Bushwalking / Camp cave

Overnight walk to Wollangambe Crater

Party: Tim and Michelle Vollmer, Joan Chan, Leah Cave, Andres Albornoz and Hannah Thiele  — T2’s photos

The weather forecast wasn’t great. In fact, with each passing day conditions seemed to be getting worse. Predictions of clouds turned to showers which then became rain. So much for my inspired plan to admire the “supermoon” from the stunning surrounds of Wollangambe Crater!

Despite deteriorating conditions we pressed on, setting off early on Saturday morning. We probably could have started later, but trains to Bell are fairly infrequent and with the short days at this time of the year I like to get moving early.

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As Michelle and I arrived at the station in was cold and misty. Actually, it was very cold and misty. It probably seemed worse because we were standing around waiting for a late-running train.

When the train arrived only two people got off. That was less than half the number we were expecting. In fact, more than a week on I’ve only heard from one of the three ‘no-shows’ to explain why they didn’t turn up.

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There were now five of us here, so we shouldered our packs and started the short walk along the road to the the track to Wollangambe Crater. Suddenly, through the mist, we saw headlights and moved off the road. The car paused, then approached, before a questioning voice called out “suboir”?

Joan had been slowed down by the poor weather and almost missed us, but thankfully arrived in the nick of time. She quickly parked and raced down the road to join us.

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It had been about seven or eight years since I’d walked to the Crater, and I’d been too busy to actually look at the maps or notes, so I couldn’t remember which short bit of private property you had to walk through upon leaving the road.

I ended up departing prematurely, following a driveway for a couple hundred metres before realising this definitely wasn’t it. Not a good way to convince the crew I knew where we were going!

We headed along the road for a few hundred metres and, sure enough, there’s a National Parks sign at the right driveway.

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As we headed down the (correct) fire trail, the trees were still enveloped in an eerie mist, but shortly after turning off onto the foot track the sky cleared up almost in an instant. Suddenly we had sunshine and clear blue skies.

It was enjoyable walking. The going on this trip is incredibly easy. The hills aren’t big, the inclines are pretty relaxed, and the scenery is quite attractive (unless you’ve got a rainforest addiction like Hannah!).

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We made our way downhill to a small but pretty creek. We crossed it, and continued up a gully which, unfortunately, is quite eroded (putting a track along a watercourse never ends well).

Half way up the other side we took a short detour to a rocky platform where we enjoyed morning tea while overlooking some of the impressive pagoda rock formations this area is known for.

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We made a final push up the hill before following the ridge a very short way to the impressive highpoint known as the Centre of the Universe. It’s an apt name, with an easy scramble taking us onto the summit where 360 degree views of the upper Wollangambe were spread before us.

I fought the urge to dismantle a towering cairn and headed back to our track.

My memory of this section was hazy, but I knew from the map that there wasn’t really a distinct ridge, more a series of vaguely connected high points. Thankfully the footpad was extremely clear and we moved along at a great pace.

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As we walked the weather was rapidly turning. A smattering of fluffy white clouds turned to an ominous grey sky in just moments. It wasn’t raining, but it was clear that some precipitation wouldn’t be too far away.

The track deteriorated as we went, with some rocky ground making it hard to follow in places, so we performed a few minor detours.

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Then there was the big mistake, which is apparently made by most people given the clearest path is the wrong one. We ended up at a nice lookout over a deep defile. Whoops. A short backtrack and an easy scramble down the steep slope had us back on the proper track.

At the final highpoint on the ridge, just before the track plunges down to the river opposite the Crater, we turned north instead, heading towards a large camp cave I’d been assured existed there. The reasonable footpad on this spur seemed to be pretty good confirmation that something nice must be at the end.

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Soon enough we started moving down the hill more steeply before finally coming to a deep gorge.

The Wollangambe River pops  out of a fairly narrow canyon section here, which looked deeper and more impressive that what I’d have expected this high up the catchment.

Across the gorge we could see our camp cave, but we were still some 30 metres or so vertically above it.

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A short detour down the ridge and we had an easy path down to the river, with a couple well placed fallen trees ensuring dry feet as we crossed the river just near the cave.

This camp site is wonderful. The cave is huge, with big, flat, sheltered sleeping areas. And thanks to the floods earlier this year there was no shortage of good fire wood wedged up on the banks.

We dropped packs, set up camp, and had a late lunch.

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Michelle decided to stay put and enjoy a lazy afternoon while the rest of us followed the river downstream towards Wollangambe Crater. Considering the gorge section just upstream, this is a really wide, open, flat valley.

