Do you think we should take a rope?

MORTON NATIONAL PARK – 13 & 14 July 2019
Tail Race Creek > Shoalhaven River > unnamed spur > unnamed side creek > Water Race Creek
“Do you think we should take a rope” – that’s Murray questioning me as we’re walking out the door … everything I’d read and heard about Tail Race Creek said “hand-line is useful” and I had one in the pack, so hadn’t even considered taking along a rope.  Murray was happy to carry the 60m rope and Emma said she was happy to carry a couple of harnesses, so I said “what the hell, if you’re happy to carry them, great”.  Sometimes Lady Luck is on your side, and this was one of those times. 

Murray, Emma and I had tried to do this walk back in October 2018, but when we all got to Nerriga we postponed it due to rain, at that time we didn’t even think about a rope, lucky we postponed the trip as without a rope we would have been really stuck!  We were all set to do the walk on this weekend, and Anna and Jeff decided to come along too.

So, how did this trip come about … pouring over a map (as you do) a year ago, I had spotted what looked like a couple of creeks that could be similar to Washed Away Creek in the Shoalhaven area.  I loved the Washed Away trip and thought that Water Race and Tail Race creeks might be interesting.  I asked around and all I got back was that overnight trips down and up both these creeks had appeared twice on the CMW calendar back in 1999 and 2001.  One person recalled that “Tail Race was quite hard – but we had youth our side then”.  I’d also read another trip report from another club and they’d tried walking up Tail Race and were stopped at a 30m waterfall and exited the creek on the left to bypass the waterfall.  So, we knew that there was a waterfall there, and suspected that you might be able to walk around it. Murray had been in Water Race a couple of times already and really wanted to do Tail Race, so we created a “round trip”, down Tail Race and up Water Race (avoiding it’s 60m waterfall).

The weekend’s weather wasn’t all that great, highs of 6 – 7°C and lows of 2 – 4°C and very windy.  None of us were particularly excited about the freezing cold wind when we arrived at the start of the walk and I checked the outside temperature – 3°C … I threw extra thermals in, and wore another jacket, but it was still freezing.

We left the cars at the end of the walk and then used the fire trail to get us to the spur that we wanted to go down to enter Tail Race.

Leaving the fire trail, the vegetation was quite friendly, not too much scrub but we’re still up on the ridge here.

Then we started going down a spur that would take us to the junction of this tributary that you can just see on the right and Tail Race Creek – the tributary was very deep!

Starting to head down now and the terrain has become steep very quickly, with lots of rocks to negotiate.

Going down the side of this minor cliff line.

Emma coming down after me, it’s not too bad at this point, but got a little rockier and steeper before we hit the junction – the scree was so steep that you could easily have slid down.

We’re now in Tail Race, and the creek’s looking pretty good – nice easy walking and we weren’t  exposed to the strong winds down in the creek.

It wasn’t long before the sides of the creek started closing in and it became more gorge-like.

The first pool of water we came across, didn’t look particularly appealing to drink, but at least we knew there’d be water further downstream if we needed it.  We didn’t stop to think about getting around the pools!

Anna sliding down one of the rock slabs.

Our first real challenge – getting across this pool with dry feet, Murray and Jeff managed just fine, Emma made it all the way to the end and then the log slipped and she was in water up to her knees.

Anna chose the tree-hugging route and managed to stay dry.

Another obstacle, a waterfall that you couldn’t downclimb.

The ledge was a bit sketchy, but it got you to a ramp to walk down.

Jeff on the ramp.

Emma about to go down the ramp, the rocks were very loose so you had to be careful of the person in front of you.

Murray on the other side of the creek out of the fall-zone.

This is the waterfall we had to get around, in summer you could probably just walk down it and get wet in the pool at the bottom, but none of us wanted to get wet, it was still around 2 or 3 degrees.

Another downclimb, wasn’t easy with a big pack.

Followed by another downclimb on a slippery slope beside a pool.

Another downclimb.

And then a bit of relief from wondering where to put your feet.

We then came to a waterfall – was this the 30m one that was noted in trip reports?

Murray set up a handline to get us down to the second level of the waterfall.  I’d already crossed a bit of a ledge at this point (using the handline) and was sitting waiting for Murray to get down so that I could proceed.

Jeff at the start of the ledge that you first had to cross.

Jeff coming down the down-climb, would have been nasty without the handline.

At the bottom of the downclimb, Murray making his way to the next level to suss out how we’d get down the waterfall … was this the reputed 30m drop?

Rope set up from a good solid anchor, Murray setting off to see whether the rope reaches the bottom!

Jeff on the pitch, you can see just above Jeff’s hand that Murray set up a re-direct onto a small tree so that the rope headed in the direction we wanted to avoid the pool below.

Murray belaying Anna.

Emma on the descent, the rope is a jumbled mess because we had to send a harness up to Emma, she pulled the rope up (with the harness attached) and then re-deployed it, because the rope was caught up in trees, she couldn’t be belayed.

Retrieving the rope, you can see from here that it wouldn’t have been good without the re-direct as you’d end up in the pool.

