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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Winter in the Budawangs 2012

Day Zero

After several years of slogging through the rain on our annual trip to the Budawangs, our luck finally changed. Our weather apps all agreed that we would get four clear days! The plan was to walk from Sassafras via Mt. Haughton, Mt. Tarn, Mt. Cole and Burrumbeet Brook to Wog Wog. To get an early start we decided to spent Friday night near Nerriga. We stayed at the  Old Timberlight Guesthouse, about 10km north on a serviceable dirt road. The turn-off is marked by this little church:
On arrival Matt, the proprietor, urged us to take in one of his favourite views of the gorge of the Shoalhaven River, which marks the boundary of his property on three sides. We got there just as the sun set:
Returning to the main property we we settled into into three lovely cabins grouped around a lake. Here's an image of one of us relaxing on by the lake, waiting for the rest of the party to arrive:
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The lake has an adorable little summer house which is built out over it—a great place to sit and read even in winter (perhaps especially in winter!) as the sun warms it up like a greenhouse. When the sun goes down it's lit up by lamps:
Aside from being a welcoming host, Matt is a superb cook and produced a delicious three-course meal in the main house for dinner. Quite a contrast to the coming three nights of freeze-dried meals. This is definitely a place to come for a more leisurely stay!

Day One

We were up before dawn, and after an astonishingly fine breakfast of eggs Benedict with freshly made hollandaise, we bumped and splashed down what is currently a very rough road to the Sassafras entrance of the park. Three hours walk down the firetrail through typical Budawangs heathland brought us to The Vines, with its the towering eucalypts, tangled wet forest undergrowth and the stumps of probably finer trees felled when there was a sawmill here. At this point there is a big wooden arrow on the ground pointing to what we thought of as the real beginning of the walk:
We set off for the camping cave on Mt Haughton, but after a while realised we were on the track to Quilty's Mountain. Comparing maps at this point we saw that the 1:25k topo map showed a track off into dense bush, while the Budawangs Sketch map showed a route which went partly up Quilty's and then slid back into the valley. The route towards Quilty's seemed clearer, so we headed up the mountain. It wasn't long before we realised that we were near the top, and there was no sign of a track back down that skirted the summit. Having come this far, we decided to take advantage of it. Quilty's mountain is the site of an impressive Aboriginal sacred stone arrangement called the Bora Ground. We had long wanted to see this, so we headed to the to top. A short, steep climb through heavy scrub brought us to a series of large rock platforms covered in fascinating stone arrangements. Here's perhaps the most easy to read arrangement:
Here we are admiring another:
The detour to Bora Ground, and lunch at the top, took only a couple of hours, but left us short of time to reach the camping cave. We found the correct track and headed off along an old logging road following the south east slopes of Quiltys Mt .  It ought to be a fast route, but the dense wet forest produces many large treefalls, and negotiating these every fifty metres or so made progress pretty slow. By the time we reached the open valley between Quiltys and Sturgiss Mt there was only time for a quick look at the wonders of Hidden Valley before making camp for the night. Here are some of the valley walls just before sunset:
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The night was warm, only getting down to 2°C, and we had a leisurely start. By the time we descended to Styles Creek the sun was well up and as we broke out of the forest into the open heathland we had wonderful views across the frosty swamps to the rocky massifs of Mt Hoddle, Mt Haughton, and the Pagoda Rocks brightly lit against a brilliant blue sky. Directly in front of us were the tallest cliffs of Quiltys Mt with the last patches of morning mist drifting across them.
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Soon we were down in the valley, which was glorious in the morning light, the reds on the grass seeds and the golds of the mountains all accented by wispy mist:
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Then we approached the swamp between Styles Creek and Mt Haughton! It looks like long grass, but you can sink to your armpits. Here's Paul contemplating it with disdain:
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We were soon glad we had not attempted it the previous evening. Following the track notes, we skirted it until we saw a clear track into the reeds, supposedly a guide to avoiding ‘hidden channels’. After a few minutes Adrian disappeared to his waist into a ‘hidden channel’. We retreated despondently to drier ground. Eventually we found a better route across the swamp:
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At the end of the swamp  we had magnificent views into the densely wooded Hollands Gorge, which drops down several hundred metres from the surrounding mountains:
Then we headed across the heathland towards Mt Haughton. At the foot of the mountain we stopped for a cheering cup of morning tea, airing of sleeping bags, and drying of socks and gaiters.
A short climb up a pretty ridge through eucalypt forest brought us to the magnificent camping cave at the base of the Mt Haughton cliffline, which we had hoped to reach the day before. This is a well-appointed cave, with space for tents, a wooden bench next to the campfire and water dripping into a little pool in a grotto nearby (thought doubtless not in a drier year or season).
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 From here the track follows the base of the cliffs along the southern side of the mountain. A more or less continuous series of caves and dripping grottoes is complemented by a wet forest of large eucalypts with an understory of spectacular tree-ferns, bracken, and vine, all festooned with bark streamers from the eucalypts. Slow but rewarding. Here is Adrian in a grotto:
A convenient high saddle connects Mt Haughton to Mt Tarn, and we stopped for lunch as soon as we gained the flat top of Mt Tarn. The summit of Mt Tarn is a few square kilometres of swampy plateau interspersed by rock outcrops. We became briefly navigationally embarrassed in the first swamp, but from then on the track is well-defined and even duck-boarded in places. Given the fine weather we were able to camp on a long rib of exposed rock. As we set up camp we needed to use large rocks to stabilise our tents in case of high winds: pegs can't be used on rock. Moving some rocks revealed the most gorgeous and well camouflaged arthropods:
 Our camp had views of the Anvil, the remaining half of a collapsed rock arch, silhouetted against the setting sun and in the opposite direction views right down to the coast.
Soon we went to bed, as for all that we had a small fire, it was cold indeed:
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Day Three

