Way Off Track

A story from Morgan Laudine about a Search and Rescue Exercise in the Barringtons.

14th to the 16th of September 2018.

In 2017 my life changed for the better when I joined the State Emergency Services, City of Newcastle Unit. In 2018 I joined the Bush Search & Rescue Unit as well. BSAR specialises in locating missing persons and forensic evidence in remote areas statewide. Later that same year I also joined Fire & Rescue NSW. Warning emergency services can take over your life!

In September last year I signed myself up for a search and rescue training weekend with Bush Search & Rescue and off I went in the Barrington Tops National Park for three days of searching in steep and heavily forested terrain a long way from the nearest track.  

Our search area was off the side of the Gloucester Tops plateau, above the Chichester River. The exercise was designed to test our remote area skills and equipment and also to continue the search for missing aircraft VH-MDX that disappeared in the area in 1981.

On the first day our search team of four was driven down a bumpy seldom-used fire trail and dropped at our starting point. We immediately left the trail and made our way into the world heritage listed Antarctic Beech forest a silent, dark and ancient place full of plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Our day was spent clambering over logs and brushing past tree fern after tree fern. We went further and further into the forest listing to the calls of lyrebirds and yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. When the light started to fade we set up camp and fell asleep under a canopy of mighty Antarctic Beech trees.

On day two, things got more challenging. The terrain got steeper and the vegetation got thicker. We found ourselves neck deep in vines, negotiating scree slopes, crossing multiple gullies and hitting sheer cliffs. At one point it was taking an hour just to move 1km and I was introduced to a hiking technique known as ‘wombatting’.

Progress was slow and we were running out of daylight, so we camped on the flattest bit of ground we had seen for hours… a 45-degree slope. The map said it was flat!

I dug a bed and tied my pack to a nearby tree for the night. A couple of runaway packs had already tried to escape down the slope once. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I woke up many times as my feet started to slide away from my head . The large lump of dirt that fell into my mouth at 3am was a rather unpleasant. It was certainly an interesting place to spend to spend a night.

On the third day the going started to get easier again after a few hours we started heading up. Once we got back on to the plateau, we left the Antarctic Beech forest behind and made our way through sub-alpine woodlands full of snow gums and wombat holes. Then we crossed the Gloucester River and join the land of the path once again. We made our way along the path (a strange thing not covered in vines that could be walked along with great ease) and popped out just in time to meet our ride out and head for home. 

Despite the many search efforts conducted over the years in this remote and rugged part of NSW the aircraft VH-MDX and the five people on board remain unaccounted for.

The search continues.

Going solo in Yuraygir National Park

A trip report from PJ’s 4 day solo hike in Yuraygir National Park

When: 1-4 November 2017

Where: Yuraygir National Park

What: Yamba to Red Rock Coastal Hike

Why: Needed a challenge to focus on

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Day 1 – Marra Creek to Red Cliffs campsite

18kms/4 hours

The National Parks guide recommends doing this walk North to South and I can understand why. The first day is pretty easy, the third day is hard.

This first day is mostly a dirt/sand track. Very peaceful,  easy to navigate and well sign-posted. It’s obvious where the track goes.

There is fresh water at the end of the day, but it’s an extra 2-3 km round trip. I just asked someone’s Nan and Pop in a camper if they could spare some, which they were happy to do.

Great spot for a swim and lots of kangaroos! You can have a fire there, but its BYO fire wood. I scavenged around the fireplaces for peoples left over bits and had some Firestarters with me.

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Day 2 – Red Cliffs to Illaroo

25 kms/6 hours

Mostly beach walking. Fairly compact, though it’s worth working with the tides, rather than against them.

I used an app ‘Map my ride’, which provided speed and distance at 5km intervals. On the beach I did about 3.5kms/hr in soft sand, and about 5kms/hr on hard packed sand. Knowing this helped me plan my water and food consumption.

I made sure I was up early, packed and walking by 6.15am. This made the most of the mild temperatures and meant my water lasted me the day.

When I did find opportunities to fill up my water, I made sure I took 10mins to drink as much as possible, often a litre, sometimes more.

The first water crossing is via a National Parks canoe, which was on the other side when I came through, but I asked around and a father gave me a lift in his two person kayak. You can’t walk across it as it’s too deep and fast.

