Arriving at the car park of the Lower Portals hike in Mount Barney National Park, we open our car doors to the incredible heat. Inching them open, scared to go all the way, we dismay as the cool air is sucked out and replaced with 32°C (90°F) liquid muck. The humidity was off the charts. And it’s only 9 AM.
I had organised a hike over New Years eve with my adventure club to a popular natural swimming hole known as the Lower Portals. Located in South East Queensland, Australia, we had, in hindsight, picked the absolute hottest day in the year to do it.
Lucky for us it’s a short walk however, taking an average of 1 hour each way. To maximize our party potentials, we had brought overnight gear, some drinks, and inflatable pool toys, among other things.
On all the events I ran for the group, I always made sure to have detailed gear lists and information on what to expect. Being such a short hike, and, given the festive occasion, I had encouraged members to bring luxuries as it was only a short walk in.
‘Luxuries’ can be interpreted in different ways it seems, and it took us all by surprise when one of the participants, *George, arrived in his massive 4WD and proceeded to load his gear and ‘luxuries’ into a massive duffel bag seated in a large wheelbarrow.
Yes, you read that correctly. A wheelbarrow. The same kind you find on work sites and in your garden collecting rainwater.
Georges smile traced from cheek to cheek as he loaded gas cylinder, camping cooker, shopping bags of food including a roast of some kind, a air pump for the pool toys, a camping chair, and who knows what else!
He was keen.
I was shocked.
Now the cool thing about running an adventure club through a website called Meetup.com is you get to meet lots of different people. I had met hundreds, and my group had over 2000 members at that stage. So suffice to say, you’ll get some interesting combinations.
Of course the bad thing is you can’t predict what those combinations will be.
Will someone fail to tell you they suffer severe panic attacks while you guide them on a abseil event? Will someone bring a bunch of soft toys on a hike. Will someone bring no food or water on a day long hike, expecting to find it along the way? Maybe someone will not bring shoes at all?
Or, will they bring a wheelbarrow instead of a backpack? You just don’t know, right? Well, I’ve seen them all now.
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So after some back and forth discussions as I point out the difficulties he would face, I ended up leaving him to his wheelbarrow. And to be honest, it was only a hour long hike, though it would be hard, who am I too destroy this man’s New Years eve dream?
Maybe it was a bucket list item?
❏ Bungy jump without rope.
⌧ Take a wheelbarrow on a overnight hike.
❏ Walk on the moon without spacesuit.
Just normal, regular stuff.
the best way to WHEELBARROW
We set off along the gravel path which soon turns rocky and is spaced with rough steps as the incline goes up.
I look back and see George struggle a little.
The wheelbarrow looks damn heavy but that smile across his face is still there. Must be a bucket list item after all.
A few minutes on I check again. Hes at the back of our 7 person group and has figured out the technique for getting the wheelbarrow up those steps. Pulling backwards, grunting and heaving for good measure, he ‘hops’ the wheelbarrow up each step and rock sticking out of the ground. Sweat is pouring off him, likewise with us all, as the sun bakes the ground hot enough to fry eggs.
In Australia we have sayings for the degrees of heat. The one that comes to mind at that point is ‘hotter than Satan’s armpit’, which equates to about close to 40°C (104°F). And with nearly 100% humidity, a hike is comparable to swimming rather than walking with the shimmering air at a similar consistency as lava.
I ask him if he’s OK. We can figure something out to take care of all his possessions in the duffel bag after all. He doesn’t have to do this.
He’s perfectly happy he tells me. He believes he can do this. Well, I tried.
I settle into some deep conversation with another guy, you know the kind. How to fix the world, the meaning of life and happiness, is consciousness real? General hiking banter.
Before long, we’ve gone far ahead of everyone else and arrive at the campsite. It’s just a short 5 minute walk to the water, and at the rate we are sweating, we’ll have our own natural water holes at each foot if we don’t go for a swim!
With the others surely just behind us, we drop packs and dart off to a (hopefully) cool water dip.
Its not. But it’s cooler than the ambient air so we stick to the water like fish.
between a WHEELBARROW and a hard place
With a few other visitors in the water hole, we say hello, do some jumps and float without a care. Until I look at my watch.
One hour has passed. Shit! That can’t be good.
We both scramble out of the water and race back to the campsite. Its empty. This wasn’t good at all. The track is extremely obvious so getting lost wasn’t an issue. Wheelbarrow George. It has to be.
No sooner had I emptied my pack contents in preparation to head back and see what was going on, that one of the other girls in the group arrives, red faced and puffed.
“Its George, somethings wrong, you need to help him”.
“Is his wheelbarrow broken?” I ask. I have never had to deal with a busted wheel on a wheelbarrow. And it’s not like they have a spare.
“No it’s not that, he’s sick. I think its the heat. The others are with him” she informs me.
I curse myself for not being firmer on the wheelbarrow issue. Bucket list or not, it was just too hot to do anything more than a slow walk that day, let alone push and pull a wheelbarrow.
I load up with all the water I can carry and some hydration salts for good measure, and start at a fast pace along the path.
No later than 10 minutes in I come across the group. And George. And no wheelbarrow. George is pale and not looking too great. But his smile is still there.
“The wheelbarrow got a bit hard to push and I didn’t have much water” he tells me.
Despite his smile, his eyes looked tired and sunken, but not defeated. What a battle he must have fought.
With no wheelbarrow in sight, he was reduced to carrying a sleeping bag and shopping bag under each arm, his only possessions left from the enormous haul. The girls fill me in as he runs off to some bushes. Vomiting, diarrhea, he’s clearly got heat stroke. His wheelbarrow was ditched in the bush as he finally gave up, continuing on with the duffel bag, gradually throwing items out as his energy faltered until hes was left with one shopping bag and sleeping gear.
Knowing he’s close to the water hole and the campsite, which while is still hot, is at least shaded, so we decide to carry on and look after him there. He is happy to go along and wants to get to the water as soon as possible. He still brought one pool toy after all!
The rest of the afternoon is spent making sure he kept his liquids up, had replenishing salts and spent lots of time in the water.
That evening as we finish dinner, he lays peacefully on his giant pizza slice pool toy, also doubling as his mattress, and falls asleep. His smile never disappears.
We all head to bed after that as well, exhausted from the days heat. The dark night offers little relief from the heat, and we downgrade the temperature to “its still hot enough that the trees are chasing the dogs” which is about 30°C (86°F) or so.
here we go again
Waking up the early the next day, George is already gone, leaving to recover the wheelbarrow and other items strewn through the bush.
We follow, hot on his heels, a little worried for him, but also keen to get back to the cars before the days heat really begins. His car is gone but a note is left on ours. We read it and can only guess as to what his future adventures might be.
‘Am OK, got the wheelbarrow back, will bring more water next time. Thanks :)’
*Name has been changed.
** Unfortunately, no one brought a camera on this trip either!