Chewings Range (15-29 May 2021) – Week 2
If you missed Week 1 you can find it here.
Originally Roger had suggested Day 8 could have a late start from Ormiston to enable coffee purchases from the kiosk when it opened at 10am. However with a hot day forecast and most of us feeling the effects of the hot day yesterday we were keen to get moving earlier rather than later.
The signage at the start of the Pound Walk advised a “cold swim” was necessary via the gorge side so by 8am we had started retracing our steps on the eastern section of the Pound Track. This time we followed it until we met Ormiston Creek, then followed Ormiston Creek most of the way to Giles (SW) Spring where we camped. On the one hand this was an easier day as we had a relaxed pace with plenty of breaks. On the other we were fully laden with another 7 days of food, and feeling the cumulative effects of a week of fairly hard walking. While there were plenty of pools in Ormiston Creek most of them were rapidly being overtaken by algae and it was our most problematic drinking water day of the trip.
Things for day 9 were a little up in the air as a rock Robert stood on split and he landed heavily on his shoulder. Given the difficulty he had in getting his shirt on the next morning he elected to skip a few days of our route and make his way directly to Bowmans Gap. For those continuing on the planned route this was our earliest start of the trip – leaving camp at 7am.
We encountered another group of bushwalkers shortly after leaving camp – at the base of the Mt Giles ridge. They were from the Blue Mountains, and included Andy Macqueen – author of the book Tom had brought to read. After exchanging pleasantries we continued along the undulating foot of the massif to Upper Oasis Springs. Our biggest ascent of the trip awaited us – Roger had allowed three hours but we were all on top in just over two, in time for lunch. I was very glad of the cooling breeze!
The ascent had mainly been an exercise in fitness, whereas the descent required a few more technical skills. From Termite Saddle we negotiated a scree slope punctuated with spinifex – only one spinifex clump was firmly sat on (not by my bottom!). Once we’d got down that there was a rocky, steep down climb in the creek, including a section where most passed packs. A relatively large rock was dislodged by items attached to the outside of one of the packs but fortunately no one was directly in its path.
From there Pat’s Canyon creek turned more canyon-y before we were stymied by a (expected) waterfall. The climb out and subsequent descent on the ridge to camp was highly concentration-demanding and quite draining after a fairly long day. The ridge was steep, loose but also covered in spinifex – so the challenge was to keep your footing while not getting pricked by more spinifex than you could help. It was with great relief we all made it into camp without any particular incidents – though the tweezers were justifying their inclusion!
I think most of us had been hanging on to the idea of getting to the Canyon of Defiance campsite as the plan was to stay here for 3 nights. The prospect of not having to carry a full pack – and indeed not having to go anywhere if you didn’t want to – was a relief after 9 days in beautiful but rough terrain. Raf specifically requested that our start time on day 10 would be late enough that we didn’t have to get up in the dark! Fortunately Roger had already decided on an 8am start and since we didn’t need to pack up a 7am wake-up to coincide with sunrise was perfect.
Everyone headed up the ridge with the intention of visiting “Alexa’s Reach” in the Canyon of Defiance. As far as Roger knew this was only the second time bushwalkers had entered this section of the canyon. Stephen decided by the time we’d picked our way up the loose slopes that a rest day was looking a better option so he headed back to camp. The rest of us descended the steep gully Roger had found after many hours of searching on his previous trip. We followed Alexa’s Reach upstream and managed to negotiate a couple of obstacles, including one which had stymied Roger previously. Surprisingly we had a bit of rain during the day – it evaporated so quickly it wasn’t much of an issue, except for making the rocks more slippery on our return trip down the canyon!
We decided getting down the two drops between Alexa’s Reach and Meg’s Reach was beyond the gear we had. And so we climbed out and dropped into a different gully to access Meg’s Reach. First we headed upstream to the spot we could see from Alexa’s Reach and then downstream – hopeful of finding a way to continue all the way through to camp. Alan found a wriggle under a large chockstone which allowed us to do exactly that which was very satisfying.
The weather changed that evening – the previous night had been very warm, but a cool change and gusty wind gave most of us a very unpleasant night. At one point during the night when Tom got up to I was wondering whether my weight would be sufficient to stop the tent from blowing away! The weather put paid to our plans to stay another day in the same spot. Instead we headed round to Pat’s Canyon to see if we could find the rock arch and how far we could climb up it (not very), and then we packed up and headed across the plains.
In the end the walking was pretty straight-forward so we hit the waterhole on the creek Roger was aiming for after about an hour. So, it was still a rest day of sorts – the weather wasn’t conducive for doing much except hiding in the tent. I wasn’t the only one who had an afternoon nap to make up for lack of sleep the night before. The evening (or at least our campspot) was fairly calm so we had a nice evening – though the lunar eclipse was by and large obscured by a thick layer of clouds. What are your chances? In the best place in the world to watch a lunar eclipse and the only night in 13 where there is thick cloud…
Most of us had the best night’s sleep we’d had in days! Feeling refreshed we continued along the creek eventually making our way onto the north west ridge leading to the Red Wall. It was very windy on top but we found a somewhat sheltered area for morning tea and enjoyed the views (all the cloud was gone – of course). I thought the day might be a bit of a drag doing a high traverse in the wind, but after we dropped onto the Red Wall proper we seemed to be in the lee of it and the day was quite pleasant.
By mid-afternoon we were looking over the edge of a large waterfall at the top of 13 Pools Creek. This appeared to be something of a budgie highway as squadrons of budgies regularly came racing up the fall and along the creek narrowly missing our heads. It was quite exhilarating to watch them (if impossible to photograph).
The traverse around the top of the creek was impressive and, as we had come to expect, a steep ridge descent amidst spinifex to get to camp. We were pleased to find Robert and Alan waiting for us at Bowmans Gap and have the party reunited. Unfortunately the windy conditions persisted so it was an early night for everyone.
We were effectively a day ahead of schedule which gave us the luxury of two nights in the same place. That meant our penultimate day only involved day packs – firstly exploring 13 Pools Creek from the bottom, and then in the afternoon a visiting an “attractive little gorge” Robert had found while recuperating and waiting for us to turn up. Additionally Roger, Tom & I hopped over into the next creek upstream which had some interesting scrambling in it and made for a good afternoon of adventuring.
Somehow we’d made to day 14. For a few days Tom had been promoting the idea of doing the “cold swim” in Ormiston Gorge, rather than walking the same section of the Pound Track for a third time. I was pleasantly surprised to find my packliner appeared to be waterproof so I packed with the intention of swimming as well. Despite Raf’s aversion to cold water it didn’t take much convincing for him to bring his pack on our foray into Ormiston Gorge in case the swim looked doable. The others left their packs at the track junction.
Roger, at least, was disappointed when we found that the “swim” was in fact a chest deep wade. It was a pretty full-on reintroduction to society as we caught up with 2 x 20+ tour groups just before we got to the gorge crossing. They set up a pack passing line and got everyone across – including Raf – though he didn’t manage to slip his overnight pack into their overhead passing line! Tom & I on the other hand decided to wait until the chaos had cleared and cross by ourselves – that didn’t stop the tour leader giving me lots of helpful (and unwanted) tips as I was doing it.
Interesting to contrast the water levels with those from Smiffy & Toni’s trip in 2016.
So Tom, Raf & I had an easy saunter into Ormiston Gorge for lunch, and the others arrived a couple of hours later. A great trip through rough country – Roger’s knowledge and preparation meant we got to see all the good stuff!