Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park: Salisbury Waters to Mihi Creek

Dangars Falls to Salisbury Waters:

It is cool in the morning starting out and before heading out on our overnight walk, we wander along the short tourist walks that go to a couple of lookouts over Dangars Falls. The falls are spectacular and fall steeply down to a deep canyon with cliffs on either side. A little bit downstream there are a series of jagged spires on a spur ridge that are known as The Pinnacles.

Dangars Falls

Back to the car and we picked up the packs and started out on the walk. There are another couple of view points over the gorge where we spent time viewing the falls and looking for possible descent routes. Heading out along the Salisbury Waters track we took a side track to Rock Wallaby lookout which offers views down the Salisbury Waters gorge.

The Pinnacles

The track continues east along the ridge that separates Salisbury and Mihi Creeks. There are two more lookouts along the way, one at Sarum Hill which looks over Salisbury Waters and one which looks over Mihi Gorge.

Mihi Gorge

The track switchbacks down to Salisbury Waters but, despite the switchbacks, it is still a bit steep in parts. At the bottom, there is a bit of roughly flat ground and we smoothed out a section for a tent pad and put the tent up.

Pool on Salisbury Waters

After tea and lunch, we walked up Salisbury Waters gorge for about 2 km getting almost to McDirtys Creek. The going was easy if slow. Lots of slabs along the river, boulders, rock hopping, crossing from one side of the river to the other. There were many big pools but all passed easily on one side or the other. Also, some short cliffs down by the water but the bigger cliffs are further upstream near Dangars Falls. After about 1.5 hours, we stopped for a break on a big slab overlooking another pool which marked our turn around point.

Night comes early in the gorge

Back at camp we had some hot chocolate, dinner and retired to the tent soon after dark. With our new jumbo sleeping pads we slept well and it was relatively warm and no dew overnight.

Boulders in Salisbury Waters

Salisbury Waters to Mihi Gorge to Dangars Falls:

We are up around 6.30 am after a good sleep and it is a relatively warm morning. We have breakfast. I have some new quinoa flakes which are bland, bland, bland. We pack up and begin walking down Salisbury Waters to the junction with Mihi Creek. Quite soon we come to the "big pool" and a dodgy climb up a little notch to scramble around the pool (river left). I go up first but Doug balks at my route and climbs back down with out doing the last bit. He looks around for another option, but there is none so he comes back up again and I haul his pack up the dodgy step. Past this, it is an easy traverse along ledges above the pool and we are soon at the junction with Mihi Creek.

Reflections on Salisbury Waters

Mihi Gorge is a mini Salisbury, very similar but just slightly easier travel with many fewer pools, smaller boulders - generally - and not as many slabs. The water is much clearer too as the water in Salisbury is green with some kind of algae. Travel is still slow, however as we cross and recross the river and scramble around rocks. About two hours from camp we have a break and note that we have about one kilometre in the gorge to go.

Heading up Mihi Creek

There are two prominent ridges which lead out of the gorge to the south and we have information on the one closest to Mihi Creek so decide to take that one. However, the more southeasterly ridge actually looks better on the map. It is, however, an unknown entity so we decide to go with the one that we know leads out.

So, another 40 minutes of creek hopping taking a turn to the right and then the left and passing the obvious drainage and we are at the bottom of the ascent slope. I have a dip before we head up and put on long pants as I am worried about scratchy grass, nettle and burrowing grass seeds.

Big boulders in Mihi Creek

Initially, all goes well and, although the ridge is steep, we are making reasonable progress, there are no nettles and very little grass seeds. Perhaps 200 metres from the top we run up against the cliffs mentioned in the track notes we found on-line. The instructions are to sidle around left which we do. At first this works very well and we scramble around to the left climbing up to keep to the base of the cliffs. After a bit, we scramble up onto the ridge top which is narrow and bristling with rocky pinnacles. Progress, however, is still possible and is pretty easy just below the ridge crest. We scramble up to the ridge again and find a big pinnacle with sheer walls on all sides and no easy way up.

We have to drop down back the way we came and traverse across steep grass and vertical dirt on the south side of the ridge. All the time we can see the ridge we thought we would go up looking very easy! It is hard not to wish we were there.

Mihi Falls

After traversing 100 to 200 metres we see a spot where we may be able to regain the ridge crest above the big pinnacle however it is impossible to tell if it will work without going right up and sticking our noses against it. There are two tricky sections where we pass the packs and then we scramble up, the terrain getting easier until we are on top of the escarpment with all the difficulties over.

