Zorro Canyon: Small adventures for the Geographically misaligned

OK 2 things

  1. I’ve always thought I was a reasonable bush navigator. With no formal training I’ve always managed to  get us where we wanted to go and back to the car with out too many mishaps.
  2. I’ve always thought I had a pretty good memory for places I’ve visited. 4WD routes I did with dad as a kid I found easily as an adult many years later and so on and so forth.

Today would challenge both those perceptions a bit.

A bit over a decade ago (well closer to 15 years ago) I was on a trip that visited a few interesting slot canyons, including the Cracks of Doom. Not really a canyon, more just a thin crack that slotted down through the cliffline. Interesting though very short and not something you would do a trip up to visit on it’s own, but easily tied in as a side trip when visiting other interesting stuff out that way.


Back then there wasn’t much info around on it. I think we may have been the second or third party to visit the cracks. Anyway on this trip our guide mentioned another dry canyon in the area called Zorro, saying it well worth a look.

I immediately consulted maps and set a goal of checking it out. Then life happened and  I never got around to it. Now getting back into the swing of things I decided I should take the chance to tick it off the list.

Now my memory was sure he said it was right out the end of the same fire road. My memory was wrong.

But that was OK. While there was little info online a few private messages to people in the know relinquished a grid reference and a bit of an idea of what we were in for re abseiling.

Quickly plotting the grid reference on the map showed it wasn’t near the fire road I thought but on a ridge nearby. The map didn’t show a fire trail heading out that way but the old series maps were pretty lacking in that regard. Luckily the surveyors at work had some aerial photos of the region and I could make out the trail running pretty much where I thought it should be.

I didn’t bother getting more info on the Cracks of Doom. There still isn’t any info online but I’d been there, I had the start plotted in the GSP and on the map and I remembered where it was. So I thought.

Anyhoo, we rounded up the crew. Tal ditched me for a weekend paint balling and mucking around with his mates. Ben wasn’t well so that left Edwin, Gaz, Bryson, Meggsie, AD and myself. We’d have a look a Zorro then if everyone was up to it drop into Cracks of Doom.

The drive up was uneventful. I lie.

We got to the turn off and after giving it a good look drove past. Now just a few months ago there was a clear sign to Birds Rock. Now there was a Birds Rock conservation area sign on a few different roads. No dramas we drove on for a bit, realised our mistake and back tracked a bit to take the right turn.


From here a few little secret twists and turns and we found the right trail. Soon it got a bit rough and steep so we ditched AD’s Rav 4 and piled into my Triton. It felt a bit like cheating. The Canyon should start just down from where we parked the car. Most involve a bit more of a hike.

We park, I set the GPS(more cheating) and check I had the right gully. All good, we head down a scruby but not too scrubby gully. The right gully by the by. Then I decided to second guess myself and check the GPS. And the GPS did something weird. It had been pointing straight down it now pointed to the right.

I should point out she’s an old girl s far as GPS’s go. 90s era technology and the receivers some times struggle under thick canopy. Not an issue as I’d only ever used it for back up. So I consult the map and declare, confidently but wrongly “its a bit odd but we might need to be in the next gully across.” And so we skirt up a small rise to the right and into the next gully.

Scrubbier, but before long we come to a convergence of pagodas that seems to match the description we had of the entry. All good, we gear up.

We wander down a pretty little slot but after a 100m or so it opens out into an amphitheater. “We’ll that was Zorro. we can head back up now.” They laugh at my jest, or at me. Not sure which but I’m sure it’s the jest.

The cliff closes in again and we come to a tight squeeze down a narrow hole that seemed to end on a ledge that dropped away again. I’m not sure that matches the description I have of the first abseil but there looks to be a pass around the back side of a pagoda to the right so we slip over for a look before getting the ropes out.

The view from the top of the pagoda was magical and below us was a narrow slot which looked like the slot we were after. Only problems were is was a lot deeper than we had ropes for to abseil in from this point and according to the compass it was heading the wrong way.

I pulled out the map. The slot we were after should be running NW. “We should be able to scramble down just over there.”says I “But that’s where it opens out at the end.”Says Ed, pointing to where the compass assured me was east.

Sure looked like it. I have map and compass out scratching my head. This doesn’t make sense. A few of us consult over the map. It can’t open east. That doesn’t feel like east. Compass says that’s east. Map and compass didn’t align with terrain and sense.

We decide to scramble up the next pagoda to get a better look. The view from up here was stunning. “Amazing.” I mutter for the first of many times today.

Another thing happened too. Taking out the map and compass again everything aligned as it should. Odd, I’ve experienced this sort of magnetic anomaly once before where the compass needle was pulled off north for some reason. I assume a big mass of iron stone or something mundane like that. Not aliens… Probably.

Not sure why that would effect the GPS too, maybe aliens, but anyway we now knew where we were.

We skirted back up the ridge a bit and then around into the gully we had started down in the first place. Gaining it pretty much as the canyon started.

All righty.


This was an interesting slot. Dry so far, yet after a short scramble down the cliffs were towering above us. It wasn’t as twisty and turny as most canyons but it was nice sustained, narrow slot. Most canyons tighten in and open up as the water carves and weaves it’s way through the rock.

This was almost uniformly narrow and deep. And straightish.

Soon we came to the first abseil. Tight and over hung we looked down on what appeared to be 2 pools of water. “I thought you said it was dry.” says Meggsie “I said dryish.” says I “I do think that was the terminology used.” AD back me up. “I’m pretty sure we can bridge across them.”

