G’day, Lee-Anne Marie here from Australia. First of all, many thanks to Mohamad Al Karbi who has offered the opportunity to post the T-Team adventures now as a series for all to enjoy travel in Australia.
In this episode, the T-Team boldly go where few people have gone before…way out west of Alice Springs and into Indigenous Luritja country. The challenge, after a successful climb to the summit of Mt. Liebig, was to find our way back to the Land Rover at the base. Easier said than accomplished…
Lost on Liebig
[Extract from The T-Team with Mr B: Central Australia 1977, a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981.]
‘The other side of the slope is a two-thousand-foot drop,’ Dad remarked.
Richard (my brother) and I contemplated this fact as we sucked slices of thirst-quenching lemon and gazed on the foothills sloping up to Mt. Liebig. These hills shaped like shark’s teeth, were a miniature replica of the mountain’s formation; slope on one side, and treacherous cliffs on the other. Lemons, though sour, actually tasted sweet.
[Photo 1: Foothills leading to Mt Liebig summit © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
Refreshed, we continued plodding upwards. My shins ached from hiking up this steep incline. My ankles itched from spinifex needles lodged in them. And the growing number of boulders around which we had to manoeuvre, proved to be a challenge. But we pushed on. On the way Dad pointed out some white ant mounds.
[Photo 2: White ant mounds and me © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
We reached the top of the gorge.
Dad peered up at the eight-foot high rock wall. ‘Hmmm.’
‘Now what?’ I asked.
Each side of us was a wall of rock blocking our way. One side, lower than the others, led to the precipice Dad mentioned before.
[Photo 3: Way to the summit of Mt Liebig © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
After studying the walls, Richard grasped a few nooks, and then mounted the rocky barrier. He wriggled up a hollow cranny.
Dad and I waited.
The wind whistled through the gap.
‘I hope he’s alright,’ I said.
‘He’ll be fine,’ Dad replied.
‘I hope he doesn’t fall off the cliff.’
‘No, he’ll be fine. Stop worrying.’
Richard poked his head through the hole in the wall above us. ‘I’ve found a way to the top.’
He then helped Dad and me up through the hole and led us through the labyrinth of a path between the boulders to the spinifex-covered mountaintop. A cairn of stones adorned with a rusty pole and barrel marked the summit.
[Photo 4: Conquerors of Mt Liebig sitting on the cairn © C.D. Trudinger (with my camera) 1977]
‘Look at that,’ Dad said, ‘It’s only eleven thirty. Let’s stay here an hour and enjoy the view. We can have an early lunch.’
So, while enjoying our cheese and gherkin sandwiches, we sat on the cairn and feasted our eyes on the aerial view of the landscape below. The MacDonnell Ranges and Haast Bluff far in the east were painted in hues of pink and mauve. And closer, to the south, the Mt Palmer Range was clothed in shades of ochre. On the other side of the Liebig Range, the land stretched out in waves of red sandy desert.
[Photo 5: Liebig summit view west © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
[Photo 6: Liebig summit view south-east © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
Richard decided to explore the summit. I watched him like a hawk, especially when he approached the edge of the cliff.
I tottered after him. ‘Don’t get too close, it’s a long way down.’
‘What do you think I’ll do? Jump?’ Richard replied, with his usual hint of sarcasm. He disappeared behind a bush.
In a panic, I followed him, making sure I stayed a good distance from the cliff edge.
‘Richard? Are you alright?’ I peered down at the land below, the shrubs and trees seemed like dots. The sheer drop gave me the creeps. ‘Richard, are you still with us?’
[Photo 7: Mt Liebig summit view down the cliff © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
Richard emerged from the other side of the bush. ‘Can’t you leave me to do my business in peace, Lee-Anne?’
‘Hoy!’ Dad called.
We looked to see Dad waving at us.
‘Get back from the edge!’ Dad yelled. ‘We better get going. See if we can make it back to camp by two.’
We picked our way through the maze of boulders and climbed down into the gully. Richard, eager to reach the rover first, raced ahead. Dad stuck with me, offering his help as I negotiated my way down the gully.
We heard a blood-curdling scream.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Richard, I hope he’s alright.’
We scrambled down the last of the gully and ran along the ridge in the direction of Richard’s cries.
Richard rose above the mounds of spinifex rubbing his behind.
‘Are you okay?’ I fought my way through the prickly barbs to my brother.
‘I’m fine, except I fell, bottom first in the spinifex.’
‘Oh, so it’s just a false alarm then, we thought you were really hurt,’ I said. His scream was worse than the prickly bushes’ sting.
