29-30/10/2005 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Chris Berwick, Katie Stafford
Pantoney's Crown had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time, and when Chris advertised the trip early in the week, I jumped at the chance to go. As the condition of the road in was suspect, we decided to take bikes as well to increase our flexibility. I met Chris and Katie just after 6am at Central, and we headed for Ben Bullen, via a quick stop at the Blackheath bakery for a second breakfast. We pulled into the Long Swamp fire trail off the Newnes Rd to be confronted straight away with a large muddy puddle. Chris had been advised of a possible alternative route along the ridge just up the road, and we went to investigate. However, it turned out to be worse, starting with a impossibly steep (for a 2wd) climb up a rutted and rocky hill to gain the ridge. So back to the puddle it was.
And not just one puddle. There were literally hundreds of them to negotiate, mostly small, but a few which had to be poked and prodded with sticks before we would slosh through. At one of them, Chris pointed out the water marks two feet higher up the wall, and we commented that if we had a lot of rain we wouldn't be making it back out this way! The road got drier as we pulled away from the Coxs River and climbed up to Gardiners Gap on the Great Divide, and after a couple of wheel spinning episodes we rejoined the other fire trail. The next section was particularly rutted, and I decided to give the car a break. We unloaded bikes, and donned packs. As we were getting ready, another 2wd with a couple of young guys arrived and parked. It turned out they had much the same plans as us for the weekend, sans bikes.
The ride in with packs was not too bad. The first bit along the ridge was mostly flat, with an early lookout stop over the Wolgan Valley. Then there was a steep descent to Baal Bone Gap. I almost came unstuck on one very steep section, as I came flying over the water bar too fast and had a slightly uncontrolled skid all the way to the bottom. Mostly it was a nice fast fire trail with lots of water bars to jump. At Baal Bone Gap we hid the bikes in the bush, locked to a tree.
Then it was up on to the cliffs for a traverse along towards Baal Bone Point. The scrub was pretty mild, although we made slow progress largely due to the frequency of stops on the cliff tops to take in the views across the Capertee Valley. The two guys from the parking area passed us as we were taking another one of our breaks, just going to show how leisurely our pace was.
By this stage we were getting a bit hungry, so we headed out along the thin finger of rock that points towards Pantoneys Crown and had lunch on the cliffs at the end. A pass down was easy to find and we were soon in the saddle at the bottom. The climb up the other side was a bit tougher. Chris charged off ahead, but my fitness wasn't quite up to scratch and I puffed all the way to the foot of the Crown. The only information that we had on the pass up on top was that it was very exposed, obvious and right on the point. Score one out of three. It was certainly obvious ... once we found it. It definitely wasn't right on the point. Prior to finding it we started up a few different routes that looked possible, but turned out to be downright dangerous. The actual pass was a lot less exposed than I expected. We did a little bit of pack passing, but not much. It would be a different story coming down, but we weren't planning on coming back that way.
Back at the car it was two stages down, one to go. From the faint tyre tracks, it looked like the other two guys had headed out along the ridge. We figured that we could hardly go wrong if we followed them, since the bad bit was going to be right at the end, and if we found their smoking wreck there then it wouldn't be a good idea to try that bit. The going along the ridge was actually pretty tough, with a lot of deep pools, and a few rocky sections to negotiate
In actual fact, it wasn't far from the end of the road that we found them. Coming back. They had reached the steep bit, taken one look and said "No way". We took the hint and backtracked. By this stage we were pretty nervous, given some of the puddles we had driven through. In the final event it turned out to be pretty easy. The major problem puddle turned out to have been drained by someone, so it was shallower than on the way in. With relief we made it back to the main road. I chatted briefly to the other two guys. Turned out that they were also with SUBW! Small world.