Author Archives: rachel

An old favourite (15-16 Aug 2020)

What are we at now? I think this is weekend 9 from a possible 11 that we have been out overnight since the travel restrictions in NSW were lifted. It’s the first trip where the route was something we had done before. It’s a good option when the weather forecast is looking a little dicey. To be honest the forecast this weekend wasn’t that bad, possible showers during the day on Saturday but ok the rest of the time.

Caoimhin & Ruby were at North Richmond before us (wonders never cease!) but even so we didn’t start walking until after 9:30am. After an hour or so of walking we revised the original plan to take a slightly more direct route to Mt Dawson. This meant we got to do something new after all! The gully we walked up was quite lovely, with lots of overhangs to explore and easy flat walking (if you avoided the peat moss bog!).

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A new way to the tops

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Climbing up a tiny bit of canyon

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The man, the mystery

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Tom on the “Pagoda of Death”

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Someone took the “Pagoda of Death” a bit literally

We elected to get up the Pagoda of Death before lunch since we could see rain squalls sweeping across the Capertee Valley. Surprisingly none of them ever got to us, though the fear of being rained on drove us on through the afternoon. There was still plenty of time to enjoy the views… in between eyeing off which overhang we would be retreating to when the rain hit.

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Pinnacle & Pantoneys

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The party

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“The Tunnel of Love”

As it was we got to camp at 3pm just as the only (very light) shower of the day hit us. Hot drinks and banana bread (late birthday cake for me) made for enjoyable afternoon activities.

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Tom hiding very unobtrusively

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Birthday cake!! (the festival continues)

The fire, and large amount of cloud, made it unappealing to head out to the cliffs for sunset. But Tom hadn’t lugged his camera up here to not take photos! So we headed out for a largely non-existent sunset before beating a retreat  back to the fire.

Despite the forecast there was some rain overnight and we were glad to be in a cave. The next morning there was no sign of rain, but there wasn’t much sky on display either. It seemed colder and more miserable – not how I’d interpreted the forecast.

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Views from Mt Dawson

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Pagoda, Pantoneys … and a bit of leg

After a visit to Mt Dawson to take in the splendid views we headed along various ridges. Not long after morning tea we started dropping into the creek we planned to exit by. There was a lot of water just flowing on the tops, and then we hit a drop which wasn’t down-climbable. We had a brief conversation about whether exiting down the creek was a good idea given the water flow, but I assured everyone we were unlikely to get more than knee deep. Not that I could really remember the creek from previous trips! As birthday girl I got the casting vote and we found a way down in a side creek.

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Yes, this photo looks like it belongs on another trip. The sun did come out…. for this photo!

Even though numerous small tributaries had fed into the creek the water volume didn’t seem any bigger so we continued on. There were quite a lot of fallen trees and shallow pools to manoeuvre around.

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The start of the cursing?

This spot was particularly fun with full packs. There was a convenient small ledge which allowed you to avoid the water, but it required a bit of contorting.

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Tom squeezing

Soon after that I gave up on keeping my feet dry and waded through. Caoimhin & Ruby were keen to keep their shoes dry so proceeded barefoot. Ruby being on the only one in trousers also removed those – no photos allowed!

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What’s so funny? Waiting for the others to negotiate the shallow water

As promised I didn’t get more than knee deep, but as the canyon continued the others eventually conceded defeat and put their shoes on. Of course this was just before the last pool and the canyon opening up 🙂

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Flowing water aplenty

From there we just had some airy sidling, a steep ridge descent and some road bashing back to the cars. A good weekend out in less than pleasant weather.

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Almost at the end

 

5 weekends in a row might be our limit? (31 Jul – 2 Aug 2020)

The forecast for the weekend was excellent, and I had Friday off so we decided to make the most of it with another three day trip. It almost got stymied on Friday morning. The alarm went off, we’d both slept poorly, Tom had appeared uncertain on our route when we’d gone to bed. I floated the idea of going back to sleep and making a 2.5 day plan later that morning. But given the amount of agonising we’d already done over this trip we couldn’t face starting again, so we ended up just getting up and getting on with it.

We had a last minute change of starting point, as the road seemed more accessible compared to our original launch point. But that meant Tom hadn’t looked at the spurs on the aerials so we were going on the basis that the topo looked like it went. What could possibly go wrong? The road access was straight-forward and after some prevaricating over whether to park just inside the park (and thus not on the private property just outside it) we were on our way.

