Julie, Dick, Lewis, Ben and me
THEY DON’T PULL BODIES OUT UNTIL MORNING.
The voice of god boomed out as we stood beneath the NP information sign at the Mt Wilson fireshed.
OK, so the weather forecast was not the best. I’d been watching it closely for a few days, feeling Geronimo was becoming my castle in the air. The unattainable goal forever out of arms reach.
Each trip I had tried to organise had been called off for one reason or another but all was looking good this time around.
Then Lewis messages me. What’s your thoughts on the Weather forecast?
Hmmm. 20mm Saturday and 40mm Sunday with a Storm warning.
Ah, yep let’s keep and eye on it.
I text the same question to Julie as I knew she had been through both canyons a few times.
I wouldn’t like to be in Horseshoe in a down poor. Says She. But Geronimo should be fine.
A few hours later another text from Julie. Fark! I just looked at the forecast.
Let’s keep an eye on it.
Saturdays rain did not eventuate and while Sunday dawned gloomy it didn’t look too bad. I’d been watching the radar and it looked as though the bulk of the rain had thus far swung to the south. Weatherzones 48hr forecast had showers throughout the day but the heavy rain wasn’t due until late afternoon.
Julie and Dick arrive we discuss alternate plans as we head up to meet Lewis and Ben at Mt Wilson. The views from the high points gave us confidence in the 48hr forcast.
Ben and Lewis message to say they are running 10 min late. At the fireshed we wonder over to the NP sign to discuss plans further. A note on the board from another group “Sorry guys no canyon today. 90% chance of rain. David.”
The eerie voice booms out from behind some bushes.
THEY DON’T PULL BODIES OUT UNTIL MORNING.
All those people died in there in weather like this a few years ago! An old dude in a camper van up by the road gives us a not so friendly warning.
OK the Wollangambe does rise rapidly in heavy rain. It has a massive catchment. Being known as an easy canyon can give people a false sense of security. There have been numerous rescues but mostly from injuries or lost parties. That said, a young man did die in the Gambe after being dragged under high water in 1999.
It’s not something we take lightly. Members of the Mt Wilson fire and rescue team have photos of the usually placid Gambe with a raging torrent 3 or 4m above the usual levels. Ed’s done a trip in high water where on of his mates got pinned under water and was lucky to escape. We are not taking this lightly and I wouldn’t have entered a long section of the Wollangambe in this weather
It’s no good looking at the Penrith forecast. You should be checking Lithgow!!
Yep, we cross referenced Lithgow, Katoomba and Richmond plus the 512km composite Sydney radar loop
Well it’s your choice. He gets in his van and drives off.
OK, let me make this clear we were not being flippant about heading out canyoning on a day like today. Here are a few things that went into making our choice.
- A close look at the forecast. Not just the morning we were heading out but we’d watched the forecast, synoptic chart and rain radar in the days prior to get an idea of the prevailing weather patterns.
- The lead up. With a long dry spell the background water levels are low. This can be a two edge sword. It will take a bit of rain to get water levels back up to normal but with the ground being so dry and hard any rain that does fall is likely to sheet straight off and into the canyon rather than soak in to the ground.
- The catchments and length of constriction. The canyons we had planned had relatively small catchments and relatively short constrictions
- Knowledge. Julie was familiar with both canyons
- The group. I’ve canyoned with Julie a bit now, she has a wealth of experience and I trust her skills and judgement. I’d hope she thinks the same of me. I’ve done a couple of trips with Lewis and again have confidence in his abilities and his level head. While Ben and Dick are relative beginners as far as canyoning goes they have rope experience and are capable in the bush. Not one of the group would I consider a liability if things went wrong.
- Back up plans. At no point were we so determined to do the trip that we weren’t prepared to abandon it or change plans if things looked dicey.
So with the predicted heavy shower at 9am not arriving and the radar showing the bulk of the rain still passing to the south we gather gear and head on down to cross the ‘Gambe and up the other side.
Dropping off the ridge a fraction early we traversed through scrub below the upper-cliff lines for quite a ways. In hindsight it looked as though a track came down off the ridge further along.
Anyoo. All part of the adventure or sumfink.
We find the first abseil and look down on a nice dark slot. Just as Lewis ropes up the drizzle starts.
The first abseil is straightforward and probably the easiest of the day. The next involved an anchor strung around a boulder pearched right on the edge. Clipping it required a long reach while on a sloping ledge. Julie set a safety, threaded the rope and set some off cut anchor rope up as a retrieval so the rest of us could pull the ropes around to clip on in a safer location.
the drizzle was still light but constant. It gave the canyon an eerely soft light
This is the infamous Geronimo drop where legend has it Glen Robinson jumped into the shallow pool below on the first descent. It’s normally a swim through here the combination of a long dry spell and siltation meant it was barley a deep wade today.
after a narrow hall and stunning chamber the canyon opens out a bit before the walls close back in. Busy taking photos I fall behind slightly and as I round a bend I’m greeted by the site of the rest of the crew leaning over intently studying something…
Shall we go down the hole? Will we fit? Sure we will. Are you sure? Yeah Sure. Can we use that log for and anchor? ……
All OK for the skinny folk but it was a bit of a squeeze for me and for a moment my pack snagged and I thought I was wedged in but a bit of wiggling and contorting got me through. I’d blame big shoulders or some thing but, um. yeah…
And just like that we are back to the Wollangambe. We swim, wade and otherswise make our way down stream through some grand sections of canyon. Rounding a corner we are confronted with a large boulder choke. Typical of the Gambe but in this instance it looks as though a fresh collapse has added to the obstical
We reach the bit where we had first crossed a couple of hours before and spread out on a bit of a grass to eat lunch. The 2pm heavy showers hit right on cue. Well perhaps more rain than showers but it was pleasant sitting there in the rain reflecting on our day so far.
The rain eases and we make the call to head back up the opposite side to the start of horseshoe. The haul up the hill seemed much easier this time around, maybe because we didn’t have to route find so much to get through the clifflines, and before we knew it we were dropping off the ridge again, gaining the creek right on the massive chock stone that marks the start of the canyon without the need to abseil the top cliff line nor bash down the scrubby creek from higher up.
over head the ominous boom of thunder.
That doesn’t sound good.
Looking about the sky was still light and the clouds looking misty rather than stormy. Knowing we have a short constriction ahead of us and a small catchment above we opt to drop in. The biggest worry is the Wollangambe and we are on the wrong side of it now anyway.
It might be short but it sure is nice
The weather has turned a bit cooler now Lewis, Ben and Julie opt to leave their wetsuits on for the walk up. Julie changes at the big pagoda where we rejoin the main track.
All in all another great day in a truly beautiful part of the world
The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time. – Henry David Thoreau
Party Size: 5
Time: 7hrs car to car, not rushing but not dawdling either
*Slight detour* in March I am again taking part in the West Cycles Classic to raise money for the Westpac rescue helicopter service. Whether preforming bush rescue, emergency patient transfers, and all the rest no one has ever had to pay to use the helicopter due to public donations. If, like me, you believe this is an invaluable service or if you just enjoy reading my blog think about pitching in with a donation. Large or small every bit counts. follow this link for details 2018 West Cycles