Sunday, August 26, 2017
During my very first week here at JCU, we were inundated with all sorts of information ranging from how to figure out our class time tables, where to go for certain student services, and all sorts of things to do round town. By the end of the week, I had lists and lists of information. After sifting back through it all a couple of weeks into the term, I found a hidden gem of a note I had made. “Townsville Bushwalking Club ß Google it,” is what I had written down to myself.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I had googled the club, emailed their secretary, and was on my way to their bi-weekly Monday evening meeting. At the meeting, I learned that they were planning to hike up Cloudy Creek. They told me that there would not be a trail and that it would involve some hoping from rock-to-rock up the creek. I smiled with anticipation saying, “That is totally fine with me!” They also told me that I would need mossy spray (they call mosquitos “mossys,” which I feel is much too endearing), a lunch, snacks, and water tablets to treat the stream water so that it would be safe for drinking.
Fast forward again another four days, and this is where the adventure really begins….
When my alarm went off at 5:45am this morning, I jumped out of bed (okay, fine, I rolled over and pushed snooze, but only one time!) and finished packing my bag before being the first person to the dining hall for breakfast. I slapped some peanut butter between some bread and was jogging to the bus stop where Keith, one of the club members who lives near Uni, had offered to pick me up along with another international student from Denmark.
With the sun already lighting the few clouds in the sky, Keith commented on how it was a cool 18 degrees out (64 degrees F). I smiled and told him that this would be the making of a gorgeous summer day where I am from. We drove about an hour north-west of Townsville to the morning’s randevú point. Along the way, I kept trying to imagine what the hike would be like. While I did not know exactly what I was getting myself into, I was fairly certain that the term bushwalking would be a gross underexaggerating for what today’s hike would entail.
Once we got to the meeting point, I signed my life away promising that I would not hold the club or any of its members responsible if anything went wrong. You know, like if I got bit by a Sydney Funnel Web Spider (the most poisonous spider in the world whose venom can kill a person in 15 minutes) or any of the numerous other poisonous creepy-crawlies that I could be crossing paths with today. There were 13 of us in total hiking and some of the members had staged their cars where we would be ending our hike so that we only had to hike one way.
As everyone got ready, I noticed that people were putting black shin-wraps on. After asking if they were to protect against snakes, I was told they were to just protect from scrapes and scratches. Looking down at my own shins, bare from where my gym leggings ended to where my short ankle socks started, I wondered how they would fare by the end of the day. There were also a few people with secateurs, which is the Australian name for hand pruners. I took this is a sure sign that we would be making our way through some thick bush, as well. Before we stepped off to begin our trek, the walk’s leader for the day pointed to the ridge where we would finish our trek.
The walk started off deceivingly easy. We strolled along a paved service road for about half an hour. Then, we came to where Cloudy Creek crossed under the road. This was our trail head and the creek itself was our path.
As we scrambled from boulder to boulder, this quickly went from a walk to a rock climbing adventure. I had been told that one of the most important things was to keep my feet dry, because once your shoe got wet, the granite boulders would turn as slick as ice. One lady tested this out in the first few minutes of the hike when she went for an unexpected swim. Thankfully, she was okay and got right back onto her feet and enjoyed her quick cool-off. Even though it was only about 8:30 in the morning, things were already heating up.
All across the rocks, I made my way cautiously. Even though I was having a great time, I am not so sure that I had everyone convinced that I was enjoying myself. Perhaps it was the fact that I like to have four or more points of contact when my footing is unsure. What this really means is that I was using my hands to make my way across the terrain as much as my feet. And often times I was straddling boulders while scooting across them. Someone jokingly told me that I really prefer six points of contact: “Two hands, two feet, and two cheeks.” Even though I may have not had them convinced yet that I was enjoying myself, I hoped that by the end of the day they would believe me when I said that I was having a great time. After a while crawling across boulders and hopping from rock-to-rock, we made it to the first look out point of the day.
After about a five-minute break, we took to the side of the creek and started “bush bashing” as someone called it. But, I think this is another term that is a bit misleading because to me it suggests that we were the ones bashing the bush, when in reality it felt as though the bush was bashing us. I was crawling through Tree Grasses (little trunks that have big bushels of palm-like “grass” on top) and ferns that were above my head. I also had to be sure to not get too tangled up in vines that were hanging all around. This is when they started to point out some critical things to avoid such as Wait-A-While vine that is good at snagging onto anything that gets too close and Stinging Tree that has big fuzzy looking leaves that feel like tons of needles stabbing into your skin for about six weeks if you touch it. I also recognized the Green Tree Ants that I learned about in my Biodiversity of Tropical Australia class. When I was scrambling up the terrain and grabbed onto a tree trunk to pull myself up, right at a moment that I was unable to let go without falling, I felt the ants start biting me. It feels like a stinging pinch and thankfully don’t cause any harm beyond that. After getting back onto my feet, I had ants all over me; but I didn’t have time to stop and worry. I brushed them off quickly and kept on trekking on. All of the hard climbing became more than worth it though once we got to the look-out point where we were having morning tea.