I felt very jittery as we started our first steep descent. I put it down to a heavy pack (3 days of food – and we do like to carry fresh fruit & veg), lack of sleep, plus two coffees. We briefly got out of earshot while pass finding on the way down. We’ve had a few times recently where it’s been apparent sound really doesn’t travel very far in the bush. That or Tom is going deaf.

After morning tea we then had a big climb which was straight-forward, before some flattish but quite scrubby ridge walking. When we finally got to some more open sections I seized on the first rocky outcrop for lunch. I was happy with it, it was big, flat, had a choice of sun or shade, and had a nice area to sit. I was pretty happy with it, until almost straight after lunch we walked past a very similar rocky outcrop which also had expansive views! Next time.

We were pleased to find the ridge was a lot less scrubby post-lunch so we made better time as we navigated our way through the wiggly turns.

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Enjoying some faster walking sections after lunch on day 1

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More open walking

Then there was a straight-forward, far less jittery feeling, descent into a creek where we loaded up on water to get us through to the middle of the next day.

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Change of scenery – creek walking!

We should be getting good at carrying these heavy packs having had so many high camps in recent weeks, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier.

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It’s not all sunset photography…

It seemed to take a lot of time to get to our intended camp spot – due to more scrubby ridges and us being tired. We seem to have made a habit of racing the sun to camp… Fortunately there was both somewhere to put the tent and a cliff edge for happy hour and photography.

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Though a lot of it is!

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Sunset, with the distinctive Mt Colong to the left

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And then there’s breakfast photography

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This lookout felt a little ‘airy’

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Camp

I had optimistically planned out our second day. 4km for 2 hours seemed reasonable? Apparently not, more like 3 hours. The fires had not affected this area as much and we got to reminisce about what walking pre-fires was like….

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Morning views

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More morning views

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More fun!

Already an hour behind schedule we seemed to be making good time getting back to the creek. Until we were stymied by a 3m drop from the side creek into the main creek. So back out of the side creek we climbed and bashed away towards the next side creek hoping we’d be able to get down there! Finally we found a way into the creek and at 1:30pm (only 2+ hours behind my optimistic schedule) thought we should probably have lunch.

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Eventually… and I mean eventually… we made it to the creek for a late lunch. A tough morning.

Of course since we were now in a different part of the creek Tom hadn’t studied the passes out on the aerials. Once again we had to trust to the contours on the topo. I proclaimed there was a dirt ramp out of the creek and the contours looked ok on the spur right next to us. Of course looking up at the cliffs, which were nowhere to be seen on the map, was slightly daunting. Tom managed to get up a small climb and put a rope down to haul my pack. To thank him I scraped his knuckles across the rock as he gave me a hand to get up the drop. Fortunately for me he suffered through the pain rather than let me topple down the 10m drop!

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Finding a pass out of the creek post-lunch

Fortunately the rest of the spur did resemble the contours on the map and we got up it with no further issues (except once again we were hauling water for the next 24 hours).

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Lots of these were in bloom

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Almost at the top of the hill

It was nice to settle on a campsite by 4pm giving us time to set up in a somewhat more leisurely fashion.

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Relaxing after a hard day

The campfire was in a very satisfactory situation with backrests for both of us! So it was a comfortable night around the fire.

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Early light from the tent

As always Tom was up early to photograph sunrise, while I was content to watch the early light from the tent.

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Morning photography

There was just the right amount of valley cloud – unlike like last week (too much) and the day before (not enough). Unfortunately that meant there was a lot of photo-faffing, and since we were camping where we had intended to have lunch we needed to get going!

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The last of the valley cloud

Fortunately the first section was seriously burnt so we made good time.

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Lots of grass trees

Our next challenge was another ridge that we didn’t know if it ‘went’. We’d checked it out from afar two days earlier and it looked like it could have some intrigue to it.

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ok, so all we have to do is work out how to get down to the creek

We made our way through two clifflines and were feeling pretty good. Until we realised the ‘second’ cliff-line wasn’t the final one. Soon I was standing at the edge of a large cliff. To my right was the side creek where a pretty impressive waterfall plunged into the valley. There was no way down that. Our earlier viewing had suggested there was a treed ramp to the left… We contoured around and around, me leading the charge hopeful of finding a gully we could get down. Tom less enthusiastically following me, especially after I yelled out “I think we’re stuffed” (or perhaps something slightly less polite). Fortunately he did eventually follow me some way, and while I was retreating he went investigating. Some time later he declared we had a way down.

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Might require some tape work

It involved some tape, a crawl, and a step across, but eventually we were through the cliff line! This was a great relief because it would have been a very long way to get down any other way.

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And a bit of a crawl, and a big step across

The rest of the descent passed without incident and we were glad to have lunch next to the river.

