Trip report; Barrington Tops Blizzard weekend walk, July 7-8 2007
Bruce (Leader), Wendy, Carolin, Nazih, Jen.
This was a trip notable for the amount of time we spent walking in snow on the track.
We set out from Gosford Station on the friday night for the fairly long drive north to the Gloucester River camping area, in the easten part of the Barrington Tops Wilderness Area. As there had been some last minute cancellations by people we found that all of us could fit into Nazih’s station wagon, so Wendy’s car was left at my place. Rather than take the slower Buckett’s Way to Gloucester with its risk of hitting kangaroos at night, we took the Pacific Highway freeway to Nabiac and then inland to Gloucester. This took us past the imitation “Ayers Rock” that the Leyland Brothers had built in the 1970’s as a tourist attraction, and we decided to stop there for a bite and coffee. It looks like a monstrosity but the food is good. Back on the highway Nazih entertained us with Arabic songs from the CDs he had brought along.
It was on the last section on the road to Gloucester Tops that we encountered the first of the five fords across the fast flowing Gloucester River. Wendy expressed trepidation at first as the water looked deep and there was a mist swirling above the dark water. However Nazih’s car got across without any drama, as well as the four others that came in quick succession.
We arrived at the Gloucester River camping area (which is just within the NP boundary) after midnight, pitched tents, and settled in for the night.
Next morning it was up early for breakfast and to collect water from the Gloucester River, and we noted the mass of camping paraphernalia which one family camping there had brought along with them (see photo). (Thank goodness the NPWS bans generators in Barrington Tops). Then we drove the last steep winding section of the Gloucester Tops Road to the start of the walk. At this point the altitude is 1300 metres.
We then set off along the Gloucester Tops walking track for the 15km walk to Carey’s Peak. Along the way we passed through woodland typical of the South-East sub-tropical rainforests of the region, including the majestic Antarctic Beech and Mountain Gum with an understorey including tree-ferns and Banksias. We saw and heard a lot of bird-life including the rarely seen Glossy Black Cockatoo with its distinctive “tarred-tarred” call. Animals however were not seen at all – too cold for them?
After a lunch beak we continued on the track which undulates up and down saddles but never varies between 1300 and 1400 metres elevation, so overall it was a fairly easy track. But where, on a previous trip on this track in the recent drought, there had been only small puddles, there were now extensive muddy sections with small streams in some places. Also, some forest giants had succumbed to the strong winds of the June storms and had fallen across the track. One bonus this gave us was the opportunity to observe close-up the epyphytes (tree orchids etc) that are normally 20 metres or more above the ground.
It was mostly sunny along the way, although a few clouds here and there hinted at what was to come later. About 7km out of Carey’s Peak we spotted the first evidence of scattered snow on the ground, and after a while it became more and more evident. A little after 2pm it started to become quite dark, which worried Jen (“it shouldn’t be dark this early”), and the wind came up, but we never felt cold as long as we continued walking with full packs. Whenever we stopped for a water break, however, it was a different matter. The vegetation had also changed, with snow gums predominating and a grassy and scrubby understorey.
By the time we had reached the track junction for the Lagoon Pinch track (the steep 10km “Corker Track” down to Barrington Guest House and Dungog), the snow on the ground was almost continuous. At this point there was a discussion as to whether we should continue on to Carey’s Peak (1525 metres) to camp there, or go to Selby Hut about 1 km down the Corker Track, given the possibility of strong winds and more snow overnight. We decided to have a look at Carey’s Peak campsite to assess it, and when we arrived there we found that two walkers from Newcastle had already set up a tent there, having come up the Corker Track, and had a fire going in the fireplace of Carey’s Hut. And that was the other good news: Carey’s Hut has now been restored and can now be used for shelter – up to a point. Also, the wind at Carey’s Peak was not that strong, as the surrounding trees, mainly snow gums, gave some protection.
So we set up camp there, pitching tents in the rapidly fading light, and shared the hut with the two guys from Newcastle. They went to bed early, as they wanted to be off down the Corker track by 4.30am, leaving us with the fire in the hut. We did notice though that the snow melt was draining into the hut making the floor rather soggy (some drainage work still needs to be done on it), and thus unsuitable for sleeping on. For dinner Nazih experimented with various concoctions in his (square) waffle iron, including avocado and Mars Bars, and I found that a small tin of Tom Piper Savoury Mince and vegetable, mixed with instant mashed potato and water worked well (Marcelle to note, please). All this was helped along with some Port Wine that Jen had thoughtfully provided. We then settled in for an early night (well 10pm is early), and into our tents, finding that despite the snow lying around it was not as cold as expected.
Overnight some of us were awaked to the sound of what seemed like rain on the tents, but on getting up at 7am the next morning found that Huey had given us another dump of 5cm of snow overnight. No wonder the air in the tents wasn’t cold, with all that insulation! They ground was completely covered in a mantle of white, as was the vegetation. Then it was a quick walk up to the Carey’s Peak lookout for the sunrise, which required some patience as swirling clouds would obliterate the view, but short breaks would reveal the sun lighting up the valleys below, and at one point it was clear enough to detect the straight line of the ocean at Stockton Bight in the far distance, proving that Barrington Tops is one of the few places in Australia where you can stand in snow and see the sea.
On that point, Carolin, visiting from Germany, had never seen snow in Australia up to now, and it is ironic that she saw it for the first time in the North-east Sub-tropical forests! Wendy also commented that it was so unusual to see tall forest trees covered in snow in Australia, as they were here; because in the Snowy Mountains the vegetation is more stunted.
We had breakfast in the hut, using our Trangias for cooking this time as the fire had not survived the night. The fresh snow also solved the water supply problem (we made sure we didin’t collect yellow snow!!) and after breakfast set off again back the way we came the previous day. This time the track was wholly snow covered. Even so, it again didn’t seem that cold while we were walking, and the sun coming out intermittently helped. For the next 6km the track stayed at around the 1500 metre mark, and the snow stayed with us. Not only that but Huey couldn’t make up his mind as that what weather to send us, as we would have sunny breaks, then wind, then some more light snow, repeated like this for the first 2 hours. Then the track started to drop down a bit and the snow became very brief light rain showers between sunny breaks.
We had a break for lunch then continued on, only to find that about 1pm the wind came up again and it started to snow again, but this time more heavily. Still, we pressed on regardless through the blizzard, which was quickly starting to cover the track with a layer of fresh snow, and negotiated the numerous muddy sections along the way, until we reached the car. We bundled the packs and ourselves into the car quickly, as it was still snowing, and set off back down the road past the friday night’s camp site, and across the five fords of the Gloucester River. At the last ford it was decided to take photos (and a video) of Nazih’s car crossing the ford. So we got out after the ford for a photostop, Nazih then returned back over it, and crossed it again for the cameras. (Link at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTN-h0VUbQU for Carolin’s video.
Then we decided to go along Buckett’s Way back home even though it was slower then the freeway, but shorter in distance. This proved fortuitous, as a passing car pointed to Nazih’s rear tyre, and on inspection it was found to be almost flat. (hate to think what might have happened if we had driven at 110kph on the freeway with a flat!). This required an urgent stop, and unloading of the packs, to change the tyre, and a visit to the service station at nearby Stratford to check the tyre pressures. The delay caused us to postpone a planned stop at Dungog for a meal, which had to bet put off until we reached the service centre on the F3 at Tuggerah.
From then it was a straight trip back to Sydney for everyone (except me).
This was a most interesting trip made all the more special in it having the rare presence of heavy snow in the Barrington Tops.
Photo links are at:
(My photos, copy & paste link)
– Carolin’s photos,