meal while watching the sun set over the mountains we have passed through during the past five days. In the distance, we can even make out the small gap we climbed through on our first day of walking.
Sleep comes slowly on the mountain. Instead, we lie in our sleeping bags with eyes wide open. As the hours slowly pass we drift in and out of sleep. The Earth turns gently and the stars move across the night sky. Five shooting stars are spotted in fifteen minutes. We calculate the number that might be seen in a single night if they continued to appear this frequently.
Light eventually appears on the horizon. It’s too cold to get out of our sleeping bags so we wait patiently for the arrival of the sun. Charlotte, Mim, Zari and Lily carry their sleeping bags to the summit cairn, determined not to miss the moment. We celebrate when the sun greets us on the Brinkley Bluff summit. We’re in no real hurry to leave this extraordinary place. We make cups of tea and enjoy breakfast in the warm sun. Meanwhile, Luca finds a painting that Lilu had lost on the mountain a few days earlier. We pick out the peaks she painted from this very location.