Beginners' Navigation Weekend

30 April - 1May 2016


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2016. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.


Trip Report


Ashley Burke
Jane Diemont
Rachel Downes
Maj-Britt Engelhardt
Natalia Fateeva
Rebecca Hill
Laura Ivonne Ruiz Espinosa
Chelsea Jerome                                            
Carina Lucchinelli
Geoffrey Mai (Evacuated to hospital before start of trip!)
Helene Manger
Savannah Montenegro
Isabelle Quarry
Marc Rebollo
Jazmond Richardson
Philip Roberts
Izabela Rydz
Ruby Stephens (Saturday only)
Ankit Thangasamy
Natalie Wang
Patrick Wark

Trip Report

This year’s navigation weekend now being run for the 11th time in this format, started eventfully, with an evacuation to Lithgow hospital.

Mine was the first car to arrive at Bell station on a mild and slightly overcast Saturday morning and as is almost universally routine practise after a 2 hour drive from Sydney, the first thing you do is wander off into the bushes to answer the call of nature. One of my passengers, young Geoffrey, did exactly that. Maj-Britt and I thought nothing of it until, a moment later came the plaintive cry of "Help! Help!" It was almost impossible to believe that anyone could come into strife in Bell station car park but a cry for help was a cry for help, and had to be answered. We ran over and sure enough, there in the long grass was poor Geoffrey lying on the ground with a dislocated knee! What do we do? Geoffrey obviously couldn’t stand up and any movement at all could cause pain and further damage to his knee so he couldn’t be moved. At this very time a couple more cars arrived, including Jaz, who arrived in kind of ute with a closed cabin that you could lie down in. Better still, inside his van was a large sheet of plywood which would do nicely as a stretcher. All we had to do was gently slide Geoffrey in his current position straight onto the sheet of timber and then lift him straight into the back of Jaz’s car. This was done very easily and Geoffrey was extremely calm and brave, with hardly a whimper of pain despite the stress and shock of what he must have been going through. With Jaz driving and Carina in the back with Geoffrey, they made a quick trip down to Lithgow hospital. There he was taken in, given a nice dose of happy gas and taken away to have his dislocated knee put back in its socket.

Jaz and Carina drove straight back to Bell where everyone was gathered for the pre-trip navigation lesson. Maps were spread everywhere and everyone had their compasses around their necks and were learning all about map reading. Later that morning I received a text from Geoffrey. He had been discharged from Lithgow hospital after having had his dislocated knee fixed and was at Lithgow station waiting for the train back to Sydney. Geoffrey will be happy to know that we all gave a cheer when we learned that he was out of hospital and back on his feet. We all hope his knee is fully back in working order soon.

So with Geoffrey taken care of it was still a near record sized group of 20 that set off from Bell into the Wollangambe wilderness. We stopped often to look at maps as we followed a rough old track, with the idea being to look at the changing landscape around us and correlate that with the contours on the map. We crossed a small stream and then climbed up a gully and emerged in an area of alpine heath for our first panoramic views of the trip. We dropped our packs at the base of a pagoda and scrambled to the top carrying our lunch, our maps, our compasses, and a few pencils! Here we enjoyed our lunch with 360 degree views of the surrounding area and the rain that was forecast for today held off. We spent some time here learning some more navigation principles, especially that of how to work out our route from here to the Wollangambe River and beyond, and how to set our compasses to help us follow that route. It was already about 2pm by the time we left here so it was necessary for us to keep moving for the rest of the afternoon in order to reach our camp before dark.

We crossed the Wollangambe River and noticed the coating of dark grime on the river rocks, the legacy of last year’s discharge from the coal mine upstream. At least the water itself ran clear although evidence of past pollution was clear. We climbed steeply up and regrouped to again study maps and plot our course and reset our compasses. Ruby left us here. She had come out for the day only and it was time for her to turn back to Bell. The challenge I set the remaining group of 19 was to navigate to a junction of two fire trails about 2km away, and reach the junction to within an accuracy of 50 metres. Sure enough, with the setting of good bearings and using the natural features of the terrain to self-correct, we emerged a little scratched and blackened onto the fire trails bang on target.

The sun was low and it drizzled momentarily and it was now time to navigate the final leg of today’s walk in order to reach a huge sandstone labyrinth, swamp and camp cave. We walked along the road for a little way and then set compasses once again for another bash through the scrub. As we were a little pressed for time I led the way here and then, just as the sun was setting we reached the beautiful sandstone labyrinth around Gooches Crater. The lush swampy crater framed by pagodas and lit by the setting sun was a peaceful scene. We found crystal clear water at the outlet of a swamp and filled our bottles before heading to a huge sandstone cavern for the night. The cave was already occupied by a group of 5 and when I politely asked them if they would mind if a small and quiet group of 19 people joined them, they were a little surprised but nonetheless very welcoming. Better still, they already had a roaring fire going.

So it was in great appreciation of the other party that we made ourselves home here, and despite the fact that the cave now had 24 occupants, there seemed to be no shortage of space for all of us. Cups of tea were made and shared, and many of the beginners in my group had limited cooking utensils and it seemed like many people had not brought a cup. But we shared around and everyone who wanted to, had something warm to drink and eat. Or at least I think they did. A lovely evening was spent around the campfire. Many headed to bed early but a few of us stayed up late chatting until nearly midnight. There was no moon and the stars were vivid and bright against a dark night sky. Savannah tried to capture the star scene on her camera.

After we had all gone to bed it rained heavily but we were safe and sheltered under this massive overhang.

Next morning the obligatory “heading off in 10 minutes” call was made about an hour and a half before we actually headed off. And before we headed off we studied maps once more, the aim being for the group to work out what would be the most navigationally sensible route to take back to Bell from here. A route was agreed on and a set of bearings were marked on the map to make navigation easier once we have left the comforts of the camp cave. But we couldn’t leave the camp cave before our obligatory group photo, kindly taken for us by one of the other party whom we had shared the cave with.

So we began heading south, crossed a swamp and then had to carefully avoid a brown snake coiled up in the middle of our path. I very nearly stepped on it before I saw it. I told everyone to give it a wide berth and to keep moving past, which was a signal to some to creep up close with their camera. We climbed up to a point where we had an excellent view of yesterday’s lunch spot and also a view of last night’s camp spot. So using these two points, the students learned how to determine our current position by means of a resection. Philip had a compass with a mirror and we demonstrated how the mirror makes resections more accurate. And then it was time to take a couple more bearings to reach the Wollangambe River again. The river was flowing fast due to last night’s rain, though the clouds were clearing quickly.

From here our walk entailed simply following a ridge steadily upwards. We reached a high point with a panoramic view over the Wollangambe Wilderness and although it was quite windy here, it was a perfect place for lunch. It was calm and soothing and reassuring to gaze out over the wilderness, with its gentle hills and narrow gorges, the green bush regenerating, the pattern of heath and forest, and the crusted jewellery of pagodas and sandstone outcrops dotted among the landscape, adding ruggedness and mystery to an already unique world.

All too soon the wilderness gave way to private land, the sound of motor cars and trains, power lines and dirt roads, and of houses and barking dogs. We were approaching Bell. All good things must end.

All agreed it was a fantastic weekend, there were hugs and handshakes all round before we all made our own way to homes scattered across the Sydney metropolitan area. I thoroughly enjoyed another successful navigation weekend and it seems that everyone else did too after having spent a weekend in the special area that is the Wollangambe Wilderness. And at the same time everyone learned the principles of navigation and had the chance to put it into practise. More practise on more trips!

Ashley Eylenburg


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All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2016. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.