9-12 May, 4 Day Pack Walk : Budawangs
“A 4 day walk in the southern Budawangs. Starting from Wog Wog. Walk in the first day to a campsite at the headwaters of the Corang River where we will stay for 3 nights. Day walks on the 2nd and 3rd days to Monolith Valley and to Mt Tarn and Hoddles Castle. Return to Wog Wog on day 4 via Corang Lagoon. The first and last days involve walks of about 17 km. A mixture of track (some overgrown) and off track. “ Hmmm, I thought, this walk on the National Parks Association of the A.C.T. program might be good. I think I will go and had better do some serious training for it, for I haven’t done a good pack walk for some time.
There were 5 of us on the walk: Leader Philip G, his wife Jan G, Steve R., Jan M and myself.
The Budawang Ranges are in the southern part of Morton National Park in NSW. They lie east of the Great Dividing Range between the Shoalhaven and Clyde Rivers on the edge of the escarpment which falls to the coastal plain. They are a wonderful wilderness of sandstone outcrops, deep valleys and mesas surrounded by sandstone cliffs. They are not very high, mostly under 900 metres, but very rugged. Being on the edge of the escarpment and close to the sea, the climate is highly variable, with mist and rain quite prevalent. For this trip though, the weather could not have been better: real Indian Summer, with still, warm days of about 23°c , cloudless skies and the most incredibly clear air. At night the stars blazed down at us, a sky full of stars. Geologically, the Budawangs are the southernmost extremity of the Sydney Basin.
As for the tracks, don’t ever believe that a track here means something you can see and walk easily along. Even when there is a track it is often hidden from view by chest-high cutting grass, or other vegetation, and is set about with snares such as rocks, roots and broken saplings, which often you cannot see. Occasionally there are duckboards but often these are wet and slippery. Vegetation beside the track is sometimes tussocky grass or low shrubs but often it is very sharp bushes which gouge ones bare skin as you pass, or cutting grass which is razor sharp and cuts like a razor too, leaving a stinging wound. Sometimes you will also find leeches. Much of the time you cannot see the track even when it is there, and you place your feet blindly and in hope. It takes good walking ability to walk here.
So why go? Well, it is a wild, remote, rugged, challenging, highly varied and beautiful place. Ruggedly beautiful rather than in the majestic way of alpine mountain ranges. There is the beauty of living with nature, the bird calls, the flowers, crystal clear, unpolluted streams, the sound of water dripping from sandstone overhangs, lovely heathlands, mighty sandstone cliffs eroded into amazing shapes, ferns, tree ferns, rain forest and hidden slot canyons with streams, pools, and rainforest vegetation where the light barely reaches. To go on this trip would have all the excitement, anticipation and wide-eyed wonder of exploration. Mostly, too, there is no one else out there.
Steve travelled with Jan M and met us at Braidwood. I went with Philip and Jan G. I was up at 5 am and left home at 6.00 am, in the dark, except for the beginnings of a vivid sunrise, arriving at P and JG’s home at 6.25 and we were away at 6.30. The sunrise was stunning . In the valleys there was fog. Beautiful. The others were waiting for us at Braidwood where it was pretty cold. A quick toilet stop and a photo by JG of the bank building ( she said she was interested in historic architecture. Could we believe her? ) and we were on our way. At the Wog Wog car park we quickly had tea and snacks and put on boots and gaiters and were on our way by 8.50 am. My pack weighed 14.2 kg. (far too heavy). Philip led off at his usual fast pace and whilst this left no time for serious photography, it did mean that we could cover the distance to a lovely camp site. A trade-off worth having .
From the car park we descended to and crossed the lovely Wog Wog Creek and then wound our way up and down, but mostly up, through beautiful open forest. It was a stunning morning, the low sun shining through the mist, the understory wet and sparkling with dew, while the many spider webs glowed in the light. Birds sang.
By morning tea time the quite reasonable foot track had deteriorated and we were winding our way through spiky Banksia & Tea Tree scrub which threatened to gouge one, the track itself often hidden from view. Corang Peak had now come into sight. We stopped at a couple of view sites and took photos.
