This is my story of Bootless Falls, and how they came to be named. By me.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Carl Zeiss Distagon ZE 21mm f2.8 Lens and Singh Ray Vari-ND Filter at about 4 stops, ISO 50, f10, 5 seconds, single RAW file, cropped
Tatiana and I have just returned from 5 days camping at Horse Swamp in the Barrington Tops National Park. Not having any of our respective children with us, all our aims were photographic. (Well ok, I’ll admit some QT alone together was a side benefit.)
Two years ago whilst camped at the same spot we regretted not having with us any good maps, so apart from the falls next to our campsite, our shooting forays were haphazard on that occasion. This time around, our preparations included a complete set of official Dept of Lands’ topographic and orthophotomaps [9134-2S, 9133-1N, 9234-3S, and 9233-4N] covering the entire area plus an excellent Hema map of the same National Park. And lo and behold, when having a good gecko of where our old campsite had been on one of the Dept of Lands’ maps, we had spotted a 37 metre waterfall not far from where we had shot Polblue Falls nearby. But what really piqued our interest was the steep topography, the fact there were absolutely no tracks within cooee of the falls or even leading to them, and that they were unnamed.
So, we decided to camp again at Horse Swamp, with the specific intention of trying to reach these mysterious falls. The rangers at Scone, who were responsible for that particular area, had not been to the falls but had heard they were “pretty”. From Polblue Falls they reckoned it would take us an hour tramping through the bush above Polblue Creek to get there, but cautioned against trying unless we were experienced bushwalkers.
On our 3rd day at Horse Swamp, we were stuffed. The previous morning we did a dawn shoot at Polblue Falls, then in the afternoon we had tramped 3km in and down on the Bullock Brush Trail to a 2m fall of no photogenic value whatsoever (scratch Gummi Falls off the list!), then back up 3km to our car in heavy fog and light rain, not pausing much as we had left the tent open (!) a fair distance away, only to find our campsite in bright setting sunshine and blue sky (grrrr). Fortunately, dawn the 3rd day was fogless, so the desired shoot at Horse Swamp was out and we slept in until 7. Then Plan A kicked back in and we resolved to spend the best part of the day searching for and finding our mystery falls.
We packed light, as in only one camera and tripod each, and I had only 2 lenses – the Carl Zeiss 21mm (as from above) and the T-E 24mm f2.8 Tilt+Shift. Even our Domkes were left in the car. But we had plenty of water, food, and umbrellas to make up for the weight! The sky was muted, yet way up in that altitude the clouds move fast and the weather changes in a snap. Hence the umbrellas. And I counted 4 layers on Tatiana at one stage.
We had 3 creeks to cross, as I had chosen the left side to traverse given the relative steepness and density of the bush (thank you Dept of Lands!) compared to the opposite bank, but it was really going to be potluck at the end of the day.
The first creek we crossed was Polblue Creek:
Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L II Zoom Lens at 21mm with Singh Ray Vari-ND Filter at about 4 stops, ISO 50, f13 at 5 seconds, single RAW file shot the previous dawn.
Our “old” crossing, close to the falls, was not feasible as the water was noticably higher. Back upstream, the creek was wider but passable, but with boots off. I went first. For some unknown reason, instead of tying my boots together and hanging them around my already burdened neck, I decided to toss them one at a time across to the other side. You know where this is heading right?
Rather than read about my Senior’s Moment in someone else’s Journal, I will tell you the first boot made it to the other side of the fast-flowing creek, perfectly in line I might add, but ….. um, yes. The foliage caught it and flung it back into the creek. I watched it float down towards the falls.
But wait! Thank God, it wedged against a rock, accessible.
Lesson learnt, I tied the laces of my second boot together and placed the loop over my head and safely made it across the creek and retrieved my first boot.
Actually, I didn’t learn my lesson. Truth be told, I chucked the second one as well. Same speed, same line,only lower to miss that f…king foliage. Which I did, only to see the boot bounce off the rocky shore and …. and back into the creek. I watched it float down towards the falls.
SHEEEEET!! F…K !!!
But wait, Thank God, it headed towards the first boot. Then it nudged the first boot and together they bobbed down to the falls and out of sight. Forever. Now thoroughly and successfully barefoot, I crossed the creek and looked for them. No luck. I then crossed back, trudged through the bush to the car, barefoot and pissed, drove to the campsite, grabbed my Colorado loafers, (otherwise known as my “back-up boots”), drove back to Polblue Falls, trudged back to the creek, threw the damn f.ckers across … no wait, this time I had learnt my lesson! (The fact that the last time we had bush-bashed our way to a shoot, 2 years previously just up from the same spot, we had encountered a rather large Brown Snake coming in the opposite direction, did not deter me either as I traipsed barefoot back and forth!)
Tatiana was very good about it all. I mean, my daughter had given me a $75 Kathmandu voucher for Christmas knowing that my boots were on their last legs, and I had almost bought a new pair for this trip before deciding to give them one last work-out. So it was rather fitting in a way. As Tatiana gracefully consoled me, “They died in the line of duty. That’s a good way to go.”