“Not many people have ever been here or have seen this view,” I was told. As I looked out into the peaks and valleys of Australian bush, I knew they were right and I thought about how blessed I am to be one of the few people who has climbed to this point to see this site.
Since we were hiking along the creek the whole day, we saw too many waterfalls to count. They were not huge, but essentially the entire creek is one big waterfall. While it was neat to see the waterfalls, they all posed obstacles that we had to get up and over. Quite often we were full on rock climbing. Thankfully, whenever I needed an extra hand, someone was always there to lend me one.
Finally, around 1:30pm we stopped for lunch at another amazing look out point. We stayed for an hour, and boy did that hour fly by. The entire morning, we been hiking and climbing, resulting in serious elevation gains. From where we had started, we had already gained about 400 meters and we just about half way through.
After lunch, we continued on. Crossing back and forth along the creek, hopping rock-to-rock, scrambling over boulders, brushing off ants, avoiding stinging trees, and checking out all of the waterfalls and views to our backs. As I tried to still keep my feet dry, I realized it was a lot like playing that kids’ game “hot lava” where you have to walk across anything but the ground because its lava, or in our case water, which sounds less intense, but I promise you it was just as intense as playing “hot lava” used to be when I was five.
I wish that I had more photos of the really intense parts of the climb, but I was understandably a bit preoccupied with trying to maneuver through boulders and up cliff faces, which again, requires several points of contact for me, and thus, I did not always have a spare hand for photographing unfortunately. At times, I was absolutely being challenged and pushed outside my conform zone. However, despite the challenge, I know that the only way to grow is to be challenged outside one’s comfort zone. Also, I didn’t allow myself to ever slow down and think “I can’t do this,” because I knew that my only option was to do it. Today was tasking physically, but the most crucial task I had was to not let my mind psych me out. Also, I constantly was encouraging myself by remembering how great it was that I did not have to figure out how to climb back down all of the steep rock walls we were passing.
As we climbed higher, there was a noticeable change in the environment around us. It was becoming more lush and green and transitioned completely into a rainforest. It felt as though I was climbing through dinosaur territory. There were lots of neat plants here as well. One of my favorites was this purple tree berry that looks just like a fruit that would be in a fairy tale. The red bottle brush flowers are also very tropical feeling. We even saw a Ulysses butterfly, which was incredible. Imagine a bright electric blue color edged in black fluttering through a bright green forest, that is exactly what it looked like and it was breath taking. Again, it looked like it was right out of a fairy tale. After another hour or so of hiking, we arrived at the swimming hole. Now, so far all of the water that I have felt in Australia has been quite warm to me, so I was planning to go for a swim. But after dipping my feet in, I decided that going ankle deep would be just fine. This creek originates from a spring, so perhaps that is why the water was so much colder.
Around 3:00pm, our walk leader said that were almost done. I had been hearing that all day though and had long before given up on believing him. But, this time it was true! We actually joined up with a trail coming down from above. We had finally hiked to the top of the peak where Paluma, a small mountain village, has a short trail system that leads to the upper edge of Cloudy Creek.
The last part of our walk was a much-appreciated path through the rainforest. It is here that I was shown what tree to look for when I have really got to go but don’t have the proper supplies. This tree is called the Toilet Paper Tree because its bark peels off just like toilet paper. And, the best part is, that if you prefer a thicker ply, you can just peel another layer until you are satisfied.
Once we arrived at the cars, it was nearly 4:00pm. We had hiked for over seen hours. Over the course of the hike, we had only traveled 4 ¼ miles, however we had gained nearly 2,300 feet in elevation. Today’s “bush walk” sure was an intense way to become aquatinted with the true Australian bush and I am certain now that the term bushwalking is indeed a huge underexaggerating, at least it is when you are tagging along with the Townsville Bush Walking Club. When I met them, they told me that some people call them crazy fanatics. And I would have to say that after attending my first bush walk with them, I agree. But I think that I am just as crazy as they are because I am joining them again in less than a week, this time for an over-night bushwalking adventure.
And here is proof that I was still smiling and having a great time by the end of the hike!