Chris, looking to Crafts Wall and Ti Willa Walls from Brennan TopPhillip Hellman
PhotosChris and Phillip Hellman
The planned route was Kanangra Walls, Gingra Range, Kowmung, Ti Willa Plateau, Cloudmaker, Gangerang Range, Kanangra.
12 | Bushwalk October 2023
Chris in the dingoes’ lair, near Compagnonis PassPhillip Hellman
The walk was on 22-24 September 2022 and was at the request of my son Chris who after travelling from Melbourne was set to complete it, rain, hail or shine.
The last time I visited Cloudmaker was 55 years ago as a 15-year-old with three school mates. In May 1967 we climbed up from Thunder Bend to Stormbreaker and then down Ti Willa via Cloudmaker with an epic 42 kilometres last day from the Gingra Creek junction with the Kowmung to Katoomba and then catching the 3 am Mudgee Mail to Central.
Day 1: Kanangra to a saddle, 10.5 km, 8 hoursUnfortunately, the forecast for rain for several days was quite accurate. We set off at 9 am in the rain from Kanangra on Thursday 22 September. The aim was to reach the Kowmung that evening.
Memories of the Gingra Range from 20 years ago suggested that it would be an easy walk, not so. Just below the coal seam, south of Murrawang Head, we encountered dreadful secondary bushfire re-growth that obscured just about everything, even the sky on occasions. Due to the poor visibility our
map and compass were of limited use. Chris’s Garmin inReach was a lifesaver with the route appearing along with contours.
The ridge route was mostly impossible to follow and frequently impassable by fallen trees and branches covered by an anastomosing network of vines, weedy shrubs and small saplings. The feral pigs had created pseudo-tracks that seemed to criss-cross everywhere. Even though we had limited water, we decided to make camp on the saddle between Fourth Top Ridge and Fifth Top Ridge about 5 pm. As it continued to rain, we debated whether we were likely to make it back on time given the slow pace and the dreadful conditions. It was possible to be only a few metres away from the old route and to be completely bushed.
Drying clothes in the dingoes’ lairPhillip Hellman
The ridge route was mostly impossible to follow and frequently impassable by fallen trees and branches covered by an anastomosing network of vines ...
Kanangra Walls Walk
0 km 0.5 1 2 km
Road, four-wheel drive track, walking track (treed)
Main track, side trip, alternative route
Cliff, major contour line, minor contour line (100 m interval)
Lake, river, waterfall or creek
Start of the walk
14 | Bushwalk October 2023
Day 2: A saddle to Kanangra, 11.5 km, 10 hoursWe left at 7 am, dreading the descent to the Kowmung which did not disappoint. It took two to three hours fighting our way through seemingly impenetrable jungle. Based on our expertise gained on the day before, we developed several techniques. The “Breastroke” was good for dense saplings that were mainly vertical and were relatively vine-free. A bow wave could be created by holding two hands in a V and charging ahead. Being shorter than Chris, the “Wombat” was better for me. This technique requires basically crawling on hands and knees. The “Stomper” was best for Chris who could raise his legs and squash the undergrowth. When all else failed, the “Swan-dive”, although a bit risky, could flatten the opposition for at least a couple of steps. Regardless of approach, the vines resulted in being either coat-hangered around the neck, lassoed around the legs and torso or having one’s pack captured.
Gingra Creek saw us desperately taking on water ready for the ascent up Stockyard Spur. We took advantage of the track to the top shed associated with the gauging station; this saved us about 500 metres of fighting the undergrowth which, however, soon appeared with a vengeance. The intensity of vines had increased from day one as did the rain. The climb to Compagnonis Pass must
be the worst experience we have endured either bushwalking or bike-packing, and that includes carrying fully laden bikes up the Dzhuku Pass in Kyrgyzstan!
Crazy thoughts went through our heads by the time we had only achieved two to three kilometres in about five hours – turn back, no, the thought was unbearable or walk out via Scotts and cadge a lift from Yerranderie? By 4 pm we still had not reached Compagnonis Pass, the torture continued and we couldn’t even see the cliffs. At 4.15 pm and getting darker and still raining I caught a glimpse of a cliff base. This spurred us on. By this stage we had given up all hope of making it to the 100 Man Cave. I had a vague memory from 1967 that there is an overhang somewhere.
We emerged, completely soaked, through a tunnel in the undergrowth at 4.45 pm and, after a quick reconnaissance, we settled in what is probably a smelly dingo’s lair under a nice conglomerate overhang under Ti-Willa Walls complete with a steady drip of water that filled up our water containers. Given the state of the bush we had no confidence that the next day we would be able to climb from our campsite to Cloudmaker and reach Kanangra. Sleep was interrupted by sliding off my air-bed due to the sloping nature of the cave floor as well as feeling a writhing grape-sized squishy leech well down my sleeping bag.
The view east from the dingoes’ lair. Note the regrowth after the 2019 fires.Phillip Hellman
The view east from the dingoes’ lair, near Compagnonis PassChris Hellman
Day 3: Kanangra to an overhang at Ti-Willa Walls, 15 km, 10 hoursWe left at 7.30 am in light rain, found the pitons and climbed the Compagnonis Pass. To our great relief the vegetation along the Ti Willa Plateau was manageable and we vowed to do our best and reach Kanangra by night-fall using torches if necessary. Ti Willa Hill, Ti Willa Too and Ti Willa Top were reached without any issues apart from a few hundred metre patches of dense saplings here and there which, given our newly acquired expertise, were brushed off as mere distractions. The plateau west and south-west of Ti Willa Top required some concentration to avoid heading too far south given the lack of visibility.
Cloudmaker was welcome though my knees protested along the Gangerang Range. There were only a few patches of regrowth encountered though, due to the increased bushwalker traffic, these had been mostly flattened. With great relief we arrived back at the car at 5.10 pm.
Phillip, looking to Crafts Wall and Gingra CreekChris Hellman
Cloudmaker was welcome though my knees protested along the Gangerang Range.
16 | Bushwalk October 2023
Cloudmaker and the Gangerang Range from Kanangra Plateau, about 4 pm on the last dayChris Hellman
Kanangra Walls at about 4.45 pm on the last dayChris Hellman
AfterthoughtsCuriously, I saw only one small cairn during the walk. I remember many more from 1967. These would have been invaluable in the extreme conditions and, possibly, life-savers in areas such as at the top of Compagnonis Pass or the base of the Gordon Smith Pass to assist with navigation in inclement conditions. Given the effect of rampaging pigs and their wallows, heavily eroded bushwalkers’ tracks on Kanangra Plateau and the widespread devastation
of the area by the bushfires of 2019 it is hard to understand objections to these inconspicuous helpmates.
It would be hard to recommend this walk given the present state of the bush though the constant rain has probably coloured our assessment. If objectives are not met due to slow progress I can envisage difficulties in hot weather when water could be a real issue. I wondered if a sign should be placed at Kanangra that warns about the regrowth.
Phillip’s introduction to bushwalking began as a 13 year old at Sydney Grammar School where maths teacher Adrian Cooper led the school’s Endeavour Club and inspired generations of boys to bushwalk, kayak, rock-climb, cycle and ski-tour.