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We made it down!

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Good thing I didn’t snap Tom running to get ahead of me to take pictures

We had one more unknown spur in our route. Once again I proclaimed the contours looked fine. In fact it was a most enjoyable spur to climb – a very nice gradient which felt a little like climbing stairs, with some scrambling right at the top.

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Final hill of the trip

The ridge itself was gorgeous and had great views. But by this point Tom was worn out (I was doing slightly better). Unusually he was less than enthused about a small detour to visit a trig.

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I think Tom is worn out

Eventually we arrived back at the car after 3 pretty hard days. We were a bit surprised on our drive out to find a gate across the road which we hadn’t noticed on the way in. It was shut but automatically opened for us to exit. Not sure if we got exceedingly lucky that it was open when we drove in at the start – certainly would make the access a lot trickier!

Beating the weather (24-25 July 2020)

The forecast had been pretty adamant, and unfortunately unchanging, all week. Rain was coming and it was coming on Saturday and Sunday. Surely it would move out a day, or diminish, as rain forecasts so often so in NSW. But no. So, we seized the weather window and headed out early on Friday morning. We probably would have left a little later but for workday traffic to contend with! Subsequently our earliest walking start in a long time – packs on and on our way by 8:15am.

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A balmy 4°C in the Wattle Ridge car park at 8am

It was somewhat disconcerting walking in cloud. We were expecting it to burn off fairly quickly but eventually we got underneath it and began to be able to see a bit further than a few metres. We hadn’t walked Starlights Track since the fires, and it was almost like walking a new track. Being able to see the creek was definitely new. (which maybe had also had a bit of a scour-out from the floods?)

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Walking in the cloud

We’d heard a rumour that Emmetts Flat (or the area which everyone refers to as Emmetts Flat which isn’t technically Emmetts Flat) had been ‘destroyed’ by the floods. I’d taken that to mean it had been washed away. However it is still there. It looks a bit different. The weeds are on steroids and taking over. It’s not quite the place I visited back in 2016 on a day trip which made me contrive an overnight trip just so I could camp there! It’s obviously still getting plenty of use judging by the amount of campfire ash.

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Unfortunately the weeds have taken over much of Emmetts Flat

After filling up water at Troys Creek we headed downstream on the Nattai. We were now in new territory. The going was pretty easy, alternating between walking on the sandy river bed, or following wombat trails on the slopey embankment. The cloud had gone, the sun was shining and there was no wind. Another stellar day in the Nattai.

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Flat, straight, sandy section of the Nattai

We liked the junction of the Wanganderry and Nattai so much we had an early lunch. Though to be fair breakfast had been at 6am. It felt a little like those magical places in books where a sleep spell has been cast and all you want to do is lie down and have a nap. (Un?)Fortunately for Tom I was there to break the spell, crack the whip and keep us going!

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Lunch at the junction of Nattai River & Wanganderry creek

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Interesting log. Presumably submerged at some point?

Having descended into the valley we didn’t plan on staying there. We had to climb back out again for our intended high camp. It was a warm winter’s day, and a drink was welcome when we found a flowing side creek just before the climb started in earnest.

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Bush taps!

I felt like I was crawling but eventually we plodded our way up the spur. These high camps definitely have their downsides with needing to lug water!

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Almost at the top

As far as 500m climbs go it was a pretty good one, with some easy scrambling to get up through the cliff line. At the top we headed out to the end of a point where there was a fabulous rocky outcrop. Once again the combination of sun, no wind and sleep was mixing to cast a spell of inertia. But we still needed to find a campsite for the night, so back to the packs we went. (In retrospect I wish we’d just taken the packs out with us and camped there!)

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Speccy look-out. With its own pool

We were both pretty tired by now. The spot Tom had chosen from the map for a camp didn’t seem that far away, but my legs felt differently. It was relatively slow going as the fire had been of low intensity. Then we missed the turn-off and ended up on the next ridge.

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Views galore

Backtracking we found an amazing happy hour spot. Just lacked any good camping near by… A few minutes away we found a flat spot amongst the trees which would do. Despite our early start we didn’t have long till sunset. We enjoyed the views and lack of wind before retreating to our camp for a surprisingly mild evening around the campfire.

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Nice happy hour spot

We were woken by the planes overhead, presumably on their way in to land as soon as the curfew ended at 6am. I don’t know how many planes it would have been pre-covid but it was only 2 this morning. Tom got up to go and check out pre-sunrise, but from what I could see it wasn’t worth getting up too much before sunrise. As I arrived at the cliff-edge the cloud apparently rose out of the valley when previously the cliffs were visible.

