Hi there,

For those of you arriving late to this intrepid family journey through the heart of Australia, you may like to start reading at the beginning. Unfortunately, Blogger organises posts with those most recently created appearing first. So, if you jump in at the top, you're not going to get the full experience of this gritty blow-by-blow account of our adventure. As such, I suggest using the navigation window above and head down to March, where the first part of this journey began. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be hooked. From there you can scroll upwards to continue the journey. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Karijini - Day Three (Oh my, I don't think we can ever leave...)

So, by now, you might have thought our bodies would have acclimatised to the gruelling pace we had been putting them through over recent months. But, I for one, woke up this morning with more than a few aches and pains after the exertions of the last few days. Still, a handful of twinges and groans were a small price to pay for the magnificent views we had been privy to, in exchange for a little hard work.

Putting our aching muscles and grumbling bones aside, we woke up early and hopped in the car (relieved to find that the chip in the window hadn’t spread), before heading across to the other side of Karijini national park. Despite the odd ache or two, today we hoped to take on some of the more challenging gorges that this place had to offer. From the accounts of our fellow travellers, these gorges were meant to be brilliant!

At the top of our agenda were the Weano and Hancock gorges. These little blighters were full of nooks and crannies, thick vegetation, exposed rocky plateaus, deep water crossings and precarious ledges – all of which would have to be navigated to get the best out of these terrestrial marvels.

Supplies in hand (including lots and LOTS of water), we first made our way to Weano gorge. Having travelled many kilometres (over more long stretches of rough and corrugated dirt road) we arrived at the car park to find that there were many options for the day hiker to explore. On the outside of the gorge were a series of easy walks that snaked their way around the top of the ravine – each of which overlooked the steep walled valley below. But, for the adventurous, Weano Gorge also offered a challenging Class 5 scramble over boulders and through narrow passages to a hidden gem called Handrail Pool. Luckily, for those not so adventurous, the first part of the trail was only Class 3...

Being suckers for punishment (and probably very bad parents), we opted to take the grand tour and soak in all the sights Weano had to offer. And so, after a quick jaunt to the lookout, we headed down into the gorge itself.

Weano Gorge Lookout – so far, so good…

At first, the gorge presented a fun series of rocky paths, smooth ledges and burbling rivers. But, soon enough the class three trail ended and things got serious!

Weano Gorge - the path narrows

Yup, hitting the end of the main part of Weano gorge, we found ourselves looking down the barrel of an increasingly narrow ravine – leading us closer and closer to our true destination “Handrail Pool

Weano Gorge - heading into Handrail Pool

Ahhh, Handrail Pool… what can I say about this amazing place?!? As we progressed along Weano gorge, we found ourselves wading through icy water; which occasionally lapped up and kissed body part that resulted in the owner of the body giving an slight involuntary yelp. As we progressed, the walls of the canyon became increasingly narrow; until the thin watery trail burst out into a huge chamber. The path, however, didn’t permit easy entrance into this chamber. Rather, it stopped high in the air, overlooking a clear pool below. Water continued to poor out of the narrow ravine, making the path where we stood slippery underfoot – enough to make one reach for the smooth rock walks to prevent a sudden plummet onto the rocks below.

At the end of the ravine, the path did not simply come to an end. No, a shiny metal handrail had been bolted to the side of the canyon. Precarious foot holds had also been chipped into the rock, inviting anyone brave enough to climb down amidst the chilly water cascading into the vast pool that filled chamber below.

Before Nat or I could say “Now, hang on a minute”, the boys were off… grasping the railing, which had been polished by many thousands of hands that had clutched tight to the railing before them, Ben and Daniel placed one foot in front of the other and made their way down with great agility and skill. I followed closely behind, with Nat appearing a few minutes later.

Handrail Pool at the end of Weano Gorge: The eagle eyed amongst you will be able to make out the ‘handrail’ snaking its way down the cliff wall in the middle of the photo.

At the bottom of the precarious staircase, we were treated to a truly awesome sight. A great lake filled this almost enclosed cave – continuously filled by the water streaming down from above. However, the lake remained at a constant depth, as water flowed out again from the chamber through a narrow passage in the opposite wall.

 Handrail Pool at the end of Weano Gorge: C’mon dad, let’s get going…  (Ben, top; Daniel, bottom)

Having finally run out of path, the boys plonked themselves down on a rocky ledge to wait for their folks to catch up. By the time Nat and I arrived, Ben and Daniel had already changed into their swimming gear, ready to press on into the chilly waters and the thin passage beyond. Well… to be honest, Daniel wasn’t overly keen on the idea of turning into an ice cube, just for the sake of some more walking – but, he had that look of determination on his face, which we all know means “if Ben’s going, then so am I!”.

Preferring to sit and enjoy the cavern of Handrail pools, Nat hung back for a bit, while her three lads took the final plunge and swam 50 meters into the final chamber of the gorge.

At the other end of the narrow watery passage was another (much smaller) pool, before the river crashed its way down through a narrow crack and onwards into unseen places below. “Stop and turn back” read the signs that presented themselves to us at this point. With little sunlight making its way into this dark corner of the gorge, we were now freezing – so it didn’t take us long to decide that the signs were probably right, and we turned back the way we came.

