Just ten steps. That’s all you have to do, and then you can rest. And so I bargained with myself as I rowed up the steep incline to get out of the gorge. By “rowing”, I mean I was slamming that walking pole into the dirt and pulling myself up with my arms because my legs had had enough. They were ready to go home! Hiking was a dumb idea! Send in the helicopter, they cried. Pretend to have a heart attack, and then surely the red and yellow Westpac helicopter could hover above, and some guy, impossibly handsome of course, in a jumpsuit and a crash hat would winch me up? Surely?
Sometimes I’d make it to ten steps, and others, my screaming glute muscles would just say no and stop at five. My lungs were about to explode, and I was sorely regretting the folly of joining an off-track multi-day walk in the wilderness without any preparation. A glance at the topographical map showed our route was a mass of brown with only a millimetre separating the contours.
No path to follow
I’ve walked long distances with a heavy pack before, but compared to this experience, the Overland Track became a cakewalk in the park. It was on track, and although scaling up to Marion’s Peak was equally as steep, perhaps steeper, I knew where to put my feet – on the well-trodden path. This walk was different. And while it was also (literally) a walk in the park – The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park – every step of the way was over rough ground, and the thin bare tracks that were present were made by rock wallabies or feral pigs.
Rock wallabies are quite good at jumping from one boulder to another, defying gravity. They are apparently not at all concerned about heights or bouncing perilously close to the edge of a narrow ridge. For sixty-one-year-old grandmas who have been a bit slack with their fitness regime, it’s an entirely different story.
Sharp rocks and tree branches lay in wait under the long grass, scheming to trip me up and send me tumbling back down the slope, losing valuable metres. Oh boy, why did I do this? Everyone, including the 70-odd-year-old grandma and grandad, were waiting for me. I was that person who was holding everyone up.
Are we there yet?
Nonetheless, I was having fun. In that masochistic “this will be a character-building challenge that you’ll become fond of overtime” sort of way. At least I wasn’t scared. Anymore. Not like I was the day before when we were crossing deep water hanging onto a rope tethered to trees on either bank. Not like when I lost my footing and fell face-first into the gap between two big granite boulders, convinced I was about to break my ankle. Or when I was inching my way across a basalt flow with convenient but narrow little ledges for my feet, feeling like an off-balance turtle ready to fall into the river below. (Only half a metre below – but still below!!) Or when I slipped on the mossy submerged rocks and dunked myself and my pack under fast-flowing water. At least slogging up the steep hill was not scary.
The clothes I had been wearing for the past four days had come to mimic a camo-suit. The grey quick-dry material was splashed with mud, and the seat of my pants was smeared with dirt as a result of my bum-sliding down the steeper bits. Masses of spiky seed pods were using me as a bus to get from one place to another. My feet sloshed around in the saturated boots and soggy socks.
And yet I was having fun.
Dry feet at last!
As we bashed through the bush, my walking companions were telling funny stories about their hiking adventures. We stopped to make a billy of tea frequently. At the end of the day, the campfire crackled as we set up our lightweight tents, and a cup of something warm preceded dinner. I watched enviously as Kate made some fabulous meals sourced from a book called Xtreme Gourmet while I waited for my MRE (meal ready to eat) to rehydrate.
The tent was warm and cosy, and my new sleeping bag and insulated mattress from Armidale Outdoors ensured my comfort. My feet were dry for a few hours at least! Being Easter, the moon was close to full, and the sky was ablaze with stars.
This bit was fun. Like really fun.
This walk was part of Armidale Bushwalking Club’s, Summer-Autumn program. Our walk leader Peter ensured we were safe and in good spirits. My difficulties were mainly caused by my lack of “match” fitness. The club offers walks a few times a month ranging from this very difficult walk through to much less challenging day walks. You can check out their website to see what’s on offer.
We started off from the edge of the plateau at a private property and followed the Gara-Macley River System along to the base of Long Point before climbing back up to the picnic area there. Like nearly anywhere in the New England, bushwalking involves climbing down into a steep gorge, following a river and going up at the other end.
Sitting here in front of my computer writing this as the bruises fade and my stiff muscles loosen, I’m already forgetting my discomfort. Will I do it again? I’m not sure. Not without being fitter and not without some training.