Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jatbula 2013

Its Monday the day after my five day hike in the wilderness of Nitmuluk national park. My skin is a little bronzer, my big toes have recovering blisters and the backs of my knees ache when I sit to long without stretching. Other than that though I have emerged 62km later relatively unscathed. If you compare my condition to that of some of my fellow hikers you might wonder why I was so lucky.
I was reading a journal entry of some people who took on the famous Jatbula Trail previously they talked about the conditioning they partook in prior to the event. They conditioned their bodies over time to accept 16kg backpacks for hours on end. In true Amanda style I had little preparation. I even brought my hiking shoes three days before and only wore them once in my office to prepare. Turns out they were epically awesome boots, I did get those two little blisters but I’m not sure how you could walk 62km over rough terrain and not accumulate any unless your feet were virtually calluses. I mean pretty much everyone but Ryan was worse off than me and most of them had worn their shoes before! I have pretty tough feet I reckon I’d be permanently barefoot if I could. Something about appropriate societal behaviour tends to stop me.

So the Jatbula Trail is quite a famous trail in the NT, it follows the Jawoyn people as a traditional singing walk through incredible scenery. It books out quickly, up to a year in advance they only allow 15 people per campsite per night. My friends Brian & Jasmine had organised the walk eight months earlier inviting me and my friends along. I was as eager as a bull in a field full of cows to join the group. Any excuse really to get outdoors, I quite enjoy the odd bushwalk despite the fact I really don’t like hiking. 

let me talk about the crew.
Dan – One of my best friends for over 10 years we share a love of the bush and reptiles.
Mick – My corrupt partner in crime much to the disgust of his fiancĂ© I have a habit of coercing mick into all sorts of weird and wonderful shenanigans that we probably should have got out of our systems when we turned 25 :D
Ryan – I only met Ryan three years ago on my return to Darwin he is the youngest of the group at a baby 26yrs. Ryan is usually good for an adventure of two as well. Some of us will never grow up.
Brian – The silent warrior. I met Brian when he was 17 through video games. I would have been 19 or 20 I guess. I was enamoured by his counterstrike skills and we hung out for a short while. I re met him through Dan & co later in life and he has become a stable member of my core friendship group. He is one of the quietest but usually one of the last people to leave a party.
Jasmine – Brian’s girlfriend of a year or two now. I haven’t hung out a lot with her but she is easy to talk to & really nice.
Brock – Brian’s school friend. A paramedic who lives in Katherine met him for the first time this trip. A little reserved but he was thrown into a group of people who knew each other for years so makes sense.
Liana – Friends since we were…16? What can I say about Liana. I know all the bad and all the good about her. She drives me nuts sometimes and other times we are best friends. Its why we have been friends for so long that we can deal with each others BS rage and then an hour later be giggling like school girls.
Brett – Met him through Dan 10+ yrs ago he is now married to Liana. Brett’s a big super nerd that just happens to be awesome at everything he does and its kind of annoying.

Tuesday night we made the drive to Katherine where everyone shacked up in Knott’s Crossing and I stayed with my friend Ashley. I went to bed pretty early since I had a big day ahead of me. I think I was asleep by 9:30. The latest I would be sleeping for the next five days! So I was up at 6:30am and Ash was kind enough to give me a ride to the resort where I met everyone for a hot breakfast consisting of all the foods I would do without for the next five days. And then we were off.
The walk didn’t start off so well we were following a school group who were doing a day hike to Northern Rockhole. So our plan of being in total seclusion was ruined by 20+ 15yr olds. You know the age of emerging puberty where its all flirting and teasing and maybe this is my age showing but its really fucking annoying. Considering I was an asexual nerd till my late teens I am content in the fact I was never one of those giggling teens who irritated 30yr olds trying to get away from exactly that.

Ok enough raging at kids being kids (how senior citizen of me) Northern Rockhole was verging on stagnant with the waterfall completely dry and the pond covered in debris. But Jasmine & I feeling the heat braved the water for a quick dip. Everyone else sat in the shade. We didn’t stick around long wanting to get to the first campsite asap. I can’t really talk much about the walk it was probably one of the most difficult. Temperature was probably sitting at around 37C. Dan was having issues with his pack, Brock had just finished an all-nighter paramedic shift and Micks new stripper shoes were proving a little un-roadworthy.  The path had a lot of hills, walking uphill in scorching heat with a 16kg backpack on is excruciating.

Needless to say as soon as we arrived the front of the pack Ryan, Brian, Jasmine & I a good 10 minutes ahead of the others made a beeline for the water and jumped in not even bothering to remove our sweat stained clothes. Biddlecombe cascades was the first stop and it was a series of rock pools cascading down into a massive gorge. Probably one of my favourite swimming spots out of the whole trip. Liana and I did a little bit of exploring up the top of the gorge but we found one spot for swimming at the base of a huge waterfall with a couple of little spa spots. We had the entire spot to ourselves it was awesome.

