Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Castle, NSW Morton Nat Pk, Australia


2016 April: Day-trip to climb The Castle in NSW Morton National Park, Australia

Prolog

Three of us, JH from Canberra, RZ and I from Sydney, are on this iconic day walk to The Castle in the Budawangs. (Even though The Castle is in Morton National Park, there is tendency to call this area "The Bugdwangs".)


The Castle

The top of the Castle is a large plateau. You can spend much time wandering around the cliff edges and enjoying the wonderful views of the Budawang wilderness area in all directions. Photo #50 is probably the most beautiful sight and the most photographed scene from the plateau.

While the total distance of this trip is not long, the scramble over exposed cliffs made it a challenging and exciting climb. There are fixed ropes to help you scale up the cliffs ... and I would have like to repeat the trip again except for the ropes ... some of them are frayed with the outer protective layers gone. I don't know how long the ropes can last in that sort of condition out in the open exposed to the weather !  I'm glad they didn't break while I was hanging on to them !

If you are an agile climber you may choose to climb without the assistance of the ropes. But for an ordinary folk like me, it would be a hard ask not to use them. And unfortunately the ropes are not NPWS (NSW National Parks & Wildlife Services) sanctioned, so you can't sue them for compensation if a rope breaks and you are dead from the fall  :-)


Maps

- Corang 8927-3N  1:25,000
- A very good sketch map showing the route to The Castle can be downloaded from:
http://bushwalkingnsw.com/walk/807/the_castle_01.pdf

Here is the 1:25,000 scale map of the relevant part of today's walk.


GPS tracklog file & Route

Our GPX tracklog file can be downloaded from:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B877-h5SCJaSU1FaVl81UVNtTnc/view?usp=sharing

Here is our tracklog, red colour, superimposed on the 1:25,000 map.
- Long Gully Campground, where we start our walk, is near the bottom of the map.
- Castle Saddle is at the northern tip of our tracklog.
- The Castle log book is at the southern tip of our tracklog on the plateau.


Satellite view:
- The Castle is a mesa ... it looks like a tadpole with a large elongated head and a short tail.
- The yellow arrow points to a cave.
- The numbers 1 & 2 are what I called lookout #1 and lookout #2.


A summary of our route is:
- Start from Long Gully Campground
- Cross Yadboro River
- Walk on The Castle Walking Track
- Go through Meakins Pass
- Climb up to The Castle plateau
- Walk to the southern tip of the plateau, to where the log book is located
- Retrace steps to climb down the plateau
- Instead of passing through Meakins Pass, walk north to Castle Saddle
- Turn south back to Long Gully Campground


Timeline & Distance

06:06   0.0 km  Start walking from Long Gully Campground
06:15   0.5 km  Crossing Yadboro River
07:17   3.9 km  At lookout #1

07:18   3.9 km  Resume walking
07:44   4.6 km  At cave

07:46   4.6 km  Resume walking
07:48   4.7 km  At lookout #2

07:50   4.7 km  Resume walking
08:07   5.2 km  At junction of tracks to The Castle and to Monolith Valley

08:12   5.2 km  Resume walking
08:21   5.3 km  Start of a narrow slot; and tunnel afterwards (Meakins Pass)
08:28   5.4 km  Exit tunnel
09:19   6.1 km  Finish climbing; at The Castle plateau
09:46   7.1 km  At southern tip of The Castle plateau, where the log book is located

Lunch

10:07   7.1 km  Start to return to our cars at Long Gully Campground
10:32   8.1 km  At end of The Castle plateau, start to climb down the cliffs
11:13   8.7 km  At junction to the tunnel and to Monolith Valley (close to 08:28)
11:17   8.9 km  At Castle Saddle, 3-way junction to Cooyoyo Creek, Monolith Valley & Long Gully Campground
11:25   9.2 km  At junction of the track to The Castle (same as at 08:07)
11:48   9.8 km  At cave (same as 07:44)
13:17  13.9 km  Crossing Yadboro River
13:29  14.4 km  At Long Gully Campground

