The Wolgan River slowly winds its way deep into the Wollemi National Park, taking cold water from surrounding canyons and creeks. The river is calm. The water moves quietly, gently meandering around rocks and trees fallen across the flow. The sandy riverbed sparkles. Through the trees I see spectacular sandstone cliffs outlining the general direction of the river. Bellbirds, with their distinctive call make their presence known but elude any capture by my eye. The air is clean and no particular smell seems to grab my attention.
The sun has peaked high in the sky overhead and I have only just begun navigating my way down the river. I stop to apply a layer of sunscreen and to snack on a muesli bar. My good friend Blair has left me to commence my solo trip down the Colo River; he is well on his way back to the Newnes Camping ground after volunteering to carry one of my packs for the initial ten kilometres along the trail. With Blair’s help I will save about a full day of navigating by foot to where I could begin my trip-proper down the river. The idea of being alone is now becoming a reality and I raise questions about my feelings of solitude. My only contact with the outside world is an EPIRB (Emergency Positional Locating Radio Beacon), which acts primarily as my security blanket, along with reassuring my wife at home that there’s a greater chance of being found alive if things were to go horribly wrong.
I am growing fond of the fact there are no other humans around with the exception of few canyon enthusiasts. By nightfall they will be gone and I will have this place to myself. I want to be alone. I want to discover for myself, not only this place, but what it feels like to be without any human contact for several days on end.
I continue downriver passing through a combination of small rapids forming between short sandy stretches. My kayak, when in the water and laden with supplies, follows quietly behind as I tug on its tow-rope. But when the river closes in for a run of rapids, I am left with little choice but to drag the kayak through, because the flow of water falls between the gaps of the boulders making it too narrow for easy passage. Being an inflatable vessel, it accomplishes the task well. But progress slow and tedious, taking me away from the tranquillity of the surroundings, to concentrate on learning my way through the rocks. I was warned that the Wolgan River was a rock strewn river during normal flows, but without actually seeing a photo, I imagined a river more forgiving, more romantic – a river that would guide me through to the Colo River with only occasional resistance or challenge. A softening sun and a drop in temperature are hints of the day ending, which give me reason to find a suitable camp for the night. And a conglomeration of boulders across the river is encouragement enough in my tired state to call it a day. I decide to backtrack to a small sandbank some fifty metres back upstream and set up camp.
On Day One, I quickly establish a routine for camp set-up which I will repeat for the rest of my journey: I set up my fly-tarp, tethering it by thin ropes to surrounding trees. I collect firewood and fossick about for anything else of interest. Back at camp, I change into some dry clothes, unpack my sleeping bag and roll out my ground mat. Then I look at the map and try to pinpoint my location. Next comes cooking dinner, relaxing, and writing down the events of the day onto a printout of my camera manual, which would ultimately become my journal for the trip. Then it’s time to drift off to sleep while staring at the stars.
I wonder what dreams I might have in this place tonight. Will it be of wild dogs attacking me in the night? I found during internet searches while planning my trip that feral dogs apparently exist in the area. (My hysteria is also supported by a trail of footprints I saw on a sandbank back upriver.) Or will I dream of being lost in the wild with no food, having to survive off the land by eating the large water spiders I have seen lining the water’s edge? I hope not. Those kinds of dreams don’t belong here.