Author Archives: rachel

K2K post-bushfires (14-16 Apr 2023)

I have walked the Kanangra to Katoomba route three times previously – way back in 2007 as a 3 day trip, (& photos), in 2017 in 1 day and then in 2018 as a 2 day trip. I thought I had a complete set, but with the devastation caused by the bushfires in 2019 and subsequent regrowth changing the nature of the walk, I now have a new version.

When I saw Huw had put K2K in 3 days on the program for the weekend after Easter it seemed a way to make up for my lack of exercise over Easter. I was also keen to see what the scrub was like as it’s always hard to judge what other people’s scrub meters are set at.

I vividly remembered how destroyed I’d been at the end of the 2018 trip so I was counting every gram that went into my pack – probably resulting in my lightest overnight pack ever – 7.1km base weight (excl food and water).

The taxi arrived to drive us out to Kanangra. I was pretty nervous when the driver said he’d never been there and hoped we’d be able to give him directions. Muttering to Huw “does he realise we’re going out on a dirt road?”, Huw’s reply of “well, he’ll find out” didn’t instil a lot of confidence. When we eventually got to the Kanangra Walls turn-off the driver was about to pull over and drop us off! Huw, non-plussed, says “oh no, it’s another 20km along here”. To his credit the drive didn’t bat an eyelid as we hit the dirt – unfortunately the road isn’t in great condition currently and wasn’t helped by being very wet. However, we made it to the Walls car park with only a few hard pot hole hits and the driver was paid and on his way back to Katoomba.

The drive had been somewhat slower than expected so we didn’t start walking until just before 10am. Given the low cloud there wasn’t much point going to the lookout even though Jonas hadn’t been there before.

A somewhat gloomy, damp start to the trip

We were a bit surprised to head down the steps and find a radio blaring with nobody in sight. The workmen’s cars were the only other ones in the car park and one of them appeared a bit further along the track. A lyrebird further up the track provided a much more enjoyable soundtrack! The views also popped in and out as we wandered out to the plateau.

A few views trying to break through the cloud

The plateau is a lot more open than it used to be – the banksias which burnt haven’t rebounded and it feels like it would be harder to lose people at the moment.

The team climbing up to Brennan Top

Slippery Gordon Smith Pass

We had a late morning (only just) tea at the end of Crafts Walls around 11:45am. Then it was on, over all the familiar ups and downs. The descent into Gabes Gap was quite vegetated, though no problems finding the track. We had a late lunch on Mt High and Mighty – glad that the weather seemed to have cleared up. Unfortunately a new bout of rain swept through as we were going up the knolls so the raincoats came out again.

The track is still much the same out to Cloudmaker – just a bit greener on the sides

The track out to Cloudmaker had been much the same as pre-fires – a little more bushy in a few places – but clear and easy to follow – up until about 100m below the Cloudmaker summit. Things suddenly became very overgrown and I picked my way up a very vague pad to the summit. I then spent a good 5 minutes trying to get the logbook out of the container. I don’t think the container had previously been attached to the rocks – but now there is a metal spike holding it in place – so you can’t turn it over to shake the logbook out. Eventually I got it out, and the others still hadn’t arrived. I then heard Huw & Jonas off to the north. Frances arrived at the summit shortly after so I quickly put an entry in and we headed off to meet the others and find out way down to Dex Creek. I noted there had been a few parties heading out to do K2K in recent weeks so I was hoping they had left a bit of a track for us to follow!

Mount Cloudmaker

We navigated our way down to Dex Creek, on and off the track, without any great issues, arriving at 4:50pm. As I finished putting my tarp up it started raining. As we’d had light squalls going across most of the day I thought this would be the same. But no! It bucketed down for about 45 minutes. The forecast had been for any rain to clear up by late afternoon – and certainly nothing of this volume.

I knew the tarp I’d brought wasn’t seam sealed as Tom had had a miserable time in it in unseasonable rain in the NT last year – but I hadn’t bothered doing anything about it as I was not expecting rain at night. There wasn’t much I could do other than squeeze my wet hair out as the drips came down onto my head through the centre seam… Somewhat belatedly I realised I could collect the rain water off the tarp and make some soup. It wasn’t long before I had a cup of water in run-off and then some hot soup to warm me up.

Hiding from a downpour just after we got to camp

Eventually the rain stopped and we were able to get a fire going and dry out a bit. At one point a native bush rat wandered past knocking over Frances’ cup & spoon – but none of us had any issues with pesky creatures overnight.

Looking a bit drier the next morning

We were aiming for an early start the next morning as we knew it could be a very long day. We were away a bit later than planned at 7:30am. The first 500m out of Dex was clear and easy, but then things got very slow. With the downpour the night before the bush was saturated, so it didn’t take long pushing though 3-4m high regrowth for me also to be saturated.

We were navigating via a combination of map & compass (me & Jonas), memory/instinct from many, many trips on the route (Huw) and GPS/recent trace (Frances). I was completely confused about our direction, which Frances was saying was fine, so I was happy when we reached a small clearing and I could look at where we were on her phone. We had headed north directly after getting on to the ridge above Dex (rather than heading towards Carra Top then swinging). We didn’t find any evidence of a track here and it was very slow going. It was a nice break to reach the rocky outcrop prior to the saddle south of 953 where we could clamber up and get some views.

