Dirt Girl, Bad-arse Barbie, Shreevy, Dare Devil, Monners, The Wizard, Sketchy Maddog and meeee
Bad-arse Barbie mentioned she needed a bit of support to get back on the horse after last weekend’s incident so in a funny sort of round about way me and the Mad One pretty much invited ourselves, and later The Wizard, on to the trip she was doing with Dirt Girl. Belatedly we worked out it was originally suppose to be a girls trip….
It had been awhile since I’d seen some of this crew and it was the first time meeting Sheervy and Monners in real life so we do a meet and greet and I notice every one had the packs out ready to go.
Um, we still need to drive down a bit to the car park…..
At the carpark we wake some campers with our not so quiet banter and then make our way along the trail
Last couple of times I’ve followed the trail down a bit far east and had to traverse back through scrub. This time I make more or less a bee line down the ridge. Through the scrub
Sketchy Maddog starts to “question” my navigation. It’s just down there. Says I. pointing to a big tree down the ridge
I think it’s over there. Says she. You’re shit navigator. It’s over that way
I’m pretty sure it’s just there. Say I
Oh shit, I can see the sling on the tree. Says she pointing to the very same tree I pointed to earlier.
1 point: Flynny
We gain the creek and boulder hop down to the start of the canyon and one of the coolest abseils in the Blue Mountains.
Even in this dry spell it didn’t disappoint
Click to enbiggen
Click to make large
Click for the sake of clicking
We’ve gotten through the canyon fairly quick without ever feeling like we were rushing. So we have an early lunch and chill out in the sun
The traditional exit was to continue down, then traverse the Carne Wall, then get benighted. then cry a bit, then swear you’d never ever, ever do it again.
A climbing exit now makes Arethusa one of the most funnest, adventurous little canyons in the mountains. Not to mention how pretty it is.
But you need to have reasonable climbing skills
And as luck would have it a cool breeze greets us for the walk out
Party size: 8 all experienced
Time: 6.5hr car to car
I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. And scratch where it itches.Alice Roosevelt Longworth
The Clegganator, The Wonder Woman and the Flynnstien aka Meeeeeee
Unpublished canyons are like a box of chocolates.
I know at the end I’ll be left with half a dozen little cheery ripes that I wont eat…. Wait. No, that’s not right. Unpublished canyons aren’t like a box of chocolates at all….
This is one I’ve had in mind to check out for a couple of years now but I wasn’t expecting it to be high quality and with other stuff to visit I never got around to having a look.
Then Phil said he wanted to check it out so I thought why not. I still had low expectations but as they say in the classics you never know if you never go.
Rounding out our nice little party was Jen, who I hadn’t caught up with for a while so was good to be on a trip together again
A little frost made for a chilly morning but it wasn’t long before we were stripping off layers and stuffing jackets into packs.
There were two branches to the possible canyon and we wanted to check out both. The first branch didn’t show much hope and when we came to a abseil point we decided to slip over the ridge to check the other branch first.
So we get to the junction of the other branch hoping to reverse up it only to be blocked by a dry waterfall. A bit of traversing and we begin to scramble up the nose in between the two branches. Phil decided the scramble is not for him.
We get up above the fall only to find another immediately above it. I continue up the nose in what is the closest to proper rock climb I’ve done in a few years and manage to get above the next fall.
There isn’t much of a slot above this so I rig the rope and abseil back down to Jen and then we both abseil down to rejoin Phil
When looking at the satellite image my suspicion was the best bit of canyon would be below the junction and while the stuff in the north branch was tip top below the junction was a nice, if short slot.
Ummm I think we are going to get wet, say I looking down into a deepish looking pool far to wide to play water is lava over.
I stuff my shirt into my overboardau dry bag and drop on in while the others put wetsuits on.
The first drop lands in a pool waist deep. With some guidance Jen manages to stop on a ledge and carefully stem around to the shallower bit. Phil is not so lucky and plunges in
There’s another 2 stage drop straight away with the stages separated by a 5m diameter pool. In I go…
Then it was down to find a bit of sunshine and some lunch.
There’s a little grotto like canyon up here I want to show the others. It’s short but pretty in it’s own right and while it’s not very adventurous what makes it worth a visit is the old timber chute that once ramped it’s way up through it’s narrow confines
So the theory is it was built to slide logs down to the valley for pit props or fuel for coke ovens or for building poppett heads and bridges and stuff. Problem is there is no evidence up above it of any cut timber. Not a single sawn stump can be seen. It’s a mystery Dad says back in his day the decking was still there in places and the timbers ran long ways suggesting something was slid down or up it. I’m starting to wonder if it was used to cart stuff out of Newnes and across to Glen Davis as the refinery was moved?
