SECTION 3 – Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm

Day 8 – Ellery Creek to Rocky Gully

It was a cold night and we huddled in our sleeping bags trying to sleep as best we could.  Once the alarm had sounded, we struggled up into the cool morning and got ready.

We climbed a small hill out of Ellery Creek and looked back upon ‘civilisation’ – a handful of motor campers in a car park.
We headed on at a brisk rate and reached a saddle with the cold wind tearing at us.  It was very strong, forcing us to walk slowly to make sure we kept our footing.  We got through and descended into Alice Valley, a Spinifex free valley, stretching in all directions and littered with Quartzite stones.  The entrance to the valley marked our first total 100km milestone on the trail.

The icy wind – icy? Isn’t this supposed to be the hot centre of Australia? – buffeted us the rest of the way.  It came in like ocean waves rolling over us with a crash and then dissipating, only to be followed by another soon after.

We arrived at Rocky Gully and with the wind still buffeting us we set up camp and hid in the tent away from it.

Day 9 – Rocky Gully to Hugh Gorge

I woke at 2am with a burning pain in my arm.  It seems that the daily carrying of a heavy pack had caused my shoulder muscles to bunch and pinch a nerve.  Painful.  My friend took extra weight to ease the load on my shoulders and we set off late, deciding to take more breaks.

Most of the morning we walked across broken ground, rocky and burnt.  The sun beat down on us but the wind was still chilly.  The terrain moved into grassy plains and we every now and again we would come across a large pile of what we figured was camel dung.  We still hadn’t seen any camels.

Exhausted we made it to the campsite in early afternoon and quickly pitched the tent before going for a nap.  After this morning, I’d expected more trouble from my shoulder, but thankfully nothing.

Day 10 – Hugh Gorge to Fringe Lily Creek

At 2am, I awoke with the same excruciating pains in the upper arm as last night.  My companion suggested  different ways to ease the pain enough to help me sleep with some success.  She created a makeshift heat pack, massaged the shoulder and showed me yoga techniques.  [Many months after the hike, I discovered I’d been carrying my pack wrong, holding too much weight upon my shoulders and not around my waist.  This caused permanent nerve damage.  The things we learn.]

After sleeping (yay!) we arose late and prepared for our day’s hike.  The gorge walk to Fringe Lily Creek is rated very hard, so we prepared ourselves for the worst.  Initially walking along the gorge was cold and there was plenty of water.  There was one point where we had to scale a rocky outcrop to avoid getting wet.  In wetter times, we may not have been able to avoid it…

The day continued along a rocky gorge and split off along a fork.  We followed the drier path and in the sun we climbed up to a saddle where the wind whipped icily through.  We descended down the hill and it all seemed too easy, so we followed the sign at the base of a steep burnt out ridge and began climbing.  Near the top we realised that the Fringe Lily Creek campsite was at the base of the ridge.

We climbed back down and found the campsite.  We set up the tent and set in for the afternoon, eventually moving into the tent as the flies were particularly plentiful here.  Again there was no trouble from my shoulder, but I expected a troubled sleep again, so I strapped it tightly with tape, something I’d seen a physiotherapist do.

Overnight and with the moon nearly full, we heard the howling of dingoes but saw none.

Day 11 – Fringe Lily Creek to Birthday Waterhole

The shoulder was fine overnight!  Very little pain altogether.  After the practice run yesterday we were ready for a steep climb and what a climb it was.  Near the top of the first ridge we could see a fire-swept hillside while the other side was alive with vegetation. We continued climbing along Razorback Ridge watching the two contrasting landscapes expand on either side of us.

We climbed over the aptly named Windy Saddle with the cold wind howling past us.  Our break at the top was a short one because of the cold winds.  We continued on reaching Rocky Talus, a great rocky outcrop that led into Spencer Gorge.  This gorge felt like we were climbing down an ancient jungle filled with vegetation.  Something you’d not expect to see in an arid region.

At the base of the gorge we climbed a sharp hill before the trail flattened out for the day and we left the wind behind.  We plodded on for the last couple of kilometres through the valley until the trail led us through a several hundred meters of sand.  On the far side, we found Birthday Waterhole.

We set up camp and headed down to the waterhole to have our lunch and enjoy the afternoon.  We watched all manner of birds chase insects or drink from the waterhole.  A pair of Wedge Tail Eagles toyed with each other in the air above.

As we relaxed, a lone dingo strolled into the area seemingly oblivious to us until he was only a couple of meters away.  He hung around for a while, looking for food and going for a brief swim.  With him hanging around, we took precautions with our food before bedding down to sleep.  Tomorrow is set to be our hardest and longest day yet.

Day 12 – Birthday Waterhole to Standley Chasm

Our original plan was to climb Brinkley Bluff and camp overnight at the top before heading on to Standley Chasm the following morning.  But after some discussion, we decided to merge the two days together.  Firstly, there is only a small window of time when staying on Brinkley Bluff is feasible.  There is no shelter up there, so the heat of the day would have to be endured and if the icy wind continued, it would be very cold up there in the morning.  Lastly, there’s no water supply on the bluff, meaning we’d be required to carry double water up the steep cliff face to get there.

The change of plan meant that we’d be required to walk for 9 hours in the heat, but we could have a rest day at Standley Chasm, a location with showers, a kiosk, plenty of water and shade.

The first part of this long hard day was a gentle climb out of the freezing Birthday Waterhole to Stuart’s Pass, a dry riverbed.  From there was a sharp 300m climb up a burnt hillside to a rocky pass followed by a 100m descent into a short valley to a place called Rocky Cleft and then the 300m climb straight up to the Bluff.

We began the zigzag steep climb meeting some other hikers coming the other way.  We eventually made it to the top and found it to be well worth the climb.  Brinkley’s Bluff was the highest point we’d been on this trip and the vistas in all directions showed that, with the land stretching in every direction for a far as the eye could see.  We took a break and spent time basking in the beauty around us.

The descent was far easier than the climb, an up down walk from ridge to ridge, some steep, others easy.  Sometimes the hill sides had been devastated by fire; other times the grassy hillside had been left untouched.
We climbed to Reveal Saddle and began a gradual 250m descent over 5km to end the walk along a rocky creek bed and finally a road to Standley Chasm, a commercial sightseeing location.  We pitched our tent, were allowed a shower by the kind aboriginal man, then bought meat pies and soft drinks before collapsing exhausted into the tent before dark.

Day 13 – Standley Chasm Rest Day

We slept for 12 hours!

On rising we had a leisurely breakfast without the pressure to break camp or pack.  This was also the location of a food drop, so we also enjoyed the treats we had set aside earlier.

At lunchtime we checked out the chasm, a gap where two red cliff faces meet, the sun at noon caused shadows to dance in certain ways and the redness to shine.  However, it was also filled with tourists.
We sat for the rest of the day relaxing and reading in the shade.  At one stage a hiker came in to collect his food drop but he was not planning to complete the walk.  I sparked up a conversation with him and while discussing the walk he offered me pickings of his food drop as he wasn’t going to be needing it.  I’ve found hikers are generally very generous and helpful people.  I accepted and happily took some fresh oranges, carrots, a fruit cup and some chocolate from him.  Fresh fruit!  A godsend!

After a relaxing day, we made preparations for the final section.  Four days to Alice Springs.

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