Party: Peter Raines, Tim Vollmer, Kate Lord, Mitch Isaacs, Jo Boyd, Mariacristina Merlo, Lisa Jonas, John Pillans, Nigel Butler – photos
Donkey Mountain had been one of those trips I’d talked about but somehow never got around to doing. Not because it was hard, or hard to get to – if anything it seemed a little too easy to access – so free weekends were devoted elsewhere. In the end it was the fact that I was feeling rather worn down and wanted to do a nice easy trip where I wasn’t leading and had no responsibility that got me over the line.
It’s always nice to drive into the Wolgan Valley, with its spectacular cliff walls stretching onwards before closing into a tight gorge. We’d made a luxurious start to the day – it was after 9am before I even left home – and we were all feeling pretty relaxed about the short walk up to the top.
Once up we were quickly blown away. Our entrance opened into a large corridor, with caves, pagodas and doorways already plentiful. We started to explore, soon finding a great narrow slot that after about 40 metres opened up into a large room with a perfectly flat floor. We kept it in mind as it was a perfect camp site and continued to explore.
We clambered up on the high pagodas, enjoying lunch with 360 degree views, before the first of half-a-dozen stickybeaks at the wealthy holidayers paying $2000 a night to stay in the Emirates Wolgan Resort. It was like watching an incredibly miniature soap opera as we squinted at golf buggies, 4wd tours, sight seeing buses, horse riding and mountain bikes move around below.
As the afternoon wore on we checked out a lot of the high routes, admiring views, clambering through some rocky clefts, and eventually reaching the High Pagoda without having spotted any other particularly good camp sites. After some quick debate we made a beeline back to our hidden room, which turned out to be a great call.
Setting up in what we later discovered was called the Grand Hall, we found some maps recently placed by Geoff Fox which give some amazingly detailed information about just how much there is to explore in a fairly small space.
Around the fire we enjoyed the usual mix of good food, plentiful booze and conversation of varying quality.
When we eventually called it a night several people simply settled in by the fire under the protection of the towering rock walls which kept them dry despite several light showers overnight.
The next day we put some effort into checking out some of the areas we had missed, going through Donkey Canyon to Titanic Canyon which provides near endless fun in itself, with windows to the valley below, several slots to the outside of the mountain, some high scrambling and at least one dark narrow passage that we couldn’t find our way to the end of.
The plan was to go the full length of the mountain, allowing us to admire the stunning southern end, which although less riddled with canyons is probably more spectacular with The Columns and Mt Wolgan made up of huge pagodas that resemble medieval castles.
A long lunch was had on Mt Wolgan before some final exploration and the short but steep walk back to the cars. Into Mt Vic for a quick beer or two, which were perfectly timed as a storm rolled through with chill winds and heavy rain, before hitting the road at a very reasonable daylight hour.
Donkey Mountain proved much more exciting than I expected, and I’ve been studying photos of the maps we found which have made me realise we barely scratched the surface and another full weekend is needed up there to see the rest of the wonderful hidden spots it contains.