Seek experiences not things. Live large and light up the darkness with a laugh
Party size: 3
Time: 7.5hr car to car relaxed pace with a bit of back and forth exploration
The next canyon does not appear in any guide and I haven’t seen it marked on any map I’ve come across but unlike the two previous canyons that none of us had done Ryan had visited this one, stumbling across it on a trip a few years ago.
It will be more aquatic than the last 2, says he….
Anyhoo, it turned out to be a great little canyon
So our intel and Ryan’s memory said there were four drops in the canyon, and this is true, but just down the creek we come to a substantial cliff line which looks borderline to big for our rope.
The general consensus from those who have explored this particular slice of the wilderness before is there are no large drops of any significance.
This one looks significant
Well that’s a bit of a buggar.
We join two ropes and anchor the top one just above the knot on a munter hitch. I get on the bottom rope and head over the edge but due to over hanging ledges I can’t see if the ropes on the ground. The plan is once I get a visual, if it is not touching the ground Ryan will lower me on the munter.
As it was when I finally get a look the rope is close enough to the ground to make it down safe.
It’s getting late and we are a long way down the main creek from our camp site so we discuss options of trying to break a pass up through the cliffline while we still have light or trudge a few kilometres up the main creek to a pass Phil has used previously and climb that in the dark.
We opt for the former, Madie has a pass marked on her map we think we can link up with.
Unfortunately we get on to a ledge too early that doesn’t go and are forced to abseil off as light fades where the decision is made to retreat to the main creek and take Phils pass out.
It’s longer and more complicated than I expect but we eventually get to the top and onto the fire trail. We have a couple of kilometres to get back to camp.
The others are staying an extra night, a wise choice, myself and Russ break camp and trek a further several kilometres back to the cars for the long drive back to civilisation
All in all a great experience
Group Size: 6
Time: Car to Camp. 1 and a bit hours. Camp to camp 14 hours. All up just shy of 25 hours and 36km in the wilderness
So what did I think of the Fiddle Stick?
Well… It’s a lot slower than throw and go and has none of the advantages of lowerable anchor systems. There is also a lot more to be mindful of when setting up so will need constant practice but for wilderness canyons where the aim is not to leave anything behind, including slings, rope burns on trees or grooves in rock, it makes a lot of sense.
Another handy tool in the quiver, but as I said one you’d want to practice a bit to stay familiar with it’s use.
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself: Alan Alda
I’ve said before the Kanangra style canyons of abseiling beside waterfalls for the sake of abseiling beside waterfalls never had a great appeal to me, but Danae was different. It was the most slot like of the Kanangra canyons so the short answer was yes. The long answer was I wasn’t sure I was up to it at the moment.
Danae is steeped in tales of benighted groups, 16 hour slogfests and epic challenges.
I also had other commitments so originally said, No. Well not yet but lets do it later in the season
But the idea began to germinate….
Ah Fugg it! lets do it!
In the week leading up an antarctic blast gave us plummeting temps, a good dump of rain and stupidly high winds so it was with a little trepidation I drove out to to the Boyd river camp late Friday afternoon. The rain had cleared but wind gusts up to 90kph ripped through the tree tops.
We’d be joined for the trip by Madies friend Jeremy, who it turns out I knew from my bike shop days. Also joining us for the night was Matt and Madie’s Dad and step mum.
After much banter and a feast of butter-chicken we seek the warmth of our beds. The plan was to break camp at 5am and be on our way soon after.
Morning came and the wind had calmed considerably but the temperature was still winterish. We sorted packs and ropes and by the time we dropped a car at the pick up point 3 of us set out on the Thurat fire trail just after 6am.
Track notes are deliberately vague but sometime later we veer off into the scrub, cross a couple of minor gullies and then drop down into a tributary to avoid the horrendous scrub on the ridge top. We reach the first abseil point at 7.30.
From there it’s into the stunning slot and abseil after abseil after abseil.
And then comes the boulder field. A steep chute littered with house sized boulders. A massive 3D puzzle that takes about an 1hr to negotiate.