Looking over Mihi Gorge

We have topped out at a good viewpoint by a big granite boulder so we stop for lunch here over looking the steep Mihi Gorge. After lunch, we walk along through light bush until we come to paddock land and begin hopping a series of fences each one harder to get over than the last. At Mihi Creek, we manage to cross without getting our shoes wet by pushing through a thick tangle of fallen trees laced with blackberry bush. On the other side of the creek we meet up with yet another fence which we need to cross to get back onto the National Park. This fence, like all the others is about 5 feet high and the top is laced with rusty barbed wire. We walk along it until we see a big tree which has fallen onto it and manage to climb over the fence by climbing the tree being very careful not to touch the electric wire at the bottom.

Wild dog fences

A short walk across open paddock and we finally reach the parks track. We drop the packs and detour to the viewpoint over Mihi Falls. These falls are quite spectacular falling down in a series of cascade that change direction and drop along fault lines in the steep cliff walls. Another couple of kilometres along the parks track and we are back at the car park, tired, but happy.

Among the boulders of Salisbury Waters

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park: Chandler River, Moona Creek, Apsley River

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is the kind of place you come for a day and stay for a week, all the while hatching plans for when you can next get back. It is a big, wild, sprawling National Park defined by steep and deep river gorges, roaring waterfalls, long untracked river valleys, dry eucaplypt ridges and enclaves of rain forest. Fire roads and walking tracks lead down to the less rugged river valleys, but access to the most dramatic areas of the park - the huge narrow canyons and gorges - is adventurous.

Chandler River Gorge

Wollomombi Falls and The Chandler River

There is a lovely NP campground at Wollomombi Falls from which you can easily walk around the all the tourist tracks in a morning or afternoon, even allowing for all the gawping you'll do at the jaw-dropping views. From the picnic area, a track leads across the top of Wollomombi Falls to Chandler Falls, and, in the other direction, the view from Checks Lookout is simply stunning. The surrounding rolling farmland gives no indication of the steep and rugged nature of these gorges which seem to simply open below your feet.

Wollomombi and Chandler Falls

We scrambled down to the Chandler River from near the campground, a somewhat adventurous descent that required a half length of climbing rope to get all the way to the river 500 metres below. Apart from one small rock slab which required careful downclimbing, travel downstream was relatively easy, scrambling over smooth river boulders past sandy banks and pools crossing the river occasionally when required. We got as far as viewing Church Rock before stopping for lunch on a big boulder in the middle of the river.

Pools along the Chandler River

After lunch, we scramble upstream through a magical landscape of small waterfalls, deep pools, and glistening rock slabs. Red bugs live on fallen leaves, and a carpet of tiny fern leaves floats on a rock pool studded with water droplets. We are dwarfed by the boulders in the river, and everywhere there is water, carving out new pools and chasms and channels. We travel as far as we can without swimming, then find a clean, smooth rock slab for another break and we sit, sip tea from our flasks, and listen to the sibilant hiss of the river as it slides down the river rocks washing them smooth.

There is a reason these are called wild rivers

It is a whole other world down in the bottom of the gorge. There is rock and water, and shifting glimpses of sky far above. It is a misty, rainy kind of day, perfect for exploring this narrow land of rock and water, where the vegetation clings to bare rock faces in a perpetual battle against gravity.

Small falls on the Chandler River
Moona Creek Gorge

The main rivers in Oxley Wild Rivers are the Apsley, Chandler and Macleay Rivers, but dozens of other small rivers and streams run into these larger rivers, and these smaller watercourses have carved yet more dramatic gorges.

Moona Gorge

Not far from the frequently visited Apsley Falls section of the park is Moona Creek and another gorge, this one almost 600 metres deep, improbably carved out by inconsequential Moona Creek. Unlike nearby Apsley Gorge, Moona Creek has no facilities, but it is well worth spending a day walking along the edge of the gorge, crossing over the top of the tiny waterfall that is Moona Creek, and scouting out all the viewpoints along the gorge rim.

Looking down the headwaters of Moona Creek

Apsley Gorge, Budds Mare and The Apsley River

Camping at Apsley Gorge is deservedly popular. The site we had over looked the fabulous Apsley Gorge, which may not be as deep as other gorges, but is every bit as spectacular with two waterfalls, deep pools and narrow rock walls lining the bottom of the gorge. The tourist track along the rim offers spectacular views and we even saw a platypus swimming in one of the pools below.

Apsley Falls

It's worth the trek out to Budds Mare, where the campground is a small enclave among towering eucalpyts perched on a plateau overlooking the Apsley River where it runs deeper and slower. The ridgelines are all dry eucalpyt forest but the gullies harbour moist green rainforest. The starry nights are quiet but for the sound of nocturnal birds and animals, and, in the morning, the valley, far below is draped in mist shifting across the river valley.

