As my feet shot out from beneath me yet again, I rolled a few metres downhill into the rotting trunk of an enormous gum tree hidden in the undergrowth. I lay motionless with my 30kg backpack for a moment, smothered by a duvet of stinging nettles that i’d happened to invade, with the growling sound of thunder and the impending storm in the distance. It was during this split second, just before the histamine from these Satanic plants entered my bloodstream, that I thought to myself, “what the F#$K are we doing?”.
It was debatable whether the mountain we were descending was a mountain, or actually a cliff. Thick, head-high ferns made it impossible to see what kind of footing we’d get from each step, making each one a complete gamble. The biblical rains of the previous week had also made the ground feel like a giant Goonie-style slip’n’slide.
There was no question; we were in the running for a bush-bashing badge.
The plan for our fishing trip was a dreamy one – stroll to a remote pool hidden along the Kowmung River in the Kanangra Boyd National Park, a place so teeming with wild trout we’d just have to tie lines around our toes and glug beer in the sunshine whilst deciding how we were going to cook our catch. The cover photo for the article is the kind of image I had in mind actually. This photo was not taken during this weekend.
In fact, we didn’t even see a fish. As I crawled out of the nettle bush in screaming pain, it become apparent that the trip was more about survival than the pleasures of eating chargrilled fish around a campfire.
We had an adventure on our hands.
Despite the contour lines of our map bearing a striking resemblance to a bar code, we’d failed to visualise how steep and dense this would be as it took us from 1,100m to 550m over 1.5km (as the crow flies). As our adventure troop (consisting of Nathan, Tom, Ross, Raul and myself) skipped down the fire-trail prior to the descent, we were confident that we’d be casting lines to the sounds of a crackling fire within the hour. Six hours later our battered and bruised bodies were still weaving down the mountainside with no end in sight!
Ever so slowly, the rumbling sound of the churning river grew and grew. We eventually caught a glimpse of the great white madness, and she was raging. Having experienced the strongest storms in more than a decade, the mountains were channeling huge volumes of water along the course of the Kowmung. What we saw was about as inviting as the River Ganges in the wet season.
The satisfaction of finally reaching the bottom was over-shadowed by the realisation that we had to return the same way we’d come the following day. It was then that the heavens opened and the rain started.
Erecting my trusty Tentsile Tree Tent on the side of a steep gorge was a challenge, and as the rain trickled down my face and the throbbing pain from my twisted knee started to set in, I began to feel a little miserable. I was very aware that the Epirb (aka the shit-storm ejection seat) was only a click away. We assembled under Nathan’s perfectly constructed tarp once night had set in, united in our sogginess and sheer dread for the following day. We cut up the leg of lamb (which we’d planned to spit-roast) and together with whiskey, chocolate and laughter started to feel good about life again.
I awoke at 7am the following day to sound of heavy rain on canvas. Worse still my knee continued it’s throbbing. Raul’s chirpy grin had morphed into a face of utter disgust, and it summed up the general mood in camp. I plodded down to the river edge to cast my line but realised that the rod had broken during the descent, which turned my facial expression into one similar to Raul’s.
After a quick breakie we had no time to waste so packed up in record time and were back on the trail for the return leg soon after.
As we started the ascent it seemed like we may have to send the carrier pigeons to our employers and pre-warn them of our Monday absence, but we surprisingly found a rhythm and began to make sturdy progress as we retraced our winding steps back up the gully. My tender knee made every step excruciatingly painful, so Ross took one for the team and swapped his lighter backpack with mine. Hero of the weekend award well and truly earned.
Aside from heavy man-panting that rivalled an x-rated movie, the sound of skipping rock wallabies rustling the ferns was the only other noise to break the mountain silence.
Upon reaching the summit a back-moistening 5 hours later, the elation felt is hard to verbalise. With light fading though we had to get moving, so after man-hugs and a well deserved salami sandwich, we plodded back down the fire-trail and towards our vehicles.
We’d made it.
It seems an adventure really becomes an adventure when you reach that inner quandary; that point in the journey that forces an ultimatum upon you – is this a good idea or a bad idea? Do we turn around to guaranteed safety, or do we progress carefully and see where the adventure takes us? This trip turned into something so much more than just a fishing trip, and I can’t believe i’m saying this now, but I’m glad it did.