“Yep, you’re right,” I replied. “Only one problem,” I countered, “my orthotics were in them.” As in my custom-made orthotics. The ones that keep my back in line and out of pain. Ooooooooops.
Undeterred, and I do mean I was now a Man On A Freakin’ Misssion, OK!, we pressed on, me looking quite the part in my loafers and with steam venting from several orifices.
Before too much longer we encountered the next creek crossing, where Horse Swamp Creek merges with Polblue Creek to add to the latter’s intensity and volume. Tatiana looked at me and almost said it, but we were able to cross this creek without, um, drama.
What we discovered there, however, was a 3 metre waterfall on Horse Swamp Creek just up from where it merges with Polblue Creek. Our route through the bush had taken us just below these falls, so we were lucky to find them. They certainly are not on the map, let alone named. (Compared to the 2m falls on the same creek way back up at our campsite, which the topo map names as Mini Falls.)
But as I said, I was by then a Man On A Freakin’ Mission, OK!, so we didn’t stop but pressed on. (On our return journey, we did in fact pause at this spot for an hour or so and Tatiana captured the falls in their full glory whilst I went all arty farty below.) The entire vicinity is covered by a low canopy of tree branches. Amazing landscape, as you don’t normally expect to see a 3 metre waterfall and the entire creek under cover.
The third creek crossing was a non-event, but after that we had to traverse up a ridge. This worried me a bit, as it put us further above the creek. And then we got to the top and the sound hit us. Then, as we neared the edge of the cliff on the other side of the ridge, we saw it as well. We had found our goal! Not only that, our chosen path through the bush had brought us out exactly above two separate rock platforms high above the creek about 50 metres below. Perfect spot to shoot from.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Carl Zeiss Distagon ZE 21mm f2.8 Lens and Singh Ray Vari-ND Filter at about 4 stops, ISO 50, f10, 1.6 seconds, single RAW file, cropped
We were staggered by the beauty and grandeur of what was below us. Being totally isolated made it that much more special. We shot away completely owning it, with only a single rock wallaby eyeing us off. The clouds gave good cover against the glare, but there was good light to be had as well. We just had to time the ad hoc and short appearances of the sun to vary the mix a bit. The massive amount of water in the drops and the pools meant really long exposures were out of the question – too much “cotton” – so we had to slow down (relatively) to get some detail.
The main falls were just the start of a wide, deep, steep, gorge filled with huge boulders and fast-flowing water stretching along for hundreds of metres before disappearing in the distance around the bend, way down beyond. This rock in particular I wanted to shoot from down below:
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon TS-E 24mm f2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens and Hoya ND x400 Filter, ISO 50, f11, 10 seconds, single RAW file
After that shot, I swapped lenses, and let the awesome TS-E 24mm f2.8 lens do its thing:
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon TS-E 24mm f2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens at 5 degrees tilt and Hoya ND x400 Filter, ISO 50, f11, 30 seconds, single RAW file
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon TS-E 24mm f2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens and Hoya ND x400 Filter, ISO 50, f13, 30 seconds, 3 different RAW files each at -10mm shift, 0mm shift, and +10mm shift respectively, each converted to a TIFF then merged, with a resulting effective, and undistorted, focal length of 14.9mm
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon TS-E 24mm f2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens and Hoya ND x400 Filter, ISO 50, f8, 13 seconds, 3 different RAW files each at -10mm shift, 0mm shift, and +10mm shift respectively, each converted to a TIFF then merged, with a resulting effective, and undistorted, focal length of 14.9mm
And my personal favourite shot from that “eventful” shoot:
After exhausting our POV and lens potential, we traversed the slope down to the waterline for a bit, gradually creeping downwards in the traditional zig-zag pattern, but it became steeper and steeper and the rocks underfoot started to move when touched. And I couldn’t see the bottom as it fell away. The fact my footwear wasn’t exactly designed for the job didn’t help.
Still satiated however, we turned back and returned to our campsite and some rather chilled Crown Lagers (courtesy of Tatiana’s amazing esky – it still retained most of the ice after 5 days!). Other goals we achieved – a waterfall shoot lit only by the light of the full moon, finding, reaching, and shooting Gloucester Falls in the nearby Gloucester Tops, a sunset shoot from the Dingo Gate looking south-west as far as the eye could see, and others. But those stories and pictures are yet to come, including the ones taken with my IR DLSR and the bodacious Canon EOS-3, and maybe at least one can be told by Tatiana too! (C’mon, Tatiana, tell everyone about the possum that launched itself at our tent one night!)
At least you now know why I’ve named the mystery falls Bootless Falls! Gotta ring to it, don’t ya reckon?
Thanks for reading! This was a great trip despite the ease with which I seem to be able to do dumb stuff now and again! (Thanks T for putting up with it all! A true champion.)