Harts Range Black Tourmaline Expedition
Warning this album contains explicit lyrics.... Cue the music!
The Tourmaline crystals we discovered on this quest were incredibly hard crystals to find and extract. Yet they were also the most rewarding crystals I have ever had the pleasure of digging.
The story goes like this.... mid July 2019 my husband and I wandered off into the wilderness and by wander I mean drive for days roughly 7000 km across dishevelled corrugated roads through no mans land, other then the occasional car wreck there's little to no sign of people out there. We headed deep into the sun burnt red centre of Australia to a place called Harts Range, a phenomenally beautiful conglomerate of rugged mountains and sweeping valleys tucked away in the completely remote outback of the Northern Territory. We had been there before and found beautiful Kyanite and Quartz crystals, this time we wanted to go deeper into the rugged mountains to explore the places that few feet have ever walked.
We had spent months prior pouring over topographical maps and getting intimate with Google Earth, so we had a fair idea of where we were heading when we hit the ground. One thing maps do not express is the sheer ruggedness of what’s actually on the ground. What looked like a normal mountain on a map was the gnarliest terrain ever, you don't see all the rocks on a map and Oh lordy these mountains where almost entirely boulder rocks, remnants of enormous lithic structures that had crumbled over millions of years, leaving behind mountains covered in many thousands of boulder rocks. This type of terrain is incredibly difficult to cross. So we took our trusty 4WD as far and high as we could, that in it self was quite a challenge, the way up was extreme, I am officially categorising it as black diamond ninja level ten. Yet we made it unscathed and set up camp on the only sort of flat spot we could find. That camp site was truly breathtaking, high in the mountains snuggled into a tiny plateau with a cliff edge in front. We had unobstructed valley views for days with absolutely no one around, we enjoyed the most spectacular sunsets and glittery star spangled night skies.
The following day the hard work began. We knew we had a long walk ahead of us, so bright and early in the freezing cold before the sun rose, we rose. We made coffee in darkness then guided by torch light and crystal dreams still fresh in our minds we set of with packs, tools and buckets in tow. Tally ho! Time to bee line for the ridge line, parts of the trek up had what looked like an old trail, a very old trail but that disappeared quickly so we kept heading upward forging our own path across the rocky landscape. You have to get high to see what's around and at this stage we did not know how far we could get, it took over an hour to get to what we thought was the ridge line.
Nearly there just one more little climb and it must be the top, nope! That one little climb was not the top, so excited and dang! So deflated. So we take a wee little break here and meander over to a shiny section protruding from the mountain side, "Oh hello, what do we have here?" It was a lovely little Aquamarine crystal just chilling on the surface waiting for us, yippee! We did a quick surface scour to no avail, soaked in the view for a moment and decided we would return to that promising spot later, places to go rocks to see and all. Off again to the top of the ridge, finally after another full on but shortish climb and puffin like a guppy out of water we hit the summit. Why am I puffin like a water deprived guppy? Well altitude climbing is not easy at first, it takes a bit for your body to get used to the low oxygen levels, the quicker you go up the harder it is as your body doesn't have time to acclimate and we ascended pretty quickly. My lungs were screaming yet when I cast my eyes on the other side I managed to squeeze out these exact words... "Oh Shit! Wow!" Which sounded more like "hoooshtwau" as I forced three words into one to drag a breath back in.
What a magnificent spot it was, at over 1100 meters high the top of the ridge felt like the top of the world, by far one of the most spectacular sights I’ve laid my eyes upon. The moment was exhilarating, a myriad of emotion swam over me. The most prominent were of excitement (YAY I made it) with overwhelming feelings of raw freedom and a slightly daunting sense of Oh shit as the realisation of where you are sets in. I wanted off the grid deep bush and I got it. There is NOTHING but kilometers of big mountains and deep valleys. No rescue if you get injured, no way to contact help anyway. There are no running creeks, no water source above ground and not much in the way of bush food around. You're on your own, the supplies we had carried with us was it! Our only life line. I remind myself not to get freakin lost, even though we had an EPIRB who the hell is monitoring that signal! It was then I discovered I had smashed my phone camera glass on the climb up, oops! I recall hitting my leg with a wayward pick swing during the climb but I didn't think anything of it in the moment. Turns out my phone was in that pocket and copped a pick in the face, double oops! So my photos from there out were not great, I took lots anyway.
