Griffin's Fire-trail in June 2000 - by Paul Ellis
At 7.30am on Wednesday 21st June I was I picked up by Brett and Karen Davis at my place. We drove to Nowra where we picked up Yuriko Ball at the Navy Jet. We four made up the party that were to take part in a two-day Shoalhaven Bushwalkers hike along Griffin's Trail near Kangaroo Valley.
After two previous days of rain we were pleased to find the sky blue with hardly a cloud in sight. We drove over Cambewarra Mountain to Kangaroo Valley, noticing there was no mist in the valley this morning. We crossed Hampden Bridge and turned left at the sign for Bendeela Pondage and arrived at the track-head at the end of Jack's Corner Road at 9am. We wasted little time in donning our rucksacks and setting off down the track to Yarrunga Creek. I was using a borrowed Great Outdoors 'Timberline' rucksack and I found it quite uncomfortable. I wondered how Gary - its owner - had managed on the five-day Budawangs treks we had done in the past.
We followed the undulating dirt road north as it skirted the western foot of Mount Moollattoo. At a sharp left-hand bend, just as the road started its steep descent to Yarrunga Creek, we stopped for a short break where Brett showed off his hot pink 'safety' singlet. It was so bright he reckoned he could attract the attention of passing planes with it!
Paul, Karen and Brett
We had picked the perfect spot for this break as it was the junction to a small foot track that we followed all the way down until we again joined up with the main dirt road just above Yarrunga Creek. Brett wasted little time in using the steeping stones to cross over. I was next and despite having my trekking pole to assist my balance I nearly came to grief negotiating the crossing. The girls decided to play safe and removed their boots and socks before attempting the traverse. This didn't help Yuriko who lost her balance and promptly soaked her trousers. We wasted little time moving off towards Griffin's Farm, following a narrow dirt road west through some spectacular sub-tropical rainforest dominated by tree fern.
As we came over a small rise we were treated to a rare sight of five lyrebirds who, startled by our sudden appearance, shot out of the scrub and one by one bolted about fifty metres down the track and into the bushes on the other side. We were to come across two more Lyrebirds later on, but after that we only heard them in the bushes for the duration of the walk.
It was just after 10:30am when we finally arrived at Griffin's Farm after initially missing the turn-off. The vegetation had grown quite remarkably since I had last visited this place. In fact, six years before the farmhouse ruins had been unencumbered by any thick vegetation. Today they were almost hidden. The campsite looked better than ever - there was a lot of new shrubbery around the edges where the farm drops steeply to the creek and the area was certainly tidier than it had been in 1994 with almost no rubbish. The unnamed point on the escarpment above the campsite to the north still looked spectacular and the local wombat population had kept the grass level so low it looked like someone had recently mowed it. The wombat burrows were still in abundance down by the creek.
We gratefully dropped our packs and wasted little time in pitching the tents and setting up our bedding for the night. Karen informed us that we had until 11.15am to get this done as she wanted an early start for the walk to Meryla Pass. As we busied ourselves with these chores, Brett and Karen kept us informed on every bird that flew across the campsite. It turns out that they are quite knowledgeable about Australian birds and can even tell most local birds just by hearing their calls.
It was actually 11.25am when we all set off for Meryla Pass. We were wearing our day packs filled with only our essentials such as lunch, drinking water, raincoats (just in case), toilet paper and cameras. Within twenty minutes we crossed the bridge at Crankey's Creek. Now began the hard part - the 540 metre climb up to the top of Meryla Pass. I still remember how Gary and I suffered in '94 while toting full packs up this horrific incline and I was thankful for the fact that I was carrying only a small daypack on my back this time around. It was still hard work though, with my lungs threatening to burst on the steeper sections. We huffed and puffed our way onto Gale's Flat, less than two hundred metres below the top of the pass, where we had a well-earned five minute break before setting off on the last leg of the journey. For me, this was new ground, as this was the point where I had turned back in 1994.
The next section wasn't as hard as I had expected. It certainly wasn't as steep as the earlier section we had come through, but here the track was wet, muddy and very slippery and the reason soon became quite obvious. We passed the site of a recent avalanche right next to a small watercourse that came off the escarpment. The gaps in the trees here gave us some excellent views of Mounts Carrialoo, Moollattoo, Scanzi and the un-named point above our campsite.
The view from Meryla Pass
The last section of the pass showed a very impressive coal seem in the cutting on the side of the road, but none of us were willing to lug several kilos of this stuff back down to the campsite for our evening fire. It was 1.20pm when we finally reached the top of Meryla Pass. We headed south down the Wombat Hill Fire Trail for about two hundred metres until we found a nice open rock platform on the clifftops. Here we stopped for lunch and admired the views of the four mountains mentioned earlier. It was here that we came to name that high rocky point above the campsite. In keeping with the names of the surrounding mountains - Moollattoo and Carrialoo, and the fact that Karen had the habit of regularly disappearing into the scrub for nature calls, we called the point 'Mount Portaloo' - all we have to do now is get in touch with the correct authorities for this name to be properly registered.
