North West Trip Day Three Part Two – Weano and Hancock Gorge

Day Three – Saturday 6th August

Karijini National Park – Weano and Hancock Gorges (Continued)

On the way to the Weano Recreation area Pete gave us a whole pile of background information on Karijini National Park including that it is the traditional Aboriginal Name for the area, previously it had been named by explorers as the Hammersley National Park before being returned to its original owners. We stopped at the apex at a hill and looked out over the park, there was a massive flood plain which is known as the Savannah as it is apparently very similar to the Savannah grasslands found throughout Africa. Pete also let us know that we were very lucky to have Karijini at all with it having been surveyed for mining back in the 1950’s and 1960’s before being lobbied to be turned into a National Park. Due to an above normal wet season the flora on display throughout the park had also not been seen for over 20 years with there being an abundance of green as well as a diverse array of wild flowers.

Our trip in “Anzac Annie” came to an end at the Weano Recreation Area car park, here we unloaded the gear we would be carrying throughout the day and got ready to go through the final preparation before descending down into Weano Gorge. Pete showed us how to strap the roping we would need throughout the day onto our backs and got Brendan to fill the tube we would need to cross some of the gorge lakes with air whilst he packed out lunches and the majority of equipment into his water proof back pack. Pete then took us through how to use all of the safety gear including the two-way radio and satellite phone incase an emergency presented itself and he was incapacitated. Upon completing this we ventured into the unrestricted sections of Weano Gorge.

The descent into Weano was steep, but rather easy with the track very well marked. We were met at the bottom by a small waterfall and running water throughout the gorge. After taking a few photos of this pristine area (Pete told us he tended to come down here to swim in the late afternoon) we turned and started to head towards the restricted area (it took another half an hour to get there). The gorge very rapidly became narrow with the walls of it rising steeply on either side of us by about 20 metres, as we continued Pete stopped us to give us some more information about the rock formation including that what we were seeing was actually ancient sea bed from millions of years ago the richness of the rock and smoothness in texture was quite incredible to behold. As we continued along the edges of gorge we were quickly met with having to get wet, we tried valiantly to avoid this as long as possible but theb Pete informed us we might as well give up as up ahead we’d have no choice.

Our journey continued through to the Handrail Pool, this pool is the end of the non-restricted section of Weano Gorge and provides quite a challenge in itself to actually get into.  The passage way here gets extremely narrow and is very slippery due to the constant running water. There has been a handrail (hence the name) attached to the gorge wall to help people safely enter into the pool area (a good five metres below the entrance) without slipping. Pete went first and instructed all of us to one at a time grab onto the pole and approach him backwards, as we reached the opening we had to swing our legs over the pole and then descend a ladder that had been carved into the rock face (simple foot holes). The Handrail Pool was a stunning spot, sitting in a more open expanse but still truly inside Weano Gorge. The level of difficulty to even get into this area (which is a level five walk) shows the great latitude that have been given to the gradings of the gorge walks. After we had all descended to the edge of the handrail pool we continued around to the danger sign marking the end of the unrestricted gorge and the beginning of the level 6 restricted gorges. We stopped and enjoyed morning tea at this point, a nice warm cup of tea, an apple and muesli bar and continued to get know each other. Due to the group being so small we were lucky enough to have Pete enough to have Pete stop and enjoy morning tea with us before he went off to prepare the ropes we would need to cowtail across the next section of gorge safely as we continued to approach the falls at the end of Weano Gorge.

It took Pete about twenty minutes to prepare all of the roping needed for us to proceed safely into the restricted gorges. To do this he taught us a climbing technique known as “cow-tailing”. Attached to our safety harnesses was a single rope that had been knotted in a way to give both ends individual control and attached to each of these ends was a safety clip designed for climbing. Pete explained to us that as we moved through the gorge and we would use these to safely move across narrow ledges by attaching ourselves to the safety ropes he had put up from climbing rings that had been secured to the gorge walls. After taking us through how exactly to cow-tail including always trying to say beneath the safety rope, having only one person at a time on a section of rope and always having one clip attached to safety rope at all times we proceeded through this first section of the restricted gorge. Pete instructed us to go first and then wait at the end of the section, he came las as he had to remove the rigging to remove the temptation of people to try and follow us into this restricted area.

We regrouped after Pete had finished removing the rigging and continued towards Weano Falls where we would be doing a 40 metre abseil down a waterfall down into “the centre of the earth” and “junction pool” where Hancock, Red and Weano Gorges all converge. On this part of the trip we came to another small gap we had to pass through which was a small waterfall. For safety reasons Pete advised us to treat it as a water slide and go through it sliding on our behinds (which we all took great delight in). At the end of this small slippery slide we were faced with the last pool before Weano Falls which we would be abseiling over and down. he gorge opened up at this point into a wider expanse, you could imagine the fast flowing water throughout here during the wet season powering over the not too distant falls and plummeting into the waters if Junction Pool below. This open space still had walls of about twenty to thirty metres towering overhead but there was a lot of sun getting in which was well received by all of us who were starting to feel the effects of having to get wet a few times so far. We were going to stop and have our lunch here but before we could eat Pete made us do a little extra work for it in the form of a small rock climb and then an 8 metre abseil to help prepare us for the large one we’d do straight after lunch.