Relief to pop up and get some views before descending back into the 3m+ high vegetation

Then it was back into the scrub and over 953. We got some of the classic views that this section of ridge used to be so memorable for coming off the northern side of the 953 high point, just before the little scramble, heading into the saddle before Mount Moorilla Maloo.

Huw emerging from a scrubby section

Aah. Classic Kanangra views

Huw scrambling

It was relatively straight-forward walking from there to Mount Moorilla Maloo, but as we swung north-west we lost the pad we’d been on and were back in some pretty thick regrowth. After swinging north heading towards Mount Amarina we found a pad which made life easier. It still went through 3-4m high regrowth but we were perhaps going at 2km/hour rather than 1km/hour. When we found ourselves in a slightly rocky/open section around Mt Amarina we took the opportunity for morning tea. We had earned it after 2.5 hours covering 3km.

Francis heading off in one of the less (!) thick sections

We continued following the pad over Kullieatha Peak and then to the slopes of Mt Strongleg where it started traversing the slopes to the east. Jonas & I lost it, and I was inclined to just go on the main ridge but Huw reminded me that the trail had previously contoured around on the east, so we persisted. Meanwhile Frances was 20m below us and said she was on a pad. It wasn’t clear if what she was on continued so the rest of us headed up as we were getting stuck in mountain holly. Turns out we should have gone with Frances as she was able to follow the pad around to the main ridge without any issues. We picked up a pad coming off the Strongleg summit but it would have been faster for our party to have stayed low.

What vegetation awaits us on our descent from Mt Strongleg?

Fortunately the vegetation once we started descending the Strongleg ridge eased off. There was still regrowth (more podolobium & hardenbergia rather than eucalypt) but a lot lower and less dense. We followed a pad most of the way down. Unfortunately we lost the pad close to the bottom and briefly ended up tangled in passionfruit vine (not sure what it actually is but that’s what it looks like). I also hadn’t been following the compass as we we’d just been sticking to the pad, so we ended on bluffs above Kanangra Creek. Possibly if we’d been following the ridge line we’d have relocated the pad earlier – we found it for the 100m or so down to Kanangra Creek and a very well deserved lunch just before 2pm.

Views to the Coxs River

I was quick to hop in for a swim – and delighted to wash the hundreds of leaves that had fallen down my shirt off. Given the time it was a pretty easy decision to camp on the Coxs rather than push for Mobbs Swamp. This allowed us the luxury of an hour sprawled out, drying out tents and relaxing. We were accompanied through lunch by a large monitor that was moving around in the bush and cliffs around us the entire time we were there – I’ve never seen one quite so active – possibly agitated as we were sitting on his favourite sunning rock?

Beautiful lunchspot on Kanangra Creek

But we still had to get to the base of Yellow Pup, so a couple of crossings of Kanangra Creek and the Coxs River were needed. Both were flowing well, though we didn’t get more than just over (my) knee-deep. Huw said the whole area had changed, but my memory from 3 trips over 16 years wasn’t good enough to remember what it had been like before!

Junction of Kanangra Creek and Coxs River

Crossing the Coxs River

We found the start of the track up Yellow Pup and then set about finding places to camp. There wasn’t a lot of great camping spots, but we all found something. It was a pretty warm evening, quite the contrast to the night before. Despite my apprehension about the big day the next day I had to admit the Coxs has much nicer ambience than Mobbs Swamp.

Camp at Yellow Pup Point – not a lot of flat options

Evening festivities

We agreed on a 6:30am departure the next morning. Some people were ready earlier so set off as they were ready. I was ready at exactly 6:30am so that was when I left. The lower part of Yellow Dog didn’t seem to have burnt in the fires and was much the same as in the past (though maybe less used so a bit more vegetation hanging over the track). I caught up with Frances on the first long switchback, and then we found Huw not long after that. I waited for Jonas – the only one in the group not to have done this route before – to make sure he made the turns.

Views from part way up Yellow Dog Ridge

Jonas & I overtook the others again and made it to the top at 8am. Time for breakfast, or more importantly time for a cup of coffee!

Mount Yellow Dog & breakfast time!

We set off again around 8:45am. The track from Mt Yellow Dog through to Mobbs exists but is very overgrown. We took a bit longer than we would have in the past – having morning tea around 10:30am at Mobbs. I was quite surprised to see what the campsite at Mobbs now consists of. I’ve only camped there one before, back in 2007, and my memory was a large gloomy flat stretching a long way into the bush, with room for many, many tents. I didn’t poke my head off the track, but it seems now there’s just the one clearing, which is all a bit slopey and wouldn’t fit that many tents. I didn’t take a photo of it.

A short break at Medlow Gap

After a bit of pfaffing getting water at Mobbs Swamp we were off again. The track from Mobbs to Medlow Gap was pretty easy going in the scheme of things. Frances said last year it had been muddy the whole way, but fortunately it had dried out.

As we made the final major climb of the day up Mt Debert the weather closed in. There were clouds and light rain as far as you could see and the wind picked up considerably. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk along Narrow Neck full stop but it would be even worse in those conditions!

Huw & Jonas descending to Little Cedar Gap

The strong wind was good for something though – by the time we had made it to the base of Tarros Ladder the cloud had been largely swept away. We opted for lunch on the eastern side round the corner from the ladder as it was out of the wind and had reasonable views. It was also after 1pm and my stomach was rumbling.

Lunch out of the wind below Tarros Ladder

Frances had been muttering about being worried about going up Tarros, but I knew she’d done it so many times before I hadn’t taken her that seriously. But once she got on the ladders the verbal commentary and stress coming out her mouth was quite a surprise! We all made it up and took in the views (while trying not to get blown away) from the top.

