The Best Shots I Never Took … Ormiston Gorge, Central Australia

Last Updated on October 9, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Ormiston Gorge and Pound from the lookout, Central Australia
Ormiston Gorge and Pound from the lookout, Central Australia

‘If it’s a choice between my camera and the family jewels, you know what to do,’ I instructed Pilchard as I plunged into the thigh-high frigid water flowing through Ormiston Gorge.

Despite the hypothermia warnings on the Ormiston Gorge fact sheet, it was either that or return the seven km (~4.5 miles) we’d already come over a cross section of rugged terrain. While it’d be a treat to see the towering red walls, two rocky river crossings, the Pound’s vast wasteland surrounded by massive mountains and cliffs, the saddle’s rocky scree, wildflowers, spinifex and steep rocky gorges and, of course, the symphonic splendour of Mt Sonder again for the second time that day, I wasn’t really up for another seven km.

Mt Sonder from Ormiston Gorge and Pound trail, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia
Mt Sonder from Ormiston Gorge and Pound trail, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia

Not without the lunch we’d planned to have on our return, anyway.

A few hours earlier at the trailhead, we’d seen the sign warning of a potential swim through the creek at the end of the loop. But we’d heard the water wasn’t that deep and besides, we could always follow the trail for a couple of hours then return if it all looked too hard.

Spot the Pilchard!  The Saddle, Ormiston Gorge and Pound trail
Spot the Pilchard!  The Saddle, Ormiston Gorge and Pound trail

And so we set off on one of the most scenically and geographically varied hikes we’d yet encountered. Looking back, we could see the red walls of the gorge in the distance and if all went well, we’d be walking under them a few kilometres down the track. As we climbed the steep gorge through wildflowers lining the rocky trail, the magnificent Mt Sonder came into view. Continuing into extraordinary spinifex we kept a lookout for the delightful spinifex pigeons that everyone assured us were plentiful on this walk.  They weren’t.

Ormiston Gorge and Pound walk, West MacDonnell Ranges
Ormiston Gorge and Pound walk, West MacDonnell Ranges

The scree covered saddle, much more extensive than it first appeared as we exited a well vegetated but spinifex-pigeon-free valley, was a surprise after the country we’d just traversed. Unable to see over the horizon, we had no forewarning of the jaw dropping view we’d see at its peak. The moving scree turned out to be a lone hiker, red-faced and shirtless, who’d walked the loop in the opposite direction.

‘How high’s the water?’ I asked, anxious to learn what was ahead.

‘Higher than your knees,’ he replied, euphemistically as it turned out. But taking him literally, we continued to the lip of the saddle and a short detour to the lookout above.

Pilchard in the Pound, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia
Pilchard in the Pound, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia

Did I say ‘lookout’? The scenery, staggering for every one of its 360º, made taking a rest break redundant as I desperately tried to fill my camera card without falling off the edge. The ancient grandeur of West MacDonnell National Park was putting on a fabulous show, just for the two of us.

Down below, the creek crossing awaited. With natural wonders like this – and more to come – we resolved to complete the loop no matter how unappealing wet knees seemed.

Continuing down a steep, rocky slope onto an exposed ridge leading into the Pound itself gave us magnificent views back up the valley to the lookout and to the mountains ringing the valley. And then we entered the gorge.

Red and Red Rocks in Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia
Red and Red Rocks in Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park, Central Australia

Rock-hopping down the mostly dry riverbed between the towering red cliffs on either side was worth whatever the creek crossing threw at us. Wasn’t it? A group of hikers, some taller than Pilchard passed us, trousers wet to the waist. HHHMMMmmm… suddenly the knee-high claim of our shirtless friend didn’t seem quite so watertight!

At the crossing point, the creek flowed deep and silent in the shade of the gorge where the sun sets in the early afternoon. It even LOOKED cold! Now we had another decision to make. The end of the loop – and our campsite – was only a short distance away on the other side. Given the chilly wind whipping around our ankles, did we want to complete the walk with wet clothing?

Entering Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park, Northern Territory
Entering Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park, Northern Territory

Compromising by removing my shorts – well, my underwear just might provide a small modicum of protection from the cold – I studied the track through the creek. It was really only a few metres to the other side, and the crossing should take less than a minute.

‘You’re more likely to lose your footing than me (true), so give me your camera,’ Pilchard demanded. ‘I’ll keep it in the backpack so it doesn’t get wet.’ Unable to argue with such irrefutable logic I handed it over.

‘Don’t think about it, just do it!’ Pilchard urged so picking up my boots and socks I charged the creek into water so cold it took my breath away.

Ormiston Gorge Creek - complete with Dingo!!
Ormiston Gorge Creek – complete with Dingo!!

Did I say thigh-high? 15 seconds into the stream, the water at crotch level – and rising – my feet and legs turned numb. Although it was a bonus not to be able to feel the rocks underfoot, failure to negotiate the treacherous, slimy and uneven surface below the water would mean exposure of more than my nether regions to the deathly chill of the water.

As he entered the water behind me Pilchard shouted directions.

‘Further to the right’ and ‘head for those rocks’ he called. And then it was over.

For me, at least.

I turned to watch Pilchard splashing through the last few metres of water, clothing held aloft, teeth already chattering with the cold. I reached for my camera. How good would a picture of THAT be?!?!

He caught my eye and smirked, then I realised the extent of his cunning plan. Yes, he’d followed my instructions a little too well.  He’d saved the camera from a dunking AND the family jewels from anything incriminating!!

So there’s no point looking for the creek crossing shot because there isn’t one – the photos end here with this unbearably clichéd shot of red gorge walls in the late afternoon light!!

Late Afternoon at Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park
Late Afternoon at Ormiston Gorge, West MacDonnell National Park

But YOU know who to blame, don’t you?!?!