Pete told us to get out into the sun and try and warm up as he prepared the rigging necessary for the practice rock climb and abseil, this took about 15 minutes to have ready. He then came down and asked one of to operate as the safety officer for the rock climb that was about to take place and instructed all of us how to attach the safety rope to our carabiner and the various communications that needed to take place before climbing. After doing this Pete climber to the top of the 8 metre wall and one by one we climbed to the top. Before each climb Pete would call out “Safety Officer” and I would respond “clear” for him to be able to throw down the safety rope which I would then take and attach to the climber. After doing this I would yell to Pete “ready” and he would take the slack as the climber took the position to begin to climb, once in position the climber would yell “climbing” and start to climb. It took all of us about 20 minutes to reach the top of the 8m ledge where we were able to enjoy the warm sunlight as Pete prepared the abseiling rigging for us to practice on. About ten minutes later Pete had all of the rigging ready for each of us to abseil down the cliff, he took us through the safety directions that were needed and instructed each of us clearly as to every step we needed to take as we went over the edge. I found the hardest part of the abseil was the initial walking backwards over the cliff, especially that moment where you go from being upright to 90 degrees with the ground, never the less, we all completed the 8m abseil without any hiccups.

As Pete packed up the rigging from the abseil he instructed us to start getting lunch out and ready. He had prepared for us a delicious meal which included lemon chicken and couscous, a fresh garden salad and a timtam to finish. We enjoyed another cup of tea and some cordial as we continued to get to know each other and discussed many interesting topics which were important to us. The overall vibe throughout lunch was relaxed and very enjoyable. Towards the end of lunch Pete started to get the rigging ready for our 40 metre abseil, this part of the trip was going to consist us cowtailing out one by one to the ledge of the waterfall before being rigged up to the safety lines and then going over the edge. Pete instructed us that after we had abseiled over the edge we would need to traverse across the cliff face to head directly under the flow of waterfall, not doing this could result in us getting injured if we slipped. He also told us that three quarters of the way down we would come to a slippery ledge, affectionately known as the dance floor due to its slippery nature. At this point we needed to be on the look out for the ledge to our left that we would need to traverse over to in order to complete the abseil, overshooting this ledge would result in us hanging just above the waterline and having to release ourself into the icy cold water below (something none of us overly wanted to experience).

The order for the abseil was Melissa followed by Brendan with myself third, anyone who knows me knows that whilst I wouldn’t say I am scared of heights I also an not totally fond of the idea of falling from a long way up (like 40 metres) however I have never let myself miss an opportunity to do something that will give me a great memory to look back on. All that being said, the positioning of myself in third is not something that I was too keen on as it gave me more time to think as I waited at the top for the other two to descend down the waterfall face. Melissa suggested that as she was going first to give her the camera that we had been using to take shots through the gorge to enable her to get some shots of us all coming down the gorge  from below. After much discussion this was agreed by all and Melissa started her decent to “the centre of the earth”. After Melissa was at the bottom Pete reset and prepared Brendan to head down the waterfall, whilst this preparation was happening it was possible to see Melis down below walking around and exploring the bottom of the gorge, Pete had told us to make sure we headed down to have a look at where Red Gorge joins up and really take the time to sit in the sun, get warm and enjoy the beauty of this restricted area that not many people get the privileged of seeing.

About 20 minutes later it was my turn to head down the waterfall and join up with Brendan and Melis. As I have always found with abseiling, the most difficult part is the getting started, the initial heading over the edge and point where you need to trust the rope rather than your feet I have never been able to get comfortable with. Once over the edge of the cliff and heading down the 40 metre water fall I found myself feeling quite comfortable (a little nervous still but really enjoying it). Pete instructed me, once over the edge, to head over to the get under the path of the waterfall, get wet and follow it down to the bottom. This by far I found the most exciting and amazing part of the adventure. when I was about a quarter of the way down I stopped to take in the scenery and view from my harness, just hanging there with a waterfall running over the top of me. All I can say is that there are no words to describe the beauty and magnificence of such a place, to me it made really sit yet again in wonder and awe of how great God is to have created such beauty in the world we live for us to enjoy and be inspired by. After this moment of being in awe I continued down the waterfall with quite a bit of slipping and sliding all the way (the rocks were very slippery). Three quarters of the way down I found myself on the dance floor, and I was amazed at just how slippery it was (it was impossible to keep your footing on it). Looking out behind me the other two directed me to where exactly the ledge was that I would need to traverse over to, I lowered myself to its level and pulled myself across and back onto Terra Firma. To my surprise my legs were shaking so much it took me a couple of seconds to get a stable footing again. After calling out to Pete that I was all clear I started to explore the gorge floor with Melissa whilst Pete abseiled down the waterfall to join us and continue with our journey.

The beauty and stillness of this area of the gorges was incredible, we found ourselves totally isolated with the only sound we could hear being the rushing waterfall we had just abseiled down. Melissa and I moved around and did some climbing whilst we waited (she being much more adventurous in where she went than I was). I was amazed at the complexity of the colours of the rocks and the way the sunlight continued to bring out different facets of this beauty in even the short amount of time we were there. If about another 15 minutes Pete had descended and packed up the roping that we had used, it was time for us to regroup and head toward Junction Pool where we would be crossing via tube and then start our ascent into Hancock Gorge.

To be continued…

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