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Photographer has another thing to add to his whinge list – too much valley cloud

The cloud obscuring everything at least meant Tom was focussed on eating breakfast rather than taking photos! It teased us for a bit, revealing cliff tops and then hiding them again. Eventually some good views opened up.

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Still, it was a pretty good breakfast spot in the end

We had agreed to get moving fairly early since the BOM forecast was for rain to come through from late morning (though the Norwegians didn’t have anything in the area till after 6pm). But with the “atmospheric conditions” (i.e. photo faffing) we didn’t get moving till 9am.

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The campsite was nothing to rave about

We headed out to another viewpoint before following a series of ridges to a fire trail we’d walked on a previous trip. You don’t realise how slow you’re moving, even on relatively easy, off-track until you get onto a fire trail! The fire trail was a slog which we broke up with lunch. No sign of any rain by the time we got to the cars in the early afternoon, though it was on the radar in the north.

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Not all cliffs and views (sadly)

Another great weekend in the bush, very confusing to be home mid-afternoon on a Saturday despite being out overnight.

Slots & views (18-19 July 2020)

Another weekend, another multi-night trip. This feels like a bit of a record for us – 6 out of the last 7 weekends being overnight trips (with 4 being 2+ nights)! Shows how deprived we were with no overnight trips before that in 2020 due to bushfires, floods and Covid-19.

With the fear of a second lockdown looming we decided we should get away on Friday. We were leaving things a little fine leaving the car at 4pm, and a bit over an hour of light to ascend an unknown nose and find a campsite. No worries, powered up the hill… well as much as you can when hauling water, abseiling gear and photography gear! Had a perfect happy hour site on a very still night.

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Awesome happy hour spot

It was a pretty good spot for sunrise as well!

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Sunrise from the tent on Saturday

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Sunrise a bit later on

After a lot of time-lapses and other photo faffing we eventually set off the next morning. We headed off to look for water but didn’t find any – all the creeks seemed to be sandy – needed to find one with a rocky base.

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Lovely gully but no water!

After setting up camp with Mel, Rich & Ryan it wasn’t long before Tom, Rich & I were off on a first loop of the day. We found a very small pool of water, which wasn’t ideal, but given the lack of anything else we filled up. Then we were pleasantly surprised by the canyon in the creek.

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

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Tom emerging

Rich left us to go swap with Mel, so Tom & I had a late lunch and then explored another slot which ended up just being a ramp.

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A squeezey drop

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

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

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Sunset on Saturday

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The last of the sun from camp Saturday night

There was a heavy dew, and so when the wind came up in the early hours I was thinking “oh well, at least the tent will be dry”. No such luck, despite the breeze and a bit of sun the tent was still pretty damp when we packed it up. Tom & I had our full packs as we headed off with Rich for some exploring. We even had to put our harnesses on! (and use them a couple of times). The full packs definitely make for much harder work, especially going down fairly narrow canyons.

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Exploring… feels like we’re back in 2013!

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A little squeezy

Rich headed off and we had a late morning tea before heading over the ridge and checking out a couple more slots, before eventually heading back to the cars. A very enjoyable weekend out.

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Nice morning tea spot

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Another jaunty bout of exploration

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Lunch views

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Exit canyon

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Nice to see some things didn’t get burnt

 

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

Originally I had proposed this trip for a bit later in July, but somewhat presciently I decided to move it forward since… “I’m keen to get out there sooner rather than later just in case we end up with a return of any Covid restrictions.” That was in an email back when Victoria was only getting < 20 new cases a day!

Covid-aside, there was an East Coast Low brewing due to hit on Monday. When we went in there was 80mm of rain forecast for Sydney – though this was substantially downgraded by the time we got out on Sunday. Given the unsettled weather we were pretty lucky – a beautiful day on Friday, a little bit of rain on Saturday afternoon, but it only really set in about an hour from the cars on Sunday afternoon.

Another top weekend in the bush, though somewhat sobered by the full-scale views we got on Sunday of the scale of the desolation from the fires.

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Beautiful weather to start the trip

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It it a bird? Is it a plane?

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Waterfall views

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Lunch day 1

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The log book got a little toasted

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Another waterfall

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Moody afternoon

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Tom happy he brought the fancy camera

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What are you doing down there?

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More afternoon views

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That light!

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End of the ridge

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Wind patterns

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Walking in the burnt aftermath

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A completely unnecessary squeeze

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

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

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Trig with thermos on top (containing log book)

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Views

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Flying Tom

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

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Cascades

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Slabby walking

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Morning tea waterfall (and brief sunshine!)