The view from Budds Mare down to the Apsley River

A faint, but easily followed track descends 700 metres down a dry eucalpyt ridgeline to the Apsley River where there are deep pools for swimming and gravel banks shaded by she-oaks for camping. We spent the day exploring down river walking along grassy banks, past small rushing rapids, and sluggish deep pools. The river is a corridor for travel, and wild horses roam the valley.

Apsley River and Paradise Rocks

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Badasses on Beerwah

Mount Beerwah is the highest of the Glasshouse Mountains and, as such attracts an inordinate number of walkers. The standard hiking route, climbs up the north side, is heavily eroded, and, if the local press is to be believed, is the site of many hundreds of rescues (likely heavily exaggerated). In order to avoid the yak trak on the standard route, we scrambled up the east face and descended the hiking track.

Crag rates the east face grade 2 (I'd call it YDS class 3), which seems about right. The total elevation gain is only 200 to 300 metres, so the scramble up and down is a quarter day at best. The views, however, are grand, particularly of Coonowrin, which appears to be more or less permanently closed by Queensland Parks.

Glasshouse Mountains from Mary Cairncross

For the east route, you walk back down the road from the parking lot a short distance to a foot pad on the right. This descends to cross a small creek (dry) and is signed down the track with the usual, "You WILL die" Queensland Parks signage. Despite these dire warnings we pressed on.

We crossed a couple of gullies (one wet, one dry) and then started heading straight uphill on the east side of the peak. In about 5 or 10 minutes we reached the base of the slabs. The route is easy to follow as it is worn in (not eroded like the hikers route) and marked with red paint. Basically we rambled up low angle slabs for about vertical 300 metres to reach a little mini ridge near the top. The route weaves a bit left and right and is pretty clean. It is never exposed as the slabs you climb are separated by vegetated ledges. The rock is grippy and clean and progress is fast and easy, except for the fact that we were baking in the sun and felt like we were sweating buckets. Doug was going fast, I was gasping along behind.

Coonowrin and Tibrogargan from Beerwah

Near the top, we reached the "caves." The track traverses around the caves to climbers left and then ascends the final slabs. When we got to the top we were surprised there was no-one there as we had seen quite a few cars in the parking lot. Soon after, an older gentleman arrived. He was quite chatty and told us all about the other peaks you could climb. He headed down before us as he was going to walk up a second time!

After a suitable interlude, we descended down the tourist route which is still quite a scramble and would be challenging for many walkers. Lots of slabs to scramble down and the erosion is terrible. As each track erodes down to the underlying slab, the track spreads out on either side until another slab is uncovered etc., etc.

Not far from where the scrambling starts when coming up, we came across a party of three backpacker types, two guys and a woman, who were basically completely sketched out, sweating like hell and appearing pretty gripped. When the two guys saw Doug and I, they pretended that they were ultra-cool and having a wonderful time but the young woman was really struggling. This, of course, is why so many people need rescuing off Mount Beerwah.

Coonowrin with Beerwah behind

Soon, a third guy comes up. The guy we met on top told us that this guy runs up and down to the Organ Pipes (part way up the peak) very frequently. He was bare chested and covered in tattoo's and obviously thought he was Dan Osmond on Bear's Leap at Lovers Leap the way he was running up the rock. Too bad, he was actually on a class 3 scramble with about 100 metres of total scrambling. He started coaching the young woman up which I thought was a bad idea as getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory and I was sure she would struggle on the way down if she was having trouble coming up.

I said to her "Remember, you have to go down. Don't climb up anything you can't climb down," but she seemed so overcome with fear I don't think she heard or understood. The Dan Osmond groupie was encouraging her up which I thought was irresponsible and threatens access for everyone as apparently Queensland Parks is thinking of shutting the whole thing down. A shame for those who are prepared.

We continued down and soon reached the guy we met on top who was also encouraging up another young guy who had barely started the scrambling section (he had done about 10 metres of the easiest stuff) and was already quaking with fear. Really stupid. Somehow, all these big fish in small ponds see themselves as hero's for scrambling up a 100 metres of grade 2 rock. Anyway, we were down and glad to be away from it all.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Yulludunida Crater: Skyline Traverse

East of Narrabri in northern NSW, Kaputar National Park preserves an eroded volcanic environment. There are deep valleys, steep cliff-lines and ancient volcanoes strewn across a mostly dry eucalpyt forest. A big chunk of the park is now wilderness, but, a sealed road leads all the way to the top of the Nandewar Range, and you can virtually drive to the summit of Mount Kaputar, the highest peak in the park.

