Author Archives: rachel
With the Victorian Covid-19 lockdown came more “requests” from my employer to take days off to help the bottom line. Trying to fit in 4 days off in 4 weeks, with no prior notice, and make good use of them is a bit tricky. I ended up booking in a 4 day weekend, but left it a bit late to try and recruit playmates. Tom wasn’t keen on a 3 day trip, but I couldn’t bear the thought of not doing something given it was a beautiful weather forecast. Wednesday night the idea of going solo formed in my mind. The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t see any reason not to. Thursday night I made up a route that avoided any dodgy passes, and with pretty straight forward navigation. Friday 5:30am the alarm went off (much to Tom’s joy).
I pulled into the trackhead at 9am, and probably to our mutual surprise there was another party about to set off. I suspect they were more surprised to see a solo female bushwalker than I was to see a group of 3 men with pretty light packs. We had a chat as I pulled my gear together. They were heading out for 3 days not sure exactly where other than heading for Tilly Anne Gap / Monkey Ropes Creek. They headed off and a few minutes later I passed them on my bike. A final question was posed as I “raced” (hardly) past as to whether I was going to Perryman Falls. “The plan for tomorrow” I yelled back as a rolled down the road.
The ride out to where I planned to leave the bike was uneventful. I’d my first clues that water was going to be no issue before I’d even left the carpark. The section of the track at the start was so boggy I walked the bike through it. There were several sections like this along the road. And plenty of sections I was too much of a wuss to ride. I really didn’t want any punctures so was being pretty cautious. For some reason since I’d last had my bike serviced I couldn’t get my knobbly tyres on my bike and close the brakes, so I was just riding with my slicks.
Leaving the bike at 10:15am I had morning tea a short walk away with views over the surrounding areas. I realised I had no idea how to use the self-timer on my camera… fortunately it didn’t take too long to work out. I’ve left the first shot unedited in all it’s crooked glory (rocks as makeshift tripods don’t lend themselves to being flat).
The main things I can say about the Paul’s Pass Walking Track is it’s relatively flat, fast… and pretty boring. But fortunately that meant I was at Tilly Anne Gap for lunch time. There were fields of native Solanums all in flower. I was glad that Tom had worked out they were native only a few days ago, so I didn’t have to despair at the take over of the weeds!
I toyed with the idea of visiting Kameruka Point but decided against it, though in retrospect I should have headed out there as I was at Dog Leg Creek by 2pm. I’d gone down the slab in Pauls Pass before realising this was the tricky bit! Finding Dog Leg Cave directly above the Pass I left my full pack and headed out to Possibility Point.
It was only the next day I realised that I dated my entries in the logbooks at the Pass and the Point with the 29th instead of the 28th. As I was reading through the log book entries it occurred to me that the “Geoff”, who lived locally, in the party of 3 I’d seen that morning may well have been Marilyn’s “Ettrema Guru” and placer of the logbook containers.
Having plenty of time I did some tidying in the cave. There was a roll of green tape (the type used for marking routes… though more commonly pink) which had unwound itself, so I re-rolled it and tucked it away so it would hopefully stay under control in future. I then sorted my piles of firewood ready to go for later. I guess there may have been a stash of wood in the cave when the fires came through in summer, as the pack of the cave was full of charcoal and the rock looked like it had been scorched. Or it could have just been a tree falling into the cave.
The cliffs opposite the cave were a lovely happy hour spot. It was a bit windy and quite cool though, and I didn’t have the same persistence as Tom would have to sit and suffer until the sun was completely down.
The forecast had been for Friday to be windy, and it was. The fire had a natural bellows on it all evening and I was glad to be tucked away in the cave which was relatively sheltered. I slept pretty well but as the days are getting longer sleeping in becomes more difficult.
Having read Louise’s entry in the logbook at Possibility Point the previous afternoon, combined with the question from the walkers as I rode past them in the morning, an idea had taken hold. It had germinated overnight. I’d already concluded my route for the next 3 days was not going to fill the days, so I had time up my sleeve for add-ons. Having gone up and down the slab of Pauls Pass the afternoon before I knew that was no issue and the rest of the pass didn’t look technical. I’d decided to try and visit Perryman Falls from the bottom. So at 8am (amazing what happens without Tom to slow me down) I shuffled across the slab again, then squeezed down the narrow crevice and the easy scramble below. What a great pass! (for a history of finding it check out this SBW report) No wonder Bill Capon’s party in 1990 had trouble finding it from the bottom. If you didn’t know what you were looking for I don’t think you’d even consider it would go.
Down the Pass I then had a 250m descent to get into Cinch Creek. I was regretting not researching this before the trip, but I figured it was just going to be a steep descent down a spur. The spur was very steep and my route meandered about. After getting to section where it was even steeper, and I was probably not even a 100m into the descent I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and Perryman Falls from the bottom would have to wait.
Slogging back up the hill I looked up and suddenly was face-to-face (well at 20m) with a koala!! Needless to say I was pretty happy with my decision to abort. I have never seen a koala in the bush in NSW and this was not somewhere I would have expected to see one. We eyed each other off for a few minutes, I took some photos. Then I left it in peace as it was clearly aware of me, but didn’t go anywhere.
Back up Pauls Pass and to my main pack, and off on my original intent for the day by 9am. I followed the cliffs around until I could drop into the upper reaches of Cinch Creek.