Corang Peak is on the left skyline
Steve elected to go around Corang Peak while P, JG, JM and I walked over it, stopping at the summit cairn for more photos and looking at the route ahead with Mt Tarn, our destination, in the far distance. The view from the summit is magnificent: wilderness, mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see. Stillness, the listening land, lying here in the sun, dreaming of times before man was born. Here one feels the very spirit of the land. Now we are the wanderers, watching, listening.
From near Corang Peak. Mt Donjon left of centre, and Mts Cole and Owen on the right
From the summit of Corang Peak we descended to Corang Arch where we had lunch and
enjoyed the wonderful view. The Arch is massive and freestanding apart from the shoulder of the hill. The hill itself is undercut here to form a large cave, in front of which is the Arch.
From the Arch the route descends steeply over bare rock, down what is called The Conglomerate Slope. The rock is typical conglomerate, and is very rough, packed full of small to medium sized stones, breaking the rock surface all across it, looking as if they are loose , but are actually cemented to the rock face. The Conglomerate Slope ends in an attractive small patch of forest.
Conglomerate slope – steeper than it looks
At the bottom of the Conglomerate Slope at Canowie Brook there is a track intersection: turn left, as we would on our return, to Wog Wog via Corang Lagoon, or continue across Canowie Brook and its swampy grasslands, through a gap in the hills and up and up to the base of Mt Tarn. Eventually we reached the top of the hill and then continued through scrub on a very rough foot track along a long ridge before contouring along the side of Bibbenluke Mountain. From Canowie Brook the walking was fairly hard – a rough, narrow track, often invisible, sometimes wet and muddy. I called out eventually to find out how far we had to go, and Philip gave an answer, relayed back by Steve, but losing accuracy on the way. What we got was “about 300 metres”. I started counting but gave up after 400m. What Philip had actually said was “Over there, a few hundred metres” pointing in a straight line to the camp site. Eventually Philip turned off the main track onto a very faint one and in just a few metres we came to the camp site. It was about 4 pm.
The camp site is lovely and close to a beautiful, tinkling stream, the headwaters of Corang River. Mostly the vegetation here is dense bracken, ferns and grasses, but there are several small spots for tents from which the vegetation has been cut. These tent sites are small, beautifully level, free from sharp objects and connected to a larger open, sandy area by faint tracks. This larger area is well situated close to the stream and in amongst some small eucalyptus trees. This was where we gathered and cooked. Coming through the ferns and bracken and before disappearing into it, the stream, very shallow, broadened out over a level, shallow sandstone basin and then fell over the lip of this basin into a narrow trench about half a metre wide at the top and 3 m long and 2.5 m deep. The lip, the length of the trench, is undercut, so there is a curtain of water falling into a shallow pool. From here we got our water and eased ourselves down the slot into the pool in the afternoons to take our icy showers.
Sunset was at about 5.15 and by 6 it was dark, so we lost no time in getting up our tents, making everything shipshape, making tea, soup, and cooking dinner. At about 5 pm we heard someone coo-eeing several times and eventually an answering coo-ee. Our camp was overlooked by a rocky buttress of Mt Tarn whose wonderful sandstone cliffs caught the red rays of the setting sun and glowed like burnished copper above us. By 6 pm it was very cold, and we were wondering how soon we could go to bed! But for about an hour we sat chatting, no lights on of course, the night black but the stars blazing down at us, the Milky Way quite incredible. I think that every night we were there we all were absorbed by the wonder of the starry sky even while we chatted.
The colours of the Australian bush have to be seen to be believed. At first glance the bush is incredibly monotonous, then, as ones eyes become accustomed to the uniqueness of the scene, one appreciates the great variety in form, texture and colour. I was constantly amazed on this trip at the richness of the landscape colours, the vegetation ranging from vivid green to olive, gold, and copper. It is a beautiful place.
