Day 1

Friday, 3rd October 2008

We left at 4am that morning to make a reasonable run for Yerranderie. After a 2.5 hour drive we came to the roughest part of the journey: nearly 100 kilometres of snaking dirt tracks that led us into the middle of untamed country.

The trip was unusually quiet. This expedition was different and possibly the most challenging one since 2004. Everyone was aware of the level of difficulty involved and the adversities we were all about to face. Heavy packs and the additional supplies ensured that this venture was not without serious obstacles. Not only were we heading into isolation, but the prospect of a rugged upward climb along jagged cliffs were going to put us to the ultimate test. These looming thoughts displayed concern in everyone's eyes.

On arrival we wasted little time to assess the towering rock before us. Packs on, hands filled and we began our ascent from the base of the mountain.

The packs were heavy. The trip was done in sections - first we carried the packs to a point ahead and then we returned to drag up our additional supplies.

The initial ascent was strenuous … and it was hot, damn hot. Loose debris under our boots constantly played Russian roulette with our lives. A false step could be the last one you would take.

Finally we reached the cliff wall where our path had somewhat levelled out. Here weather erosion had produced a remarkable succession of cave-like features in sandstone.

After hours of struggling through bush and rock, the grand obstacle emerged. It was a near vertical climb up a rocky face. Some of us made the climb 3 - 4 times to make sure nothing had been left behind. Food, water and equipment - a single loss could compromise the expedition.

Once up the top, it was a straight forward, uncomplicated hike to our new base camp. The vantage point was well worth the effort. An almost 300 degree view overlooking one of the most breathtaking, mountainous wildernesses we had come across. The aerial phenomena we had seen for the past three years were originating from somewhere within these mountains. Like a map these peaks were now spread out before us. For what we wanted to achieve, it was the perfect spot.

By 2pm our tents were up. The scatter of trees around us provided the base camp with some cover from the usual highland winds that hit these altitudes almost daily. Just before sunset, like clock work, the winds come to a sudden stop.

Considering that we had little or no sleep the night before, we packed ourselves away for a few hours to get some shut-eye. We needed to be fully alert all night.

As the sun lowered towards the west, a large band of clouds appeared in the horizon. At first we thought nothing of it. We carried on with our usual duties and set up all equipment on a rocky outcrop. In one direction there was a collection of mountain ranges and bulging rock formations as far as the eye could see. Towards the east was a view of Lake Burragorang. If anything appeared within this great radius, our cameras were ready.

Dominic had an opportunity to test his prototype camera with advanced optics. As the night set in, the new camera brought some clarity to the darkened landscape. It is an amazing piece of technology that is vital to our field of work. Still in development, Dominic is certain that there is room for improvement to a point where anything dark will become light, almost inverted.

Our time on the outcrop did not last for long. Violent thunder gave fugitive flashes in the horizon. Just as Frank was making a comment about how two lights were heading towards the lake, we were struck by a sudden gust of wind, followed by rain. The night watch came to an abrupt end. We found quick refuge in our tents. That night the mountains were hit by strong winds and heavy rain.

Day 2

Saturday, 4th October 2008

It was now 6.30am. The night was rough and everyone appeared as if they had just come out of some kind of suspended animation.

Large patches of mist formed in the valley below us. Traces of blue skies peering through the clouds looked promising. But by 9.30am that promise was short lived as we were again confined to our tents.

'Marge, the rains are here!' shouted Darren with a tone that was nothing less than sarcastic. We were all getting fed up with the game of 'maybe clearing … no, bloody rain again'. This went on until nightfall when a total white out dumped over us. There was now zero visibility.

Intensive white flashes suddenly appeared from the west, but there was no thunder. Then the entire area around us lit up for some unknown reason. This only lasted for a number of seconds but we could not figure out what caused it. There was no wind, only silence. When the light dimmed out, much like switching the light off in your lounge room, a narrow band of light emerged in the sky, almost above us. Then it simply vanished. It was shortly after this strange event when we began to hear thunder.

A meteorological phenomenon or was it something a little more extraordinary?

Strong winds blew in, followed by more heavy rain. We were on top of a mountain in an approaching thunderstorm. It doesn't get more thrilling than that!

Day 3

Sunday, 5th October 2008

The following morning offered no relief from the treacherous weather conditions. Thunderstorms seemed to circle around us like vicious predators. By this time most of the crew were swimming in their humble tents. It was difficult to stay dry. The conditions were getting very unpleasant.

It was a collective decision that we pack up and leave base camp. We were simply not getting anywhere with our research.

We knew that the hike was going to be extremely dangerous. The whole mountain and valley was covered in thick mist, the rocks were saturated and slippery and the clay ground under layers of soggy debris was unstable. The descent was dramatic; here you just couldn't afford the wrong move. Through jungle like bush we slowly managed to carry our damp packs to safety.

Six hours later we rolled into the Macarthur region. 12-months of planning had been washed away in a matter of a couple of days. The preparation work, on the other hand, enabled us through this misadventure without harm.

Disheartening as something like this can be, it has only inspired us to conduct more expeditions in 2009.

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