Leaving my pack in the middle of the creek (probably the most worry I had on this trip was that I could be able to find my pack each time I left it) I set off to see how far I could get. The creek was quite bouldery and flowing well so it required a bit of effort at times to make my way down. Eventually I got to the top of a fall which I couldn’t get down or around. Sadly this was not Perryman Falls – about 200m upstream of it, so my attempts to reach the bottom and the top both failed. (Sorry Marilyn, this was the same spot you got to)
Going back upstream I climbed out on the true right and largely followed the cliff line back to my pack. This was less effort than climbing back around all the boulders – though I did end up a lot dirtier. After a big drink and a bit of wash in the creek I headed out the other side and on to Pinchgut Hill. It looked like it would be easy walking without the fire as the top was largely rocky. I wanted to check out the top of Pucket Pass for future reference. I didn’t know anything about it. There were a couple of cairns so I assume I found the top of it, there was one slightly awkward scrambly move which I had to do to get out to my lunch spot, but nothing particularly difficult.
After lunch I retreated off Pinchgut Hill – in my original plan I had intended to camp here, but with the travel being so quick I was severely under planned. Down at the saddle I realised I was quite tired and decided to have a rest in the shade. One of the downsides of being out by my self is I don’t have anyone (Tom) to slow me down, and my breaks had all been pretty short. I enjoyed a nap and watching the birds. The birdlife seemed far more prolific than when I’d been in Ettrema since the fires. I’m not sure if it was just because I was closer to Ettrema Gorge which didn’t seem to have been burnt, or whether the few weeks since I was last here was enough time for life to return.
I didn’t have a spot in mind to camp, vaguely thinking I’d aim for Tompkins Head, but when I got to the waterfall south of it I knew I’d found my spot for the night. A gorgeous series of cascades and pools, rock slabs for relaxing and a flat area to camp on. The only detraction (and this goes for the whole area at the moment) is you’ve got to be quite careful with where you pitch your shelter as there are numerous burnt off spikes waiting to pierce your groundsheet. It was a nice warm afternoon and the pools were still in sun, so I quickly had a dip while I was still hot enough from walking. I may not have got my Kimberley trip this year but if I imagined it 10°C warmer I could have been there.
When I told Tom I was heading out solo, he informed me he was going to go for an easy overnight solo trip. I realised we were going to have some gear contention. It’s not that we don’t have multiples of pretty much everything but there’s the bit of kit you want to take… and the runner-up piece which does the same job but isn’t as good (probably cause it’s twice as heavy). So it was with our lightweight fly – Tom wanted the fly, he’d assumed I was taking the tent. No way was I carrying 2kg of tent with the forecast as nice as it was. Hmm, but I didn’t really want to take the heavy fly. Imagine my delight when I went down to the garage to check out the options and emerged with a Gossimer Gear shelter. Turns out Tom bought it about 10 years ago and only used it once. Weighing in at less than 400g it weighed less than the contentious fly!
The wind picked up as the sunset. I was hoping it would settle down as it got dark, but it didn’t. I was a little surprised because I had (unusually for me) looked at the wind forecast in detail before I’d headed out. Friday was meant to be the windy day. The shelter was rustling away as a I sat around the fire. Hmm, could be a long night with the amount of noise it was making. Tom said the reason he’d only used the shelter once was because of the condensation issues he’d had (he was camped on a sandy river bed). I thought about whether to leave one end of the shelter open but decided it was windy enough and there would be airflow. At some point during the night the wind must have died and when I woke in the middle of the night the sleeping bag and inside of the shelter were pretty wet. I opened the door up to try and dry things out, and with the wind picking up again before dawn my sleeping bag was dry by the time first light arrived. Not wanting to get up, but also wanting to see the sky change colour I took the shelter down and lay in sleeping bag in the open watching sunrise. Of course this did not lend itself to the best photos. I think there were some great shots to be had of Tompkins Head, but I was not motivated enough to leave the warmth of my bed.
Eventually I had to get up. It was really windy and my little fire to boil my water was fanned into raging flames. It wasn’t a particularly relaxing breakfast given how windy it was, and so with no incentive to sit around I was walking not long after 8am.
It was so windy on Tompkins Head I didn’t feel safe getting close to any of the edges for fear of being blown off. Sadly (ha!) this also meant self-timed photos were largely off the agenda for fear of the camera. I didn’t follow the cliff line very closely due to wind and was quite relieved when the cliff changed direction and I got some relief from the battering. It was the same on Swag Point and particularly vicious as I approached Hamlet Crown.
I was so over the wind that I almost didn’t bother with Hamlet Crown. But then I reminded myself it was only 10am and this was part of the inspiration for this trip to start with. So off I went. The saddle had looked quite deep when viewed from afar but it wasn’t so bad when doing it. I scrambled up a couple of loose chutes to get to the top and then made my way out to the point for views and morning tea.
I found a slightly more stable chute to descend on my way down and it wasn’t long till I was back at my pack. There was a little stream flowing nearby (amazing the the things that are flowing at the moment) so I had a big drink and enjoyed the views. The ridge was very open and the walking was easy so I made good time as I approached Jones Creek. I started looking for a sheltered lunch spot eventually ducking down behind some boulders. My original plan had been to camp near Billys Hill tonight, before heading out tomorrow. The thought of another night out in the wind was not appealing and I was so far ahead of schedule I was going to be able to get out tonight.
I dropped off the ridge to the end of the Jones Creek Walking Track hoping for some stunning views. The wind was potentially the strongest I’d encountered and so I couldn’t get too close to the edge. But from what I could see the views were pleasant but nothing particularly special.
