Author Archives: rachel

Slots & views (18-19 July 2020)

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.

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Awesome happy hour spot

It was a pretty good spot for sunrise as well!

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Sunrise from the tent on Saturday

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Sunrise a bit later on

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.

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Lovely gully but no water!

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.

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Oooooh! a canyon, oooh! and a canyoning friend.

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Tom emerging

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.

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A squeezey drop

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Climbing a pagoda ladder (where were these in the Bylong??)

Tom found us a nice spot to watch sunset and then we settled in for a lovely, still evening around the campfire.

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Sunset on Saturday

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The last of the sun from camp Saturday night

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.

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Exploring… feels like we’re back in 2013!

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A little squeezy

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.

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Nice morning tea spot

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Another jaunty bout of exploration

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Lunch views

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Exit canyon

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Nice to see some things didn’t get burnt

 

Get out… while you can (10-12 July 2020)

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.

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Beautiful weather to start the trip

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It it a bird? Is it a plane?

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Waterfall views

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Lunch day 1

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The log book got a little toasted

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Another waterfall

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Moody afternoon

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Tom happy he brought the fancy camera

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What are you doing down there?

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More afternoon views

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That light!

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End of the ridge

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Wind patterns

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Walking in the burnt aftermath

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A completely unnecessary squeeze

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Strange landscape. I would love to know what it was like pre-fire

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Another heat affected log ‘book’. Only had 3 entries – 2007, and 2014 x 2

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Trig with thermos on top (containing log book)

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Views

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Flying Tom

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Oh no there’s intruders in our cave… with a tent no less!

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Cascades

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Slabby walking

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Morning tea waterfall (and brief sunshine!)

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Our only real hill of the day

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Practising our scrambling

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More slabby walking

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Interesting creek

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Desolation after the fires

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Ground zero

 

Winburndale – third time lucky? (4-5 July 2020)

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!

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Walkers only!

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Wintry start to the day

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.

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Spectacular conglomerate outcrops

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Interesting cliff line

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Looking at Mt Panorama

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More conglomerate outcrops

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Crossing a creek (only one finger sacrificed in the process)

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.

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Morning tea views

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More speccy cliff lines

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Remnants of the cold blast overnight

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Looks like a serious discussion going on – without the leader!?

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It’s not every trip you get to make a snowman

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Most of the group

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New growth – not sure why, this area is unburnt

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Crossing a slightly trickier creek/waterfall

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.

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Late afternoon sun on our high camp

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.

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Sunset on the cliffs

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.

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Next morning exploration in the cloud

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.

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The cloud starts to lift so we get some distant views

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Much clearer!

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.

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Alex in Middle Arm Creek

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Following (literal) goat tracks along side the creek

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.

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Some steep firetrails!

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.

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Lovely lunch spot next to a babbling brook

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!

Bylong Labyrinth (18-21 June 2020)

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.

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Scrambling on our initial ridge

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New growth following the fire

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Pagodas galore

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Retreating off the ridge

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!

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Looking at alternative plans (lipstick completely unintended!)

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.

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Our tiny canyon with flowing water

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Tom launches himself onto sand… I mean into quicksand

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.

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Slogging back up onto the ridge

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.

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The sun is setting why have we still got packs on?

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.

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Our slightly slopey site the next morning

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But it did have good breakfast views!

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.

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Lovely morning tea spot

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Approaching the Growee River

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.

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OK, so all we’ve got to do is get over there

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.

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Just a little ledge scamper

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.

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Now this is a happy hour spot

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And sun hasn’t even hit the horizon yet

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Nice flat campsite

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Cosy dining area

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.

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Rather than go the presumed safer gully route we decide to try and get up this

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Near the top, with lots of loose rock underfoot

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.

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Trying to find a way into the saddle (right side)

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Tom above the drop which is stopping progress

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.

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Tom scrambling back up from the left-hand side attempt

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.

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Dirty work walking in burnt areas!

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Lovely lunch spot, we need to find a way down through those pagodas after lunch…

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.

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Scrambling in a 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.

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Crossing the Lee Creek with litres of water in our packs

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.

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Camp on Lee Creek

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Washing off the last few days of ash. Glorious!

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.

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Walking up Lee Creek on day 4

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.

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Tom thigh deep in quicksand

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.

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Morning tea cave

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.

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Lunch pagoda

Eventually back at the cars at 2:30pm, with time to get to Rylstone before all the cafes shut!

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The not so locked gate

Final tally?

