Monday, January 4, 2016

The Giles Track, Watarrka National Park - December 2015

Well I finished last years post's off with the West Highland Way so I suppose I'd better do a reasonable post to start off 2016. The Giles Track in Watarrka National Park probably fulfils that requirement, and doing it in the middle of summer on a stinking hot day adds a little bit of hardcore cred as well. Oh yeah, with Sam at the Kings Canyon Resort and not walking with me, I decided to do the walk in one day instead of the more usual two. Now, I've actually walked this walk a couple of times before so I knew walking in the middle of summer was doable, my main criteria on walks like this is whether there will be anywhere to have a swim and cool down for a couple of hours in the middle of the day while I sit out the heat. With all the rain around the red centre on this visit I was confident that the waterholes that I knew of would have plenty of water in them, and so it was.
The start photo at the Kathleen Springs car park.
Sam dropped me off at the trail head at the Kathleen Springs car park at the early hour (for me!) of 9am, and then headed back to the resort pool for a tough day of reading and relaxing, agreeing to head out to the Kings Canyon car park to pick me up at 7pm, with no mobile reception out here I erred on the conservative side when giving Sam the time to pick me up. Knowing that it would be a lot easier to spend time swimming if I was  making good time than it would be trying to crank up the pace and finish quicker if I was running late, it was better to nominate a late finish. So after the start photo I shouldered my pack, complete with more than 6 litres of water, and headed off on my days walk along the George Gill Range,
That's my turnoff.
My breadcrumbs for the day.
The Giles Track follows the Kathleen Springs Track for about 100 metres before leaving at its highest point and striking out along the crest of the range on its north westerly journey. Like the Larapinta, the Giles Track is marked by arrows at reasonably frequent intervals, there is the odd occasion where you might not quite know if you're on the right route but normally after a bit of a look around you spot one of the re assuring red arrows. With no one having walked the track for quite awhile and recent heavy rain having washed the ground clean there would be no sign of any other walkers having ventured this way until I intersected with the Kings Canyon Rim Walk about 1 kilometre from the end of the walk. Initially the route climbs around the side of the small gorge that is home to Kathleen Springs, passing above the springs, from here the open ridge slowly climbs up some shallow valleys on the George Gill Range, with virtually no substantial vegetation along here due to a bushfire that came through a few years ago, this section was particularly warm even at this early hour.
The route initially tracks above Kathleen Springs.
Like the Larapinta the Giles Track features a kilometre countdown.
Dropping down slightly to cross the normally dry Warru Creek I was happy to see a small flow, sure enough after rock hoping downstream a bit I spied my personal nirvana, a beautiful waterhole. By this stage of the day I'd been walking for around two hours so I figured it was time to strip off and cool down for awhile, and after finding a shady tree for my gear that's indeed what I did. It would have been a confronting sight if anyone happened along as this larger framed gentleman scrambled down the small water fall completely naked before I eased myself into the refreshing pool. After spending ten minutes in my private waterhole I was starting to think that my biggest problem today would be actually removing myself from the water and trekking off into the baking heat.
The beautiful waterhole on Warru Creek was my first opportunity to cool down today.
The view from water level.

After my cooling swim at Warru Creek I continued my hot and dusty walk, apart from the heat the other annoyance today was the amount of bush flies, while these little bastards don't bite they do annoy you when they insist on flying into your mouth or get behind your sunglasses and try to suck your eyes dry, with about 2000 of them riding on my sweaty back at any time I certainly swallowed my share of flies today. About ten minutes after starting walking again my swim was a distant memory, the Giles Track now climbs steeply for a bit before starting to track along long rock ledges on the south side of the crest, the views along here of the extensive sand dune country to the south are a feature and must have formed a daunting barrier to our nomadic indigenous people.
The view out to the sandy dune country.
These Ghost Gums grow in the most inhospitable spots.