‘Well, I’m going to avoid any more painful encounters,’ he said and with that he stomped away from me and within minutes, drifted out of view.
[Photo 8: Hike down from summit of Liebig © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
We also diverged.
‘Ah, well! We’ll meet Richard in the gully below,’ Dad assured me.
But we didn’t meet Richard. Not the first time we’d lost Richard. We’d already lost him in the sand dunes near Uluru. Almost.
Dad continued to search for his quart can. But that little friend Dad had cherished since the fifties, also eluded him.
We weaved our way down the main gully for about an hour. A huge spider in a web spanning the width of the gully confronted us. The spider, the size of a small bird, appeared uninviting, so we backtracked and decided to hike up and down the ridges.
[Photo 9: Descent from Liebig © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
For several hours, we struggled over ridges. Up and down, we tramped, yet seemed to make little progress; the rise and dips went on forever. The sun sank low, and so did our water supplies.
The heat drained me. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. But we had to ration water.
Dad slumped on a slab of rock at the bottom of a gully. ‘Drink?’
I took the canteen from him and filled my cup. Then I spooned in some Salvital. I chugged down the water as it fizzed. So refreshing!
‘Oh, Lee-Anne!’ Dad quibbled. ‘You didn’t leave much for me!’ He poured the last drops of water from his canteen into his mouth and gazed in despair at the lengthening shadows of the mountain.
‘Oh, but Dad! It’s not fair! We’ll never get out of this place! We are lost forever.’ I had visions of future hikers coming upon our dried up old bones thirty years later. ‘What are we going to do?’
‘Well, um, perhaps we better pray God will help us.’ Dad bowed his head and clasped his hands. ‘Dear Lord, please help us find our way back to the truck. And forgive me for growling at Lee-Anne.’
‘Forgive me too. Help us not to run out of food and water, too.’
‘Bit late for that,’ Dad muttered. ‘Ah, well.’
We had barely finished praying, when an idea struck me. ‘Why don’t we climb up a ridge and walk along it. Surely if we go high enough, we’ll see the landmark and the land rover.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. We need to conserve our energy.’
‘Just one ridge won’t harm us.’
Dad sighed. ‘Okay, it’s worth a try.’
I raced up the hill and strode along the ridge. I climbed higher and higher. I glanced towards the east expecting, hoping, willing the Land Rover to appear. But with each stride, each hopeful gaze, nothing. I resolved to climb further up the slope before turning back.
[Photo 10: Terrain of Liebig Range © C.D. Trudinger 1977]
After a few more steps, still nothing. With the heaviness of defeat, I turned to climb down. Then I saw it. The Land Rover sat at the base of the mountain, glistening in the last rays of the setting sun.
‘There it is!’ I jumped up and down and screamed.
‘Praise the Lord!’ Dad’s shout echoed in the valley.
With renewed energy, we attacked the last mounds that lay between the vehicle and us.
‘Richard will probably be sitting there waiting for us wondering what has happened,’
Dad puffed as we strode up to the Land Rover. ‘Can’t wait to have a few gallons of water.’
We rambled over to the Rover. Dad circled the vehicle and returned to me shaking his head. ‘He’s not here.’
I wandered around the clearing searching for Richard. I looked behind bushes and under some neighbouring bean trees. My brother was nowhere in sight.
But worse still, when Dad tried to fill his cup, only a few drops of water trickled from the land rover’s water tank.
Dad stared at the ground and tapped his pockets. ‘This is not good. This is not good.’
The sun had set, and a cold chill cut through me. He’s lost. My brother is lost in this wilderness. ‘What if he’s had an accident?’
‘We need to pray,’ Dad said.
Dad prayed, ‘Father, bring Richard home and provide us with water too.’
We waited to watch the colours on the mountain fade and our hopes fade with them.
Dad opened the door of the Land Rover. ‘I guess we better get going.’
Richard staggered around a nearby outcrop of rocks.
We ran to greet him.
Dad hugged him. ‘Richard, you’re okay.’
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘I took the long way and trekked around the base of the mountain. I thought it wouldn’t take that long, but it just went on and on.’
As we walked to the Land Rover, Dad studied the vehicle. ‘You know, it’s on a slope, if I get it to level ground, we might have enough water.’
Dad drove the Land Rover to where the ground flattened out. Water never tasted so sweet.
[Photo 11: Liebig Sunset © C.D. Trudinger 1981]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; revised 2018
Feature Photo: Sunrise on Liebig Range © C.D Trudinger 1977