Bylong Labyrinth 4 – Tom & Rachel 2

We’ll be back for a rematch!

Morton scrub… not (13-14 June 2020)

A second weekend in a row we were out the house! Yay! This ended up being a pretty bludgy trip – probably wouldn’t have been the case pre-fires. The walking was super easy everywhere, other than the nasty little burnt off spikes waiting to trip you up or pierce your shoes when you’re not paying attention.

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This way to Ettrema Tops! (except not.. you turn left immediately)

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Morning tea with a view through the burnt out trees

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Dangerous walking with all the little burnt-off spikes

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These open rock slabs were very easy walking (no nasty spikes!)

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A nice spot on the creek for lunch

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Creek walking

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Pretty waterfall

Tom spent hours photographing this waterfall so I went exploring downstream. I would have liked to have gone further but I hadn’t discussed my plans with Tom so thought I shouldn’t go too far.

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Orchid trying to come back to life

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Rock formation

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New growth

When I got back I couldn’t find Tom so ended up climbing up on the cliff to try and spot him. Turns out he’d still been photographing the waterfall…

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Cliff-top views. Tom is somewhere in this photo. Probably 1mm tall if that, so good luck spotting him!

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Our narrow cave ledge for the night

We were fortunate it was a still night and we had a pretty good night’s sleep. It poured (as forecast) overnight but had cleared by the time we got up in the morning. The morning also brought a bitterly cold wind – we were very glad that was nowhere to be felt the night before it would have made for a miserable night.

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Going slight crazy?

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Beautiful creek next morning

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Scrambling up a waterfall

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Open plains walking

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Boggy walking

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Waterhole for lunch

Another lovely weekend in the bush. Long may it last!

Wanganderry Wanderings (6-8 June 2020)

It’s been a long time between overnight walks. I’ve been surprised at the number of people who have said to me “but you’ve still been able to do your bushwalking during Covid haven’t you?” Well. There was that restriction on non-essential travel. Oh yeah, and that other restriction on no camping. So, if you think “my bushwalking” involves an hour on local bush tracks then yeah, sure, I’ve been able to do my bushwalking.

We went 2 months without using the car – a weekly visit to the supermarket was done on foot or bike, we were both working from home, and when we left the house for exercise (as permitted!) it was locally on foot, bike or pack-raft (or a combination of all 3). Now that NSW travel is permitted the options are still limited as many of our usual bushwalking haunts are closed due to the devastating bushfires and floods that occurred during summer.

On our first week of permitted travel/camping post-Covid we struggled to come up with an option for a 3-day walk because of the limitations of park closures. I didn’t have particular hopes for our intended route other than I was pretty sure we were unlikely to bump into other people – something I treasure and has been limited of late. This may sound ironic given I’ve been isolated at home with days at a time where the only person I spoke to was Tom. All our local bushtracks were well used during lockdown (which is a good thing), and I was searching for isolation in the bush, something I haven’t been experiencing locally.

So my heart was filled with joy as as we discovered sensational vistas, solitude and promising signs of regeneration after the fires on Wanganderry Tablelands.

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Some NPWS signs didn’t fare so well during the fires

The first day the weather came to the party. It was sunny, still, a brilliant temperature for bushwalking and I don’t think it could have been any better. After a couple of hours of pleasant enough bush tracks we emerged onto a rocky ridge reminiscent of the area near Point Cameron. The views stretched as far as the eye could see with familiar features of Mt Colong, the Blue Breaks and maybe even Kanangra Walls.

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Morning tea on Day 1

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Magnificent ridge walking

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And more…

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Lunch with a view of scorched Bonnum Pic

So pleasant was the walking and amazing the views that we lingered perhaps a little longer than we should have. Eventually I gave Tom the hurry up. We still had a few more kilometres to go before the spot Tom had picked out on the map as the campsite for the night. It was a good thing we got moving as we left the rocky platforms and made our way onto a flat featureless ridge we slowed down significantly. The scrub was never dreadful but even with the fire there were slow sections with numerous entangled burnt out trees. The first walk in almost 6 months with an overnight pack was also telling on us and we were very happy to get to ‘the spot’ at 4:30pm. The light was golden, so there was no thought of setting up camp, instead we dumped packs, retrieved cheese, port and cameras and settled in for nature’s show.

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Happy hour with a view of Lake Burragorang

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Sunset

As we set up camp in the fading dusk we were treated to a spectacular moon rise. The full moon was fortunate as Tom discovered his head torch had no life in it. The stillness which we had enjoyed all day continued through the evening, capping off one of the best days I’ve had in the bush.

