27-28/02/2010 - report - photos - Lower Bowens Creek North Canyon track notes
Participants: Tom Brennan, James Yorston, Naomi Yorston
For James' birthday, we were originally looking at going down King Georges Brook. The two of us had been there some years ago and exited at a nice looking dark section. However, the trip down to Carmarthen Brook and then up the bottom section of Thunder Gorge looked like it could be a couple of longish days. Instead we decided to head down the lower part of Bowens Creek. I suggested coming down the lower part of the north branch, and continuing downstream to Zircon Creek. I had heard of a likely camp cave at the junction with Waterfall Creek, so that seemed like a reasonable overnight trip.
After a stop at North Richmond, we dropped James' bike at the head of the fire trail we expected to exit on, and then drove back to near Wynnes Rocks. A large minibus with St Lukes Grammar emblazoned on the side was also parked at the start. After a stroll to the anthill, we headed in down the gully. I had done the lower section of Bowens Creek North only a few weeks before. The deluge of early February had taken its toll and there were numerous fallen trees obscuring the track. The track also had added slipperiness for good measure. We headed downstream at Bowens Creek and were fairly quickly at the first abseil. There was a group in front of us, probably the St Lukes group judging by the size. We harnessed and wetsuited up some way back and had some morning tea while they abseiled. An impressive amount of water was going over the waterfalls, much more than in late Jan.
By the time we had finished the first abseil and headed down to the top of the next, there was another group behind us, but the group in front had gone. From there to the junction was spectacular, though we moved fairly quickly.
With a couple of groups having lunch at the junction, we pushed on downstream. After a scramble, the next section of canyon was impressive, with some long swims and dark passages. It was quite some distance before it opened out, and we had lunch under an overhang.
Just downstream from here were a couple more good overhangs that would have made nice camp caves, but we needed to press on. Unfortunately the creek from here was less impressive. There were occasional short sections of canyon, but quite a lot of scrubby creek walking through water gums and boulders. We spent some time on the bank as it was faster going, though that didn't usually last long. Near the sharp bend we climbed up and over the point, and it from high above the creek it looked like you could easily walk up the ridge. However, we scrambled back down to the creek and made our way finally to the Waterfall Creek junction.
I had hopes for a camp cave, but after a fair bit of reccying, the best we had turned up was a small overhang which would struggle to fit us all. At this point it was late in the day and our options weren't good - either continue downstream and hope, explore up Waterfall Creek, or abandon Sunday's plans and try and get out up Waterfall Creek before dark. We decided to abandon packs and try and find a cave in Waterfall Creek. The creek was very pretty, but after several hundred metres we hadn't found anything. Cutting our losses we returned to the overhang and tried to make it serviceable. I collected some firewood while James and Naomi flattened enough floor for three.
In the end it proved pretty good, though we had to put the fire out before we could go to bed!
In the morning we tidied up our little campsite and donned the wet wetsuits. Despite some promising sections, the rest of Bowens Creek was rather disappointing. No real canyon, and plenty of slow scrubby scrambling amongst boulders. Also no signs of any more camp caves, though we weren't looking particularly hard. We passed the unremarkable Mill Creek junction and kept going towards Zircon Creek. This last section took us some time and it was a bit of a late lunch at the junction by the time we got there at about 1:30pm.
After lunch we started up the creek. Zircon Creek was absolutely beautiful. Easy boulder scrambling up pleasant little falls in a massive narrow and cliff lined gorge. Up we headed until what I dreaded we might find - a waterfall of about 7m covering the width of the gorge. Luckily it looked to have plenty of hand and foot holds. I started up the first bit but had to swing my pack on to a ledge half way up as there was an awkward move. Some loose hand and footholds added to the fun. At the top I could see another waterfall, but this one looked to be easier. I sent down a rope for the others and belayed them up.
Near the top of the next waterfall came the problem I hadn't seen. A narrow cleft with masses of water pouring down into it. Not fun. James managed to find a route up the left and we climbed up that way and hauled packs.
By now the gorgeous creek was starting to wear on us. I could see another waterfall a bit further upstream. James and Naomi kept to the high ground on the right while I walked up the creek. When I reached the fall, a massive fallen tree at the bottom blocked any easy access, and I soon gave up. This turned out to be lucky. As I rejoined James and Naomi, I could see the main waterfall of some 12m had been hidden. Even if I had managed to get through I probably would have had an impossible task.
Given where we were, we decided that it wasn't worth trying to regain the creek and climb out on the correct side. Better just to keep heading up and come out a bit further down the road. Naomi led us up through a few small cliff lines, negotiating them via a series of ledges and breaks. One final larger cliff line loomed. James picked a line up a steep ramp, and we were soon at the top looking down a nearly sheer ascent.
Unfortunately the scrub on the ridge was fairly unpleasant, and it was quite a bash back to the road. Then it was a slog of 2.5km back to the bike, with James the lucky one to get to retrieve the car. James returned just as it started to rain. A rather more exciting weekend than planned!
While the section just downstream from the junction was excellent, if I was going back, I'd certainly either exit up Waterfall Creek or the ridge just before.