Two Tunnels

Party: Anna, James and I
[This is an edited version of the original]

I decided to explore two relatively remote creeks, it seemed sensible to try and combine them together. Mum was in and to my surprise Dad decided to join (he’d turned down previous less ambitious trips). James Tugwell was keen on coming along too, but after changing the dates (sorry!) he had to cancel…
I planned out a four day trip marking passes (both known and unknown) in our area of exploration. The next morning we headed out…

Contents:

Day 1 (Fri 19th) – Walk In
Day 2 (Sat 20th) – Canyon 1
Day 3 (Sun 21st) – No Way Up and Walk Out

Day 1 (Fri 19th) – Walk In

Left home ~7:15am. Almost one hour to HITW car park (arrived ~8:10am).

Driving around a fallen tree just before the edge of the NP, we parked the car, shouldered our packs and headed through the metal barrier. Weaving around logs laid across the old firetrail to discourage people driving in, we set out along the easy-to-follow track that became more and more vague as we continued along the ridge between the two branches of the Bungleboori.

We made good progress soon passing the HITW junction. Wombats seemed to be using the track digging test holes and leaving scat along our path. A navigation blunder saw us heading along the flats to the Arch exit. We realised the mistake soon enough and backtracked before continuing along the ridge. We didn’t see much of the track, and soon dropped down to the saddle above Steep Ck for a quick morning tea.
Continuing up the other side we paused to cache some lunch for our way back. We then dropped down to cross Bejelkes. I think this is the furthest I’ve ever been. We were stopped by a small cliffline in apparently the exact same spot as another party, for when inspecting the trees for an anchor we found a piece of yellow tape around a large girthed tree. We harnessed up rather than looking for another way down, we weren’t expecting to be abseiling so early on in our trip.

Jimmy abseiling down into Bjelkes. Using a Fiddlestick allowed us to remove the old tape and not leave one of our own.

After beating around the bush for a time, we located a nice pass on the other side, a couple of cairns on top alerting us to the fact we weren’t the first ones here either. (To my satisfaction, it lined up with one of the passes I’d noted down when inspecting the aerial imagery!).
The scrub was dense. The wet ground seemed to have almost completely halted the fire. We linked together the rock ledges as best we could, their surfaces wet with the water leaking from the saturated sandstone.

We soon gained the high point we’d been aiming for, it was much earlier than we’d been expecting. There was water available in numerous rock pools and the views were spectacular!

Drinking from one of the numerous rock pools
Great views!

Seeing it wasn’t too late, we descended a slot I’d marked for exploration but hadn’t expected to have time. It was a little disappointing, but provided easy access down where we wanted to get. Following the small ck down, we soon ran into the mostly expected abseil down through a cliffline. Mum dropped down to the first ledge confirming her fears that our rope was too short. She inspected a suitable boulder and we then all dropped down. The Smooth Operator really was in its element here. Simply looping the rope around the rock would have made the pull next to impossible (esp with the redirect around the tree), and using tape, we would have needed to leave a lot. Like this, we redirected the abseil rope around a smaller tree (the boulder had better geometry in this direction) and let the pull cord drop straight down. The light weight nylon pull saved us a significant amount of weight on this longish, semi-exploratory trip.

The rope still didn’t reach… but I thought it might just be close enough. I dropped down the rope, slowing down at the end and then dropping through the air for the last 2m. Our pull was also too short, but the others quickly extended it. Standing on a couple of piled rocks, I gave Jimmy and Mum a softer landing.
We encountered another couple of drops (our third and fourth!) in our gully down to the river. These had a bit more of a canyon feel.

Last abseil before camp.

Where were the camp caves I’d hoped we’d find? I’d been pretty positive we’d find something, but we hadn’t seen anything great the entire day. At last we found a small dry patch, far from ideal, but still at least room for two (I could sleep in my bivy bag). I scouted around for a better camp (disturbing the bellbirds who started their irritating squawking rather that sporadic chirps), but luck wasn’t with me and I returned half an hour later. I’d also noticed that the nose I’d hoped we could scramble up the following day was not a goer ūüôĀ
I left the others to set a fire alight and water to get water. Jimmy was still looking for his headlamp when I returned 15min later; classic!