Dusk over Kaputar

Not so Mount Yulludunida which is a rocky 1225 metre peak at the western end of the park.  A good but steep staired National Park track leads up to a pass about half a kilometre NE of the top of Mount Yulludunida. The track ends near cracked slabs below the summit ridge and a cairned route continues for a short distance before scrambling up cracked rocks and easy slabs covered with chicken heads and holds to the north-south ridge. Good solid scrambling along the ridge leads to the summit where there is a big cairn and lovely views with scattered old volcanic escarpments around. Continuing on, we scrambled down to a col on the ridge and up to a second summit.

On the Skyline Traverse

A short distance down from the second summit we got to a slightly tricky step that is best tackled by down-climbing steep rock on the west side for a short distance until you can traverse back along slabs to the ridge proper. We passed our packs down this section and some folks might appreciate a rope. The climbing is easy and the rock solid, but it is exposed. A bit further on there was another section where we took packs off to down climb a narrow slot.

A bit more scrambling and we were off the ridge below some more shorter buttresses this time on the east side. We scrambled back up onto two more tops, one separated by the other by a deep chimney that again required taking our packs off.

Kaputar views

Continuing along the ridge there are a lot more little steps to scramble over. We, however, opted to descend from this point and scrambled down into the flats to the east. There are a lot of bare rock slabs in the valley, so it pays to plan out your route back to the trail before you descend. If you pick it right, you can walk back to the access track on open slabs with virtually no bush-bashing.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Warrumbungles: Camp Pincham - Goulds Circuit - Grand High Tops - Bluff Mountain - West Spirey Creek

Starting at Pincham Car Park, it is a short walk on a very good track to Camp Pincham, a walk in only campground (probably only a few hundred metres from the car). Inexplicably, a lot of the path up to Grand High Tops is paved with brick!

Crater Bluff

We followed a dry creek for about 1.6 km to Gould's Circuit which climbs up to Febar Tor (50 metre diversion to small rocky bluff) and then onto Macha Tor - good views of Belougery Spire and The Breadknife. Then it is back downhill to rejoin the Pincham Track along dry Spirey Creek. Another short detour leads to a sandstone lookout - Breadknife and Belougery Spire - called Spirey View. Back down to the main track and then a steady climb on wooden stairs, steps, paved track all the way up to Grand High Tops (close to 500 metre climb).

The view from Macha Tor

There are various benches and seats along the way and just before the climb started up steps from paved track, we passed two kids sitting on a bench who, for the next hour, called "MUM" "MUM" "MUM." We have no idea where Mum was - possibly doing a circuit around Dagda Short Cut and Grand High Tops, we never saw her, but eventually the kids did stop shouting.

The Breadknife

The view gets better and better and the track crests the ridge not that far from Belougery Spire. A good view down on to the Breadknife and over to Crater Bluff. We had lunch on the rocks looking out over Crater Bluff and Belougery Spire before a big gaggle of people came along from the other direction.

Belougery Spire

Downhill again to Dagda Gap and then some up and down through the bush to Dows Camp (dry, like all the camps here). At Dows Camp we turned off and did another 250 metre climb on a reasonable but rocky track up to Bluff Mountain which has a gradual south side and a precipitous north face.

Bluff Mountain

We had a snack and some tea on top. Not nearly enough food or water as we were short of both and then back down to Dows Camp. There is a fairly painful 200 metre descent down to Point Wilderness (view of Mt Exmouth) and Ogma Gap and then another tedious 200 metre descent down dry West Spirey Creek and eventually we stumbled over a bridge and rejoined the mornings track. We drank the last of our water and shared a small bite of energy bar.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mugii Murum-Ban State Conservation Area

You might know this place as Gardens of Stone Park. It is very close to Wollemi National Park and the usual access is off the road to Glen Davis. There are a few trails to walk, and lots of potential for off-track exploration. Gardens of Stone is pagoda country, mostly dry eucalpyt forest except for patches of rain forest and sandstone pagodas everywhere.

Glenowlan Point

Mount Airly:

Our first afternoon in the area we walked an old road up to Mount Airly. The road is steep and business like climbing quickly from a locked gate to the large treed summit area. The best views are gained from pagodas along the way.

Point Hatteras and Tayan Peak

Glenowlan Point, Mountain and Trig:

A very steep 4WD road leads up past Airly property to the Glenowlan Plateau. Apparently, the area is popular with hard-core 4WD'ers. While some may consider the road a marvel of construction - at one point it passes through a slot between two sandstone cliffs - others will be appalled by the erosion.