==============================================

Total:  7 hrs 23 mins
           14.4 km  Distance is from Google Earth
           14.5 km  Distance is from Garmin GPS


Pictures - Long Gully Campground

1)  We camped here at Long Gully Campground the night before. No one else are here except us.
The day-parking area is about 125 meters north of here. A few cars are parked there on the day.
The toilet is not at the campground. It is back by the side of Long Gully Road, near the turn off to the campground. It is a long way to walk there. Come to think about it, why would anyone want built a toilet there and not here? In fact, RZ and I came from the direction of Milton, we didn't even see the toilet as it is a bit further away from the turn off. Only if you drive from the other direction then you'll notice the toilet. Fortunately JH is from Canberra and came from that direction, hence he can inform us about the location of the toilet. Else RZ and I would never know !

There is a toilet at the day-parking area.  But it is a long way to walk there too.


Crossing Yadboro River

Long Gully Campground is on the south side of the river, in Budawang National Park. The Castle is on the north side, in Morton National Park. Yadboro River forms the boundary between the two national parks.

2)  Crossing Yadboro Rive ~~~
- Upper pic: I am on the south bank of the river, standing on the side of Budawang National Park.
- Lower pic: It is taken on the way back ... RZ is crossing from Morton National Park into Budawang National Park.


The Castle Walking Track

The earlier part of the walk is on The Castle Walking Track, along the top of Kalianna Ridge.

JH sets a brisk pace ... because he is in a hurry to return home for a coffee fix ... because when he got up this morning, he couldn't find his matches to light a fire for a cup of coffee  :-)

3)  JH & RZ leading ~~~
- Upper pic: The cliff in front is not quite The Castle proper ... it is the south-west tip of the escarpment on which The Castle rises ... see the lower pic.
- Lower pic:
      •  The Castle is the mesa in the middle of pic. In the satellite view, it looks like a tadpole with a large elongated head and a short tail.
      •  The small red circle is where I am now.
      •  The larger red circle is the escarpment of the upper pic.


4)  The whole area used to be under the sea. It is subsequently lifted up above the water. Here is an example of a sedimentary rock called Conglomerate.


5)  A hand chain has been installed on this slope which is quite steep.


6)  On the slope of the previous pic, there is a good view of:
- Pigeon House ... The nipple-shaped mountain, near the left edge of the pic ... it is towards south-east.
- Morton National Park ... To the right of Pigeon House ... Right now it is 7am, still early, hence plenty of fog lingering around the valleys.


After the steep climb of photo #5, The Castle Walking Track hugs close to the base of the cliffs on the west side of The Castle.

7)  On The Castle Walking Track ~~~
We can see that the entire area around The Castle is made of conglomerate rock ... refer to photo #4.


8)  Cliff along The Castle Walking Track


Lookout #1

9)  We come to a lookout:
- Left red bar is Mt Owen, toward north-west.
- Right red bar is Mt Nibelung, towards north-north-west.


To cave

10)  Walking further along, we come to a small waterfall. The weather has been dry for sometime, hence there is only a few drops of water falling from the cliffs above.
- Left pic: JH & RZ are going through a gap between a rock and the cliff. Afterwards they'll go through the hole.
- Right pic: Just before I go through the hole, I look back and snap this photo of the gap between the rock and the cliff.


11)  - Left pic: Some parts of The Castle Walking Track are eroded. Here, we step on tree roots to get up.
- Right pic: Some rock scrambling to climb up.


12)  RZ on another eroded part of the track


13)  JH hugging along the cliff


Cave

14)  1 hr 38 mins, 4.6 km later (distance is from Google Earth), we come to a cave.
- Middle pic: This is the cave on the left side of the upper pic.
- Lower pic: The cave on the right side of the upper pic.


Lookout #2

15)  We come to another lookout.


