Participants: Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay

Links: photos@ozultimate | Rachel's photos

Track Notes: Ettrema Creek

Post lockdown, we had been fairly uninspired. One overnight walk on the weekend immediately after it lifted, and then a bunch of day trips. So doing a 4-day pack walk through some of the roughest country in NSW was perhaps biting off more than we could chew, but you don't have too many adventures sitting at home!

The drive in was mildly eventful. Some way in along the remote Touga Rd, a guy walking along with his hand out flagging us down. His name was Peter. He was carrying a water bottle and jumper leads. Wolf Creek anyone? Turned out Peter's car had a flat battery a few kilometres further along. Lucky for him we arrived, as it was still a fair way to walk to the main road!

Leaving the car at an old fire trail, we headed in along the ridge and soon found ourselves at the scrubby Coolumburra Trig. Not sure how you'd get much of a sighting to/from here?!

A compass bearing led us down towards a creek junction, where we peered into the depths via several layers of cliffs. A bit of scouting around found us a route down, though several cairns indicated we were not the first to have taken this particular route!

From there we skirted the cliffline for a bit until we reached our chosen ridge - another cairn indicating our independent choice was far from unique! Then it was down, down, down - to the Truth About Men campsite on Ettrema Creek, which we reached in time for a chilly swim and an early lunch. So far, so good.

Next stop was our side creek to ascend to the plateau. Things looked slightly grim at the bottom when we were confronted by a 3m waterfall with cliffs on either side, but Rachel quickly found a route up the small cliffs a little way back. Some scrambling up a few more small cascades brought us to the foot of a larger fall, which we weren't going to be getting up. Out on to the bank we headed, and up a steep scree slope. This was fairly unpleasant, about 70m of vertical with every step trickling away underneath your foot. Bushes were both salvation, as handholds, and damnation, as you tried to squeeze past them without losing your precarious footing.

Once on easier ground, we could hear the impressive waterfalls somewhere below us, but no chance of getting to them. We sidled back into a side creek higher up, and after picking up water, headed for the nearest sandstone cliffline, which broke quickly, allowing us passage to the tops.

In the old days, the lower slopes of the Ettrema Tops were a maze of heath, and sticking to the rock platforms was the only way of making any quick progress. Despite the fact that the going at the moment is much faster than it used to be, there's an argument to keep to the old thinking. The scrub on the lower slopes and rock platforms is much slower to grow back, and contouring at that level is actually pretty fast going, if you can work out the right level to stay at. Unfortunately we followed the ridge, and while it was not bad, there were a few sections of over head high regrowth of acacia and eucalypt that had us burrowing like wombats through the scrub.

Once we dropped off the higher tops, the walking became much faster, and soon the views opened out with Jones Creek falling away below us. We found a fairly direct route in, and rock-hopped upstream to find a delightful pool and cascade, with a shady overhang and rock slabs. This would have been a gorgeous spot to loiter, but it was getting late, and we had a campsite to find.

I had been pushing all day to camp on the clifftops at the end of the Jones Creek Track. Rachel had been out there the year before, and had decided that it wasn't really worth going back to, given that we would need to backtrack into Jones Creek the next day. However, Rachel conceded, so it was out to the cliff edge, through field of yellow Goodenias. It was well worth the short walk - it was a cool, still evening, and we had super views down into Jones Creek, and further down Ettrema Gorge to Thompsons Cliff and Hamlet Crown. Cliff top camping in summer is a rare treat!

The next morning, it was back to the pool and cascade, and off for an explore up Jones Creek without packs. A deep pool quickly forced us on to the banks, but we were able to sidle alongside the canyon on the low cliffs that bounded the creek. I pushed through a kazillion spider webs, strung between the blackened stumps lining the banks. Some more picturesque sections appeared, and there appeared to be one or two more cascades further upstream, but we soon ran out of time, and looped back to the bags.

The section of Jones Creek downstream was more of the same, a delightful sandstone gorge, with pools and cascades lined by cliffs. Unfortunately this soon came to an end, and we were pushing our way through fallen vegetation, over and around large sandstone boulders in the creek. After a stint on the bank, we returned to the creek, and the creek bed transitioned from sandstone to quartzite. This made for slightly quicker going, though the sandstone boulders still caused occasional blockups that needed slow negotiation. Finally, we moved into purely quartzite country, and after a few lovely pools and falls, we turned a corner to find ourselves at the top of the major waterfall in Jones Creek, Tinga (or Tingha?) Falls.

These drop around 25m down a series of cascades, and then a further 60m into a large pool. A bit of scrambling brought us to the top of the 60m drop, where we could see our intended lunch spot only a short distance away - as the crow flies. Unfortunately, with no way directly down the falls, we already knew that it was going to be up and around. It was just a question of how much. Studying of LIDAR data before the trip suggested that we should be able to climb around 50m and then sidle the scree slopes into a gully. Worst case would be a 150m climb up to the sandstone cliffs, and a long traverse underneath. Thankfully the scree slopes, while unpleasant, went, and less than an hour later we were stripping down for a swim in the chilly pool below the falls.

I had previously been here - admittedly 17 years earlier - so knew that from the bottom of the falls, with some scrambling, we should be able to follow Jones Creek to the junction with Ettrema Creek. What I hadn't factored in was that the previous trip had been during the middle of the Millenium Drought, and the higher flow might cause the odd problem. After a few scrambles around the sides of little waterfalls, we reached another cascade where the left side ended in an abrupt drop. The right side was steep cliff, and the creek went down a slippery chute on this side. I scrambled up above the creek to the left to see if there was a way down, but if there was, it would not be for quite some distance on steep scree - and I had some difficulty getting back down to creek level safely.

That left us with two options - jump, or try and scramble the slippery waterfall. The jump looked to be into water of reasonable depth - maybe a couple of metres - but it's always difficult to judge from 4m up! So after much umming and ahhing, Rachel did the jump - and thankfully the water was pretty much as deep as it looked. I touched the bottom when I jumped, but only just.

There were a couple more exposed scrambles to negotiate around cascades, and then a long flattish section of creek walking to the campsite at the Ettrema Creek junction. Rachel thought she could hear voices, but it was nothing but the babbling of brooks, and we had the campsite to ourselves.

Having knocked off the major unknowns for the trip, we could afford to have a rest day, which we did - sitting around reading books, doing crosswords and swimming in the pool below the campsite.

On the final day, we set off early for the walk up to Myall Creek. Rachel took the dry route, scrambling around the cliffs and criss-crossing the creek on boulders. I went the wet route. At the Myall Creek junction, we saw the first people we had seen since starting the walk, a couple camped on the rocks. They had come down Jingles Pass the day before, which sounded quite overgrown. I went looking for the campsite at the junction, but between fires and floods, there looked to be a bit of work required to even eke out a tent site, a far cry from the large grassy clearing in the early 2000s.

With only two experienced scramblers, Myall Creek is pretty quick going, even taking lots of photos. It took us a little over two hours, including morning tea and a couple of swims. Having some extra time on our hands, we left the creek and headed out to Churinga Head for lunch. I had last been there on the trip 17 years ago, but had only been to the lower point near Myall Ridge. This time we poked around the monoliths higher up on the head, the existence of which is only hinted at by the topo map.

Then we had a fairly easy walk back to the road, and a boring 3km in the hot sun back to the car, which we reached bang on 3pm.

The fun was not quite over. As we set off in the car, we quickly encountered a mob of emus on the road. Most of them shot off the road into the scrub, but one unlucky one had to run along in front of the car for over a kilometre before it too found a spot to head off!

A great trip in rugged country.