Picture Canyon – the best canyon in the Budawangs

THE BUDAWANGS – 11 & 12 June 2022
Every once in a while you lead a trip when nothing goes according to plan, but at the end of the weekend, you realise that what you did was meant to happen.  This was one of those trips and we got to see Picture Canyon – “the best canyon in the Budawangs”, according to the Budawangs Bushwalks book, mind you, I think there’s only one!

The Back Story:  Back in March, I’d planned to do a long weekend trip, take a group down Long Gully multi pitch abseil, leave them camped on the banks of the Shoalhaven, walk up to my car and a “warm bed” and hang around camp the next day when they did Fordham (which I’ve done before and have no need to do again).  Then they’d walk up to the cars, meet me there and we’d either camp there, or on another ridge and the next day do Washed Away Creek (been on my wish list for ages).

Between March and June, there’d been a LOT of rain and I’d heard that you needed a 4WD to access either Trestle Track ridge or Matodoro Ridge (I needed to go out on both these ridges to achieve my goal).  Two of the participants had 4WDs so all was good.  The water level at Highview (a river gauge) had to be below 1m for safe crossing of the Shoalhaven to get to Fordham.  When I looked at it 10 days ago it was 1.5m and falling – I predicted that it would be below 1m at the rate it was falling.  So, we’re all good to go.

Then one of the group couldn’t go (I’m down to 1 x 4WD then), and the weather forecast was for a high of something ridiculous like 12ºC and a low of 2ºC.  Then, on Thursday, I checked the river gauge and it’s still at 1.3m – there’s no way it would drop sufficiently for a safe crossing (although Louise said she’d be taking a pool ring!), and even if they could cross, they’d be frozen at the other side.  Then there was the 4WD problem, if I couldn’t drive my car in (because of a fallen tree or unpassable 4WD track), I’d have to camp down on the river with the others, along with Cheryl, a new canyoner.  I thought it was too risky having Cheryl take a heavy pack through the canyon (it was going to be her first BIG canyon).  Bit of a dodgy Risk Assessment (right?).  So, I looked at alternatives, this trip would have to be shelved.

Murray N suggested Back Range and Bulee Creeks, and Louise said she’d always wanted to check out these creeks, so, voila, the plans changed to an overnight walk into this creek system.  The others, Onni, Diana, and Cheryl were happy to do anything, so, we were all set.

Cheryl and I drove down to Marulan and stayed the night there, good thing we did, it was freezing and it was blowing a gale.  When we got up in the morning it was still gale force winds, probably a good thing we weren’t abseiling Long Gully!

We all met up at the assigned spot, stood around and chatted for a while waiting for Louise to arrive and headed down to where we’d park some of the cars.  Another group was already there, and they said they intended camping at the overhang that Murray N said was there.  But the leader kindly suggested another overhang “which was better” than the one they were using, so we headed off (in the gale force winds).

A short walk down an old fire trail, and then we headed off into the wilderness. The Legendary Louise had examined the terrain and logged a track that we would follow, avoiding most of the scrub and taking in all the highlights in the area.

“Onni – we should be heading this way” (Onni was out in front route finding and Louise was behind him, keeping him honest with the right bearing!) I on the other hand was having a lovely time at the back, I’m getting so lazy about navigating but totally trust Lou, so makes it really easy.

Another stop to keep Onni honest!

Before long we were wending out way down into a tributary of Back Range Creek.

Even this little tributary was “nice”, not scrubby as a lot of creeks are. The refrain for Louise and me for the whole weekend is “this reminds me so much of Jones Creek” (which we both love).

Crossed the tributary and now we’re back on a ridge – Cheryl checking out those cliffs across the creek. This is Cheryl’s first off track adventure.

In Back Range Creek now and heading downstream.

Lots of boulders and fallen trees to avoid.

And quick sand to avoid! Crossing to the other side of the creek Louise trod on a floating rock, had to be dragged out by Onni – to everyone’s amusement – we now knew to beware of the silt.

Another creek crossing, Onni there to keep us steady on a moving rock – the water was soooo cold, no-one wanted to get wet feet.  I think Onni was enjoying being the only guy on the trip.

Now, this is getting really interesting, apparently you can continue down the creek, let’s see.

Onni took one for the team and continued down to see if there was a way past the waterfall.  Maybe in summer there is but none of us wanted to get wet, so, how to go forward without backtracking?

Us ladies up above watching Onni navigate the cascades – very slippery (photo Onni).

Yep, we’re going to have to take the Traverse of Death, not looking forward to it (photo Onni).

This gives you a better idea of how intimidating it is. (photo Onni)

Yep, we all survived the Traverse of Death! (photo: Onni)

Back up on the ridge and we’re making our way to the campsite for the night, by now I have no idea where we are!