The Giles Track now slowly starts to lose height as it descends down to the foot hills of the George Gill Range towards the tiny aboriginal out station of Lilla, this is the only formal point that you can access the track on its journey from Kathleen Springs to Kings Canyon. On meeting the branch track to the Lilla Car park I checked out the walkers log book at the junction, the last walker to put pen to paper was two months previously, no wonder there wasn't much sign of other people coming this way. Scribbling my name into the log book I continued on.
Walking the rock slabs on the south side of the range.
Looking towards Lilla.
The lonely track junction above the Lilla outstation, according to the logbook I was the first one through in the last two months.
Leaving the Lilla junction the Giles Track starts to climb again up onto the range, it was now baking hot and as the track crossed lots of bare rocky slabs the heat was amplified. The route makes a wide arc around Lilla and in the process crosses quite a few creeks, most of them had a least some water in them although I didn't bother stopping for a swim as I was now pretty keen to get to my preferred swimming hole at Reedy Creek. The scenery along the Giles Track improves the further along you walk, this is one of the best reasons to walk in the direction that I did, and by the time I dropped into the shallow valley that Reedy Creek flows through the country is getting pretty stunning.
Rocky Creek had a little water but I was heading towards Reedy Creek for a swim.
Lilla
I was starting to get a bit hot by now, not a lot of signs of other walkers on this section of track.
The waterhole in Reedy Creek is pretty well permanent, it may dry up but I've never seen it dry, it requires a little easy scrambling to reach however as you have to drop down a normally dry waterfall to gain access to the main waterfall. Normally you then have to walk through a narrow gorge that is less than an arm span wide before easing yourself down another small waterfall into the large waterhole, today though the first waterfall was flowing strongly and instead of walking though the narrow gorge to the waterhole it was a case of wading through waist deep water, at least I didn't have to ease myself down the second waterfall into the waterhole, it was just a matter of floating out into the deep water. This waterhole is stunning, bordered on three sides by ochre cliffs and with beautiful red gums lining the remaining side, a better place to go skinny dipping would be hard to find.
The first waterfall at Reedy Creek is normally dry.
Wading through the narrow gorge to the main waterhole, normally you have to ease yourself down another waterfall to access the pool, today it was just a matter of floating out into the waterhole.
Waiting out the heat feral style.
I spent a couple of hours at Reedy Creek, eating, drinking, swimming, reading, and at one stage photographing a monitor lizard as it swam past me and started to sun bake on the rocks, oblivious to me. To put the size of this waterhole in perspective, the main waterhole was about the size of two tennis courts, yeah its pretty big, it is the perfect place to float on your back and look at the towering gorge walls above. By 4pm I decided that all good things had to come to an end and slowly I pulled on my clothes and sweaty boots. Climbing out of the oasis I was once again hit by the full force of the heat, the late afternoon sun still packing a punch, I was now down to my last two litres of water as well so I had to be a little careful of what I was drinking.
A monitor lizard doing a bit of sun baking
That's the narrow gorge that you pass through the access the waterhole.
The ripples reflecting onto the rock looked pretty sweet.

The one disadvantage of walking in this direction was that I was more or less walking into the late afternoon sun and it required a bit of concentration to stay on the exact route as the red arrows were a little hard to see with the sun low, with a little bit of fatigue creeping in I was glad to stop every now and again in a shady spot and rest. A compensation for the hard walking though was that I was getting into some absolutely fantastic country, the Giles Track now starts to pass through a section that is full of weathered sandstone domes, kind of like a mini Purnululu. My biggest problem now was trying to keep walking and stop taking photos, with my polariser screwed up to nuclear combined with the late afternoon sun the rocks looked stunning and I was struggling to walk more than ten metres without stopping to get (what I considered) another great shot.
The Giles Track passes through a lot of these weathered sandstone domes at its north western end.
I was getting a little tired by now.

After checking out one last waterhole of which I hoped to return to tomorrow I trekked the last few metres of the Giles Track, meeting the Kings Canyon Rim Walk near Kestrel Falls. Once I'd joined the Rim Walk there was suddenly plenty of evidence of other walkers, even if they were all long gone at this time of the day, all that was left to do now was to walk the last kilometre back to the car park. After fording the still flowing Kings Creek I arrived at 6:45pm to find Sam waiting with a cold drink, it's as if she could read my mind, I'd been fantasising about a cold drink for the last couple of hours, I'd finished the walk with about 500 ml of water left but had basically been drinking hot water since 10am this morning, which doesn't do a lot to quench your thirst.
The view from Watarrka Lookout.



One last waterhole to check out.

The Dirt.
The Giles Track is a good walk, I walked 25.2 kilometres and climbed 478 metre on todays stroll. I wouldn't recommend a walk of this length in the desert over summer normally, the mitigating feature of this walk was that I knew that I'd be able to swim and cool down in a few places. The Giles Track is normally completed over a couple of days, camping somewhere near Reedy Creek but with an early start its doable in one day, the track is a bit of a taster for the Larapinta I suppose with its ridges and creeks. The route is marked by red arrows where needed, the route traverses long sections of bare rock where there is no pad so the arrows are placed where you need to change direction. Needless to say with the walk more or less following the crest of the George Gill Range there are plenty of great views to be had for most of the day, as you get closer to Kings Canyon the scenery is particularly good. Overall I'd rate this as a hard walk, particularly if done in summer, done in two days in the cooler months it would be pretty easy.



The low afternoon sun was not hurting my photos.

The view from Kestrel Falls near sun set.

Kings Creek.

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