6 day walk over Barrington Tops Range
Liz, Sandra, Caro, Dug.
Good Friday 10th (Gloucester - Pol Blue - Junction Pools)
Three of us walkers met at the Gloucester railway Station at the appointed time, ready for the car shuffle to Poll Blue. Caro's parents have very kindly offered to take the cars back to Forster and return to Craven to pick us up on Wednesday 15th. A beautiful sunny day with just the odd fluffy cloud in the cold blue sky. The fantastically shaped Bucketts Range is silhouetted in the near sky with the massive Barrington range looming invitingly high behind.
When I received the email suggesting a walk in the Barrington's for Easter, my first reaction was "you must be kidding". Easter, Royal Easter Show, it always rains at the show. Barrington's, it is a rain magnet. Hell! Oh well you do have weather gear and this is the best walk on offer by far. Wait "on a track and fire trail walk", "you are kidding", "walking on tracks and roads :~)". Then again my fitness is taking a while to come back, this may be just what I need and pushing through wet scrub is the real pain. Walking on trails may not be so bad :~)
We grabbed a quick take away from a local eatery. The drive to Pol Blue was rather pleasant, chatting, watching the forest swish by, as we climbed the steep road to the plateau and then along the gently undulations once on top. We stopped at a picnic area and start sorting out packs and sharing equipment. This is Sandra's first extended walk so Caro does the good leader thing of helping advise what to take and what can be left behind. Liz arrives from Elliston in the opposite direction while this is going on.
The first days is only a short walk across the tops to Junction Pools camping area. Our track takes us through the Poll Blue camping area and then skirts the button grass swamp that make much of this high plain, although the track does utilise gently wooded ridges to avoid damaging the fragile swamp area. The vegetation on this leg of the walk, a mix of the swamp and low ridges with smaller eucalypt trees, and accompanying prickly scrub.
At one low lying place along the swamp edge we did need to avoid a docile tiger snake stretched out, ready to cross the track but "frozen" by our approaching noise. At another location we stop to ooo and aaah around an echidna, which was just climbing a bank away the from the road but is now a ball of spikes burrowing into the red soil, to keep the intruders at bay.
This pleasant walk brings us to Junction Pools on the banks of the Barrington River, just a narrow mountain stream here bouncing over rocky patches, separated by the long dark pools of cold fresh water. An altogether delightful place, also "discovered" by hordes of 4w drivers and scores of walkers. We manage to find a space to set up camp amongst the tee tree beside the river, this should be free of frost tonight, we hope! Finding sufficient wood for a fire a little challenge, cheerfully overcome by our scavengers. Soon a cooking fire is going and we settle into dusk and night-fall seated around, cooking the evening meals. Then of course the evening specials came out to nibble, tonight it is Babagannoui and crackers, ala Dug.
A pleasant night, with the odd murmur of conversation or the distant laughter, to tell us of the others around enjoying the feeling of peace and place. A brilliant starry sky with the full Easter moon.
Easter Saturday 11th (Junction Pools - Careys Peak - Wombat Creek)
A casual late start has been declared for today as it is only a short walk and not too much up and down. We all had a good night, not too cold not too hot, not too many lumps, just right. The sky was sunny as we set off across the Barrington River on convenient boulders, hopping from one to the next with little trouble. A bit down stream from the usual crossing point, because the river is up a trifle and we would prefer dry shoes if possible.
We soon pass the button grass swamp vegetation and start walking up the slope onto the ridge system that will be our road past Aeroplane Hill to Cary's Peak. Last time I was on Aeroplane Hill in the 1980s it was somewhat overgrown and bits of Mosquito fighter were hard to find. The scrub hasn't thinned in the passing years, so we chose to stay on the track and keep on our way. Beautiful forest of well spaced tall eucalypts but with a thick underbrush of scrub, interlaced with vines. Our path gently undulating and winding on, brought us to Careys Peak hut, by 11:00hrs.
