17-18/01/2015 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay
Both Rachel and I had previously been into Explorers Brook in its upper sections, and the lower canyon had been on our hit list for at least 5 years. We had been sick or injured for Rich's SBW trip in 2014, and so had missed out. Rachel had been hassling me about it for a while, and I had kept raising the issue of needing a car shuffle. When a fine weekend came up, I decided we could just roll the dice, and hitch if required.
After a bit of disorganisation at North Richmond Bakery, we managed to score a car shuffle with Ro and Mike, who were off to do South Bowens with a Sydney Bush Walkers trip. We left our car at the new Claustral car park, and jumped in with them for the 6km ride up to Mt Banks, so that was that bit sorted.
A short walk along the fire trail led us to an old fire trail, which we followed for a bit along open ridges with great views across to Mt Hay. The fire trail slowly petered out, and then the ridges became progressively less open. We navigated through scrub to the top of a knife-edge ridge that led to the junction of Explorers Brook and a tributary, and were puzzled to find a large rock arrow on the ground, pointing straight down the hill. Presumably, as we found out later, the same arrow as found by a SUBW party over 10 years earlier! We hoped that it pointing down the ridge meant that there was a pass. My only knowledge of that ridge was from looking at the aerial photos, which looked promising for getting in.
The ridge was steep going, though only one short section where we had an exposed sidle above Explorers Brook to avoid small cliff lines. At a saddle we were able to make our way down steeply into the side creek, which flowed through an interesting tunnel on its way into Explorers Brook. After morning tea before the junction, we headed off down the main creek, which immediately disappeared completely underground, a dry sandy bed showing no sign of any flowing water. Of course, it reappeared on the other side of a massive boulder jam.
A section of canyon arrived, which started off with some wading, and then turned into a swim. We hadn't put wetsuits on, so retreated to some boulders and did the balancing act on them to get suited up. The canyon section was relatively short, and in hindsight, we would have been better off not bothering with the wetsuits. It would be close to 2 hours before we would really need them again.
Like the Bowens Creek Canyons, Explorers Brook (Buramin Canyon) seems to be home to plenty of large yabbies. Over the weekend, we saw several lobster-sized ones, including a few out of water, which is quite unusual. Most weren't so happy to see us, waving their claws in annoyance!
Rachel also spotted several eels, giving a surprised shriek at one that swam through her legs in the canyon!
Other than one more short section of canyon, it was a fair walk to reach a large waterfall. We assumed this would be the start of the main canyon section. We had a late lunch on top of the waterfall, which tumbled into a large pool through several pretty rock arches. Looking at photos from previous trips, the options for abseiling the falls seemed to be either down the right, or left and then down the falls itself. It seemed a bit of a waste not to abseil the falls, so we did a short abseil to a platform, and then tried to ascertain if our two 20m ropes would be enough to get us down the main drop. We left the first drop in place, while I threw the rope trying to see if it hit the pool. In the end we moved anchors to a tree a couple of metres lower, and were able to see the rope hit the water with about 2m to spare. The abseil was very nice, though slippery, and with care you could even avoid getting a pounding from the substantial flow over the falls.
The abseil ended in the water, and a swim across the pool followed. Looking back from the bottom of the falls, the drop seemed strangely reminiscent of Short Creek, both the falls themselves, the pool, and the gorge below.
We unharnessed, assuming there were no more drops, only to put them back on less than a hundred metres downstream. In hindsight, a dodgy tree might have meant we could avoid using the rope, but it was safer just to abseil.
At this point, the canyon was more of a gorge, but it soon narrowed and entered some dark sections. A short waterjump and swim followed in the narrowest section of the canyon. Some more walking through narrow canyon brought us eventually to the junction with King George Brook. We had been there the same weekend the previous year, so were familiar with it. Less so downstream, as we pressed on.
At a massive slippery boulder we recognised where Rich had injured his hand on their trip. The boulder was greasy as, and I refrained from trying to run down it as it looked likely to end in tears. Even getting close enough to the edge to just jump was a challenge! Rachel sensibly bypassed by climbing down the side.
This section of creek was mild canyon, in an impressive gorge with massively high and straight sides. It didn't last that long, and we were soon back to rock hopping. The sandstone at this level seems to be much finer-grained than further upstream. Possibly the amount of basalt in the catchment makes for a more nutrient rich water. The combination of these results in slippery rocks covered with fine layers of algae, and every step is treacherous. You spend a lot of time on your bum, either because it's easier, or because you've slipped over.
One section had a drop of about three metres, and from photos we knew that Rich's party had traversed the ledge on the right. I had a look at this, and baulked, given how slippery the ledge was. Eventually we rigged a handline around the end of a log, down a slippery slab, which I thought would pull down OK. Unfortunately it didn't. Rachel gave me a foothold, and I was able to climb back up the slimy boulder, retrieve the rope, and come down the slab without a rope. A bit of a time-wasting exercise!
It was almost 7 o'clock when we reached a couple of small overhangs that Rich had mentioned. We chose the rock one so that we could spread out wet gear without getting it dirty, collected some wood, and settled down for happy hour, drinks (port!) and dinner.
The next morning we were away by 8:30am or so, slipping and sliding our way down to the junction with Carmarthen Brook. My knee was for some reason playing up, and all of the slippery boulders weren't helping. We both had our wetsuits on, though there wasn't really a lot of need for them. There was a lovely pool and rock slabs at the junction, which would probably be a pleasant enough spot to camp.
Rather than brave the slippery rocks in the bottom of Carmarthen Brook, we took to the cliffs on the southern side, and apart from one sketchy spot, made pretty good going for the next hour. We passed a good camp cave, the first we had really seen, and then reached the bottom of a large boulder blockup where we stopped for morning tea. We watched a large yabby chasing tadpoles around with little success, assuming he was actually trying to catch them! Rachel's wetsuit was rubbing on her back and causing her bruises, and she decided to dispense with it as we hadn't actually used them.
Predictably, just past this we hit a canyon section that started with a swim. Rachel tried to go over the top on ledges, and ended up stuck. I swam through, only to run into a fallen tree and vines that made progress very slow and difficult. I eventually got through and was able to check out a way down for Rachel on the other side. Another long swim ended at a small waterfall with a very slippery ledge to get up. I gave Rachel a foothold, then passed up my pack, after which I was able to get up.
We had a quick look up a couple of other slots on the way to Gaping Gill, and then pushed on for lunch at the usual Claustral exit. We were a little surprised not to see anyone else at the exit, given it was about the time that parties would often arrive.
The exit itself was relatively uneventful, though a slog with overnight packs. We did pass one party on the way out, a father and two kids having a break on the Camels Hump, and chatted to them for 15 minutes. All up it took us about 3 hours to exit.