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Full moon and a campfire

It was a perfect night’s sleep to cap off the perfect day. I don’t remember a thing between falling asleep and waking up 5 minutes before the alarm was due to go off. We were up early for sunrise, and coffee on the cliffs.

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Sunrise day 2

The previous evening we’d mulled over the options for day 2. Eventually settling on an option which maximised use of the daylight hours and our location. With significantly lighter daypacks we headed further along the ridge to see how far we could get before our turn around time. The going was much easier than the previous afternoon, mainly on cliff edges with constant views.

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What a view! (Nattai Valley)

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View from the other side of the ridge (Lake Burragorang)

We reluctantly turned-around after morning tea and headed back to camp for lunch. Friends were also in the area and we were hoping to meet up with them to camp for the night. There was a slight chance they might day trip out to where we’d camped. Neither of us gave them great odds on turning up, and so it wasn’t surprising there was no sign of them even after we’d had lunch and packed up. Our faith should have been stronger as we did bump into two of them not long after we set off.

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Picking up water for the night from a tiny creek 20m off the ridge

Thanks to the recent rains in the last couple of months there was a lot of water about, and we didn’t have to drop far down into the small creeks to find some when needed.

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Late afternoon light

A few hours later we had no trouble locating the rest of our friends and quickly set about getting settled in so we could enjoy another sunset. The wind had come up and was bitingly cold but that seemed a small price to pay for the views. Toasted marshmallows and chestnuts finished off the evening, and we mostly made it to bushwalkers midnight.

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Sunset day 2

I’m not sure our friends were quite so happy we camped with them after another pre-dawn wake-up (and associated bag rustling) for sunrise viewing.

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Sunrise day 3

Despite the early wake-up breakfast was leisurely and we didn’t go our separate ways until 9:30am.

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Burnt out ridge. (And if you look carefully you might see some humans)

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Climbing a ridge

We took our time at morning tea… and at a lunch… which was a nice change from the previous two days where it had been a bit more go, go, go. The weather was more akin to the first day so it was a pleasure to sit in the still sunshine.

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Morning tea views

Eventually it was time to head towards the cars, enjoying all of the signs of recovery as we went. A wonderful long weekend in a new part of the bush.

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Heading back to the car

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Signs of life

 

Missingham Steps (14-03-2020)

Walking in the last few months has been pretty lean, firstly with the fires, and then with ongoing National Park closures to allow the parks to recover from the fires. Budderoo National Park was largely unaffected by the fires, with the bonus it is near our annual Club camping weekend.

Despite an increasingly dire weather forecast, which unfortunately did come to fruition, it was great to get out in the bush. An unexpected benefit, being away from news and updates even for only a few hours, was the mental relief from the current bombardment of updates about Covid-19. I would highly recommend it as a strategy if you’re finding the current state of affairs a little overwhelming.

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The cloud cleared briefly for some early views

 

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But by the time we got to our final lookup, before starting to descend, the rain had well and truly set in

 

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Early scrambling

 

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Missingham Steps are impressive (if not in step with current thinking)

 

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Continuing down the steps (or rocks as necessary)

 

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More steps

 

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Sometimes the steps aren’t advisable (these ones end about 3m above the boulder below)

 

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Kangaroo River

 

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Crossing the Kangaroo River

 

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Penny having conquered the walls of dirt at the bottom of the ridge

 

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Crowning glory of the day – a dry overhang for lunch!

 

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Some bush bashing before we picked up Stevo’s Track

 

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Carrington Falls

 

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The final crossing of the Kangaroo River

Back at the cars, soaked and cold, we beat a hasty retreat to the Robertson Pie Shop. Fortunately the rain did stop and we had a wonderful evening at the Club’s annual camping weekend.

The (4-day) Whanganui Journey (26-30 Dec 2019)

In September the NSW National Parks started burning. Tom optimistically thought we might be able to go canyoning in Wollemi after Christmas. As the weeks passed the burning spread I became convinced that was not going to be an option. In fact I didn’t think anywhere in NSW was going to be an option. Finally Tom agreed that it might be more sensible to extend our trip in NZ, since it seemed NZ was unlikely to be on fire. It might be flooded… but at least we wouldn’t be facing hazardous air quality. So a week before we were due to leave we re-booked our flights and found something to do that we could access (relatively) easily from Wellington and didn’t require Tom’s feet to have survived the Wangapeka Track. With limited time and little arm muscle we settled on 4 days of the Whanganui Journey Great “Walk”.