Jonas bounding up Tarros Ladder

Huw & Frances ascending Tarros Ladder

Looking back at our route

Not that the ascent is over at the point, I hurried on wanting to get the day over with and also hoping to get out of the wind. The last time I’d done K2K we’d done the same distance on the second day and it had destroyed me. And this time, with the landslips on Narrow Neck closing the road to vehicles, we had an extra 3km to do. My feet weren’t in the best shape after 2.5 days of wet feet, but having aired them out at lunch I was hoping it would be enough to get me through.

If only the car was only 9.5km away…

The fire trail bash begins

The fire trail bash continues

Late afternoon views

I was still pleased to see the locked gate as it was a definitive marker of how far we’d come, but still 3km to go…

Once this was a blessed site, now it’s still 3km to go

That said we probably got to take in a few views that would have gone past in a blur previously.

Probably not a photo I would have taken before…

The lone car which had been out on Narrow Neck when the landslip occurred has been well and truly trashed.

A well and truly trashed car, stuck on Narrow Neck

Late afternoon views

The new access track

I think it’s a bit further than 42.5km!

I was at the top of the new access track at Narrow Neck Lookout just after 5pm – earlier than our 5:30pm estimate. Feeling a lot better than I did after the 2018 trip.

The lady who lived over the road from where we’d left our cars popped her head out to ask about our trip and then we were off back home. I never enjoy walking Narrow Neck but otherwise it was a reasonably enjoyable trip – particularly given what I was imagining it could have been! Excellent company and great to get out for 3 days after failing to utilise the Easter weekend.

Kangaroo River (12 Mar 2023)

Tom had said we’d have good flow for the first half of the trip – turns out when he previously did this trip in 2012 the water level was >1m higher. So sadly for the liloers the flow was somewhat lacking from the get go – they definitely got their arm workout for the day!

Readying our crafts below Hampden Bridge

Stephane gains some ballast

Now he has three!

Jonas watching the others negotiate some rapids

Making our way down river

Jonas has gained a rudder and paddle…

Jo giving the flippers a go

Signs of much higher river levels!

A very civilised lunch at the end

Three Mates Bluff (11 Mar 2023)

This was advertised as “almost entirely off-track exploration” but was also “aiming for a mid-afternoon finish”. Well we definitely had an entirely off-track exploration, but we did not achieve a mid-afternoon finish. Being back at the cars about 5:15pm was hardly a late day but when you’re trying to get back for the Club’s annual reunion weekend it wasn’t ideal. It also wasn’t ideal that it was a 32°C day in mid-March. I’ve been so used to worrying about rain I didn’t really focus much on the temperature forecast leading into the trip.

Negotiating the dissected ridge on the way in

The first few hundred metres we picked up an old fire trail, and when that ended the going was initially quite good as the soil seemed too poor to support much regrowth. We got to an interesting section of dissected ridge which was slower but fun to negotiate and gave us some good views.

We “just” need to get past those two knolls…

More dissected ridge line

Once we got through the dissected ridge line we really slowed down getting out to the first knoll. It was scrubby, not the worst I’ve been in, just quite a lot of vines, which made it very slow. And somehow all up that the first 5km out to Three Mates Bluff took us 3 hours.

Views from Three Mates Bluff

Fortunately Tom and I had studied the slope maps the night before so were pretty confident we would be able to find a down to the river from the bluff. I’m not sure the rest of the party was so confident as Tom headed off to scout a route down. It wasn’t long before we got the call to follow him down. I do love a direct route and this one was a goody – though maybe a bit more exposure than I had advertised to the participants.

The start of direct descent to the river

Heading down

Tim scrambling

After we’d got through a series of scrambles Tom thought we’d just be able to walk down from there. But then we hit an interesting conglomerate cliff line, but I was able to find a way around it on the left and then the rest of the slope was straight-forward. By amazing coincidence at the same time we got to the river there were 4 kayakers managing their kayaks through the rapids. I did not take long to get in the water – it had been a hard morning’s work but at least we now had the ability to cool down and recharge with lunch.

We reach the Shoalhaven at the same time as these paddlers

After lunch we headed upstream, criss-crossing the river at rapids (picked out from the aerials) to avoid bluffs/scrubby sections. The section of the Shoalhaven we walked up had some very attractive cliffs, which was fortunate as they could distract us from the swathes of Cobblers Pegs we were walking through. My shorts resembled a carpet of them for most of the time we were walking the banks.

An early river crossing

Fourth (and last) river crossing

We had another much needed swim before ascending from the southern end of Apple Tree Flat to the Brooks Plateau Trail. We enjoyed some shade and views from a convenient cave just before getting to the very top.

Views from the shady cave just before topping out on Brooks Plateau

Tom enjoying the views

I think everyone was very happy to hit the Brooks Plateau fire trail and have 2.5km of easy walking to finish the day.

A much tougher trip than planned, and would have been more enjoyable if the temperature had 10°C dropped off it!

Everyone headed to the Club Reunion afterwards where we enjoyed another swim in the Kangaroo River before settling in for an enjoyable, social evening.

