Gloucester and Williams Rivers: Barrington Tops

Party: Leo Garnac and Adrian Spragg

Barrington Tops map
Gloucester River & Williams River canyoning trips marked in purple on Cartoscope map

Leo was continuing his plan to do all the canyons in NSW (Australia?), and arranged to meet at Gloucester Tops Camp Ground, arriving from Christmas in Oxley Wild River National Park. He kindly agreed to delay his SUBW trip departure until 10.00 am on Boxing Day 26.12.16 to allow Adrian to do the 4 hour drive north from Sydney. Features of the last few kilometers include some 6 concrete fords over the Gloucester River and the distinctive bright red Illawarra Flame Trees.

Sue and Ludek drove us up Gloucester Tops Lookout. Ludek had to opt out of the trip when he fell off his slackline the previous evening, spraining his ankle. On the drive up, Adrian was excited to see his first quoll (Australian native “cat”) in the wild.

Leo and Adrian at Gloucester Tops carpark

Leo and Adrian left the lookouts at 11.00 and arrived at the daunting Gloucester River Chute an hour later after donning full wetsuits. Maybe in the future the Chute will become a recognised abseil in low water with bolted belays, but we agreed we were not going down it with our scant knowledge.

Looking down the Gloucester River “chute”, which we avoided by climbing out true right

Richard Pattison in his very good video with map and commentary describes the 5 abseils, albeit with greater water volume than we experienced, before climbing out on an exit ridge back to the lookouts. Abseil 1 is “a scrubby route away from chute, into pool” on the true left, before descent to the river.  However, once we had descended to the Chute, the only obvious exit was on the true right (ie. looking downstream), so we climbed out, bush bashed around the hill and completed 2 abseils off trees and a scramble to find out way back to the river.

Richard Pattison’s Map of 1st 5 abseils Gloucester River, with 1 day exit – but we continued down river

We clambered ~400m downstream over polished rocks and mossy boulders to RP’s Abseils 2 & 3 in short succession down a waterfall and separated by a rock platform in the centre of the river.

Adrian on abseil 2 (photo Leo)
Adrian on abseil 3 (photo Leo)

We had lunch about 14.00, and shortly after Adrian had a fall onto his chest which necessitated Leo to carry both 60m ropes (2x 40m ropes would probably have sufficed) for the rest of the trip. After all, the SUBW motto is “Press on Regardless”. [Memo to self: when dropping off a rock, take off the pack, or at least undo the waist strap. Otherwise the pack catches and catapults one forward over the edge].

Abseil 4 started off a boulder down a waterfall but was completed on the true left at 15.00. There were various swims and jumps, and Abseil 5 off a tree on the left beside a waterfall into a pool was completed at 16.20. We presume one can exit back to the lookouts after this point.

Adrian visible under the 5th abseil, after the pulldown (photo Leo)

Twenty minutes later was the fastest and wildest water slide we experienced in a week of canyoning. Heart stopping but exhilarating, and (phew!) no rock at the bottom – that was all turbulence.

Leo led the way down the most exhilarating ride of the trip (photo Adrian)

Adrian finally mustered the courage to follow Leo (movie Leo)

The chute from below (photo Adrian)

We completed a 6th sloping abseil of ~40m at 17.30 before reaching the creek at bottom of the exit ridge (MGA 692487).

Adrian on top half of abseil 6 (photo Leo
Leo on bottom half of abseil 6 (photo Adrian)

We threaded our way downstream a further 1 kilometre, and at 18.40 found a soft space on the rainforest floor to spread out our beds. It was a comparatively warm night, and we did not rig our tent flies. We fetched dry smashed timber from the open river beside us for our small fire, avoiding having to resort to rotting coachwood from the rainforest floor. We could identify stinging trees rising high above us, having been always careful not to encounter the painful leaves while walking.

The serenity we experienced was reinforced by fireflies weaving backwards and forwards in the rainforest gloom in one of the most bewitching scenes I have ever seen. No photo would capture the experience, nor did we try, but now I understand the origins of fairies.

Leo packing the next morning (photo Adrian)

We started at 6.30 the next morning, boulder hopping and walking down sheet rock until the gorge opened out and we found it worthwhile to gravitate to the forest floor, often on the left of the river. There were staghorns growing high above us, vines to trip us up, veils of moss, interesting fungus.

On the 2nd day we followed the river down (photo Leo)
…. after which we found it easier to make our way through the forest (photo Adrian)

So it was that we unexpectedly came across an old NPWS hut at MGA 722507 (spot height 454 on the Gloucester Tops 1:25000 map) at 9.30. An old firetrail appeared to come down the hill on the true left of the side creek and continued on the true left downstream high above the Gloucester River.

