A very wet trip to the High Gangerang and Kowmung River

Party: Tim ‘Wombat’ Vollmer, Joshua ‘Rocky’ Hill, Huey

After several days of rain, flooding up north and promises of more rain to come, two foolhardy souls decided to push ahead with a three day stroll out from Kanangra.

The drive out on Friday morning started with light drizzle, slowly increasing to a torrential downpour by the time Katoomba was reached. The drive out through Jenolan Caves only increased the trepidation as the road was littered with branches and even a couple fallen trees.

Eventually the walls were reached and despite thick mist and constant rain the two intrepid adventurers left the otherwise empty car park. We soon realised the clouds were well down in the valley; there would be no improvement to the poor visibility of not more than 30 metres and we would not be admiring the spectacular views.

We decided to modify the walk slightly, reversing the direction and heading to the Kowmung first and hoping for a fine final day for the walk on the Gangerang Range.

Just like the rest of the walk, recent hazard reduction burns had left sections of scrub blackened, creating stark contrasts between burnt and unburnt sides of the track and some surreal landscapes in the mist.

At Coal Seam Cave we admired the lovely dryness, but fighting the urge to set up camp we traipsed on down Gingra Range. Soon I was questioning my decision not to bring a rain jacket, but was still hoping it would clear and I would dry out. It just goes to show I will never be getting a job as a weatherman!

We eventually got under the cloud, although not under the rain. There were a some occasional pauses in the foul weather where a glimpse of blue was seen. Unfortunately, each was followed by a smirking Huey as a fresh gust of wind brought yet more driving rain. The one plus was that no photos were taken and few rest stops granted, so we made great time to the Kowmung. The other positive was observing the temporary waterfalls streaming off the cliffs on Ti Willa Plateau.

When we arrived the river was raging, filling the valley with a thunderous roar. It was at least 30 metres wide at the camp site. We set up the tent and a little shelter and got started on the fire.

Everything was wet, and not that superficial damp on the outside, but the soaked-to-the-centre-dripping-wet state where you can take bark off a tree, squeeze it, and have water come out as if it were moss. Over a painful hour and a half we – and by we I mainly mean Joshua who is now officially the best fire-lighter I know – chipped tiny slivers of wood, blew air on the embers with a camelbak hose and attempted to stop the driving rain from extinguishing the tiny flame.

Eventually it bust into life and we stood in the drizzle enjoying the glorious fire.

Despite all the work, the weather got the better of us and by about 6.30 we were in the tent, fed, watered and liquored up, ready for sleep. The rain didn’t let up, and by morning we discovered the river was now substantially closer to our tent, having risen about half a metre and coming four or five metres closer to us. Looking over at the spot where I had washed up the night before, which was now a raging torrent, it was hard not to question our choice of camp site.

After a relaxing breakfast we packed up and got on our way. A short walk down the river took us to the flying fox, where some serious consideration was given to using some rope, tape and a carabiner to cross the raging river, before we began the climb up Stockyard Spur to Ti Willa.

The rain eased then stopped, we made great time and thanks to some brilliant navigating through the scrub higher up hit the cliffline less than 5 metres from the chains of Campagnoni Pass. We climbed to the top, followed the cliff about 30 metres to a perfect lunch rock and proceeded to have a long, relaxing feed. Plenty of photos were taken thanks to the best weather we had received thus far, and much time was wasted.

Eventually we continued along Ti Willa Ridge with the plan to head to Hundred Man Cave. At first it was easy going, clear weather and none of the nasty scrub we had heard about. When we finally did hit the really swampy banksia scrub we decided to scoot over to the west and check out the views over to the Gangerang Plateau. We weren’t disappointed and more photos were taken of all the waterfalls rushing off into what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful valleys / gorges in the mountains. Even high up we could hear the roar of the normally placid creek below.

Unfortunately, the fun times spent photographing, exploring and examining the world’s narrowest slot canyon (about 3 or 4 cms, dropping most of the way down the cliff!) wasted what little good weather we had, and Huey returned with a vengance, racing up the valley, engulfing us with cloud and once again pissing down rain, which didn’t ease  at all until about 9am on Sunday.

At this point I will say that I have always thought the use of the term “Huey” was a bit of a wank. After this weekend, and Huey’s repeated, deliberate, vindictive attacks on us, I completely understand the need to personify him (and his evil mistress Cloudmaker).

Anyway, we resumed our search for Hundred Man Cave in the driving rain, through horrendous scrub, with what was definitely the worst visibility of the trip. My attempt to cross reference Dunphy’s map with the topo had me locating the cave about 400m away from its proper location, which in conditions like this was a substantial margin of error. We searched for about half an hour, doing a few zig-zags and loop-the-loops during which Joshua managed to lose his watch, which had been given to him by his wife as a wedding gift. Eventually the dying light made us realise we weren’t going to make it and needed to find another spot to camp.

Considering the swamp, scrub, mud and rock which made up 95 percent of the area, we were lucky to quickly find a nice little camp site and bed down. We again started the process of trying to light a fire. After half an hour we gave up. We had discovered a new kind of wetness even more horrendous than the day before and the rain was heavier.

We climbed into the tent, warmed ourselves up and cooked in the vestibule because there was no way we were going to be going back outside. (That same desire led to debates later in the evening about the appropriateness of peeing in a cup in the tent. I won’t spoil it by publicising the outcome.)

We stuffed our faces with chocolate to cheer ourselves up, got into the irish whiskey, bourbon and pisco, then had another early night. In the morning it was still raining. I tried to convince Joshua that we should just spend the day in the tent because there was no way I was getting out of my sleeping bag and putting those sopping when Volleys back on. I lost the argument and we got moving.

As we packed up the rain stopped and the visibility began to markedly improved. We moved along the ridge, dropped into a nicely flowing creek for water, then started up the other side. Looking up, we suddenly saw a great camp cave appearing. Sure enough, only a few hundred metres from our wet, miserable spot was Hundred Man Cave, complete with dry firewood. We mentally logged its location for future reference.

It was an enjoyable stroll up towards Cloudmaker, and a wonderful feeling to be on top. We then started on the final push to the cars, for which Huey finally decided to cooperate, lifting the cloud by Stormbreaker and giving us a fairly pleasant walk. The sun even managed to peek through at times, illuminating the walls, with Crafts Walls particularly spectacular.

The final day, despite supposedly being a shorter one, took until sunset because we kept finding great spots to pause and admire the chasm below, the torrents of water flowing into the valley, and some exciting canyons on the other wall which are now on the to-do list for summer.

I don’t think I have ever been that wet, certainly not for that long, and our inability to find the cave on Saturday night was a tad depressing, but overall it was a surprisingly good trip in the face of adversity.

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