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Our only real hill of the day

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Practising our scrambling

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More slabby walking

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Interesting creek

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Desolation after the fires

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Ground zero

 

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

In 2018 when we were partially based in the upper mountains I spent quite a lot of time looking at blobs of green on the map. One of the blobs I found was Winburndale Nature Reserve. After putting an exploratory club trip on the program for Nov 2018 I discovered water was likely to be a problem – so I was not too unhappy when most of the sign-ups withdrew and I had to cancel the walk. Fast forward to 2020, bushfires decimated many areas but Winburndale escaped. It seemed the perfect opportunity to resurrect the walk, particularly since there has been decent rain. I rescheduled the trip for May 2020 – with a full contingent signed up – but then Covid-19 arrived.

Determined to get this bunny off my back I rescheduled for July 2020. At last we would see what Winburndale had to offer. Most of my May sign-ups were back, plus a couple from the original 2018 trip, so we had a full party scheduled to go. It was a pleasant drive through the mountains to Lithgow where most of us met up. We lost one to over-sleeping on Saturday morning, so we were down to 7. My well-planned meeting point was a fail since the cafe didn’t open until we were meant to be leaving, and the toilets were having maintenance done on them!

The forecast was for a cold front with possible snow flurries on Saturday morning. By the time we got to Yetholme the visibility was low, it was lightly sleeting and if I didn’t know it was forecast to clear I would have been wondering why on earth we were heading out. Picking up our 7th member from Yetholme we ventured into Sunny Corner State Forest – I was glad we had an AWD & 4WD as the precipitation meant the dirt roads had little traction. It was a magical drive out through the pine forests which had a light dusting of snow. Lauren must be the lucky (!?) charm as the last overnight walk Tom & I did with her it also snowed!

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Walkers only!

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Wintry start to the day

By the time we started walking the weather has lifted. Lauren even optimistically applied sunscreen before we left the cars. Blue sky poked through and it was really quite a nice day if the wind wasn’t blowing. Eschewing the fire trail we followed the cliff line where we could – though the conglomerate rock proved rather slippery under foot.

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Spectacular conglomerate outcrops

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Interesting cliff line

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Looking at Mt Panorama

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More conglomerate outcrops

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

A solid 300m climb warmed us up prior to morning tea – I suspect the first decent ascent many of us had done in a while. We saw our first (but not last) goats of the trip not long after this. I am pleased to see the Reserve will be closed in a couple of months for pest control.

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Morning tea views

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More speccy cliff lines

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Remnants of the cold blast overnight

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

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

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Most of the group

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New growth – not sure why, this area is unburnt

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Crossing a slightly trickier creek/waterfall

Arriving at a potential camp a bit too late for a side trip I had planned I ummed and ahhed about whether we would camp high. Having had some spectacular high camps recently I was keen on the idea – but also aware it was a lot colder than the previous weekends we had been out. In the end I decided it was a nice spot and I didn’t have a certain low camp spot in mind, so better to stick with a known one. Keen to keep moving to avoid getting cold everyone came on a water run despite only half of us needing water. There was no problem finding water in the creek we dropped into. We saw a wild dog (probably trying to catch a goat!) just before we headed off to get water so were glad to see our gear was untouched when we got back.

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Late afternoon sun on our high camp

Getting back to camp it was almost sunset so we headed out to the cliffs. I had barely put together 3 crackers & cheese before my fingers could hardly hold the knife. The wind was biting and after about 10 minutes half of us decided we couldn’t hack the cold and headed back to the relative shelter of the trees.

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Sunset on the cliffs

There was some grumbling about the lack of fire – they are not permitted under the Winburndale Plan of Management. Everyone had been warned in advance so should have come prepared. Gas canisters were being nursed inside our down jacket to improve their performance. Vivien’s metho needed the same treatment as it wouldn’t light initially. There were some very early retirements to bed and sleeping bags to try and get warm. Alex, in somewhat typical fashion, had forgotten his usual sleeping “mat” (ratty piece of foam). Fortunately for him Vivien had gone exploring when we first arrived at camp and miraculously found an almost brand new compact foam mat in the bush.

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Next morning exploration in the cloud

I think we all had a fairly cold night, and getting up wasn’t a particularly enticing idea when we were engulfed in cloud. The advantage of not having a fire was that I felt no guilt in boiling the billy in our vestibule and having coffee and breakfast in the tent. I replanned the route given the weather. I ditched a loop to the north and added few more fire trails instead of creeks given the general damp feeling. Vivien & Lauren suggested we go for a short walk along the cliffs as there were good views (or had been the night before!). We started off in the cloud with no views but by the time we got to the edge it had lifted enough to see what was out there.

