Wollemi Caching (Part 1): Saving Grace

(Written by myself. Edited by Owen)

Party: Owen Minstler, Michael Blair, Nhân (Grace) Thái and I
Photos: Taken by a mix of everyone

Contents:

Part 1: Saving Grace Canyon
—– Day 0 : Shopping
—– Day 1 : Saving Grace Canyon
Part 2: Caching (separate post)
—– Day 2: Cache 1 (separate post)
—– Day 3: Cache 2 (separate post)

Day 0 : Shopping

After work I drove to the Mt Vic station, napping until Owen’s train rolled in. I was exhausted from work, but Owen’s jovial personality helped keep me awake. In Lithgow, we spent a couple of hours moving from one supermarket to the next, buying long lasting tasty foods, most of which we planned to bury in two separate holes in the Wollemi National Park.

Over $250 dollars later, I had enough food to last me the rest of the month. Swinging over to the station we picked up Grace, who wasn’t caching food but was along for the adventure anyway. She would be carrying some canyoning gear so we could couple some canyon exploration into the long weekend.

Michael arrived as we were still unpacking the car. We’d only just managed to cram everything into the car! Another friend, Luke had wanted to join us but we hadn’t really had the space :/

I’d been away all week and felt like a chook without a head… laundry, dinner, shower, maps, food prep… more maps. Before I knew it, midnight was approaching. The others were already lying on mattresses while I made some last minute additions to the maps I’d just printed.

Day 1 : Saving Grace Canyon

The name came about because Grace carried the rope for us (and additionally, we used her purple tape to build the anchors in the canyon). If she hadn’t joined us, burdened with items for our cache, we probably wouldn’t have explored the canyon.

Our alarm stirred us slowly into action. Breakfast, more packing, then we finally crammed everything into the back of Michael’s ute. It only just fit. A white frost coated the ground and the hose on the water tank had frozen solid.

We hit the road driving north through farmland shrouded in swirling fog. Soon we headed towards the park, a line of foxes pinned to the fence by their tail boasted the trappers prowess.
Turning off onto a smaller dirt road wallabies hopped around, usually in pairs though once I spotted a group of three. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place.

As we unpacked, 4 gunshots broke the warming morning air. Soon we met the hunter. Graeme Lovell (AKA Lovey) turned out to be a nice guy, concerned only about where we were planning to walk so he didn’t shoot us (rather than the strip of private property we were intending to cross). In fact, taking his offer to hop in the tray of his ute, he drove us out to a spot he recommended we cross the fence. He’d built a metal mount on the side of his car. A large rifle was mounted there, using a pool noodle as cushioning. The roos had been plaguing the farmers… I wondered how many wallabies he’d culled?

Avoiding the electrified paddock with bulls we passed Owen’s derelict bulldozer. Then climbed over at a fence-stay and convenient tree, passing packs over to make it easier for everyone. Dropping out of sight we entered the national park… and dense stinging nettle enjoying the rich basalt cap soil. Owen and I had shorts on, but they managed to penetrate the others pants on occasion, and was so high you needed to be careful with your hands. A firetrail lent some reprieve (I wasn’t about to go back to get the camera I’d left in the car!)

Soon we struck out on a compass bearing, the vegetation slowly changing with the soil as we lost elevation. Dropping down through a bluff, we discovered a waterfall of moss and accompanying overhang with some flat spots for a couple of people.

Continuing down into our drainage we passed a pleasant waterfall CL. There was a surprising volume of water for how high up we still were in the creek.

Admiring it’s beauty I was quickly drawn away… Not far below a sinuous slot curved out of sight below…

Walking to the brink, the drop was further than I had guessed by looking at maps… at least 30m… There was a rebelay tree we’d probably want to use… If we could get to it! Using one end of the rope, I abseiled down on an angle to it. (It was more accessible than expected.).

What to do? I wanted to ghost the canyon, but it seemed safer to rig with some tape and a rap ring. We went with this in the end and I carefully dropped down, hoping the rope was both long enough and didn’t end in a deep pool. Lucky on both counts. The rope was a little short, but you could swing to the left a little and abseil off the end.

