Author Archives: rachel

Morong Deep Fail #3 (12 Jan 2019)

In Jan 2018 I finally had a successful descent of Morong Falls after 2 failed attempts in 2008 and 2010. Sadly Tom hadn’t been able to make that trip so I was keen to do it again so he could come along. I optimistically put it on the SBW Program for him…. Only to find he was still injured :(

I’d had a lot of interest in the trip, and a waiting list. But was the weather going to come to the party? I spent the weeks leading in studying the Kowmung River levels. I knew that for our successful trip last year the Cedar Creek level had been around 0.25. I had been told that up to about 0.35 was still fun and up to 0.4 was doable… it had taken several weeks for the level to get down to 0.36 a few days out from the trip. Great! Except then the days leading up had storms forecast. Shooters Hill had 28mm on Thursday but it didn’t seem to impact the river levels. (NB. Cedar Ford is >45km downstream of Morong Deep so not a perfect indicator of conditions)

cedar_ford_to_fri

Water levels up to the Friday (11th) before the trip

Not dissimilar to my Colo River walk I lost participants as the week progressed. I gave everyone the options on Thursday – should we proceed knowing that we might have to bail out? I got positive responses so we were on. Water levels were holding in the 0.35-0.40 range, forecast for Saturday was great. Fingers-crossed!

It rained heavily the whole way to Glenbrook on Friday evening. This wasn’t really consistent with the forecast. While picking up Clive & Will in Glenbrook I have a look at the radar – there’s widespread rain everywhere. Hmm. The rain continues most of the way up the mountains. We get fuel in Mt Vic and I have another look at the river levels – still sitting at 0.38, the rain gauges in the areas surrounding the Kowmung catchment haven’t had more than 10mm (compared to Goulburn and some parts of the main mountains getting >50mm that afternoon).

We get to Boyd River campground at 10:15pm. “@#&*!” I hear as we’re getting gear out the car. “What’s up?” “My shoes are in my car in Glenbrook, I only have thongs”. “oh”.

The rain starts pouring just as I’ve put my fly on the tent. I’m sitting in the tent, listening to the rain, looking at all the maps I’ve brought trying to come up with an alternative plan since Morong Deep is clearly out of the picture. And what am I going to do with shoeless Will?

I didn’t sleep well.

Woken by what sounded like hundreds of kookaburras at 5am my thoughts click back to the alternatives.

I finally meet Nic, the 4th and final member of the party. Part of the reason the trip is on the program is because Nic suggested it – but under club rules as he is still a prospective member he can’t lead trips yet. We’ve been exchanging emails for weeks but we haven’t met before. “Great day to go and have a look” he says. “Oh” I think.

Somewhat later than planned Nic, Clive & I set off for the locked gate (“giving us time for the river to go down”). It’s a beautiful day. We get to Morong Creek “that’s quite a lot of water” says Nic. Indeed. Not so much we couldn’t cross so we cross and head down to the Kowmung.

IMG_3850

Upper Morong Falls

IMG_3851

Upper Morong Falls

After a bit of faffing above bluffs we find our way down. A brown, frothy river meets us. Crossing looks a little challenging. If my mind hadn’t already been made up, it was made up then. We would be heading back out shortly.

IMG_3852

Our first view of the Kowmung looking downstream

We put a marker in place to see whether the river was rising or falling and had morning tea. Nic and I managed to get across the river dry and went for a bit of a scout. After half an hour I don’t think the marker had moved, though Nic more optimistic than me thought it might have dropped very slightly.

IMG_3854

Nic using the only dry crossing near the bottom of the spur

IMG_3856

Savage Cataract

IMG_3857

Nic exploring downstream on the true-right. We exit up the spur on the left. (for comparison see this photo from last year – the big boulders are the same, but the river is barely visible)

For something to do we decided to cross the river, make our way downstream a few hundred metres, cross back and head up the next spur. That was relatively straight-forward though there were very few safe places to cross the river.

My camera also decided it’d had enough, so that’s the end of my photos for the day.

IMG_3859

More river

It was a fun, if humid and hot climb up the spur through a few granite outcrops. We had lunch at a lovely cliff-edge spot at the top with good views. It was the perfect weather for doing the trip – just the wrong water levels.

After lunch we headed back to the cars, and were a little surprised to find my car parked there as well as Nic’s. We’d left my car with shoeless Will so he could at least go somewhere from the campground. Shortly after he arrived back with a family he’d met – they’d been swimming at Morong Falls so we must have only just missed them after lunch.

I had a nap, then we prevaricated about what do the next day. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for any of the options on the table. We went for a swim in the pool above Kalang Falls which was wonderful and refreshing. We then came to the democratic decision of going home that night.

