It is approaching midday, as we once again step into the world of the Heysen Trail. The chilled mist caresses our faces with icy fingers. The sun briefly warms our souls as it streams through a longed for patch of blue. The morning coolness, still hanging in the air, treats us without kindness or reserve, but a freshness that leaves you in no doubt that you are indeed, alive. The landscape, brimming green from the recent rains, and the grey skies threatening more this day. Today however, the weather will smile upon us this afternoon, with breaking clouds revealing the vast Aussie blue and the life giving sun. Mount Bryan, still a way off in the distance, looms large, intimidating with it’s sheer presence, silently, but pervasively, dominating our view. Shrouded with stormy clouds every bit the “evil” movie type mountain.
Our walk today though, takes us from Dust Hole Creek Road, to Dust Hole Creek road, and no, we are not walking in circles, but almost. An arc with a radius of about 4 kms taking us through the proposed Caroona Creek Conservation Park. 20 odd kms will bring us in direct view of Mount Bryan, with the arduous climb up the mountain to be attempted the following day.
The morning is cold. just the way we like it. Walking at pace gets us warm very quickly, so sub 16°C is just fine by us. Our walk did not start out well though. We had calculated this stretch at 21kms, but our kindly local driver did not feel confident travelling on the somewhat challenging Dusthole Creek road. So he dropped us on the trail, some 4.5 kms away from our start point. The distance now became 26+kms. More about this later. Oh yes, all of the photo’s are thanks to Grant. Seems I left my camera at home with an array of other things like the map etc.
We re-traced our steps over the 4.5 kms from the last walk. Beautiful green rolling hills with great vistas. We made good time, knowing full well we would have to be quite assertive with our walk today, given the extra distance. Little did we realize how important that would end up being.
We wound our way through scrub and over gentle hill tracks. Quite a few Euros and stumbled across a herd of wild goats. Pity it is frowned upon to carry a gun these days. Fresh goat for dinner would have gone down a treat. Came across a fantastic little gorge in the middle of nowhere. Large smoothed rocks sitting between clear cool pools begging us to strip down and go for a dip. This part of the trail treks through the proposed Caroona Conservation Park. Smooth creeks beds carve through the hard dry rocky landscape.
The landscape soon changed to a flat plain with dirt roads and tracks. We made good time and soon turned west toward the sun on the final leg of the trek. The sun had just disappeared from view, as we entered the Tourille Gorge. The gorge wound it’s way through steep cliffs and hills in what seemed like an endless journey, in the creek, out of the creek, and into the creek again, with the trail markers getting a harder and harder to find amongst the scrub. The trail is very rough and overgrown in this section, and the area is very inaccessible.
The sun had well and truly disappeared behind the hills and it was getting difficult to see. We kept thinking we will emerge any minute now from the gorge and onto the road, but it just never came. It was getting quite dark now, and a near mis-hap tripping on a protruding branch was a decent indicator how quickly situations can turn.
It must have been about 6pm (on the shortest day of the year), with visibility diminishing by the second, when we realized we had totally lost sight of the trail markers. We did a quick recon either side of the creek to find a marker, but to no avail. We pulled out the map, and with the aide of Grant’s torch, we established the fact that we had no fucking idea where we were! Now, the thought came to mind that I may have to spend the night in the open, and probably have to cuddle up to Grant to keep warm! All of a sudden I became highly motivated to find our way out!
So it was time to take action and change tack. The things we did know for sure was, that we were still heading west, which was correct, and the hill on our left was very heavy with scrub. What remained was either going back, which in the darkness would still be problematic, or going up the right side of the gorge. As well as being the easiest route, it would, we hoped, give us a few more minutes of fading light to gauge our line of sight. Scrambling up the hill in near darkness was interesting, but we focused and kept on task, keeping the faint glow from the sunset in our sights.
Near the top of the hill we ran into a fence] (literally) and peering intently into the darkness, we made out the light colour of a dirt road. Yes! We had found civilization! Or that’s what it felt like anyway. No sooner had we started down the road when we came across a trail marker, too our great surprise and relief. We knew the road was less than a “K” from the car on the map, so off we strode now in complete darkness, with only star light to show the way.
After about 20 minutes I was thinking this was not right. Had we missed the turn off in the darkness? Had we emerged at the road way passed our car? I could not be sure of anything at this point. We trudged on though, with Grant succumbing to darkness and turning on his torch which we were saving till the very last minute of visibility. We finally came to a T junction and turning left we realized this was the actual road on the map. We had been walking on what looked like only a track on the map and in less than ten minutes we finally arrived at Grant’s car. It was now 6:45. We were tired, cold and getting a little hungry, but very relieved to not be spending the night in the open. The thought of having to cuddle up to Grant in the cold was too much to even contemplate.
Travelling now in the comfort of heated seats, we were only half an hour away from Burra and our booked restaurant, although we would be a little late, we felt ok. Our day of drama’s however, were not quite over just yet. Grant heard an intermittent noise in the back, but he just ignored it and drove on. My skeptical, questioning mind quickly assessed that this was a problem. You see, Grant is very organized and thorough, especially securing luggage etc. I knew it was something not right with the car, so we pulled over. Sure enough we had a flat tyre. It was now well after 7pm, and on a dark and lonely road. We changed the tyre with Grant swearing and cursing all the while. Something about “what else could go wrong”.
The evening got better when we finally arrived at the La Pecora Nera (Black Sheep) in Burra, and although we arrived forty five minutes late, Claire was very accommodating allowing us to still order dinner. Needless to say, we decided to cancel the next days walk, instead we spent the evening with a few more drinks at the Burra pub watching the footy. We capped off the night in front of an open fire in our Paxton Square cottage, before settling in to a soft warm bed.
So the answer to the original question is…. too many to mention, however on this day. Five, but thank goodness for that one right decision.
Walk : Southern Dusthole Creek road crossing to the northern Dusthole Creek road crossing, although we actually walked from just before Black Jack’s shelter.
Distance : 25.5 kms (but we walked 31)
Duration : 6.75 hours
Pace : 5.4 km/hr
Terrain : Rolling hills through scrub and scattered rocks. The paths and tracks are mostly good, but some sections are not well marked. The Gorge is easily traversable, but tiring having to watch your footing on the loose stones. The trail markers are very easily missed especially the one that takes you out of the gorge.
Best Part : The “oasis” we found in the middle of nowhere, and of course the pasta and the bottle of red at the Black Sheep.