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  1. @Iris – Haha, I’m already laughing about it!!! But if the water had been any deeper, I’d probably have died of hypothermia!
    @Andrew – Haha, croc proof, huh? I think that’s called ‘cast iron’!!!!
    @NixBlog – Thank you!

  2. I rather like the suggestion of Red and Pilchard doing a dinghy thing in a river or gorge. A croc teeth puncture proof one of course.

  3. What an adventure!!! I love those where at the actual moment it´s kinda bad but for years to come you can think of em and laugh 🙂
    And ohhhh… those colors, those landscapes, just plain beautiful!
    So miss it.
    Dang, we kinda rushed through there, it was full of water from our point.

  4. @Journey Jottings – I can’t imagine doing the walk on a really hot day – although that’d make the creek crossing a cinch!! Being anywhere there is a bonus!!
    @River – the only problem with your suggestion is carrying the inflatable for 7km before using it!! BUT … it would have made our ordeal SO much easier!!
    @Ken G – There’s not much that makes me feel small – but this landscape was BIG!
    @Greg – Braving the water really shows my cowardice – or perhaps laziness … the thought of backtracking 7 km was insupportable!!!

  5. Good work braving the water up there. That desert water is icy!!

    Oh yeah, stunning landscape that if one was going to feel spiritual, then that’s the place to be!

  6. Some of the pictures haven’t loaded for me, I’ll see those next time, but I like that one called Entering Ormiston Gorge with the lone white trunked gum.
    Maybe you and Pilchard should think about packing a small inflatable dinghy?
    I can’t imagine wading through water that cold.

  7. Fabulous to see what Ormiston Gorge looked like from the pound rim –
    I saw the signs for the walk, but being there in November for us it was the end of a HOT day and we revelled in relaxing in the cooling waters and exploring the lower red rocky Gorge!
    It was a real treat 🙂

  8. @Saucy Kod – Hahaha, what a shame we were more interested in self-preservation than photographic record!! I love the rocks too – but do we live in a parallel universe?!?!
    @diane b – Thank you! P is paranoid about appearing on my blog in a compromising photo! But he’s right to be – if I had one, I’d use it like a shot!
    @Indrani – Thank you!
    @Joan Elizabeth – Luckily P is very sure-footed. I’m not – but that’s a blessing in disguise because it means he has to carry everything!!!

  9. You are obviously more intrepid walkers than us. When my hubbie fell into the creek at Carnavon Gorge my camera lens went in with him … but as you know we abandoned at that point.

  10. Oh my gosh! I gasped and laughed and wondered why there isn’t an outback Australia adventure TV show and why you aren’t on it! Wow. I would die just feeling that cold water. (The scenery, cliched or not, is amazing!)

  11. A great travel story and photos. Your writing and photography is mesmerising. Smart Pilchard. I was shivering with you. What a fabulous experience for you .

  12. This is like reading one of those very suspensful stories, where you cannot wait for the dipping into the frigid waters, including photo of our RED ?knee deep and then only to realize the photographer was saving himself from ?wet camera, etc,etc,etc. Beautiful shots RED and Nice RED ROCK in Ormiston Gorge. I am very impressed with the layers in these rocks and this looks a little like a rock quarry I visited once without the pond. Great Post Red n have a great day 🙂

  13. @Carole M – Thanx! Saw dingoes a few times at Ormiston Gorge – this one seemed to fit right in to the scenery!
    @Beach Bum – If the water had got any higher up I’d have been completely breathless!!!
    @Andrew – Thank you!! The dingo really made the whole scene!!
    @Sallie – Haha, I’d just settle for a regular writing gig!! Although not having to pay for my own travel has a certain appeal!!
    @Alessandra – I don’t yet know anyone who actually LIKES it!!!

  14. @PDP – Shots all taken by me (except the one of me taken by Pilchard). My title meant the shots of Pilchard crossing the creek – ie the ones that I DIDN’T take! Worse luck!!
    @darlin – Sadly, I didn’t get the shots because my camera really was in his backpack. But if I HAD taken them, you’d be right and he wouldn’t have let me post them!! How’s that for a bet each way??!!
    @FruitCake – Children would have had to swim through, but then again they’d have been more resilient to the cold!! Maybe!! AND … I’ve only got a small laptop screen too – often wonder what these look like to others!
    @TMWH – Hahahaha, of course!! He lives in fear of appearing in an incriminating shot on my blog. Then again, as a total technophobe, he doesn’t read it anyway!!! I’ll test the theory out one day!

  15. Red it sounds like quite the trek, cold but beautiful! I’m going to guess you took those shots of Pichard but I’m also going to guess that he’s not letting you post one of them! lol

    Fantastic shots, amazing writing and beautiful countryside… excellent post Red. Thank you for sharing a part of your beautiful country with us.


  16. I charged the creek into water so cold it took my breath away.

    I tried something similar up in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. It was a stream running down a sloop of rock like a water slide. I knew the water was cold the second I sat down on the rocks but when I hit the pool at the bottom I about drowned with the shock of how cold it was.

  17. Lol! Pilchard’s a smart guy–I never would have remembered to take a picture–I would have been too cold!

    But I am sure you have a plan to make it up to him…

  18. Sounds freezing. As a shortstop I would have been up to my neck in it and in deep trouble with the temp.
    The colours in the Gorge are fantastic, and the creek deceptively inviting.

    The ‘best shot you didn’t take’ – given the temp – would have been wasted on my small lap top screen, even after I ’embiggened’ the picture. Your pilchard is a very shrewd man.

  19. You and Pilchard need to be picked up by a travel program, then someone else could record your amazing adventures and we could watch Red. Such spectacular vistas, so did you or did you not take these shots (confused by title).

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