Sit back and enjoy our adventure.
There has only been about 80 people recorded to have been to Hell’s Gate since the wild old days (at the time we ventured there), it’s just such a place blanketed in mystery that for years no one wanted to know where it was, so its location was forgotten. And in 1998, I was determined to get there. About a week before the trip I meet this fella that claimed that he knew where “Hells Gate” was and that he had been there the previous August. I convinced him to show me on a topographic map where it was, which he did. So I secured a friend, Ken Boland to accompany me on the pilgrimage. We were cautioned that we would have to take our own water as there was none on the track at that time of year and given that it was in May, the temperatures were well in the 40 degrees Celsius range, so we packed plenty of water, I’ll tell you!
We were relieved to find that we could drive by vehicle most of the way over a very rough and faint track which reduced the overall distance to about 25 kms return to walk. Given this information, we allowed three days to complete the trip. We carried very heavy packs filled mostly with water, some food and not much else because we knew that the terrain would be difficult, to say the least.
Leaving Cairns on the Thursday night we drove the 300 kms to the spot we were to make camp for the night. Having arrived sometime after midnight. It was decided that we would just make a fire and roll out our swags. We laid there for an hour or so just talking about the following day and whether it was all a dream that after searching for countless years for this “pimple” in the wilds of north Queensland, whether we would actually find it?
At the crack of dawn the following day, we broke camp and continued along the ever-diminishing track trying to gain as much distance as we could by vehicle. After five hours we reached a dry creek that we were unable to negotiate any further by vehicle, so it was decided to leave the vehicle at that point and to continue on foot.
The country proved rather easy at first, covering the flat ground in good time but after crossing the creek on several occasions only to be confronted by very high spear grass and the steep and deep washed out gullies, that restricted our every attempt to head in the straightest line. We were forced to follow the creek, which was filled with large round river stones, which made our progress extremely slow and difficult. After negotiating several extremely large hills in an attempt to shorten the distance and time it was taking us. We arrived at a location that challenged my map reading and tracking skills to the fullest.
We decided to drop our packs and do a reconnaissance down a separate creek bed, believing that it was the way we should be travelling. With several hours in not locating any sign of the creek being the correct route, it was decided that we would move further down the main creek for about two hours and make camp. Within about an hour we came upon a large waterhole filled with ducks, which took flight on our approach (I think we got the bigger fright at the intrusion). We decided that after walking for five hours with heavy loads over difficult ground that here was where we would stay on the eve of my birthday. It wasn’t the prettiest place that I could imagine.
That night, we opened a bottle of port after eating a meal from our army ration pack and laid in our make shift beds watching the crystal clear night sky. We talk about anything and everything in an attempt to forget the pain inflicted upon our feet by red raw blisters and sore muscles. The port had no effect in alleviating the pain. Ken and I stayed awake the whole night. We decided some time during the night that the creek we had entered late that previous evening had to be the correct passage through the maze of creeks, gullies and endless oxbows in the creek. The plan was, we would break camp at first light, head back to the spot where the side creek broke from the main creek and continue down that creek until midday at which time we would have to head back to the vehicle. If we couldn’t locate “Hells Gate” on this day, my birthday, there was always next year!
That morning we were making better time than the previous day, following the creek for what seemed like ages (possibly the sore feet made it feel that way). After about 3 hrs, we came upon a open field which showed signs of a scrub cattle pad, which we decided to follow, with thumb in bum, so to speak, we were suddenly staring eye to eye with a couple of very angry wild cattle. Of course we broke ranks and packs and headed for the only tree within running distance. (It must have been quite a sight for the cows to watch two grown men fighting to get up this tree). But the tree turned out to be a godsend because with my eagle eye I noticed broken glass on the ground, which was our first sign that we were on the right track. (So my map reading skills were restored). After the cattle had dispersed, we continue until the foot track became obvious once again. The track opened to a large flat grassy platform of sorts with a number of creeks converging into the main creek channel. We didn’t realise it at the time but this was where the original camp was located before pushing on to the Gate. This is also the location where the Chinese funeral urns were once located, but they have either been destroyed or moved now. This little area maybe interesting to further explore in detail.
At the foot of the last very steep and long ridge we decided to leave our packs in the creek and continue only with water and the last bottle of port up to the gate. We know we would soon achieve something that few had before us, since the track was used by miners.