Picture of the Day 23: skipping the old road, Rock Flat
Another resplendent summer’s day, another corner of our world to be explored. Although we originally planned to hike Blowering Cliffs and Jounama Creek today, which are both in a conservation area, plans change. They especially change when puppy dog eyes watch you pack your bags. 🙂 So instead of risking Sax being terrorised by emus and kangaroos, Ryan and I took an early lunch and drove to Goobagandra.
Goobagandra, an area of many cattle farms and not much else, is defined by the river. The narrow, broken road runs by the river, occasionally chasing a hillside, but more often cruising just metres from the water. The floods of the past two years have left Goobagandra drastically altered from its semi-wild forested state; now the river runs through a barren gorge, the gums and shrubs once thick on the bank stripped away, leaving bare boulders and great tangled walls of fallen trees. The road was severely damaged between the trout farm (currently closed for repairs – the floods obliterated the holding ponds as well as the back part of the owner’s house) and Rock Flat. While it remained impassable for months while who would pay for repairs passed between council, forestry and private owners, I was glad to see today that the banks have been buffered, and the road rebuilt.
Not only that, but at the Thomas Boyd Track Head, our first destination, there were at least 30 cars, more than I’ve ever seen there. Caravans too despite the rough and narrow road, and the sign saying “No caravans!”. Well, anyway, the atmosphere among the campers was great. There were heaps of people swimming, sunbaking, enjoying themselves. The swinging bridge at the track head had been repaired, but the Hume and Hovell walking track, which passes through there, was closed in that particular section. We could have followed the path anyway, but as it was quite overgrown, we were happy to find somewhere else for our Sunday canyoning.
Three or four kilometres upstream via an even rougher and narrower road, is Rock Flat. Or at least, what used to be Rock Flat.
As you can see, the river is now split almost into three sections. The watercourses closer to the camera used to be a solid bank, opening onto the river via a gentle, sandy slope, only banked in a few places. Now the road around Rock Flat is in pieces, and the site is closed for camping.
Rock Flat is certainly towards the wild end of Goobagandra. What is now an open canyon was once dense, tangled bushland. For anyone wishing to explore upriver, the flood damage provided the perfect opportunity. And so we went!
The water was warm and generally not more than waist height. The current was strong in places, but there were plenty of places to cross. We left the small parking lot and the few grey nomads fishing at Rock Flat, and headed up through the water.
Now, with a dog, this can be tricky. Particularly if the dog is not overly fond of swimming. Sax compensates for this with his vice: his fondness for sticks. Yesterday Sax went surfing in the name of a short length of wood; today he trekked through a river for three hours. I have used this method with Sax before, but today we perfected it. Here’s how it works:
1) Pick a stick. Provided the dog can hold it comfortably, and it has a bit of extra length, it’s fine.
2) Throw the stick across shallow water.
3) Dog will follow.
Alternately, for deeper water, we developed a new technique, as follows:
1) Take stick.
2) Hold stick. Let dog take other end.
3) Cross water.
4) Dog will follow.
When the water was too deep or too fast for Sax to safely cross even with the stick between he and I as a lifeline, I carried him across. Most of the time however, he was happy to swim. There’s nothing quite like seeing your dog wag his tail underwater as he plunges after a stick, or kicking up white water as he crosses a stream. Only once did Ryan throw the stick into deep water while we taking a rest; Sax of course plunged in and was swept downstream by a current we hadn’t realised was so strong. I jumped straight in after him and helped him swim to the bank. Ryan felt very silly. Sax forgave him. Of course; we rescued the stick!
That bloody stick! We still have it. At one point, perhaps tiring of his servitude under Lord Stick, Sax attempted to bury it in the sand. But Lord Stick begged Sax’s forgiveness and so the ridiculousness continued. I hope I don’t take Sax too far or push him too hard; but the agreement between Sax and I is to always be together. Even though that isn’t possible, we always do our best. And that’s why I’m prepared to move a small dog through an obstacle course, and he’s prepared to let me.
Two hours upriver, and we were running out of energy. Ryan and I had both taken dips in the river – he fell over and I jumped in after Sax. Ryan banged his knee on a rock yesterday, and was very much feeling that. Sax was tired. I wanted to go further upriver, but as the canyon drew closer together, the water grew deeper. There wasn’t much for it but to mark our initials on a rock, and return downstream.
I didn’t tell him about the spider waiting around the corner…
As anticipated, the return downstream was much, much quicker. We knew our path, and instead of fighting the current, we could go easily with it. We saw a few good sights on top of the gorgeous, shining river; a tree with blood-coloured sap, a water dragon, and granite poked with holes like Swiss cheese.
Within the hour, we were making good on Rock Flat. Sax was happy to carry his stick back most of the way.
And finally back to the car! After three hours of hiking across broken stone and water, and navigating Sax through the same, we’re absolutely exhausted. Sax has gone to bed early, too tired to even play fetch. Canyoning provides not only a physical challenge, but also mental, as you are constantly evaluating which path to take, the safest way, the quickest way, the fun way; having a dog to consider only adds to the puzzle. I might cross two foot deep water without a second thought, but for Sax, that’s a swim, and it might be a swim with a powerful current. However, challenges are all about forging trust, and what could be better between best friends?
Canyoning with your dog: try it!