MORTON NATIONAL PARK – 10 – 12 November 2017
Matodoro Ridge Trail > Monitor Mount > Little Horseshoe Bend > Shoalhaven River > Specimen Hill > Wineglass Tor > Backbender Buttress > Shoalhaven River > Washedaway Creek > Matodoro Ridge Trail
Two epic trips (combined into one … what was I thinking?) in some rugged country. Knife edged spurs, rapids, waterfalls and death-defying scree but we all survived – and another trip crossed off the wish-list.
15 years ago, I saw a trip on the CMW calendar to Wine Glass Tor, and it appeared pretty regularly over the years, but I was always unavailable when it was happening. Then, on another trip down the Shoalhaven, I’d looked up Washedaway Creek and said “that looks interesting, should do that one day”. A couple of times either Jeff or I put either Wine Glass Tor or Washedaway Creek on the calendar but for one reason or another I couldn’t go, but Jeff did told me what good trips they were. So, we determined that I had to do both trips while I was still capable of doing them. Combining both over three days, seeing they were in the same area, seemed like a good idea.
Steve R said he’d come and I put it on the MSS and CMW calendars to see if anyone else was interested – most BWOC members who were up to this sort of trip had already done them with Jeff.
Willem K and Rahm R, both from CMW joined us. Given that we were starting on a Friday, we timed it so that we commenced the walk from Matodoro Ridge Trail around noon, it was just a short walk down to the river. We had waterproofed our gear for the one river crossing on Friday and had all probably packed way too much food and gear (because it was such a short trip to the river!) – that would come back to bite us on day 3!
We started walking on an old diss-used vehicle trail, not a fire trail, but definitely a route people have driven on in the past.
Lovely open country, very easy to walk in with little or no undergrowth, the area is very, very dry. For those of you who think I like scrub, how wrong you are, this is my sort of walking, nice open forest.
We stopped at Monitor Mount for lunch and then started down the spur to Little Horseshoe bend. I’d walked up this spur many years ago and thought it was well worth re-visiting. A this point there was a great view down to the river.
The spur starts out with quite a nice grade and it’s very wide. There is a very old fence line down the spur, lots of chicken wire and fencing wire laying around on the ground, you had to be careful not to be tripped up by it (and fall over the edge to almost certain death).
You can just see the rest of the group in the middle of the photo, and the spur is getting narrower, the river can be glimpsed through the trees.
View of the river, we will be walking up this section (to where the river disappears to the right) on Sunday.
The guys having a break waiting for me to catch up.
By now it’s turned into the knife-edged part, and there’s much scrambling over rocks. Amazingly, the remnants of the fence are still down the middle of the spur … what were they thinking, “this side of the precipitous bluff is yours the other side is mine” why would you even bother putting a fence in, it’s not as though cattle or sheep would be on one side or the other it’s a sheer vertical drop.
Great view of the river from here, we’ll be camping just below the sandbank you can see on the rh side, in amongst the casuarinas.
A little further on we came to a section with heaps of grass trees … grass trees like limestone country.
The ridge/spur narrows with lots of rocks to scramble over.
Down at the bottom and at Little Horseshoe Bend and our first river crossing for the weekend, and Rahm’s first ever river crossing! Luckily it was calm with no rapids.
The river changes over the years, and sandbanks that we’d used in the past were no longer any good, but about 200m from the river crossing we found this spot, a 10/10 spot … some nice grass, enough room for the five tents to be spread out, close to the river and heaps of fire wood. Later on I took points off because getting to the river involved climbing over some casuarinas and after a few wines, it wasn’t that easy!
Precipitous bluffs, looking across from our campsite. When we were walking down the spur, there was always the temptation to just go off the side to get down quicker, but you can see the sort of rocks you would have encountered.
Lots of these beautiful blue dragon flies by the side of the river.
Willem swimming (in the middle) and Rahm getting ready for a dip.
The water was really warm and as it had been very hot walking down the spur, most of us had a swim.
Steve chilling out by the fire. As the water in the Shoalhaven is suss, we boiled up enough water for the next day (although Rahm and Willem had filtration systems with them). Interestingly, whilst we had no rain, the water in the river rose by about 5cm during the night.
