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Bjelke's Mind and Whip Bird Canyons

Map:-

Wallangambe; Rock Hill (just for completeness).

Party:-

Theo, Steve, Dug.

Plan:-

Camp out on Waratah Ridge for a few days between Christmas and New Year Holiday and visit some canyons.

Preparing cooking fire at camp cave.
Preparing cooking fire at camp cave, (build up a bed of glowing charcoal).

Theo has been trying to organise two things for a while, 1) a trip down Bjelke's Mind Canyon, and 2) A stay out in the bush between Christmas and New Year. That suited me as I am seeking to get bush more this year and I quite like Bjelke's Mind Canyon and haven't been through Whipbird canyon. Steve wanted to come along but had a date with Tania for the New Year Fireworks in Sydney. Ok a compromise we will come home in time for him to get sorted and down to Sydney.

Our aim was to get to Waratah Ridge car park with time to walk into a camping cave and set up in daylight. None of us have been out Glow-worm Tunnel road recently and wide open spaces created by the logging of the pine plantation forests created some navigational confusion as to which track to take when. We did eventually make it to the car park in time despite a puncture and then a fallen tree across a track necessitating a few km backtrack. The weather overcast and the BOM forecast I saw mentioned 20% chance of rain today but with 70% chance of rain for tomorrow. No vehicles in the car park and little sign of recent heavy activity. We didn't see any foot prints on the walking track leading in. This track also leads to Hole In The Wall, a popular canyon.

The walk in took just 3 hours and there was a slight drizzle at times. The bush fire of last year have done a good job of clearing the scrub, but as a result the original faint footpad track, is impossible to follow for very long, it just becomes - "nothing"! Theo and Steve did an excellent job of navigating the meandering ridge system. At one particular deviation of the track a less competent navigator has, recently, used pink tape to mark a rout for a short distance. I am not sure that marking a trail like that in a wilderness setting is a wise idea. Out here you must be able to navigate with map and compass with confidence. It is quite easy to miss markers, and if you do then you need to read ground to map, not as easy as it sounds in the bush out here. The top of the ridge system is relatively flat with good tree cover so you can't see far and get a visual clue to where the sides drop off, gently at first, to deep valleys. We left the markers there in case a party already out was relying on it. I strongly urge whoever placed the markers to think carefully about, possible unintended consequences of their actions, encouraging parties to venture beyond their navigational skills. It isn't all that hard to learn navigational skills, but you do need time to gain the confidence required.

Abseiling down the cliff to get into the creek valley.  Pic by dug
Dug on rope abseiling into the Bjelke's creek valley, Notice much more scrub down here, where the fire couldn't go - too green.

The Camping Cave was not as we left it last, we could see clear indications that it has been used by parties that doesn't abide by the principle, "leave nothing but foot prints in the sand". Oh well they don't put brains in monuments, do they? We soon had our gear scattered in appropriate places to prepare for cooking and initial stages of sleeping. Nice night for a cave camp, as there is a fine drizzle outside. Pleasing visage of Wollemi Wilderness Ridge Forest recovering from a bush fire, it doesn't take long for the new growth to sprout. The ground cover will take longer to recover, making it easier to walk through. A pleasing evening and early night, making hot drinks to personal taste, chatting, preparing and eating dinner (with wine for he so inclined), compliments to my chef, clean up is easy, just boil the billy and make another cuppa. It has been said A Goldilocks night, everything just right to sleep at peace.

Cloudy drizzly morning with wet scrub outside. We took our time getting ready as we only intend one canyon today (in the past we would have probably aimed for two or more) and we wished to let the day warm up a little more. We all decided to walk in wetsuits, taking into account the wet scrub, as it turned out it wasn't so bad so we could have worn clothes without getting them saturated. Again Steve and Theo did a good job of navigating in, up the ridge, finding the correct saddle that lead to Bjelke's Ridge. Then just wander along to what looked the correct place to get into the Bjelke's Canyon Creek Valley. No obvious climb down here, what the heck we have rope, toss down the 40m. Theo first down reports he is on a ledge and the 40m won't reach the bottom, swap over to a 60, this does reach just.