Little River (3 Mar 2023)

Admiring Aqua Pools early on

Tom looking pleased with himself


Why hello there

Quite the structure

Beautiful Little River

Easy sand walking

Great lunch spot

Different approaches to staying dry

More water avoidance

Taking in views

Looking up Little River

Final stretch of fire trail walking

Ettrema (18-19 Feb 2023)

Ah the joys of putting walks on the club program 3 months in advance… and watching and waiting the weather forecast. I guess 36°C is better than a shedload of rain!? A mini-heatwave over NSW was due to peak on Saturday, with possible severe thunderstorms before a slightly cooler (mid-20s) Sunday. Fortunately our Saturday schedule involved lots of swimming opportunities so I wasn’t too worried about the heat – but Sunday would be a different story.

We had a leisurely 10am start (which just meant leaving home at 6am, rather than something starting with 5). Some largely vertical scrub welcomed us to the area but it didn’t pose too much difficulty and it wasn’t long before we were in the upper reaches of Myall Creek.

Tom taking an early dip on a very hot day

The team scrambling in Myall Creek

Jon’s hat was an early casualty – obscured somewhere in the depths of one of the pools he jumped into. In return the creek offered a couple of drink bottles which had presumably fallen out of previous travellers bags. Jon’s attempts to fashion a replacement head covering kept us amused through lunch.

Lunch in some (rapidly diminishing) shade

Scrambling in Myall Creek

Walking in Myall Creek

Lauren going for a slide

Enjoying another cool off at the Pool of Certain Death

Negotiating obstacles in the creek

Everyone waltzed across the exposed traverse with no concerns (and probably wondered why I’d made such a big deal about it in the pre-trip vetting). It seems less threatening from the top I think?

Belinda on the traverse above the Pool of Impending Doom

Kosta was the only one who braved the high jump, but plenty of lower jumps kept us cool. The hot wind blowing up the creek when we finally headed off reminded us of the heatwave conditions.

Kosta launches

Kosta on his way down

Tom jumps

Lauren simply runs off

Belinda jumps

Where did Jon come from?

Kosta jumps

No longer inhabited

Beautiful Ettrema Creek

The thunder started rumbling as we had (yet another) swim half way to camp. Only a few hundred metres out from camp the roar of (literal?) impending doom rushed towards us. It sounded like a wave of water, but in fact was an immensely strong rush of wind down the gorge. Fortunately we had the audible warning so we could brace ourselves, as it was strong enough to knock an unsuspecting person over.

Storm clouds start to brew

As we got to camp it started spitting so shelters were quickly erected and retreated into. Or not so quickly in the case of the tent which had arrived without its poles 🙁 I kept expecting it to blow through as these sort of storms generally do, but it persisted for a while. Eventually the rain eased off enough to come out and get a fire going. Then the rain returned. Eventually I called “happy hour” even though it was still drizzling. It was an excellent combination of contributions, even if the ‘rats’ may had made a serious dent in the chips while we were huddled in our tents. The storm eventually retreated for good and we had a pleasant evening around the campfire.

The next morning we were away just after 8am. While the forecast was a lot cooler than the previous day, it was still a lot warmer than I would have liked for the big climb we had up Transportation Spur. So the earlier we could get climbing the better.

Tom in Ettrema Creek

Beautiful scenery

We made good time on the rock-hopping down Ettrema Creek. After filling up water at Gallows Gully and having a pre-cooling swim at morning tea we started the climb. Well, we almost started the climb – I almost walked over a large red-bellied black snake so that waylaid us with photo-taking – but then we started the climb. Sadly in Belinda’s case without gloves as they had gone AWOL sometime between leaving camp in the morning and morning tea.

This one’s inhabited!

The initial rocky section of ridge was quite pleasant but it soon led to scrub. Fortunately someone had done a lot of hard work before us and we could use their tunnelling efforts. Unfortunately I lost their pad part way up so things got a bit tougher (for me at least) after that.

The start of the climb up Transportation Spur

Less clear further up Transportation Spur

We had a well-earned break on the first significant knoll where there were good views to enjoy while we recovered. The highlight of the break was Belinda finding her gloves in her pack… A proliferation of very keen march flies had me getting us moving again, as I was sick of being bitten on my legs.

Enjoying a well earned break part way up Transportation Spur

The next section was also scrubby but not as thick as what we had come through. It is interesting to observe the different vegetation bands as you go up the ridge.

Finally at the scramble up to Pardon Point!

Climbing up to Pardon Point

Narrow scramble

The wind somewhat kept the march flies at bay, but there were still voracious – biting through clothing and causing welts to form on some of our more sensitive bodies.

Peter and Lauren enjoying a lunch at Pardon Point

Jon enjoying the views

We’d been hoping the remainder of the walk across the tops wouldn’t be too scrubby. We did pick up a few rock bands to walk along, but also had a couple of quite slow sections in the headwaters of creeks. It was with great relief to almost everyone when we finally spilled out onto the road. The remaining couple of kilometres on the road passed in the a flash as our speed may have tripled!

Some clear walking on the tops

Glad to be back on the road!

We finished off a great weekend with dinner in Nowra before the long drive home.

The storm on Saturday night must have been very severe elsewhere as a number of party members had concerned messages from loved ones hoping we’d got through it ok!

Bell Creek (11 Feb 2023)

The only other time I’d done Bell Creek from the Fire Station was 12 years earlier. And having now done it for a second time I would be included to go for the ‘complete’ version, unless you can’t work the car shuffle.

Tom at the top of a scramble

Bananas? No, waratah seed pods – lots of them!