The last time I saw the hut it had a decided lean towards the open side, but now it has been refurbished. The open front now has a half hight wall and they have added a fireplace and chimney. This area is obviously well used these days, there is a big fire mound with a pile of firewood (the hut has a heap of firewood inside too, I guess for a rainy day (and that looks like today).
It is decided to continue to the lookout for an early lunch, looking out over the rolling mountains with their cover of dark forest, but also, out to the Hunter Valley in the distance with its plumes of steam from the coal fired power stations and rolling green and tan fields of farm land. Caro is intrigued to look down on the Allen Ridge 5km west to see the place she was winched into for a Barrington Operational Search Exercise two years ago. The parks ranger she spoke to planning this trip told her he was on Careys Peak at the time and wondered what was going on, (word obviously hadn't filtered down from his superiors). A delightful spot for lunch with deep blue sky above, punctuated by tall fluffy clouds, (we won't mention the band of cloud way off in the south east). A constant stream of visitors to chat to, as we munch away on our goodies.
After lunch we head on towards Wombat creek only a couple of kilometres away, but leave our packs at the hut as there is a distinct chance of rain tonight, and here we will have a roof over our heads. The forest here a bouts is much taller and rounder eucalypt trees, continuing from Aeroplane Hill. At wombat Creek camping spot, set under a coppice of beech trees, there are still a few flat places unoccupied to pitch a fly. But I must be honest and say this spot looked decidedly leechy to me (of the blood sucking kind that is). The others prefer it here so we slog back up hill to retrieve our packs (this will leave less distance to walk tomorrow).
We pass a number of other groups on our way there and back. By the time we are at the camp site again just about everywhere is full. Including the parts we tried to "bags" by leaving water bottles and such. My preference is back up the hill 200m or so, a level area besides the weather station, just past the "Out Off Order Toilet". All of us soon find good flat bed sites. There is plenty of wood for a cooking fire around nearby. We have a constant stream of visitors to chat to, a fair proportion of them coming up from the camp ground, seeking firewood or the toilet. Liz has a great old time telling a lot of would be visitors that the "The Toilet Is Out Off Order".
We soon had a cooking fire going, and out flys up against the approaching drizzle. The evening specials of cheeses and crackers was shared as we prepare dinner, ala Liz and Sandra. We managed to eat most of our dinner, just, before the drizzle set in. So we only stood out side in raincoats eating for a while, (or siting under your fly, as was your want). In the end it didn't amount to much, which was good. We all retired early ready for an earlier start tomorrow. The early Easter Egg Frog did come hopping around to us all before lights out.
Easter Sunday 12th (Wombat Creek to Munroe Hut)
Only a little drizzle overnight, and is basically dry now. A somewhat mooted dawn bird chorus probably due to the damp roost in the trees. A good morning to come awake, especially as more Easter Frogs hopped about distributing Easter Eggs and other chocolate delights. A comfortable breakfast saw us away about 08:00
The trail gently undulating, as we passed through, firstly tall dryer gum tree forest on the ridge tops, then tall dark ancient Arctic Beach Forest, with patches of rain forest in between. An altogether delightful place to wander, the subdued light, the damp leaf covered pathway, the enormous dark barked trees towering over us, from each side and others disappearing into distance mist all around. Every now and again we pass a rill of running water trickling down the hill beside us then draining under the track to continue down the other side. A great place to top up the water supply, so we didn't need to carry too much weight.
In an avenue or tree ferns, I stop to show the others one of the walking tree ferns. They walk through the forest forever covering about 2 meters every 200 years. Yes they really do. The tall straight stem of this species reaches a hight where it is too top heavy and it gradually sags until the crown touches the ground. The fern takes root here and the crown begins to grow straight up again, until it is too tall and top heavy and the sag begins again, and so on. This cycle takes place about once every two hundred years and continues, so the tree fern marches on and on.