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The cloud starts to lift so we get some distant views

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Much clearer!

Back with our packs we headed off soon heading down, down, down into a creek. Being the upper reaches I wasn’t expecting much but it was flowing and had some interesting conglomerate rocks in it. There were some helpful wildlife tracks along the edge but after a few hundred metres I decided we’d seen enough and headed up a spur to meet a fire trail.

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Alex in Middle Arm Creek

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Following (literal) goat tracks along side the creek

We had a short morning tea at the top, the cold didn’t lend itself to lingering, then followed the fire trails for a while.

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Some steep firetrails!

Eventually we headed off the fire trail down a spur. It wasn’t that steep but after several descents already in the trip I think most of our stabilising muscles were protesting from lack of use. Finding a lovely lunch spot near the bottom my legs were glad for a break.

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Lovely lunch spot next to a babbling brook

From there it was one more hill back to the cars for a mid-afternoon finish. Winburndale is unburnt, beautiful bushwalking country – very little scrub, mainly open eucalypt forest. There’s definitely a few more adventures to be had there – hopefully in slightly warmer weather though!

Bylong Labyrinth (18-21 June 2020)

My employer “asking” me to take 4-5 days of leave a month to assist with the economics of Covid provided a perfect opportunity for a 4 day walk. Initially I’d thought Nattai or Morton but having been there the previous 2 weekends we decided something a bit more unachievable for a standard weekend was needed. Tom suggested the Bylong Labyrinth which fitted the bill being a longer drive than we’d normally contemplate. Unsurprisingly there weren’t any other takers so it was just me and Tom who left Sydney early on Thursday morning.

The trip had a fair amount of adversity in it, and it started during the drive up. We passed the Wallerawang Power Station to find a barrier across the road. The Castlereagh Highway was closed near Ilford due to a semi-trailer crash, we’d have to get to Rylstone via Glen Alice. So somewhat later than intended we left the car at 11am.

Walks in previous weekends had shown that there was plenty of water around. Rock pools with water had been in abundance on the tops in the Nattai. We knew the Bylong area was problematic for water but given our heavy packs at the start of 4 days we opted not to load up on water at the start, hoping we’d find some.

We skirted around the first pagoda and then some grunt work got us up onto the start of the range we hoped to traverse. Things were quickly more technical than anything done in the prior weekends, with pack passing and exposed scrambling. Soon we arrived above a saddle. Unfortunately it was a reasonable drop to get into the saddle, and we couldn’t see any other ways to get down into it. The lack of suitable anchors was a moot point since the rope we had with us wasn’t long enough to get down anyway. Retracing our steps we didn’t find anywhere we could drop down and sidle, so it looked like going back to the bottom and skipping this section was our only option.

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Scrambling on our initial ridge

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New growth following the fire

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Pagodas galore

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Retreating off the ridge

Bylong Labyrinth 1 – Tom & Rachel 0

Having accepted defeat we had lunch before dropping back to the valley floor. It was a warm day and the pagodas didn’t seem to form pools so there had been no water on the ridge. Water was needed before the end of the day. Given our circumstances we opted to follow the dry creek until we found water. The walking was relatively easy and we covered the ground quickly until we reached the spot Tom had expected water might be above ground. There was water. Yay!

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Looking at alternative plans (lipstick completely unintended!)

We found a cleaner flowing source in a small side canyon, so after an explore downstream we sculled a few cups each, then filled up with enough to get us through the night and part of the next day.

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Our tiny canyon with flowing water

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Tom launches himself onto sand… I mean into quicksand

It was a slog up the nearby spur to get back onto the spine of the main ridge we had been spat off earlier in the day.

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Slogging back up onto the ridge

Late in the afternoon we viewed the main top we were hoping to camp on. The ascent options looked somewhat imposing but a treed ramp had promise so traversing under the cliff line we sought a way through the cliffs. As we approached the ‘treed ramp’ it became clear it was more of a slopey rounded cliff line. No go. Then we attempted to get to the point. Massive drop-offs. No go. Retreating as the sun rapidly approached the horizon we had another look at a couple of options we had walked past earlier. Maybe one of them was doable, but we were running out of light and retreated back to the saddle and sought out a flat-ish space that would fit the tent.

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

Bylong Labyrinth 2 – Tom & Rachel 0

We watched the sunset before settling on a slopey spot for the night. It was a very still night and pleasant around the campfire, though I was exhausted after our early start, the warm day and challenges we’d encountered.

