30/09-02/10/2000 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Liz Edye, Matt Dowle
This was originally intended to be a walk from Culoul Range down the Colo to Canoe Creek, but a combination of a late start, early finish and desire to have a bit of a slack time conspired to make us change plans mid walk.
Initially wanting to do a loop walk, we needed a second vehicle at the exit point. Lack of a second car meant doing a "bike-shuffle" - dropping my mountain bike off at the end of the Grassy Hill Fire Trail, the exit from Canoe Creek. We then had to drive back out on the same fire trail, and then on to the Culoul Range Fire Trail. About 30km on fire roads all up - not much fun in a two-wheel drive car.
Day 1: Culoul Range to Colo River/Wollemi Ck junction (6km)
After a short detour to Hollow Rock, which is much as its name describes it - a large and impressive hollow rock - we followed fire trails and fairly well marked tracks down to the cliff edge.
The views up and down the Colo from Crawford's Lookout are quite spectacular, as the cliffs drop away very steeply down to the river over 200m below. After taking our fill, we wandered around the path to the north side to find the track down. There were a couple of possible options for the pass, but after wandering back and forth we picked the one marked with the cairn. The track is pretty hairy - a lot of loose rocks and stones on a very steep slope - and it was not long before our legs were shaking, either from nervousness or just the effort of the continuing descent.
Then disaster almost struck. Lowering Liz's pack down a ledge, both Matt and Liz each thought the other had hold of it, and off it rolled. I tried to stick out a foot to stop it, but had no chance on the steep slope. We watched with bated breath as the pack picked up speed, hoping that a friendly tree would halt its headlong flight. Ten metres, twenty metres, thirty metres, it disappeared from sight still crashing through the bush and then ... silence. Scrambling down the loose slope, we could just see Liz's pack sitting right on the edge of a ledge well below us, hanging over another twenty metre drop! Lucky! The three of us climbed down and passed it carefully back up to the path.
Liz was the unfortunate victim again when she slipped on a rock and opened a nasty looking gash in her leg. Thankfully it was painful but not disabling, and after a break we finished the descent even more carefully.
After a well-deserved lunch stop on the other side of Wollemi Creek, we made the decision not to go to Canoe Creek. It was looking a tough ask, and by taking it easy we could do a bit of exploring. We started to make our way towards the junction with the Colo. The going was pretty slow as the river was too deep to wade in, and the right bank was relatively overgrown. We came out of the bush onto the river near a party of five swimming and sunbaking. Stopping for a chat, we found out that Darren (the leader) and his group had come down the south side of the bottom section of the ridge, instead of the north side. This is a trackless jungle, and certainly not an easy descent, particularly with a few inexperienced members. Darren also said that they were supposed to meet a couple of friends, Ken and Brendan, at the junction, and if we bumped into them to let them know.
A quick twenty minutes of rock hopping later we were at the junction. Sure enough, there with a campfire already going were Ken and Brendan. They had taken the same route in as we had. Ken had climbed out of here up a different pass over twenty years before with John Crawford (after whom Crawford's Lookout was named) and he was keen to find the route again. We were looking over the maps, and arguing where the pass was when Darren turned up from upriver and joined in the debate. It was still raging when I left to help with (read: eat) dinner.
Being such a warm, clear night we didn't bother with tents, and settled down around the fire to sleep. Fine, until the wind picked up and started blowing sand around. Thankfully most of the wind seemed to be higher up in the gorge - I don't quite know how the air flows in a gorge work.
Day 2: Wollemi Ck junction to Boorai Ck junction (7km)
The wind didn't die down for breakfast, so we took breakfast up the Colo a little way where the sun was shining into the gorge. I made the unfortunate mistake of sitting on a bull ant, much to Liz and Matt's amusement. Luckily it was biting through two layers of clothing, but it still got a fair piece of me. I took petty revenge on the ant but it was rather too late, and I was sore for the rest of the day.
If you have ever walked in the Colo before you will know about the quicksand. What looks like solid river bed disappears from under your foot and leaves you waist-deep in sand and water. All your walking companions get a good laugh ... until the same happens to them! A walking pole or a stick becomes very useful, both for catching your balance each time you pick the wrong spot, and for pushing yourself out once you've misstepped.
The first few kilometres were much like this. Sandbank to sandbank, trying to pick the shallowest path down the river, sinking occasionally. As we were walking barefoot, I taped my feet before we left. Matt and Liz declined, but after a kilometre they decided to do the same.
The river got deeper in spots, and we had a bit of climbing as well as a couple of extended trips up onto the bank. Just as we reached another point where we had to make a decision about which bank to pick, we heard a crashing in the bushes, and another party of three emerged. Chatting to them, they were walking our route in reverse, and we found they had walked on the same bank all the way from Boorai Ridge. About two hours they said, all reasonably straightforward, although a bit of a bush bash at times. They also mentioned that the track out up Boorai Ridge emerged on the south side, next to an old battery.
All was much as they said. It took a bit longer, including a break for luncn, for us to reach the rapids across from Boorai Ridge. We waded across there, and having some time to spare, ditched packs and went for a bit of an explore downstream. The shallow sand banks returned after being absent for 4km, which meant we could walk in the creek again. Heading downstream, we found and noted a good sheltered campsite around the south side of the ridge. We couldn't spot any sign of a battery, however, I saw what looked like a travelled section of the river bank, and headed up it. At the top was a small cairn, and potentially a rough track up the steep slope. Meanwhile, Matt and Liz wandered further downstream without seeing anything else, so we figured the cairn was as good a bet as any.
After the obligatory marshmallows and port around the campfire, Liz and Matt headed for the tents, while I chanced the wind again. Luckily no wind that night!
Day 3: Boorai Ck to Culoul Range (8km)
The next morning we headed back to the cairn and started up the steep slope. It was certainly easier and quicker than going down, and it was about an hour's climb to the top, including lookout stops. Once at the top, the trail opens out into an old 4WD track. This looks good, but quickly we found that it was rather overgrown. Not hard walking, but annoying at times, particularly with patches of blackberries and stinging nettles. However, an hour and a half's walk brought us back to the car, where we had to do the 30km of fire trails again to retrieve my bike!