Party: Paul, Simone, Kat, Leo, Julia, Marty
Date: 9-11 June 2018
Our latest trip to the Budawangs arose from Paul’s long held ambition to climb Donjon Mountain which guards the western end of Monolith Valley. He had unfortunately missed out on Tim and James’ trip up the Mountain earlier in the year. We were also thinking about climbing Byangee Walls which we had been admiring from the top of The Castle on our previous trip. The Walls are a large isolated mesa with no obvious way up and we like a challenge.
Once posted on SUBW, the trip filled to eight people in an hour or two which was encouraging. If only the Long Weekend weather looked so promising.
There were a couple of late drop outs for the trip which reduced our number to six by late Friday night too late to seek more companions.
Four of us met in Wollongong on Friday night for Pizzas and wine. We anxiously checked various weather forecasts and the rain radar to work out the best time to start walking the next day.
Poor weather overnight suggested a later start to try and avoid morning rain in the Budawangs.
We took our time over a nice breakfast by the beach and then headed south to meet up with Kat and Simone at the Milton Bakery where we and made plans to meet them the next day on the mountain over more coffees and cakes. Clearly some exercise was now needed.
So just four of us actually headed off from Long Gully car park to begin the massive climb but not before Paul’s customary weighing, naming and shaming of those with the heaviest packs. The consistent loser in this contest lost again..
The first part of the walk to the Castle Saddle is a constant climb up Kaliana Ridge, lots of effort but on easy tracks – not too challenging. The track then levels out in the second section under the cliff line where there is not much vertical climbing , there are however massive boulders and countless trees to scramble around. Finally comes the third section, a delightful combination of the first two sections, steep climbing, rocks and tree roots. Julia thought we were kidding when we said it would be tougher than her recent Club trips. We had gained about 700m of height in 3 hours with full packs.
We had a brief lunch at the “love shack” cave from the previous trip and noticed the cave was already occupied on the much busier long weekend.
The rain held off as we ploughed through Monolith Valley, but everything was wet and very slippery from days of rain and this would be a challenge all weekend. Despite the weather forecast we had no rain all day and the sun even made a brief appearance as we headed for Sunset Cave – our destination for the night. In fact we got there just after sunset having made the trip up in about 5 hours.
The cave already had some occupants who had a blazing fire going so we staked our claim to the other side of the cave and shot out to find firewood before dark. It wasn’t long before we had the fire going and billy boiling. We were lucky to get in before dark and not long afterwards another group came in from what was probably a long and tiring trip from the western side of the ranges. They teamed up with the first group and so the cave was pretty full with two groups of four.
The cave had been dry two weeks ago – with water in short supply. There were no such problems this weekend with a substantial waterfall spilling down the cliff line between the two sides of the cave. One of our number took the opportunity for a brief and freezing cold shower under the waterfall before racing back to the fire to thaw out.
Everyone was pretty tired and we crashed early to the sound of water cascading off the mountain just metres from our beds.
We were up and away early next morning to tackle Donjon Mountain conscious of the short daylight hours so close to the winter solstice.
The Mountain has a reputation for being amongst the toughest climbs in the Budawangs. It derives its name from an old French word for the fortified building in the middle of a castle – the “castle keep”. This is the most secure and best defended part of a castle. It’s a very apt name as the Mountain resembles a castle keep from certain locations. Its also true that the mountain has very good defences in terms of difficult scrub and challenging cliff lines. Just like an ancient castle, Donjon is very hard to attack.
We dropped our big overnight packs and reverted to smaller day packs more suited to climbing and scrambling. We had Tim and James’ notes and GPS trace which were a big help as we scrambled through thick and treacherous saw grass and swamp around the base of the mountain. After tough hour of bush bashing we were at the north eastern corner of the mountain and looking up at a very challenging rock face.
We pulled on climbing harnesses and Paul broke out some lightweight rope which we had carried on good advice. This was clearly going to be a much tougher prospect than we had expected.
The next hour or two were spent hauling ourselves up steep rock faces and through tight chimneys. Paul set up anchor points and top belays which made it a lot safer. Both Leo and Julia proved to be very able and confident climbers which was a good thing as well as some of the climbs were not for the faint hearted. The Mountain is made of rough conglomerate sandstone which acts very much like a cheese grater on skin. Its also very tough on clothing and some of us will be replacing gear after the weekend.
We finally made up through the cliff line and onto the pagoda topped mountain. It didn’t take long to find the log book which showed the Mountain is only climbed once or twice a year these days. We found Tim and James’ entry from earlier this year which included a nice reference to Paul – who had missed their trip.
With the weather closing in we signed the book and quickly headed around to look at some amazing views back into Monolith Valley. One feature of the Valley are a series of stone pagodas called the Seven Gods Pinnacles. These are nearly obscured by trees when viewed from the normal Monolith Valley track. In fact they are distinctly underwhelming despite their grand name. All this changes when you look down on them from Donjon. They are clearly seen guarding the entrance to the Valley. Its a spectacular and rarely seen view.
