18-21/06/2020 - report
Participants: Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay
I stood at the top of a 10m cliff looking down the next step of our knife-edge ridge. Having already scrambled down a steep ramp with the aid of the 20m rope, there was no way off this ledge. Despite the rope and simple tape harness, there was no anchor in sight, and no lower ledge to the left or right that would get us down. Further down still to the left, the cliff eased off into steep slopes.
Rachel called out that maybe we could scramble down a gully further back on the left, and somehow traverse back to the ridge. It seemed the only possibility, so I climbed back up, and down we went. The gully was steeper and looser than it looked from above. Rachel went ahead, leaving her pack on a ledge, and dropping down to a lower ledge. We could see two chutes below us with drops at the bottom that we thought might get us onto easier ground, but with minimal abseiling gear and no way of ascending if it wasn't a goer, I wasn't prepared to take the risk.
Rachel and I had a brief discussion and decided to beat a retreat. The problem was that we had already done some dodgy scrambling to get onto this massif. The only other possible routes off the massif lay well to the north, when we were trying to head south. We would also be walking off my detailed 5m contour map into 20m contour territory, when we had already struggled to find passes and routes using the more detailed maps. On the plus side, being a 4 day trip, we still had a day and a half left to get us back to the car!
Admitting defeat, we shouldered packs and set off down the ridges to the north.
Bylong Labyrinth 3 - 2 Rachel and Tom
Two days earlier we had set off from the car for an assault on Spring Log Ridge. A friend had written of this ridge: "convoluted ridge, many short cliffs, rope needed, really interesting, fun and engrossing". It seemed like an enjoyable start to our 4-day trip. I optimistically had us completing the traverse in a day, and potentially climbing Goat Mountain after picking up water from the Growee River.
In practice, we made it precisely 270m along a knife-edge section of Spring Log Ridge - with great views and engrossing scrambling - before ending up on a 10m cliff above a narrow saddle. The friend had noted "Abseil into saddle. Or, handline west, walk down gully, then walk narrow ledges north and east into saddle". It wasn't clear where we could handline west, and the fires of late 2019 and early 2020 had scorched many of the possible anchors. After scouting around a few options, we reluctantly decided to have lunch with views, and abandon the ridge.
Bylong Labyrinth 1 - 0 Rachel and Tom
In any case, I had assumed when we left the car that we'd make enough progress along the ridge to be able to drop down and pick up water, so we were carrying minimal water. It was a hot day near the winter solstice, so we needed to get to a creek. As we walked down the creek paralleling the ridge, it didn't look great. The dry sandy creek bed showed no sign of water despite a fairly wet autumn and early winter. The soil was damp, and the pagodas were slowly dripping, but not a drop in the creek. About 2km downstream the creek changed character, flowing into a small canyon, and suddenly there was weak flow. The water looked pretty scungy, with red algae coating the sand, and a metallic smell emanating from it. Luckily a tiny side canyon yielded a small clear waterfall, and we were in business. I wanted to explore a bit, so we continued downstream through the main canyon. Unfortunately I opted to jump down from a boulder onto a patch of sand, only to sink up to my calves in wet quicksand. Rachel was highly amused, but chose not to follow my lead. I went on through to the next side creek, where the flowing water petered out into the sand again.
We were after a high camp, so after filling our packs with 4L of water each, we slowly slogged it out of the creek and up the nearby ridge. From the pagodas on a knoll, we could look across to the imposing ramparts of the nearby peak, which looked steep and tricky. A treed ramp to the left of the main ridge looked like our best bet, though from my 5m contour map, there were also a couple of other possible options that might go. Scrambling around on the loose slopes below the cliffline was slow and tedious, and when we reached the treed ramp, a series of sloping clifflines with minimal holds barred our way. I tried to keep going around the point, but the ledge we were on ran out, and we would have to drop a long way down. A couple of other forays ended in failure, and with the sun dropping rapidly in the sky, we were forced to retreat to the knoll and nearby saddle.
Bylong Labyrinth 2 - 0 Rachel and Tom
Defeated again, we were feeling a bit deflated at this point, and the campsite was rather too sloping. On the plus side, the evening was mild, the pagodas in the saddle had some reasonable sunset views, and we had a pleasant evening around the campfire.
Up at dawn, we inspected the mountain again before deciding to call it quits and instead target Goat Mountain via the ridges as the goal for the day. However, we got off to a bad start as rather than going directly into the gully, we headed down easier ground and found ourselves cliffed out. Every attempt to regain the creek ended in rounded cliffs, and after much meandering, we ended up not far from the creek junction I had reached late the day before. After successive defeats, we were not far from giving up, heading for the car and aiming for a less daunting objective.
However, we took a timeout on a log with the maps, and decided instead on a route over the nearby saddle and down the next creek to the Growee River. From the 5m contour map, there was a 20m drop in the creek that could prove problematic, but the rest of the route looked like it should be straightforward. Compared to most of the trip thus far, the saddle was reached with minimal difficulty, and we headed downstream to what showed on the map as a curiously flat clearing. As it turned out, the clearing was quite delightful, with towering blue gums in a large open area. It wasn't quite as flat as my detailed topo map showed - the flatness was largely an artefact of the mapping process that ensures that streams all flow downhill - and in fact, the clearing was a huge shallow depression in which the water obviously flowed out underground through the sand.
