Fyffe River- Mt. Owen – Bulmer

EASTER: 29 March – 2 April 2018

The circuit proposed for this trip was the same as Easter 2007, i.e. Fri: Into Frying Pan Creek, over to Fyffe River and a full day up the Fyffe to Branch Creek Hut. Sat: Navigate east to camp in tarns area south of Sanctuary Basin. Afternoon explore from there. Sun: Continue south to Mt Owen, then drop off west to reach the top of the Bulmer lake amphitheatre. Camp at the lake’s southern end. Mon: Down Bulmer Creek through the bluffs and out down the Owen River.

The forecast had iffy weather due Saturday, so rather than camp in the open tarns area, Plan B would be to drop north to Granity Pass Hut, 12 bunk, for the night, then return south on Sunday.

To get an early start on Friday morning, camping in the reserve out the back of the Owen River Tavern on Thursday night has been the easiest option. So we left Derek’s place at 1.00pm, stopped in Murchison for a coffee, and then drove up to Owen River. The reserve was a surprise. Fifteen other vehicles plus us. Good to see Juicy vans paying $20 to stay where there are toilets. We set up the tents then wandered up to the tavern where, perhaps despite the pub food, dinner was enjoyable and convivial.

Saturday morning almost didn’t start well. Our MSR didn’t fire up properly and for a little while it was looking like our trip was dead in the water before we even started! Then we found the setscrew had fallen out of the top of the burner in the plastic bread bag! All back to normal. Once packed, we drove up the Owen Valley East Road and along the little Frying Pan turnoff to park under the trees before the ford, same as last time. Walking by 10.00am, half an hour in on Frying Pan, we walked up a pleasant little flat valley with bubbling stream that would be ideal to walk in to on a Thursday evening and camp. Note that for next time.

The track climbed out of Frying Pan, and dropped down into the Fyffe, with the gorge on the Fyffe visible from both down and upstream. The quality of the birdlife was soon apparent. Further along the birdsong stopped, but there were regular stoat traps. These were explained when eventually we came to a relocatable biodiversity hut in a clearing and the traps continued all the way up the valley, passed Branch Creek Hut, right to the bush line and as we found, beyond. The trapping is winning. In the upper valley, at different times, we saw three Whio pairs and may have heard more. The track condition in the upper valley is not as easy as it would have been eleven years ago, so it was not surprising that it took us 9hr 20m to reach the hut at 7.20pm. Very welcome and no one else there. With what poor fire wood was there, Gary worked diligently all evening to keep a fire of sorts going.

On Saturday, we left Branch Creek Hut about 9.00am in threatening weather, up the track to the bushline. Once on the route up the 1500m spur to Replica Hill, the weather got progressively damper. The norwester got up as well. Tempted by some markers below, we dropped off the ridge on the Nuggety side, but the markers proved to be stoat traps. As the weather worsened, at 11.20am Gary made a logical Plan C suggestion that didn’t take any debating – Let’s return to Branch Creek and do the whole circuit around and down to Bulmer tomorrow in fine weather. So we did. Climbing to the ridge to return to the bushline in fits and starts between norwest gusts when we stopped and braced. Back at the hut after 1.00pm, the rain had stopped by 2.00pm but the wind was still strong overhead. Gary’s fire that evening was even feebler – but we were dry.

Sunday’s weather was as the weather person promised. The cloud cleared early and the wind had dropped. Away from the hut at 7.50am daylight saving time, we returned to the bushline and this time, stuck to the ridge to Replica Hill before eventually sidling the north east face on mostly easily followed animal tracks. Around the corner beyond Replica, at 11.40am we came to the beaten highway made by day trippers from Granity Pass going to Mt Owen. And we could see people. Lots of people! We were told by descending trampers that they were tenting at Granity as the hut was full. Glad we weren’t there! Reaching the top we could see enough people buzzing about in the fine weather, to fill three huts. Tucked into the rocks on the northern edge for lunch out of the moderate breeze, it was good to see the two family groups just below us enjoying being there and the karst country.

Heading west after lunch for Bulmer Lake, we should have dropped toward Poverty Basin but were tempted to follow cairns down the spur west with some interesting rock navigation. Until it became clear the cairns were leading to even more interesting rocks and canyons. Time to drop and sidle. Back on route, I had felt that in 2007 we had continued west too far above the Bulmer amphitheatre to approach it from the northwest, whereas we could have dropped in earlier. So we tried that only to be blocked at the last minute by the end of a bluff. Retracing our steps back up to the top we continued along the ridge to drop down the same scree we did in 2007. Further down, a nice terrace tempted us west. Bad choice. It eventually funneled into a scree chute that took a bit of careful descending. Below that, we could then sidle left onto the long scree that we should have looked for higher up. Below the scree, was a matter of navigating through the scrub covered rocks to gain the true left side of the lake and finally relax on its soft green edge about 5.30pm.

How spectacular is Bulmer! From our campsite on the track in the bush at the southern end of the lake, the amphitheatre really is a sight, with towering bluffs both sides and the steep scree at the head. Our camp was on the same spot as last time. Absolutely calm and silent. And not cold. It was great to be there.

Monday morning was again quite remarkable, as soon after leaving the lake, following down a dry river bed we came to the top of the enormous bluffs extending across the entire Bulmer Creek valley. Bit by bit the track descended this bluff helped with ropes and a caving ladder. From the creek bed below the bluffs, we once again looked back up wondering at the persistence of the cavers who had first found this route up through the bluffs in order to explore Bulmer caves. Descending the rest of Bulmer Creek was more relaxed, arriving at the junction of the Owen River and Bulmer Creek before 1.00pm for lunch. Then a straightforward walk down river, crossing and recrossing, to the Sunrise car park in a paddock on East Rd after 2.00pm. Merv and Derek then walked the 15 minutes down to the Frying Pan turn off to retrieve our vehicle. We packed and drove out on a still fine afternoon, stopping only to photograph ‘Kerry’s Mansion’ as we passed, followed by an obligatory coffee stop at Rivers Café in Murchison.

For Gary and I, it was great to be able to repeat the trip eleven years later and for all of us, be able to count on the accuracy of current weather forecasting. It really is a spectacular round trip.

On the trip were: Derek Gane, Gary Huish, Merv Meredith (leader), Kathrin Mueller & Dan Pryce. (MM)