Friday, November 13, 2009

St. Mary's Peak

On the second day of our second trip to Wilpena Pound, we finally attempted to climb St. Mary's Peak.  The first time around we were unable to bag the peak because we had my mother in tow, and as good a sport she is, I didn't think an 8 hour hike was for her.  We had originally planned to hike the trail on the first day of our second visit, but it had been pouring buckets of rain the day before and we had been advised to save it for a less rainy day.  I am glad we waited.  Not because we aren't prepared to hike in the rain--we have plenty of rain gear--it is just the ascent to the Tanderra Saddle would be very difficult in the rain.
The well marked trail, which can be hiked as a loop, begins at the Wilpena Pound Visitor Center.  I suggest hiking the loop counter clockwise so that the steepest part of the trail is tackled early in the hike--not only will you not be as tired, but that part of the trail is probably easier to ascend than descend.
Our hike began by following the track along the base of the outside of the naturally made amphitheater.  The first 4 km were fairly level, and an easy walk.  The trail then began to slowly gain elevation before it turned into a steep climb to the Tanderra Saddle.

Ascent Tanderra Saddle
As we mounted the saddle, we could see St. Mary's Peak in the distance. Unfortunately, she was shrouded in a dark rain cloud and we decided that it would be best to leave that thrill for another day.  Instead we began our return journey downhill.  I was a bit concerned that the trail would be as steep as the one we had just  scaled, and it would be difficult to navigate if it started to pour.

St. Mary's Peak
I was relieved when we turned a bend and found that rather than dropping straight to the basin floor we would be following a gentle sloping trail.  Halfway down, we had a break in the weather and we stopped for lunch.  Here we were able to observe how the oval basin of the Pound is almost completely flanked by gentle sloping mountain walls.  There is only a single gorge, Wipena Gap, that creates a natural break in the towering walls.  There are several tall peaks in this elliptical landform and St. Mary's Peak is the tallest at 1170 meters.

Return Trail To Basin

Lunch View
Our post-lunch hike continued to gently take us to the basin floor where we  walked through a sea of eucalyptus trees.  It was getting late in the afternoon, and several kangaroos were out feeding.  After about 4 hours we finally reached the gap in the wall and we followed the creek back to the Visitors Center.  We were a bit disappointed that we didn't climb the highest peak in the Flinders Ranges--the second highest in South Australia--but it gives us something to look forward to.


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