Back home at 10:30pm I had a look at the river levels. Wow.

cedar_ford_to_sun

Water levels including Sat/Sun! Peaked at 0.57

Rainfall_24_hours

Rainfall in the 24 hours before the trip

 

Bungleboori Canyoning (Dec 2018)

Tom and I had set out on a 4 day trip on the 27th but that lasted only a day as Tom re-injured his wrist. Disappointed we headed home and I put out a call on facebook for canyon playmates not really expecting any responses since any self-respecting outdoors person would be away on an extended trip at this time of year. Plus the forecast was for temperatures in the mid-high 30s which was a bit daunting. To my surprise Alex said he was keen (just to clarify, Alex is of course a self-respecting outdoors person who had meant to be on a 5 day trip which had been cancelled due to the heat). I’d been wanting to get back to Crikey for a while and suitable/willing canyon partners for that trip were few and far between so suggested that as my preferred option. Despite having just driven back from the Newnes Plateau on the 28th I was up at 5:30am on the 29th doing it all again. Alex was (surprisingly) early for our meeting at North Richmond, and we were away from the car at the HITW carpark by 9am. Alex hadn’t been to the area before so didn’t have the same scarring of walking the tracks into HITW previously (or maybe I’m not so much scarred from the walk in but the anticipation of the long walk out).

It wasn’t long before we were dropping into the cool recesses of Hole-in-the-Wall. As there were no other cars in the car park we didn’t see any one as we made our way through the canyon.

IMG_3726

Alex in Hole-in-the-Wall

IMG_3731

Alex abseiling in Hole-in-the-Wall

The squeeze in the glowworm cave was a bit strenuous with our overnight packs but eventually we were both through.

IMG_3735

Are you sure you can fit into that hole?

It was midday when we hit Dingo Creek. We had lunch at the ‘usual’ lunch spot then headed up North-East Canyon. It was almost a year to the day that I’d done Nosedive with James so that meant we avoided any faffing about with route finding.

IMG_3742

Monitor near Dingo Creek

It is very quick to get into Banks Canyon and I couldn’t believe it had been 13 years (also almost to the day) since I was last there. The upper section is very pretty if not particularly deep.

IMG_3743

Upper section of Banks Canyon

Despite having done the canyon once before I had no memory of it and I hadn’t looked at the notes which made it feel exploratory (if not for the proliferation of slings). It makes things much more exciting when you’re abseiling into a dark hole and you can’t tell how deep it is!

IMG_3755

Alex abseiling into the dark

IMG_3765

Abseil number 3

IMG_3767

Alex abseiling in Banks Canyon

IMG_3778

Alex abseiling in Banks Canyon

It was 3pm by the time we were back in Dingo Creek. We walked downstream, stopping to check out the lower reaches of Fortitude Canyon.

IMG_3785

Looking towards the Bungleboori from the bowels of Fortitude Canyon

After some discussion we decided we’d push on to Froth and Bubble before making camp. The next sections of the Bungleboori are lovely, with towering cliffs and canyon formation. It was hard work with my overnight pack and lack of canyoning fitness (only the 3rd day this season?).

IMG_3789

Delightful Dingo Creek

We got to the Froth and Bubble junction at 5pm, and I realised I had no information about the supposed camp cave in the area. Fortunately it took us all of about 2 minutes to find a good one. So we settled in for a pleasant night around the fire (glad that we were in Blue Mountains NP and not Wollemi NP where the park fire ban for all of summer is still in place). It was fairly cool, no clues down in the creek of the heat wave which had settled over NSW.

IMG_3796

Simple pleasures (thank goodness we’re in Blue Mountains NP where the park fire ban was lifted)

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep. I was woken from a deep sleep thinking Alex had whacked me on the elbow with sticks he was breaking for the fire… to find he was asleep and the fire was out. That somehow turned to me thinking some creature had bitten my elbow. But there was no scuttling of a creature retreating into the bush. Unclear what had been dream and what was real I struggled to go back to sleep full of thoughts of a creature large enough to bite my elbow. Eventually I drifted off only to woken by very noisy rustling near my head (which was pointed into the back of the cave). Again no tell-tale noise of a creature retreating, so I tried to sleep again. The rustling returned. This time I decided to get the torch out and have a bit more of a look around. To my surprise (and some relief?) the Bruschetta Chip packet, which had been sitting by the fire when I went to bed, was now only a metre from my head. The packet was made of foil and explained the loud rustling. I figured whatever had moved it would be back so I sat there in the dark waiting to spot it when the rustling resumed. I didn’t have to wait long before there was a rattus fuscipes staring back at me in the torchlight. It was somewhat unperturbed and stared back for a long time before eventually abandoning the bruschetta chips. I put the chips in the tree and finally managed to go back to sleep!

IMG_3797

Our very comfortable camp cave… but why are the bruschetta chips in the tree?

I’d given Alex a sleep-in so we didn’t leave camp until 9am. The entry to Crikey initially seemed to be taking a long time but then suddenly we were in, an hour after leaving camp.

IMG_3800

Crikey!

IMG_3802

Alex abseiling into Crikey

IMG_3810

Alex in the middle of the second abseil (or start of the third if you re-rig)

IMG_3816

Canyon formation

IMG_3818

Alex about to abseil into the gloom. We had our torches on

At the bottom of our 3rd abseil it was pretty dark so we were using head torches. There was a large eel in the pool which seemed attracted to our lights and hung around close to the surface while we retrieved the rope. As Alex said sometimes it’s better not to have light so you can’t see what’s in the pools!

IMG_3821

Canyon formation

IMG_3825

Alex silhouetted just before the long swim

IMG_3831

Looking back up canyon

IMG_3835

Wider canyon

IMG_3838

Alex abseiling

IMG_3840

Canyon formation

A bit further on Alex yells up from the bottom of an abseil that he has a snake on him. I figured I’d misheard but when I got down there was a very small snake which appeared to be dead floating in the pool. Alex assured me it was very much alive when it was on him, so we weren’t that surprised when it suddenly rolled over and stuck it’s head up. I think it was probably a juvenile mustard-bellied snake.