So all that was left was the Jones Creek Walking Track back to my bike. I’d been keen to check out this track, which is marked on maps, to see if had any particular merit. Having walked it my conclusion is, not really. It is very flat, but that is about all it has going for it. The track didn’t show up on aerials (unlike Pauls Walking Track which was prominent). However on the ground it was quite obvious. I was curious at how long vehicle tracks leave their mark for. There were numerous sections which has Banksias had grown up through, but now that it was all burnt and with the rain the old vehicle impressions were still highly evident.
There were a lot of recent footprints on the track which was also curious. I think walking out from the trail head on the fire trail and this track would feel like a particular kind of torture to me – my feet were unhappy enough as it was just doing the 4km back to the bike. I bumped into 3 women who looked like they were heading out to camp at the track end. They looked like it had been a long day, and I’m not sure the wind would make it a very pleasant night camping. If it had been a still day I would have been tempted to drop into Jones Creek and find a campsite as I was pretty tired. But just as those thoughts crept in another blast of wind kept me on the march.
Fortunately tyres were still inflated and stayed that was as I made good time back to the car, and from there a long drive home. A wonderful first solo trip in the bush.
The forecast on Saturday was for the “coldest day this year”. Snow was expected down to 800m. High winds to go with it. We had a look at the weather forecast – there seemed to be a relatively still, warm patch of weather inland from the central coast. I was plumping for walking in Brisbane Waters, but Tom was having none of it. How about a creek walk in the Colo with a cave to sleep in? He said rather off-handly, but with the tone that I knew meant “there’s no way I’m doing what you’re suggesting”.
So the Colo it was. We started off with a firetrail slog, punctuated by trail bikes, which we were both glad to get to the end of. From there we headed into the bush. Morning tea was on some rocky platforms overlooking the surrounding area – pleasant until the wind started blowing with a bit more ferocity. We were glad to drop down into the creek.
About 11:30am a very light rain squall came through, about the same time I spotted a overhang in the cliff line we were following. It didn’t take much convincing to have an early lunch, especially since the cave protected us from both the wind and the rain. That was the only rain we saw for the weekend and it was well gone by the time we set off again.
There were some beautiful sections of creek, including this lovely spot with a natural arch and a waterfall.
A bit after that Tom was sure we were near our camp cave for the night. He’s always keen to carry a bit of firewood when getting close to camp. I thought this bit was a bit excessive given we were boulder hopping and climbing through river gums… and the cave wasn’t anywhere as close as he thought. He did eventually abandon it a few hundred metres later.
Since it was only mid-afternoon we had a cuppa and relaxed – a somewhat unusual occurrence compared to some of the more recent trips!
The next day we had quite an ambitious route – several kilometres of creek. I thought we would probably end up bailing onto the ridge but we walked it all! The creek changed nature a few times, starting with rock slabs and smaller boulders. Then there were some huge boulders and quite physical scrambling to get through them. Following that was a very flat, wide section which alternated between open banks and quick walking, and some slower stuff. Lastly more ferns and undulations as we crossed more small tributaries.
It was only afterwards Tom admitted he had some notes which said “the upper creek is hideously slow and you’ll never forgive yourself for the torture” and despite this had suggested walking the whole thing! To be fair for us it wasn’t particularly difficult going, the fire had been through (at fairly low intensity) and there weren’t any bad sections of scrub. That said, there were thousands of lawyer vines shoots coming up and I don’t think it will be too long before it becomes torturous again.
What are we at now? I think this is weekend 9 from a possible 11 that we have been out overnight since the travel restrictions in NSW were lifted. It’s the first trip where the route was something we had done before. It’s a good option when the weather forecast is looking a little dicey. To be honest the forecast this weekend wasn’t that bad, possible showers during the day on Saturday but ok the rest of the time.
Caoimhin & Ruby were at North Richmond before us (wonders never cease!) but even so we didn’t start walking until after 9:30am. After an hour or so of walking we revised the original plan to take a slightly more direct route to Mt Dawson. This meant we got to do something new after all! The gully we walked up was quite lovely, with lots of overhangs to explore and easy flat walking (if you avoided the peat moss bog!).
We elected to get up the Pagoda of Death before lunch since we could see rain squalls sweeping across the Capertee Valley. Surprisingly none of them ever got to us, though the fear of being rained on drove us on through the afternoon. There was still plenty of time to enjoy the views… in between eyeing off which overhang we would be retreating to when the rain hit.
As it was we got to camp at 3pm just as the only (very light) shower of the day hit us. Hot drinks and banana bread (late birthday cake for me) made for enjoyable afternoon activities.
The fire, and large amount of cloud, made it unappealing to head out to the cliffs for sunset. But Tom hadn’t lugged his camera up here to not take photos! So we headed out for a largely non-existent sunset before beating a retreat back to the fire.
Despite the forecast there was some rain overnight and we were glad to be in a cave. The next morning there was no sign of rain, but there wasn’t much sky on display either. It seemed colder and more miserable – not how I’d interpreted the forecast.
After a visit to Mt Dawson to take in the splendid views we headed along various ridges. Not long after morning tea we started dropping into the creek we planned to exit by. There was a lot of water just flowing on the tops, and then we hit a drop which wasn’t down-climbable. We had a brief conversation about whether exiting down the creek was a good idea given the water flow, but I assured everyone we were unlikely to get more than knee deep. Not that I could really remember the creek from previous trips! As birthday girl I got the casting vote and we found a way down in a side creek.
