THE DAY TO HIKE UP MT. LEIBIG
Thursday, August 27, 1981
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Part 1—First Leg of the Journey
By the time we left camp to climb Mt. Liebig, the sun peeped over the horizon, and the nose-shaped hill leading up the mountain glowed in crimson.
Dad looked at his watch and said, ‘The time is 7:05 am.’ I imagined him continuing with “Captain’s Log, Star Date the 27th of August 1981…” But Dad’s focus switched to negotiating the lumps and bumps of the make-shift road ahead.
We parked near the foot of the range and then hiked through the second gully from the north-eastern edge of mountainous waves jutting up from the plain. We trekked up and down four ridges until we arrived at the base of the gully nearest Mt. Liebig. The lads bounded up the gully while I lagged behind with Dad.
My father seemed to be dragging his feet. He looked left and right, and every so often screwed up his nose.
‘You won’t find it,’ I said.
Dad kicked a spinifex clump. ‘No harm in trying.’
‘You lost the quart can last time we climbed four years ago, way before the gully leading to the summit. Besides, we went a different way.’
‘Oh, I thought it was around about here… You never know.’
Dad scanned the prickle bushes, loose rocks and red sand for his beloved quart can. How Dad survived the intervening years between 1977 and now, without his quart can, I’ll never know.
‘I remember that ghost gum,’ Dad said and pointed at the gum as if its pure white bark set against the blend of purples in the cliffs shadows held special powers to cause Dad’s quart can to materialise.
We rested under the ghost gum, eating apples, sucking lemons to find strength to continue, but we failed to locate Dad’s trusty old quart can. Dad gazed over the valley of silver slopes of grass, his mouth downturned, and his glasses fogged over. He missed that quart can. He stood and patted his pockets. ‘Ah, well! We better keep on going.’
One by one we hauled our packs on our backs, and loaded up as pack animals, we picked our route over rocks, loose stones and sharp spinifex spears. My brother wore home-made vinyl shin guards. Much had changed since we last hiked up here in 1977; boulders had fallen down, the spinifex grew in more abundance, and effigies of burnt trees dotted the terrain. Single-file we mounted the steep ascent until we reached the pair of five-metre-high walls at the top of the gully.
Dad shaded his eyes and squinted up the barrier of rocks to the west. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. Some of the ledges on the cliff had crumbled.
My brother sprinted up through a gap in the boulders. We waited for his return and signal to proceed.
The wind whistled through the alley of cliffs. I looked through the crevice between the rocks. No sign of My brother.
‘I hope he’s alright,’ I said.
More minutes passed. We sat poised to move at any moment as if sitting on spinifex, yet we remained calm, mesmerized by the emptiness of the landscape, and the silence.
I looked through the gap again and asked, ‘What’s taking him so long?’ Then I slumped onto a large stone. Visions of my brother falling off the cliff plagued my imagination.
‘I’ll go up and have a look,’ David R (our guide) said, and then he disappeared through the hole.
More minutes ticked by. I glanced at the hole that had swallowed up David. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Just be patient.’ Dad seemed content to sit staring at the scenery. ‘They’ll come back.’
But they didn’t. Instead, the hole drew in older cousin (C1), followed soon after by younger cousin(C2). I peered into the tunnel of no return.
Dad hovered at my back. ‘Don’t go up there.’
‘Why not?’ I replied. ‘Everyone else has.’
‘Let me see,’ Dad said as he nudged me away. He crawled further in the hole and traced the granite wall inside with his fingers.
‘Don’t you leave me behind.’ I saw Dad place his foot in a crag and lever his way up to a ledge. ‘You tell someone to come back and help me, you hear.’
Dad called back. ‘Don’t you move.’
Easy for him to say. ‘Yeah, okay, but don’t forget about me.’
[to be continued…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; blog update 2021
Feature Photo: Dreams to climb Mt. Liebig © S.O. Gross 1946