Party: Mum, Dad and I
Prelude – Not much time to prepare. Got back from the Ettrema trip just before midnight!
Day 1 – Tue 4th Jan – Natural bridge to Tambo Ck via Mt Cameron. Surprised at the track that now made our progress much easier – it wasn’t there last time I walked to Mt Cameron. Camped in the headwaters of Tambo Ck.
Day 2 – Wed 5th Jan – slow day down scrubby Ck.
Day 3 – Thu 6th Jan – again only 4km.
Day 4 – Fri 7th Jan – made good time this day
Day 5 – Sat 8th Jan – creek starting to narrow and cut deeper into the sandstone. A lot more water after last night’s storm. Followed some ledges for a time. In and out of creek. At some pt forced out, but quickly found a way back in (via a python).
Day 6 – Sun 9th Jan – some very pretty sections. Towering cliffs, lots of cascades, sweeping rock shelves. Quite a few climb downs. Almost made it to the Colo.
Day 7 – Mon 10th Jan – Crossed the Colo, Climbed Tambo Crown. Balked at Pass 19. Dropped back down to the Colo from the Big Pass Saddle. Floated and portaged to Angowara Ck. Climbed out via Pass 21(A). Found out I might have COVID. Arranged a car drop off. Camped about 5km from the FT.
Day 8 – Tue 11th Jan – Continued along the ridges to the old rd. Happy to reach the waiting car on the Grassy Hill FT. Drove back home. Crazy storm in Lithgow. COVID test at hospital.
Despite an injury to one of our group, I had an enjoyable 3-day trip in Ettrema Gorge. Yumi had developed more serious COVID symptoms so I jumped in Tim’s car for the 3hr drive back to Sydney. A 1hr wait for the next train meant we had time to grab some Vietnamese and baklava from a Lebanese dessert shop. I ate on the 2.5hrs train trip to Lithgow. I also looked at some maps and tried napping… prob amongst other things. Sis picked me up. Got to my parents just before midnight and I still had to unpack (dry my sleeping bag!), pack, prepare maps and read through some information in emails… etc etc etc.
I relented into bringing the original topo maps rather than printing some and wasted time looking for the inch to a mile army maps online. I didn’t even have time to shower and basically gave up on optimising my pack – only doing a cursory check that I’d have enough food – and throwing in an extra fly after looking at the wet forecast.
I got to bed around 3am. At least I’d get 2hrs sleep; not the best way to start a long trip…
Day 1 – Tue 4th Jan
Feeling very unrested I reluctantly rose around 5am.
We left a car in Lithgow and walked to the station to meet Mark Roebuck, who had kindly offered to drive us out to Natural Bridge at 6am before he had to start work. I got to sit in the front to talk about the inReach mini he was letting us borrow as well as a map he’d put together for us: What a champion! I’d be able to leave the originals behind after all!
Mark knew the way very well and also had calculated the extra time it would take due to the deterioration of the rd. I commented on getting bogged at ‘the shortcut’.
Soon we were there. Thanking Mark again. Rain threatened as soon as he drove away. Just after 0730 we were on our way.
The last time I’d been out to Mt Cameron was in April 2015. We’d planned to visit some canyons around Mt Cameron, but basically got washed out – I’d also hoped to stay in the hut, which I found out no longer existed! I recall the rd being quite difficult to follow; this time was different. Some time ago my brother had mentioned that some motorbike riders had been fined for riding out to Mt Cameron – apparently rangers were helicoptered in either side of them. I’m not sure how true this is but there certainly was a clear track now making it much easier for us. It didn’t actually follow the old rd most of the time but wound its way along it, crossing it many times.
Jimmy was in front for the first snake. A brown. Then myself for the second snake, I think it was just before the hut ruins but on the basalt cap. A very big brown. It disappeared but I still circled around a bit.
The area around the Mt Cameron hut was very different to what I remembered. Last time I was here I remember the flashing red light of a wildlife camera as we approached a sizable clearing. There were some 44 gallon drums of aviation fuel (full? I can’t remember) and boxes of bottled water. This time we basically stumbled upon the ruins as they were surrounded by trees and vegetation. I began doubting my memory as any of the trees looked too old. But no, looking at some of Tom Brennan’s photos (April 2013) confirms there was indeed a decent clearing. Crazy that its been 7 years since I was last here!