This trip certainly reminded me we’d been doing a lot of ‘trade’ canyons this season, with very straight-forward entries. The approach took us the best part of 2-3 hours (depending on what you count as the approach). With a 30°C day forecast I was looking forward to getting into the water!

We faffed around getting into Little Bell Canyon, but eventually made it down.

Tom looking excited at the start of Belfry Canyon

Tom descending into Belfry Canyon

Phil jumped into the pool immediately below the climb into Belfry Canyon, whereas the rest of us decided to do the bigger jump into the next pool. Happy to cool down!

Gill choosing to get completely saturated

I’d not done Bell Creek without a lilo before, but the water temperature was pretty warm, and with extra flotation in my pack the long swims weren’t a problem.

Tom in the depths of Bell Creek

Emerging from another swim

Gill and Phil enjoying a bit of sunshine

Walking up Du Faur Creek

Where else would you rather be on a hot day but in a canyon with friends? Another great day out in the bush.

Ranon via Ranon Brook (4 Feb 2023)

I wasn’t at all surprised when Tom suggested Ranon for the weekend. A new abseil had apparently appeared so we needed to go and check it out, oh… and Jon and Lauren hadn’t done Ranon before.

My memory of last time we did Ranon via Ranon Brook was that we’d been out a very long time, as it was such a nice day we kind of just drifted until we realised it was 3pm when we had lunch. I had been talking up how it had taken 13 hours and so I was motivated to keep us moving on this trip to avoid that, particularly given we had twice as many people and a lot of abseils to get through.

The “new” abseil did indeed exist, previously large piles of logs apparently allowed you to climb down, but not any more! (The first photo “at the first drop” from our previous trip has me in the spot where Jon is in the photo below)

Tom on the “new” abseil

The rope decided to tie itself in knots for the second drop and so we took a while to get through that. As I was half way down the abseil I heard an almighty crack as if someone had a whip. I quickly looked around expecting to see a large branch or rock that might have fallen into the canyon. Instead I see Jon on the ground rocking and cradling his head. Initially confused as I couldn’t understand what had hit him, but he’d slipped over and cracked his helmet on the canyon wall. Fortunately after a few minutes he felt sufficiently ok to continue. In the meantime Lauren’s detective skills had found that Jon’s whistle (which was lodged in the side of his helmet) had taken the brunt of the fall and bits of it were shattered into the moss.

We continued down canyon doing lots of abseils – a pleasant change to have some awkward starts from using natural anchors. Many of the canyons we’ve done this season have been bolted and while I appreciate the placements make easier starts, it does take away some skill development and intellectual challenge. (Without getting started on whether bolts should be there in the first place!)

Tom in the canyon

We played it fairly conservatively and abseiled drops even if they might have been down-climbable – ostensibly because Jon was feeling a bit tentative. Though ironically he did one less abseil than the rest of us after deciding to slide/jump one of the drops.

Looking upstream

After morning tea at the Mistake Ravine junction and confirming we were all feeling good enough for another 8+ hours we pushed on.

Tom on another abseil

There was a relatively easy log descent – but on reviewing previous trips we didn’t seem to have to deal with this drop previously. There was a huge log jam behind the boulder, I suspect in the past you could get through underneath but currently it’s blocked up.

Alternate descending option

There was a pretty recent rock fall above the cavern at the start of the two-stage descent to the Claustral junction. The rest of the party made me very nervous by deciding to stop basically on top of them, none of the rocks had settled yet…. I was glad to move on.

Jon on the penultimate abseil in Ranon

Looking down the final drop in Ranon before it meets Claustral

Lauren abseiling

Just after we’d finished abseiling into Claustral I suggested to Jon we should move so that Tom was able to get out of the pool. The rope wasn’t coiled yet and the pile of it somewhat disguised the small pothole which Jon promptly stepped into. From the scream I was sure he must have broken something and when I turned around he was sprawled face first lucky not to have fallen down to the next level.

We had joked at morning tea about how given he’d managed to throw his dry thermals in a pool at the start, then with his slip, that we should probably exit before things got any worse…  Fortunately (?) his shin had taken the brunt of things and we were able to continue.

The occupants of the many cars we’d seen at the entrance had presumably managed to get through well before us. Other than a few voices drifting back we had the canyon to ourselves, and the awful, awful stench of a decomposing wallaby… which kept wafting downstream with the slight breeze.

Lauren & Tom in Claustral

We did catch the tail-end of a large group at the final abseil, and then caught them  properly at the end – I recognised a few ladies I’d met through the Women’s Canyoning weekends so we had a bit of a chat. We set off before them and didn’t see them again.

Fortunately my nemesis section of the exit climb went without incident this time round after getting my foot stuck briefly back in December. We caught up with another large-ish group shortly after that. We then stopped to pick up water so they went past, but we soon passed them again. I had to chuckle (a bit nervously for them) as we went past the second time and I overheard one of their party members saying “Right, we have two options, we can have another rest, or we can follow the people who know where they are going”. Oh dear.

We caught up with a third large-ish group at the exit gully. But despite overtaking those groups there were only a small number of cars at the car park when we got there – so there must have been a lot of other people in the canyon earlier that day.

In the end it was a 10 hour 9 hour 35 minute day for us (party members made me amend the time so as to not tar them with the slow brush!). And when I went back and checked our previous “really” long day had actually only been 10 hours 15 minutes.

Lauren declared it the day her new favourite canyon (not hard as she has a fairly small portfolio to choose from!). An excellent day out.


