ETTREMA GORGE/ TULLYANGELA CREEK
Map : Touga 1:25000
…..Come my friends, Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the Western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive to seek, to find and not to yield. ….Tennyson : from “Ulysses”
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All that the wanderer’s heart can crave,
life lived thrice for its lending
hermit’s vigil in dreamlit cave,
gleams of the vision that Merlin gave,
comrades ’till death, and a windswept grave,
joy of the journey’s ending:-
Ye who have climbed to the great white veil,
heard ye the chant? Saw ye the Grail?
Geoffrey Winthrop Young : from “Knight Errantry”
Eric and Pat always put on good walks. When I saw this 5-day walk on the program I knew I had to go. I had often heard about Ettrema Gorge : beautiful, rugged, remote, pristine wilderness, but hard to access and exit. It is west of the New South Wales South Coast town of Nowra and is a 400 metre deep slash through that part of the sandstone plateau which lies within the Ettrema Wilderness in the Morton National Park.
I felt that if I didn’t do this trip then I never would do it . Even so, I was not very confident that I could do it! My walking ability is declining with age, and the summer had been hot so I had not been doing much hiking. Even though we were an elderly party, I was 72, and the others only a little younger or a bit older – two in the party were in their 80’s, – they were all very strong hard-walking bushwalkers. Only PJ, out here in Australia on holiday from the USA, had never done any packwalking before, let alone off-track walking, but was very fit.
We set off in two cars late afternoon on Thursday, 23rd January. Our route took us east of Canberra and a bit north, through Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Nerriga then along the rough dirt road, Tolwong Road, from near Nerriga to a place in the bush called Quiera Clearing. We reached Quiera Clearing at about 6.00 pm, some 2 hours away from Canberra. Quiera Clearing is actually on privately-owned property so we pulled off the road into the forest just beyond the boundary fence. It was very warm, still and humid.
Here we put up our tents, drank Mike’s and Rupert’s red wine (much appreciated, guys) and cooked our dinners. Rupert will especially remember this time as PJ offered everyone some of his wine and then came to fill his glass last only to find that there was barely any left.
It was wonderful to be out in the bush cooking and eating with the others as bushwalkers do and taking in the atmosphere of the bush.
Friday 24th Jan. Quiera Clearing to Ettrema Creek
I awoke at about 5.00 am. Eric had said he wanted to start walking at 7.00am. I always seem to be the last to be ready and really wanted to get going, but first I needed my two mugs of tea. Only then can I face the day. Very quietly, so as not to wake the others, I soon had my wonderful, ultra lightweight meths Caldera Ti Tri stove from Trail Designs in the USA alight and a pot of water coming to the boil. I lay in my bag, sipping my tea, doors open, watching and listening to the awakening world. What a way to start the day.
We started hiking a bit before 7.00 am. I was using my new and untested very light-weight Mariposa pack (700 gms) from Gossamer Gear in the USA. This one has a metal frame in it. The fabric is the strong but light Dyneema fabric . It stood up to some very dense scrub, carried a heavier than normal load and proved to be the most comfortable pack I have ever carried. I normally go pretty lightweight, but we were carrying 5 days food, on one day we had to carry 5 litres of water and in addition we were carrying either boots or water-logged “volleys” (sandshoes) . We wore boots in the scrub, but volleys when wading or on rocks as they have a much better grip on wet rock.
So off we went. It was a still, warm, very humid , overcast morning. We walked along the road for a short time before going “off-track” through fairly thick scrub. Needless to say, we were all wearing gaiters and thick gardening gloves. We were making for Pardon Point, 4 km away, which marks the beginning of Transportation Spur down 400 metres to Ettrema Creek. Our route twisted through the bush and went up and down, into and out of rocky gullies. By morning tea time we were at Pardon Point, overlooking part of Ettrema Gorge. Here we stopped for a drink and snacks and spread out on the rocks chatting and admiring the somewhat hazy view. 400 metres below us was Ettrema Creek.
It was a long, rough and very warm, sweaty descent through thick scrub from Pardon Point down Transportation Spur. There was no track and Eric did his usual great job of finding the best route through thick scrub and rough terrain.
Finally, at the “signature” fig tree, we stepped off the spur onto the Ettrema Creek gravel bed at about 1.00 pm, time for a well-earned break and lunch beside a pool with lovely reflections .
