Yesterday, I led my first ever off-track hike. I haven’t done any off-track walking since I was a member of the Brisbane Bushwalkers Club about a decade ago but since being involved in adventure racing and rogaining, I’ve gained quite a bit of confidence in navigation. I put it to the test at England Creek (Right Branch) yesterday in a low risk navigational exercise. I invited my fellow Scout leaders along on the hike and one said ‘yes’.
We started out walk at the top of Mt Glorious. The skies were overcast and a light drizzle fell, but the views to the north as we dropped down off Joyners Ridge Road were fantastic. Clouds hung low in the valleys and the mountain peaks were almost like drifting islands.
The walk down to England Creek follows the first 7.5km of the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane route so it will be familiar to many local walkers. It follows Joyners Ridge Road and then turns left onto England Creek Road at a major intersection. Once down at the creek, my friend and I stopped for a brief picnic on a rock before leaving the track to head upstream into the jungle.
At first we rock hopped carefully, trying to keep our feet dry. I never know why I always do this on trips or events when I know that there’s no chance of staying dry. It’s like I’m putting off the inevitable. But it must waste so much energy.
By the time we got to this deep pool bordered by dangerously slippery rocks, I had given up keeping my feet wet.
And then when I realised I needed to get to the other side, I just jumped straight in.
The creek runs relatively low at this time of year after all the summer rains have finished and washed through the catchment area. But through each of the little gorges it was obvious that water often rushes through here much more quickly and at a higher level: just check out all the wear on those rocks.
As we trekked upstream I couldn’t help but think about how beautiful this part of the world is and how lucky I am to have it on my doorstep.
While rock hopping, it can be tempting to focus all your attention on your footing and on the creek itself. But when you look up and around, you can see what a complex ecosystem places like this are. Check out the impossibly tall palm trees that looked over us as we tiny humans meandered our way upstream.
England Creek (Right Branch) would be an even more amazing walk in late spring or early summer when the weather is warm (but not yet oppressively humid or wet). It’s dotted with these beautiful swimming holes and rock slabs that would make perfect places to have a picnic and swim.
It also contains many pretty cascades. I am sure that in late summer when we’re in the middle of our wet season, these would be imposing and scary. But yesterday they were just plain pretty. That’s not to say they weren’t treacherous.
Even the rock slabs that look dry were perilously slippery and required careful negotiation.In many of these cascades, we scrambled up the actual falls where the flowing water stopped moss from growing.
We knew we were starting to get into the upper reaches of the creek when the forest closed in more tightly around us and the light grew dimmer. The water volume reduced, the creek bed turned to stones and the going was more slippery than lower down where we had the option of walking on gravel. But by now we’d been in the creek for about three hours and it had become our entire existence, making the change in terrain feel natural.
After following the creek for almost four hours, we reached our critical decision point. We had to decide whether to swim across a water hole and climb through the flowing water or whether to make our escape out of the creek back to the ridge 600 vertical metres above us to finish the hike along Joyners Ridge Road. We could see from the map and terrain that from this point there would be many more cascades than there is flat creek. We also knew from our descent and map that the forest would close in more densely the higher we traveled. It was also between 1:30pm – 2:00pm, which was the time at which we agreed we would start looking for an escape route so that we could be sure to get out of the bush by dark.
So we turned north-west and started to climb through the thick jungle and lawyer vine.
We climbed until we could see patches of grass starting to dot the ground, knowing this meant we were nearing a ridge or spur.
We just kept traveling uphill until we came to a clear spur and then we climbed some more. Occasionally we saw evidence that other humans had been here: a mug half-buried in the ground, some lantana that had been hacked with a machete months ago and was starting to grow back, and the odd section of small landslide where a group of people had obviously all slid the same way. The evidence of humans was subtle and could have been made months ago by a single group. But it was still a good sign for us as we climbed the seemingly endless spur.
At the top of the spur we reached a ridge that was totally infested by lantana. The horrible weed rose like a two metre high wall in front of us and it was at least ten metres deep. We knew that the track should have been at the top of the ridge so it took us by surprise that the terrain dropped off again. But instead of panicking or second guessing myself, I told my mate to stop for a minute so we could get our bearings. I tracked a few metres north on the ridge until I could see further west and there it was, the big wide track meandering it’s way up to Mt Glorious. We were on precisely the ridge I had thought we were on as we climbed and, as I suspected, this was the only place where the track ran just off the ridge line. The reading and mental practice I’ve been doing paid off in real life.
We followed Joyners Ridge Road the final few kilometres back to the car, having thoroughly enjoyed a day out in the bush. I have plans to do some more local off-track hikes to continue to develop my navigation skills, both for my own enjoyment and for the adventure races / rogains team Whoops Witch Way are going to tackle later in the year.
Total: 15km off-track hike