The next obstacle, crawling across through some small native fig trees, on a very sketchy ledge.

Coming up to the next obstacle.

We set up my tape for the controlled slide down the watercourse.

Emma on the downclimb with Anna and Jeff waiting.

From the bottom you had to negotiate across to avoid a pool.

This would appear to be the waterfall we’ve all been expecting, very high, the 60m rope wouldn’t make it doubled, so it was definitely over 30m in height.

We set up the rope as a single rope pitch, isolating it at the top and then attached Murray’s handline to the short end (tied with a double fisherman’s knot), this would be the “puller” to retrieve the rope.

Jeff was the last one, Murray had set up a re-direct to keep us out of the pool of water, you can just see it tied to a tree on the rh side, it was Jeff’s job to retrieve the re-direct anchor.  We were all supposed to stay high to get past the re-direct, but Jeff’s the only one who managed, I failed miserably and Murray ended up belaying me across to where he was sitting.

With the re-direct retrieved, Jeff continuing down and Murray and Emma making sure the rope didn’t go in the water.

The pull down – Emma pulling on the “puller rope”, a bit of friction to start but then it was an easy pull down – didn’t keep the rope dry – that would be almost impossible.

From the final abseil it wasn’t far until we were at the junction of Tail Race with the Shoalhaven, it had taken us 6.5 hours from the car to this point, not too bad!  When I got to the river, I remembered how much I like this river.

Heading upstream for a k to our campsite (the hill to the right is the one we’ll have to climb on Sunday). There was a small amount of rock hopping but the majority of the k was on nice sandy banks.

Murray having a rest waiting for us at some rapids.

Great campsite, plenty of wood for a fire on Saturday night, and loads of space.  One of the best campsites I’ve been to on the Shoalhaven, and would be rarely used, it’s so hard to get to (lol).  By Jeff’s watch, the temperature dropped to 2 degrees overnight – very cold when we got up.

We left the campsite at 8.30am and just 50m away was the start of our spur up to the ridge, to Anna’s left is Water Race creek, not overly impressive at this point!

The spur was like a knife-edge, serious falls either side if you slipped or tripped!

Looking up at Emma on the climb up and by now the sun is out and we’re all starting to thaw out.

This photo gives you an idea of the steepness of the spur, hard going.

Found this grass tree half way up, had four branches on it, you don’t often see that.  Grass trees seem to like the Shoalhaven River, someone once told me that they like limestone areas.

A lovely patch of orange lichen on a rock.

We’ve climbed 350m in elevation and still have a 100+ to go, taking a rest in the sun.

We’re now up the top and looking over the Water Race Valley.  What’s interesting here is the cliff across the valley, there’s a band of cliff face (about 50m maybe) that’s horizontal strata and then below that is a large band that looks like it’s been laid down and then turned on edge (effectively it’s vertical strata), really interesting, you wouldn’t see it from the creek, it’s too high up, you only see it from across the valley.

We decided that rather than drop into Water Race where we intended, we’d walk another 1.5k along on the top, the vegetation was nice and open (easy walking), came to a couple of sections where it was scrubby but in the main easy.

We then dropped into a side creek of Water Race (Murray had been here before), which was gorge-like.  Looked like a load of flood debris at the beginning.

And before long (the side creek was only 500m long), we were in Water Race, quite a large creek, and again, easy walking.

This huge rock obviously had separated from the cliff a long way up and rolled down into the creek.

There were a few pools of water but in the main it was dry.

We climbed a fairly easy spur up from the creek, at the top was a big rock formation, and then a cliff that we had to walk along at the base to access the plateau.

Took some time out just after getting to the cliff-line to shelter from the wind in this cave.  I was actually very nervous walking up the spur, the wind was so strong I wouldn’t have been surprised to have some trees coming down.

We came to this interesting part of the cliff-line where the stone was obviously much harder above and soft below, and had eroded so it was like a mushroom all the way along for about 100m.

Our final climb out of the side creek/spur, and then only 800m in scrub to get to the cars.

We came to a hollowed out termite mound up the top (spiny ant eaters – Echidnas –  had dug out the mud mound to eat the termites).

And on one of the rock slabs we found these tiny fungus, bright yellow and only 1 – 2cm tops on them.

The final selfie – the cars are only 50m away, thanks Emma for taking the selfie.

The walk out was very quick, only 6 hours or so from the camp site down the bottom, if they didn’t have to wait for me it would have been quicker (lol).

Tail Race was great, very sporty, challenging and fun to find the best/safest route for us to take. With more daylight hours and warmer weather you could probably find ways around the waterfalls that we abseiled – you wouldn’t be so fussy about getting wet if it was warmer, but I have to say, it would be very hot in that creek in full summer weather.

Wasn’t overly impressed with Water Race, it’s just big and dry, but Murray mentioned maybe going back and abseiling the 60m waterfall at the end – I’d be up for that, but not walking the whole creek, maybe walking along the plateau to where we dropped into Water Race and then doing the last k downstream to the waterfall.

Thanks so much Emma, Murray, Anna and Jeff for coming on this adventure with me, couldn’t have done it without you guys!

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