Even though numerous small tributaries had fed into the creek the water volume didn’t seem any bigger so we continued on. There were quite a lot of fallen trees and shallow pools to manoeuvre around.
This spot was particularly fun with full packs. There was a convenient small ledge which allowed you to avoid the water, but it required a bit of contorting.
Soon after that I gave up on keeping my feet dry and waded through. Caoimhin & Ruby were keen to keep their shoes dry so proceeded barefoot. Ruby being on the only one in trousers also removed those – no photos allowed!
As promised I didn’t get more than knee deep, but as the canyon continued the others eventually conceded defeat and put their shoes on. Of course this was just before the last pool and the canyon opening up
From there we just had some airy sidling, a steep ridge descent and some road bashing back to the cars. A good weekend out in less than pleasant weather.
The forecast for the weekend was excellent, and I had Friday off so we decided to make the most of it with another three day trip. It almost got stymied on Friday morning. The alarm went off, we’d both slept poorly, Tom had appeared uncertain on our route when we’d gone to bed. I floated the idea of going back to sleep and making a 2.5 day plan later that morning. But given the amount of agonising we’d already done over this trip we couldn’t face starting again, so we ended up just getting up and getting on with it.
We had a last minute change of starting point, as the road seemed more accessible compared to our original launch point. But that meant Tom hadn’t looked at the spurs on the aerials so we were going on the basis that the topo looked like it went. What could possibly go wrong? The road access was straight-forward and after some prevaricating over whether to park just inside the park (and thus not on the private property just outside it) we were on our way.
I felt very jittery as we started our first steep descent. I put it down to a heavy pack (3 days of food – and we do like to carry fresh fruit & veg), lack of sleep, plus two coffees. We briefly got out of earshot while pass finding on the way down. We’ve had a few times recently where it’s been apparent sound really doesn’t travel very far in the bush. That or Tom is going deaf.
After morning tea we then had a big climb which was straight-forward, before some flattish but quite scrubby ridge walking. When we finally got to some more open sections I seized on the first rocky outcrop for lunch. I was happy with it, it was big, flat, had a choice of sun or shade, and had a nice area to sit. I was pretty happy with it, until almost straight after lunch we walked past a very similar rocky outcrop which also had expansive views! Next time.
We were pleased to find the ridge was a lot less scrubby post-lunch so we made better time as we navigated our way through the wiggly turns.
Then there was a straight-forward, far less jittery feeling, descent into a creek where we loaded up on water to get us through to the middle of the next day.
We should be getting good at carrying these heavy packs having had so many high camps in recent weeks, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier.
It seemed to take a lot of time to get to our intended camp spot – due to more scrubby ridges and us being tired. We seem to have made a habit of racing the sun to camp… Fortunately there was both somewhere to put the tent and a cliff edge for happy hour and photography.
I had optimistically planned out our second day. 4km for 2 hours seemed reasonable? Apparently not, more like 3 hours. The fires had not affected this area as much and we got to reminisce about what walking pre-fires was like….
Already an hour behind schedule we seemed to be making good time getting back to the creek. Until we were stymied by a 3m drop from the side creek into the main creek. So back out of the side creek we climbed and bashed away towards the next side creek hoping we’d be able to get down there! Finally we found a way into the creek and at 1:30pm (only 2+ hours behind my optimistic schedule) thought we should probably have lunch.
Of course since we were now in a different part of the creek Tom hadn’t studied the passes out on the aerials. Once again we had to trust to the contours on the topo. I proclaimed there was a dirt ramp out of the creek and the contours looked ok on the spur right next to us. Of course looking up at the cliffs, which were nowhere to be seen on the map, was slightly daunting. Tom managed to get up a small climb and put a rope down to haul my pack. To thank him I scraped his knuckles across the rock as he gave me a hand to get up the drop. Fortunately for me he suffered through the pain rather than let me topple down the 10m drop!
Fortunately the rest of the spur did resemble the contours on the map and we got up it with no further issues (except once again we were hauling water for the next 24 hours).
It was nice to settle on a campsite by 4pm giving us time to set up in a somewhat more leisurely fashion.
The campfire was in a very satisfactory situation with backrests for both of us! So it was a comfortable night around the fire.
As always Tom was up early to photograph sunrise, while I was content to watch the early light from the tent.
There was just the right amount of valley cloud – unlike like last week (too much) and the day before (not enough). Unfortunately that meant there was a lot of photo-faffing, and since we were camping where we had intended to have lunch we needed to get going!
Fortunately the first section was seriously burnt so we made good time.
Our next challenge was another ridge that we didn’t know if it ‘went’. We’d checked it out from afar two days earlier and it looked like it could have some intrigue to it.
We made our way through two clifflines and were feeling pretty good. Until we realised the ‘second’ cliff-line wasn’t the final one. Soon I was standing at the edge of a large cliff. To my right was the side creek where a pretty impressive waterfall plunged into the valley. There was no way down that. Our earlier viewing had suggested there was a treed ramp to the left… We contoured around and around, me leading the charge hopeful of finding a gully we could get down. Tom less enthusiastically following me, especially after I yelled out “I think we’re stuffed” (or perhaps something slightly less polite). Fortunately he did eventually follow me some way, and while I was retreating he went investigating. Some time later he declared we had a way down.
It involved some tape, a crawl, and a step across, but eventually we were through the cliff line! This was a great relief because it would have been a very long way to get down any other way.
The rest of the descent passed without incident and we were glad to have lunch next to the river.