By 7 we had all ducked into our tents. Small tents warm up very quickly and as soon as I was in the tent with the door closed I was out of the frosty cold air and feeling most comfortable. However, there was a huge amount of dew on the tents and on the inside of the fly sheets there was a great deal of condensation. I slept very warm under my quilt and on my Therma Rest Neo Air Lite full length mattress. The moon was out during the day, so the night, apart from the starlight, was darker than usual. During the night I heard several calls from a Boobook Owl. A lovely, haunting sound and when I hear it I know I am in the wilderness. In fact, while chatting after eating, we heard a number of calls which were then answered by another owl some distance away.
I was awake at about 5 am. Pitch black of course. But too warm under my quilt to move. However, by 6 I could wait no longer for my tea and soon had a 2- mug brew going, which I enjoyed from the warmth of my quilt. Then breakfast. It was very cold and there was frost on the tents. A quick icy wash and shave and I was ready to face the world.
Just before 8 we were on our way to Mt Cole and then Monolith Valley, returning over
Mt Owen, then around Mt Cole to re-join our outward track
It was a stunning morning and my heart sang. This was to prove a wonderfully exciting day of exploration, well for me it was– Philip and Jan had been here before, JG 30 years before. As
usual we were moving quickly: we had a lot of ground to cover. On our left was the bulk of the Mt Tarn buttress, looming over our camp. Then we breasted a ridge and there in front of us were Mounts Donjon, Cole and Owen, their sheer rock walls glowing in the morning sun ; the forested slopes and valley in shades of blue and purple.
In about an hour we were on Mt Cole, at the base of the cliffs. The cliffs, reaching up to the sky, are most impressive, but at our level, as we contoured around Mt Cole, we went through a series of caves or overhangs.
Mt Donjon on left and Mt Cole on right. We traversed left at the base of the Mt Cole cliffs and through a very narrow pass between these 2 mountains.
Approaching Mt Cole
Looking back at Mt Tarn
Cliffs and a camping cave on Mt Cole
Then we ascended a rocky cleft, between Donjon and Cole, and down the other side into a different world. A narrow defile between huge cliffs, dark, rainforest trees, tree ferns. Here there was no track as such. We climbed up, over and then down through very narrow, rocky defiles. Here we came to the wonderful “Green Room” and Monolith Valley
The way through between Mts. Donjon and Cole to Monolith Valley
Eventually we broke out onto a fantastic rock pinnacle at the northern end
of the Seven Gods Pinnacle which Philip & the two Jans climbed.
We had morning tea here and sat in the sun admiring the view back towards
Mt Cole, over Monolith Valley, & over to Shrouded Gods Mountain
rimmed by its impressive cliffs
Morning tea spot on a pinnacle at the end of the Seven Gods Pinnacle
Shrouded Gods Mountain
Shrouded Gods Mountain from Seven Gods Pinnacle
After tea we wandered on, going now through the incredible Green Room, even more
magical. Close stone walls reached up to the sky, but very dark down below, under lush rainforest trees and vegetation. Green lichens and mosses, ferns and huge tree ferns, huge mossy boulders, a trickling stream, still, dark, reflecting pools, twisted roots breaking through into the open in very dark little grottos with still dark pools on their floors. Water dripping. Tolkienesque? Certainly another world, and magical. No amount of telling can ever describe it. We wandered on, wide eyed, not quite believing what we were seeing. Holding our breath, well, almost. One can almost see why people go caving. Down here in the Green Room, a long, narrow, twisting fissure, it felt at times that we were in an underground cave
In the Green Room
In the Green Room
We came across a massive rock arch, climbed up to it and admired it ,
standing beneath it. I feel that somehow I most go back there with a camera and lots of time. There is a place there where people used to camp, but gosh, at night it would be cold and a bit spooky. One would need a huge fire to keep the evil spirits away, as our ancestors once did
climbing up to the rock arch
Philip led us on and it was almost a relief to be back in life-giving sunlight. He took us to a spot which surely was the edge of beyond. From a very narrow ridge of rock the great cliffs dropped away vertically at our feet with blue views that went forever, down into the Yadboro Valley and then over towards the highway coming down from Clyde Mountain to the coast from Canberra.