I was pretty disappointed that my audio book hadn’t synced to my phone. (Its funny how I now don’t have a problem mixing technology with my wilderness experiences. Life on the road had melded the two.) But it wasn’t a huge issue as I found sleep quickly.

Day 2 (Sat 20th) – Canyon 1

We awoke after a long semi restless night as our sleeping area wasn’t very level. The bell-birds were still chirping away. We had a long day ahead of us and eventually mustered together the grit to breakfast and pack. Leaving most of our gear, as we planned to reuse the same camp, we followed a ledge around above the river, traversing an interesting fractured, flat rock. Cliffed-out we conducted a small abseil to drop down. Mum caught her pack in the rope struggling a little to break free. I went hand-over-hand landing almost squarely on Jimmy.
Crossing using some convenient logs we headed up the other side. If this pass didn’t go, the day was basically jeopardised. It had looked good on both the sat photos as well as our vantage spot the day before. It was actually very straight forward and an easy km saw us to another easy pass down to the end of our target ck. I pointed out some Geebungs and Tea Tree. The Geebungs looked particularly green after the fires. The Xanthoria too seemed to have handled the fire well.

Continuing upstream our first possible pass was not really possible. It ended in a ~20m drop. The back up plan was another half km further up. It was relatively easy going and the drainage tended basically in the direction we wanted to travel in anyway. Two types of Drosera looked very healthy on the damp ledges.
I climbed up to traverse ledge. It went but was decidedly dicey. From my vantage spot I could see that the gully went. Much safer and with the pack passing we’d need to do along the narrow ledge it probably wouldn’t be any slower; so back down I went.

Passing some curvy Angophora, we lunched on a flat rock rock near the top of the gully (@1159). A second ferny green gully directly below (the one we couldn’t get up). Dropping down to cross the top of it, we surmounted the final up and could finally drop into the target drainage. By about 1pm we arrived at the advertised drop in. There was an interesting slot upstream, so we dropped our packs to explore. Very nice. I explored a small tunnel/cave.

Nice tall tree ferns

A creek bash down the pretty valley followed. Lush bracken ferns and towering gums reaching for the light. We passed a tributary deciding to push on rather than explore. The valley seemed to terminate abruptly ahead. Where did the water go? Maybe subterranean? We soon found out. A pretty sculpted chute with a stagnant plunge pool below entered from the right. To the left, the drainage continued through an amazing section of canyon. Mum noted some flotsam up quite high from the last floods.

The sculpted construction ended quickly and abruptly, turning sharply to the right along the next joint crack. We passed a nice sandy area where mum would have loved to camp. Anyone want to go get my things?
The water was clear with a bluish tinge. The creek dropped ahead. Quickly we arrived at a deep slot water audible below. It seemed like a long way down. Did we have enough rope? I dropped my walking sticks down one at a time… The second struck water but it didn’t sound like a deep pool. I went first to scout the drop; ready to ascend if needed. We rigged of a smaller tree a little closer to the edge rather than the more sturdy one a little further back, the few extra metres might make a big difference.
About to go down, I changed the fiddlestick to pull from the other side, just in case it tried to get stuck. It was an amazing abseil and the rope reached with some to spare. I didn’t bother scouting the next drop (the others yelled down to remind me): there were plenty of rocks so we could always make a cairn anchor.
After the others had a conversation about who was best to take the pack (best mum have it because the rope will be tighter around the toggle, or maybe the last person should go minimal so the pack can’t get caught on the pull?)  Jimmy followed with the pack. Great colours and photos.

Me dropping into the hole

We explored up the cave. We needed to climb up a log… Did someone place it here? I led and then dropped a handling to assist the others. There were some interesting ironstone speleothems. Mum pushed a low lead but it choked (she got extra wet for photo). It looked like the cave continued up high. Was there a way in from the top that we’d missed? More likely it was a bolt climb. Turning off our lights we enjoyed a small constellation of glow worms and then returned the way we had come.

After many scrambles spat us out where we’d been several hours earlier. We enjoyed a short rest (complete with a Zuko from Chile). We were now in familiar terrain; we knew it’d be about 2hrs back to our camp.
Everything went well, though we had some extra creek bashing because we’d abseiled down a cliffline in the morning.

