Monday, July 30, 2007

Navigating the Red Centre.

July 2007, dawn breaks over the East McDonnell Ranges, 80km east of Alice Springs. It is the morning of the Australian Rogaining Championships. The next day or so will be spent hiking around this rugged patch of the Outback, a red wilderness in the middle of Australia.

And no, the checkpoint that was clearly visible from the campsite at dawn was not on the official map! :-D

During the morning, we collected our maps and prepared a route that we thought would gain us a reasonable number of points during the 24 hour period. Our strategy was to stay out until after midnight, come back to the Hash House, eat and then sleep for a few hours and finish off in the following morning. Finally, we were ready, maps were prepared and the start drew clear.

And finally at noon, we set off...

The early afternoon saw us traversing some rocky and hilly terrain to the west of the Hash House. Conditions were unusually warm for the middle of winter, 25 - 28C, which made climbing some of the hills a bit more difficult than normal.

At the bottom of a particularly steep section...

And the view from the top...

And finally, the checkpoint!

More steep climbs followed, culminating in this one in the middle of the afternoon...

The only way is up! (the checkpoint is to the left, but still nearly 1km away)

Nice view at the top!

And finally, we reached our goal *whew*! :-)

That was the last major hill climb for a while. We descended down to the Ross River flood plain, where would remain for the next couple of hours. By this time, water was a priority, and the water drop was several km north of where we were. The trek to the water drop took a bit over an hour. After refilling our water supplies, we continued on easy ground for a while, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset, with no sign of human activity in sight.

Moonrise in the desert.

And finally, the sun sets, giving the landscape its famous orange colours.

After sunset, it was time to don the headlamps and reconsider our plans. We did get another two checkpoints, before approaching an area that would be extremely difficult to navigate through at night. Instead, we decided to skip that area and head for easier pickings further east. Unfortunately, that meant spending over an hour just walking along tracks and roads. Even worse, when we approached the next checkpoint, a track that led from the river on the map didn't appear to exist! In the end, after some searching, we decided to just enter that patch of scrub and somehow managed to find the track in the dark. This allowed us to easily find the next checkpoint on a small knoll.

The checkpoint after also proved to be difficult, and we weren't able to find it in the dark. Later, we found others had similar difficulties in the dark, and the map may have not been 100% accurate in that area. In the end, we moved on and picked up a final checkpoint in the dark, before returning to the Hash House a little after midnight. The rocky terrain of the hills had taken their toll and we needed to rest our feet, so we camped the night and started out again around 8AM to gather the final checkpoints.

The morning hike was much easier. After some climbing to the first two checkpoints, and dodging a little spinifex, we spent the final 2 hours out on the flood plain, enjoying the scenery. The final leg back to the Hash House was like being in an old Outback movie, with the red dust and flat landscape dominating.

Racing across the desert on the return leg.

At last, the Hash House is in sight. Almost home!

Just about to arrive at Admin to get our finishing time recorded. It's over!

Now we could get another bite to eat at the Hash House and rest our feet. After the presentations, most of us wandered over to the nearby Ross River restaurant and its bar and enjoyed a quiet drink, swapping our experience of the previous 24 hours. We stayed on for dinner, but for me there was one final act after dinner. It was almost sunset and it was time to get some spectaculat photographs, even if that meant climbing another rocky ridge! The photos were worth it, and I think readers will agree...

And so ended an amazing weekend in one of the more spectacular parts of the world. For more info on rogaining... .