We set out for our trip to Wineglass Tor around 7.45am to beat the heat of the day. First thing we came across was evidence of the gold mining that had been in the area in the early 1900s. This was a man made channel, we weren’t sure whether it was where they’d mined or whether it was a water race to wash the dirt away from the alluvial gold. Higher up (out of the flood level) was a large levelled out area where they would have camped. There were also big “holes” in the ground with rocks piled around them, maybe digging down to find the gold.
The route ahead, along this ridge and climbing up to this high point on the right.
Initially the spur was nice and gradual, dropping off steeply at either side.
And then it became much steeper, not much vegetation to hold on to.
Rahm admiring the view.
Finally we’re up to where the spur flattened out and made a left hand turn to Specimen Hill. Great open country to walk through; we were all really happy to have the only big climb for the day behind us.
The spur harrows out again.
Half-way between Specimen Hill and Wineglass Tor, a great view of Great Horseshoe Bend, this is a popular walk down to the Shoalhaven, there is a good track all the way down from the top (Bullion Hill) down Assay Buttress (the map names reflect the gold mining history of the area). We would be descending down the spur that you can see coming in from the right (Backbender Buttress).
We can now see Wineglass Tor from this lookout that Willem is standing on, Backbender Buttress in the distance.
And finally, Wineglass Tor, named after the rock that you can see on the rocky outcrop.
Steve and Willem beside the wine glass, funny but I’d always imagined it shaped like a martini glass not a brandy balloon.
And to prove I was on the trip, a rare shot of me, with the Tor in the background and the section of the river we’d be walking up later in the afternoon.
Heading over now to Touga West, where we’ll stop for lunch.
The lunch spot with a magnificent view. I wasn’t too keen to sit on the edge, it’s a 35m drop here.
After lunch we made our way over to Back Bender Trail (a fire trail), you can just see the remnants of it now, it’s long since grown over, but there was heaps of sawn trees that they’d left laying around. What they the cut the trees for is a mystery. Here the guys are stopping to pick the route down, we had to make sure we got between two side creeks.
The way down started out easily enough, but from where we were it looked like it was almost vertical.
All was going well as we went down the spur until Jeff went one way and Steve and Willem thought another way looked better. Jeff had done the spur before so Rahm and I hitched out wagon to him, figuring that he was aiming for the route down that he’d used before. That was the last we saw of Steve and Willem until 6pm, I suggested that we all meet back at camp, but they waited down the bottom for us, not realising that we’d crossed over the spur and went down a “short cut” and entered the river further upstream.
Rahm at the start of our short cut, we virtually peeled off the side of the Buttress and zig zagged down 200m on our butts. Was heaps of fun and we were laughing most of the time, sometimes we’d start an avalanche (who-ever was below was able to get out of the way), and often we’d be almost out of control. Both Rahm and I ended up with holes in our shorts but it was worth it!
Finally down at the river, we waterproofed our gear and did our first river crossing for the day. Often it was too deep either side of the rapids or too swift flowing so you had to pick your route carefully. This first crossing took Rahm way out of his comfort zone as he’s not a strong swimmer, but he made it across with a little guidance from Jeff.
One of the 4 or 5 Lace Monitors that we saw over the 3 days. This one was well over a metre.
River crossing #2, this time in waist deep water, hard work avoiding the big boulders under the surface.
River crossing #3, much easier this time, still water and not too deep. We spotted lots and lots of big carp in the river.
River crossing #4 was quite deep in the middle but wasn’t actually as bad as you thought it was going to be, by now Rahm is an old hand at the crossings.
We were surprised that we were the first back at camp (it was about 4pm by this time and it had taken Jeff, Rahm and me just under 3 hours to get back to camp). I was hoping that Steve and Willem were waiting for us at the bottom of Backbender Buttress, and not that something had happened to one of them. It was with great relief that I saw them walk into camp around 6pm, they had waited for us for 2 hours, although they’d met some campers down on the beach where they’d descended so at least had something to do to pass the time. It only took them 1.5 hours to do their trip up the river!
We all had swims in the river, then settled down for a well-earned dinner with popcorn and garlic bread provided by Jeff. It had been a big day and we were all in bed by 9pm!
Lovely view of the river next morning. We packed up and set off at 7.30am, again to beat the heat of the day.
We were able to keep on the one bank of the river, necessitating only one river crossing, just before where Washedaway Creek enters the Shoalhaven.
Willem crossing the river, looking like an old hand!