(At some point here, I also discovered that my camera had broken!) This time the fire was going when I got back from the water run. I spilt half of Dad’s dinner, so we had to share our food out.
It rained in the early hours of the morning. I hid in my bivy bag, but water still got in a bit since I didn’t zip it up (prob some condensation too).

Day 3 (Sun 21st) – No Way Up and Walk Out

Our wet camp

It was hard to get up with everything wet and rain still falling from above… or was it just drips from the trees? Jimmy decided to sit the day out. He seemed quite resolved, so I didn’t try and dissuade him.
Mum and I headed off a short time later retracing much of our route from the previous day, but this time trying to reverse a larger gully. We’d discussed quite a bit which way ’round we wanted to complete the planned loop, and had decided to try reverse the drainage we knew nothing about. It went well at first; climbing a steep nose, a traverse ledge saw us into the gully proper avoiding the waterfall at the end. It looked like we’d need to do some more scrambling/climbing and micro route finding, but it seemed like we were mostly up. I stumbled across the opening of a talus cave. It proved to be much longer than expected. We stemmed over pools, squeezed through holes, admired skies of glowworms eventually popping up through a hole. Looking back a cracked natural bridge spanned the canyon. Upstream the way we wanted to go, the canyon became a slot and the sound of falling water hinted there was a waterfall just out of sight. Sure enough, once we negotiated the large boulders a waterfall blocked our path. It looked just climbable, though we looked for other options before I returned to give it a feel. The lower section was easy, the middle provided some good hand holds, but the top was the crux. Almost nothing to hold onto, I did a hand jam up high in a crack and jammed my body in the sculpted semicircle of rocked. I grunted my way up. Another waterfall! And. A keeper pothole. That was surprising. I think its the first I’ve seen in Australia. It wasn’t particularly difficult to escape. The water was about waist deep, and a partner assist, or pack toss would see you out I reckoned. I wasn’t about to try it, this was as far as we’d be going. Rope still tied around my waist I scrambled up to a higher ledge and threw one end over a tree, flicking it so the end dropped down to Mum. I pull up my harness on the other end and got ready to descend whilst she acted as a meat anchor using the end I’d thrown over the tree.

Looking down from the waterfall climb. The keeper is behind me. Abseil tree, up high on the right.

I was soon down and we discussed our options. After having pushed this creek, we didn’t really have time to reverse directions now. Not to mention we couldn’t be sure what else would be in store for us higher in this canyon. It already had a chest deep pool. We decided to head back to camp. We could possibly even walk out a day early…
It took a while before we could relocate the exact hole we’d emerged from, but eventually we reversed our way through the tunnel of boulders.

Caching some food in an overhang for a return trip, we were back at camp before lunch waking Jimmy who was still napping in his sleeping bag. I’d hoped to let my things dry, but now stuffed everything back into my pack eating lunch in between. If our calculations were correct, we might just be able to make it back to the car before dark… there were still several unknowns as we had to find a way around all the abseils we’d done on the way in… at least we were quite confident about the last two as we’d noticed what looked like a ramp in adjacent gullies for them both. Our backup plan was to try and find the BB camp.

We were off just after midday, our bypass worked well. I revisited the top of one of the pitches just to confirm I hadn’t left a carabiner there.
Walking around the base of the cliff-line we gained the familiar top and soon bashed our way back down to the marked pass down into the Bjelkes defile.

Finding a way up wasn’t so easy and we went up and down several times inspecting the cliff before I finally found a long ramp that led us to the top. Retrieving our cache we snacked, again calculating that we should be able to make it back to the HITW turn-off just before dark. We pressed on retrieving our rubbish cache and set a solid pace back along the ridge. We seemed to find much more of the track on the way back. Was I re-calibrating to the Australian bush? I wasn’t sure why, and then decided that it must be the rain. The track seemed to be covered in leaves, the flat surfaces seemed to be the only thing that had dried up, leaving it a different colour to the surrounding floor… just a guess.
We didn’t rest the entire way back. Except to don our headlamp once all the light had faded from the sky not far before reaching the car.

My erratic driving saw us to Lithgow where we picked up vegan pizza before heading home. More unfinished business – so it must have been a very good trip!

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