IMG_3842

Alex has been offering sacrifices to the canyon gods (Check out that bleeding knee)

It was interesting to the see the ‘age’ on the rockfall at the end. When we’d been here in 2011 the fall was new.

IMG_3844

Rockfall with 9 years of age on it (recent last time I was here)

We were back at our cave for lunch, and then started the long slog back to the cars.

IMG_3847

Don’t spill your tea Alex!

We went up Froth and Bubble Canyon as far as we could, soaking in the cool, knowing it was going to be a hot walk.

IMG_3849

Exploring up Froth and Bubble Canyon

To our pleasant surprise there was quite a lot of high cloud and so the heat wasn’t too bad. The car temperature gauge did say it was 34°C when I turned it on at 5:30pm but had cooled down to 29°C after a few minutes of driving. A great weekend away.

Colo Passes 11a & 13 (15-16 Dec 20018)

It was the case of the shrinking trip. A week before we had 7, by Tuesday it was 6, Thursday down to 5. 5 minutes before we were meant to meet in Windsor on Saturday morning we were down to 4 when I got an sms from Alex informing me he had just woken up… and he wasn’t parked just round the corner. Given the weather forecast (hot with potential severe storms) I wasn’t too unhappy with the small group. Since Tom was in doubt to complete the trip (after all we were due another person to pull out…) we decided to take 2 cars in case Tom needed to bail out early.

I was loaded up with much of our shared gear as well as my packraft which made navigating the off-track sections awkward. As there had been storms the previous two days the rocks in the creek were wet and walking on them was akin to walking on ice. The slippery conditions made for slow progress in the creek.

IMG_3628

Treacherous conditions in the creek

We had various forays up onto the sides to get around some of the larger boulders, ultimately ending up above the junction of our first creek and the main one. Sweat was pouring off us with the humid conditions so after a drink and some scouting we backtracked a bit and found a way back into the creek.

IMG_3630

Almost canyoning

I managed to pick up a couple of footpads on the true right which eventually brought us down to the Colo River around 12:30pm.

IMG_3634

Preparing to launch

IMG_3635

The crew on the water early on

After lunch and inflating the flotilla launched. Bill was quick to get some fishing in – obviously having practised casting from a lilo a few times before. It wasn’t long before he had a reasonable sized bass but decided we had a bit too far to go in the heat to keep it for dinner.

IMG_3637

Bill fishing from the shore

We were in no hurry to get down to Canoe Creek so we drifted where we could, enjoying the flow particularly in the earlier sections.

IMG_3640

Early rapids

IMG_3642

Bill of the king of the lilo!

The lilos probably had the better run through most of the rapids – there seemed to be lots of lilo sized gaps and not so many pack-raft sized!

IMG_3645

It’s a hard life

The promised storms developed and hit us briefly. After about 5 minutes of heavy rain it cleared to a lovely afternoon, and we were feeling pretty happy with our decision to be out there.

IMG_3646

The storm about to hit us hard

Talk turned to who would be at Canoe Creek – we were meant to be meeting another SBW group, but it was unclear from a series of text messages that morning whether they were still coming. Alex had said he might catch up with us later in the day. My money was on no one being there, but second choice was just Emmanuelle, Vivien & Justine.

IMG_3649

More victorious lilo rapid-running

IMG_3652

Not quite as smooth for the pack-raft!

The last section of the river as we approached the Canoe Creek junction seemed to take a while with the series of rapids growing longer and requiring more clambering over. Sadly Bill’s lilo decided it had enough at this point and popped. His fishing rod & reel not wanting to miss out also decided to malfunction (snap / fall off).

Eventually we came within sight of the corner and I could see Emmanuelle standing there waiting for us. After some good-natured castigation at our late arrival (51 minutes after happy hour!) we set-up for the night, then settled down to happy hour at the somewhat controversial time of 6:30pm. Vivien’s group had similar shrinking issues to mine having also gone from 7 to 4 (only Andrew had made it in addition with V, E & J).

We had moved on to dinner by the time a distinctive figure with his classic-felt bush hat appeared carrying a boogie board. Alex had indeed eventually caught up with us – after 7pm! We had a pleasant evening, but not around the campfire due to the ongoing park fire ban.

With only a short walk out the next day there was no designated get-up time and Tom & I managed to sleep through till 8:30am. The morning was whiled away with swimming, napping and general laziness. After a cooling swim we set off at 11am. I’d forgotten how steep the Canoe Creek track (Pass 13) was and with my heavy pack I needed a couple of boosts from behind to get up the steeper sections.

IMG_3654

Cooling swim before the steep climb-out

IMG_3656

Taking a breather after the steep section

We finished off the weekend with a late lunch at the Colo Riverside (with air-conditioning! 36°C outside according to the car). An excellent weekend in the bush. (And Tom survived).