We had one more unknown spur in our route. Once again I proclaimed the contours looked fine. In fact it was a most enjoyable spur to climb – a very nice gradient which felt a little like climbing stairs, with some scrambling right at the top.
The ridge itself was gorgeous and had great views. But by this point Tom was worn out (I was doing slightly better). Unusually he was less than enthused about a small detour to visit a trig.
Eventually we arrived back at the car after 3 pretty hard days. We were a bit surprised on our drive out to find a gate across the road which we hadn’t noticed on the way in. It was shut but automatically opened for us to exit. Not sure if we got exceedingly lucky that it was open when we drove in at the start – certainly would make the access a lot trickier!
The forecast had been pretty adamant, and unfortunately unchanging, all week. Rain was coming and it was coming on Saturday and Sunday. Surely it would move out a day, or diminish, as rain forecasts so often so in NSW. But no. So, we seized the weather window and headed out early on Friday morning. We probably would have left a little later but for workday traffic to contend with! Subsequently our earliest walking start in a long time – packs on and on our way by 8:15am.
It was somewhat disconcerting walking in cloud. We were expecting it to burn off fairly quickly but eventually we got underneath it and began to be able to see a bit further than a few metres. We hadn’t walked Starlights Track since the fires, and it was almost like walking a new track. Being able to see the creek was definitely new. (which maybe had also had a bit of a scour-out from the floods?)
We’d heard a rumour that Emmetts Flat (or the area which everyone refers to as Emmetts Flat which isn’t technically Emmetts Flat) had been ‘destroyed’ by the floods. I’d taken that to mean it had been washed away. However it is still there. It looks a bit different. The weeds are on steroids and taking over. It’s not quite the place I visited back in 2016 on a day trip which made me contrive an overnight trip just so I could camp there! It’s obviously still getting plenty of use judging by the amount of campfire ash.
After filling up water at Troys Creek we headed downstream on the Nattai. We were now in new territory. The going was pretty easy, alternating between walking on the sandy river bed, or following wombat trails on the slopey embankment. The cloud had gone, the sun was shining and there was no wind. Another stellar day in the Nattai.
We liked the junction of the Wanganderry and Nattai so much we had an early lunch. Though to be fair breakfast had been at 6am. It felt a little like those magical places in books where a sleep spell has been cast and all you want to do is lie down and have a nap. (Un?)Fortunately for Tom I was there to break the spell, crack the whip and keep us going!
Having descended into the valley we didn’t plan on staying there. We had to climb back out again for our intended high camp. It was a warm winter’s day, and a drink was welcome when we found a flowing side creek just before the climb started in earnest.
I felt like I was crawling but eventually we plodded our way up the spur. These high camps definitely have their downsides with needing to lug water!
As far as 500m climbs go it was a pretty good one, with some easy scrambling to get up through the cliff line. At the top we headed out to the end of a point where there was a fabulous rocky outcrop. Once again the combination of sun, no wind and sleep was mixing to cast a spell of inertia. But we still needed to find a campsite for the night, so back to the packs we went. (In retrospect I wish we’d just taken the packs out with us and camped there!)
We were both pretty tired by now. The spot Tom had chosen from the map for a camp didn’t seem that far away, but my legs felt differently. It was relatively slow going as the fire had been of low intensity. Then we missed the turn-off and ended up on the next ridge.
Backtracking we found an amazing happy hour spot. Just lacked any good camping near by… A few minutes away we found a flat spot amongst the trees which would do. Despite our early start we didn’t have long till sunset. We enjoyed the views and lack of wind before retreating to our camp for a surprisingly mild evening around the campfire.
We were woken by the planes overhead, presumably on their way in to land as soon as the curfew ended at 6am. I don’t know how many planes it would have been pre-covid but it was only 2 this morning. Tom got up to go and check out pre-sunrise, but from what I could see it wasn’t worth getting up too much before sunrise. As I arrived at the cliff-edge the cloud apparently rose out of the valley when previously the cliffs were visible.
The cloud obscuring everything at least meant Tom was focussed on eating breakfast rather than taking photos! It teased us for a bit, revealing cliff tops and then hiding them again. Eventually some good views opened up.
We had agreed to get moving fairly early since the BOM forecast was for rain to come through from late morning (though the Norwegians didn’t have anything in the area till after 6pm). But with the “atmospheric conditions” (i.e. photo faffing) we didn’t get moving till 9am.
We headed out to another viewpoint before following a series of ridges to a fire trail we’d walked on a previous trip. You don’t realise how slow you’re moving, even on relatively easy, off-track until you get onto a fire trail! The fire trail was a slog which we broke up with lunch. No sign of any rain by the time we got to the cars in the early afternoon, though it was on the radar in the north.
Another great weekend in the bush, very confusing to be home mid-afternoon on a Saturday despite being out overnight.
Another weekend, another multi-night trip. This feels like a bit of a record for us – 6 out of the last 7 weekends being overnight trips (with 4 being 2+ nights)! Shows how deprived we were with no overnight trips before that in 2020 due to bushfires, floods and Covid-19.
With the fear of a second lockdown looming we decided we should get away on Friday. We were leaving things a little fine leaving the car at 4pm, and a bit over an hour of light to ascend an unknown nose and find a campsite. No worries, powered up the hill… well as much as you can when hauling water, abseiling gear and photography gear! Had a perfect happy hour site on a very still night.
It was a pretty good spot for sunrise as well!
After a lot of time-lapses and other photo faffing we eventually set off the next morning. We headed off to look for water but didn’t find any – all the creeks seemed to be sandy – needed to find one with a rocky base.