We didn't linger long at the summit, still had a bloody long way to go to get to the spot we had in mind. We took a moment to refuel, we hadn't planned on eating so early but we had already exerted a crazy amount of energy just getting to the ridge top. We weren't even close to our final destination so a quick munch, a big inhale of the brilliant view and off we set along the ridge top. One thing I noticed pretty quickly other than the altitude oxygen deprivation, was absolutely no scat tracks, no poop, where's the poop! Now I've been on top of the highest mountain in alpine Australia and there was poop up there. Where's the poop? So no poop means the animals aren't stupid enough to be up here, to which my inner mind responds "Sooo why the f#@k are YOU." Good question from me to me, everyone has that inner voice of self preservation, sane people listen to it. I told it to "Bugga off" Tally ho, onward and upward maybe poop will appear at some point. I should note my general allocation of the term animals does not extend to flies, they where present by the thousands. I was confused as to how they found us and what the hell they where doing up there other than closely investigating my everything and trying to get swallowed. There's no poop so why is there thousands of freakin flies! I'm a patient person but these flies...WOW, just Wow.
I don’t know how long it took us to cross the ridge with our cavalry of flies and reach the edge. I did get distracted by a little Moonstone find on the way. When we finally reached what I thought was the end of the “hard part” my elation was quickly deflated…Dang! Two more ridges to cross, shit maps suck! Alright let's go. So we wind ourselves down the poopless slope of rocky horror, seriously even the goats are like pffft f@#k that and its right about now I need to pee, dang! One cannae pee on an almost vertical rocky slope, why bladder why? "Why didn’t you say something on the top?" To which my bladder responds "look here sunshine I don’t run logistics, the boilers full and the pipes are backing up, find a solution or we're springing a leak." Oh Christ, well it turns out one can pee on the side of a cliff. It’s quite amazing the things we discover we can do yet never thought would ever be a thing, at least I acquired a new skill, not entirely sure it’s a useful one but Oh well.
Anyway after giving my bladder a solid scolding for its horrid timing we spotted an interesting outcrop over the other side. We weave down through the rocks over to a Quartz outcrop tucked in a valley that was on the wrong side to the direction we were heading but we were too curious to not check it out. The valley revealed nothing but massive Quartz, massive very sharp Quartz, of which I did gather a few very clear pieces. Thankfully we escaped the valley of a thousand tiny knives unscathed, other then my boots getting cut up no skin was broken, phew.
The boots! I had almost forgotten, I had new boots really not a good time to break in new boots, so there's a little story in itself here. I spent months finding 'the right boot' why? Because I'd had the same boots since I was 13 years old that’s 22 years in the same boots, not because of any other reason then I was so attached to them, those boots had taken me on so many adventures, I trusted them and I really did not want to part with them. Alas I knew their days were up they had cracks in the sides and pretty much nothing left in the way of tread or structural integrity. They had migrated into the category of rugged sock, not so much boot and they had become dangerous to wear in extreme terrain. I was actually nervous about these new boots I am well aware of the consequences of a not good boot.
So after much despair and deliberation with I don’t know how many trips to various shops to try on then go away and think about it, I purchased new boots. In my defence I did try to break them in by wearing them around the house and yard but that's like preparing for an Olympic swim race in your bath tub. I proceeded to completely trash my new fancy boots on their first proper outing hahaha, don’t make em like they used to, nah just kidding. There is no way I would have been able to climb what I did that day without those boots, talk about grip, I was seriously impressed. Yes my feet suffered badly from a none broken in boot but better that then my head suffering from the failure of a treadles boot/rugged sock and never fear I packed my old boots as back up.