16)  Beautiful view of the Morton National Park ~~~
- The red arrow points to Mt Nibelung, towards north-west.
- The red bar is Mt Owen, towards west.
- The valley on the left side of the pic (towards south-south-west), is where Oaky Creek flows.
- The ridge immediately to the left of the valley is Kalianna Ridge.
- The Castle Walking Track is along the top of Kalianna Ridge.


17)  Still at the lookout ~~~
- The red bar, towards north-east, is the tail of The Castle.
- To the left of the tail are the cliffs of Mt Nibelung/Mooryan.
- We'll be going along the yellow arrows towards Meakins Pass which is where the tail joins the main body of The Castle.


To where the tail joins the main body of The Castle

18)  Now walking towards where the tail joins the main body of The Castle
- Upper pic: Towards east-north-east-ish. The red ovals in this pic and photo #21 are of the same cliff top.
- Lower pic: Towards east-ish  (Compared with the upper pic, we've walked about 250 meters closer to the cliffs.)


19)  We come to a rock laid down on at a 3-way junction.  ~~~
Engraved on the rock are direction arrows pointing to MV, TC, H:
- MV: Monolith Valley, towards north
- TC: The Castle, towards east
- H: Does H stands for "Home"??? If not, then what?


20)  We take the track to The Castle.


21)  Heading towards the tail part of The Castle ... you can just make out RZ's turquoise backpack.
The red ovals in this pic and photo #18 are of the same cliff top.


Meakins Pass - Through to the east side of the tail of The Castle

Now we start to go through Meakins Pass which is near where the tail joins the main body of The Castle.

The pass is a narrow passage and a tunnel from west side of the tail through to its east side.

22)  The 2 people here are father and son. We first met them at the 3-way junction, photo #19. They camped out the previous night at Cooyoyo Creek; and now take a day-walk to The Castle. I promise to exchange email addresses with them when we reach the top; and to send this and other photos to them later on. Unfortunately we lost each other after climbing up the cliffs. If by chance you know them, please ask them to contact me. Thanks in advance !


The fun part of the climb starts now  :-)

23)  RZ climbing through a narrow slot


24)  If you are any fatter, you won't be able to squeeze through here.
- Left pic: RZ is directly in front.
- Right pic: Looking back  (The boy is facing backwards, checking the progress of his father.)


25)  The end of the slot is a tunnel that you need to crawl through.
- Upper pic: RZ is in front.
- Lower pic: The boy is behind me; and behind him is his father.


26)  At the end of the tunnel ~~~
- There is a hole on the right, like a window in a loft ... RZ is there.
- The way out is lower down on the left, pointed to by the red arrow.


27)  I am out of the tunnel and is now on the east side of the tail part of The Castle.
This photo is looking back at the exit of the tunnel. There is a rope to help you to climb down.


Climb up The Castle

28)  We are going along the base of a cliff and passing by a narrow cave - so we venture in to take a look. Well, nothing much in it, but still interesting.


29)  Now comes a series of fixed ropes to help us up. Here, 2 ropes dangle down from above:
- JH on the left; RZ on the right.
- The turquoise-coloured rope goes only as far as where RZ is.
- The other rope is much longer ... see next pic ...


30)  Here is the longer rope, perhaps 50 meters.
- Left pic: I am at where RZ was in the previous pic and now looking up at RZ who is almost at the top of the rope.
- Right pic: I am at the top of the rope looking down ... the father is climbing up.


31)  Another fixed rope to help us to climb up ~~~
- Left pic: JH is climbing up.
- Right pic: I'm at the top of the rope looking down at RZ climbing up.


32)  View from the top of the rope towards north-west:
- In the upper pic, the left red arrow points to Mount Owen.
- The right red arrow points to Mount Nibelung.
- The red oval is the tail of The Castle.
- Initially we climb towards the tail from the west as illustrated by the yellow arrow. Then we squeeze through a narrow slot (photos #23, #24), crawl through a tunnel (#25, #26) and end up on the east side. From the east side, we climb up to here via a series of fixed ropes (photos #29 to #31).
- There are more climbing to be done ... read on !