The start of Washedaway Creek. Looking at it from here, I was wondering why I thought it was going to be worthy of a visit, I don’t know of too many people who’ve been up it (other than Jeff and John L’E) and from the start it didn’t look all that exciting!
Soon enough though, we were into sections that were what I was hoping for, big slabby bits of limestone.
More limestone sections, and there were pools of water between, then the creek would go underground for a while, and then re-emerge.
The others didn’t want to get their shoes wet, so they went up and over this small section of rock, I walked around the edge of it.
Our first small waterfall to get around (and avoid the water).
A double waterfall here, surprisingly, the limestone was very grippy and it was easy to do the climbs.
Another deep pool to avoid.
Another pool and waterfall.
For the most part the rock around the pools was an easy route and the waterfalls kept on coming, one after the other!
In Jeff’s previous trips one time he could climb this waterfall, the other time there was too much water and they had to go around. We sent our “mountain goat” Willem up to see how it was and he gave it the thumbs up.
We all decided it was doable but not with heavy packs on.
So we broke out the tape and pack-hauled all the packs up.
Then Jeff and I used the tape to get up more easily.
Avoiding another waterfall and pool, this one looked quite daunting from the bottom, but it turned out to be easier than expected.
Until you got caught up in a huge vine that is!
This waterfall had also proven to be difficult in past trips, so we sat for a while looking at possible routes. Willem chose to do a bit of a zig and zag.
Rahm followed Willem’s route.
Steve took a more direct route and I thought that looked easier so Jeff and I went that way, was ok until you got half way up and then I wasn’t happy, but managed in the end.
This was the section I didn’t like, very worn and no foot or hand holds, Jeff made it look easy.
By this time the refrain was “what, another bloody waterfall”! It was an easy route up though and proved to be our last one.
We’re now at the impassable waterfall, probably about 30m. We sat in the shade and had an early lunch (11.30am) preparing for the scramble up to the left.
We sat and looked at the bank in front of us (left of the waterfall), and there looked to be a fairly easy route up on some rocks. Steve, Willem and Rahm did this route, but when I started, I came to a section that I definitely didn’t like, so, went back down the 3m to where Jeff was. This in itself was a problem as I was in danger of slipping on the scree (to almost certain death). Jeff and I then walked downstream about 20m and found an “easier” way up. This involved a lot of scrambling on scree, with virtually nothing to hold on to, any rock you touched came away in your hands. I was virtually climbing up on my hands and knees. Steve, Willem and Rahm were having their own issues, they too had a dodgy route and at one point, with nothing to hold on too and no foot hold, Rahm felt as though he was going to slide all the way down (to almost certain death). We eventually regrouped in a safe spot and continued up the climb … you couldn’t call it a spur, it was basically 150m vertical climb over about 300m, doesn’t sound that bad but being scree it was awful. The feeling of satisfaction though when we got to the top was amazing.
We looked across to the other side of the creek (my preference would have been to go out the other side), and we all agreed there was no way we would have gotten out that way. It would have cut off 2k of walking to get back to the car, but the terrain was so awful, we would still be trying to get out! As this way was a known route (I think John L’E had told us to “exit left up the scree”), it was definitely the way to go.
The boys at the top, all thankful to be on the ridge. From here it was about 3k back to the car, most of it on fire trail (after the first k) and relatively flat, with just a long up hill for a k at the end.
A huge thanks to Jeff for agreeing to do the walk (for the third time), and Steve, Willem and Rahm for accompanying us. It was graded Medium/Hard on the CMW programme, not sure who graded it that way, probably me, and it was a Q walk (a qualifying walk for new CMW members). All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t have any beginners with me as it would possibly have been their last walk. I found it more on the hard side, but what should I expect, I am after all a little old lady and a grandmother, I should be finding it hard these days!
Willem was a real asset on the trip, knew all his stuff and was keen to help with the navigation. Rahm who hasn’t done many overnight walks recently, did really well and we took him way, way out of his comfort zone, he’ll be able to talk about this trip around the campfire for years to come!
Having said all that, it was a truly awesome experience, and the fact that Jeff’s done it three times now is testament to how good a walk it is, challenging yes, but you are well and truly rewarded for the effort.
And the stats …
Snakes … 0
Ticks … 0 (that I know of)
Distance walked … 29.33k over 3 days