There was heavy mist during the night, but the sky was clear at dawn and we breakfasted with a spectacular orange sunrise right across the eastern horizon while the moon set in the west and an absurdly bright planet stayed visible almost until the sun was up. Once again, it was 2°C at dawn, so very clement for July, but the condensation on Paul’s sleeping bag turned to frost as soon as he pulled it out of his bivvy. Here is roughly the same view of the campsite as before only now in the russet dawn light rather than the cool of the after dusk glow in the previous image:
And heres how things are in the other direction looking out over the plateau of the mountain as mist rises coloured by the yellows and pinks of the rising sun:

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After an easy pass down from Mt Tarn the track leads along the base of the southern cliffs in a short reprise of the previous day’s walk along Mt Haughton. Here's photo of the party as we walked below the cliffs that shows just how useful that pass really was!
Soon the pass took us below the Anvil at the southwest tip of the mountain.
As we headed down to the headwaters of the Corang River we had a panoramic view of some iconic Budawang peaks – Donjon Mt and Mt Cole, and the back door of  Monolith Valley.
The water on Mt Tarn was some of the most tannic we have ever encountered, and pretty much blocked the filter cartridge on our pump. By dint of repeated cleaning of the filter we managed to get enough for the evening, but even this tasted like the dregs of the worst tea ever sold, so we were glad to dump the last of it on the slopes of Bibbenluke Mt, where we found a crystal clear stream cutting through the conglomerate rock slope, water that could just be treated with chlorine dioxide and neutraliser. We stopped for morning tea in bright sunshine on the heath-covered slopes at the western end of Bibbenluke, where we aired sleeping bags and dried the tents. By this stage we were already close to our planned camp at Burrumbeet Brook, so we decided to slow down and enjoy the weather. After morning tea we strolled on along a high ridge with views into the valley of the Yadboro River until we reached the Yurnga Lookout. Leaving our packs on the main track we walked up the lookout for lunch, to be rewarded with some of the finest view of the trip: the massive double cliffline of Mt Owen as it drops into the Yadboro River valley, Pigeonhouse Mt in the distance, and the whole sweep of the South Coast over to the right:
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In the afternoon we established ourselves in a truly magnificent camping cave at the head of Burrumbeet Brook. A massive rock overhang with a proper cave-like part going back perhaps twenty metres into the conglomerate slope, this is surely the best of several caves along the southern side of the valley. Like the others, it sits at the top of a dry gully running down to the brook, and has panoramic views of the cliffs on the opposite side. In addition to the natural advantages of the cave, a previous party had cut rushes to cover parts of the cave floor, as they used to do with earth floors in medieval Europe. While not the most ecologically sound practice, and so not to be encouraged, this provided the remarkable experience of cave-camping without having everything covered in dust. Here's Paul nestled in his bivvy in a mini-cave of his own:
Having a couple of hours of daylight we were able to enjoy the weather, improve the rock seating, and make some passable candles from the wax wrappers of Babybell cheeses and the string of a teabag!
These might actually be quite useful for getting a fire going in wet conditions. Others set to work making a chair with lumbar support from rocks. Here is the finished domestic suite!
As so often we had a magnificent fire. The next image shows everyone getting out of the way at a moment where it became just a touch too magnificent!
Day Four

On our final day we were keen to get out early to allow time to get back to Sydney, so we breakfasted with head torches while that brilliant planet hung on in the pre-dawn. In a first for us, we were actually on the track when the sun officially rose at 7.07am. Passing Profile Rock we headed up the classic conglomerate slope to the Corang Plateau. We stopped briefly at the iconic Corang Arch before walking at full pace across the plateau and down through the pretty dry eucalypt forest, scattered with huge boulders and outcrops of conglomerate, that leads to the Wog Wog entrance of the park. The grey and brown forest was set off by the brilliant yellow flashes of a winter-flowering wattle and amazing Banksias. The whole trip was marked by superb Banskia flowering - especially some striking variants of Banksia ericafolia. Time rarely allows macrophotography on a bushwalking trip, mores the pity, but we had a few moments at one of our brief breaks to look at the splendid B. spinulosa that was lighting up the dry sclerophyll.
With some serious pace setting, we managed the fifteen kilometres or so in a creditable five hours, arriving in time for a well-deserved lunch at the Nerriga pub. Despite some fresh boot-prints, the bloke behind the bar was the first other person we had seen since leaving Sassafras four days earlier.
This was undoubtedly the best ‘Winter in the Budawangs’ since we started this tradition in 2008, partly because of the idyllic weather, partly because we managed to visit several iconic Budwangs sites, and partly because this route provided so many sublime views of this extraordinary landscape.

Here we are then celebrating behind grouped spears of the fallen foes (well, our trekking poles truth to tell)

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  1. Looks amazing. Sorry we missed it. Did K do alright without her walking hand warmer?

  2. Needed many gloves to compensate!

  3. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
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  4. Excellent reading. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Thanks, Allan, must check our your site!

  5. Another good one — I'm impressed by your domestic arrangements in the camping cave.


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