WOLLANGAMBE WILDERNESS – 17 – 20 April 2021
In the week before this trip started, I’d told my kids and a couple of other people (who’d often queried whether or not I should be doing such epic expeditions) that this would probably be my last multi day (longer than 1 night) canyoning expedition. After all, I don’t know any woman my age who’s still pushing the envelope like I am. Well, I’m here to say there definitely wont be any more 4 day canyoning trips! Beware, there are lots of photos documenting this historic (for me) trip.
Back in January when Anna and I were in the Yarramun area, we’d planned to do Interesting Creek, but things didn’t work out, so when John G said he was going to do both Interesting Creek and Short Creek, Anna and I jumped at the opportunity to join John (along with Andrew B and Bill R – Mule). We’d have to go light in order to carry our overnight gear and abseil gear, things like my heavy harness, heavy descender and wetsuit would not be going on the trip. So, we set out on the Saturday in perfect weather. We would be using many of the routes and passes that Oliver Crawford (an acquaintance of both John and mine) had walked back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. John and I have both walked with Oliver and he’s a legend.
The trip started off well, Andrew, bless his heart, took pity on the two little old ladies and piggy-backed us across the Wollangambe so we didn’t need to take our shoes and socks off, also gave Anna and I a head start walking up the Whungee-Wheengee canyon entry track – which goes up-hill “for ever”.
John led us unerringly across ridges, saddles and the occasional high point, very easy walking.
We then headed down into one of the side tributaries of Interesting Creek, our goal was to find an overhang to camp in, by now the drizzle had turned to full on rain so we were happy to see what looked like a reasonable overhang just across the tributary – we virtually dropped in right where it was – John has a knack of finding overhangs!
Wasn’t the best overhang we’d ever seen but we were happy to have lunch out of the rain.
We were all cold and wet so we started up a small fire to warm up, John studied the map before he, Andrew and Mule set off to see if there was a better overhang further downstream.
They came back after a couple of hours and said that they’d found the Belair of overhangs, so we set off, rain had stopped by this time. We’re now crossing Interesting creek itself, and it was indeed interesting, nice flat rock slab in the creek.
A little background on Interesting Creek. I never knew what it was called, but many years ago Geoff S, Jeff B and I walked out to the junction of Interesting and Yarramun, camped in an overhang in the area and then walked up Interesting Creek looking for one of Oliver’s passes out. I had noticed a waterfall, it looked impressive, and said to a friend that we should go back one day and do the whole creek with a couple of 60m ropes, not realising that it was actually written up in the canyon guide. We were planning on taking an exit at the last abseil and as I’d already done the 1k downstream, I’d be doing some Unfinished Business (lol).
Approaching the camp cave/overhang, didn’t look too promising to me, I was wondering at this time how good it could be.
We had to skirt around 2 small drops (4m each which would have been abseiled if we wanted, weren’t sure about abseiling waterfalls though, we’d only just gotten dry). Crossing the creek to get to the camp cave.
And yes, it was as advertised, the Belair of camp caves. Required a little excavating to get a flat spot.
Once set up we headed off upstream to check out the waterfalls.
The first of the 2 waterfalls, nice but nothing to write home about, and a deep pool that we may have dropped into.
Although Andrew and I found a way up to check out the waterfall above. I actually came to grief here on the way back, I started by myself and got to where I had to throw my leg over this big log (couldn’t go down on the side that Andrew was on), and got my left foot caught in a broken part of the tree, was left hanging there. Thankfully John came along after me and released my foot, if I’d been alone, I’d still be on that log.
This waterfall was STUNNING! The pool was emerald green and was way deep, 3 – 4m at least (well, maybe I exaggerate but it would definitely have been a swim to get out if you’d abseiled it).
Back at camp we got ready for dinner and an early night, we would start the canyon right from our door step, avoiding the first small waterfall which was right below us (none of us wanted to get wet early in the morning).
Day 2: Early next morning and we’re off, it would be a big day, all the way down the creek, find a pass out and come back to the camp cave.
The first abseil.
Andrew at the bottom of the first abseil, facing downstream.
I walked up to check out the waterfall, and yes, it would have been very wet at the bottom.
A walk downstream followed, this route was a no-go as there was a pool below the rocks. We spent much of the day trying to avoid getting wet.
Many of the routes avoided downclimbs such as this.