Kanangra Main (14 Jan 2023)

Kanangra-style canyons aren’t really my cup of tea. I’d much rather be in sculpted sandstone slots than on narrow quartzite ledges. Which probably explains why it had been 14 years between visits to Kanangra Main!

With 3 weeks of big hills in NZ (and a bunch of moving about on sketchy slopes) we were keen to use some of that fitness before it vanished again. We managed to pull together a crew of 5 at fairly late notice for a descent of Kanangra Main.

I expected we wouldn’t be the only ones out there with limited rain in the past couple of weeks and a brilliant weather forecast. There was a party of two heading up the road as we pulled into the Walls car park just after 7am. And then some more cars drove in as we were walking up the road a short time later.

Views on the walk in

The party of two were on their way down the first abseil when we arrived. I turned around to talk to whoever from my party was behind me only to find it wasn’t someone from our group! A group of 3 had caught up with us – they were clearly motivated to get in front of a group of 5 old farts and were quickly suited up and heading down. It was unfortunate timing as we were the only three parties for the day.

Someone’s here ahead of us

Since the wall was occupied we figured we may as well avoid the exposed gully and abseil down instead. It was a nice warm up on a low consequence drop!

Warming up (avoiding the exposed gully) [Our abseil 1]

We had to cool our heels at the top of the wall for a while as the party of 3 got down the first 52m drop. We had decided to split the first drop into two – 15m/39m. Tom & Jon headed down the 15m and set the longer drop. Then Smiffy & I went through with our second set of ropes to set the next drop.

Looking down the wall [Our abseil 2]

Smiffy abseiling to the pinnacle [Our abseil 4]

So far (not very) our sequencing of ropes and people was working out pretty efficiently. The group in front weren’t moving much faster as we kept catching them. Unfortunately getting to the pinnacle was about as far as our planning had gone with who needed to be where when. The wheels fell off the efficiency bus at the pinnacle when we didn’t send the ropes down as soon as they were available. You can tell the group hadn’t done much canyoning together/of this nature recently!

Smiffy leaving the pinnacle [Our abseil 5]

That left me & Smiffy with 4 of the ropes we were carrying, with the 5th set on the abseil, and the rest of the group waiting unable to set the next abseil. To compound matters when we’d pulled the ropes from the pinnacle one of the ends had been pulled downstream and caught in something in the falls. We couldn’t free it from above but fortunately Smiffy was able to abseil part way down, and free it before continuing on.

Smiffy abseiling down to try and free the rope stuck in the falls [Our abseil 6]

We were more conscious of which ropes needed to be where after that! Though there were less abseils directly on top of each other so sequencing was less important.

Smiffy abseiling again [Our abseil 7]

Toni abseiling [Our abseil 8]

After a bit of creek walking most of us used the in-situ handline to get down to the boulder where I set the 9m abseil. Toni and I rapped it – it’s somewhat awkward, definitely looked like going down the chute would be easier.

Jon jumped from the boulder, unfortunately I wasn’t quite ready with the camera, my photo just looks like he’s sitting on it… so it didn’t make the cut for the blog. I was expecting Smiffy and Tom to both jump as well, but the need to protect a camera (Smiffy) and a knee (Tom) meant they abseiled as well.

Smiffy swimming as Tom prepares to abseil [Our abseil 9]

Next up was Tom & my nemesis set of abseils. On our only previous visit we had spent 2.5 hours here, as Tom had needed to prusik up this drop as our ropes wouldn’t pull.

Tom abseiling [Our abseil 10]

This time things went much more smoothly, though the drag on the ropes for the 56m abseil made it hard work getting down.

Tom abseiling again, while the rest of they party look on [Our abseil 11]

Smiffy abseiling – the rest of the party tiny specks at the bottom [Our abseil 11]

The next photogenic drop caused much dissension as all the photographers wanted to get down the bottom. Tom was about as decisive as I’ve ever seen him by getting the rap set and going first. I sacrificed my photographic needs by going last – though my camera went down with Jon hence a photo of me on the drop!

Tom abseiling [Our abseil 12]

Me abseiling! [Our abseil 12] (photo: Tom)

I helped Tom with the rope pull for this drop – it was super hard work. I thought my arms were going to fall off by the time we’d finished dealing with the ropes. In the meantime Toni & Smiffy had bypassed the next drop, but since Jon had set the rope the rest of us abseiled it.

Jon swimming, Tom abseiling [My abseil 13]

Then we abseiled from the tree on the left, though Tom did go scouting for the bolts only finding the single bolt on the right.

Smiffy abseiling [My abseil 14, Smiffy’s 13th]

Finally I set the last abseil since Toni’s scrambling route on the right looked far too vegetated to be any fun. Though checking the notes later supposedly it can be scrambled on the left as well – I didn’t look very hard for a route down.

Tom abseiling [My abseil 15]

The rock-hop down Kanangra Creek was very enjoyable (well maybe for those of us who didn’t bash up our shins just before the exit) and we had great views of the walls. There is something to be said for taking your time through the canyon because then it isn’t so hot for the walk out!

Toni in Kanangra Creek

Tom & Jon in Kanangra Creek

We discussed our sequencing for the exit (somewhat in jest) but knowing that things would be a bit loose. Subsequently I found myself at the front following an initially fairly clear pad up the ridge. I lost the main route at some point and found myself traversing under a bluff higher than I should have been, though I was able to rejoin the more trodden route.