Mount Nebeling on left, Mt Owen on right, looking down
into the Yadboro Valley
On the right of the skyline ridge (Mt Nebeling) is a thin rock spire, in shadow. The top of it is the face of a dog, see photo below
Mt Nebeling on left and Mt Owen on right
From this lovely spot we climbed up onto the sandstone of the upper slopes of Mt Owen where we stopped for lunch. After lunch we continued over the sandstone slabs and then steeply down them, until we came to a narrow, rocky, plunging gully separating Mounts Owen and Cole, a plunging defile through the great cliffs. At the bottom of the cliffs we again picked up the track and continued through the huge overhangs until we came to our outward track, having circumnavigated Mt Cole. On the way we passed a fireplace in one of the camping caves which had not been properly doused – the pile of ashes still had embers burning underneath. Not very good.
banksia ericafolia through the banksia scrub on summit of Mt Owen
Starting the descent between Mts Owen and Cole (no track)
the descent between Mts Owen (left) and Cole (no track)
Descending a crack between Mts Owen and Cole
looking back at the crack we descended between Mts Cole (left)
and Owen (right)
Camping cave on Mt Cole with still-burning fire. We have now completed the circuit and will now retrace our outward trip back to camp.
lichen on a burnt tree
The track back to camp
looking back at Mt Owen
Looking back – Mt Cole
We were back at camp by about 4 pm and one after another we all had an icy wash under our shower, after first squeezing our way down into the trench and hoping that we weren’t picking up any leaches. Then it was mugs of tea, then soup for some, and dinner. The red rays of the setting sun were again lighting up Mt Tarn. Peace and quiet. The stars came out. Both Philip and I noticed a flash of light in deep space, sort of beyond the nearer stars. Strange. We put on more clothing as the cold descended, until at 6.45 Steve announced that it was almost 7 and we all headed for bed. But what a night, what a place to be.
Again, I woke very early. A great deal of condensation on the underside of the fly, but it hadn’t come through into the tent. Frost on the tents, and ice in JM’s water bottle. Another glorious day, birds singing, and a cloudless sky. Max. Temp. about 23 ° c. By 8 am we were on our way up Mt Tarn and then across to Mt Haughton. Initially going up Mt Tarn we walked along a track running in water in places, through grasses, ferns and bracken, but as we got higher we were in lovely forest where there were beautiful Banksias in flower. Suddenly we were at the base of the cliffs and on level ground, right next to the cliffs and with the forest close behind us. The rock formations of the cliffs are amazing and in places there are steep, near vertical gullies coming down in which is vegetation. One feels awe in places like this. It is a primeval place, and I think too that the word well describes Monolith Valley and the Green Room. In Monolith Valley, seeing its remote, untouched wildness and the incredible shapes of the prehistoric rock formations one expects to see dinosaurs. The Green Room is primeval in a different way. Up here on Mt Tarn, I again felt I was wandering through a dinosaur land of prehistory. We wandered on, along the base of the cliffs, under
overhangs, the vegetation no longer dry eucalyptus forest but lush rain forest, including tree ferns.
Mt Tarn. We have climbed up the ridge through
lovely forest to the base of the rim rock, and we now
traversed along the base of the cliffs before climbing again
Mt Tarn – Epacris sp.
Mt Tarn -walking along the base of the cliffs
The vague track then took us up onto a plateau, a heathland plateau of very shallow soils and many sandstone rock slabs. We now found ourselves in tall and very thick Tea Tree scrub through which we had fight our way towards the rock slabs of the very broken summit massif.
Mt Tarn – Leptospermum sp (Tea Tree)
Mt Tarn plateau. Through dense banksia scrub. A trekking pole is
a nuisance here !
Once on the slabs we could walk more easily. Philip took us to the aptly named Anvil Rock. However, we were on a freestanding block, separated from the summit block by chasms. We needed to get down and across to be able to ascend to the summit. The only way down was a sheer cliff. Philip had brought some rope, but decided that it was insufficient, so we gave up the summit attempt and instead went up to the top of the block we were on for morning tea from where we had superb views along the north facing cliffs of Mt Tarn and across to Mts Hoddle and Haughton.