And there was lots of flood debris (lots of logs/sticks) to climb over/under and around.
More flood debris to get through.
Andrew found a way through the flood debris and a bonus cave.
Another interesting downclimb.
By now the walls of the canyon are starting to close in. There were many sections where the creek bed were flat rock, good easy walking.
Lots of boulders to find a route through.
A nice waterfall in a side creek.
Really pretty section of rainforest, easy walking back down to the creek bed.
Back in the creek and that nice flat rock to walk on.
A small waterfall that we’d walked around – note the colour of the water. The big rain event a month ago flushed out all these creeks, the pools prior to the rain even would have had soot and charcoal from the bushfires which was flushed out because of the amount of rain.
And we’re back to nice creek bed, oh! if the whole creek had been this easy.
Nice canyon section.
Log walking again.
And then we definitely had to get wet. Apparently if you were tall, you could cross over from where Anna was to a shallow part, Anna and I weren’t successful.
Log walking by Mule, Andrew took the safer option.
Interesting canyon section, the walls are really closing in now.
And we’re at our first abseil, interestingly Andrew decided an anchor up high would be the way to go.
Andrew on the first abseil, according to John’s notes from back in the 90s, there would be four abseils all around 4m.
Anna on the 2nd abseil (I think) – John down the bottom in a log jam.
John on the 3rd abseil (I think).
Anna on the 4th abseil (I think).
John on the 4th abseil, if you were careful at the bottom you didn’t get fully wet – I wasn’t that careful.
Shortly after the last abseil, we made our way up a side creek, looking for the pass that John had used previously, which, and I was very nervous about this, had a “tricky climb”. At this point it’s not looking all that bad.
A bit of a climb here, but not that bad.
And we stumbled upon a decent overhang! Surprisingly, with Andrew, John and Mule up front they managed to find a really good pass staying in the creek, at no point did the “tricky climb” eventuate.
We were soon back at camp, packed up our gear and headed back to the ridge, with the aim being to walk over to the headwaters of Short Creek and hopefully find a camp cave for the night.
On the way down into Short Creek (possibly).
We found the tributary of the creek, and Mule and John headed down to check out the cliff-line, Andrew Anna and I walked along the ridge and at the end dropped down to a creek junction. We heard voices nearby and soon John and Mule joined us. No luck with a camp cave from there end. Where we’d walked down the spur to join up with John and Mule, there was a half-way decent campsite, just needed a little gardening. So, with nothing better, we sent Andrew off to collect water for us all and Anna and I attempted to put up Andrew’s fly which would shelter us from any rain (hopefully).
We had a great campfire and Mule is very talented when it comes to collecting fire-wood. We were all in bed pretty early, it had been a big day. Unfortunately, there was a very heavy dew that night and everything was damp when we got up!
Undeterred, we packed up and headed up to a high point where we’d be leaving our packs, logged the spot with a GPS, left all our non-canyoning gear there. Our plan was to get back to our packs early enough in the afternoon to then go over to two camp caves that Oliver had marked on his map. Fortuitously, we took along some goon bags with us (for carrying water), as if we were delayed, there was no water nearby and we wanted to have some water just in case we had to spend the night where we left our packs (if we didn’t get back to search for a camp cave with water).
Day 3: So, we’re on a mission now, using a pass down into Short Creek, aiming for a junction with a side creek. A few downclimbs.
Half-way down, nice photo opportunity for John.
John and Mule about to descend a crack in the pagodas.
Nice ramp down a few levels of the cliff-line, you can see the nice rainforest section of the creek below.
Continuing down, the creek is getting dark, we don’t go down into the dark part (a bit of canyon) but traverse along to the left.
And we’re down at the creek, how pretty is this. The guidebook says of Short Creek “this is a spectacular gorge with a canyon section” and it’s living up to it’s write-up.
Before long we are at our first abseil. A short drop down, with a bit of an overhang. This is to avoid a waterfall and pool although we later discovered you could walk around the pool.
Looking back at the waterfall, you could probably have down-climbed this, but you couldn’t see that from above.
Andrew on Abseil #2, this again avoided another waterfall.
Anna on abseil #2, Mule took a different route to get down.
This is the waterfall and compulsory swim that we avoided.
From the last abseil, we crossed over and John sussed out a small downclimb.
Anna on the down-climb, John was below helping both Anna and me as don’t have the long legs that John has.
