(or, A Further Use for Toilet Trowels) Disaster will sometimes happen upon you in the wilderness. The important thing is to survive it – as less experienced folk frequently don’t! For months I have been ‘stir crazy’ what with slow recovery from my back operation and (seeming to) need a new knee, but I have been itching to try out a ‘new’ piece of country I figured was likely ‘less traveled’ (Robert Frost). I was feeling I should reward myself for finalising the stud sheep sale to Saudi Arabia, so instead of continuing with the drudgery of ‘catching up’ on farm chores we thought we would take a look at this ‘New Eden’.
I had noticed on Google earth a piece of country which was likely overlooked by others as it is well-nigh inaccessible except by Herculean effort. One way in would involve (to begin) a 20 km trek along a closed track (likely completely overgrown – as ‘Management Only’ tracks invariable are, as no management is ever done – public ‘servants’ never work). The other involves a lengthy amount of 4WDing, then a several hours ‘hike’ down a precipitous slope including finding one’s way down some pretty scary cliffs, then a pack raft paddle across what might turn out to be a suicidal section of river. Sound like a sensible recuperation strategy to you?
If we succeeded we would have access to a couple of lovely fertile flats (more than a square kilometre in total) which was bound to be brimming with Bambis which had never seen a man (or woman). It might just also be that ‘hidden valley’ of our very own we all dream about which we can enjoy alone in peace and tranquility. And Della (suicidally) agreed to come along with me. What a wife! (I have known that for nigh on fifty years).
So, off we went. God knows how much weight I had in that pack – as I brought along my rifle and my (double) pack raft, two life jackets – and the two dogs’ gear! Over 18 kg it turns out. Ultralight indeed! In retrospect it would have been more sensible to have traveled light as a ‘reckie’ and brought along more gear at a later time if the reckie proved successful. I can tell you that pack nearly killed me struggling back up that precipitous hill on Day Two. Mind you there were a lot of very big dingoes along the river there, so that although I did not raise the rifle in anger, it might have come in handy had we not ‘camped’ where we did! Unfortunately we never got to use the pack raft so it was completely wasted n this trip. If it had been a $30 one I would have left it there in the fork of a tree.
I guess it is almost inevitable that one never gets away when planned, nor that the journey takes the same duration as you thought it would, nor that the going proves as easy as it might. I expected to be beginning the walk down to the river about 10:30am (instead of 2:00pm). Still I never anticipated that it would need more than four hours to walk that short a distance – but so it proved to be. Darkness was falling yet we were perched on a 45 degree slope only about 30 metres (vertically) above the river. The light was just too poor to see whether we could find a safe way down to a perfect little sandy flat below! You lose depth perception in low light first. We would just have to camp where we were.
Getting ‘bluffed out’ is an inevitability of wilderness travel. Just get used to the idea you will betimes have to spend an uncomfortable night perched on top (or bottom) of a precipice and be prepared for it. Descending a cliff in near dark (or in haste) is just foolishness – the kind of thing which gets the young killed. This is one important difference between being old or young. We were standing on a horizontal deer path less than a foot wide – say about 25cm. We could sit there all night and see if we could get some sleep, but then I did have the handy toilet trowel!
With (quite) a bit of effort that 25 cm game trail could be (and was) widened to 2′ (60 cm) wide and long enough (say 12 feet – or 3.6 metres) so that we could both stretch out. Della was (rightly) worried about rolling out in the night – though we never seem to fall out of bed. I placed some dead tree branches and excavated rocks along the edges where this seemed likely. It was not forecast to rain, so that we would only have the dew to contend with (which might dampen our sleeping bags but would not much effect their insulative ability), but if it did, we could spread the tent and tent floor over ourselves to prevent a total drenching. If you do this when it s not raining you will just get a lot of condensation from the interaction of your body’s warmth and the dewpoint that will over time saturate your bag. The reason why swags are cursed cold things really – and were never used by ‘swagmen’.
The most major problem was that (by now) we had less than 1 litre of water (amongst the four of us!) If we did not eat any of our dehydrated food we would be ‘fine’. Digestion particularly of carbohydrates and protein needs a lot of water. If you are short on water, best not to eat. Strangely some of us had brought along two apples and two bananas, and the dogs had two small (wet) 100 gram cans of dog food. We saved one of the bananas for breakfast. We were pretty cautious of that litre of water as we did not know whether there was a way down or whether we would have to make it last on the four hour walk back to the car the next day, so we still had over half a litre come morning. We also had some chewing gum which is a great source of ‘dehydrated water’ – as I have mentioned many times.
It was not the most comfortable of nights we have spent; neither was it the most uncomfortable! We were warm and dry and our new (winter) mats were very comfy actually even in such an unlikely place. We both got quite a number of hours of sleep by sunrise and were significant;y refreshed. In the morning I thought I should try to ‘slip’ down the cliff with just a daypack containing (mostly) empty Platypus water bottles. Where we were even the deer had not (quite) managed to get up and down, though they had been trying. We had also been trying without success to spot a deer path that went down the cliffs for the last hour or so of daylight. They will make it into a deer ‘highway’ now.
I was very cautious descending that precipice, breaking new ground through thick vegetation, zig-zagging as I went, never descending anything I would not (easily) be able to ascend. I guess I took about an hour to descend that thirty yards. By the time I had been down it and up again I had a path I could get Della safely down (and up). I also had three litres of water- more than enough for a sumptuous breakfast for all! We just about made ourselves drunk on it! In any case that was about the best cup of morning coffee I have ever had.