I rope up and head down. It is a lovely little drop.


Bryson comes next and heads on down to check out what is next in store for us while the others descend.

By the time we have the ropes pulled down he has bridged across the pools, just getting his feat wet and has scrambled down the next drop.

I weigh up the risk, effort needed to bridge against getting wet to the knees and decide just to wade through.

I look down the next drop, impressed Bryson managed to down climb it with out roping up. A convenient semi shelf lets us slide our butts down while chimneying with our feet on the far(not very far at all) wall. It was slippery and awkward with a pack but not as difficult as it looked at first.

Another pool at the bottom could be bridged with just getting ankles wet.

Not far on the canyon opened out to the infamous Z that gave the canyon it’s name. The walls took a 90° turn left, opened it to an chamber with amazing rock formations then turned 90° right to continue on just as narrow as before

My iphone 4 camera and lack of editing skills just doesn’t do this chamber justice.

Another short pool easily bridged and then the canyon opened out to an amazing view down over the 6star Wolgan resort and across to donkey mountain. It was here, sliding across a ledge to get a photo of the guys roping up that I tear the arse out of my shorts. I apologise in advance to who ever is foolish enough to belay me down the next drop…

A fairly straight forward 20m abseil and a bit of a scramble  and we’re at the base of a spectacular cliff which we follow around to find our exit gully


The exit gully proved to be a nice fern filled canyon itself and while the far end contained a steep scramble it has to be one of the easiest exits I’ve done


Before long we’re on top. Almost exactly opposite the spot we had been an hour or so earlier

On the left you can make out the Z in the canyon just above the center of the frame. The big pagoda with the orange underhang at the top left was the pagoda we climbed earlier to get our bearings. On the right is looking down into the exit canyon.


The views for the top were amazing


Ed and Bryson with the Wolgan Valley and Donkey mountain in the back ground. You maybe able to make out the cabins of the Wolgan resort in the Valley.


A short, very short, walk later and we are back at the car, Gaz is handing out Apple Ales, it’s barely noon. Don’t mind if I do

Cracks of Doom then?

We trundle back into the ute. Both Gaz and I are sure there is a short cut across to the fire trail that I am sure leads us to the CoD but we opt to head back out, retrieve the Rav4 and slip around the main road.

Now with Zorro I can blame the navigational error on a magnetic anomaly (be interesting to know if anyone else has experienced that out there) the next error comes straight fro my obviously addled memory.

Now I’m sure I’m on the right fire trail. Map doesn’t show it going exactly were it needs to, but then it doesn’t show any other trails going there either.

I grab the GSP out and it’s pointing pretty much straight along the trail.

“We should swing left here some where” and sure enough the shortcut comes in on the right and we swing slightly left. The road gets very 4WDy. I don’t remember it being that rough but it was 2002(?) and we were on mountain bikes.



I’m sure we need to drop off to the right at a small saddle between slight high points. The road gets rougher and we decide to ditch the ute and hoof it the last 1km. A 1km flat walk in, Kind of luxury on  canyon trip.

We pass a motor bike trail that is well known to members of the group and continue on. The road ends at a camp site. “This isn’t what I remember” says I. But the GPS says our destination is 800m straight on and there is a bit of a foot track heading that way so on we go. 50 meters later we are standing on the edge of a cliff looking 750m straight across the valley at an impressive crack cutting down the opposite cliff line. “That’s our crack” says I “We should be on the other side of it”

Gaz pulls out his phone, fires up his gps mapping ap and sure enough there is another fire trail on the ridge behind the crack we are looking at. Buggar. Wrong ridge, Wrong road. Oh well a nice perspective of the crack.

I had been sure, 100% certain this was the right ridge. So certain I didn’t bother double checking. “Sorry.” says I.

Oh well there is a slight ledge heading down that looks like it might give us access to the valley floor. I entertain the idea of slipping down, crossing the gully, ascending Cathedral crack then dropping back down CoD and then back.

The valley floor is impressive but it’s lush in a thick, very thick undergrowth kinda way. And there looks to be a bit of a slot with opposing little cliff line barring our way to the other side. We had left the ropes and gear in the ute.

Oh well, we decide to slip around the base of our cliff line and just have a look along this side of the gully. Hopefully we can get another pass out further around. There are some interesting caves in this area so you never know. And what’s the point of adventuring if you don’t have a bit of an explore.

The cliff line is nice but the going soon gets very scrubby. We come across  pretty waterfall and some decide to cool off before we continue around. Much scrub bashing later the find a pass up.

Once again the view from the top is amazing. Delicate plate pagodas and awe inspiring cliff lines. Odd to find the plate pagodas so close to the smooth, rounded pagodas of Birds Rock. We faff about with some photos before slipping back up the ridge line to intercept the motor bike trail, and hence easily back to the car.


Disappointing I didn’t get to show them down CoD but we did have a nice view of it from across the gully. More disappointing my memory was so off. But it was interesting gully with great views so not all doom and gloom



We get home just in time to intercept my newly P plated daughter backing out the driveway “Coming for a swim at Clarence dams, dad?” says she. “I’ll meet you there” says I. I need to unpack, refuel and find some other swimmers…


*Another attempt at the Cracks of Doom and finally *a descent of the Cracks of Doom

5 thoughts on “Zorro Canyon: Small adventures for the Geographically misaligned

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