Galong Creek (8 Dec 2018)

It was a beautiful day, if perhaps a little hot for most Wild Dogs walks with the forecast predicting 28°C. We got our climbing out of the way early. Caro wanted to show Warwick the iron pots of Ironpot Mountain so we went up before hanging a right and heading down, down, down. We were treated to views of a wedgetail eagle soaring just above us. The spur we took was easy going and we enjoyed morning tea on the banks of the Coxs River (once the cows had wandered off)

IMG_3581

Easy spur down to the Coxs River

The initial sections of Galong Creek were pretty standard creek walking. A few snakes here and there, a pig and a fairly active echidna. Despite walking along (or in) the creek it was still pretty hot, and a few of the party members took the opportunity for ‘swims’ (probably too generous a term) as we went.

IMG_3586

Caro having a dip

After lunch we hit the pink granite, with lots of small waterfalls and scrambling.

IMG_3594

Granite gorge walking

IMG_3595

The blue brigade heading towards me

IMG_3596

Think we might have a compulsory wade coming up

IMG_3599

Scrambling up one of many waterfalls

IMG_3603

Alex tackling the same waterfall

IMG_3608

Climbing around the next one

IMG_3610

Looking down

IMG_3612

Time for a swimming break

IMG_3616

More granite walking

One of the highlights was a Powerful Owl which flew under the canopy not far above my head. We were able to watch it for a few minutes before the smaller birds chased it off.

IMG_3618

The creek got narrower and steeper

IMG_3619

Wouldn’t want to be stuck in here in a flash-flood

IMG_3623

The group contemplating the next climb

IMG_3625

More climbing

Eventually the granite relented and then we just had a short walk back to the cars. We finished the day with refreshments in Blackheath. A great day out.

The Pondage (27-28 Oct 2018)

It had been over 6 months since Tom & I had done an overnight bushwalk around Sydney*, so we chose something fairly easy to get back out into the bush.

IMG_3461

Tom pagoda scrambling near Baal Bone Gap

IMG_3463

What do you mean I have to go down there?

IMG_3464

No I don’t want to hold this position while you get your camera out

IMG_3465

Beautiful fern gully

IMG_3468

Where on earth are we? and how do we get around this pagoda?

IMG_3470

2 hours of walking… definitely in need of a snooze

IMG_3472

Beautiful part of the world

IMG_3474

Sunset viewing

IMG_3479

Camp. It was a bit cooler on Sunday

IMG_3480

Impressive cliffs

IMG_3484

Feeling small

IMG_3487

Tom & J in a field of native irises

*I had done K2K in 2 days, but this was the first one we’d done together since April.

Traverse of the gods (29 Sep 2018)

I’d been plumping to do this walk for most of winter but the weather conditions hadn’t come to the party. Finally on our last weekend living in Blackheath we got a reasonable forecast so off we went. We hadn’t managed to get out much in recent weeks so it was nice to be striding out along the Mt Banks firetrail in the sunshine. It wasn’t long before we were at the spot where we needed to descend to the half-way ledge.

IMG_3406

The half-way ledge we’re planning on traversing

IMG_3407

Early days and pretty easy going

IMG_3412

A slightly slopey/loose section… at least for Tom! Apparently he was “careful” (and therefore I wasn’t)

Early on things were pretty obvious. There weren’t too many choices – just keep following the ledge. Generally it was fairly easy going, only one slopey section that made Tom nervous. Then we hit a big gully where there were many options.

IMG_3416

ok, so that’s where we’ve been… now where are we going?

We got to explore many different ledges before finally hitting the logbook (and therefore hopefully the right height!).

IMG_3421

rock formation

Entering the “Devils Throat” and the narrowest ledge of the route to date. We may have done some other narrow ledges unnecessarily while we were trying to find the correct level.

IMG_3425

Finally we’re at the ‘devil’s throat’ at the right level… now it gets narrow

IMG_3427

Lovely views of the Grose Valley

On the other side of the Devils Throat was a narrow ledge. The easiest (?) way across was to sit on your bum and ease yourself over. It was more awkward than it looked but dry for us so no great drama.

IMG_3428

Tricky narrow bulging ledge to get past (is more awkward than it looks)

From there we scrambled up on to the tops for lunch – somewhat later than it might have been had we picked the correct route to start with.

IMG_3430

Yes Tom you need to mantle!

IMG_3432

Well-earned lunch!

From there it was a relatively easy traverse around onto the Mt Banks summit track. A great short day out.

K2K in two days (8-9 Sep 2018)

I have walked the Kanangra to Katoomba route twice before – once as a 3 day trip back in 2007, (& photos) and then last year in 1 day. To complete the set I needed to do it in 2 days. The idea was conceived only a few weeks earlier when Jo & I were doing another SBW trip, and so it ended up on the SBW Spring Program. We had hoped to get enough people to do it in two groups, walking in opposite directions, with a car swap. We got up to 9 at one stage but in the end we had a party of 6, so only one group. Which was fortunate since that meant we all fitted under the shelter shed when we arrived in the rain at the Kanangra Walls car park on Friday night.

IMG_3323

Misty Kanangra Walls car park early on Saturday morning

We were rudely awoken by a fellow SBWer “Kanangra Bill” who was up before the birds (or at least well before my alarm). Nicci & Bill were off even earlier than us. Our group got away at 7:20am. It seemed the bulk of the rain had bucketed down in the early hours and we were hopeful the cloud would lift during the morning.