The walking was easy — except when Andreas was swallowed up by a large log jam — and before long I could see the recognisable creek exiting the Crater.

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I’ve heard plenty of theories and counter-theories about this place, but nothing concrete. For anyone who is used to walking in the mountains, it certainly seems unusual. A large, open, treeless bowl surrounded by low hills on all sides.

Apparently there’s no proof that it’s an impact crater, or volcanic in origin (despite the existence of many diatremes in the Blue Mountains), so we just had to be content not knowing.

Even with the threat of rain, the camp site was very tempting. We all lay in the long, soft grass enjoying the silence that was broken only by the birdlife. At least one lyrebird decided to let loose, and we spent quite some time enjoying his full repertoire.

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Eventually we started feeling a bit more energetic, so Leah and I scrambled up one of the stunning white-barked gum trees that dot the campsite.

A cool breeze and a sprinkle of rain indicated that it was time to head back to base camp. We made great time along the river, finding an even easier path than the way there, and in no time we caught the smell of smoke.

As we walked we  heard the piercing shrieks of black cockatoos. Looking skywards we suddenly saw a massive flock of them — something like 40 or 50 birds — which was a most unusual sight for a bird that normally sticks to small groups.

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Sure enough, after a relaxing siesta, Michelle had decided to get the fire going for us, which was a pleasant treat.

It was still fairly early, so I went a short way up the river and found a nice little swimming hole for a quick dip. The water was icy — and the air wasn’t much better — so it was more a series of quick submersions followed by a few moments to thaw out again.

Back at the cave we all settled in for dinner, before sitting around the fire enjoying a drink and a laugh. (Apparently a few of us enjoyed both a little too much, because come morning one member of the group was looking extremely seedy!)

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Most of the group had lugged tents, just in case, but Michelle and I chose the enjoyable open-air experience of falling asleep with the flickering of the firelight on the rocky roof above. The only downside came in the middle of the night, when I woke up because I could feel something tickling my nose. I opened my eyes, and there just millimetres from my face was a cute little bush rat rubbing against my nose with his whiskers.

Even after I stirred he only pulled back slightly, then came in for another little ratty kiss. I gave him a gentle push away, rolled over, and went back to sleep. They woke us a few more times, scurrying around our groundsheet, but seemed more inquisitive than anything else.

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I’m not sure if everyone believed me come morning, especially as I’d been telling the story the night before of Adrian getting an erotic ear-nibble from a bush rat on the Bungleboori a few years back.

It had been raining on and off all night, preventing our enjoyment of the supermoon (except for a few moments when it almost peaked through a thin patch in the clouds), and the continuing drizzle wasn’t inspiring anyone to move.

Eventually, after several cups of tea and coffee, everyone packed up and we set off up the hill.

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Even with rain jackets we got soaked. The bush was dripping with what looked like millions of diamonds. As we walked it was humid and steamy, but each time we stopped it was quickly very chilling.

We had to stop frequently, as our hungover walker was deteriorating. There’d been a couple subtle vomits earlier in the morning, but the addition of walking up hill with a full pack was making it worse. Eventually we reorganised packs so that Joan could at least have one less challenge to deal with.

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And so it continued. Rain, wet scrub, pause to hurl. Rain, wet scrub, pause to hurl. In fact, Joan completely lost count, but we estimated it must have reached something like 25. Surely a record for a bushwalking hangover! (And also reason enough to never drink plum brandy.)

Interestingly, we still seemed to be moving at a reasonable speed. We spent more time on the correct track on the way back, avoided a few of yesterday’s detours, and before long were starting to get glimpses of the Centre of the Universe on the horizon.

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We didn’t pause this time, our objective was the cars, and we were only a few kilometres from the end when we finally stopped for a light lunch. We couldn’t have spent more than five or 10 minutes before the cold had us all itching to move again.

Down to the creek then one last long push uphill towards Bell. Even with Joan’s poor condition we paced it out nicely and it was only early afternoon when we got to the cars.

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We all quickly stripped off the wet clothing and got into some warm, dry attire (except Hannah, who had to put wet shoes back on) before agreeing that it was the perfect weather for some woodfired pizza.

After one last navigational challenge — where two of the three cars started heading down Bells Line of Road — we all managed to get back on track and head into Katoomba.

Enjoying a beer and a nice feed at the Station Bar, while outside the rain and mist seemed even more set in, made us extremely glad we hadn’t planned a longer walk for the weekend.

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