With more “forced” holidays (me from Christmas shutdown, Tom from having to use his 4 weeks of leave in the calendar year) we had the week before Christmas off. Throwing around ideas Tom suggested exploring some tributaries of Annie Rowan Creek, but he would rather have more than just us. Well, I was trying to get more activities for the Club program so here was a perfect match! Unsurprisingly there wasn’t much interest – finding those special canyoning companions that a) could give up 5 days in the week before Christmas to go bush b) had sufficient exploratory canyoning experience and c) were actually interested were likely a very narrow intersection on a venn diagram! So it was just 3 of us who met at Clarence on a rainy, cool Saturday morning – a day later than originally scheduled, as the Friday forecast had involved 20-40mm of rain, mainly to be delivered via storm cells.
Saturday and Sunday were now forecast for just a few millimetres of rain – just drizzly – and relatively cool. Monday originally had a new trough forecast but then it moved to Tuesday so we were feeling happy we should get 3 relatively good days in, and if it rained Tuesday we would probably just be walking out. I was wondering if we were a little crazy as I shivered while we exchanged pleasantries. Forty-five minutes later we were at the Natural Bridge car park – unsurprisingly the only ones there. The walk in on the Mt Cameron track was very easy going after the fires last summer. And so it wasn’t long before we were leaving the trail and heading off to find our first creek. It didn’t seem like it had taken very long so I was quite surprised when my camera said it was almost 12:30pm as we were finishing our first abseil.
The first creek Tom had been down previously. I was quite impressed by the canyon, Tom definitely hadn’t oversold it.
We had a very late (3pm) lunch in our intended overhang for the night. The afternoon was spent exploring the nearby creeks. It was a useful afternoon in the sense of answering a bunch of questions (can we get back up if we abseil this waterfall? Is there a pass out here? Does this tributary have any canyon?). Unfortunately the answers to the questions were all “No”. So it was a bit of a disheartening afternoon. I was tired (not that surprising with a 5:30am start), and very glad when we finally headed back to camp. As usual Tom and I had our lengthy procession of courses (cheese & crackers, soup, main, tea)… while Alan had his oat bar dinner in about 5 minutes, probably before we’d even sat down!
At least our exploration the afternoon before meant we were efficient the next morning. We quickly made our way into a nearby creek and walked up it further than yesterday to a tributary Tom wanted to have a look at. Getting into it required a swim – which neither Alan or I were game for at 8:45am. You can’t stop the canyon explorer though as he swam away camera in his mouth. He was gone longer than I expected – apparently a nice little section above what we could see.
From there we found a way out of the creek and into a nearby creek system.
We expected canyon (though we knew nothing beyond that) in the lower section of the creek. Tom had identified via the aerials an upper tributary of interest, so decided we may as well drop in high up and see what was there. It was a surprisingly good section, with a few drops and a bit wet.
And the creek between Tom’s upper tributary and the “known” canyon was pleasant. It felt like today was coming together almost the opposite of yesterday afternoon! The lower section didn’t have much rope work but lots of scrambling and water.
Lower down I was a bit perturbed to see a goanna on a rock in the middle of the canyon. I was going to have to go past it on one side or the other – and I really didn’t want it running up me – especially given I was just wearing shorts and swimmers! Even though it seemed pretty cold it’s beady eyes were watching me as I approached. Being a bit nervous I then tried to rush past it and of course screwed up the next downclimb, sacrificing my elbow skin to the canyon gods. For the record the goanna was still sitting there when we left it.
Tom’s studying of the DEM data meant we followed a half-way ledge around into the next creek. While it was essentially a means to an end, as a way to get across to our next canyon, it was a nice creek in its own right. My favourite feature was the creek of sand – no water in sight – but the sand made up for it.
The original plan for the day had been to drop into another canyon, but given the time and unknown nature of the next canyon we decided to have a high camp and leave it for the next day. It was a speccy spot with fantastic views over the Wolgan. There were ominous clouds in the sky so taking advantage of the reception we checked the forecast. “Hmmm” said Tom. “What?” I said in reply. “30-50mm of rain tomorrow, with potential storms”. Great.
We had hoped being up high would mean less mosquitoes but it was not to be. The mosquitoes were one of the reasons Tom and I were up for the pre-sunrise light show. Many bush trips are about trade-offs in suffering. Carry a tent – suffer with the weight in your pack the whole time. Carry a fly – suffer when the mosquitoes try to bite your face and any other exposed body parts. Coincidentally it was also the summer solstice. If only we had known just how long a day it was going to be…
The sunrise was great, even though Tom didn’t have any of his fancy cameras with him to truly capture it. But by the time we’d boiled the billy you couldn’t see anything. The cloud had rolled in and we were in mist. Everything was damp while we packed up.
