14-15/07/2007 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Gill Fowler, Rachel Grindlay, Alexa McAuley
After picking up Gill and Alexa from Alexa's place in Wollstonecraft, we headed up via a coffee stop at Maccas at Richmond (for the girls) and a pie stop at the NRB (North Richmond Bakery) - for everyone. Heading out along the Wolgan Rd, we turned off on the Long Swamp Trail. I was expecting some large puddles almost immediately but the road appeared to have been recently maintained, and it was several kilometres before we had to stop. The first slushy section looked pretty dodgy, and I had to take the Camry cross country to avoid it. The next was manageable, and the third had a long pool but seemed shallow with a solid bottom. Appearances can be deceiving. Just as I was driving out of the last puddle, the car slewed to the right and sank. The puddle had a soft edge, which we hadn't managed to find, and we were well and truly bogged. The front of the car was sitting on the sand, so we weren't going forwards or backwards. Alexa was the first to brave the icy water, and confirmed we were in a bit of trouble. There was nothing for it but to empty out the car, pull out the jack, and start trying to free it.
I jumped in the water, and lasted only about fifteen seconds before I couldn't stand the pain. Luckily my feet went numb pretty quickly, so I could no longer feel anything. Some large flat chunks of log had been conveniently left on the bank, and we used these to get a firm surface for the jack. It was slow going, but we got a reasonable pile of branches under the wheel, and decided to give it a go. Gill drove and I pushed and we got traction until ... the car slid off the side of the branches and back into the ditch.
It had still retained some of the height we had gained using the jack, so we weren't back to square one. But we were rapidly running out of room next to the bank. I managed to bend the jack fitting having to work the lever at an acute angle, and there was a time when I was struggling to even get it to turn. This time we filled the entire slushy edge with branches so that the car couldn't slide off. Fingers crossed, we tried again, and ... success! Typically, just as we were loading the packs back in, a 4WD rolled up and asked if we needed any help. It could have arrived an hour and a half earlier!
By this stage it was 10:45am and things were starting to look a bit dicey in terms of time. I said we would go another 15 minutes and see how far we got. There were a couple more bits of road that had caused us problems last time, and if we got stuck at either of them, we would probably not make Pantoneys by dark. Thankfully the road had been fixed, and, other than a couple of easy wet bits, we made it to the top of the steep hill without any further stops.
Packs on, we set off down the lovely cliff lined gully towards Baal Bone Gap at a brisk pace. We didn't have too much difficulty getting up on to the tops, and were greeted immediately by a massive boot shaped rock outcrop I had seen before. A few photos later we set off along the cliff edge, with excellent views across the Crown Creek valley and the cliffs of the Red Rocks in the distance.
The cliff views stopped for a while as we headed into the forest. Gill rolled her ankle on a rock, but pressed on, despite obvious pain. We made our way out to the start of the finger ridge that points towards Pantoneys Crown and stopped for lunch while Gill strapped her ankle up.
After lunch we headed out to the end of the finger ridge, over numerous spectacular pagodas and rocky outcrops. The most spectacular of all must be the massive detached block right at the end of the ridge. I wonder if it has been climbed? Finding and descending the pass at the end was not too difficult, and we followed a track down the ridge for some distance before the ridge itself petered out. It was a steep climb up the other side, and it was well after 4pm before we got to the top. I thought I had a reasonable memory of where the pass was, but the most obvious gully seemed far too close to the nose from where I remembered it, as well as a bit steep at the bottom. So around we went looking at gullies until the slopes got steeper and it became pretty obvious that the obvious earlier gully was it.
This had wasted some time, and it was now after 4:30pm. Given it was getting dark around 5pm, time was starting to get very tight. I raced up the bottom section and started hauling packs up. There is very little space to leave packs on the intervening ledges, and the risk of knocking loose rocks off is quite high. On the very exposed section we pulled out the rope and used it to get the packs up. By this stage a chill wind had picked up, blowing straight up the gully, and my hands had gone just about numb. Not a good sign as we were only half way up. Thankfully by this point we could see the top, and the last few pitches are much less exposed. Still, by the time I hauled the last pack up to the very top, I couldn't feel a thing, and I could barely lift the last pack over the edge for Rachel to move on. Gill and Alexa scrambled up from the chimney where they had been passing the packs and we huddled behind a rocky outcrop out of the wind. By this stage it was getting dark, so we set off across the tops to what I hoped was a lovely sheltered campsite amongst pagodas. The campsite was pretty good, although a little breezy for a while until the wind died down after dark. We settled down to cheese and crackers, port, soup, dinner, custard and brownies, more port and finally hot chocolate around a pleasant fire.
I awoke before dawn and watched the sun rise while taking photos of the cliffs and valleys. After dwawdling our way along the top of Pantoneys we reached the cairn and spent some more time taking photos and checking the entries in the log book. The most recent was from September 2006 - 10 months ago! I assume people don't know where to find it.
Further along the Crown we ended up on the wrong side of the pagodas and descended a gully where we had to fight vegetation to climb back out on the other side. A bit of wasted effort. From here it was easy going to the cliff edge where we started looking for the pass down. It didn't take us long to find, a crack leading to a hidden tunnel and thence into another slot. We were soon down and looking for the route down to the next level. This turned out to be a bit harder to find, mainly due to a small tree having fallen on top of the chimney. I pushed it over the cliff with some effort and we lowered packs and climbed down the slightly tricky chimney. There was one more episode of pack passing with an easy scramble, and then we were sliding our way down scree slopes.
From there we headed on a bearing down the skirt of the Crown. Last time we had ended up on the wrong ridge and I was hoping this time to get the navigation right. Down on a flat section we checked the map and GPS and we were looking pretty good. So while it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was probably a mistake dropping into the creek that was on our bearing. Looking at the map and GPS plot the next day, the creek did a dog leg depositing us a ridge over from where we wanted to be, not that we knew it at the time. Our next creek and ridge were both heading in the wrong direction, but by this stage it was hardly worth backtracking. Instead we followed a creek downstream without too much difficulty, ending up in private property.
From there we headed up the fire trail into the National Park. We were passed by a couple of car loads of hoons while we were eating lunch and I expected to see them back again pretty quickly once they reached the locked gate. I was quite surprised to find them rockclimbing and abseiling at a crag a little way up the road. We kept up a solid pace all the way back to the car as we still needed to get the car back out along the fire trail. That proved to be easier said than done. At the final slushy puddle, the traffic while we had been in the bush had made a mess of the road, and we were unlikely to get through without getting bogged. Instead, we went cross country again, and built up the boggy bits that we would still have to cross. Despite a few wheel spins, some pushing from the girls got us off the one point where we got stuck and we were soon back out at the main road, somewhat relieved.
We headed back to Richmond for dinner, an excellent weekend walk.