Rawnsley Bluff

Rawnsley Bluff

"Rawnsley Bluff" - all photos: Warren Mars

On our way up to the Northern Territory in 2016 we stopped at Rawnsley Park in the Flinders Ranges and decided to climb the spectacular Rawnsley Bluff which filled our view from the front of our tent. We did this on 30/4/2016. It was a memorable climb indeed! Not overly difficult but particularly enjoyable.

This poem is an example of plein air poetry. I composed it while I was climbing the track up the mountain and uttered each line as it happened. I uttered the first line near the beginning of the climb and knew immediately that I was onto something. I could have written the lines down but then I would have lost the immediacy of the moment. I wished that I had a dictaphone but straight away realised that my mobile phone could do the job. I had no sound recording app of any value but the internet was accessible so I quickly downloaded a few recorder apps and I was on my way. The poem was mostly finished by the time I reached the summit but I did revise and edit it somewhat after I returned home in July.

Relaxed and positive in the morning heat, we tramp the long slow incline up to Rawnsley Bluff.
The nice track is overlaid with blue metal to remind us that we are on it, and not simply following our imaginations.
The golden spinifex, caught by the morning sun, lights up like a field of ripe wheat.
A red rock stands sentinel, overlooking the arid valley to the ancient and desolate ranges beyond.

Spinifex scrub
Spinifex scrub at the start of the climb.

The little meat ants have made this track their highway and crawl over my boots if I stand too long.
A tourist plane, shaped like a cigar tube, soars above us, no doubt enjoying the splendour of the Ranges from the air.
The red rocks of Bonney sandstone, almost as dark as maroon with the sun behind them, become more prominent as we approach the feet of this majestic bluff.
It towers above us now as the track skirts its feet, trying to find a way up.

Meat ants
Meat ant nest on the track.

A wind arises, and whistles softly through the feathery foliage of the slaty sheoak that lines the track now.
Small everlasting daisies appear along the side but their flowers are long gone... We are too late.
There! Three small cairns balanced on a larger rock, balanced in turn on one even greater.
Here the Bonney sandstone disappears beneath a grove of sheoaks, like some miniature enchanted forest.

Slaty sheoaks
Slaty sheoak trees bordering the track.

I am breathing deeper now as the gradient steepens. My gait has become more steady, more measured,
and the blue metal has given way to rocks: medium sized rocks, small rocks, orange sandstone and pink quartzite.
I am climbing, sound recorder in one hand, camera in the other; The poet and the photographer mixed up with the soul of a bushwalker.
I hope I don't slip, because either my camera or my smart phone will be damaged by the fall.

Rocky scramble
Steep rocky scramble.

I am climbing without a shirt, looking to gain some little suntan in the morning before the UV becomes too serious,
but now we are in the shade of the Bluff itself and there will be no more sun until we near the summit.
I hear my heart beating, strongly, as I stretch my hamstrings and vault up, one rock at a time.
In the forward distance the galvanised trail marker beckons and the white and yellow stripes, painted on the rock, tell me that I am safely on the track.

Trail markers
Track beneath sheoaks with painted trail markers.

I see the valley laid out before me, and far away, the shape of my car and someone else's in the carpark.
I see the shadow of a cloud drift across the sandstone hills behind the campsite:
The caravans and buildings laid out like toys in a model railway exhibition.
And right here to my surprise: a fine specimen of drooping sheoak, a native of Portland, yet here it is on the slopes of Rawnsley's Bluff, how extraordinary!

Allocasuarina verticillata
The drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata).

We stop for a quick break with 2.3 km of the climb left to go. I brought caramel slice and lemon cordial...
At the top of a steep pitch a brilliant orange sandstone face appears, lit by the splendour of the full light of day.
We scale it, we skirt around it and then we are met by another, and another,
all the while the impassive ancient bulk of the great monolith rears above our heads.

Golden sandstone
Golden sandstone lit by the sun.

Below the summit the path turns flat for a while and the tree vine grows heavy on the little shrubs.
Swallows wheel and chase here in the heights, searching for insects on the wing.
The sand on the track is a dull grey and the lichen on the rocks is white and green.
Here also is green moss, surviving on a downward sloping section of rock, where it is shaded and water flows when it rains.

Green moss
Green moss in the shade.

We have reached the saddle now and stand at the junction. The track to Wilpena Lookout to the left, Rawnsley Bluff to the right.
But the track is named for the Bluff and it is there that we shall go.
The sand now is the colour of a pale yellow ochre, a corridor lit by the sun and hedged with slaty sheoaks.
Small specimens of heath greet us along the track, their leaves curled up, afraid of the noonday sun.

Rolled leaved small shrub
Rolled leaved small shrub.

A creative effort not far below the peak! Where a succession of climbers have piled small white rocks on top of layers of sandstone to create an attractive cairn.
A hairy caterpillar makes its way across a piece of Rawnsley quartzite on the track. Lost perhaps... But how can one be lost when everything around one is one's home?
And here is the smooth and fine grey bark of an alpine mallee, some relative of the redgum perhaps, as the seedpods are similar.
So welcome to see the pale olive green of the leaves, so characteristic of Australia, so deep in the heart of all Australians.

Creative cairn
A creative cairn.

But wait! Where is the track? A quick scout about, retrace the steps... Ah there it is! There is the cairn. Almost went wrong...
And here near the top, fossilised ripples in the sandstone, a reminder of when the top of these ranges was the bottom of the sea.
And now a cloud passes between us and the sun, diluting the wonderful light that makes the Flinders Ranges colours spring into life,
dulling the brilliant ochres and oranges into shades of grey.

Fossilised ripples
Fossilised ripples in the sandstone.

Down to the last 200m now... the yellow and white stripes lead us on, as does the slightly worn quartzite of the path.
Look there! See that outer face of deep maroon on a piece of pink sandstone.
It shows that the sandstone itself is not that rusty red that we think it is. That is merely a surface deposition of iron oxide blown in the wind.
And look at this! This last little staircase of stone between lines of sheoak and eucalypt, gorgeous, simply gorgeous!
Framing for me in the eternity of the moment, the beautiful welcoming quartzite heart of this climb.

Iron oxide
Iron oxide deposition on Bonney sandstone.

Just before the end a small skink glides away into the shadow of the rock, like a ghost.
And here at last: the summit itself! What a view! And what a magnificent cairn!
It resembles a giant caddis fly chrysalis. Some serious work has gone into that...
To mark the moment a helicopter of royal blue lumbers noisily by, like some giant dragonfly and we wave from the top.

On the summit
On the summit of Rawnsley Bluff.

And deep inside its ancient heart the mountain smiles,
content in seeing two more Australians who took the time to trace the weathered lines of its inscrutable countenance with respect.

These ancient mountain ranges of Australia, the bare bones of my country, are they devoid of pity?
Not at all I say!
The great soul of this land lies deep beneath. It sees all things come and go, and the wheel of the ages pass by,
as it itself is reared to great heights and then again is brought low to the sea floor.
All things must come and go, all things must grow and change, the soul of the mountain understands this.
Its heart is beyond pity and selfishness.
It is the heart of Australia.

The ABC Range from Rawnsley Bluff summit
The ABC Range from Rawnsley Bluff summit.

Warren Mars - July 2016