There are certain things that to quell any superstitions, you just don’t say. These “unmentionables”, are phrases that can turn an average day into a torrential downpour of unfortunate events. Examples would include any of the following; “what could go wrong”, “we won’t need the spare”, “I hope this bridge holds”, “if the insert item here were to fail… how screwed would we be?”, and the ever famous “hold my beer and watch this”. Recently however, a new phrase has been added to this dastardly list, seven seemingly innocent words that inexplicably cause your trip to have more problems than a Disco II… “We’ll make it to camp by noon.”
Our team has come to avoid these words due to a now almost infamous story, in which our fearless leader Scott Brady headed a group run to a camp where they arrived eleven hours later than anticipated. However, not being privy to the anguish they had experienced, I felt confident on a recent weekend run that making camp accompanied by lunch on the river by noon would be a laughably simple task. I soon found the trail gods had plans of their own.
Important Notice: All locations have been removed from this article as we have been informed that this road and crossing are now closed. Please always refrain from driving on closed roads and always be aware of your environment. Tread lightly!
We started early for our river oasis as Troy, our Australian intern, had not yet been introduced to the area’s hot springs and cliff jumping spots it is renowned for. It was necessary for us to leave plenty of daylight to maximize time for lounging around in the sun and prove that there are in fact bodies of water without creatures intending to kill you in them,(A strange concept for an Aussie). Fully prepped with food, water, and recovery gear, we hit the road around 8:30 and were off the pavement by 9:00. The route to the hot springs, though certainly a back road, was labeled on the map with both a name and FR designation number, meaning it should be a simple drive without technical terrain.
We zipped along in the Range Rover enjoying all the commodities it had to offer; the air conditioning, the air suspension, and admittedly our own air of elegance, as we listened to Sinatra whilst we continued down the winding path. While quite pretentious, this was all necessary and expected since I was driving a Range Rover. The day was picturesque, and at the rate we were going, there was a strong possibility of an earlier arrival! As we rounded the next bend however, we were promptly greeted by rocks, which was an unwelcome surprise.
Though the rocks weren’t colossal by any means, they were certainly not the smooth dirt road drive I had been hoping for. Dropping the truck into low range, we proceeded cautiously over the bumps, cracks, and jagged points now covering the entirety of the path. I comforted myself by repeating a mantra of “this rough bit will be over soon”, while I was simultaneously lulled into a false sense of security with the knowledge that we were halfway to camp and it was only 10 A.M. Surely things would begin to look up at any moment.
As you have most likely ascertained from the title, things did not begin to look up. The road continued to grow more treacherous, and our progress slowed to a crawl. It was sometime around the point our temporary rough patch had gone from slightly frustrating to borderline obnoxious we saw the words every overlander hates, “Road Closed… Dead End.” Fortunately, the road closure wasn’t for another 9 miles, so our hopes of mindlessly floating on the river were not yet dashed. How long could 9 miles take? No more than two hours, or so I thought.
Through sheer determination we continued on and were soon feeling quite smug as the narrow stretch of road opened up to one of the most magnificent outlooks I have ever driven. Laced with luscious foliage and granting glimpses of the Valley, the road gave one the feeling of having been transported to South America. Rather than just being on a little trail headed to a river, it felt as though we were on an exciting expedition. Entranced by the beauty of the scenery and enraptured with the adventure of the trail, I failed to notice the road was narrowing by the second until we came upon a rock roughly the size of a bison. The bison rock had made its home on the safe side of the trail, forcing me to drive along the cliffs edge whilst Troy shimmied out of the car to spot me around the boulder. I would have snapped a photo, but seeing the lesser rocks crumble beneath my tires before free falling to the ground made me forgo that.
As we continued winding further down towards the valley, the road maintained its narrow width, but the foliage decided that beauty was not enough and began to thicken. Scraping relentlessly down the sides of the car, it blew through the vehicle’s personal bubble… and then straight into my bubble as it entered into the open window and began to strike Troy and I with an almost spiteful determination. Around the ninth pimp slap I started to reevaluate my need to go swimming. Despite sliced and incredibly itchy skin, the much larger rocks that had forced my use of higher air suspension, and the fact that it was 2 hours past noon, we were not going to turn around. We were Overlanders and we would make it to the bottom. Well that, and at this point the road was too narrow for any sort of turn around, so we had to make it to the bottom, there was literally no turning back now.
After another hour of the car, and us, being beaten senseless by plants, the trail FINALLY opened and allowed a gradual descent to the river. The sandy banks were a welcome sight to say the least, and within seconds we had thrown out our Kermit chairs and sank into them to enjoy some much needed sustenance. The excitement however was short lived, as planning our return trip was soon leaching every other thought from our mind, leaving only the burning question of “how are we supposed to get back?”.
The Rover had devoured half a tank of gas on the trek down to the valley, which meant an attempt to struggle up the hills and loose boulders would end with us running out of gas along the way. To make matters worse, it was nearing 4:30, so even if we could go back up, the drive would be nothing short of nightmarish in the dark. “Camp by noon,” repeated Troy in a mocking tone, while I sat fuming, reviewing my options. In the end I decided to drive down the only other branch of dirt road from where we were. It had a look of underuse, but at any rate it was short and the map seemed to think it led to the river with another road nearby it on the opposite bank. I could only hope that between the abusive foliage and vindictive rocks we had sacrificed enough to catch a lucky break and be able to cross it.
Apparently the trails thirst for blood had been quenched because we not only arrived at the river, but at a point with a firm bottom, and at the trailhead for the hot springs! Walking the river, Troy soon gave me the okay for the cross. I lifted the air suspension and, to the delight of some nearby campers, drove through the water without incident (except for dousing the camper’s fire…sorry).
With the sun setting, painting the sky with hues of gold and crimson, bathing the mountains in it’s mellow shades as it softly fell, (I like sunsets okay) we made a beeline for the hot springs to snag a few photos. As I listened to the river and continued to stare at the fantastic beauty of the sunset, I began to realize that I had enjoyed the day despite all its mishaps and unexpected obstacles. In fact, maybe I had loved it all the more because of them. Our lives are spent planning to finish the tasks at hand, to accomplish the goals required, to meet certain quotas at work. Our months weeks, days, and even sometimes minutes must be planned and organized to maintain multiple schedules for work and even home. My escape had always been trails and going on spontaneous adventures, but I realized that those too had become work, a strict schedule I would adhere to making sure I was at a specific place, at a specific time, trying to ensure nothing went wrong. But isn’t that missing the point?
I can say that I will be returning to this trail again. Next time however, I won’t plan on being in camp by noon; in fact maybe I just won’t plan at all. After all, life never hands you an itinerary, you just learn to float down the river.