Much scrubbier down here, it is common for creek valleys up the way to be too green to burn during all but the very hottest fires. From here we battled our way down stream for much longer than I remember from last time, oh well only one way to go. Theo commented that "all of the canyons he has done out this way the entry point given in the "book" leaves two, to three, even up to four hundred meters of scrub bash to get to the canyon section" :-). This was no exception. Very scenic walking, although frequently a bit scrubby for comfort. The cliffs each side are spectacular and multi-colourful. We do walk in up to knee deep water every now and again. However we did manage to avoid the short swim. In many canyons the swim is part of the appeal but not quite warm enough for my tastes today.

The start of the canyon section was very lush green and mossy with a fair build-up of flotsam. This indicated to us that not many parties are canyoning here and there has been a significant rain event since the last party went through. I know there was flash flooding generally up this way about three weeks ago. The green rocky canyon bed had a significant build up of logs and trash just ahead, this is where the first drop to abseil was, a narrow enough slot too. Steve went digging through the logs and litter to locate a sling around a log, three logs down. Looked good to us so, Steve off first, then Theo, then I.

We often try and warn canyoners that, "just because book said so, is not necessarily so, right". Canyons change all the time, over time, after a flood event, land slip, rock falls, fallen trees, logs blocking narrow passageways or underground sections. But of course if a 17 year old didn't know everything what would happen to the world (or thirty, fifty, seventy odd years old going on 17, for that matter). When we noticed that the indications of a flood event since the last party went down we knew we needed to be alert for; "anything". In this particular instance with the narrow slot the water followed was a saving feature - big lumps couldn't get down to block further on (unless they fell from the top :-) ). Of course narrow bits can block narrow passages, but we could see they weren't here.

On first narrow abseil.  pic by dug

Dug squeezing down the first narrow abseil, only about 10m.

As you can see from these rough photos a very lovely place with the worn, sculptured cliff face, often polished smooth frequently vivid colours. The plants as though from the prehistoric past, manage to cling to insignificant rock holds and defy the gravity of gushing waterfalls. The characteristic cup shape of the wear in the cliff faces was formed by rocks and boulders swirling around with sand during the frequent floods cutting ever deepening and widening tubes. Eventually the tubes join up forming the eventual narrow canyon shape. Frequently in numerous canyons we do drop down into one of these tubes and slid out through the bottom hole to continue. As you would imagine travelling through such a narrow natural chamber we will pass under a chock stone perched way up, no water up there to erode them away. Of course frequently logs jammed in with nowhere to go. In some canyons the whole cliff face collapses so that the traveller has to find a way: through, round, under, over, a maze of convenient (if they go) spaces, or just seek another passage. In one or two canyons we need to duck under water to continue. These places tend to be dark so venturers need to feel there way, often entertained in taller chambers by glow worms, an artificial twinkling night skies above. Many wimps of this modern era use torches to blind themselves and the glow worms of their adventure.

Because the rock can be very slippery we tend to use special shoes, Steve and I have 5:10 canyoning boots which have very grippy soles I have had mine for a few years now and they have walked quite a few km. Unfortunately at the end of this trip they were coming away from the glue and I had to re-glue them, hope it holds because by other appearances they have a lot of life in them yet. On the wet rock the wetsuit material is good but on dry rough rock it can be a bit catchy. We could have had some good jumps and swims in this canyon but the day is cool enough to put me off that joy.

We didn't count the abseils today but there were a few several quite awkward starts, two were so tight all three of us took of our packs to squeeze down while bridging back further away from the squeezyer bits. Still all of us have been through canyons for many years so nothing new there. I went down my first canyons in 1977 so I suppose that is a fair while. We came to two underground passages one with a brilliant display of glow worms way up high. At one stage we came across a fair sized goanna which looked kinda angry, but it seemed lively enough despite the cool air temperature. We did discuss taking it out to the warmer area but decided to leave well enough alone, because from where we were it seemed only a short swim to where it could get out into the open. As it turned out we were wrong, we were 4 abseils away from the end, and to get to the open area we could see it would have had to get down two waterfalls and climb a small cliff. Oh well I hope we made a good decision.

