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Monday, August 2, 2010

Pantoneys Crown, July 2010

Pantoney’s Crown is an isolated rock massif at the entrance to the Capertee Valley. It’s in the Gardens of Stone National Park, north of the Blue Mountains and west of the Wollemi.
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The Sons of the Desert have wanted to climb it since an impressive view from a lookout on the Castlereagh highway two years ago, and four of us did it over a long weekend in July.
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We started from Baal Bone Gap, the only official camping area in Gardens of Stone NP. The four-wheel drive tracks to this point are fairly rugged, and turned out to be really a bit much for the Nissan X Trail that we used. We tried Moffits Trail, encountering two fallen trees that had not been cleared, but where it was possible to drive around through the bush, and one steep, rocky descent with ledges a bit big for the 20cm ground clearance on the X Trail. We got everyone out to lighten the vehicle and picked our way down very slowly without scraping the underside too much. On the plus side, we saw two Lyrebirds and had a good look at a wombat. From Baal Bone Gap we walked about 5km along the Baal Bone Plateau, with spectacular views across Crown Creek and into the mouth of the Capertee. The weathered rock formations are wonderful.
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There is a faint track discernible when the plateau forms a narrow neck, probably as much down to animals as bushwalkers, and elsewhere the bush is very open, so it is easy going. Baal Bone could refer to burnt offerings to the god Baal, and the area is definitely as dry as a bone. We were there a day after heavy rain and there was not so much as a puddle on the plateau.
Paul and Lise check the map on Baal Bone Plateau

Baal Bone Point is a massive cube of rock at end of the plateau, with views across to Pantoneys Crown.
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There is a fairly easy descent just next to the Point. We rigged a rope to ease the descent only because there was a convenient tree.
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From here a ridge leads to the saddle between the Point and the Crown. Because it is so dry there is little undergrowth and no need for a track. From the saddle a drainage system runs down to Crown Creek, starting out as shallow, dry creekbeds and turning into steep, rocky gullies as the various creeks join up.

About 20m walk down a creekbed we started to find small, unappetising pools of muddy water, but also some excellent flat, well-drained places to camp. Another 20m walk brought us to a steep gully with reeds in the bottom and some pools of clear water, but by this stage there was nowhere convenient to put a tent up, so we filled up with water and camped higher up.
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Our campsite was protected by a miraculous apparition of the Madonna of the Bush
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The campsite also had an excellent view of the Crown, ready for the morning
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The climb up the Crown is straightforward, following a ridge from the saddle to the cliff line. There is a gap in the cliffs just at the point where they start to face northwest, and we found a previous party’s cairn at the bottom to reassure us that this was a practical way up.
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The final scramble is about 60 vertical metres, with three or four ledges that require pack-hauling and a short chimney at the top. We used a rope to get back down the chimney and for pack-hauling.
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The top of the Crown offers spectacular views in all directions. It slopes down to the northwest and the top is heavily wooded on that slope. We saw one decent-sized puddle on a rock shelf, but if camping up here you’d need to bring all your water.
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This is the view back across the saddle to Baal Bone Point
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The next morning we followed a contour line from our watering point until we reached a convenient point to drop down to the management track that runs along Crown Creek. A feature of the landscape are stands of Australian cypress (Callitris) with spectacularly rugged bark.
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The last bit down to the track
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We found no surface water in the actual creek, so the water higher up must stay on the surface only because the gullies are so rocky. It would be a mistake to expect to find any water in this valley unless it has rained quite recently. The management track climbs around 300m in the last 2km back to Baal Bone Gap, so although our third day was only a short walk we were ready to take a rest at the top!
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We drove out on the Bicentennial National Trail, hoping for a better road. The first few kilometres are through a beautiful, fern-filled valley with sandstone cliffs on both sides. Only one fallen tree blocked the track. It could get pretty soft along here after heavy rain, though. Then we found ourselves facing a very steep, rocky incline with serious ruts and a diagonal rock ledge about 30cm high right across. Fine in a Landcruiser, but not really ‘softroader’ territory. We got up by piling rocks in front of the ledge to reduce the height (lots of suitable rocks about as were not the first people to do this) and then taking a run at it with just the driver on board. After this the road is fine.
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This is a spectacular piece of country, and navigation is straightforward due to the obvious landmarks and light vegetation, but the poor road access and the lack of reliable water mean that a bit of preparation is needed before taking a walk here. Without a serious 4WD it might be better to walk in from the far end of the Crown Creek management trail, which can be accessed from Glen Davis Road.

To see these photos in hi res, and more from the trip, click here

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