19-20 Sept 2020: by Rachel Grindlay
Given how much of my time I spend looking at National Parks alerts and advising other people about closures it is somewhat ironic I failed to check all of the relevant closures information for a trip I had on the Spring Program. A couple of weeks before the trip was scheduled we drove past the access road I was planning on using. There were “STOP, CLOSED” signs – it looked like I might have a problem. At home I looked at the map to find that the road access and part of my walk were in Ben Bullen and Wolgan State Forests. Both had been closed since December so the chances of them reopening in the next two weeks were remote.
Somewhat despondent, my initial reaction was to cancel the walk. But then I felt guilty for the people who had signed up. Scouring the map I was surprised to see how many different directions Pantoneys Crown could be accessed from. Point Cameron was definitely out of the picture since Mt Jamison and McLeans Pass are in Wolgan State Forest. But a new route started to form before me, taking in some map features which had caught my attention in the past – Tarpeian Rock and Moffitts Pagodas.
The new route had the definite advantage that I didn’t need to worry about the condition of the road, and the associated issues with carpooling and Covid. The party composition changed a little with the change of route but eventually six of us convened at the start of the Moffitt Trail bright and early on Saturday morning.
A quick survey confirmed no one was a sadist with the desire to walk an extra 2km of fire trail at the start and end of the trip. We piled into two cars for a quick drive along Moffitt Trail to cut off some walking. Parking where we planned to pop out at the end left us 3km of fire trail before we left any semblance of a trail behind for the rest of the trip.
The ridge towards Tarpeian Rock was a maze of pagodas. We took some of our navigation from Beyonce (“To the left, to the left”), though at one point we were pushed quite a way right before we found a way up through the fortress of pagodas. Finding our way back to the western cliff line, a bit of exposed scrambling and a jump got us onto Tarpeian Rock for morning tea. It was a sunny, still day, warmer than most of us had expected. The next point north had an impressive rock outcrop at the end which gave plenty more photo opportunities before we hit a flat, open section of ridge to take us quickly towards Baal Bone Point.
Our lunch spot had impressive views of Pantoneys Crown and the Red Rocks – where two-thirds of the party had walked only two weeks earlier. We marvelled at the patchwork nature of the fire patterns – some sections in the valley looked like a blowtorch had been put to them, yet they were surrounded by areas where the canopy hadn’t burnt.
After lunch was where the real fun started – the scramble off Baal Bone Point – I feel like the same logs have been in place for many years to assist with the descent – luckily unburnt. There were plenty of orchids in flower to slow the botanists down, but we eventually got to the base of the South Pass onto Pantoneys.
Only one member of the party hadn’t been to Pantoneys previously, though it was the first time going up the South Pass for two in the group. We made short work of it with everyone scrambling up without issue – other than a couple of frights from a Blue-Tongue Lizard sitting in a wedge we wanted to use as a handhold! We hauled packs at the top of the lower section and then squeezed around to the left avoiding the final awkward chimney climbs.
After setting up camp most of us went looking for the fabled water source. I had some vague directions, and indications from looking at the aerials, and with the amount of rain there had been in the last few months I figured if we didn’t find water this trip it probably didn’t exist. Tom led us straight into a little canyon which had flowing water and a small pool! This was great news as I think the hot day had caught most of us a little short on the water front. After filling up we squeezed down the canyon to the cliff edge where we took in the views.
The colour palette of grey was used for sunset, but the views were still impressive. Our earlier rehab work on the fire ring had shrunk it to about a quarter of its original size, which still gave us a very cheery fire for the evening. The knowledge of a water source made us profligate with the water we had. Two party members carelessly tipped their boiling billies on the ground – fortunately only one billy also contained dinner. Right on 9pm the first spots of rain started which seemed like a good cue to head for bed.
The weather forecast was pretty accurate; we woke to a steady downpour which meant breakfast was a solitary affair as everyone huddled in their shelters. Fortunately at about 8am it eased off and we all leapt out and with amazing timing were ready to go right on 8:30am.
The views as we traversed Pantoneys were non-existent as we wandered along in the mist. Tom initially wouldn’t believe me when I said we were at the northern point! I said he was welcome to keep walking if he could find some ground to continue on – fortunately he decided I was probably right and didn’t walk off the edge of a cliff.
The top of the North Pass was located without difficulty. The collective memories of the 5 of us who’d been there before were found wanting. No one could really remember the middle scramble of the North Pass. To the extent that there was some accusations of us not being on the normal route! Everything was wet which upped the difficulty level and we used the tape on both the middle and lower scrambles. Our memories returned on the lower scramble – it was indeed the normal route.
The rest of the day we would be in the realm of exploratory adventuring. Following the cliffline of the western side of the Crown proved relatively straight-forward. The visibility was still low so we couldn’t see anything except the impressive cliff lines looming into the mist above us. By late morning we were back where we were early afternoon the day before – below the southern pass.
Opting against a second lap we descended to the saddle and then had to work out how best to negotiate the myriad spurs and creek lines which would lead us to Coco Creek. I opted for a ‘straight line’ approach rather than trying to contour. As usual 20m contours hide a wealth of lumps and bumps and we were surprised as the rock turned from sandstone to quartzite. It felt like we’d been transported to Kanangra rather than Gardens of Stone.
The minor creeks were steep enough that we had to work a bit to get across them, but Coco Creek was the biggest surprise. A rocky narrow quartzite spine led us down just above a roaring waterfall. Jon appeared to be a little disappointed we didn’t have to swim across the large pool at the bottom instead conveniently being able to rock hop across at the bottom of the spur. It’s not many Pantoneys walks which feature a waterfall!
From there we had a couple of steep climbs to get us onto to the Moffitts Pagoda ridge. It was an impressive ridge line, with equally impressive views. The weather cleared as we got near the top and so it was a slow meander along the ridge as every few hundred metres there was another view, different light on Pantoneys and we spent time savouring it all.
Once we got to Moffitts Pagodas some of the party climbed on top, while others walked out to the point to take in our final views of this amazing part of NSW. From there it was just a few hundred metres back to our cars. The drive out had a couple of nervous sections – where rain and traffic had caused some slush to form and we weren’t exactly in control as we slid down the hill back to the rest of the cars.
Everyone was very complimentary on my replacement route – I’d like to take the credit but while there’s some skill picking a route on the map, there’s also a lot of luck in how things pan out on the ground. Be assured it’s not every exploratory trip where everything goes pretty much perfectly! Always come armed with a sense of adventure (and a well charged torch).