Strangely, I have almost no memory of the rest of the walk this day or of our camp that night. I remember thinking that it was a relief to be walking along the bed of the creek and that the scenery was not dramatic. My clothing was soaked from perspiration which became even wetter as it commenced to rain and we all put on rain jackets. We walked for perhaps only one or two km before finding somewhere to camp. At that time the rain pelted down and so we all waited before putting up our tents, or in the case of Eric and Pat, a very large tarp of lavender hue. I threaded a very light line through the loops along the roof of my tent from where I hung my wet clothes, hoping that they might dry overnight, but the humidity was too high for that. I changed into dry clothes and felt more comfortable, then had a mug of water with staminade in it and then two mugs of tea. I had been getting bad cramps once I stopped walking and the staminade stopped them. I also find that staminade actually stops me feeling thirsty. After rehydrating it was time to make instant soup and then dinner.
Sometime during the night the rain stopped.
Saturday, 25th January Down Ettrema Creek to Tullyangela Creek
I was awake by 5 am and as usual enjoyed the bird calls and the change from darkness to light as I sipped my tea. Thank goodness, too, for a full-length NeoAir mattress. What a difference it makes. I had previously used self-inflating “3/4” length therma rests. It was a stunning morning. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue and the humidity had gone. After breakfast all I had to do was pack and put on my wet clothes.
We stepped out of the bush back onto the creek bed. We were surrounded by rain forest on very steep slopes and occasionally caught glimpses of the rim rock 400 metres above us. We walked over long beds of small stones, over long areas of larger rocks and sometimes waded through lovely shallow pools. (for three days we all had wet shoes and socks). Sometimes we had to take to the riverine scrub to get past deeper pools.
This is a lovely place. It is very different– rainforest instead of dry sclerophyll forest, level clear walking, beautiful reflecting pools and lots of water, beautiful groves of casuarina, occasional glimpses of red cliffs at the top of the gorge, birdsong and more. This morning what made it so lovely was the morning itself with its beautiful light and the sun shining through the lovely groves of casuarina trees, sparkling with diamond lights of shining raindrops. The air was clear and lovely, the birds were singing. We were truly lucky to be in such a magical place.
As usual, we stopped for morning tea and then for lunch. After lunch we only walked for about 20-30 minutes before reaching the confluence with the Tullyangela Creek. Here we camped on an old river terrace, beside a beautiful pool of the Ettrema which unfortunately we could not see from the camp. Behind the pool rose the heights of Hamlets Crown which we had seen from a different angle from Transportation Spur.
On this walk down the Ettrema , near to the Tullyangela, we came across a number of Cedar Trees (Toona ciliate) Dave says that they are also common in Asia.
There wasn’t a great deal of room for all the tents, what with the scrub, the stinging nettles, stinging trees and the hummocky ground. Not long after putting up the tents we were visited by a huge goanna who seemed to investigate each tent in turn, its huge tongue flicking in and out. It seemed to quite like Eric and Pat’s tarp or the food under it. With the goanna around we had to be careful to safeguard our food.
PJ also had a run-in with some black ants about ¾ inch long, resembling bull ants apart from their colour. Their bites are very painful and the pain often lasts for some time. She was bitten by three ants within the space of 3 minutes. The more she sought to kill them the more she seemed to attract others. They are very aggressive and when I moved my hand close to one it reared up, prepared to attack me. I think when they feel threatened they call in the troops, which is why Jan and PJ seemed to attract them. Eventually she and Jan, with our help, turned her tent around and moved it much closer to mine. Then they complained that I snored during the night!
We now had time to relax and enjoy the pleasant afternoon and have a mug of tea. Soon we heard the shrieks of Jan and PJ as they cavorted in the pool,
and one by one we all drifted down to the pool for a wash, having first collected the water we needed.
THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS SHOW THE WALK DOWN ETTREMA CREEK
SUNDAY, 26TH January 2014 First day going up Tullyangela Creek
Tullyangela Creek was our exit from Ettrema Gorge and this first day up it was our hardest day of the trip, the first of two days of hard walking up the Tullyangela. We commenced walking at 8 am and stopped at about 5 pm, covering about 4 km and rising a bit under 300 metres. We could not have walked more quickly. We could not move out of the creek bed due to the steep sides of the canyon, covered in huge boulders and rain forest. The creek bed itself was a maze of huge boulders and even cliffs, as well as pools. Route finding was not easy and the going at all times was slow. Almost continuously we were scrambling and at times verging into rock climbing. On a couple of occasions we had to balance precariously and pass the packs from one to another. I was glad I was wearing volleys which grip rock very well. So again on this day, we walked in wet shoes and socks. Thankfully it was not hot and for most of the day it was overcast. I was very pleased to feel how well I was going and how easy I found the boulder hopping and scrambling.
During this morning Mike was trying to find a route through but it didn’t “go”. He retreated, slipped and nearly tore off the top of his right thumb. He suffered bad shock to the extent of being nauseous, as well as considerable pain then and for the rest of the trip. Jan set too and bandaged it up on two occasions at least.
It must have been about lunch time that we entered Dungeon Canyon on the Tullyangela..
In the late afternoon we had three compulsory swims. Unless we swam those three pools we would have been unable to proceed. I am a very weak swimmer and swimming in shoes and pushing a pack along in front of me tired me out a great deal. It was easy getting in at the shallower downstream end of the pool but the problem was getting out at the “waterfall” end. Here the footing was uncertain on slippery rocks and the water seemed to me to be about waist deep. I found myself balancing on slippery rocks, tired and trying to get my pack out of the water and above my head on a cliff face. Each pool seemed to be much colder than the last, too.
At each pool we had to strip off, place clothes and cameras etc in our packs, put the packs in bags and go, pushing our floating packs in front of us.. At the other end, by the time we had got out, dragged our packs out, got clear of the water and some way up the cliff, got our packs out of the bags, we had drip dried in the air and could put our clothes back on again. I wish that I had photos of all of this, but it would have been indiscrete. In any case, my camera was in my pack in the drybag
I was fortunate that I did not get water into my pack. I had packed my sleeping bag and clothes in a plastic bag which was sealed and placed in a dry bag with my food in it too, all inside my pack. The dry bag was then sealed. Then my pack went into another dry bag which in turn was sealed. My pack floated about half out of the water. The others used tough orange plastic garbage bags over their packs but for some reason or another, some of these plastic bags had got holes in them and some of us ended up with water in our packs
CLIMBING OUT OF THE POOL AFTER THE SWIM. THOSE IN THE PICTURE ARE NOW MUCH HIGHER THAN THE HEAD OF THE POOL WHERE SOME ARE OUT OF SIGHT AND STILL GETTING DRESSED
After the 3 rd swim we proceeded onwards, increasingly concerned about finding somewhere to camp. Camping in the creek bed was out of the question as there was not one inch of level ground, whilst the valley sides were steep, rocky and rainforested. While we were contemplating our future and Mike and I were wondering if we would have to go back, Rupert wandered off into the rain forest and found what he thought might do. In between huge rocks and trees there were just a few spaces that might take our tents with a great deal of gardening. We managed it. It was very dark in there and getting water from the creek was not easy as the way down was very steep and through huge boulders covered in moss. I seemed to have the worst site and was not happy with it, but it was that or nothing.
Monday27th January 2014 Second day climbing out along the Tullyangela
During the night whenever I woke I could hear the tinkle of the small waterfall below.
Another beautiful, singing morning, although the afternoon proved to be hot. In the morning we were in shadow. Up above us the cliffs were catching the early sunlight while down on the creek the shadow enhanced the beauty of the pools we came to. They were very lovely, with stunning reflections. This was a really beautiful place. What a place to be! I would not have missed this trip for anything. “All that the wanderer’s heart can crave” .
Not long after leaving camp the worst of the problems seemed to have been left behind, although that did not mean that we were out of difficulties. Route finding continued to be tricky . Gradually, though, the huge boulders and very narrow creek bed started to change. River flow was obviously less as sand and mud became apparent. The creek’s gradient was much less. Also, the rain forest now changed to Eucalyptus although this also meant scrub along the margins and also in the creek. Where the rainforest started to merge with Eucalyptus forest we saw a number of Coachwood trees in flower. (Ceratopetalum apetalum, Coachwood, also called Scented Satinwood or Tarwood)
Immediately after lunch I had a severe fall. I was only a few metres from where I had been sitting when I lost my footing, I guess because I had stiffened up a bit during lunch. I tried to recover, but couldn’t and found I was falling into space. I fell very heavily and thought I had broken something as I heard a crack. Luckily the only thing I broke was a branch of a shrub. However, I came down hard on my elbow and knee and both caused me a lot of pain for a few days.
