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5. The River And The Range
My next business was to descend upon the river. I had lost sight of the pass which I had
seen from the saddle, but had made such notes of it that I could not fail to find it. I was
bruised and stiff, and my boots had begun to give, for I had been going on rough ground
for more than three weeks; but, as the day wore on, and I found myself descending
without serious difficulty, I became easier. In a couple of hours I got among pine forests
where there was little undergrowth, and descended quickly till I reached the edge of
another precipice, which gave me a great deal of trouble, though I eventually managed to
avoid it. By about three or four o'clock I found myself on the river-bed.
From calculations which I made as to the height of the valley on the other side the saddle
over which I had come, I concluded that the saddle itself could not be less than nine
thousand feet high; and I should think that the river-bed, on to which I now descended,
was three thousand feet above the sea-level. The water had a terrific current, with a fall of
not less than forty to fifty feet per mile. It was certainly the river next to the northward of
that which flowed past my master's run, and would have to go through an impassable
gorge (as is commonly the case with the rivers of that country) before it came upon
known parts. It was reckoned to be nearly two thousand feet above the sea-level where it
came out of the gorge on to the plains.
As soon as I got to the river side I liked it even less than I thought I should. It was
muddy, being near its parent glaciers. The stream was wide, rapid, and rough, and I could
hear the smaller stones knocking against each other under the rage of the waters, as upon
a seashore. Fording was out of the question. I could not swim and carry my swag, and I
dared not leave my swag behind me. My only chance was to make a small raft; and that
would be difficult to make, and not at all safe when it was made,--not for one man in such
a current.
As it was too late to do much that afternoon, I spent the rest of it in going up and down
the river side, and seeing where I should find the most favourable crossing. Then I
camped early, and had a quiet comfortable night with no more music, for which I was
thankful, as it had haunted me all day, although I perfectly well knew that it had been
nothing but my own fancy, brought on by the reminiscence of what I had heard from
Chowbok and by the over- excitement of the preceding evening.
Next day I began gathering the dry bloom stalks of a kind of flag or iris-looking plant,
which was abundant, and whose leaves, when torn into strips, were as strong as the
strongest string. I brought them to the waterside, and fell to making myself a kind of
rough platform, which should suffice for myself and my swag if I could only stick to it.
The stalks were ten or twelve feet long, and very strong, but light and hollow. I made my
raft entirely of them, binding bundles of them at right angles to each other, neatly and
strongly, with strips from the leaves of the same plant, and tying other rods across. It took
me all day till nearly four o'clock to finish the raft, but I had still enough daylight for
crossing, and resolved on doing so at once.