And a final abseil or two then the creek levels out and it’s another 1.5hrs of smaller boulder hoping down to the Junction with Kanangra creek.
From the Junction the haul up to the Kilpatrick causeway is like climbing a ladder for 1.5hrs, only the rungs are uneven, at odd angles, made out of loose dirt and covered in pickle bush, stinging trees and biting ants…
A final scramble up a small cliffline and we top out to amazing views south towards Mittagong and east to the Blue Mts where the classic shape and colour of the Hydro Majestic can clearly be seen nestled on the cliff tops.
What an Awesomely epic day with awesomely epic people.
Group size: 3 all experienced
Timing: 10.5 car to car.
Note this is reasonably quick, especially as none of us had done it before. We were expecting 13hrs.
To do it we had to be efficient on the abseils so we had 3 ropes. A 30m, which was kept with the last person on the bigger drops as the emergency back up, and 2x 60m. The first 60 would be set and as soon as the second person reached the bottom of the abseil the second 60 would be set for the next one. As soon as the last person was down the first would go again.
Rope management was also key with efficient coiling and uncoiling needed, though I confess to ending up with a tangled mess at least once as fatigue began to kick in.
GPS tells me we covered 19km with a bit over 1300m elevation gain.
Remember your comfort zone is the most dangerous place to be. In it your senses get dulled, your muscles lax, and your brain turned to mush. Flynny
Madies Time log:
7.45 first abseil
7.55 2nd abseil off 2 trees difficult start
8.26 4th abseil off boulder
8.36 5th abseil 10 m off boulder swing under
8.40 6th abseil down waterfall lots of water
8.52, 7th abseil through hole dark slot under boulder
9.03 8th abseil w traverse line
9.30 9th abseil 5m onto log
A few scrambles
9.40 10th abseil 5m off shitty sling without malion on rhs
9.50 11th abseil 7 ml in sun off rope on rhs
10.03 down sketch 5 m climb and 12th abseil start off 2 bolts and wires on lhs
10.30 scramble over centre of null
10.40 13th abseil off tree onto boulder field
11.34 14th 15m abseil in to pool awkward
11.45 15th abseil 10 m into pool of pitons on rhs
11.55 lunch rock after abseils
12.20 lunch over
1.22 Kanangra Creek junction
1.40 leaving change spot
3.15 track -killpatrick
4.20 murdering gully
4.27 main lookout track
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? ……
Julie down a narrow squeeze
Ben down the rabbit hole
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
Devils pinch is one of several canyons accessed via the Pipeline trail just down steam of Newnes. I’d done a few of the others and was keen to get back for this one as it was reputably one of the better ones in the area.
Ed arrived a my place nice and early and we headed on down hoping to do the climb before the heat of the day. Good plan.
At the car park we debated taking wet suits. We hadn’t used them last year when we did Pipeline Canyon but we had heard the wet section in Devils Pinch was longer, darker and more sustained. We decided to take them, they offer good scrape protection when scrambling down rocks if nothing else. Not such a good plan.
Bags stuffed full we headed down stream to the start of the Pipeline trail and began the climb up. It starts fairly gentle and we had a slight breeze in the shadow of the tower cliffs above us. The higher you go the steeper it gets and it wasn’t long before I was stripping off my sweat soaked shirt to get a bit of that breeze on my skin.
It still amazes me the effort it must have taken to build the pipeline between Glen Davis and Newnes (not to mention all the way to Newnes Junction near Clarence). Back when men were men and so were women or something and hard work was par for the course.
I bet those guys didn’t go home from work and talk about their feelings. says Ed.
I dragged steel pipes up a mountain all day but Ed was mean to me and called me names. Says I.
Anyhoo. We reach the top, dump the bags and make the short detour to the look out. Man how good does it feel to walk through the bush without a 75l pack stuffed full of gear on your back? (What was I saying about men being men… Yeah na, my shoulders hurt.)
We snap a few photos and then continue up to the watershed (It’s not like an actual shed, Stupid…) and veer off onto the Starlight trail. Once again we lost it somewhere around where you’d turn off for Pipeline canyon but corrected our error and pick up the main trail without too much drama.
Considering the popularity of Devils Pinch canyon I expected there to be a bit of a trail veering off the main track, if there is we missed it but found our way down to the headwaters of the creek without incident.
The heat is getting oppressive now so we are keen to get into the cool of the canyon. The creek threatens to “canyon up” a few times before we reach the spot where it drops down a dark slot. Woohoo.