After lunch the heat built up and then we reached the spot where we left (temporarily) the Tullyangela. At this point the Creek took a huge bend to the left and Eric decided to cut across the inside of this bend. Here we took “on board” 5 litres of water each as Eric was not sure if the upper reaches of the Creek would have water in it.
Our route then went up a ridge along a gully to a plateau. It was now hot, steep and the scrub was very dense. It was a battle and very slow. We had to force our way through the scrub. Very soon we were dripping.
Finally we reached the cliff line which seemed unbroken. However, possibly instinctively using old rock climbing experience, I spied a possible route through what seemed to be impossible cliffs. I was delighted to find that it “went”. Quickly the others followed. Mind you, it was very steep rock scrambling with heavy packs. But short. Then we were on the plateau, typical sandstone heath country, but very scrubby and broken. Eventually, having cut out the huge loop of the Tullyangela , we eased our way through some low cliffs and followed a creek back down to the Tullyangela where we made camp. We found that the Tullyangela had water in it and after putting up tents most of us had a wash. PJ and Jan of course tried to swim in the shallow pool, so we heard much shrieking and shouting as they enjoyed themselves. Hopefully they had waited until we had collected our water.
We camped in the scrub so we were limited in tent space, but it was a pleasant spot.
Tuesday, 28th January 2014 Beyond Tullyangela – the last lap – back to the cars.
Another beautiful morning. It had been a warm night. Bliss – I was able to make my two mugs of tea, and drink them, while still in bed.
After breakfast there was a bit of banter about noise. Jan snores! She claims I do, but she knows that is not true. Mike’s Exped, somewhat similar to my Therma Rest Neo Air, makes a lot of noise each time Mike moves. My Neo Air apparently is also noisy but not as bad as the Exped. Eric and Pat thought they were getting off until I said that I heard them quite often as they moved around on their plastic groundsheet. No-one complained about the kookaburra calling at about 5 am.
Packed up and ready to move before the deadline of 8 am. Whilst the morning was lovely, it was warm and the day turned out to be hot.
From our camp site we walked the few metres to Tullyangela Creek and crossed it. We then climbed up out of the valley onto the plateau . Here Eric dropped back to walk with Pat and the navigation was done by David. He did a fantastic job of following a very broad ridge in undulating country with no visual guides, for the area was covered in the typical scrub that one finds on these raised sandstone heathlands. Dave also did a great job of finding the easiest path through the scrub and the rock outcrops. Whenever possible he utilised broad, level areas of sandstone.
Walking along we came across a Jacky Lizard (also known as the Jacky Dragon or the Tree Dragon) . It belongs to a large genus of Australian Dragon lizards. It is pale grey to dark brown in colour with black patches along the middle of the back and two paler stripes on either side of these two dark patches. Amphibolurus muricatus.
The last part of the walk was in fairly open forest and suddenly we were at Rupert’s car at Tullyangela Clearing.
Rupert took the three women and Eric back to Quiera Clearing and then Eric came back in his car for Mike, Dave and myself who walked about 2 km along the road to meet him. Back at Quiera Clearing we had a wash with water we had left in the car, put on clean clothes, had lunch and returned to Canberra Via Nerriga Pub .
This was a wonderful 5 days with great companions in a fantastic area. In addition, there was time to sit back, have a brew, enjoy the surroundings: time to let the wilderness seep into one’s soul. Isn’t that the purpose for which we are there? One should never make deadlines a priority. To me the purpose of being there is the wilderness, not seeing how far one can go in a day.
Whilst many may see areas such as this to be merely playgrounds for people, or to be further developed with walking trails and amenities and to give profits to developers, it is vital for the survival of our planet and indeed, for our own survival, that areas such as this are left alone in their pristine condition. I doubt whether human kind will allow this, in which case I count myself fortunate to have been able to explore it as it is.