IMG_3325

Enjoying the views from the plateau

Thick low cloud and wet vegetation made for a fairly quick pace (as there was nothing to look at), countered by needing to take care with the wet surface underfoot. There was no question of stopping for too long as the cold quickly set in.

IMG_3326

We got very excited as we could briefly see something

IMG_3327

Gordon Smith Pass was a little slippery

IMG_3330

Coming into Gabes Gap

Geoff & I had similar motivations for doing the walk. We’d both done K2K in a day in recent years and had loved the ridge walking but wanted to redo it with more time to appreciate the views. The others hadn’t done the full route so were just wanting to experience it for the first time. We’d all been as far as Cloudmaker before so I wasn’t too upset about the cloud since we’d seen those views before. My dreams of having lunch in the sun near Mt Moorilla Maroo taking in rarely seen views was not to be. With the cloud still very low we settled on lunch at Dex Creek. Our spirits were buoyed when we saw glimpses of blue sky in the direction we were heading – the cloud was lifting! We were so cold though that most of the party was packed and ready to go before Jo had even finished eating her lunch.

IMG_3335

Lunch at Dex Creek

Sadly the lifted cloud didn’t last long and we were soon back walking in the midst of it. The navigation between Dex Creek and Mt Amarina was surprisingly straight-forward. The foot pad was pretty clear to follow other than one spot near the Eastern end of the Cloudmaker summit ridge. Possibly everything being wet made it easier to see on the ground.

IMG_3337

Pretending we can see anything

IMG_3341

Atmospheric ridge walking

By the time we got to Mt Strongleg we were no longer walking in mist so we had a break to take in some views. Then it was the steep descent down to Kanangra Creek. Reports from the previous week had said there was no flow in the lower section of the creek. We deliberately aimed off on the spur to the NW at the bottom so we’d hit the creek high up where it was more likely to be flowing.

IMG_3342

Taking a break before descending Strongleg

IMG_3345

The cloud started lifting as we descended

We hadn’t needed to worry – Kanangra Creek was flowing strong and clearly right until the junction with the Coxs River. I was quite surprised, as while there had been a bit of rain in the previous week and a dump the night before, the creek gave no indication it had been dry only a few days earlier.

IMG_3350

The trials of being chased by the bushwalking paparazzi

IMG_3351

Well-equipped camp at Konangaroo Clearing

The other reason I’d wanted to do this route was to camp at Konangaroo Clearing which I hadn’t done before. It’s a very large space but fairly undulating so a few people took a while to find the right spot for their tent.

IMG_3356

Sunday morning at camp

We got away from camp at 8am on Sunday with crossings of Kanangra Creek and Coxs River to immediately challenge us.

IMG_3357

The crystal clear water of Kanangra Creek meets the murky Coxs River

Unusually for me I went for a crossing with shoes on as the Coxs was murky and knee high at the deepest. I’d spent all of the previous day with wet feet so I figured my socks and shoes were already damp. Half the party gamely went for the bare foot option.

IMG_3364

Crossing the Coxs River

1.5 hours later we were all at the top of Mt Yellow Dog happy to see the sun and feel a bit of breeze. The large cairn which had existed there last year was no more.

IMG_3372

Jo on Mt Yellow Dog

From Mt Yellow Dog the route was straight-forward if becoming more painful by the kilometre. A day and a half of wet feet wasn’t doing my feet any good and I was looking forward to lunch and a chance to dry them off.

IMG_3373

“only” 15km to go

We decided we needed some views for lunch since we’d been so deprived the previous day. So we had a late-ish lunch above Tarros Ladders. Everyone handled the ladders well – even the one party member who didn’t like exposure and didn’t realise he had to climb spikes until I mentioned it at morning tea…

IMG_3379

Jo on Tarros Ladders

IMG_3385

Jo & Jon with our route stretching out beyond them

I should have done something with my feet after lunch but didn’t so the Narrow Neck fire trail bash was not the most fun I’d ever had. Final count was a bleeding left heel, blisters under 3 toes and weird blotchy swollen ankles. I was in a much better shape after K2K in a day! Nonetheless we all survived and had a good time despite the weather.

IMG_3389

Geoff, Rachel, Yoon, Jo, Jon, Michael

Tom came down to meet us as due to a traffic snarl in the Harbour Tunnel on Friday night we hadn’t managed to get two cars out to the locked gate. We were happy to get into the packet of chips he produced! Then we reconvened at the pub in Katoomba for a celebratory beverage and some well deserved food. We were an amusing (?) site leaving the pub as we hobbled in our various ways back to the cars. A fun weekend but I think I’ll be doing a bit more training before my next K2K endeavour!

Embracing the wind! (19 Aug 2018)

While we’ve been living in Blackheath it was been very windy a surprising number of weekends. Our general approach has been to try and find walks to do on Eastern facing slopes but none of the things on my to-do list met that criteria. So we bit the bullet and headed off to explore Blackmans Crown.

IMG_3255

Rock Arch

The exploring of the outcrop was definitely made more exciting by the very strong gusts of wind. Having to pause half way through a somewhat delicate move while the next 50km/h blast passed made things a bit nervy.

IMG_3258

Narrow sidling

IMG_3259

Is that the way?