After dining we both went down for a longer (but not a long) look. It is a very beautiful part of the world – as the photos show, and I will be back! By the time we were back at our packs (on the deer path) though it was already 12:00 mid-day and so (past) time we needed to be heading back (as we had a dinner engagement we had to meet – we were late), and so could not stay a third day (unfortunately). It took us another (hellish) four hours to crawl our way back to the car, followed by another four hours driving home – so all in all a tiring day. We were both ready for a good night’s sleep!
At least I now know that I have one way down to the river- perhaps the only (safe) route for many miles (though on a future expedition I will try for another – on the way out). There is a ‘ridge’ downriver which is less steep (and there is a flat on ‘our side’ at the base of it should suit camping), but all along the river there are vertical precipices (and the satellite pictures did not show this) . Once down the river is easy and safe to cross via pack raft (there is a very long pool – more than a kilometre) between major drops. There are numerous ‘beaches’ on both sides, and this will make for a safe crossing even when the water height is much greater. The relevant gauge height this time (I am not going to tell you where we were) was .65-.7 metres which is quite low for this river, though it is ‘canoeable from about .5 to 2 metres apparently – if you are suicidal). I only add that here as a mnemonic for my own records.
I have never been to a spot where the reek of deer is so strong. Everywhere it was like a fresh wallow smell. Or where there is so much deer sign – and the deer are almost totally undisturbed except by the occasional pack rafter perhaps. Two very large stags spent quite a portion of the night fighting with each other just below us. They do make noises. They were watched by at least two of the largest dingoes (judging by their prints) I have ever seen. I am glad they did not know of a path up the cliffs to us – though they undoubtedly smelled us and knew we were there.
‘Next’ time I will tie a canoe drum to my pack on the way in containing a tent, cook-set, cheap packraft /paddle and other things which I will not have to carry out again. After a couple of trips I will have reduced my carry-in pack weight (and the carry out weight), by 5-8 kg, and I will have established a perfect camp site on ‘this’ side of the river, so that I need never be trapped by floodwaters that I was unaware of overnight. I should also find a lighter gun! I will also (hopefully) also have a better route. There is so much rock there I might even find a dry rock cave to stow the drum in (the one in the photo would flood) so that they will never be harmed by wildfire, else I can perhaps place them on a rock shelf and build a dry rock wall around them. They could be pitoned to a cleft in the rock so that they could not be rolled away by wombats, etc.
Setting out. The dogs are keen.
Setting out – the view down.
The first bluff. As a warning, there was only one way down here too. a narrow one to the left of this obelisk. I heaped a few stones on top of it as a cairn/marker after Della took the photo.
A yellow breasted robin has fallen victim to a wild cat. in Western Australia they have a bait for these terrible pests – the cats I mean.
First view of the river about two-thirds of the way down. Still looks a long way.
But I am optimistic.
However, we became ‘bluffed out’ and had to sleep like this on an (enlarged) deer pad.
Spot’s compulsory photo bomb.
Then he wants to sleep in my bag.
I climbed down to the river behind this dead black wattle. Looks pretty forbidding, doesn’t it?
But there is a great camp site right here.
And what a front door! View opposite.
And downstream – you can just start to see the beginning of the large flat opposite.
After breakfast Della is all packed up and ready to come take a look too. A pretty narrow sleeping ledge would you say?
Panoramic view at the bottom of the cliff.
The flat downriver will be explored on a future trip.
So many forbidding cliffs. Glad I didn’t have to climb down this one (opposite).
Just upstream there was a cave.
Which Honey was keen to explore. You could camp here (at low water) and leave the tent at home.
Not yet sick of climbing up and down. I am trying to get a better view upriver.
And this is the view upriver.
As is this.
It’s quite a nice rapid isn’t it. At my age (and with the level of remoteness) though I think I would be portaging it. It would be difficult to get a helicopter into a narrow gorge like this.
The sides are quite precipitous. I would not have been able to get down this, though there is another fine camp here.
Just a couple more glimpses upstream,
And then we are heading home. I love the way the light changes. About those knees: And about that ‘seeming to need a new knee’… pain is frequently a ‘great deceiver’ (not that it has quite the good looks of the ultimate artificer). Though you know in your heart of hearts that your pain has no useful purpose (in that nothing you are doing is causing it or can do will alleviate it) nonetheless you keep pandering to it like a pampered child as if if you did not, you would break. Certainly that is how backs and knees are.
Della has a new doctor whom she consulted recently about her own troublesome knee. Like my own orthopedic surgeon (good to find an honest one!) who advised me to wait on further developments in knees as I would not be happy with anything he could do right now, Della’s new doctor (an ex-student actually – like Androcles’ lion good turns are frequently returned) pretty much said the same thing to her.
Hopefully something better than a new knee will be along in a little while. This may be eg a perfection of stem cell treatments (which are currently fraudulent) or maybe something like this artificial cartilage which just stays in place once implanted in a much less invasive operation than a knee replacement. You don’t need a new suspension. You just need new shock absorbers. Worth a trip to Europe or Israel perhaps to find out?
Anyway Della’s doc advised that the only thing which seems to ‘help’ is persisting with squats until you can do 200 in a row. This is pretty ouchy stuff to begin with, but for a start try this: you can do about 150 ‘half’ squats while you clean your teeth at each end of the day. Then sometime during the day (morning is best) just grin and bear it and do 200 full proper squats. You can work your way up (numerically) over a few days. It will not be fun. However your knee will not break, though you may think it will. Surprisingly after a couple of days of this it will start to feel much better, and you might consider a major hiking enterprise – as we did (above). I am now hoping for the Dusky Track again early next year – and perhaps taking Della on the Everest Base Camp Trek in November – or perhaps a return visit to Bartle Frere in August. We shall see. Plans, plans…