[SUBW] [SUBW-A] Trip report: Gloucester River & Williams River, Barrington Tops (26 - 28/12/16)

Adrian Spragg aspragg at tpg.com.au
Fri Sep 22 05:43:36 AEST 2017

Playing catch up again


Trip report:   Gloucester River & Williams River, Barrington Tops

Date:               Mon 26 – Wed 28 December, 2016

Party:             Leo Garnac, Adrian Spragg

Online (with photos):


Leo was continuing his plan to do all the canyons in NSW (Australia?), and
arranged to meet at Gloucester Tops Camp Ground, arriving from Christmas in
Oxley Wild River National Park. He kindly agreed to delay his SUBW trip
departure until 10.00 am on Boxing Day 26.12.16 to allow Adrian to do the 4
hour drive north from Sydney. Features of the last few kilometers include
some 6 concrete fords over the Gloucester River and the distinctive bright
red Illawarra Flame Trees.


Sue & Ludek drove us up Gloucester Tops Lookout. Ludek had to opt out of the
trip when he fell off his slackline the previous evening, spraining his
ankle. On the drive up, Adrian was excited to see his first quoll
(Australian native “cat”) in the wild.


Leo and Adrian left the lookouts at 11.00 and arrived at the daunting
Gloucester River Chute an hour later after donning full wetsuits. Maybe in
the future the Chute will become a recognised abseil in low water with
bolted belays, but we agreed we were not going down it with our scant


Richard Pattison (RP) in his very good video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2ilgHan2ws with map and commentary
describes the 5 abseils, albeit with greater water volume than we
experienced, before climbing out on an exit ridge back to the lookouts.
Abseil 1 is “a scrubby route away from chute, into pool” on the true left,
before descent to the river.  However, once we had descended to the Chute,
the only obvious exit was on the true right (ie. looking downstream), so we
climbed out, bush bashed around the hill and completed 2 abseils off trees
and a scramble to find out way back to the river.


We clambered ~400m downstream over polished rocks and mossy boulders to RP’s
Abseils 2 & 3 in short succession down a waterfall and separated by a rock
platform in the centre of the river.


We had lunch about 14.00, and shortly after Adrian had a fall onto his chest
which necessitated Leo to carry both 60m ropes (2x 40m ropes would probably
have sufficed) for the rest of the trip. After all, the SUBW motto is “Press
on Regardless”. [Memo to self: when dropping off a rock, take off the pack,
or at least undo the waist strap. Otherwise the pack catches and catapults
one forward over the edge].


Abseil 4 started off a boulder down a waterfall but was completed on the
true left at 15.00. There were various swims and jumps, and Abseil 5 off a
tree on the left beside a waterfall into a pool was completed at 16.20. We
presume one can exit back to the lookouts after this point.


We completed a 6th sloping abseil of ~40m at 17.30 before reaching the creek
at bottom of the exit ridge (MGA 692487).


We threaded our way downstream a further 1 kilometre, and at 18.40 found a
soft space on the rainforest floor to spread out our beds. It was a
comparatively warm night, and we did not rig our tent flies. We fetched dry
smashed timber from the open river beside us for our small fire, avoiding
having to resort to rotting coachwood from the rainforest floor. We could
identify stinging trees rising high above us, having been always careful not
to encounter the painful leaves while walking.


The serenity we experienced was reinforced by fireflies weaving backwards
and forwards in the rainforest gloom in one of the most bewitching scenes I
have ever seen. No photo would capture the experience, nor did we try, but
now I understand the origins of fairies.


We started at 6.30 the next morning, boulder hopping and walking down sheet
rock until the gorge opened out and we found it worthwhile to gravitate to
the forest floor, often on the left of the river. There were staghorns
growing high above us, vines to trip us up, veils of moss, interesting


So it was that we unexpectedly came across an old NPWS hut at MGA 722507
(spot height 454 on the Gloucester Tops 1:25000 map) at 9.30. An old
firetrail appeared to come down the hill on the true left of the side creek
and continued on the true left downstream high above the Gloucester River.


The road was quite substantial and well built, and reminded me of the WW2
Japanese POW railway on the Burmese side of the Thai border. Initially
progress was faster, but log and vine entanglements became more prolific.
Finally, we appeared to lose the road (perhaps it headed up the hill?), so
cut out and completed the last 1.5km rockhopping in the river bed. We
reached the ford and camp ground at 12.00 just as Sue drove in, having spent
a cold night up at the lookouts.


A deluge came as we had lunch at the camp ground. Perfect timing! We talked
to 2 rangers, who had not been to the old hut, but knew of it, and were
surprised it was still standing.


The Gloucester River is a beautiful trip, with all abseils coming on the
first day. We were happy with our decision to make our way all the way down
to the camp ground, and the fireflies at night in the rainforest was a
special experience unlikely to be repeated.


We drove out of the valley, had coffees and ice cream in Dungog, and made
our way up through Salisbury to camp somewhere in the area.


On 28.12.16 Leo and Adrian left Lagoon Pinch Picnic Area (locked gate
MGA553463) at 6.15 on the track up towards Careys Peak. We had decided not
to abseil Williams Falls, but take the shortcut track to the base of the
falls and come down the Williams River, avoiding the need for ropes. In our
exuberance, we walked almost all the way to Corker Mountain, before
backtracking to the X we had seen cut into a eucalyptus tree at Scouts Alley
at MGA 561484. Looking over the edge we could see pink tape markings for the
start of the Shortcut track.


The contoured start of the marked trail was not propitious, to which we
would say – “hang in there”. It soon reached the clear rainforest floor, and
was well marked and quite delightful as it wended its way towards Williams


The final 200m descent on scree is awkward, and we reached the falls at
9.00. The river was definitely colder than the Gloucester River, and
definitely full wetsuits were the go as we clambered, slid and jumped our
way down the Williams River.   

 Richard Pattison (RP) in his video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCfCdfq0Gfw   lists 9 obstacles on the
river, and we found these were fairly readily identifiable.
1) 3m – go right & jump or slide
2) 3m – jump out or slide
3) 3m – slide (Caution log)
4) Washing machine – slide & walk through
5) 3m – slide, caution stopper
6) 5m – jump, or climb left
Canyon section
7) Landslide, log jam & pool – 20m swim
The sides open out and progress is much quicker, you can start walking on
the banks.
8) 8m – “The Big Jump” from left, or slide right
9) 5m – Jump right 150m to Rocky Crossing
10) at Rocky Crossing

>From Rocky Crossing it was only a short walk back to the cars at Lagoon
Pinch at 15.00. 8 ¾ hours, including ¾ hour side trip up the Corker, makes
it about an 8 hour round trip of the stunningly beautiful Williams River
with no undue technical difficulties. This is a must do for anybody in the
area with full wetsuit, helmet and reasonable shoes.


What a fantastic 3 days it has been, and we appeared to have had these
iconic canyons to ourselves.


Postscript: We continued on for a further 4 days of canyoning at Bungonia
and Macquarie Pass. Adrian’s discomfort/ pain from the Gloucester River fall
increased and a doctor later explained: Bruised Chest Cartilage. No real
pain immediately, then as bleeding continues, blood builds up with nowhere
to escape, and so the pain builds up. He estimated it would settle down in 2
weeks. Nothing I did made it worse (he has my vote!), and nothing one can do
to facilitate the recovery, other than giving time. In fact, it took a
further 2 months to disappear. 






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