Arriving half-cocked at the Purnululu ranger station at twenty to five, hurriedly shown the park-issued hiking literature we signed away our waivers (you understand it’s a remote and potentially dangerous hike: yes; you understand you are responsible for your own navigation: yes; enjoy your hike—oh, do you have a satellite phone?).
The drive in took around two and a half hours to cover the sixty or so kilimetres track in, over heavy corrugations and through several spring crossings. We arrived late and set up camp going on dark. With just a few hours before setting off on the Picaninny Gorge hike, it was rucksack packing by torchlight then to bed.
The hike for which we so hastily prepared was a twenty kilometre return venture down a riverbed to Picaninny Gorge, a chasm cutting deep into the soft sandstone layers of the Bungle Bungle Ranges.
On arriving at Purnululu, several things occurred to me: firstly, that the Picaninny Gorge hike is graded at the highest level of difficulty; secondly, that noone really does this hike because of the level of difficulty and lack of water; thirdly, that the trail is not marked; and fourthly, that we were a long way from anything.
Undeterred, we set off at first light, me, carrying far too much gear (I’d planned for a cold night—it was not). The first stop: the magnificent Cathedral Gorge. It was heating up as we left Cathedral and started out in the full of the sun heading East down the snaking river bed toward Picaninny, aware now of the solitude of the place—we’d be sleeping alone that night, a day’s walk from the nearest human.
We tread out path with measure, the going is slow; the sand of the riverbed soft and deep, not yet compacted from time into the hard stone of the sublime, layered domes surrounding us. Once or twice we need to divert from the river bed to skirt around a water pool, the last of the water for this year, and all undrinkable at this time.
After a full day’s walking through sand and seemingly depthless river stones, we finally reach the ten kilometres to our destination: Black Rock Pool. It is tricky to find, and we must rely on the GPS coordinated I tracked down before we set off. Eventually, we scramble up a dry stream of boulders for some 800 metres or so until we at last reach water.
During the drier months, Black Rock Pool is the only reliable source of potable water in the area, and is a treasures thus for hikers after a long day of walking in the forty degree heat.
We set up camp back in the gorge where the fine sand proved a challenging surface on which to pitch a tent, but spent a night under an amazing night sky, the kind that only remote and dry places such as Purnululu can offer.
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