Ok back to the journey, we abandoned our side tracked valley heading back up, round and over the poopless mountain with fly cavalry in tow. We get back round the other side and spot the location we are heading for, again with the tally ho, around and down we trek on for about another hour. We have been walking for hours I think about 4 or 5 by now. Then finally on the far side of a rocky outcrop many ridges from where we started, Boom! Hello black Tourmaline. One catch, it’s imbedded in a coarse grain peg (pegmatite- A course grained igneous rock), alright! I brought my trusty hammer, mason chisel and pick, I sure as hell did not come this far to go back empty handed. Time to get our Thor on and start swinging metal. We couldn’t safely remove the Tourmaline from a few spots. Although the host rock was really hard to break the Tourmaline out of, the out crop had been weakened and destabilised by weathering, which means one wrong tap and you’re buried in rock. Potential rock burial aside, finding and unearthing crystals is the most amazing feeling. Everything else in your mind fades away and is taken over by a joyous mesmerising wonder. I could have stayed there for days.
Time however was not on our side and our journey was far from over, we needed to get back to camp before sunset. With the little equipment we had we extracted as much as we could carry, actually way more then I could carry, well I could carry it for the first 30 minutes then I realised I might have dug out more then I could chew. That being said I’m far too stubborn to leave any behind so I did not lighten my load. Tally ho again, the path back to camp was not the same as the one we came in on, we didn’t want to endure that craziness again. We figured camp was a certain direction and all we had to do was walk that way, soo should have gone the other way (insert face palm here). The path back crossed 5, 6, maybe seven ridge arms and valleys all coming off one main ridge, I honestly lost count. Each one just as rocky as the rest of the mountain, with one exception. What we didn’t know was the second ridge in was a straight up rock climb (shit) I’m carrying roughly 20kg of crystals plus tools and water in my back pack as well as a full bucket of crystals. You're probably thinking why didn't you just go down, well down was worse than up, much worse, we had cut in from the adjacent valley just over half way up this slope, down was way worse than up.
My husband is over 6ft tall and built like a mountain I am 5.4ft and built more like a staircase haha. He takes bigger steps than me and climbs faster than me, so we picked our own separate paths up to avoid the chance of dislodging rocks that may hit the other (we did not have helmets) or worse causing a rock slide that takes the other out completely, potentially sending them sliding to their death. Neither of us wanted that catastrophe happening, with directions selected we saddled up and climbed. This was the moment I had complete conscious gratitude for the new boots as we embarked on the most treacherous of climbs yet with rocks falling away from under foot while clinging and scrambling, barely hanging on and lactic acid building yet I still refused to relinquish any crystals. I relinquished a whole lot of curse words but not a crystal. It is reasonable to postulate that I had lost all concept of anything logical as I probably should have lightened my load.
I think fatigue had well and truly set in by this point, logic tends to fade away when that happens. This was the type of climb where you couldn’t miss a footing, falling would have resulted in serious injury if not and quite possibly death. An almost straight up vertical scramble I'm talking on all fours, a serious rock climb. So at that point the voice in my head is having an 'I told you so’ party, closely followed by 'don’t slip you’ll die' to the sound track of 'dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb'. Then my brain switches gear, stops narrating and starts playing music, it was almost like it went ok shits getting real! We need a soundtrack.
I remember watching a documentary once about a bunch of intrepid explorers who were on an expedition somewhere in the Andes (I think) their trip went horribly wrong. One fella slipped falling into a crevasse breaking both his legs. His friends could not get to him and his only path to survival meant he had to drag himself out with broken legs. This fella was recanting his experience in this doco and said he could not get a certain song that he bloody hated out of his head. He remembered thinking he really didn't want to die with this crap song stuck in my head. That song was a 1980's hit The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, the lyrics go like this..."We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind. Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well they're are no friends of mine." That bloody song was now in MY head on freakin repeat, just that one verse over and over, shit! I now know how he felt, I didn't want to die with it in my head either. Of all the bloody songs why that one! Yeah it's a catchy song but after the eight hundred and forty seventh time, not so much anymore. Maybe somewhere deep in my subconscious mind that song has been labelled as the impending doom/you'll probably die song and in the face of extreme danger my brain went, "Woo hold up! I've got the perfect tunes for this." Its funny now, wasn't so then.