After setting up camp with Mel, Rich & Ryan it wasn’t long before Tom, Rich & I were off on a first loop of the day. We found a very small pool of water, which wasn’t ideal, but given the lack of anything else we filled up. Then we were pleasantly surprised by the canyon in the creek.
Rich left us to go swap with Mel, so Tom & I had a late lunch and then explored another slot which ended up just being a ramp.
Tom found us a nice spot to watch sunset and then we settled in for a lovely, still evening around the campfire.
There was a heavy dew, and so when the wind came up in the early hours I was thinking “oh well, at least the tent will be dry”. No such luck, despite the breeze and a bit of sun the tent was still pretty damp when we packed it up. Tom & I had our full packs as we headed off with Rich for some exploring. We even had to put our harnesses on! (and use them a couple of times). The full packs definitely make for much harder work, especially going down fairly narrow canyons.
Rich headed off and we had a late morning tea before heading over the ridge and checking out a couple more slots, before eventually heading back to the cars. A very enjoyable weekend out.
Originally I had proposed this trip for a bit later in July, but somewhat presciently I decided to move it forward since… “I’m keen to get out there sooner rather than later just in case we end up with a return of any Covid restrictions.” That was in an email back when Victoria was only getting < 20 new cases a day!
Covid-aside, there was an East Coast Low brewing due to hit on Monday. When we went in there was 80mm of rain forecast for Sydney – though this was substantially downgraded by the time we got out on Sunday. Given the unsettled weather we were pretty lucky – a beautiful day on Friday, a little bit of rain on Saturday afternoon, but it only really set in about an hour from the cars on Sunday afternoon.
Another top weekend in the bush, though somewhat sobered by the full-scale views we got on Sunday of the scale of the desolation from the fires.
In 2018 when we were partially based in the upper mountains I spent quite a lot of time looking at blobs of green on the map. One of the blobs I found was Winburndale Nature Reserve. After putting an exploratory club trip on the program for Nov 2018 I discovered water was likely to be a problem – so I was not too unhappy when most of the sign-ups withdrew and I had to cancel the walk. Fast forward to 2020, bushfires decimated many areas but Winburndale escaped. It seemed the perfect opportunity to resurrect the walk, particularly since there has been decent rain. I rescheduled the trip for May 2020 – with a full contingent signed up – but then Covid-19 arrived.
Determined to get this bunny off my back I rescheduled for July 2020. At last we would see what Winburndale had to offer. Most of my May sign-ups were back, plus a couple from the original 2018 trip, so we had a full party scheduled to go. It was a pleasant drive through the mountains to Lithgow where most of us met up. We lost one to over-sleeping on Saturday morning, so we were down to 7. My well-planned meeting point was a fail since the cafe didn’t open until we were meant to be leaving, and the toilets were having maintenance done on them!
The forecast was for a cold front with possible snow flurries on Saturday morning. By the time we got to Yetholme the visibility was low, it was lightly sleeting and if I didn’t know it was forecast to clear I would have been wondering why on earth we were heading out. Picking up our 7th member from Yetholme we ventured into Sunny Corner State Forest – I was glad we had an AWD & 4WD as the precipitation meant the dirt roads had little traction. It was a magical drive out through the pine forests which had a light dusting of snow. Lauren must be the lucky (!?) charm as the last overnight walk Tom & I did with her it also snowed!
By the time we started walking the weather has lifted. Lauren even optimistically applied sunscreen before we left the cars. Blue sky poked through and it was really quite a nice day if the wind wasn’t blowing. Eschewing the fire trail we followed the cliff line where we could – though the conglomerate rock proved rather slippery under foot.
A solid 300m climb warmed us up prior to morning tea – I suspect the first decent ascent many of us had done in a while. We saw our first (but not last) goats of the trip not long after this. I am pleased to see the Reserve will be closed in a couple of months for pest control.
Arriving at a potential camp a bit too late for a side trip I had planned I ummed and ahhed about whether we would camp high. Having had some spectacular high camps recently I was keen on the idea – but also aware it was a lot colder than the previous weekends we had been out. In the end I decided it was a nice spot and I didn’t have a certain low camp spot in mind, so better to stick with a known one. Keen to keep moving to avoid getting cold everyone came on a water run despite only half of us needing water. There was no problem finding water in the creek we dropped into. We saw a wild dog (probably trying to catch a goat!) just before we headed off to get water so were glad to see our gear was untouched when we got back.
Getting back to camp it was almost sunset so we headed out to the cliffs. I had barely put together 3 crackers & cheese before my fingers could hardly hold the knife. The wind was biting and after about 10 minutes half of us decided we couldn’t hack the cold and headed back to the relative shelter of the trees.
There was some grumbling about the lack of fire – they are not permitted under the Winburndale Plan of Management. Everyone had been warned in advance so should have come prepared. Gas canisters were being nursed inside our down jacket to improve their performance. Vivien’s metho needed the same treatment as it wouldn’t light initially. There were some very early retirements to bed and sleeping bags to try and get warm. Alex, in somewhat typical fashion, had forgotten his usual sleeping “mat” (ratty piece of foam). Fortunately for him Vivien had gone exploring when we first arrived at camp and miraculously found an almost brand new compact foam mat in the bush.