We followed a short cut Louise had determined, going down a ramp to our campsite. (photo: Cheryl or Diana)

We found the “good” overhang with the other party in it, then found this one (the “better” one). Ah well, it is what it is, very small, we’re not sure it’s the right one, will scout around a bit more.

On a mission now to look at Picture Canyon

This is the end of the canyon, it’s a couple of hundred metres long. Onni walked up in ankle deep water to check out more of it, Diana, Cheryl and I decided it wasn’t worth while getting wet feet. Louise stood there having a major fit of FOMO seeing Onni get further and further up the creek.

Then decided that she couldn’t miss out so headed up. She didn’t get far, though, by the time she realised she’d be in water up to her knees she decided that it wasn’t worth getting wet feet AND wet legs, so she retreated (with very cold feet).

On our way back to the overhang, I walked downstream a short way to see where the creek was going and found this nice water hole (good for swimming).

We’ve all agreed that a summer trip back to Back Range Creek is a “must do” for this summer, the waterfalls were so enticing and the pools so inviting that we’ll have to come back.

With no other overhang in sight, we decided to make do with the small space. We lit a fire and got down to the business of making dinner. The wind was howling but amazingly we were pretty sheltered.

The overhang looks better than it is, Diana’s sitting on a ledge up at the back of it, I was sitting up near her and it was really good with the fire down below, actually nice and warm, but every now and then the wood got very smoky and we were almost asphyxiated. (Photo: Onni or Cheryl)

Cheryl possibly had the most cramped area, but it was definitely sheltered. Diana and I put down our mats in front of her and beside the fire (by then just embers).

Some of us were up at 6am, others had a bit of a sleep in. I was hoping for a lovely sunrise but we didn’t get sun in the cave until around 8.30. We were off by 9am heading back to the car(s).

Back up on the ridge, and the arrow shows you where the “right” overhang was. We all decided that our overhang was way better as we were sheltered from the wind during the night. The wind was fierce and very loud, wouldn’t have wanted to be out under trees in a tent, or in this exposed overhang.  My question is, how did the person that first found the overhang pick it out from this distance?

Louise made a direct track to the cars, avoiding a lot of scrub,  it was really nice bush to walk through.

We’d been told that there was a patch of “bad acacia”, and we were finally in it. I have to say though, that as thick as it was it wasn’t bad at all – not like hakea or banksia, was actually pretty friendly.

Back in decent bush, we were at the end of the acacia patch.

And, back on the fire trail, easy-as. We were back at the cars by 11am I think – a 2 hour walk out, how good is that!

Back at the cars Louise and I looked at the map and I pointed out where Wave Cave was and we came up with another brilliant trip to add to our Wish List for the future.  Then Louise headed off for Wollongong and the rest of us headed for Gretas Road.

At Gretas Road, we found that Diana had a flat tyre, Onni helping with the tyre while the girls changed it (lol).  Luckily, Cheryl’s car didn’t start when we got to the cars so Onni went back to see what was wrong, it was then he discovered that Diana had a flat.

Once the tyre was fixed, we headed to Nerriga Pub for lunch and to decide what to do with the rest of the long weekend.  We all agreed to leave Washed Away Creek for another weekend – then Louise (and Anna) would be able to join us, plus  I didn’t want to carry a 60m rope for the abseil!  So, after our lunch we headed home, we all had “stuff” to do, so we didn’t feel like we’d missed out on anything.

So, why were parts of this trip meant to happen (or every cloud has a silver lining)?

  • If I hadn’t changed my mind about the actual trip, we would have been out on the Trestle Track camping in those gale force winds, wouldn’t have been good, plus we could have been stuck on the track with a downed tree, that’s how bad the wind was.
  • If I hadn’t sent a message saying I was late, which meant Louise could stay in a spot where she had reception, we would all have arrived on time and set off ahead of the other group.  We would have arrived earlier and would have had that very exposed overhang as the other group would have been behind us – we all agreed that the smaller overhang that we had was much more protected from the wind – we had a good night, we’re not sure the others did.
  • If we hadn’t gone to Back Range & Bulee Creeks, we wouldn’t have known how good they were and I doubt whether Louise or I would have picked them as an overnight walk – a bit too easy for both of us lol.
  • As we were back at the cars so early and sat around and chatted for a while as we weren’t in a hurry to head off, we now have two new trips on our wish list – a Summer trip in Back Range/Picture Canyon and a shoulder season trip to do Washed Away Creek with a decadence camp in Wave Cave.
  • If Cheryl’s car had started, Diana would have driven all the way to Nerriga on a flat tyre (neither she nor I are good about noticing flat tyres).
  • Finally, the drive home in the early afternoon without being in “end of Long Weekend Traffic” was a bonus, I was home by 5pm!

Thanks Onni, Diana and Cheryl for joining me and a HUGE thank you to Lou for plotting the route for me – it was perfect!  Can’t wait to go back in the summer.


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