The whole day had been spent in the motorhome, literally. With stories and photos to catch up on there was days of work to do. That, and the fact my body was sending me messages – “No more stairs today please” being the foremost.
That all went well until the sun dipped low in the sky and photography reared its ugly head. I often reflect that, back in the days of the box brownie, you were told to have the sun behind over your shoulder and believed that the sun was your friend when it came to taking snaps. These days, for me, that’s mostly turned on its head. The ethereal atmosphere of being in a canyon after the sun’s direct rays have departed is hard to beat. Soft light tinges the walls and you’re ushered along by unseen dripping waters echoing their presence, though you can’t be sure just exactly where they are, just the constant drip, drip as you move stealthily beside the ferns.
Thus it was that visions of such a place beckoned me to rise and move beyond the confines of comfort, the only decision being whether or not to take some warm clothing, even though I knew I’d get sweaty, but I took a jumper anyway. The door slammed behind me and I was surrounded by cool mountain air as I moved along the ridge, away from the popular lookouts to the descent, the first of many hundreds of steps now taking me past some huge sandstone outcrops that looked like a dinosaur had been eating them, so unruly were the patterns. They were coloured as well, rich lichen red being foremost on a background of black with occasional blotches of yellow.
Down, and now the forest of ribbon gums takes over. You can’t help but look at the wonderful stand of Eucalyptus viminalis in various stages of bark shedding. In my experience it’s rare to see so many having the forest almost to themselves and their pristine creamy trunks are in stark contrast to the dull background, some of which is the blackened vegetation of bushfires, whose charcoal remnants still remain, but this is a land of harsh extremes and people speak of floods in these times and the fresh growth now tinges the forest green.
The way becomes steeper, the steps deeper, and a huge green mossy wall looms before me marking the beginning of the slot canyons. Noisy streamlets accompany every movement now as there’s one either side of the path, though they’re mostly unseen, cloaked by lush fern growth occasionally flexing vigorously as leaves extend too far into the water and now are condemned to endless swaying back and forth.
A fine stand of coachwood trees finds the environment to its liking, the gum trees having vanished a quarter of an hour ago. Deeper into the gloom I go, the two streams converge and the noise is more noticeable where the occasional cascade hastens its descent.
Then, where the streamlet meets the main creek, the canyon is wide and almost bright by comparison. There’s a T-intersection. Left takes you to a serious vertical drop to the valley floor while right heads up the creek. I follow the latter, splashing in some of the steps where water hasn’t yet escaped the heavy rain residues. It will be some time before enough sunlight penetrates to dry them all up.
Now the noise becomes a roar, the waters are brown and debris can be seen in any direction you choose to look. I follow the sandstone footsteps, noting the excess flow and photographing waterfalls wherever possible before reaching the reason trails have been closed. There’s a significant log jam that’s obliterated the track, an impressive reminder of the natural forces at work. To go further requires that I surmount this obstacle which isn’t really all that difficult because there’s so much to grab hold of and lots of foot holds on ravaged logs.
My goal isn’t that much further, the weeping rock I’ve always wanted to photograph when there’s no sun around is dripping as ever, there just happens to be a tad more flow at the moment. It’s when I pause that the atmosphere is overwhelming. To be where no other soul knows you are, to truly immerse yourself in wilderness, to clearly hear the sounds of the bush without intrusion is a kind of bliss.
I’m awoken from this dream by the reality that I still have to ascend hundreds of steps and it’s getting dark; the slot canyon can get very dark I imagine, but the moon is rising somewhere above so there’ll be some light for some time to come. It’s almost reluctantly I head back up and, yes, the stairs were strength debilitating to the point where I stopped half a dozen times to catch my breath, especially on the sharper inclines. It was a blessed relief indeed when I saw the massive rock formation because I knew then I was nearly home, or should that read motorhome!
I stopped momentarily at the lookout and saw the waxing gibbous moon rising over the valley far below. A group of half a dozen had sat and watched the sunset’s aftermath and I wondered what they must think of a stranger in their midst, huffing and puffing still from the final exertions of the ascent.
Sleep would come easy tonight, I hoped there was still enough energy to cook a meal. It had been a magical couple of hours.