We parked near where the road forks at the top of the plateau and continued on foot. The track is steep and loose up to a pagoda area and then goes down to follow along the course of Glenowlan Creek (just a trickle). It is all big sandstone walls, pagodas, huge house sized boulders, ferns and tall tree ferns and very pretty. After following the creek a short distance SE, the track turns north and climbs steeply up to the plateau top again through more slots, small canyons, caves, overhangs, and pagodas.

Doug under cliffs on Glenowlan trail

The final three kilometres is pretty much due north along the plateau top with sporadic views and lots more pagodas, the vegetation changing to low heath, and the final 500 metres is right along the side of a west facing cliff line with great views to Mount Airly and the Capertee River valley. At Glenowlan Point, there is an endangered plant that grows in only that one location and a fence protects this small population from grazing goats and wallabies so you have to climb over a stile. It is appalling to note that the 4WD track goes right the way to the cliff edge through this isolated and threatened plant community.

We also walked out to Glenowlan Trig but the views are obscured by trees. There is, however a good viewpoint back to Glenowlan Point from the track to the trig.

Doug at Glenowlan Point

Tramway Trail:

This is a good walk past the ruins of another old mining town that starts near the Mount Airly track and ends on an escarpment just to the north of Airly Mountain with a view out to the west, The track is good, the old ruins are interesting to explore, and you can extend the walk and make a loop by bush-bashing up to the top of Mount Airly and following the track back down.

Capertee Valley

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Walking Around The Wolgan

With Easter and NSW school holidays rapidly approaching, we knew we needed to get in and out of the Wolgan Valley before the holiday hordes arrived from Sydney, sweeping into the Wolgan carrying noise, trash, and campfire smoke in a campaign reminiscent of Ghengis Khan's invasions of Eurasia.

The Newnes valley is certainly atmospheric, nestled in a deep green gorge with high sandstone cliffs above. The valley is just the western tip of Wollemi National Park, which includes the largest wilderness area in Australia. It's an area of deep canyons, lush forests, wild rivers, sandstone cliffs, and stepped pagodas. You can walk for a few hours or a few days. We did three walks while we were there, and, barely saw a person once we had left the camping area.

Glow Worm Tunnel

The Glow Worm Tunnel:

This is an old railway tunnel for the rail line that once ran between the shale oil works at Newnes and Lithgow. The tunnel is 400 metres long and curves so once you get a certain distance in, it is completely black.

There are various tracks to the glow worm tunnel, we did a circuit walk from the Newnes Road which takes you around a big pagoda, along Tunnel Creek and back down the well graded old railway line.

The first thing you have to do is ford the Wolgan River on a cement causeway. Then walk uphill on an old road to a junction, the left hand fork follows the old railway route to Newnes; continue straight ahead and uphill to a break between sandstone cliffs and a lovely valley filled with tree ferns. Gradually walking downhill you come out near Dry Creek Canyon where you can peer down and get a glimpse of this narrow slot canyon from above.

A torch helps in the tunnel as it is completely black and quite wet along the walls and underfoot, but, it is filled with glow worms which cover the roof and walls like starlight on a dark night. The exit is draped in greenery and drips with small waterfalls. There is a good view of Donkey Mountain from the old rail trail on the way back.

Donkey Mountain

The Pipeline Track:

This is a steepish track that crosses the height of land between the Wolgan and Capertee Rivers and follows the route of an old pipeline connecting Newnes to Glen Davis. You can walk from either end, but walking from Newnes is probably nicer.

The first couple of kilometres follows the Wolgan River east past remains of Newnes townsite now buried in the bush. Once you cross Petries Gully - may involve wading - the track begins a steady and, at times, steep climb up a narrow valley to the height of land. At the top of the ridge, there is a great lookout atop a sandstone pagoda where you can look along the length of the Wolgan River. This is typical escarpment country, dense eucalypt forest, sandstone bluffs and a deeply incised river valley.

Coke Ovens

Doug went back from the lookout, but, being an obsessive about such things, I felt compelled to walk right over the range to Glen Davis. The track heading north is a bit thick with dense vegetation at times but, after a couple of kilometres, the path emerges into very open forest below large red sandstone cliffs.

It's a solid 500 metre climb back up from Glen Davis and hot in the afternoon sun. I wandered along the height of land on the way back following a scruffy track that leads to a couple of canyons. There were more good lookouts here.

Just before Petries Gully you can wade the Wolgan River and wander along the interpretive trail through the old shale oil works back to the campground.

The wonderful Wolgan Valley

Rocky Creek Via The Wolgan River Trail:

This is a long but easy walk along an old road that follows the Wolgan River east to Rocky Creek where there are some campsites. The walk is pleasant but not stunning. The best part is definitely the feeling of isolation.    

Lookout on the Pipeline Track