Two rangers were surprised to hear this old NP&WS hut was still standing (photo Adrian)

The road was quite substantial and well built, and reminded me of the WW2 Japanese POW railway on the Burmese side of the Thai border. Initially progress was faster, but log and vine entanglements became more prolific. Finally, we appeared to lose the road (perhaps it headed up the hill?), so cut out and completed the last 1.5km rockhopping in the river bed. We reached the ford and camp ground at 12.00 just as Sue drove in, having spent a cold night up at the lookouts.

The ford marked the exit of our 1 1/2 day trip down the Gloucester River (photo Adrian)

A deluge came as we had lunch at the camp ground. Perfect timing! We talked to 2 rangers, who had not been to the old hut, but knew of it, and were surprised it was still standing.

The Gloucester River is a beautiful trip, with all abseils coming on the first day. We were happy with our decision to make our way all the way down to the camp ground, and the fireflies at night in the rainforest was a special experience unlikely to be repeated.

We drove out of the valley, had coffees and ice cream in Dungog, and made our way up through Salisbury to camp somewhere in the area.

On 28.12.16 Leo and Adrian left Lagoon Pinch Picnic Area (locked gate MGA553463) at 6.15 on the track up towards Careys Peak. We had decided not to abseil Williams Falls, but take the shortcut track to the base of the falls and come down the Williams River, avoiding the need for ropes. In our exuberance, we walked almost all the way to Corker Mountain, before backtracking to the X we had seen cut into a eucalyptus tree at Scouts Alley at MGA 561484. Looking over the edge we could see pink tape markings for the start of the Shortcut track.

The Shortcut track leaves the Careys Peak track here and leads to the base of Williams Falls (photo Leo)

The contoured start of the marked trail was not propitious, to which we would say – “hang in there”. It soon reached the clear rainforest floor, and was well marked and quite delightful as it wended its way towards Williams Falls.

The delightful Shortcut track (photo Leo)

The final 200m descent on scree is awkward, and we reached the falls at 9.00. The river was definitely colder than the Gloucester River, and definitely full wetsuits were the go as we clambered, slid and jumped our way down the Williams River.

Williams Falls (photo Leo)

Richard Pattison, in his video lists 9 obstacles on the river, and we found these were fairly readily identifiable.
1) 3m – go right & jump or slide
2) 3m – jump out or slide
3) 3m – slide (Caution log)
4) Washing machine – slide & walk through
5) 3m – slide, caution stopper
6) 5m – jump, or climb left
Canyon section
7) Landslide, log jam and pool – 20m swim
The sides open out and progress is much quicker, you can start walking on the banks.
8) 8m – “The Big Jump” from left, or slide right
9) 5m – Jump right 150m to Rocky Crossing
10) at Rocky Crossing

Adrian walking down the Williams River (photo Leo)
Stinging trees – to be avoided! (photo Adrian)
Leo on one of many slides (photo Adrian)
It is believed that a Cessna 210 (VH-MDX) flying Coolangatta to Bankstown disappeared on 9.8.81 in this area. The terrain continues to hide the wreck with its 5 passengers and remains Australia’s geatest aviation mystery (photo Adrian)
A beautiful river (photo Leo)
Adrian following his rucksack (photo Leo)
Leo on one of many jumps (photo Adrian)
Exiting the Williams River at Rocky Crossing (photo Adrian)

From Rocky Crossing it was only a short walk back to the cars at Lagoon Pinch at 15.00. 8 ¾ hours, including ¾ hour side trip up the Corker, makes it about an 8 hour round trip of the stunningly beautiful Williams River with no undue technical difficulties. This is a must do for anybody in the area with full wetsuit, helmet and reasonable shoes.

What a fantastic 3 days it has been, and we appeared to have had these iconic canyons to ourselves.

Postscript: We continued on for a further 4 days of canyoning at Bungonia and Macquarie Pass. Adrian’s discomfort/ pain from the Gloucester River fall increased and a doctor later explained: Bruised Chest Cartilage. No real pain immediately, then as bleeding continues, blood builds up with nowhere to escape, and so the pain builds up. He estimated it would settle down in 2 weeks. Nothing I did made it worse (he has my vote!), and nothing one can do to facilitate the recovery, other than giving time. In fact, it took a further 2 months to disappear.

One Reply to “Gloucester and Williams Rivers: Barrington Tops”

  1. Thanks so much for the picture of the shortcut trail to the Williams Falls.
    I hiked there three weeks ago looking for it & couldn’t find it with my scant info on it.
    We hiked up the river instead for a total round trip of 10 hours.

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