The canyon became prettier and prettier, with lush green ferns everywhere.
Another stunningly beautiful pool, look at that water!
A lot of standing around looking for the best way down (without getting wet).
Mule and Anna chose the direct route, a 1m drop down onto a slippery ledge.
Although once down the ledge didn’t appear slippery at all, at least not enough for Anna to slip over.
Me at the top of the second last abseil (Photo: Andrew Baker).
Anna (or John) on the second last abseil, Mule tried to pull me out of the waterfall, but I got wet anyway, and the water was freezing, I got cold very quickly.
John on the second last abseil (Photo: Andrew Baker, he takes such a good photo!)
The anchor at the top of the last 27m pitch, a bit dodgy, although John tested them rigorously, I think Mule gave them a bit of a bash with a rock. No other natural anchor available, we equalised the slings (they were a bit off), but decided that we were good to go.
Andrew on the final 27m abseil down to a ledge and then a big waterfall, with a compulsory swim once you were down at water level.
Ever heard of the Swiss Cheese Model? I first came across it in fatigue risk management the field in which I worked for the last 5 years. Basically, “It likens human systems to multiple slices of Swiss cheese, stacked side by side, in which the risk of a threat becoming a reality is mitigated by the differing layers and types of defenses which are “layered” behind each other. Therefore, in theory, lapses and weaknesses in one defense do not allow a risk to materialize, since other defenses also exist, to prevent a single point of failure. The model was originally formally propounded by James T. Reason of the University of Manchester, and has since gained widespread acceptance. It is sometimes called the “cumulative act effect”.” (Wiki).
So, there were a number of decisions I made, each taken individually would not have resulted in mishap. (1) I decided not to take a wetsuit, but two sets of thermals and a spray jacket and a space blanket just in case. (2) I decided to take my light weight harness, plus a carabiner and my Sqwurel V2 descender, also light weight, but the Sqwurel V2 doesn’t move easily on the carabiner, and it’s difficult to get the rope(s) out if the rope isn’t set to the right length, hasn’t been a big issue in the past. (3) Andrew offered to carry my lunch for me, so I wasn’t wearing a back pack. (4) Whilst I knew I would have difficulty getting off the rope in the deep pool at the bottom, I failed to suggest to Andrew how we’d fix this before he went down the rope.
So, with all these things in my mind, I donned the spray jacket, asked John to isolate the ropes so I’d be able to abseil on a single rope, considered pulling up rope to make it the right length, but without Andrew knowing the right whistle signals, had no way of communicating with him, and anyway, wasn’t sure I wanted to monkey around with a bunch of rope at the top with that dodgy anchor. So, off I went!
Me on the top ledge of the waterfall (Photo: Andrew Baker). It was a great abseil, I managed to stay out of the spray and main part of the falls. I got down to the water level, and found a small rounded rock to stand on.
And then disaster struck, all those holes in the Swiss Cheese lined up and I fell back onto the rockface. If I’d had a wetsuit on, I would have happily laid back and taken the rope off the descender, if I’d had a back pack on, my pack would have absorbed the impact, if I didn’t have that spray jacked on it would have been easier to see the descender, and if I was using my rack I would have easily gotten off. So, wind knocked out of me, incredible pain and I pretty much knew right then that I’d done serious damage – probably fractured ribs. I laid in the deep water, got off the rope and swam over to Andrew (who was taking my photo).
Absolutely stunning photo of the canyon, you can see why they call it spectacular (Photo: Andrew Baker). I didn’t take many photos after the waterfall, but this is what it looked like.
We walked down the 1k stretch of canyon looking for a pass out to the right, none presented themselves and then we all regrouped at the junction of Short Creek and the Bungleboorie Creek. When John and I met up with the others, all I could do was sit down and try to relax, Mule (bless his heart), washed the sand out of my shoes and sox (I couldn’t bend over to put them back on), and John, Andrew and Anna tried to feed me lunch (I could barely eat). I briefly thought that maybe I should set off the PLB, was a bit worried about punctured lung(s) but the thought flitted away.
Once I was feeling ok, we started the 3 – 4k walk out. Fortunately, the guys found a great pass that didn’t involve the “tricky rock climb” that John did the last time he was there.
I think this is Mule coming down from the “tricky rock climb”, John’s not sure how he did it the last time, but we sure weren’t doing it this time, thank God.
