17-18/05/2014 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay
It's hard to think of too many better weekend walks than a full circuit of the Crown Creek Valley via Baal Bone Point, Pantoneys Crown and Point Cameron. There are few places in NSW where the views are as unrelenting. Most of the walk is along the cliff edges above the valley, and most of the walk is visible from wherever you are on the loop. The weekend we had planned it for had a near perfect weather forecast, a mostly sunny weekend in late autumn, with little wind.
Rachel had had a big night on the Friday night, so we set off latish from Sydney, only reaching the junction of the Cape Horn Fire Trail with the Baal Bone Gap Trail just before 11am. There was a small party of NPA walkers off to check out the Pagoda Road who we chatted to briefly. After the steep sections of the road, it was a pleasant walk down to Baal Bone Gap, disturbed only by a group of 8 trail bikers who roared past us. How's the serenity?! At least they were registered and on a public road.
At Baal Bone Gap we left the road and made our way off track up on to the tops. Rachel found her own way up right next to the spectacular erosion feature that looks like a boot. After several trips out that way, I climbed on to it for Rachel to get a few happy snaps of me.
The climb on to Pantoneys was mostly easier than I remembered it, possibly helped by lack of gusty winds and impending darkness. The tricky exposed section that I was remembering had great hand and footholds, though there was one awkward spot immediately afterwards where we passed the packs. I had been told about a route that bypassed the top chutes, and after a crawl through a cave, we found the easy walk-up ramp on to the summit plateau. I couldn't remember the options for camping near the northern end, so we camped in the pleasant saddle near the southern end, with a fairly established fireplace. That gave us good access to views in both directions, which we took advantage of. For happy hour we convened to the western side, and got our first sighting of a sun dog off to one side of the sun.
I was able to get some internet reception to work out that moonrise was at 7:26pm, so after dinner, we ambled over to the outcrops on the eastern side and enjoyed the sight of a bloated red moon rising balefully over the Red Rocks.
Sleep couldn't come soon enough, given how little we had had during the week, and we were in bed well before 9pm.
The plan for the next day was a traverse of Pantoneys, a descent to Crown Creek, climb up Point Cameron and then out via McLeans Pass. I had looked at our previous trip logs, and worked out that we had taken 4 hours to get to Crown Creek from Pantoneys, and 5 hours from Point Cameron back to the car. Assuming we were away by 8am, we would have around 9 hours of daylight total, so we were going to need to cut a few hours off those times to allow for the ascent of Point Cameron, which I knew little about.
We made good progress along Pantoneys, including the obligatory stops for views, and to read and sign the log book. I couldn't find one in the massive summit cairn, where it used to be, but Rachel did find one in the tin under a nearby overhang. The Capertee Valley had a dreamy look to it with wisps of fog on the ground. We even had time for a quick detour into one of the gullies looking for water, but drew a blank as it went over the cliff without any rocky section. Obviously not the one.
At the northern end we located the top of the pass fairly quickly, and squeezed down through the cave and out. The next section caused us to waste a fair bit of time. I hadn't looked at any notes from my previous trips, the most recent of which was nearly 7 years before. I figured the route would be easy to find, but we futilely headed down a steep scree gully which ended in a large drop, before Rachel located the correct route around the point.
A couple more scrambles and we were down the worst of it, and skirting around on to the eastern slopes. After a couple of failed previous attempts at navigation in this little section, I cheated and used the GPS to pick up the right main ridge out of the myriad other ridges leading straight into gullies. I was hoping for an open ridge with Xanthorrhea for easy walking, but instead the ridge was covered in Callitris, with a fairly scrubby understory in places. There was a weird sort of lichen or similar on the ground. Our going was reasonable, but probably not that much better than in the creeks, which are typically grass-bottomed and dry.
Morning tea was at the road, and it was decision time. We were less than three hours to there, so ahead of schedule. Rachel and I had been at Point Cameron only 18 months earlier, and had baulked at trying to descend the pass. The section I could see had seemed steep and loose, and it was unclear where it went below this. We decided against it and returned the way we had walked in. I wasn't keen on being defeated twice. Despite both of us having niggling injuries, we had to climb the hill one way or another, so off we set.
From the road, an easy ridge took us up on to a wide flat plateau below the point, before the going steepened. The approach to the cliffs is somewhat similar to the one to the foot of the Crown, though probably steeper and looser. We hit the cliffline, and made the fateful decision to turn left, mainly because it looked like we'd hit just to the right of the point. Slipping and sliding around the point, we could see the bottom of a large gully, which we assumed to be our pass. There were a few options for getting through the bottom line of cliffs, but none of them looked particularly pleasant. The cliffs were only small, but all of the routes involved loose rock piled in chutes just waiting to roll.
Then Rachel found a ledge that I had thought ended in a large drop, but in fact continued around a boulder and up into the gully. So we headed up, following the line of least resistance, across the bottom of a gully with a large dropoff and then up to a steep slab. Rachel headed up first. There were good hand and footholds, and the only real difficulty was the fact that the slab was in fact one side of a crack, the other side of which was close enough to bump your pack and try to push you off.
I had thought at the top of this, I might recognise where we were from the previous trip, but it was completely unfamiliar. We were on a narrow ledge system that headed first left, and then back to the right. I could see Rachel above me disappearing out of sight, and a large drop below us. I walked to the left hand end of the ledge, and could see Rachel at the top of a rocky ramp, with only a 4m slightly overhung corner between us and the top of the point. I didn't fancy going back down most of what we had climbed, but Rachel was pretty confident the corner would go without packs. Luckily the corner was just above a small flat section, so the exposure was reduced a little. The holds were nice and big, and it wasn't too hard to pull through the overhang, and drop a rope down to pull up the packs. Soon we were standing on top, chuffed at having climbed a new pass on to Point Cameron. The cairn marking the "real" pass was less than a hundred metres away. To be honest, once you know it goes, the pass is probably no more difficult than that on the southern end of Pantoneys Crown. It just looks very unlikely from the top (not that I would be inclined to descend it!).
From there we were in familiar territory. We had a brief lunch on one of the blocks on top of the point, and then headed for the car. Despite a bit of messing around on pagodas and in scrub in the vicinity of the Pondage, we were back at the car before 3:30pm. All up about 7h40m from Pantoneys including lunch and morning tea.