Jatbula Trail Walk 2005/6

Diary of the Walk

Prelude (Sunday and Monday, 25–26 December)

In order to keep the trip as stress-free as possible and allow for some acclimatisation, we decided to fly from Sydney to Darwin on Sunday, 25 Dec, arriving late at night (the flight left a few hours late, as the incoming plane was delayed by storms in Brisbane). This gave us all Monday to relax, do our food shopping and packing for the one week hike ahead, and attend the trip briefing by Russel on late Monday afternoon.

We strongly recommend to follow Russel's advice not to arrive at the very last minute, and to count proper preparation as part of the trip. Unfortunately, one of our fellow hikers had to experience the truth of this (more in the notes below).

Day 1 (Tuesday, 27 December)
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Northern Rock, 8km (Total 8km)

Russel picked us up at the hotel at 7 o'clock in the morning in his 4WD, and as we drove out of town, we collected the rest of the party. group Besides Russel, the guide (if somewhat hampered being still recuperating from back surgery), there was Stuey, 2nd in charge, a former soldier who also works as a tour guide out of Darwin; Pam and Eric, local hiking veterans; Anita from Melbourne, and then us, Gernot and Trudy. All were reasonably- to well-experienced, although neither Anita, Pam nor the two of us had walked in the Wet before.

After a stop on the way where Anita did her last-minute shopping, we dropped off the car at at Edith Falls, our destination, and got a lift to Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) Visitor Centre. ferry1 ferry2 ferry3 Just before lunch we were ferried across the river near the Visitor's centre by a friendly park ranger, and commenced the walk.

fall That first afternoon the track already held what it had promised: plenty of waterfalls in full flow. We marvelled at the spectacular view as we got closer and closer to the waterfall at Northern Rockhole.

swim There we enjoyed our first of many natural showers and a swim in the pool.

fall_camp1 camp1 In fact, that night we felt really spoiled when we were able to set up camp in full view of the waterfall.

Day 2 (Wednesday, 28 December)
From Northern Rock to Biddlecombe Cascades 3.5+2km (Total 13.5km)

x2 x3 x1 The next day introduced us fairly quickly to one particular aspect of walking in the wet tropics: getting wet, especially when crossing creeks or wading through wet-land. Fording creeks happened every few hours, each time needing a decision whether take the walking boots of or continue as is, hoping to keep the feet dry anyway.

And just in time for our lunch break did the beautiful Biddlecombe Cascades emerge, inviting us to a well deserved refreshing swim—albeit only after a bit of a scramble down to the pool. casc swim1

swim2 And so, the swimming opportunities kept coming, more later that same afternoon and as everyday thereafter!

The day's walk led us along the escarpment, providing several times a grand view over the 17 Mile Valley. valley1 valley2 valley3

biddle The final treat of the second day was a mighty, though surprisingly only a seasonal waterfall. It was a little off our track and final destination of the day, and so it made for the perfect last rest stop before the end of a very impressive day of walking.

camp After we set up camp, G+Tread we tried to relax with a bit of privacy from the ever accompanying little creatures, also known as flies:

Day 3 (Thursday, 29 December)
From Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls 9km (Total 22.5km)

T We are off again to an other day of discoveries and treats, all the time accompanied by plenty of green vegetation and creeks full of water.

walk1 artA artB With a little bit of an explorer's nose searching around the rock outcrops, that morning we find our first aboriginal art site.

walk2 swim3 swim2 swim1 And sure enough, after an other short walk, we stumble across our next swimming hole.

Revitalised after a cooling swim and lunch, we pick up our packs and go back to our business of walking—only to be, pleasantly, interrupted by another (unnamed) spectacular waterfall. walk3 fall

fall creek There was one last hurdle or, more precisely, gap to be overcome: to cross upstream the roaring contributory to Crystal Falls.

xingR While some (like Russell) crossed the fast-flowing creek with a few large strides, others welcomed a helping hand. Others looked prepared for a swim, but fortunately we didn't have to practice the pack-overboard manoeuvre. xing1 xing2 xing3 xing4 xing5

camp fall After all that play and challenge, we set up camp nearby, allowing us to take in another view the majestic Crystal the next morning and be impressed by the crevasse we diligently circumvented the afternoon before.

Day 4 (Friday, 30 December)
From Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Creek Crossing 14km (Total 36.5km)

view The next morning took us across open country, with occasional grand views. Unlike most other days, the sky was overcast early on and we were prepared for some early showers around lunch time.

rainf2 rainf1 However, all these concerns blue away when just before noon we came up swim to the Amphitheatre, a rainforest pocket down and along a gully. Lush rainforest flora greeted us as we climbed down the gully, topping it off with a magic little swimming hole at the bottom.

gal2 gal1 Unsurprisingly, we were not the first ones to relish the site: Aborigines have left their mark from eons back and gave us a phenomenal gallery of art works. The actual location of the paintings indicates importance of the site to the aborigines.

artR artG Fortunately, we were in no rush to go anywhere and thus we could spend a very long time appreciating and enjoying the huge variety of rock art.

climb2 climb1 With a little effort we eventually emerged from that fantastic world. After a short bite to eat, we started on our last stretch for the day.

Little did we know what new surprise was in stall for us. During our last stop, about 2km before the planned camp at 17 Mile Creek Crossing, in the middle of undulating, fairly scrubby bush we got visitors! A helicopter made its way towards us and landed, despite Russell signalling that we were ok. As it turned out, Anita had heli1 heli2 heli3 behind Russell's back arranged to get airlifted out for medical reasons (really excess weight and unsuitable equipment). The whole affair took ca. 20 minutes after which the helicopter took off again and we were one member less.