P1 o-~15m-o- ~35-40m

I quickly scouted the next drop. There was enough material to build an anchor, so I called off-rope and quickly began praying I wouldn’t be hit by the myriad of falling rocks. They whizzed down around me, one smashing on the ground beside me leaving a brown imprint. Quite scary.
I stood on a tiny ridge half a metre off the ground, my body pressed into the cool rock, hoping the sculpted wall would offer some protection. It was very limited. In higher flow the waterfall probably carries water out to sculpt the opposite wall.
I survived Grace’s descent and thought about getting us both down the next drop; to safety, but we didn’t have the equipment or time to build the anchor.

Resuming the game of Russian roulette, we tried to make ourselves small. I placed a Darren drum Lid on my head for protection… another large rock smashed between us. Not good.

When Owen joined us (his nose bleeding a little from a stick attempting a COVID swab) I mentioned using our packs as a shield. He acted, holding his pack before him. I copied, and Grace soon joined suit after another rock exploded beside her and I explained that the helmet wouldn’t protect all her body.

Thwack! The largest rock yet collided with my pack also impacting my shoulder. I didn’t enjoy imagining what would have happened without my shield.

Once Michael joined us we did some gardening to clear a large area. We’d brought the shovel for another reason entirely, but it came in handy now as we set about constructing a cairn anchor. We farmed what rocks we could find, Michael turning up the key rock around which we’d tie our tape. It’s geometry wasn’t perfect, but with a small concavity it’d do the trick. We hadn’t brought the shovel for the canyon, but it came in handy now and we soon piled rocks, dirt, sand and small logs on top.

We weighted/load-tested with the three heaviest of us. It held. Still, we backed it up with a meat anchor and a couple of us perched on top for good measure as Owen descended the next drop. It didn’t budge. Job well done. I went down LAMAR. But didn’t even lower my pack as I was confident the anchor was bomber.

Owen led the way down the creek which dropped consistently but not abruptly as we first expected. A much smaller drop than expected presented itself. Using a small tree as an anchor, I went down hand-over-hand before deciding abseiling would be nicer after all. A quick inspection of the anchor options available for the next drop and the others quickly followed.

The fourth (~10m) drop had a pool at bottom. I dropped a large rock into it resulting in a satisfactory thud. Not only confirming it wasn’t deep but at the same time creating a stepping stone. Grace helped me with a thread, but when I loaded it I was surprised to see one of the large boulders slip. I pulled the tape back out, glad I hadn’t yet cut the tail. We switched anchor to a log that had javelined itself into the sandy floor of the canyon. It moved a bit but there seemed to be a limb below the surface holding it in place. We load tested with 3 of us again. The top angled back, but it would suffice. Owen went down first, the rest of us ready to take some load from the anchor if necessary. I lowered my pack to Michael so I would have less mass

It seemed like the canyon opened up. However after walking out into the open we encountered another large multi tiered drop. There were escape ledges on either side. Owen was an advocate of taking one of these options. Myself and Michael seemed more set on descending, whilst Grace held her opinion to herself.

In the end we located a ramp CL which bypassed the drop. I had thought initially that it was a more continuous constriction.

It was pretty late by the time we were down. About 4pm. Alternate plans began to formulate. Caching tomorrow seemed to be the theme. This evolved into camping high as well.

We passed a short but long overhand before the confluence, but much of it was damp with perhaps a choice spot for only one. Crossing over the main creek I scouted ahead and found a great looking spot below the cliff line with decent views into the valley, featuring majestic golden cliffs on the opposite side. I headed back to report (and get my pack).

I filled up my water container and returned to join the others at our camp. The temperature difference was amazing. Our camp was very sheltered.

I realised I was starving. We hadn’t stopped for lunch. Owen and I couldn’t set up camp until we’d eaten something… We also solved the mystery as to Owen’s heavy pack… He’d brought all his food for the weekend!

I helped the other gather firewood and we soon had a nice blaze alight.

Clearing a sleeping pad, I laid out my gear and we enjoyed the fading afternoon light, golden cliffs bright on the opposite side of the valley.

We cooked dinner on the fire and quickly settled in for an early night.

Part 2 continues here in a separate post: Part 2: Caching

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