The further I travelled inland towards central Tasmania, the less guidance and direction was available. This meant that I needed to scrutinise every piece of available information more intensely because the challenges of the terrain increased and therefore the dangers of walking alone multiplied. My friends and relatives feared the worst and hoped for the best and we have all been thankful that my walks and returns home have been safe. Apart from the occasional bruise and scratch or two, no physical harm has befallen me.
During my first walks along the Derwent River, I gradually increased the volume of research I conducted in advance, so that I could make the most of each opportunity. As the project lengthened, I spent more time visualising the walks so that I could be sure my pack contained the appropriate provisions. In addition, I wanted to be sure that I could achieve my goal.
In particular, I invested a huge amount of time imagining a couple of the walks. These were walks about which I knew very little and which I anticipated would be the trickiest. One was the walk along the river starting near the junction of the Lyell Highway and Butlers Gorge Road close to Tarraleah, and extending to the bridge over the river at Wayatinah.
Using knowledge from my walk along Tarraleah Canal No 1 and from walking beside the Derwent River near the Wayatinah bridge, I had some understanding of the challenges. My intention was always to start at the Tarraleah end and work my way downstream along the River bed.
The first obstacle was the dense bush between the Canal and the river bed down an exceptionally steep incline. From what I could see at the top, the rainforest was a tightly packed mangle of massive tree ferns with their fronds at face level and above, amidst all manner of eucalypts, myrtles, celery-top-pines, sassafras trees and laurels. If I was very unlucky intermingled with these wonderful but tightly packed specimens, I suspected the tree known as Horizontal (Anodopetalum biglandulous), the anathema to bushwalkers, could be a major impediment.
Photos near my imagined starting point show the beautiful but almost impenetrable bush facing the start of my walk along this section.
I believed I had two options; one was to walk along the plush mossy flat Canal verge until I could spot a ‘gap’ and then plunge into the thicket. The second option was to walk on the track beside the Canal until I reached the first Hydro Tasmania crossing located about a kilometre westwards along the track, cross over, and hope there was some sort of clearing through the bush down to the bottom of the hill. If not, then I would have to make my own way until I reached the Derwent River bed. The first crossing, in the photo below, shows no sign of tracks extending further.
From that crossing down to the river, I anticipated the distance would be approximately one and a quarter kilometres on a slope that dropped around 210 metres. Unless I was fortunate to find a clearing that Hydro Tasmania had made, something like the following example spotted closer to Clark Dam, I expected to be in for a hard time.
I knew this was the side of the river that received minimal direct daily sunlight compared to the bush on the other side. I imagined a wet slippery bush environment, that would be dark amidst the undergrowth ( I am short and I realised much of the vegetation would be above me) with interspersed and unpredictable rocky outcrops that would require flexibility and care. If the day was overcast, my ability to see clearly through the dense bush might be limited, so the danger of slipping over a cliff had to be taken into account.
While Michelle’s photo below taken during a flight along the Derwent River shows the vegetation between the Canal and the River bed, the location is further along towards Clark Dam. Nevertheless it does show the density of the bush which needed to be penetrated and walked through.
My aerial photo below gives a stronger sense of the gradient from the Canal to the river bed in some sections.
The photo below, which I took during my Canal walk, looks back and clearly shows the steep gradient.
I imagined slipping and sliding part way, with backpack occasionally getting ‘hooked’ to slow me down. Despite the short distance but considering the possible obstructions and the need to skirt around these, I mentally allowed at least an hour for the descent.
On the River bed I hoped for a low water level in order to be able to rock hop for much of the 14-15 kilometres down to the Wayatinah bridge. If the water level was low, at best the river bed might look like the following photos as it did near the confluence of the Derwent with the Florentine Rivers.
Alternatively it might have limited water something like the following photos of the Derwent near Wayatinah.
Of course, hoping for minimal water was likely to be a pipe dream and I realised it would not be realistic to expect this situation for the entire length of the walk. I knew from aerial shots, old maps and out of date Google Earth that large pools of water would present challenges and that clambering up any side of the River to avoid these would be part of the walk.
From maps I could see approximately eleven small creeks and the Counsel River feed into the Derwent. I fervently hoped little rain had fallen in this area in the preceding weeks, that these creeks were low on water, and therefore that the spill into the Derwent River would be minimal. If much water ran down these creeks then the likelihood of more and larger water holes along the Derwent increased. If this was the case then I could imagine fighting my way through vegetation overhangs in order to clamber onto the bank and then negotiate the forest to bypass the water obstruction. Anticipation of such exhausting activities did not thrill me.
Once on the River bed, rocks that roll were at the top of my list of fears; such as – would I turn an ankle, break a leg, smash my head into another rock, or get weighted down in a deeper pool with the pack on my back. I could not see how developing any sort of walking rhythm would be possible. My usual opportunities to walk and look around me would be unlikely. I foresaw the absolute necessity to watch the ground/rocks/water and think about and make decisions where to put each footstep would become mentally exhausting over such a distance. I doubted if it was possible to walk this stretch of the River and, even if it was, I thought the possibility of covering the length in a day even a long day, would be unlikely. I allowed two days for this leg of the walk.
I always take my tablet for photos and carry this with me to point and click as a record. Typically on a one-day walk I might take 300-400 photos and then pick a selection for the blog posts. But for this walk I realised that carrying the tablet would not be wise. I could see that having two free hands to clamber over rocks and debris and vegetation would be smart, and I also needed to allow for the unexpected underfoot changes and the need to grab or balance using my hands. Clearly stopping to retrieve my tablet for photo ops would slow me down. Therefore, I knew that I would not be taking many photos so that the record of this walk would be less than normal. But my safety had to be paramount.
From aerial reconnaissance and nearby on-the-ground checks and maps, I found it difficult to visualise where I would set up the tent overnight. Both hill sides were steep but maps did indicate that near some major bends in the river there was sections beside the water bed that might be a little flatter than elsewhere. On one bend, some larger islands were mapped mid-stream. I wondered whether I might be lucky to find them water free and accessible and not totally tight with vegetation. Perhaps there I might find a sleeping spot.
Overall I visualised a most unusual journey. One where the only view would be of steep forested hillsides rising above a comparatively tiny water bed, and never a panoramic vista of distant hills or mountains. Rather I could expect to see only the next bend in the river. While that would provide me with curiosity about what might be around the corner, in advance, already I imagined seeing more of the same. So this leg of the journey along the Derwent River was to be about physical endurance; surviving without becoming despondent about the relentlessness of watching my feet placement. This was the ultimate chance for me to understand the limits of my capacity and capabilities. I looked forward to snatching and enjoying occasional moments when native birds flitted about, the sun sparkled on wet vegetation, and variations of mosses and lichens on rocks appeared in all their glories.
I envisaged this experience would introduce me to a continuous valley that is currently protected, untouched, unvisited, and not normally seen at close quarters. Simply wonderful, however great the challenge to see it.