Boxing Day was an early start on the Intercity bus from Wellington to Taumarunui. We then sat round in Taumaranui for longer than planned (our lift forgot us)… fortunately we both had fat books with us! Eventually we made it to the Taumarunui Canoe Hire property where we were promptly processed. It was a very busy day with 60 people going on to the river the following day.

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Camp the night before we start

It was an early start, with the safety briefing at 6:45am. So in line with much of the trip we were up at 5:30am to get ready. Fortified by lattes we got through the safety briefing (“the canoe will never tip over, it’s always your fault”) and driven out to Ohinepane.

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Beautiful views, with coffee, before the safety briefing

There were 8 others (another couple, and a group of 6) starting with us. We did our test paddle around and got the seal of approval so Tom & I were the first to leave. There was a reasonable rapid almost immediately and everyone else was watching… no pressure!

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Ready to launch!

Successfully through the first (and probably most difficult one of the day) rapid we were carried down the river at a fair clip. Groups that had started the day before had been held back till 11am as the river was too high and we were still benefiting from some of that height.

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On our way

While there are campsites every couple of hours along the route, which make convenient stops, we decided to have lunch at Ohura Falls. There were waterfalls the whole way down the river, but they were generally of a vertical skinny nature.

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Lunch at Ohura Falls on Day 1

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Working hard

The campsite at Whakahoro is a 400m walk, with 50m vertical, from the canoe tie-up area. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have to lug 5 barrels up I assure you it’s not much fun. Not surprising then we were ready for a swim after that!

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Swim below Whakahoro campsite at the end of Day 1

It was pretty windy at the campsite and our tent which had been saturated from condensation the night before was soon dry. There were a few Te Araroa walkers who were starting on the river the following day so we heard a bit about their experiences on the trail that evening.

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Getting ready to go on Day 2

As we’d left our bookings till fairly late in the piece we hadn’t been able to stay at the ‘recommended’ campsite on night 2. Instead of John Coull we were headed for Ohaurora, two hours earlier. Subsequently we weren’t in any particular hurry on day 2. Unfortunately there was a bit of headwind and we had to work pretty hard rather than just drifting with the river. We had a stop early on to explore one of the many side creeks, which turned out to be a reasonable canyon.

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Oh look we found a canyon!

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The man in his element

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Morning tea stop at Mangapapa Day 2

My willingness to stop for further canyon exploration was muted with the effort with the headwind. I was quite happy just to get to camp – the first there – at 2:30pm and not have to paddle any more. Since we were first we got the choice of the campsites – a lovely spot with river views slightly removed from the main grassy area. The next couple arrived about an hour later, as they were choosing their spot, I realised it was Bruce who I had played Ultimate with back in 2001. Small world indeed! Though I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t bumped into someone we knew on the trip – these sorts of things always seem to happen.

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The prime site at Ohaurora Campsite night 2

With our early camp on day 2 we had a long day 3. We got up at 5:30am and were paddling by 7am. When we arrived at John Coull there were groups who hadn’t left yet – that was even with a couple of stops for canyon exploration.

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Here we go again Day 3

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Pull off for more canyon exploration

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Canyon!

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What is up here?

Unfortunately we left John Coull just ahead of the group we termed the “flotilla” since there were 16 of them (8 canoes). These arrived at Mangawaiiti just after we did for morning tea. We got away before them but felt compelled to paddle a bit harder than we might of (no wind today) to keep separated from them.

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Morning tea at Mangawaiiti campsite Day 4

Fortunately I’d just managed to retrieve lunch from our barrel at Mangapurua before the canoe got bumped out of the way by the arrival of the flotilla. We headed up the hill on the 40 minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere.

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Peak hour at Mangapurua!!

We seemed to have timed things fairly well. Despite seeing hoards of people on the track by the time we got to the Bridge we had it almost to ourselves.

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I’m on a bridge to nowhere….

We stopped for more canyon exploration – the wind and jet boats were causing a bit of chop so we decided the boat couldn’t be left by itself. Tom went off exploring. I wasn’t that keen but he insisted it was worth it. I got to a section where I needed both hands and was umming and aahing about pushing on, but Tom was waving at me to keep going. So abandoning the camera I did. Just as well – it was the most impressive canyon of the trip.