At one stage I caught a glance of a great hairy beast rushing down the trunk of a large tree and then off into the forest. Caro who is ahead described it as a orangey spotted animal and later finds reference to such an animal, at Munroe Hut, she has seen and I have glimpsed the spotted quoll, an endangered species.
The weather has persisted somewhat overcast, slightly misty in places, with the hint of rain to come. Still this section of trail was much shorter than Caro's track notes suggest. We stop for a second smoko/early lunch by the trail to prolong the bush experience, else we expected to be at the hut before midday. All too soon, but just in time the grey corrugated walls and roof of Munro hut loom out of the slight mist, still a welcoming sight considering the now scattered showers.
We all wash down by the nearby stream, without polluting the water, with soap and grime. Water is collected from the creek, then we seek suitable firewood, just here by the hut it is beech wood which is to spongy to burn well, we need the harder eucalypt wood. There is a supply of wood in the hut but it is damp and much of it beech wood which will only burn when we have a roaring hot fire.
The fire does indeed take a while to get going properly but we are soon warm and dry again. We spent the rest of the time reading our books, or for those without the memorabilia in the hut, drinking warm drinks, telling tales, lazing and enjoying the atmosphere, it has become totally misty outside.
Gradually the dim became night and we prepare comfortable meals and share more Easter Eggs and evening specials of dried seaweed ala Caro. We settled, sitting warm and comfortably around the central fire place, while outside the night sky dripped and drizzled onto our corrugated iron shell.
The campers at Wombat Creek told harrowing stories about the resident rat, log book was full of similar stories. So we chose to hang our packs with all our food inside, from conveniently placed cord, before retiring for the night. We spread out into the three tiered bunks at either end of the hut. Strangely enough (or perhaps not) we were not aware of any nightly intruders of the ratus kind. I was a trifle surprised that there weren't any other visitors considering the number of campers we had seen the past two nights.
Monday 13th (Munroe Hut to The Mountaineer via Gloucester Falls)
A pleasant enough night under our solid roofed camp, despite the damp and fog and cold outside. Today is to be a longish day and the map indicates a goodly share of ups and downs and ups and downs and ups. Caro finds it odd that the track notes wax on lyrical about the vegetation and sights but nary a word about the terrain. Didn't the author didn't want to discourage the trampers? An early breakfast and away about 07:30.
The dampness didn't improve with time, in fact the drizzle became more persistent, until we need rain coats. We followed the roads to Gloucester Falls picnic area and then took the scenic rout around to the Andrew Laurie Lookout, where we had misty views of the Gloucester Valley. We continued on past the falls, walking through a dripping forest shrouded in mist, enchanting in it's own way. At the Gloucester River crossing I put on shorts and left my boots off for the crossing, water level up a tad but still only mid thigh on me, but definitely rudder deep for Liz.
From here were on a constant gentle up hill for a while, so I chose to stay in shorts, feeling the cold a little I might add. As we continued the rain became heavier and the temperature dropped. At a road junction the boss gave us the choice of continuing to complete the trip, or heading for a small town several hours away. Well we were in the Barrington's at Easter, so rain was to be expected and we all agreed there was only one choice onwards for another three days.
A magic place, we are on a slippery clay road with huge trees, draped in Staghorn and Elkhorn orchids, air moss, tree moss and tree ferns on both sides. I always love the bush in the wet everything so green or crimson-red and lush, the forest trees disappear into the mist with distance, giving an ethereal feel of not quite being here, the dank but fresh odour adds yet another dimension, sight, light, scene, smell, atmosphere, sense of being.
Up over the crest and then very steeply down, so slippery that with skies it may have been easier to ski. Then of course, up again even more steeply, one step up and a slide down until we learned to walk in the loose mud, which only stuck a bit. I did find the going a little uncomfortable cold and wet, but the bush has special attractiveness when seen in the wet. Each hanging drop of water on a leaf or petal a jewel, changing colour for our enjoyment due to refraction as we pass and the paths of light change.
