The water is reaching up to my waist as I am balancing on the slippery algae-covered rocks in an attempt to keep my backpack dry. This is the third time I am defying the strong current of the Murchison river which flows through the 150 meter deep Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park, roughly 500 kilometers north of Perth.
There are several good day walks in Kalbarri but we decide that we would like something a bit more challenging. As with so many good things in life, Google provides us with inspiration; an enthusiastic hiker describes an interesting, somewhat less official, route on his weblog. This alternative hike leads from the ‘Ross Graham Lookout’ via ‘Z-bend’ to ‘Natures Window’. Over a distance of 40 kilometers you “simply follow the river” according to the adventurous blogger. The whole trail will take approximately 4 days to complete but we figure this could be done in 2 days. Just follow the river, how hard can it be? I can already let you know that it was not as easy as we expected….
By the time we arrive in the park the sun has set and it appears the ranger has already gone off to bed. So we decide to do the same and set up camp in the bushes next to the parking lot at the Ross Graham Lookout where the route starts. The next morning we get up just before dawn and enjoy a quick oatmeal breakfast while we watch the sun rise over the canyon. Just to be on the safe side we leave a note under the windscreen in case the ranger finds the car and wonders what has happened. Then we hoist our packs on our backs and descent the steep and winding path that leads to the bottom of the gorge. Within half an hour we reach the water’s edge where the path fades and we have to proceed by scrambling over the loose rocks and boulders that are scattered along the riverbank. The plan is to cover the first 20 k’s to Z-bend today, which should be do-able.
The gorge is absolutely stunning; rugged red sandstone cliffs tower high above the Murchison river, which rises at the Robinson Ranges in the north-east and winds its way down over a length of 820 kilometers before disgorging itself into the Indian ocean at Kalbarri. The sleek white-barked gumtrees that line the surrounding sandy creek bed make a remarkable contrast with the deep blue sky and iron red rock of the cliff wall. In many places the cliffs are so sheer that we have to cross the river in order to continue downstream. Hence I find myself once again balancing waist deep in the fast flowing water…
It is almost 10 a.m. and so far our progress has not been as much as we had hoped for. Having to look for a suitable spot to cross the river each time has proven to be very time consuming, and we estimate that we have covered a mere 5 kilometers in the past three hours. Slowly we start to realize that attempting to walk this trail in two days might have been a bit too ambitious. As I am plowing through the thick mud I keep my eyes fixed on the ground to avoid any obstacles that might send me flying face down in the dirt (again). Fresh footprints in the clay reveal that other bipeds have preceded us and seconds later we spot the herd of emus that left these tracks. Startled by this sudden human confrontation the big birds flee into the bushes. Watching the emu’s agile movements as they run over the rocks, I can’t help but think how slow and clumsy we humans must look.
The day is almost gone and in the twilight we try to find a suitable spot to spend the night. The rocky bottom doesn’t make for a very comfortable bed, but luckily we spot a cave a bit higher up in the rock wall. Perfect! The cave appears to be big enough for all of us to squeeze in. So now we can shift our attention to more important matters: food 🙂 On the wood fire we cook our rice with tomato sauce, and of course no meal is complete without desert: a well-earned piece of dark chocolate! I am exhausted and as I am staring in the fire while listening to some Ben Howard tunes I quickly doze off.
The next morning we wake up early to an ominous rumbling sound. Shit, this better not be what I think it is. Unfortunately my weather predicting skills are infallible and within minutes the rain has reached our shelter.
For now are high and dry up in our cave but chances are that if we wait too long the water level in the river will rise a lot and we won’t be able to cross the river. We decide to wait for a bit and play a game of “speed Trivial Pursuit”. This is a variation of the classic game that we have invented so that we wouldn’t need the whole board. Rules are very simple; when you think you know the answer you yell out as fast and as loud as you can, whoever gets it first scores a point.
After about an hour it seems we are lucky, the rain has subsided to a light drizzle and the sun is trying hard to break through the clouds. So we take a chance and venture out of our cave to explore the river below. Hopefully the water level has not changed that much and we’ll be able to reach Z-bend today. Only, how do we know when we have reached this bend in the river? If we are not careful and miss this section it is quite a long walk till the sea. According to our map there should be a zigzag in the stream and just before that the river flows east for the first time. Just a matter of watching the sun we recon. Besides we have Taner, a quite experienced hiker, with us.
It appears our luck hasn’t run out yet; although the water level is higher than it was yesterday it seems that we can still cross, also for most of the route we are able to stay on the same side of the river which saves us a lot of time. It is late afternoon and we start wondering how far we still have to go, according to our sun theory we should be nearly there. Hopefully we didn’t miss the lookout. Then we hear voices that are being reflected of the cliff walls and around the corner we encounter a couple of pasty white English tourists paddling in the water hole. This must mean the parking lot is near J Indeed, moments later we are standing at the lookout staring down as the sun is setting over the gorge where we spend the last few days. The timing is perfect as the day tourists are just packing up and it is easy to get a ride back to the spot where we left the car.