Trip Report: A wet and windy week in the Blue Breaks — July 18 – 23
Party: Tim Vollmer, Tim Gastineau-Hills, John Lieberth, Stephen Sheehan, Adrian Spragg and very briefly Joshua Hill
Online with photos: http://fatcanyoners.org/2011/07/18/blue-breaks/
For a week the weather forecasts had been steadily worsening, so that by the time we left we were pretty well guaranteed rain on every day of the walk.
We made our way out to Oberon on the Sunday, at a lazy time, but were still in a pretty poor state, with a very hung over Stephen (his brother got married the day before) and Joshua increasingly worried that his jaw was infected after having a molar removed a few days earlier.
We grabbed a late lunch from a very reasonable burger joint with a pleasant wood fire before hitting the road for the long trip towards Yerranderie on the old Colong Stock Route, which in places was strewn with the remnants of fallen trees from the wind storms of a few weeks before.
We arrived at Batsh Camp (Batshit Camp for those interested in historical accuracy) with about an hour of light, setting up a pleasant camp and enjoying our last fine dinner, suffering just 15 minutes of rain during the evening.
We set off the next morning with a rough plan which was extraordinarily ambitious, especially as none of us had explored the area before. We were hoping to cross Mt Colong, the Tonalli Range, Axehead Mountain, the Broken Rock Range, Bimlow Tableland, Lacys Creek, Lacys Tableland, Bull Island Peak, Yerranderie Peak, and the Mootik Walls.
In reality, the only “must do” areas in my mind were Mt Colong, the ‘Thin Bit’ on Vengeance Peninsula, and the Razorblade, so anything else was a bonus.
We quickly made our way past Bent Hook Swamp, along a section of Scotts Main Range which is just 10m higher than the creek, before climbing our first easy pass up towards Kooragang Mountain.
We followed on open swampy area to avoid the scrub, arriving in a stunning area where the water moved between a series of pools on a large rock slab (complete with aboriginal sharpening groves) before plunging over a cliff into Lannigans Creek. From here it was up to the Murruin Range, over the Colong Causway, and up Mt Colong for morning tea.
The broken rocky sides of Mt Colong were fun to climb, offering increasingly spectacular views, while on top the flat, grassy, lightly treed landscape looked like manicured parkland.
We headed towards Colong Saddle, first having to find a pass through the solid cliff line. Thankfully a reasonable crack was located and with the help of a hand line we made short work of it.
Joshua was looking increasingly poor at this point, even blacking out several times during our descent. So after crossing Swamp Head Mountain and dropping in to Squatting Rock Gap for lunch, he was very seriously reevaluating his ability to safely continue. As we were packing up he finally made the call, saying he would make the long fire trail bash into Yerranderie and make his own way home from there.
(Several days later Tom Werner, the caretaker at Yerranderie, told us a very cold Joshua had stumbled into town a couple hours after sunset. Tom had generously offered him his guest room, given him a feed and some home brew, then driven him back to Batsh Camp in the morning. Talk about a top bloke!)
The rest of us had pushed on along an incredibly old and overgrown road around the side of Mt Marrup, sidled Mount Yuburra and gone over Kowmung Mountain, keeping one eye on the sinking sun and another on the rain which had hovered over the Kowmung River all day. We hit the fire trail right on dark, walking down to Butchers Creek to fill up with water before moving up the hill in search of a camp site. Despite the darkness we managed to snag a great camp site in the beautiful open forest near the old football ground.
When we woke in the morning the sun was shinning, promising a spectacular day, so we were in high spirits as we raced along the road to Byrnes Gap. We paused briefly to check out the dirt bikers’ shack, then set off up the track to Gander Head head.
As we climbed the views were spectacular, eventually taking us so high we could see the mountains rolling away on all sides. Not long after we began seeing a cold front on the horizon, coming from the south west, but tried to ignore it as we did the high traverse of the range.
Like the day before, we were noticing fallen trees everywhere, uprooted by the ferocious wind storm of a few weeks earlier (from the damage I have to say Dave Noble really played it down in his trip report given he was near here for the worst of it).
On the way to Bull Island the weather hit, with the temperature plunging in just minutes. First we were hit by chilling rain, followed by sleet, and finally a heavy burst of snow as we made it up the peak. Soon after it turned back to rain, which continued on and off for much of the day.
Vengeance Peninsula offered an imposing sight as we approached, however we were soon up and in no time were at the ‘Thin Bit’. Wow! With the wind now howling we made our way across this tiny rock causeway — with cliffs that plunge up to 100 metres — before doing the easy but incredibly exposed rock scramble at the end to get back onto a broader ridge.
On the tops, this mighty cliff-lined monolith looked totally different, with beautiful open scrub filled with wattles and other flowers.
The pass of the end was simple, and we were soon navigating through the dozens of finger-like spurs, trying to find the campsite at the junction of Green Wattle Creek and Butchers Shop Creek.
We ended up missing it by one ridge, meaning a 500m creek walk before we found a pleasant grassy flat beside the creek to spend the night.
After a surprisingly dry night we made a sluggish start, thanks to the lower light in the valley, before skirting through scrub a short way and pushing up the ridge to an obvious pass (Cuff Link Pass). My knee was feeling pretty poor, as was T1’s ankle, so we took turns as tail-end-charlie.
