/// Wild Tracks - Landscape Photography by Eduardo Gallo


Passion for Landscape Photography

West MacDonnell National Park, NT, Australia

May 2012

West MacDonnell National Park, NT, Australia

Canon 5D MkII & EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 1/8s f/8 ISO400 @45mm

Google Earth for this photo

Nine days on the trail. Close to a hundred miles on my legs. Too much muesli and too many powerbars on my abused body. Too long without a decent meal or a warm shower. Had not drunk anything else than foul tasting water for a really long time, and had been rationing it for the last two days as the number of remaining iodine tablets quickly approached zero. One hand was enough to count the number of people I had met during this time.

Heat, loneliness, sweat, and a glaring sun during daylight. Replaced by cold, the bright stars of the southern sky, and the company of the local inhabitants during the long winter nights. The dingoes. Beautiful and social animals, howling non stop at dusk and dawn while I took pictures. In my opinion hungry as hell most of their lives, as nailing a kangaroo (the staple of their diet) on this rugged country looks so easy that I'm surprised they did not become vegetarian long ago. They cannot eat, so they howl and howl and howl. Different pitches. Different melodies. Different volumes.

This is the center of Australia. Ancient landscapes. Unfertile soil drained of most nutrients by eons of unforgiving sun. Hell for most, home for a few. The hardest plants. The hardest animals. Crisscrossed by the oldest river courses in the world, dry most of the year, but holding their course while mountain ranges rose and were eroded away all around them. I had been walking along one of these ranges. The MacDonnells. A series of parallel caterpillars marching along the desert. Separated from each other by inhospitable terrain. Last refuge for plants from a wetter and colder time, gone long ago. Folded and twisted rocks that slowly cut into the sole of your boots, making a challenge of the daily task of finding a few clear square feet of ground where to pitch my tent at night right on the spine of the beast.

That was my only rule. Sleeping on top. My objective. My challenge. That was the reason to come to this place. To sleep on top. Watching sunrise in the very same spot that I had enjoyed the sunset a few hours before. Just look east, or look west. Worthy objective, hard to achieve. The path (the full 140 miles of it) parallels the mountain range, but it cannot stay on top all the time. There is no water. It needs to go down often. Miles of glorious walking along the ridge are mixed with nearly as many of monotonous trekking along the hot sandy terrain of the bottom. Smart walkers camp by the often permanent waterholes present in the shady canyons where the otherwise dry rivers cut right through the ranges. It is flat and sandy down there. You can drink until water flows out of your ears. You can also sleep comfortably. I know because I did it two or three times. There is just a slight problem with that plan. You are missing the show.

The show runs twice a day. The golden hours. Glare disappears, the light warms up, the wind stops, clouds appear from nowhere, time slows down, your eyesight reaches farther. You can see where you camped days ago, only to turn your head around and plan where to camp the following night. I press the shutter. Again and again. Trying to memorize the colors, the smells, the sounds, the feelings. But the price of the show is not cheap. Following my rule does not come easy. You need to fill up your backpack with water. And haul it up to the ridge. And sleep in uneven and hard ground with a few stones sticking into your body. And tie up your tent so it does not blow away at night when you are not inside. Day after day, night after night. It is what it takes, and that is it. Either you come or you don't. Either you pay or miss the show. I chose to come and I chose to pay. And on this particular night I felt king of the world because I was on top of the world. Anywhere around me it was lower, drier, warmer, and less beautiful than where I was. Sunset was beautiful, but the sunrise shown above was nothing sort of extraordinary: anticipation as the sky brightens, satisfaction when the sun appears, and paradise while it rises and slowly illuminates the land right in front of my eyes. Right below my eyes. The very same land I had crossed on the previous days. And then that's it. A cloud blocks the sun. The show is over, although you are invited to the next one. It is scheduled for ten hours later. In a place similar to this one, such as this other one. But fifteen miles away. With a huge descent and a similar climb in between.