Continuing along the basalt cap we followed recently blazed trees, but soon they either stopped or we lost them. Attempting to cross over the small gully before Mt Cameron we began encountering thick scrub laced with a prickly plant (Pittosporum multiflorum?). Horrible. We decided to forego our search for aboriginal sites.
I was in front for the third snake, which was sitting on a log that we ended up using to get out of the scrub when bashing a way across a gully after the old hut. It disappeared into the log.
It was a little better once we reached the top of Cameron, I even found a wild raspberry which Mum and Dad shared. Just over the top I was going to drop down into the valley to escape the evil vegetation, but Mum decided that contouring over to where the old rd would have gone might be better. We followed her and were very glad we did, as we soon struck a fairly defined track. After a while it became evident that the motorbikes had been here too!
Running low on water, we paused for lunch before pressing on to the «permanent water» between Tambo Limb and Pommel Hill. Drinking deeply here, we crossed over found an old tow hitch and located the old rd heading north. Following this for about a mile, we dropped into the creek to look for an overhang to spend the night. It wasn’t looking great, but the creek turned out to be narrower and deeper than it looked and not far downstream after entering we found a very nice junction with lots of options. After half an hour of scouting, we settled on one high on a ledge in a side creek were we could all fit. There was water available below. The glow-worms in the night were spectacular. In fact Jimmy said it was one of his favourite camps in the bush.
Day 2 – Wed 5th Jan
We were all very tired and enjoyed a long sleep in. Great morning bird song. Only got going at around 1030!
After some easy walking the creek opened up and became very slow and scrubby. Just before the other main head of Tambo joined there was a bit of canyon formation. We went high CR dropping into the other branch to get around it (great CC on the way!)
Lots of yabbys.
Camped in an overhang CL. This camp was special because of the fireflies. There were also some glow-worms on Jimmy’s side (above his head).
Day 3 – Thur 6th Jan
Again lots of yabbys.
After half a k or so we dropped our packs and headed up a side creek to look for aboriginal art. It was a steep creek with many waterfalls that needed negotiating. The lowest falls required us to backtrack along the cliff-line until the first weakness. We managed to climb the next set with the aid of some logs, then bypass some more before we could finally continue up more in the creek. We checked every overhang we saw but didn’t find any signs of aboriginal presence.
I think it was this day that Jimmy spotted another small snake.
In the afternoon we passed through a section of canyon that was a little like the Wollangambe. There were some great camp options nearby. Whilst tempting it was still early so we pressed on. However we didn’t get far; we couldn’t pass by the next overhang. Protected by a mat of interlocking flotsam Jimmy nicknamed the large overhang «the Hilton». There was lots of room and stacks of firewood that had washed up during the last flood(s). It still took a while to get a fire going. Jimmy found some dry kindling which helped after I was about to pass the duty on.
Once a large blaze was alight my parents discovered that ‘the Hilton’ had leaky plumbing
I spotted an eel getting water. The second one of the day.
Day 4 – Fri 7th Jan
Another eel (third one), which everyone got to see this time.
In the afternoon, we explored a side creek that we’d been told might have an aboriginal site that needed its location confirmed as well as be photographed. We explored on two levels to cover more ground but didn’t find any sites. Further up the creek however was a specky waterfall and pool. Above it was a great overhang, but again no signs of aboriginal presence.
Overall we made good time this day. This in part may be attributed to the fact that we actually consulted the map.
Dad and I had a nice swim to freshen up.
Around 11pm a large (huge!) thunderstorm struck. Felix’s ‘bed’ got swamped and so did Mum’s. James wasn’t affected too badly, bust still needed to move. Mum must have been in a deep sleep because the warning I gave her didn’t seem to register; just a fleeting bad dream… until everything was floating in water and she lethargically jumped up. I helped move her things over. The sleeping bag was damp but not soaked. In the end our replacement spots were adequate.
Day 5 – Sat 8th Jan
In the morning we packed our wet and damp stuff. The water had risen something like half a meter. The sight was spectacular. However, it would likely hamper our progress down to the Colo and also meant we wouldn’t be seeing any more yabys, eels, etc.
