The red beast rose over the mountains it’s blades cutting through the air and it’s engine growling and roaring, drowning out all conversation. As the helicopter descended, the air became a tornado picking up and throwing around the leaf litter that covered the ground. James had broken his leg when he was climbing a tree the day before whilst trying to set up a hammock and couldn't walk out. We watched as the paramedic was lowered on the winch and then pulled up again with James attached next to him in a harness. Later we counted him as the lucky one.
Excitement over, we hefted our packs onto our backs and taking one last look at the stunning view from Splendor rock we left the campsite and started the long walk back. The day was hot and the shadows short as we walked along the ridge. It was hotter then we had thought and found ourselves drinking a lot of water. As we passed a pile of rocks, much too tall to have been naturally formed, our leader pointed out that it was the point where Elliot Tumberman had died eighteen months ago during the summer of 2014 as He had told his friends to go ahead and had lost himself eventually succumbing to dehydration. It was a poignant moment.
As we came to the end of the ridge we looked down to see a rocky, dusty and most importantly, steep decline ahead of us. Less than fifty metres down, Jasper had sprained his ankle as he navigated the jagged rocks. It was truly a harsh toll on everyone. One of our younger party members started vomiting from exhaustion. Anna passed him the last of her water so he could rinse out his mouth. That meant we now had two people to help down the remaining 400 metres. We all fell down in the shade of the setting sun in the gully at the bottom of that horrid ordeal.
After regaining some of our energy, we released that our water bottles were empty and our camel packs dry. We all emptied our bags to find what resources we had left, finding nothing but 300mil of water and two up and goes. We handed the up and goes to those who needed them most before re-strapping Jaspers ankle and looking at our maps. There was a river marked less than a kilometre from us, a godsend, as we would have had more than a stroll before we reached a tap. We found the water purification tablets and with our spirits high we picked up our backs and headed on.
As we reached the tree line along the edge of the river we were parched. My throat felt like sandpaper scraping with every swallow. My head was starting to throb from lack of water, but something wasn't right. There was no chirping of birds, no sound of running water. I started to run, bursting through the trees only to see a dusty bed of clay stretching from the left to as far right as I could see. I slowly slouched down in disappointment. No water.
Alex jumped up, “it's all your fault!” He shouted at Anna in a raspy voice. “I said I was ok with walking on without water but no you had to take a huge detour to find an empty riverbed!”. Anna stood up “I was thinking of behalf of everyone here! Unlike you some of us are about to pass out from dehydration,” she snapped back . “Fighting is not going to help anyone” i said break them up. “We need to make a plan to get out of this.” Alex broke the continuing silence. “Well the last of the water is mine,” he said as he grabbed the bottle out of his bag. As he raised it to his lips Anna reached over and tried to grab the bottle off him. They tussled with it before accidentally dropping it to the ground and time stopped as we watched the last of our precious water absorb into the river bed. They both slouched down in silence.
The light was fading fast and with over 12 kilometres left to walk we hurriedly set up our tents. Trying to conserve as much energy as possible we don't bother to start a fire but instead snuggled up inside our sleeping bags to wait the night out with empty stomachs and dry throats. As hot as I had been that day, the temperature dropped and dropped as darkness enveloped us. Shivering, I dreamt of candy stores and waterfalls.
In the morning I woke up at first light with pains in my stomach and a migraine. I knew I needed to find water or I wouldn't be functional. As I stepped out of my tent I saw three others were up.
“Hey, guys. Come over here” I said and they tiredly walked over to my tent. I had had an idea to collect water, “You all need to get your tea towels out of your bags” I said excitedly. I then instructed them to soak up all the dew that had gathered both on the tents and on the broad leaf plants at the bottom on gully. All our efforts only filled one bottle. It took all our self-restraint not to drink it all at once. One sip each and we made sure Alex got his fair share.
We left as soon as we could, before the sun could melt us once again. We stuck to the tree cover and pushed ourselves to the limit, it took all our will power and more, having not eaten for almost 20 hours all energy was gone and everyone was lightheaded. Half back and Anna who had valiantly surrendered her share of water to help the youngest in our party, fainted from exhaustion. James lunged forward to catch her before she hit the dirt. As we were helping her recover Alex sheepishly revealed that he had a few boiled lollies left, enough for one each, the boost of sugar kept us going for a while.
We reached the gully leading to the final accent to the road and we saw a dreadful climb ahead of us. We almost gave up then and there, stuck, a short but steep climb from our rescue. We stopped to rest but as soon as I had sat down I was back up again. I yelled out “guys! over here”. I had spotted a wild raspberry bush filled with berries. The small sweet bursts of delectable joy gave us, in conjunction with the dredges of our team spirit the energy to make it up that hill.
We were experienced hikers and 12 kilometres should have been a walk in the park (national park that is) but a lack of water had almost cost us our lives. A mixture of freak weather and plain bad luck had left us hopeless and distraught, but in the end we managed to band together and push ourselves and each other to the end.