We spent a little more time back at the main part of Handrail Pool, before we gathered our stuff and climbed back to the surface once again. Stopping for a spot of lunch at a little perch overlooking the gorge, we enjoyed the sights as we refuelled and got ready to take on the next challenge of Hancock gorge…

…luckily, this was only mere meters away; just across the other side of the road!

Heading first to the lookout at the top of Hancock gorge, we took in the sights and the lay of the land from this high vantage point. Sheesh, it looks a long way… but still, nothing ventured, nothing gained… Right?!?

Hancock gorge - from above

At the top of the gorge we soon found a path that led to a set of stairs. In turn, these both descended to the valley floor below.

As always, the kids were off like a flash, leaving us oldies to pick our way after them.

Hancock gorge - stairs heading down to the valley below

The path through Hancock gorge was fairly tight in places, with a slow glassy river taking up the majority of the available floorspace. The way forward required that we picked our way along narrow ledges and occasionally hopped back and forth along a series of stepping stones and half submerged boulders poking out of the river.

Hancock gorge: off we go!

After 40 minutes or so, we disappeared down a series of natural rocky platforms into a colourful chamber below. The river widened here for a while; before funnelling once again into a narrow gorge. As the river squeezed its languorous bulk through this thin crevasse, it seemed to climb steeply against the sides of the gorge and the ledges on either bank disappeared. Nat and Ben decided to take the plunge and swim across the 100-meter stretch of water. However, Daniel and I loaded up our gear like pack animals and managed to navigate a high path (no more than a series of ledges and jutting out rocks) far above the water – oh, how far have we little mountain goats come from Kings Canyon all those weeks and months ago?!?

Hancock gorge - ben about to set off on a swim to the Amphitheatre beyond

In the end, all four of us (and our gear) made it safely to the open space of an amphitheatre on the other side of the watery pass. Here we faced the final obstacle that stood before us arriving at our ultimate destination of Kermit’s Pool. To get to this hidden water hole at the end of the map, we first had to navigate the infamous ‘Spider Walk’. This section of Hancock gorge was a long stretch of narrow ravine, with fast flowing water rushing along the rocky bottom. The walls on both sides of this ravine were steep and had been formed out of the same pancaked rock that we’d encountered many times in this region. Given its composition, these walls were almost perfect for clambering along – with one foot on either wall. Unfortunately, Daniel’s legs didn’t quite stretch far enough, and so he and I climbed down the wall and braved the watery path at the bottom. Ben, however, did his best Spider-Man impression and picked his way along just above our heads.

Hancock gorge - spider walk

Having picked our way to the end of the gorge, we finally emerged into an oblong cavern mostly filled with clear frosty water. There were a small gaggle of fellow travellers here, warming themselves in little patches of sunlight that made its way down to the rocks below. Pushing on a little further, this oval grotto ended abruptly with a safety chain across an opening that led to a series of other chambers below. Unfortunately, there was no path down to these water-filled hollows, and indeed, the drop was quite severe – at least 20 or 30 meters down to rocks and water below.

As we peered over the edge of the abyss, Ben pointed to a series of curious shapes emerging from the shadows. A host of rock climbers, in full spelunking gear, slowly made their way into view. We hung around for a while until they managed to pick their way along the walls of the ravine and eventually arrived on our patch of solid ground. Chatting to these folks, it turns out that they had been dropped into the river somewhere downstream and paddled into the gorge from the bottom. From there they had swam through several watery chambers, before picking and climbing their way up to our vantage point.

As the climbers talked about their experience, I saw Ben’s eye open wide with delight... I have no doubt rock climbing will now be high on his list of “things I wanna do!!”

And so, we eventually made our way out of Hancock gorge, wandered back up the gorge, and climbed the set of stairs near the car park; where we returned to the surface once more.

With the two gorges thoroughly knocked off, we headed back to the Dales campsite – uncertain as to what to do the next day. There were still had two gorges we were keen to explore – but we also wanted to be in the next town first thing on Monday morning to have our windscreen fixed. We were keen to get it sorted before pressing on the next part of our adventure on the Ningaloo reef. However, when we floated the idea of leaving Karijini, the boys were not at all happy about leaving two gorges untouched.

After much debate, we decided that we really couldn’t, in good conscience, leave early. And so, we determined that the best course of action would be to leave first thing in the morning, drop off our trailer at the nearby town of Tom Price (70km away), then drive back in and finish off the final two gorges on our list. At first, we toyed with the idea of simply bringing our trailer with us and leaving it (locked firmly to the car) in the car park of each gorge – but after a quick reconnoitre, we soon realised that one of the car parks simply had no room for any more than a few cars, and the second was down some pretty hairy pieces of road (that our trailer just couldn’t handle…). So, although we knew we would be adding a few extra kilometres onto our day, we felt pretty happy with our decision.

And so, that’s where we’ll pick things up in the next post. Until then,

Bye ‘d bye


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