Party: Annie Cote, Diana Godess, Mila Moutinho, Sky Reidy, Tim Vollmer, Tom Tramby
Despite steadily improving weather forecasts, the last week saw the party halve in size with work, family, illness and general softness meaning just six intrepid explorers set out along Narrowneck on Saturday morning.
A smooth start to the day, with everyone arriving on time despite rail track works, suckered me into a detour out to Castle Head to give the crew a chance to see exactly where we were walking. In hindsight it was a bad call, but it is an irresistible view point.
The pleasant stroll got a boost when a group of black cockatoos decided to not only sit directly above the track noisily calling, but then took flight giving a display of their size and beauty.
The trek to Walls Pass went smoothly, with the gully found easily. We stopped for lunch directly above the chains that run down the 15m rock face. After a pleasant feed and a cuppa we set out, lowering the packs then sending down the people with the aid of a safety rope which thankfully didn’t need to be used.
We made our way to the end of Cedar Head along a shale ledge in the cliff-line. Once there we began to skirt around and down via a series of slips, slides, scrambles and near falls through the multitude of small cliff-lines towards the valley.
We escaped a catastrophe by a whisker when a bumped pack fell down one of the small cliffs, bouncing directly over Annie’s head before hitting the ground with a heart-stopping thud and threatening to keep rolling all the way to the creek. Amazingly, the glass bottle of port inside survived.
The size of the group and lack of track made for slower going than I would have liked. It soon became clear we wouldn’t be making the stunning camp site before sunset.
Twilight fell inconveniently, right at the point where the terrain flattens out and a dozen small, scrubby, indistinct ridges spear off in all directions. There was some debate at this point about a dry camp and continuing in the morning, but between Tom’s “I’ve seen the brochure (picture of the camp cave) and I’m gonna get there” and Diana’s more to-the-point “were not f***ing staying here” we decided to get a wriggle on.
No longer able to see, we were navigating by compass, hitting every patch of lawyer vine and scratchy scrub possible. The GPS came out as a backup, reassuring everyone that we were indeed on the right spur and heading in the right direction, which placated the now mutinous crew.
At this point I was secretly a little worried, knowing the difficulty a lot of people have finding a pass through the cliffs directly above Cedar Creek, even in daylight, but I clung desperately to my memory of where it was. My self-belief did begin to waver when I realised we were too low in the valley for the GPS to help any more — according to it we were already 150 on the other side of the creek — so it was down to the trusty compass. Amazingly, an hour after sunset, we hit the pass perfectly. It was an Aussie bush miracle!
After a brief rest to drink copious amounts of fresh, cool mountain stream water we got moving, rock-hopping along perilously slippery rocks. A few hundred metres downstream the cavernous overhang began to loom on our right, which I welcomed with a few overly enthusiastic whoops knowing we were finally at our destination after the less-than-enviable off-track night walking. The overhang was even better than I remembered, giving great shelter for those of us who had travelled without a tent. Firewood was gathered, beds set up and we got started on dinner.
The long day had taken its toll, with a few walkers slipping off early to rest their aching legs, but a handful of troupers kicked on around the fire, drinking the collective supply of wine, port, whisky and jagermeister. The port, in a glass bottle, was drunk with wonderment given the pack it was in had not only been deliberately dropped down a few tricky bits but had been the one that launched a kamikaze attack on Annie earlier in the day. Finally after some rowdiness (my recollections here get hazy) we made it to bed. Again I don’t recall how it happened, but I did wake up in my sleeping bag.
In the morning a couple of the uber-keen walkers disappeared to grab more firewood and the fire was already starting to crackle by the time I dragged my sorry carcass out of my sleeping bag. We had a slow start to the day, enjoying a chat, a decent breakfast and several cups of tea while admiring the stunningly beautiful section of creek. At this point Cedar Creek merrily gurgles between the mossy rocks while the coachwoods form a green canopy above.
Somewhere around 10am we finally got moving, heading up the exit creek for about half a kilometre before starting the long ridge slog to the Ruined Castle. This section was steep and tiring, but other than a couple of areas of lawyer vine, including the lovely section where it was hidden among the bracken ferns, it wasn’t too scrubby so it made life easier than it could have been. We reached the top, stumbling onto the first track we had seen in 24 hours, and walked the 50 metres to the looming rocks.
On arrival we had a shocking re-entry to the real world following a remote walk miles from the nearest human as what seemed like a busload of people arrived, clambering over every possible flat section of rock and noisily hoeing into their coffee and tim tams.
After a nice lunch, where a friendly magpie bravely few in to attack any unguarded morsels of food, we set off along the well-worn track. We made the final courageous push up the golden stairs, which after two days of walking felt longer than usual, before collapsing at the top.
Tom and I decided to “paper scissors rock” for the job of walking the 800m to the locked gate to get the car, but thankfully the arrival of a random generous 4wd owner who willingly provided a lift saved either of us from any more exercise. We all happily piled into the cars, fought our way through the Sunday afternoon traffic and made it down to the Lappo for a well deserved drink.
Despite the scrub, night walking, revolutionary threats, sore legs, lawyer vine and massive hangovers, it was an all-round enjoyable walk. That being said, I’m not brave enough to ask the others for their feedback!