We scramble along a ledge beside the slot to the abseil point and now have to put our gear on balanced on small stances. Didn’t think that through…
The top section is suppose to be fairly dry should we put wetties on now?
It says the abseil lands in a pool and there are some climb downs into water.
Rather than putting harnesses on now, then doing some deep wades and have to take harnesses off, put wetties on and harness up again we chose to put the wetsuits on now. Bad plan.
I’ve said it before but abseiling for me is just a means to get to the next bit of canyon. But this abseil is really cool. Relatively easy start then a long drop into an awesome slot but one you touch down it keeps going down another dark, narrow drop. About 25m all up, or down I should say.
We’re now in a deep, dark narrow cleft. It’s really beautiful. There is a tight squeeze climb down a twisting chute before we are on the cleft floor. The pool the guide suggested we would land in is nonexistent at the moment, just a damp patch of mud.
Rounding a bend and all too soon the canyon opens out into a wide gorge. Scrambling down the valley the creek bed is as dry as a nuns nasty and the heat is slowly cooking me. We stop and strip the top of our wetsuits down in an attempt to stive off heat stroke.
It was disappointing to see this section of otherwise pristine creek was infected with backberry.And Flys! I’m pretty sure there was an international convention of the bushfly alliance. Millions of them swarming around, we were expecting to come across something dead but nothing, just clouds of flys. I’m pretty happy at this point they weren’t bitey.
Finally, droping down through a layer of strata a small trickle of water appeared in the creekbed. I wasted now time in splashing the cool liquid over my head.
And then we come to the next section of shallow canyon with the welcome sight of a deepish pool waiting at the bottom. Rotting vegetaion leaching tannins gave the water what Ed described as a lovely shade of Earl Grey (What’s that Paul Kelly line about the coffee being the colour of the river but not nearly as brown?) but we pulled the wetties back up and jumped in.
The next section of canyon is really nice. It’s not all that deep but has some narrow squeezes, tricky climb downs and deep wades.
click images to enlarge
This section is reasonably long and has a lot of fun bits but eventually it drops into another deep narrow section.
Overhanging abseils are nice but usually have shity starts as you work your way over a tricky lip. This one just gradually turns over hung so it’s a really nice start then a 17m abseil hanging in space.
This section is awesome. Deep and sustained and, despite being midday, the play of light on the walls was divine.
click images to enlarge
We come to a slightly wider chamber and Ed points down to a funny looking rock. Look a skull. Oh yeah a wallaby skull, fair size. Must have fallen in…. Oh shit goanna.
Sitting on a rock about 3feet away is a small, beautifully patterned lace monitor. I guess that’s who dragged the wallaby in. It’s dark and cool in here but it turns out it an easy walk up from the exit portal so I’m pretty sure it hasn’t fallen in and become trapped. Unfortunately around the corner is the remains of a much larger one, just under 2m long.
The rest of the canyon is an easy walk down a sublime slot.
Click images to enlarge
At the exit portal we get out of the harnesses and wetsuits and eat lunch in the shade enjoying the cool breeze drifting down out of the canyon.
Once fed we opt to by pass the final two abseils and scramble down beside the steep gully to the Wolgan river before commencing the 5km hike back to the camp ground. It was hot, damn hot and our water was getting low. When we did Pipeline canyon the weather gods blessed us with a cooling down poor of rain on the walk out. No such luck today.
A hot but very worthwhile trip.
Party size: 2 both experienced
Time: 6.5 hrs car to car. Bit of Photo Phaffing, not rushing but moving steadily all day.
On such a hot day it would have been fine for most people without wetsuits. The water was cold but the pools short and there were plenty of little patches of sunshine flooding in.
I tried the helmet mount for the go pro, didn’t have the angle right for much of it so most of my clips were unusable, I’ve salvaged what I could…
Claustral is the quintessential Blue Mountains canyon. A deep, dark, sustained slot accessed by a series of abseils down a dark hole known as the Black Hole of Calcutta. Once in you are committed, the slot can be as fearsome as it is beautiful. Flash floods do happen and the exit is hours away. It has claimed the lives of some very experienced canyoners and been the scene of various rescue operations over the years.
It’s part of the big three. Thunder, Ranon and, Claustral canyons and their tributaries, carve the saddle in between Mt Tomah and Mountain Banks into a deep maze that has come to be known as the Carmathan labyrinth.