Biddlecombe Cascades

As the sun started dropping and the colours forming I put down my book and lit up one of my joints to watch. Sitting there by myself I let the natural ambience take me over and my mind wandered. I contemplated my existence and my feelings. My place in the world and how I felt about that place. And I started thinking about all the different people who were a part of my life and how I felt about their part. And I felt happy and content about everything sitting on that cliff by myself watching the sun fall between the walls of the gorge. I felt like everything was working out. All that was missing was one particular person who I wanted nothing more but to share my moment with, but that person was back in Darwin. But it didn’t matter because everything was beautiful anyway. Liana and Brett joined me briefly for the last five minutes of the sunset but they were soon gone and I was alone again. I wandered back to the campsite eventually to re-join my friends and eat a delicious meal of rehydrated beef stew.

Making a water/dishes run at night we came across a small snake right in the path. In my out of mind state I was lucky to have passed on leadership to Ryan only moments before pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed it and probably stepped right on it. Dan & I attempted to identify it but it was so young it made it difficult, we had an inkling it was a baby version of a brown snake. Regardless we detoured around it not wanting to take any chances.

watching the sunset
 We were in bed early 8:30/9pm and up at first light for the next leg of the trip. The second trip was longer than the day before of 8.3km about 10.5km. Dan had gotten a revamp on his backpack and moved up to the front of the pack, I sat comfortably in the middle of both groups enjoying my solitude, one step in front of the other. We found some unsigned rock art along the way which was nice but other than that there wasn’t much exciting things to report about the walk.

Some Art we found on the path Day #2

Cascades was the next stop we reached it just before lunchtime and once again jumped in fully dressed. I even brought my socks in for a much needed soak. Cascades as a swimming spot was visually mediocre but the campsite was beautiful so we spread out into the trees I put my tent as far away as possible right on the river bank. I left everyone after lunch to explore up the river and found some beautiful waterfalls about a km up. I could have kept going but was getting tired and really following cascades could go on for days and you would just keep seeing beautiful things. Nature is funny like that. I had a nap after my exploring adventures and woke up to see the crew sitting in a pool out in the rapids. From the distance I could make out the pump bottles that indicated the scotch was flowing. I joined them for a while until feeling like prunes we made our way back to camp where I boiled up some green tea and the cards came out. 

I went exploring up river

cup to tea in the afternoon

Once again about 6pm I set off with my ginger wine and green to find my sunset point. It was a bit more of a hike this time and I headed downstream having heard of a massive waterfall close by. I was on the wrong side but I found a great view of the gorge with the edge of the huge waterfall cascading down. I didn’t watch the whole sunset because I’d forgotten my head torch and the climb was treacherous. But I once again had my spiritual connection with the earth moment in my solitude. I think I’m turning a little introverted. I spent a lot of the five days alone. I did have a lot more energy than my crippled friends for exploring. I’m not about to give up on doing something I want because I have to do it alone.

more exploring to watch the sunset.

heading back early since I forgot my head torch
 When I returned everyone was sitting on the rocks in the middle of the water watching the sun set. I had a half a J left so I chilled behind them all and just let the surroundings envelop me. It was then decided dinner on the rocks would be an awesome idea so we brought over our burners and lay on the rocks eating our delicious five star? meals. After food we continued to lie there staring at the stars discussing everything and anything. Once again we had an early bedtime of 8:30ish.

Cascade Pools

Ginger wine in the evening

Day 3 was much the same. There was a half way spot to the Amphitheater which was an indigenous sanctuary. A stream nestled between large cliffs there was plenty of indigenous art. It was beautiful and relaxing. I don’t know who made the climb down for viewing except me but I’m glad I did. I think living in the territory you get a little bit jaded towards indigenous art. I mean you see it everywhere all the time when hiking 62km you probably don’t want to add that extra km onto your journey for the sake of something you’ve seen a million times before. Total hike that day was just over 10km and ended at 17 mile falls a beautiful waterfall falling into a sunny gorge. We camped right up the top. The campsite and swimming area was probably the most mediocre of all the sites. With little shade we sought refuge upstream my lily white friends hiding from the solar rays. Even when we found shade the swimming spot was full of rocks and moss but we made the best of it a game of Frisbee kept everyone entertained for a few hours. On return we were ambushed by another group of EIGHT people. We were not impressed since the trail only allows 15 people per night and we already had another couple in a separate group from us. This group had skipped the cascades and was doing the walk in 3 nights instead of four. So we rearranged our campsite to accommodate them then fled to the water for tea and conversation.
17 Mile falls Day #3

not far to go

Green tea by the water

As 6pm rolled around I headed off for my usual find a good vantage point to watch the sunset. Taking my ginger wine and natural products picked my way along the rocks to find the most stunning view of 17 mile falls and the rock pools above. So I took about one hundred pictures and seeing a flat ledge made my way down where I sat for 45 minutes just staring at the falls and surrounds. I got really really stoned on this ledge perched maybe 30 metres high. I was centimetres from falling, probably one of the dumbest places I’ve ever gotten stoned before…and I’ve gotten stoned in some pretty dumb places J In fact it was so dumb and I was so stoned I didn’t last very long before leaving my ledge and making my way back to my crew. The sun was still setting in fact.
my precarious position overlooking the falls