The Bungleboori is always a great creek to get into, warm and green and spectacular. The cloud has cleared so we have pleasant sunlight now. The water a little brown from recent rain, (or is it runoff from new mining leases being opened up stream, I hope it isn't the mining because this is one of the few great wildernesses left. Many places are called wilderness but allow human activity that impact the area. It doesn't have to be on the land, just pumping polluted water into the headwaters of streams will effectively kill the river systems. Exhausting noxious/poisonous vapours to blow over the area will do the same. Let's all hope that my worries are groundless.

At this time the South Bungleboori Creek is a magic comfortable place where humans are meant to be. Just here at the Bjelke's exit, possibly a camping place over centuries, we could pass from one ridge system to the next, and there aren't all that many places you can do that in this country. We only need to travel upstream 100m or so to our exit up a very steep gulley on the point of a spur, (there is a high rout across, but why wouldn't you miss the opportunity of a swim in this warmer water and refill water bottles from the side creek). The Bungleboori flow west to east which means the sun enters the valley for much of the day, warming the water. The side canyons like Bjelke's flow north to south so the valley only receives the sun around noon meaning the water tends to be cooler to cold.

We three in the Bungleboori Creek Canyon
We three in Bungleboori Creek, a people friendly place :-).

The exit is quite steep and it is important to keep on top of the ridge to go up the very nose where the cliffs occur. No problem really if you feel the country and look where it leads you. I have heard stories of parties following the base of the cliff lines for kilometres up the valleys without finding a way up on top. The ridge top while scrubby before the fires tends to be easier going. On our way out Theo and Steve were trying to divine a shortcut to our camp across the valley, eventually we found a way down via a short abseil for me then directly across to the camp cave. Home in plenty of time to check out the water supply in the pools on top of the rocks. Enough if we needed it, but the drip into the billy had done its work and we had sufficient water for the night. Just laze back and make warm drinks while watching the gradual set of the sun, before lighting the fire to cook dinner again.

Another pleasant night with good company, including the two nearby Lyre Birds tying to out mimic each other. I suspect two young birds practicing for the mating game next winter. Tonight a clear sky with the 1/2 moon giving enough light to silhouette trees and nearby ridges against the night sky. Very pleasant I think it. Morning still clear with comfortable temperatures, only a slight breeze. Over breakfast I decide that I am too stiff to have any hope of keeping up, so declare a lay-day. I'll stay at camp and wander around here to amuse myself.

I left with the other two and huffed and puffed up on top of the ridge, to watch them disappear into the forest. I did a thorough check of the pools of water on the rocky ledges as I said sufficient for our immediate needs if required. I cleared out leaf litter twigs and other debris from those I thought needed it - make provision for the wild animal or the odd human in need. Next I followed the base of the cliff lines round making an inventory of possible camping shelters, three that would comfortably hold three or four, two would hold 4 or 5 and one probably hold 7. Just across a slight gulley from the camp cave we were using was an overhang that would sleep three so we could probably house a party of 7 here to.

I made sure that I collected ample water from the drip, by filling the billy and then tipping that water into a 10 l plastic bladder I carried. Replenished the wood pile in readiness for cooking dinner. With time for a nana nap in between, before Theo and Steve returned about 3pm. I thought they could do it quicker but knew them well enough to know they would take some time in the Bungleboori.

Steve and Theo at the Bungleboori exit spur, wolomi wilderness all around. Pic by Theo
Steve and Theo at the top of the Bungleboori exit, Wollemi Wilderness all around.

They had nice tales of Whip Bird Canyon, 4 x 20m (ish) abseil, nice narrow constriction in places, some tricky starts. They didn't take wetsuits and were able to keep dry. From where we camped navigation a breeze. They did report that the bushfire had cleared all the vegetation up the exit spur meaning that there was some real exposure. They think that a big burning tree must have crashed down the spur igniting all the bush as it fell. I have watched fire burn up a spur like that while flying a hangglider 2000ft above, burning sticks the size of my thumb were carried up in the updraft. The updraft hit my glider with such force that it nearly took the bar out of my hand, my variometer was screaming up off scale and I was at over 5000ft within seconds. Impressive!

