Monday, October 15, 2007

Hiking the Pyramid

About 20km south of Cairns, the highway passes Walsh's Pyramid, a naturally occurring mountain with a steep and pointy top. It climbs to an altitude of just over 900m and can be visible from Cairns on a clear day. When Rowan and I drove to Yungaburra, we passed it and discussed hiking the Pyramid. It's apparently the thing to do. Only takes 2 hours to get to the top.

Between triathlons, weekends in southern Australia and visitors the Pyramid hike had taken a back seat. But we finally arranged to go last weekend. We sought advice from some experienced hikers (Thanks, Dave!) and set off on Sunday morning at 6:30am with 6L of water, 6 granola bars, 3 bananas, 2 oranges and some almonds for Rowan, Lauren and myself.

The weather could not have been more perfect. After a week of breathlessly humid days in Cairns, we got a reprieve with a few clouds and a cool ocean breeze. Despite this about 10 minutes into the hike we were all soaked with sweat. The hike was less of a hike with some steep spots rather a set of uneven stairs with a few flat spots. Lauren set off at a break-neck pace, and would stop every 10 minutes or so for Rowan and me to catch up. The climb was so steep that we rarely spoke. We couldn't, we were gasping for air. The first 20 minutes seemed to take forever, and I felt like there was no way I could keep this up for another hour and forty. But from then on it went quickly, covering ground, looking back out toward Cairns and watching the surrounding farmland transition from fields of individual crops to a green patchwork quit.

We stopped at the halfway point for granola and almonds. The path got steeper from there on out. It kept looking like we were almost there, just around that corner, just over that boulder, that must be the top, that tree, that's it, right? The last 30 minutes were filled with false hope. Then we started to hear people. We had made it. It took just over 2 hours. We could now see out over the other side of the pyramid, out to the Tablelands and south toward Innisfail. At this point I thought to myself, this wasn't that bad. In fact it was pretty great. I could definitely do this again, maybe when Andrea visits.

We ate and chatted for about 30 minutes at the top before deciding to start descending back to the car. We were making plans for Cairns. We'd stop by the farmer's market for produce, then a quick shower, then to a cafe for newspapers, coffee and brekky. I was already hearing the siren call of poached eggs as we started back towards the car. Maybe it was the desire to be back in the city, or the knowing that the big sense of accomplishment with climbing the Pyramid was over, but the way back was hard. Harder than going up. Every step threatened to slide out from under you. Rarely was there a rock or tree to help steady you or take some of your weight off. I became much more aware of the changes in the landscape as well. Pine needles near the top were the biggest slipping risk for the first part, as we got lower, the needles gave way to loose gravel. Although we weren't winded and could talk on the way down, I found that the pain in my knees was making it difficult to focus on much else.

We must have passed the halfway point and not noticed it. It's already been 45 minutes, surely we're going down faster than we went up. No, there was the halfway point, still ahead of us. We sat down, had a snack and stretched our legs. Ok, we were so close to the cars I could almost taste the eggs. One the way up, I had noticed a granola bar wrapper on the ground. On the way back, I picked it up to throw it out, thinking, this had been really close the cars, we're almost there. Still there were turns, the highway still looked small. This hike would not end.

We did eventually make it back to the car, Cairns, the market, coffee, newspapers and brekky. But, not before I had changed my mind about hiking the Pyramid again. It was great to do it once, and perhaps if some one installed a slide or a zipline from the top, I would consider it again. But at least for now, and given that my legs are still in immense pain two days later, I will not be making the trip again.

Walsh's Pyramid


Dave October 31, 2007 at 1:20 AM  

congratulations on the completion! no pictures from the summit? i hope 10 pounds of water in your backpack weren't contributing to weak knees on the way down..

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