Monolith Valley, The Budawangs

It was a somewhat ominous beginning.
The car rolled into my drive way in the pre-daylight savings early morning light, and I was asked whether I had a spare backpack; one of the girls had not realised that she would need to carry her gear the 5 or so kilometres to camp. Fortunately I did indeed have a spare pack, gifted to me by my mother when a mountaineering trip had finally brought home to me that my beloved, decade old 60 litre pack was not always adequate. As I grabbed the pack I mused over whether perhaps the ease of accessing a campsite a mere 5kms away had been over-emphasised... but my household was so stocked with excess outdoor gear that it was no worries!

We collected our fearless trip leader Clare after some confusion over the street, and then our team of four Australian National University girls drove down to the Budawangs.

The Budawang Range falls within both the Budawang and Morton National Parks in New South Wales, and is a popular destination. The range is renowned for its impressive sedimentary mountains with their fissured 'beehive' weathering patterns, and for the many overhangs and caves in the area. Aborigines lived on the range at least 19,000 years ago*, and some cave paintings exist, though in a different section of the park to the one we visited. In the ANU Mountaineering Club, the Budawangs are best known for the annual cocktail party atop the mountain known as the Castle.

Yup. Heels and dresses and mountains and sunset - it is a pretty epic tradition, and I look forward to my first installment of it later this year.

In any case, this annual view had inspired Clare to descend from the Castle into Monolith Valley, so after meandering along the Western Distributor dirt road through the eucalyptus forest we parked at Long Gully. Our Russian mathematician Galina packed my mother's pack with admirable efficiency, and proffered some delicious homemade apple cake. Clare, who attends to a strict Paleo diet during the week, indulged herself with the rest of us.

We were about to set off when a group of boys turned up, headed to the same campsite - after all, this was the first installment of Canberra's decadent two consecutive long weekends. Clare knew Tim from the ANUMC, so she greeted him and then began leading our group of girls... in the wrong direction, as pointed out by Tim.

We backtracked those few metres and marched off to cross the Yadboro creek, though it might as well have been different creeks from the reported experiences of the temperature.

It was then upwards and upwards - though only 5kms, we were climbing from the valley up Kalianna Ridge to the saddle between The Castle and Mount Cole in Morton National Park. Our geophysicist Kate was particularly fond of the geological formations, though she assured us that it was only geologists who lick rocks. Since we were in the last days of September, the walk took place in the glorious midst of wildflower season. Though another result of walking in spring was that it was extraordinarily windy, and we particularly enjoyed the secluded fall of water in one wind protected corner.

We lunched in one of the larger overhangs, chatting with the boys when they caught up and then leaving them behind again. Upwards and upwards to the saddle, and finally we descended the other side to the camp at Cooyoyo Creek. There we collapsed on a rock, eastern Morton National Park spread out before us - including the recognisable and remarkably well named Pigeon House Mountain - and the promise of the ocean beyond.

It was later than we had wanted, but there was enough daylight yet to explore Monolith Valley. So with Tim in tow, and leaving Kate behind to siesta, we entered the green, cool world of Nibelung Pass for 500 metres, and then left by a series of chains up a rock. The leaders of the two teams put their heads together over a map, trying to find a way to access the particularly dramatically named Shrouded Gods. The plan was to climb up there in the wee hours of morning to watch the sunrise, but the track sounded questionable and we wanted to check it out first.

With the day fast slipping from us, we explored a rabbits warren of different tracks, eventually reaching a point of commitment or turning back: to access Shrouded Gods, we would have a chimney up between two rock faces, and it looked like a crack climb beyond that. Sunset only an hour away, we turned our backs on Shrouded Gods, and swore to return - soon, and better prepared.

Dinner was a communal event in our group of four, gathered around the crackling fire.  Dips and crackers preceded Mexican stew on wraps with sour cream, cheese and spinach. But the crowning glory was most definitely dessert, for Galina pulled out not only marshmallows but European chocolates that she'd acquired especially from ALDI. And of course, any scraps were quickly cleaned off by the group of boys.

It was then time to lay back on the rock overlooking the valley hidden by night, and in the darkness stare up at the sky. Wishes were made on shooting stars, laughter was had, and finally we retreated to sleep.

Whilst it may not have been up on Shrouded Gods, the sunrise was nevertheless beautiful.

And then it was time to descend. Back through the flowers, past the rocks and the waterfall. We took an extended break at the creek this time for a splash in the water, and indulging in the rest of the apple cake.

But the day was still young, and the coast so very close and so very tempting. Without any qualms, we unanimously decided to feast on fish and chips at Mollymook (next to Ulladulla), and fail at body surfing at Pebbly Beach.

In spite of the ominous beginning, the weekend had turned out wonderfully...

Except for Shrouded Gods, which shall not be forgotten, nor go unconquered. Next time. There is always a next time.

*See the NSW Parks Strategy for <a href="">more information</a> about the Budawang National Park.

For more photos, check out my <a href="">Flickr album</a>.

Trip description originally posted on my blog,