11/02/2005 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Caoimhin Ardren
Leaving Sydney at a relatively respectable hour, we headed along the Hume Highway in Caoimhin's van to Marulan, and turned off towards Bungonia. Past Bungonia we expected the road to be dirt, but a surprising amount was sealed. Caoimhin mentioned that there was a good burger place in Nerriga, and as it was well and truly lunchtime, we decided to stop. If you're ever in Nerriga, stop for a burger. They are fantastic. And the chips are good too. But it's not open on Tuesday or Wednesday so be careful there!
Over lunch we hatched a plan, involving a descent down Bullfrog Creek, down Ettrema Creek to Myall Creek and Jones Creek, explore Jones Creek and then finally exit up Transportation Spur. It wasn't likely to take us the five days (well four and a half once you considered it was already lunchtime!) but allowed extra side trips if we found something interesting.
Our starting spot was a place with the interesting sounding name "The Jumps" on the Tolwong Road. In reality The Jumps is just a saddle in the road, and there is nothing much looking like a jump in sight. We spent a bit of time packing, repacking and rerepacking and my pack in the end came down to a reasonable weight for a five day walk. When we were finally ready, we headed off down Bullfrog Creek looking for adventure.
If adventure involves picking through scrub and criss-crossing creeks then I guess we found it. Progress was mostly slow, speeding up only when we cut across the spurs and avoided the creek. Most of the problems came from "random trees" - trees that had fallen across the best route - shortened to "randoms" by the end of the day, as there were so many. These were mostly at the inconvenient height where the main trunk was just too high to climb over, but just too low to duck under.
We were about halfway to our targeted destination for the evening at the junction with Ettrema Creek when the sole fell off Caoimhin's boot. At less than a couple of hours into the first day of the walk, that wasn't a good sign. He tied it on with the lace, and headed up a side creek to try and get back to the car, and some replacement shoes. I did a bit of scouting out downstream for campsites, and up to the cliffline for camp caves, without finding anything too inspiring. It took him about an hour and a half to get back wearing Volleys, via the side creek that avoided the scrub in Bullfrog.
The going got easier and the creek opened out with rocky pools, boulders and the occasional slab, almost becoming pleasant. My hope for a campsite at the junction was dashed we finally made it to Ettrema Creek just before dark. All we found was a rocky beach. A bit of scouting up and down stream turned up a serviceable spot under an overhanging boulder, next to a very nice pool. We had a swim before the lights went out and settled down to our meal of pork chops and potatoes.
The next day we got off to a latish start - something that would be a bit of a theme for the trip - by not getting up until after 9. There was quite a bit of rock hopping and sidling to avoid getting our feet wet, things that took a fair bit of time and effort. On a number of occasions it would have been quicker to take our shoes off, but the creek bottom was usually rocky and uncomfortable to walk on.
After a swim and lunch on a large boulder overlooking a pleasant but slightly shallow pool, we pushed on towards Sentry Box Canyon. Just shy of the canyon we finally got to a bouldering challenge that required us to get our feet wet. Caoimhin got to within a move or so of avoiding it, but was eventually forced to remove his Volleys while hanging off a hold with his other hand. I assumed there would be more wading through the canyon, but it wasn't much of a canyon and it was quite easy to stay dry.
From the delightful rock pools that we had encountered for most of the day, the last few hundred metres to the Myall Creek junction was quite unpleasant. Overgrown with weeds, the boulders were hard to separate from the water, and nettles abounded. We found a small campsite just upstream on Myall Creek, that I had camped at five years earlier, and looked about for a non-existent deep pool to swim in. We had to be satisfied with a shallow one for a quick rinse.
The next day Caoimhin suggested we attempt a day trip up Myall Ridge to Churinga Head, then traverse into Myall Creek and return to camp. We didn't know anything about the access along the various bits of the route, although it seemed like the main challenge would be finding a pass through Churinga Head. At a knoll a short way up Myall Ridge we had spectacular views to the left back down to Ettrema Creek, with a sheer cliff dropping away beneath us. We traversed a knife edge section of ridge between Ettrema Creek and Myall Creek to gain a steep scree slope that we rapidly ascended. At a rocky outcrop we had good views of the cliff lines we were aiming to breach, and spotted a few hopeful weaknesses.
Scrambling over a few more rocky knolls, it was a short climb up to the sandstones walls at the top. Our best line of attack through the cliff was thwarted by a smooth section of rock only two metres high at the top of a good series of holds, and we searched around for alternatives. Heading right, we switchbacked across a dodgy looking scree slope and then followed the cliffline around as it dropped in height until we could climb up. From there it was a short walk across the scrubby tops and rocky beehives of sandstone to a fantastic lookout on the north side of Churinga Head. We had uninterrupted views for many kilometres up and down the gorge and we sat for a long time gazing at the amazing rock features.