The contour map showed a possible canyon downstream, and the cliff walls quickly closed in. We soon reached the large drop hinted at by the map. A huge boulder was jammed in the creek, with a blockup behind it, and the gorge continuing on the other side 10m below us. Rachel scouted ahead and found a narrow passage under the boulder, and into a delightful rainforest gorge. That made us comfortable we would make it to the Growee River. Further downstream, gorge conditions returned, and we hit some scungy water, and then clean water flowing into pools. Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, we filled up water - a decision we were thankful for shortly after. As the creek dropped through boulders, scrambled out and down to the grassy flats of the dry, sandy, waterless Growee River - where we found a bunch of unripe watermelons!
After lunch, we skirted farmland, climbing a ridge to the cliffline where the contour map showed a likely pass. A bit of meandering got us through the cliffs and up an easy ridge to a row of pagodas. A small wall of cliffs confronted us, but a step across an exposed corner and some pack passing got us to the top of the ridge. At the end of the ridge we could look down into the saddle separating us from Goat Mountain. In what was becoming an unfortunate pattern, the end of the ridge was ringed with cliffs, and the way down looked unlikely. The contour map suggested heading around the back of a couple of pagodas and down a gully. Just before the gully dropped over cliffs, Rachel spied a narrow ledge that could be traversed into the saddle. An easy walk up the final ridge, and we were on Goat Mountain in plenty of time to set up camp and have first happy hour watching sunset over the Growee Valley for the last night in Rachel's 30s.
Bylong Labyrinth 2 - 1 Rachel and Tom
The next morning the plan was to descend an easy looking pass off the range, and cross over to Duet Saddle before climbing up again, cutting out a few kilometres of what looked like very tricky ridge. However, buoyed by our relative success of the afternoon of the previous day, on the spur of the moment we decided to tackle the ridges instead.
A narrow saddle led to the foot of a steep ridge, with a deep chasm dropping away to our left. The ridgeline dropped off in steep cliffs into the chasm, so there was no option but to head straight up the nose. If it wasn't for the fires, the route would have been fairly straightforward scrambling, if a little exposed. But the exfoliating sandstone ramps would slide underfoot, the soil was loose, and any trees and bushes were dead, and could only be used for balance rather than hauling on. It felt as if one misstep would have you rolling off the hill in a hail of dirt and stones. We were relieved when after a fair bit of traversing high up, we pushed through the final small cliffline and on to the top.
Bylong Labyrinth 2 - 2 Rachel and Tom
Pride cometh before a fall. It was shortly after that that we were forced to retreat from the knife-edge ridge, and the Labyrinth pulled ahead again. We were heading off the detailed map, making our way towards the least steep looking saddle based on 20m contours.
It didn't look great. More of the "usual" for the Bylong area. A steep 20m drop to the saddle. The aerial photos didn't look promising. However, as we retreated from the nose, a series of ledges below us to the west looked like they might have some promise. Rachel started working her way down, and a series of short easy scrambles had us in the saddle with relative simplicity. Soon we were walking down the flat creek at the bottom, and even drinking water from a small pool. At this point, the only thing that would prevent us getting out to Lee Creek and relative safety was a canyon. As luck would have it, when you do want a canyon, you often don't get one, and when you don't want a canyon you do!
A chilly and rather deep looking pool of water awaited us at the bottom of a short drop. Not relishing a winter swim, we skirted along the west bank. The creek dropped away below us, and a return to the creek was looking increasingly unlikely. However, we soon hit a side canyon, and Rachel headed upstream, finding a walk-down pass that took us back into the main creek below the canyon section. From there, it was a fairly easy walk to Lee Creek, grabbing water not far from the junction. As it turned out, Lee Creek was flowing well, though the fact that it drains off farmland up on Nullo Mountain, and has numerous pigs that dig up the banks perhaps makes the water from a side creek the better option.
A beautiful clearing at the junction would have made a great campsite, but we had a long way to go up Lee Creek, and decided we should get a few kilometres under the belt today. As it turned out, we had had enough after an hour or so, and found a found a pleasant site on a sandbank near a large Blue Gum clearing. The wood down in the valley was a bit damper, so we had a bit more work to do to get (and keep) the fire going.
As was forecast, it rained overnight. Unfortunately the rain was a bit later than we hoped, and so was still raining when we woke. Breakfast in the tent, no hot drinks, a quick pack of a sopping wet tent, and we were off. Keeping feet dry today was a little trickier as the creek had risen slightly with the rain. Rachel tried my trick of day one stepping on a "solid" sand bank, and went in to quicksand half way up her calf. In solidarity - or at least to save time with all of the creek crossings - I decided to get my feet wet, and we marched up the lovely creek. It would have been gorgeous apart from the weeds and the pig diggings, but it was still pleasant walking through open country. At one point I tried to wade through a bouldery section rather than climb out and around, and went into quicksand, waist deep in water. It took me several minutes, a lot of effort, and the almost-loss of a shoe to get out. Rachel offered moral support from the bank.
Eventually we headed off up a tributary and popped out on the Nullo West Trail. The trail was pretty easy going, other than one section where the trail passes through private property and with numerous "Private Property No Trespassing" signs, had to walk around the outside in the National Park. We were back at the car mid-afternoon, and headed to Rylstone for cake and coffee to celebrate. A great exploratory adventure in little visited country. I'd call it an honourable draw.
Bylong Labyrinth 3 - 3 Rachel and Tom