Paul, Brett and Yuriko
Today was the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year - and the Sun was due to set at 4.50pm, so we soon made our way down the escarpment towards Griffin's Farm. The descent was naturally easier on the cardiovascular system, but it was hard on the knees and calf muscles. By the time we arrived back at camp at 3.40pm we were ready for a well-earned rest. But rest was the last thing we had time for. There was much to do before the sun set. There was wood to collect and the fire to start and then dinner to prepare. We also had to replenish our water supplies from the creek.
It was 5.15pm when darkness fell upon our little campsite and dinner was still cooking. I had my usual pre-cooked snags and Continental Brand rice - this time an Indian blend rather than the usual Satay - which wasn't the most appetising of meals, but it did fill the void in my stomach. We spent the next hour or so gazing into the night sky as Brett and Karen proved they also had a fair knowledge of the stars and constellations and took great delight in pointing out most of them to us (sound like just the people you want on your team for a trivia night). We were also lucky enough to witness not only the occasional bat flying overhead, but also many planes, satellites and shooting stars. But one thing was missing - where were the local wombats that I had assured my companions would grace us with their presence? The rotten animals never showed their faces for the whole duration of our time at Griffin's Farm.
As 7.30pm approached and the temperature fell we all retired to our tents for the night. I had a fitful night. Unaccustomed to having a tent all to myself, I spread myself out and went to sleep, but unfortunately the day's exertions had put some strain on my troublesome back and I found myself drifting in and out of sleep every two to three hours. At approximately 10pm I was woken by the sound of rain falling on the tent. This was accompanied by a howling wind.
When I finally crawled out of the tent at 7.20am the next morning, the sky was clear, but the tent was saturated from the rain and morning dew. I found that overnight my legs had stiffened up from all the exercise on the previous day and I felt like an old man as I shuffled painfully to my seat by the fireplace to partake in some breakfast. It was here that my walking companions commented wryly that it sounded like I had received a good night's sleep. It was quite obvious that my snoring had kept everyone awake during the night and Brett wryly suggested that next time I should pitch my tent at the far end of the field - a good two hundred metres away. The complaints of my companions made it sound like I had logged three fair-sized rainforests during the night.
The sun warmed us up as it rose just to the east of Mt Portaloo. As we finished our breakfast we were visited by an old friend from six years before. The magpie looked a lot more mature than he did in '94 and he'd certainly become much bolder as he ventured into the vestibule of my tent. We left the campsite at 8.45am, armed only with our wet weather gear, water bottles and a small amount of food. We set off for an exploration of the old logging track on the ridge to the north.
First though, we took the trail back to the ford on Yarrunga Creek - the exercise easing the stiffness out of my joints - then we followed the track north east for about two kilometres until we found a side-track heading straight up the hill. As we neared the highest point the track kind of disappeared, so overgrown had it become. Yuriko and I relied on Brett and Karen's excellent abilities as navigators to keep us on track. We soon found ourselves heading west above a short cliffline, but in places the track was so old and overgrown that the only way we could follow it was by looking for the faint cuttings on the upper side of the track. By 10.15am we had crossed a couple of small intermittent creeks, at one of which we took a rest break and discussed the situation. We agreed that if we could not find the next track junction by 10.45am, we should consider turning back.
Karen and Brett in the forest
The other problem we faced was that our map showed the track crossing an eleven metre cliffline. There was a distinct possibility that the old loggers had carried the logs to the cliff and threw them over the edge to be gathered at the track below. We put this thought out of our heads as we moved off again. We knew we were very close to the track junction - about 250 metres - as we crossed yet another small creek marked on the map. We counted our steps from the creek and at step number 240 we came upon a track junction marked by a cairn, right on our turn-back time of 10.45am. With howls of delight we turned left and followed this well-defined track to the cliff and found that the track descended through a break in the cliff face not marked on the map. We descended the last section, passing both a Lyrebird's mound and a Satin Bowerbird's bower - marked by blue feathers - until we came onto the Griffin's Farm water supply reservoir just above our campsite.
Not only had we successfully negotiated a very difficult track, we'd had a great time doing it too. We arrived back at camp at 11.10am. Now came the dreaded part of our two-day activities - dismantling the tents and packing the rucksacks. It really didn't take that long. We had lunch, then tidied up the campsite. At 12.25pm, with a huge groan, we put on our heavy rucksacks and headed out towards the car at Jack's Corner Road. At the ford we crossed without incident, though I almost had myself an early bath, trying to keep my balance as Brett lined up a photograph of me crossing the creek. We decided to take the road back to the top rather than the track we had come down the previous day. We soon regretted this as the mid-afternoon sun combined with the steep ascent and the weight on our backs to make the hike up Meryla Pass seem like a mere walk down the street.
Yuriko and Karen crossing Yarrunga Creek
The views from this road though were excellent - a fact I had commented on in my track notes on my previous walk here. At the top of the ascent we had a much-needed breather and enjoyed a cool, refreshing breeze that had sprung up before we tackled the much easier undulating section back to the waiting car for the short drive home.