It rained so hard that morning
I could hardly see the road
The wind a-blowin' and the rain a-fallin'
'Highway 13', John Lee Hooker
Having met up earlier in the day, Scott and I decided to get stuck into the walk straight away. He'd drawn up a route that covered a fair amount of the Chichester Ranges, with about 65km of walking, so after checking our equipment, we headed out towards Python Pool. It was about 4.30 in the afternoon by the time we got to Snake Creek, the campsite I'd stayed in a week or so before, and we decided that although we'd only have about two hours of walking that day, we might as well start and make Monday's trip easier, so we drove past the campsite and ducked off the road down a dodgy four-wheel-drive track to a place called Narrina Pool. This was the last time I would see any trace of modern human beings for seven days...
We hadn't checked the weather report as it was slightly cloudy but nothing to worry about, so we donned our rather heavy backpacks, full of everything we'd need for a week except water, and trudged up the start of Narrina Creek for 4.5km, by which stage it was getting dark, so we pitched camp.
A couple of points before going on. First, the route went vaguely like this: imagine a square map, with north at the top, and three parallel rivers, each running from south to north (that's up and down the map); from west to east (that's left to right on the map) they're called Narrina Creek, George River and Pillinginni Creek. We started at the north end of Narrina Creek, headed south upstream, cut east from the south end of the creek to the south end of George River, then east again to the south end of Pillinginni, then northwards down Pillinginni, before turning west to cross the end of the George and head back to the end of Narinna, giving a vaguely square route.
Second, life on a walk like this isn't luxurious. 'Making camp' means finding a vaguely flat piece of whatever is to hand, laying out your roll mat, chucking on the sleeping bag and sleeping out in the great wide open. We had no tents, but we both had waterproof sheets in case of dew, which can appear at about four in the morning, as it gets pretty cold at night. We drank water from the creeks, washed in the rock pools, and the only food we had was what we had brought with us.
So we set up camp by the side of Narrina Creek, on the bank, and decided to erect a bit of a shelter, just in case it rained; you never know in the outback, though the Pilbara is one of the driest areas of Australia. The shelter consisted of my flysheet pegged into the ground at one end and held up on sticks at the other, so we could slide under and put the packs in with us and keep some space above our heads.
We cooked up – a soon-to-be familiar meal of packet rice, the sort I've been eating for ages on the road – and settled in for the night, gazing at the stars in the clear sky. No wonder we didn't think it was going to rain. Bad mistake.
The first drops appeared about ten o'clock – you retire early when you walk – so we nipped under cover and tried to sleep. But the rain wasn't just a passing shower, it meant business, and it wasn't long before my flysheet showed its true colours; waterproof, my arse, it leaked whenever you touched it and rain ran down the inside almost as much as is ran down the outside. At about two in the morning Scott made a brave attempt to prop up the sides with sticks to try to direct the flow of water down past our feet, but it took a lot of willpower not to get up and head back to the cars; we were extremely wet and water was dripping on our faces in a kind of self-inflicted Chinese water torture. It wasn't terribly pleasant.
It wasn't exactly an auspicious start to the trip. It didn't feel much like the driest part of Australia, that's for sure...