IMG_3261

Almost at the summit

IMG_3264

Tom’s lying down in this shot because it was too dangerous to stand up with the wind gusts!

IMG_3265

Lovely views

IMG_3267

Is he going to fit?

IMG_3268

Or is he stuck?!

IMG_3273

Quick trip to Utah :)

IMG_3276

And now what?

IMG_3280

Then we went looking for a cave in the snow

IMG_3281

Results of several snow showers

IMG_3282

Another snow shower

 

Lower Zambezi – Zambia Part III (5-10 Aug 2018)

After a few days at my school reunion (Part II) we were ready for the next part of our trip. We left Mkushi early on Sunday morning to drive to Kariba. We had a much better trip to Lusaka compared to the way up – a lot less traffic as we were earlier in the day. We had lunch at one of the big malls in Lusaka – they were very impressive – you could have been anywhere in the world!

IMG_3063

Lunch stop in one of the several large malls in Lusaka

Then we still had a few hours drive to the border post at Kariba Dam. The border formalities went relatively smoothly. As we were taking our hire car across the border there was a bit more paperwork. Everything I’d read on the internet had led me to believe we were going to be hit with large ‘taxes’ for taking the car into Zimbabwe but only US$20 poorer we were across – I’m not complaining! We finally got to where we were staying about 5pm – so an 11 hour day of travel. We got to enjoy sunset on the edge of Lake Kariba for a bit but then we needed to sort out our gear as we were starting our canoe safari early the next morning.

The canoe safari ended up being just me, Tom and 3 guides; Norman, KK and Thomas! (Thomas was a trainee, normally it’s just 2 guides to a trip with up to 8 clients). We started off with a shopping trip for any additional beverages we wanted and then we had a few hours drive to Chirundu.

IMG_3069

About to leave Kariba Town

IMG_3070

Looking down the Zambezi escarpment – very hazy due to seasonal burn-off

Just as we were about to start heading down the Zambezi escarpment one of the guides got the driver to pull over. It seemed the bearings on one of the wheels on the trailer had gone. After a bit of chat the driver and guides decided we’d just keep going. We made it to Chirundu safely though the wheel looked a little worse for wear!

IMG_3074

The wheel with the broken bearings in Chirundu

We had lunch on the riverbank while the canoes and gear got sorted out. KK found us some Baobab fruit to sample. They were quite nice.

IMG_3077

Baobab fruit – quite tart but tasty

With the guide to client ratio as it was Tom & I both got to go in a canoe with a guide which made things pretty relaxing as all we needed to do was paddle (sometimes) and they did all the steering. Norman told us he normally tries to split couples up in the canoes otherwise they tend to not enjoy the trip.

IMG_3080

Riverside scenery – luxury lodges and elephants!

IMG_3086

Photographer, baobab, fish eagle (in the tree) = match made in heaven

IMG_3087

Idyllic river paddling

The first day was fairly hard for non-conditioned paddlers like us. We did 4 hours in the canoes without stopping (~25km) so by the time we pulled into our island for the night our bottoms were pretty sore. I was beginning to wonder if I’d got in over my head!

IMG_3090

African sunset – camp night 1

IMG_3092

KK cooks up pork chops on night 1

I was more relaxed when I realised we’d done almost a third of the distance on the first day. Day 2 was another 25km day – but done over 3 stints so more chances to stretch out. We started the day with hot drinks and biscuits.

IMG_3093

Some serious wind shielding for the kettle!

IMG_3103

The hippos were always lurking

IMG_3112

River-level views were pretty good

IMG_3114

Elephant and cattle egret

We had breakfast after a couple of hours of paddling, then lunch a bit later. Hippos were ever present so the guides were always on alert to make sure we took the best route around them. Our lunch spot was down a side channel, and there was a large pod of hippos on the shore next to where we needed to go. Hippos want to be in deep-ish water when feeling threatened so a bit of slapping the paddles on the water got them all moving.

IMG_3117

We’re aiming for the tree on the right… just go to get the hippos out of the way first!

IMG_3118

And they’re off! including all the birds off their backs

As soon as they were in the water we zipped through the side channel entrance that had been full of hippos only moments before. We had lunch and a long break in the heat of the day before our final stint of paddling for the day to camp.

IMG_3132

Sunset – day 2

As we’d done half the paddling in the first two days the third day was fairly relaxed. We followed the pattern of the previous day but drifting more and paddling less.

IMG_3147

Morning tea stop day 3

IMG_3159

Sunset – day 3

The final day was only 8km so we covered that in about an hour. Then there were trailers to load at Mana Pools, more National Parks paperwork and then a long drive back to Kariba.

(If I was planning this trip again, knowing what I know now, I would have looked at a provider on the Zambia side as it would have saved us both driving time and border crossing time and expense. That is in no way meant to reflect poorly on the company we went with – more that we probably could have saved ourself a day or maybe more of driving.)

IMG_3168

And before we know it that’s the end

The drive out of Mana Pools was made unpleasant by the presence of Tsetse Flies which have a fairly painful bite. And similar to the March Flies in Australia they need to be well and truly squished to kill them. We were all pretty glad once we were back on the escarpment without them.

IMG_3169

Lunch stop on our way back to Kariba

Once back in Kariba we had border formalities to go back to Zambia (Siavonga). I thought maybe all these ‘taxes’ were going to come on the way out – but other than a K20 (A$2.70) road toll we got through unscathed.