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Our slightly slopey site the next morning

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But it did have good breakfast views!

The next morning we had a look at the alternative ascent options in the light of day. If we traversed in the opposite direction maybe we’d find a way up. But after the fires there were few trees and on the slopes everything was loose, rocks were de-laminating, and in the end we decided to give up on the mountain and find a way around it. Tom had intended us to drop into a gully, but I led us down the ridge we’d come up the day before. Assuming we’d be able to drop off the side of it as we descended Tom wasn’t too fussed about my route choice. We kept hopefully walking the right-hand side looking for a ramp down, but nothing except cliffs. Eventually accepting defeat we just followed the spur all the way to the base – in the opposite direction to where we were aiming.

Bylong Labyrinth 3 – Tom & Rachel 0

By this point I was pretty frustrated with how things were going. Perhaps Tom had created a rod for his own back – normally his analysis of aerial photos and maps in advance meant that the routes we attempt are successful. I found the 1:25k map confusing and it gave little detail in the way of pagodas – contours which in other parts of the Blue Mountains we’d be able to get through were cliffs and rounded pagodas. Tom had made some detailed 5m contours maps using LIDAR data, but even those couldn’t reveal all of the obstacles. I wasn’t used to this sort of defeat. This was meant to be a fun weekend and it all seemed like a disaster. After a council of war we agreed to stick to the creeks for a bit to hopefully give us enough time to make an assault on Goat Mountain.

The creeks were (comparatively at least!) easy going. We finally achieved some (secondary) objectives by making it to the foot of Goat Mountain for lunch, loaded up with water from one of the creeks we’d descended, which was just as well as the Growee River was wide, sandy and completely dry.

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Lovely morning tea spot

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Approaching the Growee River

The slog up the unburnt ridge with water-laden packs was more typical of the terrain we were used to in other areas. A minor victory – we’d made it onto the ridge line, but there was still over a kilometre of ridge to traverse before we were on Goat Mountain. Tom assured me there were still plenty of things on his 5m contour map that looked tricky. Great.

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

However, one by one the obstacles were overcome. At one point above another saddle that looked like it require a rope to get in we managed to find a narrow ledge to scurry along. And so it was with much relief we made it on to Goat Mountain.

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Just a little ledge scamper

Bylong Labyrinth 3 – Tom & Rachel 1

My one request for the day had been we would make camp at 4pm so that we had time to set-up and enjoy the sunset (just before 5pm in this darkest time of the year). So a 3:40pm arrival was over-achieving! We found a lovely cliff-edge spot to watch sunset and have happy hour #1. It had been a unseasonably warm, still day, and that stillness extended through the evening which made for a relaxing night around the campfire. I was pleasantly surprised when for happy hour #2 the quality of the port went up a few price points. As it was my birthday the next day Tom had carried in some Rutherglen Grand Port. Yummo.

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Now this is a happy hour spot

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And sun hasn’t even hit the horizon yet

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Nice flat campsite

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Cosy dining area

Knowing there was a change in the weather expected late on the third day we didn’t dawdle in the morning. The plan we’d discussed around the fire was to continue our traverse a short way but then drop down off the tops. However, when we saw the ridge line ahead of us we decided to keep going with our traverse. Some scrambling up the pagodas eventually got us to the top of the next peak. The crumbling rock post-fires added a level of difficulty which I suspect didn’t exist previously.

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

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Near the top, with lots of loose rock underfoot

Winding our way along the ridge we came to a knife-edge saddle that we wanted to cross. Who would have thought saddles would cause the biggest difficulties of a trip? It looked easy enough to cross if we could get into it. Tom managed to scramble down a few levels on the right side with the use of our rope, but was stymied above the final drop.

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

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Tom above the drop which is stopping progress

In the meantime I’d scoped the left and thought it might allow us to traverse on steep slopes. But after descending a loose gully we realised we needed to get down another level and an even steeper gully was the only option. If we’d had a longer rope we might have given it a go but in the end beat a chastened retreat.

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Tom scrambling back up from the left-hand side attempt

Bylong Labyrinth 4 – Tom & Rachel 1

A review of the map showed a couple of other ridges were options for getting off the mountain, but Tom had not anticipated us going that far north so there were no detailed 5m contour maps! Easy walking soon got us to the ridge with the widest contour lines on the 1:25k map and we started making our way down. A perfect lunch spot caught our eye just above the saddle we were aiming for. We enjoyed lunch, the views and Tom looked at the aerial photos. His prediction: “it’s going to be a sh*t to get into the saddle”. Great.