After we got going, the creek started to narrow and cut deeper into the sandstone. A lot more water after last night’s storm. The creek was more of a river. A brown yellow sort of colour.
Followed some ledges for a time. In and out of creek. At some pt we were up too high and kept getting pushed up until we were basically forced out of the ck. But quickly found a way back in (via a large python about the diameter of my ankle – like an arm in spots!).
I joked about crossing the river – it looked too dicey. Jimmy seemed to take it more seriously saying we could cross via a hanging log (at about head height). It seemed farfetched to me. When he touched the log however it careened just missing me and fell perfectly into place. We crossed.
At around the appointed time of 1645 (the averages of Mum and Dad’s times from the day before) we started looking for a suitable camp. There wasn’t a lot to pick from. On and on we went. Finally we found something that might work at least for two… I went for a scout; first up to the waterfall in the ck just downstream, and then 500m down Tambo. With nothing better I returned and we settled for the camp at the 17.5km mark. I was exhausted when I got back.
I set up in the open hoping the large fly would be enough if it rained. Of course it bucked down. The wind did blow spittle in and my things got a bit damp. I built a wall with my pack and Darren drum which helped a bit.
Day 6 – Sun 9th Jan
A Green tree frog hopped into the river as we continued downstream. It felt strange being so close to the end now. There were some very pretty sections this day. Towering cliffs, lots of cascades, and sweeping rock shelves.
We crossed Tambo river twice. The first time we needed to step into the water, then over boulders past a siphon.
On a rock shelf next to a large waterfall that dumped into a pool I spotted a death adder. These are probably the only snakes I feel scared of when I encounter them. This one was either in a food coma or very cold as it didn’t even seem to stir at all. We gave it as much birth as we could, which wasn’t a lot and then did an awkward little traverse/climb to the adjoining shelf.
There were some great rock shelfs that saved us quite a bit of time. We had lunch on one. I dried out my groundsheet and fly which were soaked from the night’s rain.
Cliffed out again, an unbelievably convenient log saved the day.
We were getting pretty desperate for an overhang. It was almost 6pm when I dropped down from a scouting mission to rendezvous with the others at a flat area. Make camp in the open? Or press on? That was the question. Jimmy voted strongly to continue so we did. Very quickly we found a spot. We were only a couple of hundred metres from the Colo.
Jimmy got a fire going. I lazed on my sleeping mat. Sent my sister Namaste a txt on the inReach to try and organise a pickup for tomorrow afternoon.
Day 7 – Mon 10th Jan
We had a solid day ahead of ourselves: Cross the Colo (which would likely be in flood – Mum was worried), climb Tambo Crown, then use Pass 19 (which apparently includes a 12 meter rock-climb) to reach the top of the escarpment. From there we’d bush bash to an old FT and continue to Grassy Hill FT for a pickup… that was the plan anyway. It didn’t quite turn out that way…
Leaving at a respectable 0815 our feet were wet right off the bat. The water levels had dropped considerably. I thought I’d heard thunder and rain during the night, but we were camped so close to the ‘river’ that it was hard to tell.
Walking upstream of the Tambo Crown spur, I got some water from the small ck and we double checked the water proofing of our packs before swimming across. The current pulled us a bit under 200m back downstream by the time we’d all reached the far side.
Up , up and up we went. After a break we reached the top where I ‘crowned’ Mum and Dad. We lunched at the end where we could see the Colo far below on both our left and right. We also had an intimidating view of Pass 19… it was much harder looking than I’d expected. We all stewed on it over lunch.
In the end we decided that with all the rain, it wasn’t worth the risk. Already the ground was very loose and it hadn’t been that long since the fires so small trees had been coming out fairly easily. Looks like I carried the tape for nothing – well for security 🙂
Alternate plans… Upstream didn’t seem an option with the river so high. Instead we decided to use the river and float downstream. Utilising modern technology, I used the inReach to ask a couple of ppl about Pass 21 at the mouth of Angowara Ck (which I knew would bring us up to the same location so we wouldn’t have to alter our pickup plans).