I think we all had a fairly cold night, and getting up wasn’t a particularly enticing idea when we were engulfed in cloud. The advantage of not having a fire was that I felt no guilt in boiling the billy in our vestibule and having coffee and breakfast in the tent. I replanned the route given the weather. I ditched a loop to the north and added few more fire trails instead of creeks given the general damp feeling. Vivien & Lauren suggested we go for a short walk along the cliffs as there were good views (or had been the night before!). We started off in the cloud with no views but by the time we got to the edge it had lifted enough to see what was out there.
Back with our packs we headed off soon heading down, down, down into a creek. Being the upper reaches I wasn’t expecting much but it was flowing and had some interesting conglomerate rocks in it. There were some helpful wildlife tracks along the edge but after a few hundred metres I decided we’d seen enough and headed up a spur to meet a fire trail.
We had a short morning tea at the top, the cold didn’t lend itself to lingering, then followed the fire trails for a while.
Eventually we headed off the fire trail down a spur. It wasn’t that steep but after several descents already in the trip I think most of our stabilising muscles were protesting from lack of use. Finding a lovely lunch spot near the bottom my legs were glad for a break.
From there it was one more hill back to the cars for a mid-afternoon finish. Winburndale is unburnt, beautiful bushwalking country – very little scrub, mainly open eucalypt forest. There’s definitely a few more adventures to be had there – hopefully in slightly warmer weather though!
My employer “asking” me to take 4-5 days of leave a month to assist with the economics of Covid provided a perfect opportunity for a 4 day walk. Initially I’d thought Nattai or Morton but having been there the previous 2 weekends we decided something a bit more unachievable for a standard weekend was needed. Tom suggested the Bylong Labyrinth which fitted the bill being a longer drive than we’d normally contemplate. Unsurprisingly there weren’t any other takers so it was just me and Tom who left Sydney early on Thursday morning.
The trip had a fair amount of adversity in it, and it started during the drive up. We passed the Wallerawang Power Station to find a barrier across the road. The Castlereagh Highway was closed near Ilford due to a semi-trailer crash, we’d have to get to Rylstone via Glen Alice. So somewhat later than intended we left the car at 11am.
Walks in previous weekends had shown that there was plenty of water around. Rock pools with water had been in abundance on the tops in the Nattai. We knew the Bylong area was problematic for water but given our heavy packs at the start of 4 days we opted not to load up on water at the start, hoping we’d find some.
We skirted around the first pagoda and then some grunt work got us up onto the start of the range we hoped to traverse. Things were quickly more technical than anything done in the prior weekends, with pack passing and exposed scrambling. Soon we arrived above a saddle. Unfortunately it was a reasonable drop to get into the saddle, and we couldn’t see any other ways to get down into it. The lack of suitable anchors was a moot point since the rope we had with us wasn’t long enough to get down anyway. Retracing our steps we didn’t find anywhere we could drop down and sidle, so it looked like going back to the bottom and skipping this section was our only option.
Bylong Labyrinth 1 – Tom & Rachel 0
Having accepted defeat we had lunch before dropping back to the valley floor. It was a warm day and the pagodas didn’t seem to form pools so there had been no water on the ridge. Water was needed before the end of the day. Given our circumstances we opted to follow the dry creek until we found water. The walking was relatively easy and we covered the ground quickly until we reached the spot Tom had expected water might be above ground. There was water. Yay!
We found a cleaner flowing source in a small side canyon, so after an explore downstream we sculled a few cups each, then filled up with enough to get us through the night and part of the next day.
It was a slog up the nearby spur to get back onto the spine of the main ridge we had been spat off earlier in the day.
Late in the afternoon we viewed the main top we were hoping to camp on. The ascent options looked somewhat imposing but a treed ramp had promise so traversing under the cliff line we sought a way through the cliffs. As we approached the ‘treed ramp’ it became clear it was more of a slopey rounded cliff line. No go. Then we attempted to get to the point. Massive drop-offs. No go. Retreating as the sun rapidly approached the horizon we had another look at a couple of options we had walked past earlier. Maybe one of them was doable, but we were running out of light and retreated back to the saddle and sought out a flat-ish space that would fit the tent.
Bylong Labyrinth 2 – Tom & Rachel 0
We watched the sunset before settling on a slopey spot for the night. It was a very still night and pleasant around the campfire, though I was exhausted after our early start, the warm day and challenges we’d encountered.
The next morning we had a look at the alternative ascent options in the light of day. If we traversed in the opposite direction maybe we’d find a way up. But after the fires there were few trees and on the slopes everything was loose, rocks were de-laminating, and in the end we decided to give up on the mountain and find a way around it. Tom had intended us to drop into a gully, but I led us down the ridge we’d come up the day before. Assuming we’d be able to drop off the side of it as we descended Tom wasn’t too fussed about my route choice. We kept hopefully walking the right-hand side looking for a ramp down, but nothing except cliffs. Eventually accepting defeat we just followed the spur all the way to the base – in the opposite direction to where we were aiming.
Bylong Labyrinth 3 – Tom & Rachel 0
By this point I was pretty frustrated with how things were going. Perhaps Tom had created a rod for his own back – normally his analysis of aerial photos and maps in advance meant that the routes we attempt are successful. I found the 1:25k map confusing and it gave little detail in the way of pagodas – contours which in other parts of the Blue Mountains we’d be able to get through were cliffs and rounded pagodas. Tom had made some detailed 5m contours maps using LIDAR data, but even those couldn’t reveal all of the obstacles. I wasn’t used to this sort of defeat. This was meant to be a fun weekend and it all seemed like a disaster. After a council of war we agreed to stick to the creeks for a bit to hopefully give us enough time to make an assault on Goat Mountain.