Our Lyre Birds must like us as they were back serenading by evening and again next morning. A great way to awaken to bird song, especially if it was many bird songs from just one bird :-) Since everything was ready a very laidback evening meal with hot drinks and/or wine for he so interested. Again a pleasant night, I'm getting to like this place.

Another comfortable morning, we took out time packing away for the walk back and returning the cave to a more "natural" state. Swept away all of the fire remains, leaving only enough to suggest the bushfires, and made sure nothing unnatural left, not even foot prints. I took my time walking out and the other two told me it took 3 hours, same as the walk in with heavier packs, ahhh but it was downhill going in, uphill going back :-)

All well on the way back till we managed a second flat tyre near the foot of Mt Tomar, windy narrow road with scarcely space to pull off to the side. On holidays the windy road encourages the revheads to see how fast they can go, so not a comfortable place to be parked. No phone coverage so Theo walked uphill to locate reception. Lucky for him a police car pulled over to help a member of the public and they made a call to NRMA for us. The NRMA eventually turned up and was able to repair one tyre so that we could drive to Windsor to a tyre service. While the tyre was being replaced we all went to "the oldest pub in Australia" for a very nice steak lunch in the mid afternoon.

This was a great trip, a special thank you to Theo and Steve, a great team made the whole show run well. Having people you can rely on made it look so easy but in reality that was because all knew what we were doing. copyright Dug Floyd, January 15, 2015.

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Camp Cave, pic by Theo

Setting up Camp Cave first night

Map reading in.  Pic by Theo

Map reading in. Hey wait-on, that map is upside down.
Na she'll be right, Dug is dyslectic, so all is ok.

Dug abseiling into Bjejelki's Valley.  Pic bt Theo

Dug abseiling into Bjelke's Valley. Much scrubbier down there not touched by fire.

Billy collecting water at a drip.  Pic by Dug.

A billy collecting water at a drip beside the camp cave.

These next 8 pictures are taken at the start of Bjelke's Mind Canyon. First it starts to form up as it cuts through hard sandstone rock. Then it gets to a place where it can cut deep down in softer rock to form the canyon proper. In this case a recent flash flood event has covered the entry with stream debris. Steve has to mine through the debris to find an anchor and check to see if it is safe. Then down into a narrow slot we all go. One saving grace is that this slot is too narrow to allow the logs to slide down, if they did it may make a serious blockage to get around, if we could!
Bjelkies Starting to form, green rock. Pic by dug

Bjelke's Mind Canyon starting to form up, looking back into the valley. Just behind me the log jamb over the start abseil.

Top of the first drop partly hidden by creek debris.  Pic by dug

Start of the first drop, Steve mining for an anchor.

Narrow first drop.  Pic by dug.

Steve surveys the first drop. Is it a climb down or an abseil? Abseil about 10m, so find an anchor (pic. above right).

Steve clearing an existing anchor.  Pic by dug

Steve clearing and checking an existing anchor, originally hidden by the debris.

Steve on his way.  pic by Theo

Steve makes sure everything is as it should be.

Steve down down down.  Pic by Theo

Tight and getting further out to wider crack.

Steve on his way down. pic by dug

On-rope abseiling down.

Getting down the slide. pic by dug.

Caring for rope, and preparing for next drop.

Theo and Dug waiting. pic by Theo

It must be a serious business judging by those faces.

Preparing for the next drop, getting darker.  Pic by dug

At next drop deploying the rope, Steve and Theo.

Dug going down too.  pic by Theo

Next drop not quite so squeezy, Dug

Theo's turn. pic by Theo

Theo ready for Dug to complete and "off rope"

One of the waterfalls we abseiled. Pic by Theo

One of the little waterfalls we abseiled. Smooth shiny colourful rock.