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Best canyon of the trip… but I had to leave my camera here as I needed my hands

It had been a long day, with the canyon side-trips, the walk to the Bridge to Nowhere and several hours of paddling, we didn’t get to camp till 5pm (from a 7am start). The campsite at Ramanui was busy, and I was very glad to have the owner drive our barrels up to the site on his quad bike. The flotilla arrived not long afterwards and we ended up camped in the midst of them. However, despite the crowds it was a very scenic spot and I enjoyed sitting on the grass eating cheese and biccies and finishing our port.

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Very scenic (if packed) campsite at Ramanui night 3

The forecast rain came overnight, but we got up at 5:30am again despite the drizzle. Thinking we’d drag our gear over to the camp kitchen to avoid disturbing others we were somewhat surprised to find bodies on the floor in the kitchen, and sleeping on the covered picnic tables! I felt less bad about disturbing them… Though turned out the people on the floor in the kitchen where there because the tent they’d hired had the wrong fly with it. It was substantially smaller than the tent which was obviously no good when the rain started. I think the company they hired from was going to be getting some frank feedback!

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Slightly worse weather early on day 4

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About to start off on our last day

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Gloomy, wet start to the day

The wet weather burnt off after a couple of hours, in time for us to hit the trickiest rapids of our 4 days. The Autapu rapid is apparently known as “50/50″ – the odds of staying in your canoe. We took on a fair bit of water but stayed upright. Of course we don’t have any photos of the rapids since there was no time for waving a camera as we were going down them!

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Te Araroa walkers at the end of one of the rapids

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Side-creek exploration

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Side-creek exploration

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Tom off to see some caves

At the end at 12:30 it was time for action. Tent was set to dry, ate our emergency noodles for lunch, and a full re-pack from barrels into packs as we were getting dropped off in Raetihi to get the bus back to Wellington. A great 4 days – though my lazy left shoulder is still complaining about all the work it had to do several days later.

Wangapeka Track (16-21 Dec 2019)

It had been a while since we’d done a multi-day walk, but once you’ve done a few the food planning comes pretty naturally. NZ provides some challenge in that we couldn’t bring home-dehydrated meals which had any meat in them. Tom had whipped up a delicious Moroccan vegetable stew which Customs let in.

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The usual preparation

We walked the Wangapeka Track from West to East. This meant we had a 4 hour drive to get dropped off at the Little Wanganui end of the track. We were somewhat nervous as there was a fair bit of rain forecast and there are a lot of creek and river crossings to be negotiated. We didn’t really want to walk back out to the West and have to repeat the 4 hour drive.

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The unassuming Little Wanganui track end of the Wangapeka Track

Day 1 took us to Belltown-Mananui Hut.

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A slip early on day 1

The track was pretty overgrown so we were wet by the time we got to the hut even though the rain wasn’t overly heavy.

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A bit overgrown + rain = wet!

It was a warm night and I was unsure if I had brought the wrong sleeping bag. Unfortunately the hut had mossies in it, so I had a sweaty night hiding in my sleeping bag.

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Climbing out of McHarries Creek on Day 2

The forecast had been for a clear morning with rain developing so we were walking by 7am (long days meant it was getting light at 5am). This was our longest day – getting to Taipo Hut around 3pm. While there was a reasonable climb up to Little Wanganui Saddle the most challenging part of the day was some of the terrain along the Little Wanganui River which was pretty slow going.

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The saddle we’re aiming for. Probably the most visible it will be for us all trip!

 

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Negotiating the slippery track

 

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Tom & a South Island robin

The cloud descended suddenly while we were having morning tea at the Wangapeka Bivvy – unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the view on arrival, and there was nothing but cloud to see by the time we set off again.

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Morning tea break on day 2

And so we arrived at the saddle (we thought) in thick cloud. I knew there was meant to be some tarns but we couldn’t see anything.

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Climbing up to the saddle

 

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I think we might be on the saddle. Can’t really see anything

Until suddenly the edge of a lake slowly appeared as I focussed on what I could see through the cloud.

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Oh! There’s a lake there.

If Tom hadn’t been dawdling we probably would have missed any views, as suddenly the cloud started lifting.

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And suddenly the cloud lifted!

For about 10 minutes we got some views, before abruptly being covered in cloud again.

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We can see something

We pushed on to Stag Flat Bivvy for lunch. Glad to be able to get into a dry space to eat.

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Stag Flat

Before arriving at Taipo Hut at 3pm – at exactly the same time as a Melbourne family walking the track in the opposite direction. The verandah was not very well designed for multiple people getting out of wet gear at the same time. This was the only night we shared a hut in the 5 nights we were out – it was also the largest hut so that was convenient timing.

