Location: Paluma Range National Park
Article: Written by Damien Burrows; Imagery by Damien Burrows & Michael Pugh
Directions: Access is via Paluma Walking Trails (http://paluma.org/attractions/walking-tracks)
Townsville Hike and Explore are working their way through explorations of all the creeks that descend the Paluma Range National Park. In the last 12 months, this has included full descents of Ethel and Cloudy Creeks and Nolans Gully, plus explorations of Hermit, Williams, Ollera, Hencamp, Rollingstone, Waterview and Waterfall Creeks. Our latest effort was a descent of Birthday Creek into the upper reaches of Running River. There is no track or trail and we don’t know anyone who has done this before – we simply had a start and end point and wanted to explore what the creekline was like in between. Eight adventurous souls lined up on Boxing Day, laden with Xmas dinner tummies, under imminent threat of heavy rain, for a journey into the unknown.
We started the day by leaving cars at the National Park gate (18.95185’S 146.08288’E) along Valley Road, 10km from Hidden Valley. Although we had met at Caltex Yabulu at 0600hrs, by the time we had driven up to Paluma, completed the car shuffle down to Hidden Valley and got back to the start of the hike near Paluma, it was nearly 0900hrs. We began the hike at Birthday Creek Falls, which is well-signed and located about half-way along the dirt road to Paluma Dam. Birthday Creek joins with Williams Creek and others (incl. the creek that drains Paluma Dam itself) to form the headwaters of Running River, which flows westward through Hidden Valley and thence into the upper Burdekin River. An easy 500m National Parks trail led us to the bottom of Birthday Creek Falls to start our exploration. We spent the next 4-5 hours slipping our way along this flowing rainforest-clad creek. It was humid and heavily overcast though pleasantly cool, and recent days of rain had left the rocky, shaded creekline very slippery, slowing our progress considerably. When dry, the traverse would be much quicker, as the whole creekline has few waterfalls and little slope, dropping from ~790m elevation above Birthday Creek Falls to ~690m where our cars were parked.
Some had accepted the inevitability of hiking the day in wet shoes, and very quickly gave up trying to avoid walking within the creek. Others however (yes Kaz Simpson) bush-bashed around the edges, and rock-danced for as long as possible before also succumbing to the inevitable – wet feet all day long. It wasn’t long before we were wading pools holding our packs above our heads. There really was no other choice. Birthday Creek is beautiful but progress was slow (1km/hr) and options for hiking beside the creek in the rainforest were limited due to steep banks and wait-a-whiles. As time ticked by, we considered options for a Plan B escape from the confines of the creek, the closest exit being to bush-bash our way across to Hermit Creek/Benhams Falls, which we had hiked just 3 weeks previous. No-one wanted to give up or turn around so we pushed on into the unknown.
Fortunately, as we progressed further down the creek, it eventually (after several hours) became more open and easier to traverse with less pools to wade and more larger rocks to walk on. After ~5km (straight-line distance), we came to a dramatic rocky gorge, at the bottom of which entered Williams Creek from the left. The sloping rock faces of this gorge were slippery as we butt-slid our way down to the waters edge. I successfully made the short swim crossing to the other side of the gorge without getting my backpack in the water. Unfortunately, no others managed to achieve the same, resulting in calls of ‘who chose to cross here’. Swimming with one-arm whilst holding your bag above the water with the other, is a useful hiking skill. The gorge marked a distinct change in the creekline, which then became more open, and the surrounding vegetation, now featured more Callistemon (bottle brushes) and Casuarina (she-oaks) rather than rainforest.
After some further downstream progression, the creekline came to resemble your more typical Running River that is seen around and upstream of Hidden Valley, with sandy/rocky pools lined by dense stands of Callistemon and other shrub-like trees that actually make progress difficult. The pools are very tiring to traverse, especially when the first person stirs up the water and the following people cannot see suitable footing, constantly having to control their balance. Various slackwater pools also contained large amounts of leaf litter that when disturbed, emitted a foul rotten egg odour. Oh my poor socks. With wet clothes, sodden packs and stinky boots/socks, we just knew the car ride home was going to be an olfactory adventure all of its own.
As the surrounding vegetation thinned, we decided to leave the creek channel and parallel the creek, walking through the bush. Fortunately we soon came across the overgrown remnants of an old abandoned vehicle track that was following just the path we wanted – perfect. Well, except for the spider webs, snakes and wasp attack that is. The first two are common for us, but the wasp attack had the group heading back to the creek to soothe wasp bites in the water. Thereafter followed more slogging through water and occasionally stirring up foul-smelling vegetation. Realising at 1600hrs that there wasn’t enough daylight left to reach our planned exit point further down Running River, we decided to leave the creek and head directly overland to Hermit Creek Falls, the next creek west. We had visited those falls 3 weeks earlier (see earlier post on that hike), had the location marked on Michael’s GPS, and knew the route from there to our cars.
Thereafter followed a bush bash up a hill, across to the upper reaches of Hermit Creek Falls, skating across the slippery rock slabs there and thence along the crumbling slopes of a hillside and eventually after ~1.5hrs, as the heavily overcast conditions dimmed the daylight early, we reached Valley Rd and our cars. After a trackless cross-country bush bash into the unknown, one of our group felt the urge to kiss the road when we reached it. The ability to change plans and successfully cut cross-country to our cars is testament to Michael’s bush navigation and GPS skills. Fortunately, the country at the hikes end is dry and the vegetation sparse so forward progress was solid. Even more fortunately, it was still heavily overcast and though warm, it was not hot. Given that we finished before sunset, this is only a moderate hike by our standards. However, in all, it was a very tiring day – we walked in wet shoes and clothes for 8.5 hours, with less than 30 minutes of rest stops, racing the clock for much of the day. We slogged through numerous pools, and spent many hours slipping and managing our balance – all of which takes a physical toll. For one of our group (the wasp attack victim) – this was his first time hiking with Townsville Hike and Explore – what an introduction.
We promised this would be a Boxing Day adventure to remember and so it was. What a great way to finish off 2020 and to expunge those Xmas day calories from our bodies. This day had it all – from rainforest creeks and waterfalls to animal attacks, unexpectedly finding an old road, slogging through long pools and taking an unplanned cross country bush bash. And through it all, everyone retained their smile and sense of humour at all times. What a great bunch to hike with – getting each other through a tough day. I think this day encapsulates a lot about what Townsville Hike and Explore is all about – exploration, adventure and friendship.