33)  (Going further along ... and looking back) We just came from the top of this rock platform


34)  At where the previous pic was taken, and looking forward ~~~
The yellow arrow points to the way up ... through a gap between the rocks.
From left to right: The son, RZ, the father


35)  Now going through a narrow slit.
- Left pic: It is so narrow that we have to take off our backpack to squeeze through, as RZ has just done.
- Right pic: Her backpack is back on, ready to climb up to the entrance of a short tunnel, the red circle.


36)  Still in the same narrow slit as the previous pic:
- Left pic: RZ climbs towards the entrance of the tunnel, the red circle.
- Right pic: I am at the top of the tunnel looking down at RZ climbing up.


37)  We need to climb to the top of this !
Both upper & lower pics show the same cliff top ... from different angles.


38)  The same cliff top as the previous pic


39)  Now comes another set of fixed ropes to help us. There are 3 ropes in this series. Here is the 1st one.
- Upper pic: We are climbing up.
- Lower pic: At the top of the first rope and looking down


40)  I am standing at where the previous pic was taken. ~~~
At where the previous rope ends, here is the 2nd rope to help us to climb further up.


41)  And at where the previous rope ends, here is the 3rd rope.


Climbing up The Castle - the last rope

42)  Going further along, we come the last rope. Although this rock cliff is not high, the lack of foothold makes it difficulty for me to climb over ... my arms are not strong enough to haul myself up the rope  :-(   Fortunately, after some struggle, I manage to inch my way up and over ... phew !
- Left pic: RZ climbing up
- Right pic: At the top of the rock looking down at RZ coming up


43)  (I am standing just outside the right edge of the previous pic.)
- Left pic: The red circle at bottom left hand corner is where we climbed up from below ... see previous pic.
- Right pic:
    •  The red oval is the tail of The Castle..
    •  The yellow arrow is the route we climbed towards the tail.
    •  The 3 red arrows point to, from left to right: Mt Nibelung, Mt Mooryan, Shrouded Gods Mountain.
(The right pic is taken on the return trip .... which explains why RZ is not up on the ledge as the left pic.)


Plateau at the top of The Castle

It is only a few more steps from the last rope (photo #42) to the top of The Castle.

44)  The top of The Castle is a plateau, like in these pics ... there are many small rock pools filled with water. There are tadpoles in the water ... see the lower pic.
There are also swamps in the plateau. We detour around them.


45)  Straight after we climb up to the plateau, we are greeted by a panoramic view of the rugged Morton National Park. (This scene is similar to photo #32.)
- Of the 3 red arrows, the left red arrow points to Mount Owen, towards west-ish.
- The middle arrow points to Mount Nibelung, towards north-west.
- The right arrow points to Shrouded Gods Mountain, towards north.
- The red oval is the tail of The Castle.
- The yellow arrow is the route we climbed towards the tail.


46)  Continuation to the right of the previous pic ~~~
- The red arrow at the left edge points to Mount Nibelung, towards north-west.
- To its right, the red arrow points to Shrouded Gods Mountain, towards north.
- The blue dots on the right side of the pic indicate where Clyde River flows.


47)  Continuation to the right of the previous pic ~~
Towards south-east:
- In the distance is Pigeon House Mountain, the breast-shaped mountain.
- The plateau in the foreground is Byangee Mountain.


48)  We are now walking towards the southern end of the plateau.
Along the way, there are plenty of cairns. All of them are just a jumble of rocks piled together ... except this one ... neat !


At southern end of The Castle

49)  Fantastic view of Morton National Park at southern end of The Castle.
- Pigeon House Mountain, towards south-east, is in the distance.
- Byangee Mountain is in the foreground.


50)  This must be the most photographed view from the top of The Castle ! ... and an icon of the Budawangs.
- In the distance is Pigeon House Mountain, the breast-shaped mountain.
- The plateau in the foreground is Byangee Mountain.