Given the forecast we decided the best plan was to cut the trip short a day. This was easier said then done since we were a fair way from the car. The first point of business was the canyon we were camped above.
Not long after 8:30am we were dropping into the creek. We had thought this canyon had been reversed but the first major obstacle we came to even Alan agreed there didn’t appear to be any way to climb the waterfall.
We thought this spectacular cavern was the end of the canyon. Tom even stopping to mark ‘end of canyon’ on his GPS.
But not long after that we catch up with Alan who’s sitting above a drop into a dark, curved canyon.
I went down first, and then realised there was another small drop. The light Alan had been able to see seemed a long way above me so I wanted to make sure we could actually get through. I was hoping I wasn’t going to have reverse the two ropes I had just come down as I proceeded down stream to check it out. I had an awkward floating disconnect, glad to find I could walk in most of the water sections rather than needing to swim without the buoyancy of my pack which I’d left behind. Eventually I got to a section where it was clear we would be able to get through. A couple of whistles up to the guys for them to proceed. Slightly embarrassingly I found there had been no need for the floating disconnect as only a metre away I would have been able to stand!
Finally we think we’ve got to the end. An impressive canyon! It had a taken a bit longer than we’d expected since there was so much of it – so we were glad we hadn’t decided to go for it the night before, as well as a bit apprehensive about the distance still ahead of us for the day. We stopped for an early lunch around 11:15 in an overhang which would be a reasonable camp option. We figured this might be our last time out of the rain for the day.
From there it was definitely type 2 fun for the rest of the (longest) day. We followed the cliff line around for a bit – alternating between relatively easy passage following wombat tracks and fighting our way up and down through scrub. Eventually we dropped down to a ‘grassy’ shelf which was much easier going, before making it across to Annie Rowan Creek. Here we were met with fields of cigesbeckia (as Tom kept telling us). While not particularly scratchy or woody it still proved quite difficult to move through when it was head high. Alternating leads we eventually escaped it and sidled above the creek for a while. I had mentally budgeted 1 km/hour – which meant with 4-5 kms in the creek we were going to be in for a long time, not a good time. Tom said he thought 2km/hour was achievable – I was dubious, with good reason as it turned out. The creek was pleasant enough, but it had been raining since mid-morning so everything was wet and slippery. Tom managed to flick something across his left eye, and couldn’t focus. I smacked my head into a rock overhang and needed a few minutes to compose myself. Alan just kept on going, as Alan does.
By 6:20pm we made it to our exit from the creek. Still 1h 40 of daylight left, but definitely not 1h 40 from the car. Tom called a halt to get water, clean out shoes and find our head torches. Fortunately the pass was straight-forward and once on top we just had to walk ridges until we found the trail we came in on. It wasn’t difficult walking but with more knee high natives (that look like weeds) it wasn’t quick.
After what seemed like hours we founds ourselves on the track. After what seemed like more hours we were back at the saddle where Tom & I had stashed our more comfortable shoes from the walk in. And after what seemed like the most hours ever we finally were back at the cars. At 10:41pm. It was still raining, though had eased off a bit in the last half an hour so fortunately we were able to get changed into warm, dry clothes without getting too wet. By 11pm we were driving out in convoy – fortunately the road held up pretty well given the rain. Once we got back to the main Glow Worm Tunnel road we waved Alan past us. He sped off, and we crawled along – Tom driving, but apparently unable to read the speedo as his vision was still blurry.
I suggested we go via Lithgow so we could get some food – all we’d had since our early lunch was a couple of nut bars and some dried apples. It had been a long time since we’d used the State Gully Mine Road to leave the Newnes Plateau. A left instead of right hand turn when we got to town made the day even longer. Navigation corrected we found ourselves at the 24 hour McDonalds a bit after midnight. The Longest Day was over but we were still a long way from bed.
Walking like a cowboy from chaffing, I also couldn’t stop shaking – I couldn’t tell if it was shivering from the cold, or general body discomfort from lack of food and the efforts of the day. Once I got some food and coffee into me I felt a bit better – which was just as well since there was a 2 hour drive still to go, which I definitely needed to drive given Tom was seeing multiples of any reflective things!
I decided to take the main line rather than Bells Line due to the easier driving – only to find as we made our way to Victoria Pass that the Great Western Highway was closed at Mt Vic and we were going to have to divert to Bells Line anyway. Can this day get any longer? We pulled into the garage at 2:45am, stumbling into bed leaving a car full of wet stuff to be dealt with in the morning. With my various flesh wounds (chafing from swimmers, chafing on my lower back from the pack, chafing on both my hips, both knees cut to pieces from bush bashing) I wasn’t sure sleep was going to come easy despite having been awake for 22 hours.