Mt Tarn – The Anvil
Mt Tarn – The Anvil
Mt Tarn – the edge of the plateau
Mt Tarn – the buttress overlooking our camp
Mt Haughton from Mt Tarn
From here we descended back to the plateau, fighting our way through the tea tree scrub until we picked up the track again and headed off to Mt Haughton. There used to be a large tarn on this plateau but it appears to have dried up some time ago as the area is now covered in tussock.
Crossing the plateau I unusually started to run out of energy and my complaining “tummy” also finally took charge and forced me to do something about it. After that I felt better and also my energy level returned. For a while I had been contemplating turning back, but now found I could go on. Perhaps these problems had been caused by the anti-inflammatories I had been taking for my knees.
We descended a gully and walked across and up to the cliff line on Mt Haughton. Here we came upon a massive and spectacular cleft or “cut back” in the cliff line (see the photo of Mt Haughton from Mt Tarn, above ) , overhung by the most amazing formations. We then continued along the cliff line, under the overhangs, to a large camping cave. A little further on and we stopped for lunch. Here I had a drink of water from my 1 litre platypus water bottle, having finished the water in a smaller bottle, only to taste methylated spirits. Somehow I must have topped up the water with about 100 ml from the metho bottle. I looked for some water trickling down the rocks and came across a beautiful small grotto in the rocks, under an overhang, all hung about with mosses and ferns. Water was trickling out into a dark and shallow pool of cold water. I refilled my bottle. It looked awful – a dirty yellow colour which caused some rude comments. However, the water was clear and sweet, just beautiful water, which I drank without filtering.
Mt Tarn. The Tarn on the plateau some 30 years
ago. Now there is no tarn at all.
Mt Haughton – at the base of the cliffs
Looking up at the massive rock wall in the cut-back on Mt Haughton
The long, undercut cliff line on Mt Haughton
The little grotto and pool where I topped up my waterbottle on
Cutback on Mt Haughton
From here we returned to camp. The track across Mt Tarn plateau is a real mixture: sometimes fairly open and winding through tussocky grasslands, sometimes along the twin planks of slippery boards, sometimes in water, at times through tea tree scrub which clutches at one as one passes, and sometimes through dense thickets of saplings through what amounts to a tunnel where at times one walks bent over
Part of the track on Mt Tarn on the way back to
Soon we were back at the cliffs from where the track drops down through the beautiful, fairly open, forest to the camp site.
cliffs on Mt Tarn back at the ridge descending to
Banksia spinulosa on the ridge descending to camp
Mt Donjon from ridge on Mt Tarn
On this day a change in the weather was obviously coming. Milky flat clouds were barely moving in the distant west while over the coast there was a long line of cumulous clouds slowly approaching. Now, in the late afternoon, a breeze started to blow inland from the sea, although this might have just been the sea breeze. The following morning the breeze had swung 180 degrees and this again might just have been the land breeze.
The sun was getting low and mellow as we broke out of the forest giving us some wonderful views of the nearby buttress cliffs of Mt Tarn and the more distant Mts Cole and Owen.
Back at camp we lost no time in taking our icy showers and then the usual mugs of tea and soup, followed by dinner.
The evening was noticeably warmer than the previous two although every now and again the breeze would blow in from the sea. The clouds held off, seemingly only sitting on the edge of the escarpment, and for a while blocking out the stars in the east. But by 11 pm the stars were once again blazing from a cloudless sky.
Of course we all missed a fire, but we were in a fire free zone – fuel stoves only. In any case, there was no fuel around the camp site, although we could have brought some down with us from the forest. However, some of us had kept some rubbish to burn and we softened our eco-tistical view enough to burn it and add some very small twigs from time to time. So for quite a while we kept a very small. Most welcome, cheery, flame going. Even our leader who had been enforcing the no fire rule couldn’t keep away and turned around to face our lone spark in the night keeping all those nasty spooky spirits away from us ( I joke !!! ) How terrifying the nights must have been to early man, though, before they had fire, and indeed even after they had fire, for they lived in the belief that evil spirits were ever present.