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Dirty work walking in burnt areas!

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

Sure enough we ended up on a pagoda about 10m above the saddle. I was about to embark on a sidle on the side of the ridge we didn’t want to be on, before Tom pointed out we might be able to work out way round on the other side. Fortunately with a couple of small drops negotiated we had made it to the saddle! One minor objective achieved but we had 3 more for the afternoon; make it down the side creek to Lee Creek, find water, find a campsite. The only one that was causing me any (minor) concern was the water, whereas Tom was thought our side creek could turn into a canyon.

Soon enough we hit water so another big guzzle was had to make sure we were hydrated, though we weren’t inclined to load up at this point with still a 1km to go down the creek. Next minute the creek was dropping into a pool that was rather large and possibly quite deep. Skirting around it the creek dropped away and we were soon many metres above the creek floor. Fortunately I was able to climb down through a quasi-canyon in the side creek.

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Scrambling in a side creek

Having hit more water we decided we should just fill up, and then not long after we arrived at the Lee Creek junction. Two more minor objectives achieved. Surprisingly, given our experience of the the water courses so far on the trip, Lee Creek was flowing healthily. I was keen to ditch some of the water in my pack but Tom didn’t want to… so instead we carried 7 litres of water while we walked alongside a healthy creek.

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Crossing the Lee Creek with litres of water in our packs

Perhaps unsurprisingly the extra weight took it’s toll and by 3:30pm I was ready to find a campsite. We still had a lot of distance to cover the next day but we hadn’t come across many good sites, so when we got to one we decided to stop for the day. Washing off the accumulated grime/ash/charcoal from the previous 3 days was a good feeling! High camps are lovely but camping next to a flowing creek definitely has some benefits.

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Camp on Lee Creek

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Washing off the last few days of ash. Glorious!

There was no sign of the weather change yet. We hoped the rainfall models prior to the trip proved correct and the rain would all come during the night.

The rain did arrive during the night, but a bit later than the models had suggested 3 days earlier and so when we woke it was still raining. It didn’t seem close to easing so we ate breakfast in the tent and packed up in the rain. This meant our earliest start of the trip – 8am. Fortunately not long after we started the rain stopped.

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Walking up Lee Creek on day 4

Early on we’d gone with the wet feet option in the river which made progress pretty quick. Lee Creek was lovely and easy walking, though sections of quick sand existed for the unwary. Tom’s useful advice to me: “walk like an ant, not like an elephant”. I think that’s up there with “think light thoughts”. We both got stuck in quick sand a couple of times, Tom the worst of it up to his mid-thigh.

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Tom thigh deep in quicksand

I needed coffee having skipped it in the morning so we had morning tea and boiled the billy in a small overhang stocked with dry leaves.

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Morning tea cave

From there we powered up the rest of Lee Creek and hit the fire trail around 11:30am. We dutifully skirted the inholding rather than following the road and then had lunch on a small pagoda.

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Lunch pagoda

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

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The not so locked gate

Final tally?

Bylong Labyrinth 4 – Tom & Rachel 2

We’ll be back for a rematch!

Morton scrub… not (13-14 June 2020)

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

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

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Morning tea with a view through the burnt out trees

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Dangerous walking with all the little burnt-off spikes

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

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A nice spot on the creek for lunch

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Creek walking

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Pretty waterfall

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

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Orchid trying to come back to life

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Rock formation

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New growth

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

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

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Our narrow cave ledge for the night

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

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Going slight crazy?

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Beautiful creek next morning

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Scrambling up a waterfall

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Open plains walking

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Boggy walking

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Waterhole for lunch

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

Wanganderry Wanderings (6-8 June 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning tea on Day 1

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Magnificent ridge walking

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And more…

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Lunch with a view of scorched Bonnum Pic

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

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Happy hour with a view of Lake Burragorang

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Sunset

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

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Full moon and a campfire

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

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Sunrise day 2

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

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What a view! (Nattai Valley)

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

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

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

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

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Late afternoon light

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

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Sunset day 2

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

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Sunrise day 3

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

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

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Climbing a ridge

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

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Morning tea views

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

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Heading back to the car

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Signs of life

 

Missingham Steps (14-03-2020)

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

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

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The cloud cleared briefly for some early views

 

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

 

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Early scrambling

 

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

 

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Continuing down the steps (or rocks as necessary)

 

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More steps

 

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

 

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Kangaroo River

 

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Crossing the Kangaroo River

 

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

 

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

 

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Some bush bashing before we picked up Stevo’s Track

 

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Carrington Falls

 

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The final crossing of the Kangaroo River

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

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