2 July 2002
On our first day at Karajini National Park, we visited Dales Gorge. It was a wonderful experience coming across one of the gorges in the park for the first time. They have been cut into a plateau that was fashioned from sediments deposited in an ancient seabed some 2,500 million year ago. As you stroll through the Spinifex and red soil, the ground suddenly opens up at your feet, and you find yourself looking down into the proverbial abyss. The floors of the deeper gorges get sunlight for only a few hours a day, so the water that runs through them in the dry season is notoriously cold.
Our first stop was Fortescue Falls, where the girls and I got into our swimmers and had a taste of the chilly waters. The pool was not deep but it was clear, and it was skirted by rushes where small fish hid.
From the falls, we made our way along the floor of the gorge, with the rugged, red rocks towering over us on each side. The gorge was considerably cooler than the plateau above, and it was dotted with white-limbed Snappy Gums. We found seams of blue asbestos—the mineral that had been mined nearby at Wittenoom with such disastrous consequences for those exposed to the dust and tailings.
At the far end of the gorge we came to Circular Pool, where I went in for another swim. It was a lovely spot. The water was crystal clear, and there were cascades flowing over the stepped rocks adjacent. The water was prohibitively cold however, and I counselled the girls not to follow me in. Susie was not tempted to join me either. She was content to admire the surrounds and record what she could on the video camera.
I explored the pool by swimming around underwater. The sensation of cold gradually faded as I lost my peripheral circulation. I seemed to need less and less oxygen, and time seemed to slow down. My swimming strokes became slower; I lost track of how long I had been in the water; I felt increasingly euphoric about my surroundings, and I actually began to feel warm. When I started to entertain the thought that I no longer needed to surface for air at all, I realized that this was a not good sign, and I climbed out of the pool. The aquatic world inside the pool was indeed exquisite, but I was probably experiencing the early symptoms of hypothermia.
After the swim we doubled back to a climb that led us up out of the gorge and onto several lookouts, one of which revealed the Circular Pool many tens of metres below.
Having explored our first gorge, we returned to the campsite for dinner, of chicken and curry, dhal, rice and pappadums, at the girls’ request.