Our original accommodation provider couldn’t take us so other arrangements had been made on the Southern Belle – a moored houseboat on Lake Kariba. Probably an upgrade from what I’d booked!

IMG_3180

The Southern Belle

For a while it appeared we might have the entire boat to ourselves, but there was another group of 4 guests. Of which 2 turned out to be the parents of one of my school friends who I hadn’t seen since 1994! Such a small world.

IMG_3177

Southern Belle relaxing

IMG_3179

Southern Belle lounge room

From Siavonga it was back to Lusaka. And primarily for the location north of the airport we stayed at a small ‘game park’ just out of town. Having done ‘proper’ safaris in Namibia and Botswana this wasn’t particularly exciting though they did have some gorgeous cheetahs.

IMG_3231

Tom’s found a friend

IMG_3232

Just a yawn right?

IMG_3236

Rachel’s found one too

Of course when we got on the plane there was an article in the in-flight magazine about how these sorts of animal interaction experiences should be avoided due the exploitation of the animals, unhealthy breeding industry which it promoted etc. I’d like to think the story we got told was true – that the cheetahs had been found as orphans – they’d been at the property 6 years. I would’ve been happy just to watch them as we haven’t seen any cheetahs in the wild during our African adventuring, but as evidenced below we got quite a lot of interaction.

And thus ended our Zambian adventure.

Mt Mumpu – The Return – Zambia Part I (30 Jul – 1 Aug 2018)

The last time I was in Zambia was 1996. A lot has changed since then! For one I am 22 years older. Another, I am now an adult. This was one of the more stressful trips I’ve organised – information on the internet isn’t as easy to come by but more importantly my trust that things I had booked would work out was low.

The internet was full of death-inducing dangers of driving in Zambia. There’s not a big car hire industry in Zambia and I had booked with a relatively unknown (at least by internet recommendations) company. We arrived into Lusaka early on our flight from Johannesburg, having left home some 20 hours earlier. Reaching the front of the queue at immigration we were informed we needed to be at the desk next door. So we duly shuffled across, upon reaching the front of that queue we were told we needed to be in the queue next door. What? We’ve just come from there? Turns out there was a little window we’d missed where KAZA visas are issued. Eventually being served from that window, the lady then battled with the password for the special laptop, the printer, the print alignment etc. Forty-five minutes later we both had KAZA visas, and the luggage was only just out so no time really lost. Our car hire man was there, and we were whisked away to a dark, deserted car park (it was 9:30pm by this stage) to collect the car. It was a full 4WD Toyota Prado rather than the ‘medium SUV’ I’d booked. Bonus. It felt like the classic set up for a mugging. I was pulling out my credit card, licence, passport while Tom was being dragged around to inspect the car in the dark.  We survived the dark car park and soon I was driving to our accommodation for the night. That was all pretty straight-forward as well.

The next morning we had breakfast and then headed to East Park Mall to do some shopping. I was impressed by the mall. Unfortunately because it was Sunday most of the shops didn’t open until 10am, so we couldn’t get away until after then. The camping store I’d hoped to get a gas canister from had one sort with the screw (EN417) attachment but it wasn’t quite the type we’re used to. With no choice we hoped it would work. We picked up a local SIM card as well as some groceries and fuelling up the car. Tom took the first leg of the driving which wasn’t much fun as we had to firstly get out of Lusaka and then once on the main road there were numerous trucks going at variable speeds. It made overtaking a much more challenging experience due to the large variety of speeds being done, by the vehicles in front, the vehicles approaching on the other side of the road and the vehicles racing up behind you that were game to overtake multiple cars/trucks at a time. On the plus side the road was in much better condition than I was expecting with very few potholes.

Not finding anywhere suitable to stop for lunch Tom ended up doing over 4 hours straight driving, and lunch was eaten while we were driving. It was with great relief we finally got to my old school friend Nicky’s farm in Mkushi. I last saw Nicky in NZ when we were both 19 and we did a 2 week road trip around the South Island. A lot has changed since then! We had a lovely evening outside around the fire with Nicky & family (husband, 4 kids, 2 fur children) before crashing out. The next morning Nicky’s Mum & Dad & sister popped by – it was great to see them, as they had been wonderful hosts to me for several weeks in the summer of 1996/97.

Next stop was Ndubaluba to get a map for our Mt Mumpu mission. Abe gave us a map and the loan of a water filter, but the most complex thing seemed to be the driving directions! We hoped we had all we needed before hitting the road for Kundalila Falls. Despite suggestions we should pretend to be locals to get the cheaper fees I couldn’t bring myself to outright lie when asked what country we were from. So K150 each later we had our invoice – only 6 times the local rate! We wandered around to the look-out of the falls, then headed down to the bottom. The base of the falls was in the shade and despite being a bit sweaty by the time we got down there was no real temptation to go for a swim. Tom spent a while photo-faffing before we headed back up.

IMG_2955

The photographer at work at Kundalila Falls

At the top the campsite was pumping! We had been warned that there was an Ndubs group there, so it wasn’t hard for me to pick out Mr Thompson (my ex-Geography teacher, now head of the outdoor centre). We had a most enjoyable evening with Mr T, and the Banani school group – including their presentations of Super Supper. It was our coldest night though – was very glad of my warm sleeping bag that I almost hadn’t packed.