We were in a hurry to get of the Mountain before the rain started and used the ropes to full advantage. On the last drop, Paul belayed everyone and then abseiled down.
We found a sheltered overhang cave and had a well deserved lunch before heading back to the main trail to find our packs. On the way back, we took a slight deviation and bumped into some campers who showed us a terrific camp cave, closer and probably better than Sunset Cave. One for next time.
The un forecast rain had returned and we speculated that Kat and Simone would bail rather than come out walking and get soaked. The odds were stacked against them coming up and so we were very pleasantly surprised to bump into them as we trudged past the natural arch in Monolith Valley. They were also soaking wet but determined not to let such a minor setback spoil their weekend. Clearly made of tougher stuff than some of our absent colleagues.
We were very glad to see them and they were a great help carrying water down the Mountain to our overnight camp cave. Our two Italian speakers quickly joined forces and impressed us on the way down with a wide ranging discussion in what is a beautiful classic language. Apparently the only thing not discussed was the absence of the Azzurri from the Soccer World Cup.
In the gathering gloom and heavy rain we dragged firewood down the now treacherous Castle track and into the cave. We were exhausted by the time we got under cover. Leo was so tired he took a while to actually speak. Everyone had put in a big effort and we were all now wet and cold.
There was a brief discussion with a member of the group camping at the nearby love shack cave who had set her sleeping gear up right beside the very well constructed and very obvious fireplace in the overhang section of the cave. A very polite request that she might consider moving her gear temporarily (it was only 5pm) so that we could get a fire going and dry out resulted in a few terse words and she stomped off back to her mates not to be seen again. The weather had closed in and dry camp cave space was in short supply given all the hikers on the mountains on the long weekend. There may have been a dozen or more people in Sunset Cave on that same Sunday night and under these conditions, everyone needs to make space and be considerate of their fellow walkers.
With this minor dispute settled, we quickly got a roaring fire going and started to warm up and dry out.
There followed lots of tea, food, chocolate wine and scotch. There was some debate about Kat’s melted M&Ms hot chocolate concoction which looked a dire green colour but was pronounced delicious.
Simone proved to be an excellent fire maker and did a great job with limited and wet wood supplies.
As everyone settled in for a good night’s sleep, I realized we had six people warm and dry and safely out of the weather, a good outcome given previous difficulties.
The un forecast rain came back in and Kat was close enough to the dry edge of the cave to feel rain drops ricocheting off rocks nearby. The only other issue was two expiring air mattresses which let their owners down so to speak.
We woke to a cool morning and much debate about whether the grey sky was cloud cover or just grey sky. It turned out to be very high cloud which quickly cleared away. There was heavy fog down in the valley below The Castle which looked spectacular as the sun rose.
After a quick breakfast we packed up and headed down the mountain to find a track which would take us around the base of the cliffs to Byangee Walls. We could hear a lyrebird going through its repertoire of calls, I counted very convincing Black and white Cockatoo, Currawong and one or two other calls all coming from the same piece of bush. No chainsaw or camera shutter impressions though.
The track was challenging and very slippery in places following the heavy rain and we all found it hard going. Eventually we reached a high rock platform with stunning views of Pigeon House Mountain, Byangee walls and the Clyde River Gorge below. It had taken an hour longer than expected and so we stopped and had morning tea and soaked in the views.
The plan had been to say farewell to Kat and Simone at this point and head off around the trail to climb Byangee however it soon became apparent that everyone was moving a little slowly and the exertions of the last two days were beginning to be felt. Our mental calculations suggested we would not be off Byangee til nearly dark and that it would be completely dark well before we got to the cars with three hours of Long Weekend traffic driving to get home ahead of us after that. After a quick discussion we decided to call it a day and head back down to the cars with Kat and Simone.
The Byangee trail is a proper vehicle fire trail and we moved quickly planning a return trip to conquer Byangee as we walked. We were soon back at the Long Gully carpark where River where a few daredevils crossed the Yadboro River on a huge and very slippery log.
After a few dramas starting one of the vehicles we were soon on our way home pausing briefly for excellent Vegge Burgers at Pilgrim’s Café in bustling Milton. Highly recommended.
There were the expected heavy traffic conditions and some unexpected road closures to contend with on the trip back and everyone was pleased to tuck into tea and cake at Wollongong before we said our farewells.
A big thanks to everyone who came along, especially Paul for his rope work and navigation and to Tim and James for their advice which was a massive help. The Budawangs are a great place for bushwalking though the place does seem to defy weather forecasts and has its own idea about what a 20 % chance of less than 0.5 mm of rain actually looks like. It would be terrific to see more SUBW entries in the lonely log book on top of Donjon Mountain.