I have to post this for posterity, and because I promised, even though I had a memory-card fail meaning most of my lovely photos are gone! I’ll use what I retained, even though they were not the best of the batch. Let’s hope a word is worth a thousand pictures, because that’s all I’ve got! Let’s see if you can pick the pics NOT from this trip!

I left Sydney for the Ambercrombie Karst Conservation Reserve before dawn, and arrived a little after 8am, stiff-legged and sore from the long drive. A coffee I’d made at home three hours earlier was still warm, so I drank it at the Grove Creek Falls lookout, annoying a Nankeen Kestrel that wheeled around shrieking at my existence. I looked for its nest but couldn’t find one. Sorry little mate.

After that, I descended to Grove Creek through a sea of Patterson’s Curse, flinching at every triffid-like strike of hidden nettles before breaking into the shade beneath the bridge. Before this became a bushwalk, there was some serious prospecting to be done! So I chugged a litre of water and got to work, excavating through the root-matted overburden to a conglomerate bedrock of stones lodged in a white clay that had hardened over time into concrete. It felt like an archeological dig, unearthing the bones of some fossilized beast with a scraping tool and soft brush.

But I wasn’t after dinosaur bones. Rough flood gold appeared in my pan, along with small zircons in every shade from pale pink to ruby red. I popped the gems in my mouth for safekeeping while I washed the glossy-black magnetite sands away from my treasure. It’s roughness was solid evidence, I felt, of an elluvial deposit not far upstream. An exposed vein or maybe even a reef. I fished for information from a local prospector who dropped by, but he played dumb and spun a tale of ‘big pickers’ in a bedrock bar further downstream. I smiled and waved as he hurried off upstream with his bucket of tools. Downstream my ass.

But etiquette states that a prospector is entitled to his claim, and he’d clearly claimed upstream for today. Perhaps while scouting for a campsite I might, whoops, accidentally leapfrog him upstream? I drank another litre of water and set off on foot without a pack, without water, no compass, no personal locator beacon, just my camera. In retrospect, this was seriously, potentially fatally idiotic. But the track to Mount Gray wasn’t far off and I figured I’d do a quick scout then back to the car. But I missed the Mt Gray track completely, and ended up on a longer trail that took me deep into the forbidden zone.

For a definition of ‘forbidden’ and ‘zone’ go to the National Parks and Wildlife website where they shout: “Abercrombie Karst Conservation Reserve is closed until further notice! Do not enter this park! Penalties apply for non-compliance!” My italics and exclamation marks, but you get the idea. Zone apparently includes all tracks within the park, including Mt Hay, and forbidden provides for a penalty of (wait for it) $3300 for entering the park. That’s right, a $3300 fine. I could wave my didgeridoodle at a busload of nuns and get fined only $300. So stepping into the karst is apparently ten-times more serious.

On the way out, I let curiosity carry me to the top of a rocky hill where I was rewarded by 270-degree panoramic views and a 4′ young brown snake. A kiss on the ankle from this immature Eastern Brown (Pseudonaja textilis) would have led fairly (30 mins) quickly to cardiac arrest, sudden collapse and respiratory failure, followed by paralysis, seizures and uncontrolled haemorrhaging. For the unscientific, one bite, you’re dead. And all I brought was a camera. A bite meant sitting down, switching my camera to ‘movie mode’ and recording the last thirty minutes of my life.

Stupid. So I hurried back in a lather of fearful sweat. I then settled on another hill in even-snakier country (light forest) where I set my fly and hammock between two convenient eucalypts. Dehydrated, I chugged another litre of water and ate a simple meal, wondered what that was crashing around in the trees off to my right before deciding it was probably just another goanna like the 6′ specimen I’d seen by the river earlier, and went to sleep. Nothing venomous bit me on the ass, so I slept like a babe and woke to the pre-dawn chill which evaporated when the sun found me among the trees.

Not from actual bushwalk…

Except for my vigilance regarding snakes, spiders and venomous ants (and poisonous plants, sudden bushfires, psychotic farmers, feral dog packs, sneaky bushrangers and yowies) I was more worried about dehydration than anything else, so I returned to the creek, refilled my bladder (and emptied the other one) then killed a few hours scraping spoonfuls of dirt from between exposed roots, which yielded a few more shiny treasures. By noon I was done, not sunstruck but well on the way, so I packed up and went home early.

In the end, I didn’t leave my car to trek kilometres to a remote location in the bush for a primal wilderness experience. My car was a hundred metres from my camp, and after my silliness earlier I was happy. Some lessons learned: I won’t be courting snakebite on a lonely hilltop again. Next time I’ll just hike and take photos, and maybe not go somewhere so remote all on my own. I won’t mix hiking with prospecting because too much gear is involved, and I don’t want to be limited to gold-bearing waterways and their surrounds. And I’ll carry my PLB at all times in case the skittish brown under the bush decides not to just slither away.

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