IMG_2957

Kundalila Falls

IMG_2961

Views from the Kundalila Falls viewing area

After visiting the view point again in the morning, and with final tips from Mr T on Mumpu we hit the road. We made good time to Mkushi, but then it was a very slow drive out to Changwena Falls. We had a mud map of the route but we weren’t super confident in it. The key direction was to turn right at the Upper Lunsemfwa Primary School sign… we got to a sign, I thought I could make out the lettering so we turned. The road was increasingly sketchy and we were both desperately hoping we were going the right way because it wasn’t going to be much fun having to drive back out with no reward.

IMG_3028

The sign!

Eventually we became confident we were on the right road. We found the other turn-off with the bits of tape on the tree and soon we were at Changwena Falls along with the crowds. We had also been warned that a Duke of Ed Group would be finishing up there, so we weren’t surprised. What we were surprised at was the annoying bitey flies (bees?) that were everywhere, including in your ears and eyes and nose. That made our decision on whether to walk to the base that afternoon pretty easy – anything to get away from the insects! We scored a colour map from Josh, to replace the B&W one we’d been given by Abe, and then we were off.

What we would call a fire trail had been established to a base camp below Mt Mumpu so it was easy walking in the late afternoon.

IMG_2966

The firetrail to the base of Mt Mumpu

We passed a burn-off along the road on our way. Unfortunately one of the last things Mr T had warned us about was the possibility of fires and the danger to the car. While I wasn’t concerned it meant Tom had a sleepless night worrying about it.

IMG_2969

Seasonal burn-off next to the fire trail

After some quick photos of the mountain in the sunset light we got camp sorted. Our gas canister had been a dud as our stove wouldn’t screw into it far enough to release gas, so it had been ditched and we were back to cooking on the fire. It was a super windy night which didn’t help our sleep.

IMG_2975

Camp below Mt Mumpu (if you look carefully you can see the cave)

Tom was so worried about the car and out of control grass fires he wanted to bail straight back to the car. I was having none of it. So shortly after 7:30am we left camp on our way up Mt Mumpu. It looked exactly like the photos from 1994 :)

IMG_2976

On our way to Mt Mumpu

IMG_2977

Starting to get steep

IMG_2983

The mouth of the cave

IMG_2984

A bit of scrambling keeps things interesting

IMG_2988

Bat guano. Mmmm.

IMG_2989

More scrambling in the cave

The section up through the cave was trickier than I was expecting. But then I realised most of my memories from the 1994 trip were just based on the photos and video. There was quite a lot of scrambling, a bit of pack passing and some grunting from Tom as we squeezed through a couple of the smaller holes.

mumpu5

In the cave in 1994

IMG_2994

I can see the light!

IMG_2995

Looking back through the dark section

IMG_2997

Tom emerging from the dark, squeezy section

Once through it wasn’t quite over, we had to find our way out on to the ridge, disturbing some baboons who were quite vocal in their displeasure but soon headed off.

IMG_3000

Taking in the views

There was still a bit of work to be done to get to the summit. We arrived at 9:30am – 2 hours after leaving camp.

IMG_3006

The trig has been pushed over, with a cross in place at the summit now

I was hoping to somehow recreate the summit shot from 1994 but the Trig which had existed then has been pushed over hit by lightning.

mumpu6

The 1994 summit party (I’m in the middle in the red/white striped top)

IMG_3007

The 2018 version – standing on the original trig spot

We enjoyed the views for a while before heading off the other side.

IMG_3008

Tom with views of the Irumi Hills behind

We picked our way down another ridge and found the walking similar to The Kimberley region in Australia. Spinifex-like grass which was slow-going at times, or fast if it had been burnt out.

IMG_3012

Easy walking through some of the burnt out areas

IMG_3014

Enjoying lunch in the shade

Other than deciding to go through a swamp for about 200m at the bottom of the ridge we descended the walking was very pleasant. We picked up the fire trail we’d come in on a bit further along and were back at, a now empty, campsite by 2:30pm.

IMG_3017

Back on the fire trail

We hadn’t actually been down to the Falls when we’d arrived the previous day. I didn’t really remember them, other than in 1994 I knew we’d swum there. They are stunning. Again we could have been in The Kimberley. We had a good wash, though didn’t stay in too long as the water was brisk. Unfortunately the annoying flies found us and eventually I beat a retreat to the tent.

IMG_3021

Enjoying a well-earned swim at Changwena Falls

IMG_3022

Tom ‘posing’…

mumpu1

Some of the 1994 contingent enjoying Changwena Falls

We had a pleasant night around the campfire. I was surprised at the amount of rubbish that has been left around camp – Mr Solomon would have had our heads! I cleaned up most of the toilet paper and foil in the fire, but don’t think I got to everything.

IMG_3026

Camping at Changwena Falls

On the drive out we discovered the back of the sign was very clearly lettered! So if driving out there and in doubt – have a look at the back!

IMG_3027

The back of the sign

A fun trip, though going up the cave was a bit harder than I was expecting – quite impressed by my 14-year old self!

 

See the later part of the trip here: Lower Zambezi

1 2 3 4 8