The creeks were (comparatively at least!) easy going. We finally achieved some (secondary) objectives by making it to the foot of Goat Mountain for lunch, loaded up with water from one of the creeks we’d descended, which was just as well as the Growee River was wide, sandy and completely dry.
The slog up the unburnt ridge with water-laden packs was more typical of the terrain we were used to in other areas. A minor victory – we’d made it onto the ridge line, but there was still over a kilometre of ridge to traverse before we were on Goat Mountain. Tom assured me there were still plenty of things on his 5m contour map that looked tricky. Great.
However, one by one the obstacles were overcome. At one point above another saddle that looked like it require a rope to get in we managed to find a narrow ledge to scurry along. And so it was with much relief we made it on to Goat Mountain.
Bylong Labyrinth 3 – Tom & Rachel 1
My one request for the day had been we would make camp at 4pm so that we had time to set-up and enjoy the sunset (just before 5pm in this darkest time of the year). So a 3:40pm arrival was over-achieving! We found a lovely cliff-edge spot to watch sunset and have happy hour #1. It had been a unseasonably warm, still day, and that stillness extended through the evening which made for a relaxing night around the campfire. I was pleasantly surprised when for happy hour #2 the quality of the port went up a few price points. As it was my birthday the next day Tom had carried in some Rutherglen Grand Port. Yummo.
Knowing there was a change in the weather expected late on the third day we didn’t dawdle in the morning. The plan we’d discussed around the fire was to continue our traverse a short way but then drop down off the tops. However, when we saw the ridge line ahead of us we decided to keep going with our traverse. Some scrambling up the pagodas eventually got us to the top of the next peak. The crumbling rock post-fires added a level of difficulty which I suspect didn’t exist previously.
Winding our way along the ridge we came to a knife-edge saddle that we wanted to cross. Who would have thought saddles would cause the biggest difficulties of a trip? It looked easy enough to cross if we could get into it. Tom managed to scramble down a few levels on the right side with the use of our rope, but was stymied above the final drop.
In the meantime I’d scoped the left and thought it might allow us to traverse on steep slopes. But after descending a loose gully we realised we needed to get down another level and an even steeper gully was the only option. If we’d had a longer rope we might have given it a go but in the end beat a chastened retreat.
Bylong Labyrinth 4 – Tom & Rachel 1
A review of the map showed a couple of other ridges were options for getting off the mountain, but Tom had not anticipated us going that far north so there were no detailed 5m contour maps! Easy walking soon got us to the ridge with the widest contour lines on the 1:25k map and we started making our way down. A perfect lunch spot caught our eye just above the saddle we were aiming for. We enjoyed lunch, the views and Tom looked at the aerial photos. His prediction: “it’s going to be a sh*t to get into the saddle”. Great.
Sure enough we ended up on a pagoda about 10m above the saddle. I was about to embark on a sidle on the side of the ridge we didn’t want to be on, before Tom pointed out we might be able to work out way round on the other side. Fortunately with a couple of small drops negotiated we had made it to the saddle! One minor objective achieved but we had 3 more for the afternoon; make it down the side creek to Lee Creek, find water, find a campsite. The only one that was causing me any (minor) concern was the water, whereas Tom was thought our side creek could turn into a canyon.
Soon enough we hit water so another big guzzle was had to make sure we were hydrated, though we weren’t inclined to load up at this point with still a 1km to go down the creek. Next minute the creek was dropping into a pool that was rather large and possibly quite deep. Skirting around it the creek dropped away and we were soon many metres above the creek floor. Fortunately I was able to climb down through a quasi-canyon in the side creek.
Having hit more water we decided we should just fill up, and then not long after we arrived at the Lee Creek junction. Two more minor objectives achieved. Surprisingly, given our experience of the the water courses so far on the trip, Lee Creek was flowing healthily. I was keen to ditch some of the water in my pack but Tom didn’t want to… so instead we carried 7 litres of water while we walked alongside a healthy creek.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the extra weight took it’s toll and by 3:30pm I was ready to find a campsite. We still had a lot of distance to cover the next day but we hadn’t come across many good sites, so when we got to one we decided to stop for the day. Washing off the accumulated grime/ash/charcoal from the previous 3 days was a good feeling! High camps are lovely but camping next to a flowing creek definitely has some benefits.
There was no sign of the weather change yet. We hoped the rainfall models prior to the trip proved correct and the rain would all come during the night.
The rain did arrive during the night, but a bit later than the models had suggested 3 days earlier and so when we woke it was still raining. It didn’t seem close to easing so we ate breakfast in the tent and packed up in the rain. This meant our earliest start of the trip – 8am. Fortunately not long after we started the rain stopped.
Early on we’d gone with the wet feet option in the river which made progress pretty quick. Lee Creek was lovely and easy walking, though sections of quick sand existed for the unwary. Tom’s useful advice to me: “walk like an ant, not like an elephant”. I think that’s up there with “think light thoughts”. We both got stuck in quick sand a couple of times, Tom the worst of it up to his mid-thigh.
I needed coffee having skipped it in the morning so we had morning tea and boiled the billy in a small overhang stocked with dry leaves.
From there we powered up the rest of Lee Creek and hit the fire trail around 11:30am. We dutifully skirted the inholding rather than following the road and then had lunch on a small pagoda.
Eventually back at the cars at 2:30pm, with time to get to Rylstone before all the cafes shut!
Bylong Labyrinth 4 – Tom & Rachel 2
We’ll be back for a rematch!