The Zen of Crossing Water

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

For my final adventure in Katoomba, I wanted to go on an overnight hike and check out some of the destinations that are further off the beaten track (literally). Of course, it's been raining for the last week straight, and I was running out of time, so finally the day was chosen: Tuesday, since I was leaving early Thursday morning for my bus. This despite the fact that the weather forecast for Tuesday was, also, "showers." Bloody showers. I barely even notice when I'm soaked to the skin out walking to the store anymore, it's rained so much here.

Tuesday morning all the gear was gathered together---food, tent, sleeping bag, stove, everything else necessary for camping out---and jammed into my bag. Hmmm, I thought, hefting it up, that's going to be fun to carry up staircases. I was going with Danny, a French-Canadian who's been staying at the Flying Fox since the day before I arrived. He, too, wanted to check out the overnight hikes in the area. The one we'd chosen was in the Grose Valley, since it supposedly had a good camping area at Acacia Flats along the Grose River, and was also only a one-nighter, as opposed to some of the tracks in the area that take 3 nights.

It was still pouring rain at noon on Tuesday but our spirits (unlike our jackets) weren't dampened. Wendy, one of the owners of the hostel, was mothering us and giving us plastic ponchos, rain jackets, "fail-safe fire" cubes, and various other things we might need to survive in the "raging wilderness." We jumped on the bus at 2:00 (a little later than intended due to the bus schedule to Blackheath, where the track started) during a break in the flow of the waters, but by the time the bus driver dumped us out on a gravel track, the rain was smashing back down again. We hoofed down the road for twenty minutes to the top of the track, which began at Evan's Lookout---partway along the Grand Canyon track that I had walked a few days before with Michaela, Marah and George.

I recognized the steep wooden steps down, but they were totally changed in one way: they had become a waterfall. The relentless rains had pooled at the top of the hill and were making their way down through the path of least resistance, which just so happened to be the trail we wanted to follow.

Danny chuckled. "I have plastic bags over my socks," he said. "Your feet are going to get sooo wet."

I shook my head bravely. "I'll just avoid the water."

For the first bit this was true. I stepped in such a way to keep the water hitting just the soles of my hiking shoes. At the bottom of the first run of stairs we ran into the "official" creek, as opposed to the unofficial one we'd been following. This part, too, I remembered, from the many crossings of the creek we'd made doing the Grand Canyon track: a simple step across a foot-wide stream. Now it was raging enough that we were forced to hop from rock to rock across a five-foot-wide river. And it only got worse from there; each time the trail, still rushing with water, crossed over the river, we'd spent five minutes deciding on the path of least-wettedness.

"Hop on that rock, jump onto that tuft of ferns, crawl along that little ledge of dirt, voila."

"No, what about that little log, that rock, that other rock, voila?"

Keep in mind that it was still raining and our rain jackets were soaked through, our hair was wetter than after a long shower, and the valley was fogged up enough that we often had trouble making out the trail ahead of us. At some point, probably after the river crossing where we only discovered the best way across when I started to fall face-first into the river, took a long, fall-saving leap onto a fern tuft, and discovered we could get across that way, Danny said, rhetorically, "Whose idea was this, anyways?"

"Yours," I muttered.
"Well, it was a stupid one," he grinned.
"Stupid adventures are the best ones."

Finally we came to the point we'd been waiting for: where the track we were taking to the campground split off from the Grand Canyon track. When I'd done the path before we'd laughed at how fun it was to come down and cross on the large boulders through the river at the point where two streams converged and went onwards down into the valley. This was where the turn we wanted was; but unfortunately for us, the trail we wanted to follow was on the other side of this boulder-lined river. And, like all the streams before, it was swollen five times as large. We stared across it, miserable. Forty feet away was our goal, but we couldn't see a way across. The water wasn't that deep--probably waist-high--but it was the pressure of the river we were afraid of. I pressed a large, heavy stick into the water to test the depth and had it ripped from my hand. We managed to get partway across (running into a small river lobster on the way; those crazy Aussies have lobsters in their rivers! we thought it was plastic until it walked towards us, waving its antennae), but sunk in to our knees in the process, soaking our carefully protected shoes.

We ran up and down the riverbank like little dogs, barking for their master on the other side, frantically trying to find a slow enough current to cross. After thirty minutes I found a large, rusted pipe in the river and we experimented with tossing it in and using that as a brace. But no dice; there was always one spot where the flow was too fast, too close to a heavy drop over a short falls. Finally, an hour after we'd come down, we gave each other a look.

"I think that's it," I said. "The water's risen since we got here, and if we don't want to be stuck down here, we'll have to start hiking up."

We turned around, a little sad at our failure but agreeing we'd done all we could. This time, crossing the rivers on the way up, where we'd struggled so hard before to avoid getting a wetting, we simply stomped through, already so wet that it didn't matter. Twenty minutes from the top of the trail I pointed off to the side, where a large red cliff had a cutout shelf halfway down that was protected from the rain by the overhang above.

"Let's camp there," I suggested. We scrambled up the rock steps to the long ledge and stared at it, disheartened once more. "I guess it's a little slanted to camp on."

"No, no," Danny said. "We can put the tent right here." Right here, it turned out, was just large enough to accomodate our tent (albeit on about a 10 degree slope), about two feet from the edge of a ten foot drop. Since we were on solid rock, we were counting on our own weight keeping the tent from shifting down too far.

"Is this dangerous?"
"Just stupid."

And there we stayed, frying hamburgers on Danny's camp stove, vainly attempting to make a fire with a bunch of wet wood and the fire chemicals (kept it smoking, with intense effort, for 20 minutes), and freaking out when strange lights glimmered through the trees after dark. It was a strange camp-out, since we were barely minutes from the start of the track and the car park; but at least, we thought, as we trudged wet and dirty back into Blackheath the next day, we could say we'd done it, and done our best.
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