It was a lot less pleasant than I remembered from previous uses – I think post-fires it has changed a bit. However, all my clinging onto vegetation above large drops on the Dragons Teeth two weeks earlier had put me in a good frame of mind for this exit!

The Spires from some way up Manslaughter Ridge

Happy to be at the track at the top

At the top at 6:20pm I headed out to the lookout to wait for the others. We all had the mandatory visit to the lookout and eventually wandered back to the car park almost exactly 12 hours after we’d left it this morning.

It was great to be able to just drive back to (the very quiet) Boyd River Campground and dig into snacks. The other highlight was my clothes being pre-warmed from being in Jon’s car all day – like getting into clothes that have been sitting on the towel-warmer!

So many snacks consumed that we didn’t eat dinner. Eventually fatigue overcame me and I had to retire as the rate of yawning to not-yawning was way out of proportion. An excellent day and evening.

Nelson to Christchurch (3-7 Jan 2023)

Nine glorious days of fine weather had to come to an end at some point. We thought it was at the end of the our 9-day trip, but the good weather still existed on the other side of Takaka Hill. In Nelson we had a glorious dinner by the river the night we finished, and then a lovely (if we ignore the sore feet) walk towards Tahuhanui.

Sunset in Nelson

A relaxed start the next morning had us meandering towards Murchison where we enjoyed “caesar salads” (with the non-traditional ingredients of cabbage, carrot, tomato..) – I didn’t care about the unusual ingredients I was just happy to be eating fresh vegetables! Post lunch we had a short stop at Maruia Falls, before our indulgent night of the trip at Maruia Hot Springs.

Maruia Falls- created by earthquake uplift

Unfortunately no one gave me the memo to bring my fly face net – it would have been perfect. Submerged in the outdoor hotpools it was just my face that the sandflies had access to. Next time it will be an essential item on the packing list – and to be honest, might be something worth throwing in for any NZ trip in summer.

Maruia Hot Springs

The weather was meant to be worst the two days we were in Arthur’s Pass. We tried to be ambivalent about it – after all we had just had the most amazing weather for the part of the trip where it was most important. Heavy rain warnings were in place for much of the North Island and parts of the northern South Island. While we weren’t under a warning there was still the potential for plenty of rain. On the bright side we were in a motel not a tent!

Lookout Keas about!

Those pesky keas

A guilty looking culprit

The rain set in not long after we arrived in Arthur’s Pass village. When it eased off a bit we took the chance to walk to the Devils Punchbowl (waterfall).

Devils Punchbowl

This was followed by an early dinner at the Wobbly Kea. Arthur’s Pass seemed to have the most pronounced staff shortages of anywhere we had been, leading to reduced menus/opening hours and at times poor customer service (not at the Wobbly Kea which was excellent despite its challenges). I understand the issues and have sympathy for the individual business owners, but it does make travelling a bit of a drag. How’s that for first world problems?

The next day we’d been hoping to do Avalanche Peak but with the conditions there was little point. Checking the MetService forecast in the morning we saw there was 38mm of rain forecast for Avalanche Peak for the afternoon, but only a few millimetres for the morning. Better get out and doing something in the morning then. Though then we checked some other forecasts which suggested the afternoon would be better than the morning. Who to believe? In the end we got going and had a relatively dry walk up the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track. At the top we even climbed a bit of a way up the Temple Basin track to get a view of a waterfall (when the clouds cleared enough).


Large daisy

Part way up the Temple Basin Track

We were somewhat bemused as we started seeing a string of people just starting out as we got nearer to the village on our way back – one commented “what a stunning day”. I guessed she’d driven from Christchurch which was still having good weather (but look out the next day). We looked very overdressed in our tramping rain jackets – which admittedly I did need to take off just before the end as I’d got too warm. A small part of me was wondering if we should have waited – but then about an hour after getting back to our motel it poured. And poured. And poured. So much so the smugness threatened to overwhelm our motel room. Eventually it eased off enough for us to run across the road for a coffee. And do a bit more wandering the small tracks around town. Once again glad I wasn’t in a tent.

The next morning we set out in wet conditions towards Christchurch. I had picked out a walk but it involved a 2000m+ peak which seemed a bit pointless/masochistic given the weather. I would have liked to give the Cave Stream Creek cave a go – but at 13°C it didn’t seem like the most sensible option for the day either. Instead we just checked out the inlet and outlet – next time.

Cave Stream Creek exit (creek entrance)

Funky scenery

We also stopped at Castle Hill and did the tourist walk there – the rock formations were great. Eventually we found ourselves at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch – where randomly we bumped into 2 people we’d met at Fenella Hut on 1st Jan. And there endeth the holiday.

Douglas Range Traverse (Dragons Teeth “High route”) 26 Dec 2022 – 3 Jan 2023 (Days 7-9)

Continued from days 4 – 6

Day 7: Lonely Lake Hut to Fenella Hut

As seemed to be the case almost every day on this trip we started the day with a stiff climb. I was surprised how quickly we exited from the bush and started getting views. The weather was amazing and I was thrilled we had been able to sit out the previous day – I couldn’t help but think of the 9 others who’d left Lonely Lake yesterday who probably didn’t get any views.

Once we left the bush line we followed dramatic ridge after dramatic ridge. Views in every direction! Valley cloud – Tom’s favourite! So many photo stops.

Valley of cloud – can you spot the Brocken Spectre?

Approaching Lonely Lake from the north we didn’t get a view of it until we were almost in it. Whereas if you approach from the south you have many views from quite a way out.

