Party: Ashley Burke, Christian Wilson, Emilie Wilkie, Joel Johnsson, Josephine Roper, Nolan Wu, Patrick Wark, Savannah Montenegro.
Leader: Ashley Burke
Date: 15-16/7/2017

In the leadup to this trip I was expecting subzero temperatures at Newnes on the Friday night and a frigid but clear night on the Saturday. But in the end surprisingly mild conditions awaited us at Newnes when we arrived late on the Friday evening. A train delay meant that my carload arrived rather late, and it was midnight before we settled into our sleeping bags.

Next morning we woke to overcast skies with a hint of drizzle, but the promise of improving weather for the weekend. I quickly located the other people in the group who had arrived at Newnes at various times on the preceding evening. With all of us finally gathered, breakfasted and ready, it was time to head off.

The first stage of the walk was the hardest, with a steep climb on loose and uneven ground, and imposing cliffs blocking the way above. A steep sidle into a gully and then slow climbing against the base of the cliffs was required until the cliff line weakened enough for us to scramble up a fallen log and finally onto a plateau. Light rain fell intermittently as we pressed steadily upwards. Our efforts were rewarded when we emerged suddenly onto spectacular clifftops overlooking Little Capertee Creek and the Wolgan Valley beyond. The first patches of blue sky were seen and yet the dampness hung, the deep valley verdant and green with wisps of low cloud lingering around the base of the opposing cliffs.

We were now on the plateau with the bulk of the climbing behind us, and it was easy ridge walking in fairly open country for a while, until the first pagodas were encountered. There is some clambering and route finding in this section, as the intricate pagodas along this ridge offer some short steps, drops and climbs. It was here that the first of the weekend’s 3 incidents occurred. There was one short downclimb that most people jumped. Chris did the same, only landed a little off balance and grazed the side of his face on the coarse sandstone. What’s more, the jolt of landing caused some lower back pain.

So we stopped here for an early lunch while Chris recovered and while we assessed the situation. The graze on the temple was nothing to worry about, but the sore lower back would cause Chris some pain for the remainder of the trip and afterwards. Fortunately after resting and stretching his back for a while, and with most of his pack’s weight being offloaded to the rest of us, he was able to walk on with a light pack. But before we headed off, the second of the weekend’s 3 incidents occurred, again involving Chris. A tooth filling dropped out of his mouth, leaving behind a crater where the filling used to be. We all agreed that Chris should make a dental appointment as soon as he got back to the big smoke.

The trip nonetheless continued, and after passing a delicate arch, we reached the slopes of Mt Dawson. We dropped packs and headed to the summit for superb panoramic views of the Red Rocks, the sweeping vistas of the Capertee Valley, and the labyrinthine pagoda country surrounding the Wolgan Valley. Superb views indeed, and by now the cloudy skies were breaking up and periods of weak sunlight came through. We continued north along the Red Rocks, enjoying frequent superb views, until we reached a particularly nice rock platform with the potential to camp among nearby trees. It wasn’t yet 4pm but because it was such a nice place we decided to camp here and enjoy the beautiful late afternoon light.

Time was spent setting up camp, although firewood collection was simply a matter of kicking a few sticks into a pile, there was so much wood. Then it was time to take our cameras to the nearby rocks and photo faff as the sun lowered. The sun drops quickly and early at this time of year, but tonight the sun gave a last magical display before the night closed in, a spectacular flaming sunset that lit the fluffy clouds in crimson, orange and yellow spread amongst the steel twilight grey. A fire was lit, the stars came out and even though we were in the depths of winter, conditions were surprisingly mild. You could venture away from the fire to admire the milky way before the moon came up.

Next morning the lighting was softer, with pinks and orange-greens at 7am as the sun rose and lit the smooth trunks of nearby trees in gold. We were having a relaxed and leisurely breakfast when the third and fortunately last of the weekend’s incidents occurred. Once again, and quite inexplicably perhaps, it was yet again Chris who was the victim. He was fiddling with his gas stove (gas stove in the Red Rocks? I hear you ask) near the cheerful fireside, and there was the hiss of gas coming from the stove-canister interface. Then of course the fire jumped and engulfed poor Chris in a momentary ball of fire. The rest of us exclaimed in surprise, stove and canister were both dropped and rolled away, Chris jumped back, and then it was over. The gas had had its day and was gone, leaving nothing more than a few singed hairs and injured pride. Fortunately there would be no more Chris incidents today.

And so we set off at a leisurely pace to complete the Red Rocks traverse as far as The Room. There were many fantastic views, an awesome little ravine, some spectacular pagoda scrambling, and The Pagoda Of Death, a steep descent on rock steps that looks harder than it is but required some pack passing. It was a truly spectacular morning walk. We enjoyed an early lunch at the sunny balcony of The Room, and then retraced our steps a little to a point from where we could descend back to Newnes. It was a beautiful sunny day today with barely a cloud in the sky. We lingered long at our lovely lunch spot.

After a couple of hours more walking down a very pleasant valley we arrived back at Newnes by about 2:30pm and so we were on our way home while it was still light and enjoyed the spectacular drive up the Wolgan Valley with its familiar landmarks including Donkey Mountain and Woolpack Rock before heading back to Sydney.

A great weekend enjoyed by all.

Ashley Eylenburg