This article originally appeared in the Friends of the Heysen Trail Spring 2019 Trailwalker magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.
Jim McLean, in previous issues of Trailwalker 1, has proposed starting the Heysen Trail from Kangaroo Island. Here he details his trek beyond the northern trailhead of the 1,200km Heysen Trail from Parachilna, walking 18 days to Mount Hopeless, in the northernmost Flinders Ranges.
In May 2012, I gloriously climbed the stile in Parachilna Gorge to complete the 1200kms of the Heysen Trail independently over 22 years. My companions and I looked at each other and said, ‘We shouldn’t stop here. Look what’s over the road!’
In the 1960s, Warren Bonython walked all the way to Mount Hopeless 2, the unofficial northern extent of the Flinders Ranges. We should do the same!
Plenty of groups have done it, we thought, as we eyed the remote and mysterious country beyond. Such expeditions are not for the inexperienced, unskilled or faint-hearted. We did not fit any of these categories, but we were getting on a bit. We were past carrying 20kg packs on our backs. So this story is an attempt at a solution for everyone, including our valued senior citizens.
Spreading the maps over the table revealed a possibility that, unfortunately, did not include the spectacular interior of the Gammon Ranges. We were thinking of bases in the sheep station country between Parachilna, the Gammons and Arkaroola. From there with the aid of 4WDs we could do the route in bits and pieces: day walks and one or two overnighters. We thought Freeling Heights difficult but unavoidable. You wouldn’t want to leave it out anyway.
As luck would have it there was an immediate spark of interest from my brother Andrew – a serious four-wheel driver and not so serious walker – offering transport and support for Robert Koehne, John Fuller and myself.
The base for an initial trip was Blinman Hut, the initiative of Keith and Lisa Slade of Moolooloo Station, built and fitted out for nomads like us. All country in this region is privately leased. Developing respect and good relationships is fairly straightforward but essential. If you wish to deviate from the publicly-accessible roads in the area you need permission from the landholders.
Setting off in June 2018, we quickly discovered driving to Moolooloo, chatting with Keith, and on to Blinman Hut, that it would take us longer than expected for drop-offs and pick-ups. Certainly our plan to get to Arkaroola this time round might have to be modified.
Blinman Hut was the perfect stay. Bore and rain water were on tap, the wood-fired stove warmed us in the evenings, and we had warm showers when we stoked up the elevated boiler outside. Andrew’s 4WD provided refrigerated storage and lighting inside the hut. We also were equipped with spacious tents for sleeping.
A few planned warm-up excursions proved to be engaging and sobering. The promising but failed Nuccaleena Mine must have been exciting in its short life span. A lot of investment money was lost when it prematurely ran out of ore.
We searched without success for the Aboriginal rock art on Tam O’Shanter Hill, but got a great view from the top. We secured permission from the owner of Narrina Station to climb Patawarta and visit the historic Artimore sheep station. Like many features in the northern Flinders Ranges, Patawarta Hill is inappropriately and tritely named. (Bonython spends some time in his book on this point, citing examples like Dick’s Knob.) Patawarta Hill should be Patawarta Mountain! From the north it was not a difficult climb; a most rewarding walk and the best of panoramic views from the top.
The main business of our visit – following the Oratunga, Molkegna and Narrina creek lines, with some vehicular track on the connecting flats – was no less rewarding. It was the most pleasant ‘get-away-from-it-all’ country anyone could imagine.
We made it from the Trailhead at Parachilna Gorge to Narrina Homestead in four ‘day walks’. But by then we were spending so much time in drop-offs and pick-ups that we knew if we went any further we would have no time for walking.
Next time we will possibly have bases at Grindell’s Hut and Arkaroola, pushing on to the closest vehicular access below Freeling Heights. After that we would make our own base camps. The valley after Freeling sounds, from Bonython’s book, inviting and well worth aiming for on the way to Mount Hopeless.
I have an 18-day plan in spread-sheet format and a set of maps of a route from Parachilna Gorge to Mount Hopeless that I would be willing to share. Contact me via email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.