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Taipo Hut – very small verandah when it’s wet

We had hoped to get up onto the tops somewhere in the later part of the trip, but the weather wasn’t really conducive to a high camp. So we headed for Helicopter Flag Hut for night 3.

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Walking on day 3

There were a few fixed chains along the track – some sections which would have been dodgy going without them.

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Fixed chains

Tom convinced me we should take detour to see Saxon Falls. It seemed reasonable to expect the Saxon Falls Track might take one near Saxon Falls, but they were illusively out of sight. We settled with our only outdoor lunch of the trip on the river.

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Our only lunch outside with some rare blue sky

 

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The very cosy Helicopter Flat Hut. Sleeps 10 – glad it was only the 2 of us!

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So where’s the track?

 

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One of many side creek crossings

 

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Purple fungus

 

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Where’s the track?

 

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Out of the bush briefly

We had morning tea next to the Karamea River where we got our first sightings of the rare Whio. There were 4 – seemed to be parents and 2 adolescents. We were privileged to watch them make their way up stream for about 15 minutes.

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Whio (blue duck)

 

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Whio (blue duck)

On our way up towards Wangapeka Saddle I spotted a deer and we followed foot prints along the track for quite a way. Wangapeka Saddle had no views and it was completely tree clad, which made it a pleasant enough lunch spot since there was some escape from the wind.

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Beech forest growth

There was plenty of beech forest growth. Possibly a result of a masting event.

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Stone Hut

That night it poured with rain. I woke to a large bang and wondered if half the hillside had fallen off. It was only when lighting lit up the hut a couple of seconds later I realised the bang was thunder. It rumbled above us before heading down the valley. We were very snug in the hut – and I was very glad of my warm sleeping bag. After night 1 there had been no issues with being too hot!

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Early morning clear skies after huge storms over night

By early morning the rain had cleared. I almost forced Tom out of bed so we could do a side-trip up Mt Luna. But I figured with the volume of rain overnight, even with the clear day, it was unlikely to be good conditions for a foray up to the tops. As it turned out we may not have even been able to cross the river to get to the Mt Luna track! Instead we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and left the hut around 11am.

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The result of the overnight storms…

We lost the track fairly early on and found ourselves walking through a flooded creek – fortunately re-finding the track fairly quickly! That said much of the track was flowing.

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More side-creek crossings

 

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Track or creek?

 

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How much longer will this section of track last for?

It was only a short section to get to Kings Creek Hut and the day had somewhat cleared by the time we arrived, but I was grateful we didn’t have to go any further.

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Kings Creek Hut

Our final day was the only fine one of the trip. It was nice to finally see some views and blue sky.

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What’s going on? Finally a blue sky day for our walk out

 

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Mt Patriach – we had hoped to get up on the tops, but weather didn’t cooperate

Our transport provider had advised us shortly before the trip that they didn’t think they would be able to cross the Dart Ford to pick us up. That meant we had an extra 8km walk along the road to meet them. That was the worst 8km of the trip – neither of us big fans of road walking and my new boots didn’t agree with at all. Fortunately we were able to cross the Dart Ford, and we did see a Pajero get across – but anything less powerful would have struggled. From there it was a 1.5 hour drive back to Nelson for a shower and dry feet!

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Crossing the Dart Ford to meet our transport

Despite the weather I enjoyed the trip. It had a really remote feel to it – no doubt aided by us only seeing 2 other groups on the track.

Bowens Creek North (1 Dec 2019)

On Saturday night we had a very pleasant evening at Cathedral Reserve with a bunch of new female canyoning friends. Those of us not feeling too worse for wear the next morning (the wear was from the prior day canyons not overindulging… I think!) headed off for Bowens Creek North Canyon. I was teetering on the edge of wussing-out. Mt Wilson was covered in mist, I had a cracking headache, but I decided since I was there I should just do it. The mist eventually lifted, though some smoke lingered from the many fires in the surrounding areas. I was very glad I did as we had a great day out – lovely to do an all-women trip with new friends.

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The way in

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Kylie on the first (optional) abseil

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Trish on the first (compulsory) abseil

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Bec on the first (compulsory) abseil

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Looking down canyon

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Going down the plughole

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The lovely Kylie

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Bags away!

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Monica heading down

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The group at the bottom

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Looking back up canyon

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Beautiful

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More greenery

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Walls of ferns

 

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