By the time we were nearing The Mountaineer camp site in the early evening, all of us were out of water and thirsty (despite the rain), so the first chore in camp was to scoot down to the Telegherry River for water for the night. The steep slope down to the river covered with Tree Ferns, but little scrub because of the thick over canopy. A beautiful location set in rain forest but not much level ground to sleep on, probably only 2 - 3 on a scale of 10, as a camp site. Then set up the flys in the wet and hunker inside as soon as possible. Some of the others were looking forward to a fire but I didn't like their chances with wet rainforest wood. No attempt at an evening special treat tonight. I was feeling the cold a bit so changed into dry thermals and slipped into my sleeping bag. I relented after a short while and cooked some Singapore noodles, as food is important, for energy and warmth (although I would prefer to shed a few kg).
Tuesday 14th (The Mountaineer to The Log Dump)
By next morning the drizzle had just about stopped, but there was still the drip drip from wet foliage. During the night not only raindrops fell on the flys, little white fruit also rained down, probably tossed by little critters high in the canopy. This fruit seemed to be edible tasting like slightly sour Granny Smiths apples. A quick breakfast and we were away about 07:30. Today is our greatest distance to walk about 28km, but the terrain no where near so much up and down, nor as steep as yesterday.
We walked on easily down to cross the Karuah River about 10 m wide, I tried to walk across on a slippery rocky shelf keeping my boots dry, (failed), while the others chose to wade. On our way along beside the river, to the crossing we passed a big black snake curled up sunning at the side of the road. We left it alone, it left us alone.
Much of this area has been logged (as the name of the coming camp site suggests) but still beautiful in a different way. The roads and occasional tracks much easier walking than yesterday, although we have been attacked by leeches much more frequently today, compared to the previous days. One narrow track up past Thunderbolts Ghost, was a wavy medusa of the little blighters. The other three had strode ahead, stirring them up. I used heaps of Tea Tree cream on boots and socks but still managed a few strikes. They were much more persistent than usual.
As we walked we had the occasional views of farm lands down in the valley way below. Throughout the day we had short showers and it was very threatening as we walked into the camp area. The Log Dump camp site could well be called a dump. Although there was water 100m away and lots of hard eucalypt wood for a fire, to redeem it slightly (3 or 4 out of 10, perhaps). We soon had a roaring fire with a nearby log to sit on. Flys pitched on the few flat places, available. Siting around the fire, we shared this evenings special treats of blue cheeses and biscuits, ala Caro, Liz and Dug, as we prepared our, scrumptious , last supper - for the trip. We did manage to feed a few leeches ourselves, some of which ended up feeding the flames, if they picked the wrong host. During the night I had a few leechy visitors but the tea tree cream work well and they all curled up and lost interest and just lay there.
Wednesday 14th (The Log Dump to Craven and home)
A pleasant enough night really, with a sunrise to help us rise and a delightful dawn bird call chorus. A casual breakfast had us on the track by 08:00. Today's path mostly down hill, initially past towering gum forest, then gradually replaced by farmed areas until we were in the farm land proper. As we walked on towards Craven we came across a farmer on a quad bike mustering cattle, his dog didn't seem to be much use, but we did block the T intersection to prevent the beasts coming back our way, nice to be a bit useful. A little further on a farmer stopped her car to chat about our adventure and talk of here meetings with other trekkers. A beaut sunny day as one would expect for a finale of a great trip.
A couple of kms short of our destination the cavalry arrived in the form of Caro's Dad and Mum in two cars. A quick drive into Gloucester caravan park to buy a shower and head home. Nice to wash 6 days of accumulated smell away and change into clean clothes, pity they weren't dry showers as we had had enough of being wet.
Thank you, Caro for being a great leader and Caro, Liz and Sandra for your great company and interesting interactions. Till next time. © 2009 Dug Floyd.