Trip Report – 26th -31st December 2011

Party: Helen Smith & Jo Boyd

26th – Helen and I left Carlon’s Farm around 5pm on Boxing day, me having eaten and drunken non-stop for the past two days with family lunches. Helen having been very reserved and un-Christmas like in terms of food. What we both had in common however, were heavy packs laden with all the usual gear required for a five to six day trip with the exception paddles and rafts. With all the rain over December we were planning to paddle down the Coxs then spend some time in the Wild Dogs.

Neither of us had paddled much, neither of us knew anything about rapids and all we had were some cheap Kmart and Ray’s Outdoors blow up boats. All the ingredients for some interesting stories to tell later. Anyway, it was to be a trip of a slightly different nature. I also hoped I could work off some of that Christmas Pud with brandy butter, the pre meal nuts, the cheeses, the roast, the ham, Christmas cake, chocolate, nuts etc etc.

We trotted down Ironmonger Spur to camp at the Breakfast/Coxs junction. The weather as was the norm, wet. We got a good fire going after a little persuasion and over dinner and some wine discussed what we would do if faced with significant rapids. All of sudden it was 11pm so we retired to our abodes for the night. 

27th – Having only 10-12kms to travel there was no real urgency to get going early so we had a late breakfast and then packed up. We had blown up our boats the previous evening so a few extra puffs and we were away, packs placed at the front and us sitting behind. One good thing about paddling is the ability to look around and take photos whilst still on the move. It was great to see a huge amount of wildlife although feral almost outnumbered the native. During the day we saw many birds, bright blue dragon flies, snakes, pigs and heaps of fish jumping out of the water around us. The weather was clearing up nicely with sunny spells surprisingly intense. We bobbled over our first few small rapids with excitement and slight nervousness. It didn’t take long or many smashes of bum on rock, to find a good position and technique of paddling to avoid major collisions.

After rapidy sections, it would open up again into wide pools of slower moving water. This was where we just sat back and allowed the boats to drift down at their own pace and enjoy looking around at the ridges and mountains above. It was in one of these sections that I spotted a huge carp with red lips swimming up to my boat for a closer look. Later we saw many schools of the massive carp.

Approaching Merrigal Creek there was a change in the sound of the water. We could hear a low rumble as the water funnelled through a narrow bouldery section. We stopped to have a look at what was ahead. There were some significant drops with strong looking undercurrents. We decided to portage our gear around it.

Helen’s raft suffered a few minor air issues in the morning and occasionally required reinflating. It was decided that we would have a lazy lunch and do some repairs to Helen’s vessel. Mine had weathered the rapids and rocks well. The material being slightly tougher seemed to help. It wasn’t hard to find a nice sunny bank stop. In fact, by the time we had finished lunch it was almost too hot.

With repairs done, we continued the few kms to Kanangaroo Clearing, a large grassy area with a private land holding and hut. We stopped here for the night and set up camp on some high, grassy, flat ground above the river. This was a perfect spot with a warm breeze to dry our clothes. In the evening the temperature dropped so it was good to have a plentiful supply of dry wood to build up a nice warm fire. We drank the last of the wine and Helen even managed to rustle up a tasty custard dessert from her pack. It had been a very enjoyable day paddling and we were both looking forward to more the next day.

28th – Another lazy morning and after our packs were water proofed again we headed off for more fun. The water flow appeared to be faster than the previous day and there seemed to be more rapids to negotiate. The day was a little cool and cloudy at first but the sun appeared more often as the day wore on. We were making great progress down the river and saw more massive fish, a flock of cormorants, ducks that we had been chasing downstream the day before and more pigs and piglets snuffling amongst the carpet of wandering dew that seemed to have engulfed everything on the banks. Thankfully we didn’t have to walk through it. There was only one other area to portage gear around Moko Creek and the rest was smooth paddling. We stopped for lunch at another nice sunny spot. Our confidence in negotiating the rapids was growing and it looked as though we would make it to our next camp spot early and without major boat issues.

Down the next set of rapids ahead I saw Helen fly down, losing her hat and almost careering into a fallen tree with branches that could definitely cause some damage. Then as I was swept down paddling with all my might to avoid the tree I managed to make a direct hit with it. That was alright but as my boat swung around to follow the flow of water around the tree, I could feel a sudden jerk in my movement then all of a sudden I was going nowhere with huge volumes of water pummelling me from behind. I twisted round to try to unsnag the boat only to have my pack do a sudden dive to the left. It was then that the boat was free and I, my pack, paddle and half deflated boat drifted our separate ways to the next rapid. I managed to grab my pack and paddle and bum down the last rapid to the calm water where I could get to the bank. Helen managed to grab the drowning raft and bring it to me. “I’ll get the repair kit,” Helen called.

As I surveyed the gaping hole on the outside part of the boat with a large chunk of rubber missing, I replied, “I’m afraid the repair kit isn’t going to be much help.” The only thing to do then was to pack up what was left of my raft and start walking.

We agreed to meet at the next major water intersection so Helen continued to paddle down and I negotiated the rocky, wandering dew covered river bank that I had not long before thought how nasty it would be to have to walk through. Some sections were easier to walk along than others and after some time I saw Helen’s orange boat waiting at the next intersection. This watercourse was large with a deep pool where the Coxs and it met. Helen ferried my pack and then me across. We had a quick look further up this watercourse.

After taste test we moved on and eventually made it to a lovely clear area on the northern side to camp with the ridge we would ascend the next day directly above us. Still wet, we decided to savour our moment at the Coxs with a dip. This section was shallow and wide but with a reasonable current enough for us to be able to bum down a few rapids downstream. Once over the celebratory dip we headed up the bank to start to dry our gear in the effort to make it lighter to carry the next day. My now dead raft made an excellent campfire seat. We had a very enjoyable night regardless of the lack of alcoholic beverages. It was pasta again for me (no different to the day before, or the day before that or the next evening for that matter!).