Only after Anita had left did it really become clear to us how much she had slowed the group down, be it by taking ages to get ready, walking slowly, taking a very long time to negotiate obstacles or taking many and long breaks. The remaining group turned out to be fairly well matched, and while the unplanned departure created some uneasiness at first (and for Russell a lot of undeserved trouble later), this soon gave way to a feeling of relief, and the group continued the trip in great spirit.

17mFall1 17mFall2 Shortly after the helicopter incident we turned a corner andgot 17mFall5 17mFall4 17mFall3 to the edge of the escarpment, where we got a full view of the 17 Mile Falls—delivering possibly the grandest view of any of the falls we have seen on this trip. Making good use of the long daylight, we spent ample time exploring and judging the best vantage point of the falls, the pools and the creek (obviously, this can't be done without immersing yourself!)

17mFallCamp 17mFallFly The designated (dry season) camp ground didn't look all that inviting (mostly under water), so we headed for some higher, i.e. drier grounds. Having found a suitable, but maybe not the prettiest spot, we made good use of our communal fly, allowing us to sit around and read under cover, while waiting for chef Russell and that night's culinary delight under a very low hanging rain cloud.

Day 5 (Saturday, 31 December)
From 17 Mile Creek Crossing to Sandy Camp Pool 16.5km (Total 53km)

start grass3 grass2 grass1 Naturally, next day, the sky is blue again and waiting for us to get on our way. That day we walked across flat and grassy open bushland. In particular, we stomped our way through man-tall grass—an other special feature of the wet season up here. grass8 grass7 grass6 grass5 We came across some easy and some not so easy creek trench crossings, including natural bridges made of logs and old branches from fallen trees. Some fords could be negotiated by rock-hopping while others required a small detour to get around newly created mini-lakes. Log1 Log2 Log3 Log4

EdithR2 EdithR1 Just right on lunch time we hit the Edith River, where after an easy wade across we succumbed to the obligatory, cleansing pre-lunch swim.

Channels At Channels Waterhole, the wet showed again its impressive side and transformed a meagre hole into a fully fledged swimming pool including spa facilities!

For the night's camp, we needed to cross the Edith River one last time. Swollen and fast flowing, this crossing was the most challenging one of the trip and required full concentration. Rxing0 Rxing1 Rxing2 Rxing3 Rxing4 Rxing5 Rxing6 Rxing7

More "wet" adventure was in store for us later that evening. The clouds had been drifting in all afternoon, and soon after we pitched our tents, heavy rain hit us and would not stop. We put both of our large flies up as diligently as possible and crouched underneath, ate our last meal of the year (yes it was New Years Eve :-) and kept our spirits up. Nevertheless, we got wetter and wetter as the wind sprayed the rain sideways and the place got less and less comfortable.

We had already decided to celebrate the New Year in New Zealand time (20:30 local time). In the end we didn't even wait that long, had our special treat (a nut cake friends had given us for the trip), and braved the downpour into the tent, trying to leave most of the water outside.

Day 6 (Sunday, 1 January)
From Sandy Camp Pool to Upstream of Edith Falls 9km (Total 62km)

Light1 Light2 SandHole0 The New Year greeted us with magic lights and a changed landscape. The water levels in the river had risen significantly, making it impossible to pass—good thing we were already across. We would have had to walk several kilometres upstream to find a safe crossing, or float the packs across the large pool we were camped at. SandyHole1 SandyHole2 That pool was itself probably half a metre higher than when we got there, flooding the lower parts of the site (but still remaining well clear of our tents).

Swamp1 Swamp2 Swamp3 On this, our last full day's worth of walking, we met yet Swamp3 another side of rainfall. We crossed flat stretches which were turned into swamps by the previous night's rain. Because there were no clear creeks or river streams, This was the only time of the walk where drinking-water supply was an issue. Ironically, we lunched on a very wet patch yet we struggled to find anywhere water to refill our bottles (we eventually could extract some murky water; the more solid muck we let settle, the smaller particles were taken care of by our good friends in the Australian bush, purification pills).

EdithRswim EdithCasc That afternoon, we performed our swimming ritual in a very wide section LastCamp2 LastCamp1 of the Edith River, where the waters were very calm, almost like a lake. For our last camp we were looking for a dry spot, but not before marvelling at some cascades a half day upstream of Edith Falls.

Day 7 (Sunday, 2 January)
From Upstream of Edith Falls to Edith Falls 6km (Total 68km)

EdithBanks EdithF4 EdithF3 On the last morning, we were on one hand a bit apprehensive seeing our trip nearing its end, on the other hand we were very keen to get moving towards one (of the many) highlights of this trip, the grand Edith Falls. We got early to the banks of the falls to make sure we have ample time to absorb what nature has to offer. We scrambled around a fair bit EdithF2 EdithF1 always looking for yet another angle of the cascades just above the falls and, of course, of Edith Falls proper.

Team1 Team2 RusselPack Russel While it had to come to a close, we were a happy bunch and enjoyed every minute of it—all under the superb guidance of Russel. And yes, his body kept up, while his pack pretty much had it by the time we got back to the car.

Sunday Afternoon, 2 January)

We picked up our vehicle at the car park at Edith Falls, just where and how we had left it a good week before. (Which, unfortunately, cannot be taken for granted; according to Russell it has happened in the past that vehicles went missing or had been vandalised).

Litchfield1 Litchfield3 Litchfield32 Litchfield2 On the drive back to Darwin, we stopped at Litchfield Park and gave ourselves to the magic of a particularly wonderful pocket of rainforest, our "Enchanted Gorge". And, yes, you guessed it. We did get yet another swim out of it!

Sunday Evening, 2 January)

Gear We had one last night in a hotel in Darwin, where we had left a pack with clean clothes. Unlike the contents of the packs we had with us on the walk ;-)

Trudy & Gernot

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