But that’s cool I joined my friends down on the rocks, drank the last of my ginger wine and we lay back and watched the stars. One thing I have discovered about my friends is that they really love satellites. I couldn’t specifically say why but they just got really excited every time they saw one. Dan was pretty drunk declaring he now liked Scotch. It was a nice change from the beer talk that was monopolizing our conversation day in day out. Its difficult to carry enough beer to get you through five days four nights so liquor was the easier choice. I’m not much for liquor so that’s why I stuck to my Wine. A glass of wine and a joint to finish the day was perfect for me.
We decided to leave at first light to ensure we beat the other big group and snagged the first campsite so it was early to bed once again.

funny drunks Mick, Dan, Brian

5:30 rocks up and there are torches shining in my tent. Ugh. So we woke up and got our shit together quickly. Mick was first up and last to get ready, he pulled out a toothbrush an hour later as we all stood there our packs on ready to go and a bunch of us said Fuck it and just left him. I don’t know why he takes so long to do anything. I wouldn’t last five minutes I’m the QUEEN of impatience. They caught up with us pretty quickly though at the first rest stop. This particular day was a long walk of 16.8km. It was also the coolest of the days perfect dry season weather and since we had started at 6amish we were walking in the coolest hours.
early early start day #4

short rest Mick, Ryan, Jasmine

As usual the groups slowly separated to different speeds. I was in the middle of the slow and fast group walking by myself by the end just focusing on one foot in front of the other. When you are by yourself its easy to let your mind wander so I had a lot of moments of thinking and contemplation. I tried to think about everything but walking. I came to a swamp and was ready to sit down and rest when I stumbled across the fast group who were only about five minutes ahead of me. We rested a little than rose again, I stuck near them this time keeping my speed up but it was easy since we ended up at the campsite Sandy Camp Pool only five minutes after the rest stop. We arrived about 11am, not a bad effort.

Beautiful campsite with sandy floor and shady trees everywhere. A huge billabong virtually at our doorstep. We snagged the top spot and set up tents quickly. I picked a beautiful spot smack bang in the middle of shade. Well it was beautiful until everyone else decided to smother my tent in their own, I ended up picking it up and moving it to a new more secluded location. The slower group was about 15 minutes behind us. It was to be our last night camping. 

our beautiful campsite

The rest of the day was pretty chilled out. We relaxed, we swam. We played some Frisbee. I bet everyone that they couldn’t throw the Frisbee across the pond. They couldn’t. We found a rope swing that entertained. I even tried it although I just fell really awkwardly in the water while everyone laughed at me. A few of us played 500 (card game)  That night Ryan got really drunk and I got really stoned again and Dan and I lay next to each other on the sand staring at the sky. The sand was super comfortable. It was really cold this time about 10C so I piled on the thermals. Lucky I carried them 55km!! Ryan was really hilarious he makes no sense when he is drunk its like English is his second language. Was in bed by about 9pm once again.
Sandy creek pool Ryan getting in touch with his inner child

We slept in a bit this morning until 6amish. Ready to go at 730ish. This was the last stretch about 15km. Sweetwater pool was about 10km in. It was here we started running into other people and suddenly that feeling that your near civilisation is closer. I had mixed feelings about that, I was happy to be heading back but I was also sad to be leaving behind the beautiful peaceful sounds of nature. We had a nice swim at sweet water and then geared up for the last 5km back to Edith Falls. Liana was feeling her blisters and was lagging so I stayed back with her and we spent the last 4km just talking about all sorts of things. It was really fucking hot but the conversation helped to pass the time quickly.

fuck I'm awesome ;)

We made it back to Edith the other guys had already left to pick up the cars from Katherine. As we were chilling on the grass talking and moaning along comes a friend of Dan’s with an esky of beer. I’ve never been so happy to see beer in my life. It was a welcome end to a long and difficult five days.

A welcome end to five days!

Every time I do a bush walk I learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t. For instance green tea is the best in the afternoons when you’re recovering from a long day of walking. Just sitting by the water drinking a cup of tea is strangely therapeutic.
If you have a lot or downtime between hikes like we did a hammock is awesome. Brian and Jasmine had one and it’s cool. I want to find a good light hiking hammock for my next trip.
I need more salt in my diet choices. I did take a block of salami but I found my body craving salt most of the five days and the salami wasn’t enough. Plus it’s nice to vary lunch choices tuna and crackers can get a bit repetitive.

So would I do the Jatbula again? Yes definitely in fact I’m already considering applying for a permit for next year. My overall experience was awesome. There was some really rough moments where I wondered if I was capable, if my fitness level could handle it but if we went back and read through every hiking journey I’ve had those moments are pretty common. I always make it to the end and the beauty of those bad moments is that they make the good parts so much sweeter. 

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