Looking back – Lonely Lake the hanging Lake on the mid-right, Dragons Teeth prominent back left

There were some less than pleasant sections. In particular going over spot height 1610 – this was our first encounter with Golden Spaniard (aka speargrass) for the trip. Up until then I’d been pretty comfortable grabbing hold of whatever vegetation was in front of me when I felt the need. No longer. Some particularly pathetic yelps came out my mouth as I managed to get Golden Spaniard spikes into the scrapes on my knees from the previous days.

All in all this was a magnificent day of walking – but not a good one to do in bad weather. There was still enormous exposure in some sections – and at times I was a bit uncomfortable, I do like having three points of contact and when you’re just walking on a narrow ridge top you only have two!

Climbing the slopes of Kakapo Peak

Traversing the screen slope below Kakapo Peak

A new view! (towards the Cobb Valley)

I saw a few of these through the trip

The closer we got to civilisation (Fenella Hut) the more elaborate the cairns became. Then we started bumping into people. Aagh!

Someone went to a lot of effort with that cairn

The sidle around Waingaro Peak was surprisingly taxing – maybe we’d mentally switched off by that point thinking we were almost done.

Sidling around Waingaro Peak

Fenella Hut

I got more sandfly bites in the first 10 minutes at Fenella Hut than I had in the rest of the trip. We soon retreated inside to escape. Then we walked the “2 furlongs” (400m) to the swimming hole. The write-ups had made a big deal of the swimming hole and with good reason. A tarn perched on the ridge-top with easy access on rock in and out, deep & long enough to swim laps in it. Amazing.

The amazing swimming pool (tarn) near Fenella Hut

Tom with Xenicus Peak behind him

We had been a bit concerned about how busy Fenella Hut was going to be. There had been 12 people there the night before. Neither of us sleep very well in huts with other people, maybe we’d get used to it if we did it more? So even though there only ended up being 6 others we decided to set up the tent. It ended up being a good call as we both had the best night’s sleep we’d had on the trip.

That didn’t stop us socialising with the very chatty group that were in the hut. Three of them had come down from Auckland specifically to spend New Years Eve with Nelson-based friends. One problem – the local friends had not been at the trailhead when they arrived and had not turned up in the 3 days they’d been staying there. We got introduced to the blocks of cheese – Zoe and Zac – named after the missing friends. There was a fire sale that night on all the spare food which had been carried in for them.

Day 8: Fenella Hut – Mt Gibbs – Round Lake – Cobb Lake – Cobb Hut – Fenella Hut (day walk)

Since we still had an extra day up our sleeve (thanks to the amazing weather) we opted for a second night in the vicinity of Fenella Hut.

We had talked about getting up early to do a day walk – mainly to try and get some of the walking done in the early morning before the sun got too intense. But when I looked out the tent there was low cloud so there didn’t seem to be any hurry. Eventually we got up and it looked like the cloud was going to clear so we got going.

I was expecting to feel like I was bouncing up the hills with only a day pack. Sadly that was not the case. The 500m ascent to the Mt Gibbs ridge was just as hard as any other climb we’d done (if not worse).

Views down the Cobb Valley – our exit route the next day

Tom a mere speck on the ridge connecting Xenicus Peak and Mt Gibbs

It turned into another stunning day, and we enjoyed our two morning teas. One overlooking Xenicus Peak from the end of the rocky ridge before the saddle, and the other after summitting Mt Gibbs, overlooking Island Lake.

Contemplating what we walked over the previous 7 days

Views over Island Lake

By comparison our lunch spot at Round Lake was a bit boring.

Descending to Round Lake

We’d considered moving into the hut for our second night to avoid having a wet tent to pack up in the morning. However as more and more people arrived that didn’t happen. The second night had 11 or 12 in the hut, and 5 (including us) camping. One group of 5 had come over the high route like us and we enjoyed debriefing the trip with them. Another adventurous couple were on day 10 of a 15 day circuit around Kahurangi and they were now needing to rush the Douglas Traverse (low route) to try and beat an incoming severe weather system later in the week.

Day 9: Fenella Hut to Trilobite Hut (road end)

Even though our pick up wasn’t scheduled until 1:30pm we decided get away early-ish so we weren’t under any time pressure on the walk out.

The historic Tent Camp on the walk out

The first couple of hours were dry but eventually, in a first for me on the trip, we had to put our raincoats on. It was pretty incredible that for a 9 day trip that was the only time I used my raincoat. There had been rain on a couple of occasions earlier but it was either overnight or on our rest day.

Hmm, do we need to get the raincoats out?

Since we seemed to be making good time we did have our customary two morning tea stops. At the first one a robin came to visit. It was very bold and eventually started pecking Tom’s pack!

Robin intent on pecking Tom’s pack to bits

Even with our two breaks it only took 4 hours to walk out which meant we had ages to wait for our pick-up. The group of 5 that we’d enjoyed chatting with the previous night arrived and hung around for a while so that helped pass the time. And it turned out there were 2 others also waiting for the same shuttle. They were an interesting couple based in Westport who had a lot of local tramping knowledge.

The Cobb Valley trailhead (Trilobite Hut)

Bang on 1:30pm our shuttle arrived dropping off 2 people and collecting 4 of us. As we chatted on the way back it transpired the two people who had been dropped off were the infamous Zoe and Zac – they had made it just a day after their friends had left!

A few hours later we were back in Nelson well satisfied with an amazing trip.

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