Sirens in the Wollemi Wilderness – Trip #1

HUNTER MAIN RANGE – 16 – 18 October 2020
When the Legendary Louise said she was going to head to the northern part of the Wollemi National Park, to do a bit of exploration, I decided to join her, after all, exploring for canyons and passes is right up my alley.  The trip turned into 2 multi day trips when Louise (and Mik who joined us for the first trip) absolutely spoiled me!

We all met at Dunn’s Swamp campground which would be our base between trips.  I’d never stayed at Dunn’s Swamp before and have to say I’d definitely go back again (only downside was the guy chopping wood at 6am on the first morning.

The obligatory “death photo” me, Mik and Lou, to prove that we started off with smiles on our face – a reminder no matter what happens. (photo: Lou)

We were able to drive for quite a way on the Hunter Main Range Trail, but then came to a tree across the road that we couldn’t move. Lou’s car got over ok but Mik’s car had lower clearance, so we thought we’d build a ramp. Yeah, yeah, you guys can laugh. We decided it was better if Mik didn’t try driving his car over it.

So, Lou drove her car back over the log ramp and parked it in a safe spot, and unloaded all the e-bikes. We’d cycle the rest of the way – which was the plan anyway.

Mik had hired an e-bike and I drove that. It was scary-as and the whole time I was scared that I’d drive off the edge of the road or stack it.  But, just 500m up the fire trail, Mik had a blow out on one of Lou’s bikes, so she drive my bike and I walked, which was ok because most of my heavy gear was in Lou’s panniers.

Trying the bike out to see if I remember how to ride.

Lou powering up the hill, she was so back heavy with her pack and two panniers that often the front wheel would come up off the road if she wasn’t careful – powered up the hills though.

Mik powering up the hill (sans panniers). The trail all the way to the big arse locked gate was cleared for vehicles (no big trees on the road), so the going was easy.  After the locked gate though, the road was not cleared and it was too hard man-handling the bikes over trees so we hid them in the bush for the return trip.

We walked on the fire trail for a few ks then headed off into the burned out bush – very easy walking!

A cicada hitch hiker, there were so many their songs were deafening. First time I’ve seen my hair from this angle I like it!

Lou was very excited about actually being here for this trip, she’d been dreaming of it for YEARS! We got to this point and Lou said we should be over there and pointed vaguely over to the left. I thought she meant that we’d be trying to get down this cliff which I definitely didn’t like the look of and suggested that we go down the gully – big mistake on my part, Lou was actually pointing in a different direction. Anyway, we went down the gully – now known as Wrong Gully (aka Shit Creek)!

It got a little steep so we put on abseil gear and abseiled down this sketchy downclimb.

This was our second small abseil. Both Mik and I struggled with having the heavy packs on (Mik’s way heavier than mine), it made you lean back too far and I ended up having a disaster later on in the day because of the weight of my pack.

Lou then abseiled down another pitch but then discovered that there was a fourth abseil and no anchor for it, and our rope wasn’t long enough to get us all the way to the bottom, so, we sent Mik up to see if there was a ramp out in another small gully and luckily there was. So at least we had a way that we could retreat without prussicing!

Poor Lou had to prussic up, she took one for the team though and I think she actually enjoyed it (she actually listed it as one of the highlights of the trip!). The creek looked like a lovely slot canyon, too bad we couldn’t get all the way down.

So, we’re back on top after our diversion down into Shit Creek and Lou’s back on track now going in the way she wanted to go in the first place (before I freaked out with the cliff0line). It was relatively flat until it then got steep!

The spur was great until the last 30m or so.  Lou sniffing around to see if there’s a way the 40m drop – which there wasn’t).

Didn’t seem far to the bottom (turns out it was 40m and we only had a 30m rope), so we set up the rope, figuring that we could always prussic out if it didn’t “go”.

So, we managed to get down to a ledge, unfortunately though the sleeve of my shirt got caught in my descender (because I was trying to keep myself upright), and then my skin of my arm got caught – major problem, fortunately I was only a few cm from the bottom, but it hurt like hell – when we got down eventually, both Lou and Mik did first aid on me (I couldn’t look at it, it was too nasty!).

After the abseil, we were still about 5m from the creak, but lady luck was looking down on us and there was a death defying traverse to where we could get down safely. Lou making it look hard and then Mik found some roots we could hang onto.

We managed to abseil right onto a part of the creek which had an overhang and flat ground to camp on! Big highlight of the trip. Low-light was that once Lou got down to the bottom of the abseil, she took off her backpack and it rolled down into a pool in the creek PLUS her bag of hot chocolate blew out (hot chocolate powder through everything), and one of her cans of wine took a hit – although she could salvage 200ml of the wine!

You couldn’t come across three sirens that would be more relieved to get down the bottom than the three of us.  We set up camp, collected fire wood and then Mik pulled out camembert and crackers for happy hour, so we feasted on that along with our red wine, butterscotch schnapps and Black Forest chocolate after dinner.  A good end to the day, followed by a great display of glow worms when the sun went down.

