07/07/2018 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay, Andrew "Smiffy" Smith, Toni Bachvarova
Rachel had been angling to do Orang Utan Pass for some time, and after a bout of soft-itis - bailing on an overnight walk given the cold and windy weather - we were joined by Smiffy and Toni.
Orang Utan Pass descends into Govetts Creek via Surveyors Creek and a chocolate shale ledge leading around towards Clarke Head. It got its name in 1932 from the Orang Utans of the Sydney Bush Walkers - Wally Roots, Harold Chardon and Tom Herbert - so called as they were all life savers. However, it was likely first used by the Wallace Brothers around 1928 when they were attempting to extract timber from the valley.
I had limited idea where to go, but following various tracks from Hat Hill car park, we made it out to a good lookout a little way from Clarke Head, overlooking Surveyors Gully.
After admiring the view, the tracks petered out, and we followed cliff edges towards the head of the gully until we could use the vegetation to slide down into Surveyors Gully.
After wading through thick vegetation for a bit, the gully emerged into beautiful rainforest, before dropping steeply and over a large waterfall somewhere below us. Instead, we traversed around to the left and on to a wide shale ledge. After crossing a couple of small gullies, the ledge looked like it might disappear. However, after crawling through some vegetation, we realised we had reached the crux of the route, a narrow section of friable chocolate shale that dropped off hair-raisingly to oblivion.
The narrowest section of ledge was about 50cm wide, and thankfully only a couple of scary metres long.
The major difficulty was not that it was sloping (which it was), or loose and crumbly (which it was), or very exposed (which it was) or that it lacked any handholds (which it did), but that the ledge was overhung, meaning you had to crouch to walk along, with the ever-present risk of bumping your pack into the side or roof, and losing your already precarious balance into the void.
I was very relieved to get my hands on a relatively solid rib of rock across the far side of the narrow bit, and clamber up on to a relatively safer section of the ledge. Just past this was a large overhang and visitor's book in a glass jar, where we stopped for morning tea.
There were a surprising number of repeat visits, some barely months apart, and something like 12 from Graeme Holbeach over many years.
The now wider ledge was fairly straightforward to the head of a steep gully, where we descended with the aid of plenty of shrubs. I crawled under a boulder and used a tape to get down another couple of metres to a wide ledge. One end of the wide ledge brought us to a ramp which descended below the cliffline, and from there it was just steep and scrubby.
Just above the obvious knoll we hit a wide patch of lawyer vine, but having heard some other stories, we managed to negotiate it slowly, but without too much difficulty.
Still some way above the Grose, we had lunch on the knoll, and then descended more open ridges. The sky went quite grey, and some drizzle, which had been almost unnoticeable, began to fall more heavily. After pushing through some thicker wetter scrub, we were happy to reach the track.
From there it was a short walk to the Blue Gum Forest, and another blast up Perrys for the second time in 3 weeks. Toni set off at a run to get the car, which we were thankful to get in as the wind and light rain hit us on the tops.
An interesting and historic pass, but not one I'll be racing back for.