Sunday, 9 April 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 2 Dights Hill (d/s Albury) to Howlong Common Oct 17

The second day is often one of the most difficult days on a long journey like this. The tiredness from the first day kicks in making the challenges faced in the second even harder. It takes a couple of days to get your gear sorted as well. To find out what goes best where, particularly when you're using a different boat. This affects food and drink as well: if they're out of reach you don't do enough of either. Calling into the bank is the usual way around this; find a nice sandbar to stop at access gear, repack, have a stretch and move on. Post flood this is not as easy as it usually is. The river is still high by normal standards leaving the beaches covered. The tops of the banks are easy to get to, however most are still saturated and many are muddy. So tonight I am pretty drained. Two hours to eat my dinner. Couldn't take it in any faster. I hope race fitness kicks in tomorrow.

About to set off
 The stretch between Dights Hill where I camped last night and Howlong is in many ways one of the most beautiful along the Murray. There are parts which are just as windy and fast as below the Hume and others where the river widens out and where you gain a glimpse the hills that border the valley through which it flows. There are numerous islands mid stream with luscious vegetation, prettyish kinds of little wildernesses, free from the footsteps of man or beast. There are numerous lagoons, billabongs and anabranches through which the river rushes having found an easier way. In other parts of the river these are usually short joining meanders which have worked their way together, however here they run for tens of kilometres. Where these features occur, the forest has a healthy diversity; river red gum are present as saplings, young trees, mature specimens and ancient guardians. Forests intersect with grazing land, forming a kind of landscape mosaic of cultural and environmental significance. In these landscapes the mature red gums don't seem to mind the cattle however where there are cattle there is little regeneration, resulting in a park like landscape.

River Guardians

I seemed to spend quite a bit of time today spinning in the middle of the river. This was not on purpose. Though I managed to miss the massive whirlpool just downstream of Dights Hill, where a 10 meter diameter section of the river spins and is visibly lower than the rest, I was caught in many lesser eddies and swirls of the current. This is what happens when you continually looking at the landscape through a camera. It is the canoeists equivalent of walking into street signs: rather embarrassing.

Sloan and Tonk!
The soft soil and strong winds meant that tree fall was an issue and campsites needed to be chosen carefully.

About 20 km from Howlong the river is suddenly flanked on one side by an eight meter high clay bank. Is the nearest thing that the Murray has resembling a cliff for the next 1000 km. It is a riddle to me why it is there, but there are clues to the answer on approaching Howlong. Whilst the hills that mark the edge of the Murray Valley have long since retreated from view, the valley through which the river flows seems to be narrowing at Howlong. In the course of the day the river has changed from flowing through a wide floodplain to the restricted valley. It seems a confusing thing to say as the river moves away from the mountains which are its source, until you realise that the valley through which the river is now restricted is the bed of a much, much larger ancient stream. It's massive 15m high banks are occasionally visible through the trees. It's on these ancient banks that most people build their houses and the reason why the old towns and farms are safe when the river rises. With floodwaters unable to spread out, the confined river floods easily, however those frequent floods and changing beds contribute to some of the healthiest forests along the entire river. Rarely will you see as magnificent old gums as in this section of the Murray.
Camp on Howlong Common: still damp from the floods and full of mossies!
Tonight the wind that has been my companion for most of the day has dropped. The skies are clear, a pleasant change from the storms of last night. I look forward to getting to know the river between Howlong and Corowa in more detail tomorrow, before meeting the Ovens River at the edge of Lake Mulwala the next day.

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