By Xavier Anderson
I woke to the ground crunching outside my tent. I unzipped the fly to see Jason walking across the frost covered grass. He had woken up early to go back to the source, where he had forgotten his camera tripod yesterday.
Unfortunately for him, the frost wasn’t just limited to the grass. It had also frozen the sweat in our boots, meaning that he had to stamp on them –in the numbing cold at 5:00am– to be able to get them on. Despite this, when Jason returned, he had a smile on his face. I was suspicious.
It turns out that he wanted to get one up on me. Yesterday, after visiting the source, we had returned to the trail and followed it down to Cowombat Flat. That morning, instead of returning to the trail, Jason had followed the river the two kilometres to camp. He was quite proud of himself. I, on the other hand, enjoyed my sleep in.
Instead of following the trail today, we were going to follow the river for nine kilometres to Limestone Creek, where we would hopefully be able to inflate our packrafts. Jason said that the two kilometres he walked that morning was ‘easy’. “Maybe this wouldn’t be that bad,” I thought to myself as we walked down the valley: the mountains from either side folding in on us.
We followed a brumby track deeper into the valley. It was fairly open, but soon the bush grew thicker and all signs of a track were lost. Still we went on – trying to get to the river.
The bush pulled at us as we moved past. It was like walking through a tangled net. When I would turn to get a leg free, my pack would get caught on a branch above. At last, we found the fledgling Murray River -a fast flowing creek quickly cutting through a tangle of boulders and shrubs.
We tried every way to move faster. Walking in the river, which was like drunk ice skating; moving to higher ground, which had shonky footing and a high risk of being clogged out; walking gently; and even crashing through. None of them worked.
When we stopped for lunch, I checked the GPS to see our progress. After five hours of sweaty scrub bashing, we had made it two kilometres from camp. It was my fault – I wasn’t cut out for this kind of bush walking. As the day wore on, I began to drag further behind, needing longer breaks between pushes. So, we decided to bail on the valley and stop walking along the river.
The GPS showed a trail that went all the way to the Poplars Campground—our next camp. It looked about 15km around, which was more than the 5km the GPS said we had by following the valley and the river, but it was all on a trail. By that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of that valley.
Although we had the GPS, there was no way of knowing how far exactly the trail around was – 15 km was our best guess. The GPS device only gave us ‘as-the-crow-flies’ measurements and the NSW topo maps I ordered conveniently left out anything in Victoria. With the Murray as the border between NSW and Vic, that was over half the map.
Once we got onto the trail I began to feel much better, though. Nothing could be harder than what we had already been through.