Dug and Steve looking ahead.  Pic by Theo.

A nice wider part with an abseil being set.

Dug on small abseil.  Pic by Theo

Dug down a small abseil. In warmer weather this would be a slide or jump.

Dug just squeezed through.  Pic bt Theo

Dug just squeezed through, do I jump into that clear clear water pool? On another day :-)

Waterfall abseil.  Pic bt Theo

Pretty waterfall abseil into a clear pool.

Small abseil.  Pic bt Theo

Small slide for a warm day.

Steve wading.  Pic by Theo

Steve wading.

Narrow up above, glad it is wider below.  Pic by Theo.

Very narrow up there ahead, glad it is wider down below. Not much but.

Tight abseil.  Pic by Theo

Tight abseil, no pack.

Getting down the narrow abseil.  Pic by Theo

Getting down the narrow abseil. Very pretty rock.

Not quite as narrow.  Pic bt Theo

Not quite as narrow but very straight.

Steve on Belay.  Pic by Theo

Steve on belay for Dug.

Dug squeezes out while Steve watches on.  pic by Theo.

Dug squeezing out while Steve watches on.

Dug can get out.  Pic by Theo

Dug can get out; can't he.

Still sliding out.  Pic by Theo

Dug still trying to slide through.

Another narrow waterfall.  Pic by Theo

Another narrow waterfall.

Dark down ther. Pic by Theo

Steve abseils into the dark.

Dug going into the dark.  pic by Theo

Dug abseiling into the dark.

Dark down there.  Pic by theo.

Another abseil, into another dark.

Goanna, Should be too cold.  Pic by theo

Abseil past this goanna.

Squeezing along above clear pool.  Pic by Theo.

Squeezing along above the clear pools.

Camp cave left for the day.  Pic by dug.

Camp cave left for the day

Blazing fire in the night to build coals to cook with.  Pic by dug

Blazing fire at night to build bed of coals to cook on.

Cooking an evening meal.  Pic by Theo and dug

Preparing the evening meal, and drinking tea.

The following photos were taken by Theo in Whip Bird Canyon and the exit along the Bungleboori Creek.

absiel. Pic by Theo

Waterfall for first abseil in Whip Bird.

Steve on first absei.  Pic by Theo.

Steve on first abseil.

Steve on first drop.  Pic by Theo

Going down.

Steve going down.  Pic by Theo.

Down.

Down deeper. Pic by Theo.

Down deep now.

This is part of waterfall.  Pic by Theo

The waterfall beside the first drop.

Top of waterfall.  Pic by Theo.

Top of first abseil beside the waterfall.

Log Jamb at top of next abseil.  Pic bt Theo

Log jamb at top of 2nd abseil.

Steve about to go down.  Pic by Theo.

Steve about to go down second abseil.

Original anchor sling 3m down.  Pic by Theo.

Original anchor sling 3m down, second abseil. Log build up above from recent flash flood.

A glimpse of the outside world.  Pic by Theo.

A glimpse of the outside world, getting closer to the Bungleboori Creek.

Steve on third abseil.  Pic by Theo.

Steve on next abseil.

Steve on abseil.  Pic by Theo

Steve halfway down abseil.

Steve abseil.  Pic by Theo.

Steve is down, off rope.

Last abseil.  Pic by Theo.

Steve on last abseil.

Last abseil.  Pic by Theo.

Last abseil, a waterfall.

Bungleboori Creek.  Pic by Theo.

Bungleboori at last.

heron.  Pic by Theo.

A rare heron in this part of the world.

Rare heron.  Pic by Theo.

Rare heron

Camp beach. Pic by Theo.

Camping beach from a few years ago.

Bungleboori.  Pic by Theo.

Rapid on way upstream, Bungleboori Creek.

Bungleboori.  Pic by Theo.

Another rapid Bungleboori Creek.

Cascade, Bungleboori.  Pic by Theo.

Cascade in Bungleboori Creek.

Night scene at camp.  pic by Theo.

Night scene at camp, with Dug.