In 1804 the botanist and explorer, George Caley, gazed up at the Blue Mountains and confidently declared “There is not a single peak which would take more than half a day to scale!”
He was right, but it wasn’t the peaks that would thwart him in his attempt to cross the mountains. His party reached the top of Mt Tomah with little difficulty then set about crossing the short distance to the next peak, Mt Banks. He didn’t know about the labyrinth that awaited him below.
We were taught at school that the early explorers failed to find a way across the mountains because they tried to penetrate the river valleys when they needed to follow the ridges. But Caley’s plan was always to follow the ridges between the high peaks. Unfortunately the ridge he tried to follow didn’t exist
Scrambling down through lawyer vines and disjointed cliff lines they eventually came to a deep dark chasm they called Gaping Gill (while a chasm still bares this name it is probable they were looking into the lower reaches of Thunder gorge).
With no way to cross the chasm they beat a retreat back up to the ridge and tried another approach. This time into a gully Caley would name Dismal Dingle. Night descended and they made camp in a small overhang. Awestruck by the glow worms lighting up the wall over head, tormented by possums who ran like little demons through their camp stealing their food, eaten alive by mosquitoes and, terrorised by a wild fire that ripped up through the Grose Valley his men threatened revolt if he tried to push on they way they were going.
Come morning they beat another retreat up to the ridge line and opted to follow this in a wide arc around the labyrinth below. They were now on the very ridge that would one day carry the Bells Line of road. A native track way, had they stayed on this ridge they would have achieved their goal of crossing the Mountains in little over another days walk. But, of course, they didn’t know this.
Their plan was to follow the ridge line they mistakenly believed connected the major peaks they could see from the Richmond plains . And so they veered off to explore the peak of Mt Banks with Hat Hill, their next objective. Upon reaching the top of Mt Banks they looked down in dismay at the 300m cliff line that plummeted into the Grose Valley with Hat Hill unreachable on the other side. Dejected they turned tail and headed for home.
Later, or so I have read somewhere (but for the life of me I now can’t find the source) an early female bush explorer (Mary Biles?) ventured into the rim of the Labyrinth and upon peering down into a dark slot dropping into bowels of the earth wrote words to the effect of “One day the depths may be explored. Whether brave or fool hardy those who do surely will not suffer from claustrophobia.” Thus the slot was later christened Claustral canyon.
OK, maybe I spiced a bit or even all of that intro up. I’m not a historian, don’t take it as gospel. After all, I got my history of the world from Mel Brooks and all I know for certain is “It’s good to be the king.”….
Anyhoo. I’ve a confession to make. I’d never done Claustral Canyon. I’d been into the system through Ranon and I’d wandered up the bottom section of Thunder canyon but back in the day Claustral was the most popular abseil canyon and I was put off by the thought of lining up to access the abseils. I was a bit of a canyon snob really and I come to realise I had cheated myself of a great experience.
Soooooo when Ed and his mate, Lewis, invited me along on a photophaffary trip I jumped at the chance. Now as you probably have worked out by now I have a little point a shoot camera (Olympus Tough TG4) and am not overly concerned at capturing amazing images of art, more documentaries of my travels so I had a sneaky suspicion that they needed a mule to carry the ropes so that they might lugg in more photomagraphary equipment needed to get their awesome shots but I was cool with that.
As it was everybody bought rope.
Anyhoo, I was running a bit early so stopped by the Emu Cave to get a few photos and explore the rock shelf a little more. then it was onto the car park
After a quick meet and greet, with the wrong party ( Are you Lewis, Says I. Nope, says he. Are you doing Claustral? We’re doing Ranon. Cool we’ll probably see you in there)
Lewis arrives and we introduce ourselves just as Ed turns up. We reconcile gear, stuff packs and we’re off. The traditional entry and exit point to Claustral was from the top of Mt Tomah, however in 2011 the land the access track crosses changed hands and the new owners built a house right where the track was. And who can blame them, they have some of the best views in the mountains.
A new route was found from the other side Mt Bell. This made the exit a lot longer and more convoluted which I think may have reduced visitor numbers a bit.
Anyhoo. We quickly make our way down through a pleasant gully and soon reach the junction with Claustral Brook
A bit of creek walking and boulder scrambling brings us to the first swim and we suit up and plunge in as the canyon begins to get deeper
A little more scrambling and we come to the abseils. 3 successive drops down into a dark abyss. Ed and Lewis scramble to get cameras out. Looks like I’m going first for want of a better model
The drops are pretty cool. Abseil 10-15 meters, swim across a pool to a small stance and repeat
The final abseil starts through a small hole and drops into darkness. Much awesomeness
From here its 50m through the darkest part of the slot until it widens slightly at the Junction with Ranon.