The route we took was great, although I was slow going up the hill, any jarring of my back was excruciating. I was very slow even when we got up to the ridge, and it was soon dark and torches came out – another hour I think of walking in the dark. But, Andrew and John led us unerringly to our packs and they all got down to setting up camp, thank goodness we’d taken goon bags down to the creek to bring up water. I took some heavy duty drugs and surprisingly managed to get a good night’s sleep.
DAY 4: We packed up in the morning, Anna, Andrew, Mule and John taking most of the contents of my pack, had a quick breakfast and then headed across Lost Flat Mountain. We didn’t get lost, and it was definitely flat but doubt you could call it a mountain!
Andrew and John early in the trip looking for the way forward.
Lovely grassy swamp area that we walked through. On the horizon you could see Mount Irvine and our destination. By now we are in mobile range but it didn’t occur to me to set off the PLB, it was painful but only when I jarred my back (or laughed, coughed or sneezed).
We passed a bower bird bower.
We had to drop down into a creek, our goal on our way out to find two Camp Caves that Oliver had marked on his map.
Heading down into the creek.
At the creek, waiting while Andrew and John went looking for the first cave … didn’t find it.
Packs back on and on the way again, interesting hanging violets.
Andrew, Anna and John took to the creek. Mule and I tried cross-country, that turned out to be a big mistake, we bush based for an hour or so and then decided wet feet/clothes was probably the better idea.
Scrubby bloody creek.
Finally caught up with the others and we had “second breakfast”, Andrew got a fire going to put the billy on, and to warm ourselves up.
Out of the creek and up onto an easy walking ridge. I’m still feeling ok, although not without pain.
Came across a dinosaur rock (obviously I’m not in so much pain I can’t still take photos!
Dropping down to the Wollangambe River where there was supposed to be a pass down (as shown on Oliver’s map).
20m above the Wollangambe with Mt Irvine and the car on the horizon, sitting waiting for Andrew and John to find the pass.
No pass, no way forward other than abseiling, Andrew went down first to check for problems.
Mule on the first abseil.
Me on the abseil – John said “put your feet on the rock look graceful”, I can’t it hurts too much! I was expecting an easy walk down a pass, not to be doing 2 bonus abseils.
Waiting for the second abseil, very close to the edge.
Mule abseiling down to the Wollangambe, finally we were down to the River! I was now expecting things to get so much better, we were so close to the cars!
Crossing the River, harder than expected, but at least not a swim. We had lunch on the bank of the river, I was feeling good now, we were so close!
The start of the route we would take up to the cars – a mere 750m but all up hill.
So, I guess we were all happy to get down to the Wollangambe, but now it turned interesting again. First of all, we were taking a route marked on Oliver’s map, and which Anna had also done and she said it was “easy”. John had looked over the river (from the abseil) and said our pass is just across the river. Now, we all remember looking on the map and seeing that we had a 200 – 300m walk upstream before we got to the route, but we all seemed to forget about this when we got down to the bottom. So up we went.
Anna got to this and said “this is not right James and I wouldn’t have done this climb by ourselves”, and then we started to think that maybe we were pushing a different pass.
I stopped taking photos after this, it was hard going, twice we had to put down hand lines to assist us getting up, a couple of times we did pack hauling, another time they had to help me up a steep rock and then finally three was the slot of death, well, it wasn’t that bad for everyone else but very exposed for me – although Andrew top-belayed me (I was never going to fall) and John gave me his knee to step on.
I thought after the slot of death, we were home and hosed, just 200m away from the cars, but no, we’d pushed a new pass, but we still had to traverse around the 2 creeks we’d walked beside and up to the road, about 500m of traversing. At this stage I’m thinking, “I should have set off that PLB this morning!”. We were back at the car (almost kissed the ground) around 3.30pm much later than we anticipated.
I couldn’t face a drive home so Marcia very kindly put me up at Chez Marcia’s in Blackheath – was great to have a hot shower.
So, bottom line is fracture of 8th and 9th ribs but everything else ok, prescription for some heavy duty drugs which I took advantage of. 8 days from the event, I have to say that I’m feeling so much better and have stopped the heavy duty drugs.
Thank you EVERYONE for getting me out of the wilderness, I hope you all had a good time, and for anyone looking at Interesting and Short Creeks, it was a FABULOUS trip!
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