Illaroo campsite is lovely and has a good beach. There is also a great general store at Minnie Waters, which is about 1km south of the campsite and does hot food, wet/dry goods, coffee and alcohol.

You can have a fire at this campsite and there is water 3 kms away, but you can also get it from the general store if you ask nicely.

Day 3 – Illaroo to Pebbly beach campsite

28 kms/8.5 hours

Beach walking- a lot of it. Especially Wolli beach, which I struck at high tide. It wasn’t fun but I found a rhythm and just kept going. I didn’t stop much on the beaches, because I found it hard to get started and sand gets everywhere when you put your pack down!

You need to book the water crossing at the end of Wooli beach. Information for this is on the websites provided below. The water crossing costs $10 per person and it’s the only way to get across, unless you happen to find someone with a private boat.

Then there is a 5 kilometre long ‘Rock Platform Crossing’. It is pretty challenging. The rocks are sharp and on awkward angles, which makes it strenuous. Look for the ‘goat track’ people have made up above the rocks. I used sections of this to make it easy, but it wasn’t a proper trail and you would want to carefully assess the risks. In a group, the rock platform would have been easier and less brutal I think.

There is a lovely beach at Station Creek. Nice for a swim and you can have a fire. No water there though, so make sure you take this into account or try to get some from another camping group. Plenty of people, families mostly when I was there and they were great. You MUST cross Station Creek at low tide. There are no formal arrangements for crossing it. But I got a lift by one of the fathers with a 4WD.

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Day 4 – Pebbly Beach to Red Rock

4kms/1 hour

As I did far more kilometres on day three, this day was just a stroll and a final water crossing. Again, you need to book the guy with the boat, but he was easy to deal with. At very low tide you could probably put your pack on your head and try to walk across, but there is a general store on the other side with great burgers… so you may not want to wait for low tide!

I got a mate to pick me up at Red Rock, but there is a bus service too. Check the timetable though because the buses aren’t that frequent. Alternatively you can camp at the Red Rock campground and have a hot shower.

The beaches in Red Rock are amazing and worth the effort.

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Lessons learned

All the hard work for this trip was done in the preparation phase. You could do it without planning (meals, training, getting other peeps advice) but it would make things harder than necessary.

The trip restored my faith in people. There were several times when I needed some help, with water crossings or just extra water. I just approached people and they happily helped me. Maybe it was because I was a single female, but I think it was also that I was doing it solo and they appreciated the difficulty of it.

I looked up some blogs on solo hiking and there were a few gems.

Firstly when you encounter an unexpected challenge or something goes wrong-> STOP- Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. I used this several times to make decisions, when there was no one else to consult.

Also – one blog made a valid point, that you are not alone when doing a solo. You have your thoughts, memories and own company. This was a valuable piece of advice when I was doing hard sections on the soft sand or the rock platform crossing. I had some very funny moments and laughed out loud literally!

Equipment

  • 60 Litre pack
  • 2L Water (plus 1.5L emergency water)
  • cereal, long life milk, chocolate, high calorie CLIF bars, dehydrated meals, fruit, snacks
  • First aid kit
  • PLB
  • Tent
  • Klymit sleeping mat, summer weight sleeping bag +thermal liner
  • Jetboil
  • matches/fire starters
  • reading book
  • trip notes
  • iPhone with spare charging bank
  • sense of adventure and a positive attitude

Resources

Any questions – I would be happy to help. Comment below or get in touch via the Hunter Area Outdoor Women facebook group.

PJ Wanderlust

Always pack your headtorch

Here’s a tall tale from a couple of #haowomen who went chasing waterfalls along the Paterson River in the Barrington Tops:

dirtbaglawyer

I started drawing this “map” while I was bouncing around in the back of Johannes’ ute. The ute was zooming along Paterson Forest Road, towards Mount Allyn Lookout.

map

Johannes had heard reports of a spectacular waterfall and gorge on the Paterson River.  He wasn’t sure exactly where the gorge would be – so he hatched a plan to hike in somewhere above the gorge, then follow the river downstream until we found it.  We would abseil down the waterfall if we needed to. We’d take some happy snaps, then pop out of the river and hike back to our car.

Johannes knew it was going to be a big day.  He tried to warn me. But for some reason, I was convinced that we were going on pleasant little wander that would keep us entertained before lunch.  Alarm bells should have started ringing when he asked Jens and…

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