The scene was set…..we were climbing Mt. Zeil, the highest mountain in the Northern Territory.
Mt Zeil is located in the western end of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park.
Late in the afternoon Friday the 20th of July, participants in the climb headed out from various locations to meet at the turnoff to Mt. Zeil on Derwent Station.
Amanda came from Alice via the Tanami and Papunya roads, Gary, Stretch, Mark and Sam came from Ormiston Gorge via Beer Can corner and the Haast Bluff/Papunya roads.
We were all supposed to meet at around 6.00pm at the turnoff.
The intention was to drive in to a pre-determined spot using the remains of the day for navigation purposes as the track is only vaguely marked but often as we know, Murphy plays a part.
Mark and Sam had a flat and arrived just on dark and we had to try and find our way without the aid of daylight.
The area is heavily grazed by cattle and one of the few bores around is located adjacent the track, with the cattle completely obliterating any sign of it. After some time looking for the track we reverted to heading for a set of co-ordinates I had gotten off ArcView before leaving.
So after tracking through the scrub for about an hour we eventually decided to call a halt some 300 metres short of the original destination, adjacent a creek with a good supply of firewood and set up our camp for the night.
The rest of the night was spent washing down some tucker with some drinks amongst much flatulence and frivolity.
Early the next morning we arose, had a quick breakfast and then headed off by vehicle to a spot on the NW side of Mt. Zeil, about a km or so away.
We parked the cars, packed our packs and headed off on foot by a route decided by pouring over Google Earth and an aerial photo of the topography surrounding the mountain itself.
It was about 7.45am Saturday and it was expected it was going to be a long day. It was quite cool and windy with everyone still wearing a fleece or jumper as we began climbing up a ridge line which we hoped would not become too steep.
Ridge line after ridge line, we gradually crept upwards occasionally stopping for either a breather or to confirm the optimal path.
Every so often we would crest a hill thinking we had erred but only to find we had indeed chosen this path wisely.
About half way up the others thought they had chosen a better way than I and ended up almost climbing along a rugged, rocky ridge cloaked in cycads. I had stuck to my planned path and had forged along reaching the top of a ridge where I ended up waiting 15 minutes for the others to catch up….oh ye of little faith!
Some half a km further on we decided to break for lunch where we had a cuppa and enjoyed the aerial exploits of a couple of wedge-tailed eagles, one of which landed in a native pine close by.
The views from this point were outstanding enough but only got better as we continued our ascent about an half hour later.
Finally the summit loomed ever closer and I for one was glad to crest the top of the last rise and see both the highest point marker and the VHF repeater station closeby.
The 360 degree views from the summit are absolutely splendiferous and, from this vantage point, we were able to see all of the top ten peaks in the Territory.
We all took the obligatory photos next to the marker, and of the surrounding countryside. It’s totally awesome standing at the top of Zeil, the tallest mountain west of the Great Divide and also a significant cultural site to Traditional Owners.
After an half hour or so of enjoying the views and feeling the emotions attached to being on top of the Territory, and with time running down, we had to start our descent so as to ensure we made it back to camp prior to nightfall.
With the going much easier downhill we headed off pausing briefly to assess a fire we could see way off in the south and hear the King’s Canyon ranger staff bantering over the UHF.
About three quarters of the way down a group decision was made to take another route down a gully in an effort not only to have to go up another rise but to get to the bottom quicker to beat the setting sun.
As I have found previously these routes are not always easier and, as with this particular way down, it provided its own challenges.
The first part wasn’t too bad but all too quickly we ended up having to push our way through thick vegetation, climb around and over rocky ledges and make our way around waterholes in our path.
Finally, and I was well and truly over what we were doing, we made it to the bottom and thankfully, flat ground.
The sun was setting as we made our way over stony ground towards where our cars were parked and where we would camp overnight once more.
After trudging through the mulga and with only 10 or 15 minutes before darkness set upon us we arrived back at the cars.
Everyone sat down almost immediately and sighed in satisfaction at not only the achievement of the day but being able to relax and anticipate that first drink.
Again, albeit a little more slowly, we enjoyed our remaining night camped in the scrub at the base of Mt. Zeil with nice food, drink, damper and oh I forgot, chocolate and again much flatulence.
The following morning everyone took the opportunity to rise a little later and then, after enjoying breakfast, we followed the track, yes the track, you know the one we couldn’t find at night back out to the main road.
After saying our goodbyes we headed off for whence we came and that, my friends, was the story of our walk up Mt. Zeil, the highest point west of the Great Divide.