Left foot, right foot, don’t look down. Left foot, right foot, don’t look down. Don’t look down.
Oh, and don’t get dizzy.
“You know. I think we just passed the 20 meter mark, so it doesn’t matter if we fall right now or higher up – we’ll die either way.”
I broke my don’t look down mantra to glare at Lukas, who was climbing the 75-meter-high (250 feet) tree behind me. I couldn’t decide if his words comforted me, or made me feel even more scared. He was right though — now that we’d climbed this high, there was no reason to freak out or think about the worst that could happen.
Back in 1988, 165 metal spikes were hammered into the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree to form a wildfire lookout. Now, people looking for an adrenaline fix are able to climb the karri tree without supervision, safety harnesses, or regulation. If I haven’t pounded it into your head enough already, Western Australia is wild, people!
40 meters up the tree, Lukas and I stopped at a resting platform made up of a simple metal plank. Excitement coursed through my veins. Have we hit our maximum, or should we go further?
Let’s keep going, we decided, and my trance began again. Left foot, right foot, don’t look down. The locomotion continued.
With each rung I stepped on, the onlookers staring up at us became smaller and smaller, shrinking to a point where I couldn’t see them anymore. Lukas and I called down to the people planted firmly on the ground, but our words were carried away by the wind.
My eyes adjusted to the rung in front of me, and I willed myself to take yogic breathes. I gripped the cold metal even harder when the tree began to sway in the breeze – one mistake, and I’m done for.
Rationally, I know it’s unrealistic to think that I would let simply unclasp my hands and let myself fall. The movements are no more complicated than climbing a ladder. Still, the mental game of focusing on the actions and not panicking at the sight of ant-sized-cars with no harness or easy way down is straining. At the visitors center, the official policy for getting people who panic out of the tree is, “try to talk them down.” One pamphlet proudly states that nobody has died while climbing the tree, then shamefully concedes that well… two people have had heart attacks after climbing it.
Once we reached the trees summit, we had a panoramic view over all of Warren National Park. The tree swayed like the slow ticking pendulum of an old grandfather clock. Lukas and I steadied ourselves in awe and felt like we were literally on top of the world. If I was a bit more fearless, I would have jumped for joy (though not over the edge, of course!). It may have just been a tree, but I might as well have scaled the front of Half Dome in that moment.
When we went for a five mile hike around the nearby wilderness shortly after the climb, the experience had me looking at every tree from the ground-up with awe struck eyes.
The coastal cities of Western Australia generally steal the spotlight when it comes to roadtripping across the state, but I’ve had my eye on visiting the Karri Country for the past few months. Who knew that in a land known for it’s beaches and red desert, such gargantuan trees could even exist? Even the roads leading inland provided fun family run mazes and red lakes with local kangaroos lounging around to eat lunch by.
Before visiting the Warren National Park, we all went for a stroll through the treetop walk located in the heart of the Valley of the Giants in Walpole. While this stop doesn’t have you free-climbing metal pegs, it’s not exactly for the faint of heart. Thin metal platforms connected together by steel cables weave through the forest, where you reach a peak of 40 meters above ground – just high enough to bring you over the treetops of the tingle forest. After the walk above land, your ticket lands you an entrance to a ground self-tour as well. Informative plaques are placed around the walk, where you learn about how injuries cause the karri trees to warp and mangle into fantasy-like anthropomorphic beings.
After our walk, we stopped at a damp bar off of the side of the town’s main road, everyone turned their heads to see us walk in. A construction worker still doting his neon yellow work jacket smiled and began talking to Lukas in a thick Aussie-bloke accent. Lukas laughed and nodded. I pulled him aside and asked, “wait–you could understand what that guy said?”
“Nope! No idea.”
A bulletin board spattered with offensive newspaper clippings and sexist cartoon comics were pinned to the wall. One obituary of a former regular of the bar was posted up as well in commemoration. The deceased’s last words? “Hey mate, watch me do this!”
The group was starting to get a bit gamey, leading to too many instances of playing is that smell coming from outside of the car — or inside? Call us unhygienic, but Moritz and I tend to count swimming in the ocean as fulfilling our bathing requirement. It leaves our bed quite sandy, giving the illusion of pigs in a blanket… but anyways, you can probably understand that Lukas and Caro side-eyed this habit and preferred showering in fresh water. We decided to camp at a caravan park in Pemberton, complete with a full kitchen and hot showers. The caravan attracted all types of travelers and provided a home for a colony of rambunctious possums. Before bed, we’d hear the creatures chirp and growl, jumping from tree to tree – threatening to land on our tents.
In the morning, brightly colored lorikeets flew from campsite to campsite hoping to score free food.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a place that you haven’t even gotten to know, but our agenda needed us to be in Margaret River by nightfall. We reluctantly packed ourselves and the million other items we’d lugged along with us into the car and drove onward to the coastline – a place that was more familiar, but just as exciting.
Many thanks for Lukas and Caro for handing over many of their pictures!