We dropped down to the saddle and then down Big Pass which was also a bit of a gamble, but it looked like it would be a goer. After an hour and a half featuring lots of bum-sliding we reached the Colo. Double checking our packs we hopped into the Colo after some safety/communication talk. Time to put the pack into packrafting 😉
It was nice to get in the water and with the water so high we made swift progress. Exiting before the first set of rapids we then got a really long float in. By the time we exited at the next rapids (before Main Ck), we’d covered about 3 of the 4km! (I think in less than an hour – prob our fastest movement since Mt Cameron – maybe equal? not sure).
It was cool to see a water dragon in Colo whilst floating down. I didn’t realise they swam in large rivers. It was chilling with its head on the surface, but it vanished once it realised I could see it.
We got two more shorter floats in before walking the last half k to Angowara for a late lunch. Here I discovered that not only had my plastic bag been breached, but also my Darren drum 😦
Funnily enough, the additional half kg of muesli I shouldn’t have brought was all wet. Mum had said I should put it on the fire. By the time we got out it had gone off and it went in the bin. Just one of the useless things that came along due to my rushed packing!
Jimmy found a couple of caterpillars which I later identified as a Chinese Junk (doratifera vulnerans) which interestingly only ‘sprouts’ its dangerous hairs when it feels threatened.
Neither of the ppl I messaged had been up/down Pass 21. We/I decided to give it a go anyway. My memory when reading about it was that it shouldn’t be too bad. Once we started however I was a little uncertain. 50/50 in fact. Traversing left and then right, with many steep scrambles we reached a thicker band of cliff. I scouted around to the right locating a way that would work with a bit of climbing. When I got back to the alternate, Mum had spied a variation that might work. I checked it out and it went. It was probably similar in difficulty, but I was more confident about what would follow from this climb. I nicknamed it Pass 21(A)(for Anna) as a joke (By this time I (mum) was so exhausted that the guys had to push and pull me up the tricky climbs).
A bit further and it actually looked like we were up.
Unfortunately the scrub up on the ridges was pretty horrendous after a k and a bit. It really slowed our progress. By the time we linked up with our planned route from Pass 19 it was pretty much dark. This was our highest point we’d be on. I decided to check if I had reception… I did. And so began the COVID complications…
I found out I might have COVID as about half of the Ettrema group had tested positive. I rang my boss who confirmed I’d need to get a test – looks like I wouldn’t be working tomorrow afterall (one rest day actually wouldn’t be bad), my sister who was already on her way to pick us up didn’t want to risk getting COVID on her holidays. We were hopeful my brother could borrow a car and drive out to meet her, leave a car for us, and drive back in the other… we lost reception before we were able to confirm.
In the end we camped in a small overhang about 5km from the FT. No point rushing back anymore we figured. Progress at night in the thick scrub was also tediously slow. There were also plenty of pagodas to get stuck on. It just wasn’t worth it.
Day 8 – Tue 11th Jan
Waking early in case Nam had indeed spent the night in her car we packed to leave without having breakfast. Then, thanks to the inReach, I found out that a car had been left. We were up now ,so we headed off anyway.
The scrub was still horrible, but much more manageable in the daylight. After some more views of the Colo we swung to the east. After several hours we reached the old FT which was a lot more overgrown than I’d expected. When we reached the car we found that the FT had been decommissioned.
The car certainly was a sight to behold. I put on some ELO (Across the Border) as we drove out; mum: the volume matching my happiness to have made it.
The excitement wasn’t over. Just as we got into Lithgow a crazy storm struck. From experience we knew there was a low area at the tunnel to the show grounds, so managed to avoid that traffic jam. But even on the higher roads near the Small Arms Factory the water was insane. There was hail too. At one point the water reached the sills of the car and we only just made it through!
We got our COVID tests at the hospital (before we arrived I teased Jimmy that the test had changed so that you now had to get an injection – he hates needles!) and made it through a small landslide just before the emergency vehicles came to close the highway.
I also looked up the Colo passes and found that Pass 19(a) (Shelves Pass) probably would have been a better option (mum: and you looked at it as we floated past and said: That looks like a good way to get out). I probably should have planned some alternate exits. I really wasn’t expecting there to be so much water!
Marilyn also mentioned that there is a bit of a track along the Colo to the north of Tambo. I think this is what I have used in the past when we did a loop using passes 17 & 17(b), but with the water so high it might not really have been an option.
I missed a total of three days of work before I got my «NEGTIVE» result. But I did get to put this together.