THURSDAY 26 JULY MITCHELL PLATEAU CAMPGROUND
M and I had said, last night, that we would be doing the walk to the Mitchell Falls today, so John made the effort to get up early. He really didn’t feel like walking, but said he would force himself.
First thing, while John was still getting going, M and I walked to the shelter where bookings were being taken for the scenic helicopter flights. M wanted to do one of these, “catching” a flight back from the Falls to the campground, this afternoon. She hoped to do the extended flight, which would take her over parts of the surrounding countryside as well as the Falls. There was only one place available, on a 2.45pm flight back. Whether it would be the longer flight or a direct one back to camp would depend on the wishes of those who had already booked that flight. Seemed to me that commercial tour groups rather monopolized the helicopters, and that visitors like ourselves had to take what was left. A couple of commercial tour operators had seasonal camps not far away, and brought in steady numbers of visitors.
In the morning light, John investigated the broken lamp. Some part had been broken when he dropped it, yesterday, so the lamp was out of action for the rest of the trip, and maybe forever! This did not put him in a good mood.
The track to the Falls is 4.3kms, each way, very scenic and has lots of interesting features, so it takes quite a while to do – hence wanting to get an early start. It was also definitely a bush walking track, rather than a stroll in the park, so one must keep a careful watch whilst walking.
It took us nearly an hour to get to Little Mertens Falls. Although the track was clearly defined, in parts it was quite narrow, with tall grass each side. There were places where rocks in the path required stepping up, or down. Little Mertens Falls was reached down a short side path.
Despite the name, it is a distinct waterfall, into a plunge pool, from which the creek made its way in narrow channels in the rock. The view across the plateau from these falls indicates they mark a real change in the level of the terrain. Unfortunately, one does not get a decent view of these falls from any distance – it is all close up.
A great feature of Little Mertens Falls is being able to walk in behind them, on a fairly flat ledge, where erosion over time has created a cave like structure. The dampness had turned it into a sort of grotto, with ferns growing.
Under the overhanging roof, and on some of the rocks surrounding the Falls, were some good examples of aboriginal rock art. I was intrigued by one shape that could have been the sails on a ship. It was interesting that the art here was of varied styles and subject matter.
We spent some time here – more than most of those who bothered deviating from the main track to come here. It was cooling to be able to look out at the view, through the falling water.
The next landmark, after more trudging along, was the Big Mertens Falls.
Here, the Mertens Creek plunges over a high cliff and into a deep, very narrow gorge, to join the Mitchell River below the Mitchell Falls. Great views, but that bit of the walk track was not great for someone who does not like heights, because it crossed not far from the lip of the falls and with no protection from that edge.
There was still a respectable amount of water going over the Big Mertens Falls.
The walk track crossed Mertens Creek just behind the Falls – just a little bit too close to the enormous drop for my comfort.
A final section, mostly up and over rock outcrops, shelves and ledges, brought us to a vantage point overlooking our destination, then we descended to the level of the Mitchell River.
Most people crossed the river above the Falls, to gain the best access for swimming in the pool above the top of the Falls, and to reach the helicopter landing area. Because of the flowing current and slippery rocks, the crossing was rather treacherous. There was that awareness that one was only just above a series of big drops!
We almost had a disaster. John dropped his trusty walking stick and it briefly swirled away in the current, before getting stuck between rocks, from where it could be retrieved. That prop had been with him since he cut and made it, in 1998, when we were camped at Silver Plains, on Cape York. It had helped him trudge over 1000kms by now. It would have been almost like losing a part of himself!
All safely across, we wandered around, looking at the river and falls from various vantage points, had a wonderful swim in the calm pool. had lunch.
It was very pleasant, even though there were too many other people there. Their numbers were augmented every so often as the helicopters brought in groups of two and three, who had opted to arrive the easy way. Some of these would later walk out, others would travel both ways by chopper.
John and I always intended to walk back to camp, having taken the helicopter back on our 2000 trip – a terrifying experience I would never forget.
It was the hot early afternoon when we began the trek back, leaving M to wait for her flight.
I found the walk back really hard. Something was wrong. When we reached Big Mertens Falls, I was feeling sick and giddy. I didn’t think I was dehydrated. Found that I needed lots of stops on the way back, but could not regain energy, or a normal feeling, for long. It was quite strange, worrying and frustrating, because it made the walk seem so long. John had to take over carrying my camera and the daypack for the last part of the walk back – normally I did the pack carrying because of his hip problems.
We were very glad to reach camp. We had taken so long that M was already back. She’d ended up doing only the direct $90 “taxi” flight, as that was what the others booked had wanted. But she said that had been enough to give her great views of the Mitchell Falls and the surrounding Plateau.
By the time I’d rested back at camp for an hour or so, was feeling reasonably alright again. We just relaxed around camp for the remainder of the afternoon, and discussed the day’s experiences.
The NZ birdwatcher group, who’d had the vehicle problem at Charnley, arrived in camp today. The hire company had ferried out a replacement vehicle for them.
We heard there had been an accident this morning, on the track between here and the airstrip near Camp Creek. A tourist, going too fast on a corner, went off the track, spun round, hit a tree and bounced back and hit a CALM vehicle on the track. Oops! He must have been really steaming along. The CALM vehicle was still operable, but the tourist vehicle was quite mangled and would be a recovery job. A very expensive recovery job! It was not a hire vehicle either, but a private one. We did not hear where the people in it got to – or how.
Such mishaps were fairly common on this track, unfortunately – avoidable though they mostly were. Too many travellers – like this one – make the sensible decision to leave their campers or offroad vans at the King Edward River. But because they do not have camp gear, they decide to try to make the trip to the Falls and back in one day – and the track conditions do not lend themselves to safely travelling fast. Then, of course, they have to rush the trip to the Falls, as well. I reckoned that if one made the considerable effort to get here, the place should be savoured….not just ticked off a “did that” list. I guess “savouring” sums up our approach to travel, most of the time.