I was awake by 4 am. Blast! Thankfully there was no rain and we had another stunning morning. We packed and were away by 8.00 am on the long walk back. However, our packs were now a lot lighter. It was a singing, sparkling, dewy morning. What a place to be. Mist was rising around the Mt Tarn rock buttress. Birds were carolling. Everything was sparkling with the dew and sunlight. Mind you, the dew did wet us as we pushed through the scrub!
Morning mist on the Mt Tarn Buttress behind our camp
Early morning on the homeward track
There were some lovely views on the way back before we started the long descent back to Canowie Brook at the base of the Conglomerate Slope where we stopped for morning tea. Instead of retracing our outward route by ascending the Conglomerate Slope we took the track which branched off to the right, or north, along Canowie Brook and so to the Rock Rib on Corang River. For days, Steve had been dreaming of a swim at Corang Lagoon, which is further downstream, but of course he was hallucinating: we were no longer in summer.
dissolving early morning mist
Well, we came to the Rock Rib. This is a narrow, broken, rib of rock which once was a dyke right across the valley, but has been worn down by the river which has broken through the rib quite a long way down. We climbed down the rib to the river. It is really a stunning spot. It was all too much for Steve; he could wait no longer and went in. Jan M was also soon in, their shouts as their hot bodies hit the icy water didn’t exactly encourage the rest of us to go in, but we did. It seemed to me to be colder than when we used to bathe in the ice-lined Firth River in the Yukon. Jan G called out to me as I hesitated at knee depth saying it did not count unless one went in up to one’s neck. Oh gosh! I took a deep breath and went in. None of us stayed in more than a very few minutes! Luckily the sun was warm and there was no breeze, so breeze drying (or was it freeze drying?) was not too painful. However, putting on my perspiration-soaked and cold shirt was not fun! Walking and scrambling back up the rib was hard as I had no feeling in my feet. We couldn’t stop for long as we still had a long way to go. This was to be an 8 hour day.
Looking right down the rock rib to the Corang River.
Corang River immediately downstream from the Rock Rib
Looking upstream from the Rock Rib. Chilling out!
Not long afterwards we came to the picturesque Corang Lagoon and its cascades. This is a lovely stretch of river which opens out into a beautiful, tranquil pool before cascading down over the rocks and running beside cliffs. We stopped at the Cascades for a quick lunch. Again, Steve and Jan M went in for a dip. Jan G and I were about to follow when Philip said that he wanted to be away in 5 minutes time! Just as Jan and Steve went in a party of 5 youngsters came down to the Cascades for their lunch.
Corang Lagoon from the Cascades at its outflow
drosera aspatulata (sundew) – carnivorous. At Corang lagoon
From Corang Lagoon it becomes payback time. The track is reasonable, winding up and down mainly along broad ridges through typical heathland scrub, although there were some gorgeous banksias in bloom. This part of the track just seems to be never ending and unchanging, except for the crossings of 4 small creeks, unnamed except for Goodsell Creek. Not much water flows in them, but what there is is clear and sweet. At each creek the track descends and then climbs steeply out of the valley, the riverine vegetation being almost rainforest. The crossings are rather attractive spots.
Eventually we reached another intersection and re-joined our outward route. The heathland was now being taken over by forest and we had only a couple of hills to ascend before the long slow descent to Wog Wog Creek and then one last short climb to the cars. On the way we stopped at a rocky conglomerate outcrop with distant views where the two Jans were overjoyed to get mobile reception and happy mother’s day messages. From this spot it was an hour back to the cars. Whilst Philip and I stopped every now and again to let the others catch up, he and I raced along a great rate of knots. It was wonderful to be able to walk so fast, so easily and for so long. Mind you, I could not keep up with him in the last hundred metres steeply up to the cars. But then he is younger!
We were back at the cars at 4 pm . I must say, this was a really great trip. On the way home we all joined up at Braidwood for coffee, ice cream and so on.
I think that we reached Philip and Jan’s home at about 7 pm and I was quickly on my way home, stopping at Cooleman Court for some salads and fruit. After the high carb, and protein diet of the last 4 days my system was crying out for salads, especially cucumber and tomato and also fruit.
The next day the weather changed. Temperatures plummeted and steady rain set in.