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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Shoalhaven Gorge



Early spring and the desire to walk in the wilderness rises with the sap in the trees. But time is hard to find, so our fitness ebbs even as the summer walking season when it will be needed beckons!

But we were able to find a weekend, and headed off to the Shoalhaven Gorge in the Morton National Park, planning to follow the route of Walk 84 in Bushwalks of the Sydney Region. We left one car at Long Point Lookout near Tallong, and drove to Badgery's Lookout which is not far away. Both lookouts had signs showing that had we been a week or so later we would have had to turn back or risk being shot as a feral animal. A reminder to check the NPWS website before a walk!

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Both lookouts are spectacular, and show you the lie of the land and the route of the whole walk perfectly. Here's the view from where we left the car:

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We left Badgerys Lookout at 7.30 following the excellent track to the Shoalhaven Gorge 500m below. The descent took us through a range of different habitats, including some areas dense with Xanthorrhoea.
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Although there is no track in the gorge, it is easy walking across sandy flats with magnificent, well-grown casuarinas and dry channels of rounded river boulders. The well-watered flats are wombat heaven and littered with huge burrows. On all sides are steep slopes of shattered sandstone, sometimes topped by cliffs, and with frequent craggy outcrops of bare rock. Scree slopes alternate with slopes of sparse, dry eucalypt forest. The predominant greyness of lichen covered rock and eucalypts is broken by the orange and black of the newly fractured stone. Frequent buttresses drop into the valley, causing the river to twist and turn, and providing a continually changing panorama of cliffs and small peaks. The river itself alternates between rapids and long, calm pools in which the water slows and the river spreads to a width of as much as fifty metres across, giving more the impression of a lake.

As the gorge twists the flats switch from one side to the next, necessitating frequent river crossings. By crossing just above rapids where the river both narrows and shallows, we managed to find crossing points to no more than fifteen or twenty metres across, and no more than thigh deep. The current was quite strong, however, and for some of the crossings we needed to go across as a pack, arms linked together to resist the current. Here's Paul at one of the easier crossings - though you can tell that water has some momentum:

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After the third crossing we dumped packs and took the suggested detour to the top of Rainbow Ridge, 300m above the river. This was a steep but straightforward climb up a dry slope with little undergrowth until we reached a veritable forest of tall, ancient grass-trees. From the top we had magnificent views down the gorge in both directions. However, a strong and bitterly cold southerly was blowing and on top of the ridge we were exposed to its full force, so after a brief lunch on the lee slope we headed back down.

In this photograph you can see the wind making havoc with the grass trees:

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And here you can see the strange botany of the ridge, with exposed soil and rock and grass trees being pretty much all you get on the upper slopes:

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Continuing along the river we surprised a large and impressively-horned wild goat which ran bleating up the slope. If the signs at the carpark are to be believed its days are numbered.
One more river-crossing brought us to McCallums Flat, a square kilometre of flat ground in a large bend in the river which was once cleared and farmed. In the centre of some tall eucalypt forest is an area of cleared land scattered with a few trees to make an idyllic park-like landscape. The grass is kept down by heavy grazing from kangaroos, wombats, and sadly goats, making an ideal campsite. We arrived at 4.30, having taken nine hours to get there, both because we were not rushing and because of the considerable time-penalty imposed by deciding to keep our boots dry and change into sandals for each river crossing.

It did not get above 10 degrees in the day, and a strong wind was still blowing, so we wasted no time in getting a substantial fire going. Although we were out in the open and the wind blew all through dinner we were extremely comfortable. The ‘fan-forced’ fire seemed to give out more heat than usual. Here you can see it being forced to the left:

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 After a leisurely dinner and chinwag we were tucked up in our sleeping bags by 7.30.
We were up before dawn to a clear sky and the promise a beautiful day. It was pretty cold, perhaps a degree or two above zero, and there was heavy dew on the tent and the bivvy bag. Further from the fire there was a heavy frost. Here are couple of us, looking a little grim in the cold morning, waiting for the sun hitting the peaks behind to come to the valley:

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After breakfast we headed up Kingpin Mountain in bright sunshine, disturbing a wombat who was still up after a hard night out grazing.
The topo map and GPS software both showed McCallums walking track starting right at the river from two separate starting points, one going up a gully and one going up a buttress. Naturally we went for the buttress, but we found no sign of a track. We were not surprised by this, as the route is obvious and walking up a broad, well-defined ridge through very open forest there is no reason for people to stick to one track. This only became a problem when we reached the 400m contour line, where the map shows the track contouring off to avoid the steep and rocky summit. We couldn’t find a sign of it! The slopes here are something like 1 in 2, and covered in dry soil and broken rock, so the animals leave clear footpads cut into the slope running in all directions. We followed several of the better defined footpads, hoping they would turn into a track, all of which soon ran out. After more than an hour of futile and exhausting searching up and down the very steep and unstable slopes, during which we had crossed the map location of the track at least twice, we gave up. Truly is it said that the location of walking tracks on topo maps is ‘indicative only’! We clambered back up to the ridge line and decided to go over the top of the mountain. After a while we found an animal pad that looked like it would contour around the mountain. In the hope that it might be easier (and might even come close to the route of the track), and in the fear that there might be no way down from the summit on the other side, we decided to explore it. We were picking our way slowly along the west face, having come down the slope somewhat in anticipation of steep bluff we could see ahead, when we saw a beautifully made track cut into the hillside about twenty metres further down. The other end of the track must be substantially lower than indicated on the map. Here is our GPS log overlaid on the map: you can see that at times we are on the track (at some of which times there was no track) and some times off track when in fact we were on the engineered highway. 

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From here it was an easy walk back to the car, and with some of the most spectacular views of the trip. One of the spectacular view was back to Kingpin Mountain. Admittedly we were seeing a lot of the North-Eastern slope which is the worst, but it did reveal that it might not have been a goer to traverse over the Kingpin! Here's a photo getting close to the top. Although very similar to the view at the beginning, when you have earned it by a 500m climb it seems extra special!

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So overall a big thumbs up for the Shoalhaven Gorge; a really rugged but easily accessible bit of country, and great campsites.

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3 comments:

  1. Looks great. Always hard to know if the mapmakers got the track wrong, or it has shifted over time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. True, though in this case the topology tells us that there really couldn't have been a track at some of the locations on the map where a track is marked!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The correct route of the McCallums Flat Track is indicated on OpenStreetMap:
    https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=16/-34.7841/150.0552&layers=C

    ReplyDelete

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