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A Rap Battle With Snakes on Walsh’s Pyramid

An outdoor not-so-enthusiast tackles one of Australia's most unforgiving hikes.

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By Jennifer Neal

Travel Writer

14 Aug 2018 - 7 Minute Read

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“Wait, are there snakes on this mountain, ya think?” I asked my friend over the phone, who had graciously volunteered to accompany me – in spirit, at least – on the first few steps of my hike. I hate snakes.

“Good chance,” he replied. “But you know, just stomp your feet, clap your hands and sing to give them some warning of your whereabouts, so they can scamper off, and you’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know what to sing,” I said.

“Well, then rap,” he responded.

We hung up and I faced the dry, barren brush of Walsh’s Pyramid on my own. A thinly defined path lay before me, covered in layers of crunchy brown bush and long, dried sticks from which various creatures darted in and out. Hawks circled overhead, and kookaburras guffawed from the surrounding shrubbery.

It was only a 3,097ft (922m) hike to the summit, but a near-vertical climb that would challenge even the most experienced bushwalker…or, in my case, body pumper.

“I like big butts and I cannot lie…” I started singing, while clapping my hands half-heartedly, and stomping my feet as loudly as I could. I headed up the trail one step at a time, with Sir Mix-a-Lot as company.

Up until then, the most challenging feat of athleticism I had faced was managing to make it to a gym class three days a week. I had always shied away from physical tasks that required long-term commitment and unavoidable amounts of pain. In body pump, the weights could be adjusted, and 45 minutes of high-interval training would be followed by a nice, relaxing stretch that made me feel good about myself again before meeting up with girlfriends to eat pizza.

But Les Mills’ full-body weights and cardio workout never required knowledge of rough, jagged terrain, inland taipans (the world’s most venomous snake), or any number of bushwalking survival hacks that I should have studied before tackling one of Australia’s most unforgiving hikes.

If they had, I might have known to wear actual hiking boots, instead of Nike trainers with white rubber soles. Or long-sleeved attire that would protect me from the brutal sun (and possible snake bites), instead of the fast-wicking apparel I usually reserved for my gym class. I also might have paced myself a little better for a hike that takes experienced bushwalkers between three and four hours to ascend, but took me six and a half.

Pilates didn’t prepare me for that. Body balance didn’t prepare me for that. No amount of squats in the world prepared me for that.
An inland taipan, in case you were wondering.
Getty Images / Feargus Cooney
An inland taipan, in case you were wondering.
A short drive south of Cairns, Walsh’s Pyramid is an intimidating structure – not the least of which because it’s the highest freestanding pyramid in the world. Coated in sparse vegetation that bakes beneath the tropical Queensland sun, there’s little to provide shelter for its vast array of slithery inhabitants – snakes, geckos, and me. 

After having found Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef and eaten my way through a series of food-related tourist traps in the Daintree Rainforest, I was ready for a new challenge – one that nearly killed me.

Because I was hiking alone (which I don’t recommend for inexperienced climbers or basically anyone smarter than me), I had to devise ways to keep myself psychologically engaged. Besides rapping, I picked leaves and created origami concoctions while stopping for water breaks. I finished week-old arguments with colleagues while fashioning a hiking stick with my pocketknife. I meditated on the possibility of a Trump presidency while playfully chasing geckos (my only hiking companions) on trees that hung a bit too close to the edge of a cliff.

I snaked up the mountain rock by gigantic rock, using muscles I had never felt before, bracing myself as close to the steep slopes as I could. When I was forced to climb an intimidating boulder by gripping, pushing, and sliding over a rough, hot stone-surface that terrified me with its girth – I realized I may have gotten a little over my head.

Five hours in, I stepped into what remote coverage I could find and texted my friend: “I’m going to die on this mountain.” His response was swift and mocking: “Quitter.”

Damn right, I thought.

Having peed a suspicious brown urine over what felt like the edge of the world, I pushed the impending threat of more serious (say, kidney-related) health ailments out of my head and sat down for what I thought would be the end of my hike. Right then, another hiker – the only one I’d seen all day – approached from behind with the steam of a freight train. She was a Maori woman with ropey muscles that hoisted her up the Pyramid at double my speed. She stopped and asked me if I was all right. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe?” I replied.

After a failed attempt to tandem together, I let her go ahead of me, huffing and puffing in her direction until her hot pink singlet disappeared from view. As she descended, seemingly minutes later, she told me I was really close, and not to give up. Then she gave me two handfuls of gummy snakes, a pear, and an apple and wished me well before heading back down the mountain.

To this day, I don’t know who that woman was, but I do believe she was single-handedly responsible for ensuring that I didn’t end up on the five o’clock news.
Shaking, sore, and ecstatic, I texted my friend photos from the summit. He replied “Oh, so you’re not a quitter then, hey?”
I inhaled the snakes, which tasted to my depleted senses like they had a touch of the divine. Their sugar propelled me toward the top of the summit, where I emptied my camel pack and ate the fruit all the way down to the seeds as, below me, the clouds started rolling in and the sun sank towards the horizon.

Shaking, sore, and ecstatic, I texted my friend photos from the summit. He replied “Oh, so you’re not a quitter then, hey?”

Jerk.

I used to think hiking was for daredevils and adrenaline junkies who don’t appreciate the subtle nuance of staying home and doing nothing. Or the kinds of people who believe that a brush with death is akin to an appreciation for life – like people who swim with great white sharks. But as I stood on top of this rock looking down at the world, I felt like I had conquered something that didn’t belong to me – a piece of a world that shows no mercy to her inhabitants. But more than that, I had conquered my fears of physical exertion outside of the parameters of a group class, and pushed myself to the edge of my endurance.

My reward was a view of such grandeur that I tried to memorize every detail – every rolling hill, every shadow cast by a hovering cloud, and every patch of farmland meticulously segregated in an impressive geometric display.

Australia was showing off with her beauty that day, and I felt like I was the recipient of a private show-and-tell that left me breathless.
The view from the summit.
Jennifer Neal
The view from the summit.
“I conquered you!” I screamed from the top of the rock. The wind responded with the smell of rain.

But I hadn’t conquered the steady descent. My wobbly legs buckled halfway down and I rolled my ankle, releasing a blood-curdling scream that sent every kookaburra on the Pyramid into a laughing fit. I spent two hours crawling through the brush, unsure of what I would uncover with each handful of dried leaves, crying to no one and long overdue for my celebratory dinner of fish and chips. It should have put me off hiking forever, but it had the opposite effect.

I’ve often mocked people for attempting to vanquish nature, because nature always has the last word in the end. But I understand now that it’s not about subduing; it’s about submitting. In order to make it up that mountain and back, I had to submit to my fears and re-emerge humbled but stronger. 

“…you other brothers can’t deny…”

I started rapping all over again, pulling myself inch by inch closer to my rental car.

“That when a girl walks by with an itty-bitty waist, and a round thing in your face, you get sprung.”

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Travel Writer

Jennifer is a journalist, author, stand-up comedian, and visual artist who writes about intersections of race, sexuality, gender and migration.

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