The moss covered boulders and fern strewn walls at the junction may well be the most photographed bit of canyon in the country but it is truly stunning.
After lots of photo phaffing we head down. The boys need to be very careful with keeping their gear dry so it’s in and out of dry bags a lot. The advantage of my TG4 is I can keep it at the ready. The photos may not be the same quality but as it’s so handy I have about 600 to trawl through.
Just as the big cameras get triple dry bagged to continue on Ed looks up to see one of the group coming in from Ranon has slid out along a fallen log that spans the canyon 40 or 50 meters up. There was a scramble to get cameras back out in the hope they were going to abseil down the middle of the canyon walls from this log but by the time cameras were out he had thought better of it and retreated to do the normal route through the waterfalls
With all the standing about i had begun to get cold so I peeled down the wet suit and put a light thermal underneath which improved things greatly.
Light rays, canyons and photographers
We caught back up to the other group at the junction with Thunder Canyon, which is a great spot for lunch. They soon finished and continued on, we have a quick look up Thunder and then followed suit.
After this junction the canyon opens up a little and there is some tricky scrambling down some drops before it closes back in.
Once it closes back in you encounter the infamous tunnel swim. Way back when I did Ranon the last time the water level was down and you could walk through here. Now it’s a spectular 50m swim
A little more scrambling, a couple of pools and you reach the exit
There is a steep haul up Rainbow Ravine, which has some pretty canyon sections itself, then a long walk up the ridge to the top of the Camels Hump. I remember last time getting to this point and thinking we had come up the wrong hill. From the top the hump it looks to be surrounded on all sides by chasms and the old exit point to top of Mt Tomah can be seen across a particularly deep chasm. You can see why, with no maps and no knowledge of the land Caley and his crew had so much trouble. I’m remember almost having my own muntiny on my hands as hungover and exstausted Della and Lurch were in no mood to drop down and climb out again.
Just when we thought we would have to descend all the way down and start again the trail crossed a narrow, bridge like rock saddle. It barely looks real. Something straight out of Tolkin. The old exit is now just up the hill. 10-15min up to the car park… The old exit.
The new exit is not so quick and does involved dropping all the way back down into Claustral Brook. We head steeply back down. There are some nice canyon sections and a swim or two before we reach the gully we came in on.
Yeah it’s a long walk out. Yeah I’m feeling it today but it’s not too bad, we’ve done worse.
Party Size: 3 All experienced
Time: 10hrs car to car. Lots of time spent striking poses and snapping photos
After a lazy long weekend in the Wolgan, with just a stroll up to the arch to break up the eating and drinking
I was keen to head back down and have a bit of a look around a dry canyon I knew of but hadn’t explored before and so I dragged Mandy out and ventured back down the valley.
I’d heard about this in the early to mid 2000s but never got around to having a look.
The road in crosses some private property, a couple of old school mates owned a block up the end but wasn’t 100% sure there weren’t other properties on the way up so in the interest of doing the right thing we left the road at the first gate and wandered up through the scrub on the other side of the creek.
We soon passed Ringo and Karl’s block and started climbing the steep hill that would bring us to the lower cliffline and the first short canyonette.
It was steep and loose and the weather had decided to play spring so it was fairly muggy too but we made our way up and reached the base of the cliffs without too many dramas.
The first canyon section started with some promise, a scramble up through another impressive arch. The slot carved up through the lower cliffs but opened out almost as soon as it started.
Climbing out of this brief slot we wandered up through a pleasant, if sometimes scrubby amphitheater to the next cliff line
The scrub was thick with lawyer vines as the valley rose up to the base of the upper cliffs but once there the cool breeze racing up the constriction was like a sigh of relief.
We had to negotiate a squeeze through a tunnel section under boulders
And then we were into the main constriction
My original plan had been to scamper up and out the top to admire the views and check out some other little canyons near by but Mandy hadn’t been feeling the best so I contented myself taking a bunch of photos and then we retraced out steps back the way we came.
If you stick our tongue out it helps you squeeze your gut through
Party size 2, both experienced, but Mandy feeling unwell on the climb up so taking it slow