It turns out fear is very motivating, there's nothing quite as useful as a dose of life threatening with a survival induced adrenalin injection to make you focus and pull energy out of a seemingly empty tank. We did manage to climb that blasted cliff, even with that horrendous song plaguing me the whole way. I believe the constant swearing propelled me up or maybe it was the unyielding cavalry of flies, or maybe the deep desire to not die with that damn song in my head.
Although the other ridges to come were tough going they paled in comparison to that one, each time we nearly crested a ridge I would think please let me see camp please, please, it's Gin o'clock and the pain in my body, particularly my feet is increasing to the point of excruciating. We had been at top physical exertion for roughly 9 hours now, with each valley and crest the pain got more and more unbearable, only Gin will help me now. I was worried about taking my shoes off my feet felt completely smashed, like if I took them off I may never get them back on again.
The conquering of each crest was filled with happiness followed by a F@#k no camp. With the sun going down and no end in sight I started to get a little concerned that we were off course and may need to recalibrate our directional decisions. We really needed to get back before sunset and that big ball of fire in the sky is waning rapidly. It gets mighty cold in the desert at night and we knew there would be no moonlight to rescue us from the impending blanket of pitch black night coming our way. Navigating these mountains in the dark and spotting camp would have been almost impossible. Then something magical happened as we peaked yet another crest of the poopless mountain "Is that! Oh yeah, finally, holy shit! is that? Oh my freakin HALLELUJAH! Yes! Its camp." The sky opened and a golden beam rained down while Angels sung, well at least it did in my head. One final tally ho, by far the longest few hundred meters ever from spotting camp to actually getting there. The level of fatigue we had reached was brutal we were no longer actually walking more like flinging one leg with as much momentum as one could muster and hoping it held or didn't collapse when it landed, then repeating this momentum fuelled hope encrusted fling again and again. We eventually made it back with all crystals and no major injuries before that great ball of sky fire departed our company for the evening.
I swear it was like a movie scene were the guy's trudging through the desert for days completely hopelessly delirious, then spots water and swiftly wobbles ungracefully with limbs flailing to the pond of watery hope. Upon reaching his seemingly impossible destination he collapses in exhausted joy. That was totally me, when my bum hit that camp chair my dirt moustache and I thought it was the most magical thing ever created. Feeling like my arms weighed 30 kilo each and my feet were made of cement I sank into the divine being commonly known as the camp chair. Supported, comforted and caressed by its nylon cup holding perfection I found myself in a state of heavenly joyous bliss, praise to the camp chair Gods, muchas gracias. The flies had pestered us the whole way however at this point I no longer cared. I had eaten at least five or six of their clan members and figured we were now even. I ripped my shoes off hoping that I wouldn’t have to amputate (haha) Oh the relief, thongs never felt soo good. Not too much damage just a little bruising and blisters, excellent I was happy with that. That Gin was the tastiest Gin I ever did drink, so were the following five.
Of course after a few moments of good lord, thank f@#k, the next thing we did was inspect the day’s findings. WOW! I honestly can’t believe we found what we did, truly amazing and totally worth the effort. So many unexpected fabulous crystal discoveries, what a ridiculous, wonderful adventure and that was just one day. Of course we went out again the next day, we had that little Aquamarine find on our minds, thankfully that was only a few hours of hiking and I did that trek in my old boots, no way were my poor little footsies going to handle that torture two days in a row. The best adventures are always the crazy ones full of trials and triumphs. I never did find any poop, just kilos of magical crystals with epic memories to go with them.
Other than a few we kept for our own collection, the bounty of beautiful Black Tourmalines, Quartz, Mica & Moonstone crystals we found on this grand adventure is now available for purchase in our online store and at our physical store on Tamborine Mountain