Pagoda Country Trip Report  
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Consider a walk that is 7km as the crow flies and only a couple of hundreds metres up.  But, the party I was with managed only 6 km and that took 7 ½ hours.  The walk out was a bit better - that took 3 ½ hours.

You have, then, an idea of the characteristics of the Pagoda country, in the Blue Mountains.  In the middle is a remarkable, very large hole in the ground, called The Wolgan Valley.

It is a deep, farming valley surrounded on all sides by tall sandstone cliffs and ravines that cut into the cliff face.  At the far end is a large paddock, surrounded by cliffs on two sides and rimmed by a creek on the other sides.  A great place to car camp and some interesting scenery with the bonus of an old shale oil mine, hidden in the trees.  This place is called Newnes.

From here the walk begins and heads in a westerly direction to the cliffs. The walk follows Little Capertee Creek to a ridge that juts out from the cliffs and intersects two creeks.  The surroundings are covered with waist high ferns, below a covering of trees.  The creek is at the bottom of a narrow valley, a couple of hundred metres deep. At the tip of the ridge the direction is a sharp scramble up.  A traverse around the right side of the tip is needed before a final scramble up to the end of the ridge.

From here you head in a westerly direction where some more cliffs are met. Eventually, with a bit of probing a break in the cliffs, on the northern side, leads you up the final section of the ridge.

By now it is time for lunch.

The size of the party in this trip was 15.  Ironically, a similar number that was in the last National Parks Association walk I did, which was a Mt Jagungal, Snowy Mountains, walk I led about six years ago.  I thought it was a bit too many then and it was again so.

Not that I minded much.  I was walking in an area I hadn’t walked in or been to for several years.  It made sense to be with a group on this occasion – the first walk with other bushwalkers for over 2 ½ years.

The leader was an interesting man.  George, aged 73, would put people 50 years his junior to shame.  Remarkable strength and stamina and  I was amazed to see him do a little jig and the end of the walk.

One of his stories he shared during the walk related to the size of the Gum Trees, saying few were over 300 years old.  He said the cause of this was a massive drought in the 17th century.  The region is not known for high rainfall and the drought killed many trees then.  What was interesting was the reason – a period of several years where there was no sun spot activity.  Apparently, the plasma let off  by sunspots, that enter our atmosphere are a key element in rainfall.  At least I think that was how he explained it.

Another point of interest during the walk was the use of a Satellite Navigation device.  I had not seen them used before.  My impression is that too much reliance was made on it; perhaps, because it was a bit of a new toy.  There were times when the use of brain power, the map and a memory of distance travelled would have been adequate and saved time.

Another aspect that slowed us down was the scenery.  At the end of the ridge we came up was a cliff, this generally went in a North/South direction for kilometres on either side and was at least 100 metres high, before hitting the tree line and sloping down into the valley below.

Now you are getting an idea of the majesty of the area.  On the west side a sharp drop and on the other east is the cliffs of the Wolgan Valley, with ravines cutting into this that at times end about 20 metres from the steep cliff face of the western sides.  On the top is a collection of sandstone formations you have to navigate over or around.

Thus, the oohing and ahhing of awestruck walkers made progress somewhat slow.  We had turned left at the cliffs and where heading in a southerly direction, staying close to the cliff face.

At one point progress came to a stop.  This lasted for well over an hour and was the subject of much debate, mostly between Daniel and his wife.  The reason was simple, we couldn’t find a way ahead and this was upsetting Daniel, who was determined to find a way to the Mt Dawson caves, our intended destination.

Most of the party were expecting to sleep in an overhang and did not have a tent.  The weather was changing to rain.  The only shelter we had found was found before lunch and it was then about 3:30pm.

Eventually, a welcome break in the cliffs was found.  It was an easy descent into a narrow ravine of waist high ferns.  Here and there were, what the Tasmanian’s call Man Ferns, about eight feet high and with a single trunk. These then gave way to a small grove of gums with cliffs on either sides.  In front of us the ravine then swung left and dipped down too steeply to allow any further safe progress.  With luck there was a good sized overhang on the eastern side. 

The leader was at this point “white-anted”.  The party had had enough and out came the camping gear for the night before he had a chance to protest.  Water had been carried in from below the initial ascent and there was plenty of wood about.

The others were settling down to enjoy the ambience of the campfire but for me it was time to go to work, so to speak.  The only problem was I wasn’t sure what I was going to photograph.  

The reason for my large and heavy rucksack now became evident as a tripod, five lenses, two camera bodies and assorted gear got shoved back into the pack.  Southwest seemed like a good idea, as we were heading in that direction.

Surprisingly, after about 50 metres, skirting around the drop off in the ravine the cliff face opened up and a commanding view to the west was had.  By now it was late in the day and there was a cover of cloud.  But I had a suspicion that on the horizon there would be a break in the clouds.  I was correct.  After a quick walk up to the cliff to the north I set up my gear and waited.  I did not have long to wait as the sun was about to poke out below the cover of cloud.

Whilst waiting I went over to the other side, and looking down, called out to the others to witness the oncoming spectacle.  After some bemused and surprised responses a half dozen made their way over and up.

They generally thought the effort worthwhile as the sunset they witnessed became a highlight of the trip.

Sadly, I did not get any “keepers”. (Knock out shots).  In analysis, I concluded as I have in the past, if you want to be creative, be by yourself and become part of your environment.  Somewhat like meditation or yoga; in that, you still your mind and let what surrounds you become part of you.  In simple terms, I got distracted and should have taken some extra shots with a three stop graduated neutral denisity filter to compensate for the extremes of  exposure in the image – the highlights were too bright and burnt out their colour.  I think it was the double distraction that caused me to blow it, ie the novelty of other people and the drama and majesty the surrounds.  Ah well, such is life.

As usual, it was dark when I got back to the campsite.  Dinner was pleasant.  Campfires seem to be an irregular occurrence these days.  The high country is too sensitive as is most of Tasmania.

It is interesting though, listening to the stories of others.  I once read of an old Eskimo calling the campfire – the television of the mind.  I think he is right.

Dawn brought a couple surprises.  One was that the sandstone rock in our overhang contained a high concentration of iron and our compasses were out by 40°.  The second was that Daniel wanted to continue on further exploration.  He promised he would be back in an hour.  By the time the party was packed he had returned and was clearly excited.  He had found a way to his original destination, plus many other interesting rock formations and this had made his day.

The walk out began in a light rain.  It was much quicker than the way in and everyone seemed keen to get to the end of the ridge to commence the descent down the ridge.

The way down was uneventful and a little confusing but it didn’t take too long to sort it out.  Going down always seems scarier than going up.  I guess you can see how long before you start bouncing if you slip and fall.

Lunch was at the bottom.  Three kilometres later, down the creek, we were at the cars.

I enjoyed the walk with other people but I do prefer the intangible connection I get with the bush from solitary walking.

The area did not show too much evidence of other walkers but by the time we had left there was a clear path.  I am not sure if this was a good idea. 

I am glad I went.

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