There were a couple scrambles through small cliff-lines, but only one was tricky enough to require the packs to come off, and we were soon on top of Lacys Tableland.
We decided to stick to the ridge tops now that we were up, if you could call them ridges. While the open scrub made for easy walking — and it was very pretty due to the proliferation of flowering wattles — we soon got sick of looking at seemingly flat ground while trying to decipher which direction it was ever-so-slightly falling in.
Following the cliff edge the views were magnificent, despite the weather, and we were pretty well at Presidents Pass by the time we stopped for lunch in a sheltered overhang. At this point my knee was feeling terrible and I suggested to the others that they continue without me and that I would just make my own slow progress back towards Yerranderie. After some discussion the group decided to instead cut back the length of the walk and have an easier time of it.
We spent the afternoon exploring the cliffs, rocky outcrops, plentiful caves, creeks and cracks, before settling on a spectacular nearby camp cave where we set up and got a roaring fire going before sipping cups of tea on the cliff-edge while the sun set.
In the wee hours of the morning we were woken by a horrific noise. It stopped momentarily, before starting up again from the creek below us. Finally, after a longer pause where we could hear it moving around, it had another go from about 10m away, causing a blaze of torch light to criss-cross the area, apparently scaring it away. In the morning it was decided it must have been a pig, but whatever it was clearly wasn’t impressed with our choice of camp site.
(Although it may also have been an alien, if rumours of a UFO base in the Burragorang Valley are true!)
I had one more scare a short time later when I was woken by some really close grunting. Grabbing for my torch I spun around, worried our wild friend had joined us in the cave, but thankfully found it was simply John making some rather terrible animal noises in his sleep.
The next day was again easy, with a return along the ridge tops, although the magnificent views were somewhat dampened by the regular squalls of rain.
When we found a huge cave not long after lunch, with a pool of fresh water just metres away, we decided to have another easy one and enjoy more relaxing time around the fire.
Amazingly an animal had seemingly dug out its own little dog bowl under a drop from a crack in the rock, with a small pool of water that looked as if it would remain, even in dry weather.
The next day it was back to some proper walking, thanks to T1’s steady supply of quality anti-inflamitory tablets, and we headed for Terni Head.
The views were spectacular from the narrow nose, reminiscent of Castle Head only more expansive and interesting. There were two tricky points — which would be fine going up but were a little precarious going down in the wet and windy conditions — so we abseiled the first, then pack hauled on the second.
We were soon down, then across the little bump of a hill, before a steep descent to the saddle before the Razorblade.
The Razorblade was spectacular. For 500m the knife-edge ridge, which is just a few feet wide, carried us towards Bull Island Peak, with stunning views on both sides.
We admired Vengeance from the side, especially the new perspective on the Thin Bit, before pushing across the scrub to the highest point on the very SE corner of the peak.
After morning tea we made our descent, forcing a pass down some cracks a short distance away, before returning to the nose and plunging down the incredibly steep scree slope which at its worst point was so unstable we pulled out the hand line.
Some swampy scrub bashing ensued, before a series of odd bare brown hillocks took us towards yet more scrub and the cliff-lined fingers of Chinamans Bluffs.
Again we missed our planned ridge by one, crossing a small creek then climbing the next ridge which took us directly to a very pretty part of the Tonalli River where a fire trail comes almost directly to the waters edge.
We were all grateful for some easy walking, so we pushed on up the trail to the Yerranderie Cemetery where we enjoyed lunch before exploring the old graves, many of which are for young children.
With the weather still miserable we headed into town, examining the old government buildings, the kangaroo-covered airstrip, then the former private town (recently donated to National Parks by Adrian’s relative Val Lhuede). Here we enjoyed the kitchen, covered sleeping area, plentiful firewood and even the hot showers (well I did, the others muttered something about being soft).
The next morning we had a bit more of an explore before checking out the largest of the old mines, before making our way to Colong Gap. We ended up going up too early, climbing an unnecessary peak, but it provided spectacular views so was well worth it.
We followed Mootik Walls before turning off to Byrnes Bluff where we found an easy pass down and were soon on the fire trail beside Colong Creek.
We walked through a stunning open forest, which made for the most pleasant walking, before crossing the creek and heading towards Bulls Gap. We had lunch in a break in the flat, scrubby area, before making a final push up the hill.
On top of Morton Head we enjoyed great views again, with a lovely little swamp area complete with large pools of water on the perfectly flat plateau, with cliffs plunging away on each side of it.
From here it was a quick pace up onto the Murruin Range, over Kooragang Mountain, and through the swamp to our first pass of the trip. Despite the sore muscles we raced along to the cars, with my right Volley deciding to self destruct now that we were almost done.
With more than an hour of daylight left we arrived at T1’s car, with plenty of time for Adrian’s rock cakes, a change of clothes, and a clean up before hitting the road.
The stock route was incredibly wet and muddy, with ruts, flowing water and huge slippery sections. Despite this T1 only managed to get us sideways once, and we were soon back on tar to make the final push into Oberon for a well deserved feed at the Royal Hotel.
The stunning sunset, easily the best of the week, had us all in high spirits, and the enormous quantity of food we soon devoured did nothing but help us forget the aching muscles. It had been a great trip, but we’d barely scratched the surface of the Blue Breaks. I have to admit I’m already planning my return to this magical patch of wilderness.
Mob: 0404 273 313
Email: tim.vollmer at gmail.com