Lou brought out Apple Pie with cream for breakfast (I could really get used to these feasts), then we set off to explore.

The creek was stunning, you wouldn’t know there’d been a fire up on the high points. Occasionally we’d come across a small burned section where a burning tree had fallen into the creek during the fire, but those burned areas were few and far between.

More lovely creek section.

Looking up Trib B, we didn’t go too far up here because we wanted to check out Trib C.

A bit of bouldering going downstream. We did find some stunning stals in one of the overhangs (but I’m writing a special blog post about them – they were AMAZING!).

Heading up Trib C, very easy walking.

Small waterfall in Trib C there is also a small waterfall to the right, but we managed to find out way up it via another death defying ledge.

After the death defying ledge, I sat around on a lovely mossy log whilst Lou and Mik went sniffing around for a pass for us to get out of the creek. No doubt about it, Lou can sniff out a pass better than anyone I know AND they were determined to find a pass that was suitable for M, ie no exposure or dodgy climbs. They came back ecstatic about finding our way out for tomorrow.

After finding the pass, we headed back to our campsite, there are lots of nice campsites on this section of the creek, some of which (close to the Stal Cave) could accommodate a large group. Most of the overhangs we found though, would really only accommodate 2 – 3 people.

Passing our camp and 30m upstream we headed into Trib A, which so far is looking pretty good.

The tributary starts to close in a little.

Not far upstream, we come to the gully that we would liked to have come down on the first day, the slot that I saw from up above that looked so attractive (you know how I love a good slot canyon).

I headed up the slot and this is where Lou was stopped on the first day, just above this chock stone and she couldn’t see a suitable anchor which is why she prussiced back up. It would have been nice if we could have completed the canyon but it will be there for the future, but at the end of the day, it was really only 50m of canyon!

Looking down the slot – really pretty.

Back into Trib A, a nice waterfall about 30 – 40m.

Continuing upstream in Trib A.

And stopped by a chockstone and a difficult climb, and we could see ahead that there were at least 2 abseils, one as big as 40 or 5m, and whilst it’s a big log and scrub infected, would be a good small trip, easy to get to.

Back to camp for our last night and Mik brings out more Camembert and Salami (how good is that).  After dinner we moved onto Cowboy Hot Chocolates (alcoholic), it was a great day, Lou/Mik found a pass so we don’t have to prussic out, found lots of campsites, found three Lyrebird feathers, including a tail feather (very hard to find), only lowlights were the quicksand (but that was actually really funny!) and Mik took a slip and hurt her little toe, and maybe the constant song from the cicadas – by now we’re a bit over the sound!

Next day we took the pass in Trib C to get out.

First dead easy climb.

Second dead easy climb (really only a step up).

And then a stead slot up hill, then a long flat area, and then the final hill. Takes only an hour or so from the creek to get back to the road.

Mik and Lou on the road, an hour until we got back to the big arse locked gate, and although showers were forecast, the skies just spat on us for 10 minutes.

Lou and Mik picked up their bikes, dropped their packs at the bend in the road and drove up to pick up Lou’s car and they then drove down to pick up me and the packs. We talked about “what ifs” and decided that if it got to 5pm and they weren’t back, I’d head off to see what had happened. I miss-read my watch and set off to find them at what I thought was 5pm (but was really 4pm) and just as I got started they turned up in the car.  Apparently without the packs and panniers they had an awesome ride up to the car.

We loaded everything in the car, headed up to pick up Mik’s car and then were back at Dunn’s swamp just on dusk.  Lou spoiled us with Ginger Beer and cheese and crackers and then Mik packed up and headed home (she only had a couple of day’s leave)., and Lou and I cleaned up, had dinner and then called it a night – I know I was stuffed!

On the Monday, we cleaned all our gear ready for the next adventure and I drove into Rylestone to the hospital to make sure my arm that I’d squeezed into my descender wasn’t totally f*&%ed.  Good news – I could do more adventures, they cleaned it up and gave me antibiotics – and what do you know the nurse who fixed my arm up after I stabbed myself last November, treated me this time too!  Lou spoiled me yet again with a delicious pasta meal whilst we tried to do Mik’s left over wine justice (thanks Mik for the wine and your effervescent company).

One of the biggest highlights for Mik and me was seeing Lou Orchid hunting!  Lou can sniff out a terrestrial orchid a mile away, and we were so fortunate, Lou found heaps, BUT, they are so stunning, that they deserve a post by themselves, so stay tuned.

Banner:  Lovely Baronia on the walk out.

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2 Responses to Sirens in the Wollemi Wilderness – Trip #1

  1. Jenny Hughes says:

    Sounds like a very luxurious trip! Cow boy hot chocolates???
    No matter how may trips you have done, I always find something new in each tip you do!

    • marilyn says:

      Not sure that’s the actual name of the drink, was something risque had to do with a body part, sucking and cowboy (lol) but Lou made it with hot chocolate (soooo yummy). Always good to get a comment from you Jen!

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