Quest to Conquer Mt. Giles
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Dad sucked on his lemon (a proven refreshment and guard against dehydration). ‘About a-quarter-to-twelve.’ He continued to sit and suck on his lemon as if in no hurry.
‘A-quarter-to-twelve?’ I stood. ‘We’ll never get there. We can’t even see the trig.’
‘Well, um-er, we better get a move on.’ Dad rose and slung his pack over his shoulder. The T-men shuffled up a worn kangaroo track. I took a quick swig of water and bounded after them.
We stopped at a three-pronged fork in the trail. Three mountain points stood before us. ‘Now, which way shall we go?’ You’d think Dad would’ve worked the route out before we embarked on this project, using his compass and detailed maps. But apparently, he hadn’t.
C1 (Older Cousin) raised an eyebrow. MB (My Brother) scratched his chin. C2 (Younger Cousin) shook his head, and I shrugged.
Dad hummed and hawed.
‘We could hike up and down the gully to see,’ MB said.
C2 sighed. ‘That would take too much time.’
‘What about the saddle?’ I asked.
The men looked at me, their eyes narrowed. ‘To which point?’ Dad spoke for them all. For the next few precious minutes, the men bantered about what option to take, cutting me out of the decision making.
‘Ah, well, time’s running out. I guess we can’t expect to reach the top,’ Dad announced with the damning tone of resignation.
I stomped off towards the saddle.
‘Oy! Oy! What do you think you’re doing?’ Dad yelled.
I bolted on southwards and upwards to the spur. Even menacing prickle bushes didn’t stand a chance as I charged through them. Behind me I could hear the Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! as Dad hacked his way in pursuit of me. ‘Come back! You can’t go off on your own!’
Scratched and sore from the fight with the bushes, I stopped. A tight-rope path lay ahead. Not even enough width for my feet on this razor back. I turned and watched the shrubs shake.
Dad emerged brushing seeds and thorns from his arms. He shaded his eyes as he looked up. ‘You’ve taken the correct action.’
‘What?’ I scratched my eye-brows. Dad’s big words confused my exhausted mind.
Wheezing, Dad caught up to me. ‘See?’
He pointed at the nearest mound. ‘See, the trig?’
I squinted towards where the hill met the cobalt blue of the sky. At the highest point, a thin wire shimmered in the heat. ‘Oh, yeah!’
While Dad and I gulped down some water, MB, C2 and C1 galloped past us. ‘Watch your step on the spur!’ Dad warned.
We picked our way along the razor back ridge. I held my breath and resisted the urge to look down past the tight-rope path where I placed each step. Holding my arms out straight either side, I teetered and tottered to the end of my ordeal. When I reached the slope at the other end, an incline with generous girth and no cliff in sight, I collapsed to my knees, then bent over and kissed the sand stone.
However, my rejoicing was short-lived and I rose to my sore feet to push on. After plodding up and down more ridges, more rocky slopes, and more frequent rests to nurse my aching calves, our allotted time to reach the summit by 12:30pm lapsed.
We gathered around Dad.
‘What’s the verdict?’ I asked. A breeze cooled the back of my neck.
Flies gathered on C1’s back. MB slapped between C1’s shoulder blades and clapped the flattened insects from his palms. ‘Twenty.’ He flicked the last of the sticky flies from his palm.
‘Well,’ Dad took a deep breath, ‘We’ve come this far, we might as well go all the way.’
‘We have a full moon, that’ll help,’ C2 said.
C1 waved a pesky fly from his face. ‘Okay!’
‘Let’s go!’ MB slapped his hands together near Phil’s nose and killed that fly too.
‘Alright!’ I said.
Determined to reach the peak, we plunged forward, despite being famished, wrung of perspiration, weary and late. We were so close. Every so often, the trig teased us appearing as we reached a high point, and then vanishing as we dipped into a valley. MB and C1 raced each other.
I climbed over a wall of rock and saw the trig wobbling above the slope in the oily heat. I scrambled upwards. A saddle stretched and rose before me. Damn! Another false top! I struggled over the saddle to face another false top. After staggering over the fifth false top, I saw the trig and blinked. Was it real? Or was it a mirage? I limped up the jagged path, pain shooting down my calf muscles with each step. The trig disappeared behind an outcrop of rocks. We’ll never get there!
I skirted the rocks and saw the trig fifty meters away, bold, rusty, and high. Under the shade of an orange sheet that fluttered like a flag in the wind, MB, C1 and C2 lounged by the stone cairn, packs off their backs, stirring Salvital into their cups of water and then sipping with delight the reward of their labour. The time was one o’clock.
Ten minutes later, Dad dragged himself over the last ridge and limped to the summit. There, he sat on a rock and rubbed his knee. ‘O-o-oh!’ He inspected the damage, red and swollen. ‘I tripped and fell on my knee. I hope I can get down alright.’
‘You better,’ C1 laughed. ‘You can’t exactly camp up here.’
‘You’ll have to get down,’ MB said.
‘Yeah!’ I gazed at the view entranced by the once-ancient ocean bed surrounded by islands of mountain ranges that snaked like the backbone of a prehistoric creature into the haze on the horizon.
‘Hey, look at these!’ C1 excavated some calling cards from a tin can wedged in the monument to the summit. Our predecessors had conquered the mountain one year earlier to the day. The scribe wrote: “The climb was well worth the effort”. They described ascending to the peak by the southern ridge starting from Giles Spring. This tip gave us the idea to descend by the south ridge and traverse west through the pound to the camp.
We celebrated with lunch of scroggin and copious amounts of Milo and strawberry flavoured Quick mixed with powdered milk and water. We took photos of the stunning scenery and each other as evidence of our triumph over adversity.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; updated 2021
Feature Painting: Trekking towards Mt Giles challenge (Pastel) © Lee-Anne Marie King 2021