29th –  As was beginning to become a trend on this trip, we had another leisurely morning before heading up our spur. This ridge, like most, started off steeply and continued that way for some time. It wasn’t until we hit the large ‘road-like’ track that the ascent became bearable. The track wound its way up the side of the ridge, looking down on magnificent old white trunks of the gums in the creek below.

We reached the base of Mount Mouin late morning and continued around the base of the Wild Dogs and headed for Mobbs Soak for lunch. We were glad we weren’t staying at Mobbs for the night as it was a dirty, dingy place. We collected some water (and treated it!) before heading up to Splendour Rock to camp. On the way we met two bushwalkers who had come from Kanangra and were heading to Mobbs to camp. Helen and I both found it surprising that they were not going to make the effort to go up to Splendour Rock for the view. They were the first people we had seen the whole trip.

They continued on their way and we continued on ours. After a short sharp scramble, we were on top and all we had to do was stroll down the slope to the rock lookout. We decided to camp close to the very nose so we could just wake up and look out on the view in the morning.

It was a lovely clear sunny day so you could see all the mountains around. The Three Peaks, the Walls and the dam, as well as the ridges leading back down to the Coxs. We spent a long time admiring the view, perusing the log book and taking photos of the fat Cunningham’s skink that was checking to see if we had any titbits for him. Alas he was disappointed.

The log book was fairly new with only a few club entries. There was a most beautifully illustrated and coloured entry by Sarah, Dave and Saul from their Mittagong to Katoomba trip. Not to put theirs to shame, we did our own brief stick figure illustration with annotations. Having arrived there early we had plenty of time on our hands so we toddled back and set up camp, collected firewood and then went to explore down Tommos chains. Arriving back we lazed around, writing, reading and boiling the billy for hot drinks whilst admiring the view. We had the whole place to ourselves.

We planned to get up at sunrise for the view which would be a shock to the system after so many late mornings. We had an early dinner watching little bats dart silently around the tree tops then headed to bed.

30th – Surprisingly we both managed to rouse ourselves from slumber to go and watch the sun come up. It was still quite chilly so we went to the cliff edge and sat in our sleeping bags. The sun sat behind some low cloud which now had golden edges. It also produced shards of light on the ridges below for some excellent photos.

The plan for the day was to head back down to the Coxs via Knights Deck. We packed up our dry gear and retraced our steps back to Mobbs and then along the well trodden Blue Dog Ridge towards Knights Deck. Once at Knights Deck we dumped packs and did the side trip to the lookout and logbook, meeting a baby brown along the way. By the look of the logbook, many people do not make the effort to do the side trip, the book there since 2005. The march flies then descended so we left the view and the resident goanna and headed back to our packs and down the steep ridge to the Coxs.

Once down it was lunch time. Helen named this day ‘festival of the gut.’ Because we were planning to get out early the next day, we had an extra lunch and any remaining snacks could be eaten. The lunch was customarily long and lazy. The little black flies now came out of hiding. The kind that love to get in your eyes and if you’re not careful, your mouth with the next mouthful of sandwich. This was when Helen pulled out her amazing secret weapon. It was a jar of Rosemary and Cedarwood cream which she bought in the NT when on fieldwork. I have never seen something work so well and with just such a tiny amount the flies disappeared. Even better was that it smelt good too.

We met another couple of walkers who were on their way downstream. They had heard of the club (the good things!!) and were keen to hear about where we had been.

We then said goodbye to the walkers and farewelled the Coxs for the last time before heading up the nettle and leach infested Breakfast Creek. It was flowing extremely well. We stopped at Frying Pan Flat for another early camp. This was a large, grassy, flat area perfect for a comfortable camp or so we thought anyway. We could have easily walked out that afternoon but the opportunity to have one more sleep in the bush seemed too good to resist.

We also had this spot to ourselves and spent the rest of the avo pouring over maps, writing, collecting firewood and generally lounging around. We did an excellent fuel load reduction around the area and graded the wood into three huge piles depending on size. In the evening we occupied ourselves with, of course, eating the last of our dinners and writing more verses to one of the PBT songs. We surprisingly managed to get through most of the firewood before heading to bed.

 Sometime in the night I was woken by an awful racket of howls from wild dogs further up the creek. They continued to move on to more verses, gradually coming closer to where we were camped. Not being my favourite of animals I definitely wasn’t going out of my tent even when I really needed to pee which was also a reason why I couldn’t get back to sleep. Although I must have drifted off into a light sleep I was woken again by some thrashing of a poor creature down in the water below camp. My heart was then thumping out of my chest. I wondered how Helen was going under the ever so ‘safe’ fly.

31st – In the morning we heard another repeat of howls now further up the ridge on the opposite side of the creek. I called to Helen, “Did you hear that racket last night?”

Helen matter of factly commented that there were some howls. I on the other hand was very thankful to have the sun up again, more for my bladders sake than anything else. We again had some more shut eye and not to break with tradition a leisurely breakfast before heading all of a few K’s back to the car.

When back at the car our legs had that warm tingly sensation of having walked through nettles. We noticed that one of the car’s tyres were slightly flat but thought we would be able to get to Blackheath alright which we did. We must have looked slightly helpless as a lovely man assisted us at the petrol station. We then headed to the pub for a celebratory New Years Eve drink.

It had been a fantastic trip. Very different to any either of us had previously done before and one we would consider repeating given another wet summer.