After a long break, we traversed around to Churinga Head proper, and then further around to a sandstone knob looking over the creek to the north, which required some scrambling to get up on top. From there it was back to the cliffline where we had climbed up, and we sidled down aiming for an obvious ridge that should take us down to Myall Creek above the cascades. However, we dropped off the side too early and ended up traversing a dodgy scree slope with slippery slabs and steep drop-offs below us. We eventually made it to our target ridge, and it was an easy walk down into the creek.
The cascades in Myall Creek were superb, with some interesting scrambles thrown in. The water coursed over angled slabs down a long series of drops, before the creek finally flattened out for a while. Unfortunately it got somewhat weedy at this point, presumably a legacy of cattle grazing in Quiera Clearing at the top of the creek. We soon reached the final cascade, a 9m waterfall into a beautiful pool, where we had to stop for a swim. The last few hundred metres back to camp were again a bit weedy, which was disappointing given the supposed wilderness nature of the area. Still, we had had a good day of exploration and interest.
Thursday saw us leave our campsite of the last two nights and head downstream. The aim for the day was to explore Jones Creek and possibly the associated mining caves, and then make our way to the foot of Transportation Spur, which was to be our exit on the final day. The by-now lazy start for the day had the clock on my camera telling us it was 11:30am, so we made quick time down to the Jones Creek junction for a snack.
After lunch we set off without packs to explore. The walking up Jones Creek was delightful, weed-free on open rocky slabs. There was some easy scrambling until we reached the first of the major falls, a beautiful drop into a huge deep pool. The water was a dark green, and very clear, the result of the falls being on the edge of the limestone band. Caoimhin climbed down the falls from the top, which looked dodgy from below, but turned out to be easier than it looked. We found the more obvious of the mining shafts, although we had forgotten to bring torches. Caoimhin luckily pointed out that the shaft turned almost immediately downwards, as I almost stepped forward in the darkness.
There were a couple more falls to negotiate, one which was quite wet and slippery, until we reached the impressive Tinga Falls. These drop nearly 40m into a beautiful pool, and it was unfortunate that the day wasn't warmer for a swim. We amused ourselves for a while skimming stones across the pool and trying to make them land on the other side with only one bounce.
Retracing our steps, we kept an eye out for the other mine shaft which we had not yet found. I misjudged a wobbly rock and slipped on it, spraining a couple of fingers painfully. While I iced my fingers in the cold water, Caoimhin managed to find the other mine shaft hidden above the creek behind a wall of bushes at the top of a small cliff. Not easy to spot!
Back at the junction with Ettrema Creek, we settled down for lunch, and as it was getting latish, discussed whether to push on or stay put at the pleasant campsite. We agreed that it would be much better to finish the creek walking today and just have the climb out for tomorrow, so we shouldered packs. Progress was a little slow, as the creek widened, stepping stones became more spread apart, and the pools longer. Eventually we reached a point where the creek had us caught, and we were forced to remove shoes and socks. We waded across to a nice beach and good campsite, but again decided to press on. Another wade followed, and I decided to stick to sandals for the rest of the way. There was no more mandatory feet wetting, but I waded a bit to avoid a few more slow criss-crossings.
We were hoping for a good campsite at the Gallows Gully junction, as the map indicated the spur might be flat near the bottom. It wasn't much, but there was a small flat area just up from the creeks, where we could fit our fly. However, it was hardly a friendly spot. Caoimhin got stung by numerous nettles. I mostly avoided them until I brushed against a stinging tree, causing me considerable pain. The mosquitoes were out in numbers. We tossed around several names, including Concentration Camp, Cat-o-Nine-Tails Camp, but ended up referring to it as Execution Camp.
The next morning we headed downstream a short distance and up Transportation Spur. It was a steep but steady climb, and we were quite surprised to have covered the 460m of vertical in under 40 minutes, according to my camera. Except that my camera clearly had not been changed from daylight saving, meaning that the previous day's start had actually been 12:30pm!
We took in the views for a while from Pardon Point, before looking for a non-existent track through the thick scrub. This meant slow progress trying to find a clear path until we reached the top of the ridge. The ridge top was surprisingly wide, sandy and clear, with mostly very tiny plants growing in the obviously low nutrient soil. The walking was pretty easy back to the road, with an 8km road bash back to Caoimhin's van.
We had plans to make a repeat stop at the Nerriga burger house - although we weren't allowed to discuss it eating delicious burgers and drinking ice cold drinks until we were a very short distance from the car! It was as good as we remembered it - excellent burger and chips. Before heading to Goulburn to resupply, we stopped at Oallen Ford on the Shoalhaven for a swim. Unfortunately the water was mostly too shallow and a bit murky. In hindsight, we would have been better off stopping at the Endrick River on the other side of Nerriga for our swim.