51)  These cliffs of The Castle is photographed near where I was when taking the previous 2 pics.
- RZ on the left, JH on the right


52)  We are now at the southern tip of The Castle plateau. A log book is located here.
We decide to take our lunch here even though it is not yet 10am !  Well, we started early, at 6am, hence lunch now seems appropriate  :-)


Western side of the plateau at top of The Castle

After lunch, we go along the cliff edge to the western side of the plateau.

53)  The beautiful Morton National Park ~~~
This scene is similar to photo #16.  Photo #16 was taken slightly north of here, and at the base of the cliffs. Whereas this photo is taken at the top of the plateau.
- Bigger red circle on the right: Towards north; part of the plateau of The Castle
- Smaller red circle on the left: Towards south-south-west; lower part of the Castle. The escarpment of photo #3 is this red circle.
- Red arrow: Points to Mt Nibelung; towards north-west
- Red bar: Mt Owen,; towards west-north-west
- Valley where Oaky Creek flows is on the left side of the pic, towards south-south-west and to the right of the yellow arrows.
- The 3 yellow arrows mark The Castle Walking Track. We walked on it earlier on to The Castle.
- The middle one of the 3 yellow arrows points along Kalianna Ridge.


Still at the plateau at top of The Castle

54)  As already mentioned, we encounter some swamps on the plateau. This pic is taken at the edge of a swamp. We detour around it.


55)  Still at the plateau, and near where the tail joins the main body of The Castle.
(This scene is similar to photo #45.)
- The red oval is the tail of The Castle.
- The 3 red arrows point to, from left to right: Mt Nibelung, Mt Mooryan, Shrouded Gods Mountain.


Circumnavigate the tail

We've climbed down The Castle.

At Meakins Pass, instead of retracing our steps through the pass, we walk along the east side of the tail, intend to circumnavigate it.

56)  Foot track along east side of the tail, heading north towards Castle Saddle.


57)  At Castle Saddle, northern tip of the tail of The Castle ~~~
It is a 3-way junction:
- One track goes east to Cooyoyo Creek camp site.
- One track goes north to Monolith Valley.
- We go on the third track, south to Long Gully Campground where our cars are parked.


58)  An interesting rock near Castle Saddle


Return to car

59)  The Castle and surrounding areas are popular with bushwalkers. We meet a few groups today.
- Upper pic: We meet this group near the cave of photo #14.
- Lower pic: They take a photo of us ... me, JH, RZ


60)  This is the same spot as in photo #10. JH is cooling down with the water.


61)  Orange mushroom ~~~ Does anyone know its name?


62)  Plenty of Epacris reclinata (Fuchsia Heath) along the track.


63)  The ubiquitous Banksia


64)  What is the name for these small black berries?  (Click on the pic to enlarge it.)


65)  Someone placed an orange snake candy on the trunk ... cute !


66)  Someone dropped this GPS. And someone else tied it to a branch. Hope the guy who lost it will come back to retrieve it.


67)  We are now close Long Gully Campground where our cars are parked. I am about to cross Yadboro River.
- Someone must have used this pair of shoes to cross the river. He left it here and will pick it up when returning.
- At the top of the pic is JH. He has crossed the river already and is waiting for RZ and me.


Long Gully Campground

68)  Near Long Gully Campground we encounter this Pseudechis porphyriacus, Red-bellied Black Snake. Click on the pic to enlarge it and you can see a tinge of red on its underside. It is a species of Elapid snake native to eastern Australia. Common in woodlands, forests and swamplands ... one of Australia's best-known snakes. It has an average total length of 1.5 to 2 metres.
When I try to run in front of the snake to take a better photo of its red belly, RZ yells out "Don't Don't Don't" ... so loud that everyone thought I am raping her !
From wikipedia: "Though its venom is capable of causing significant morbidity, a bite from it is not generally fatal and is less venomous than other Australian Elapid snakes."
So, RZ, calm down, even if I am bitten, I won't die  :-)


69)  We are back at Long Gully Campground, ready to drive out. This large Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, comes out to check on us. It isn't afraid of human ... must have get used to people camping around here.