I’ve said in the past I don’t like repeating a canyon too many times a season as it takes the sense of exploration away from it for me.
Well 2020 has changed a lot of things. With bush fires and COVID and park closures I think I’ve done Empress Falls more this year than I have since my short stint as a guide in the 90s but I’ve been reminded that as much as the conditions on the day it’s people you go in with make each and every experience unique
So when I get a text saying, We’re heading to Empress, Wanna come.
I think why the hell not
Rolling into the car park late. I hastily gear up, hug some old friends, meet some new friends and off we go.
Some hadn’t done Empress before so there is that buzz of new excitement that I find infectious
It helps when they are all just a little bit nuts
Signing the log book we note Lib and Justine are not far in front of us
We meet Libby and Justine at the bottom of the final abseil and make our way back to the car park all smiles and banter
So for her first and second trips I’d taken Izy through a couple of obscure “canyons” and while she enjoyed it and thought they were pretty they were more creek walks with abseils so I wanted to get her through something decent.
Next stop Hole in the Wall
Dick hadn’t done this one either and Russ is always keen.
The walkout was fairly uneventful though the usual clear trail disappears towards the end and we double check the map just to confirm we hadn’t gone to far left and missed the turn to the entrance.
A one stage we disturbed a reasonable size copperhead (well I think it was a copperhead based on its behaviour but couldn’t get close enough to see for sure or to get a good photo) and before long we were at the start of the upper section.
I’m always in two minds whether to suit up for this bit or not but it was a coolish day so far so we decide to don the wetties.
We round the corner and enter the canyon proper
And then we are back into the light.
The wetties are starting to get hot as we make our way down the creek to the lower section and by the time we get there we are looking forward to the cold water.
We reach the plunge. It’s a relatively simple down climb. There is anchor set up, I guess for a hand line. I normally jump but it looks shallow today. I remember this happening after the big fire in the early 90s, with the soil loosened and not vegetation to hold it back a lot of canyons and swimming holes silted up with sand…
I assess it and take a leap
I tend to find glowworm displays are better late November through December but they still put on a good show for us today. Like previous pools the cave has silted up quite a bit. It makes the climb out on to the ledge a bit easier though how it will clean out with the lower exit now blocked I don’t know
Other than the glowworm cave, where we sat still for a bit, I hadn’t found it that cold but then we stepped out into the ‘Bungleboori/*hackspit*Dingo crk. It was a good deal colder so we waste little time make our way upstream to the exit.
Group size: 4
Time: around about 6 and a bit hours car to car
The higher we soar the smaller we look to those who cannot fly: Friedrich Nietzsche
Time-To-Go, Sketchy, Marcula, BeerandScotch, Justadlib and meeeee
Ah Straylia! You’ve done it again. After all the devastation of the fires it’s pissing down rain.
Driving out of town I half expect to see a line of animals marching into an Ark two by two while a crazy dude calls out damnation from god.
I have to admit I was a little anxious. Empress is one canyon that always had me worried in rain. For a small canyon it has a large catchment and a relatively tight constriction. The Falls at the end have a rep for going from a gentle trickle to a wall of water in not much time. In 2005 Matthew Donovan lost his life when his party was hit with a storm burst part way through and he failed to negotiate the second last pool, being pinned under the sharply undercut wall by the sheer force of water.
While our canyoning cuzies from around the world often play in much higher water flows there are additional dangers of doing flooded canyons that don’t usually experience high flow. Canyons that see a lot of water generally clean themselves of the log jams and boulder chokes that feature in many Aussie canyons. Rising waters often pickup and sweep down stuff lying on previously dry banks creating hazards, both from solid impacts and hydraulic stoppers.
There’s definitely a skill to being able to spot and avoid hydraulic hazards, as well as speciality equipment, techniques and team work required to negotiate the canyon safely.
But I knew I was in good hands, people whose skills and judgement I trust. And overriding the nerves was an undertoe of excitement
I get to Mt Vic only for my brain to do this weird thing where it remembers it forgot to remind me to pick up my wetsuit! Some swearing happened. Passing cars probably thought the crazy dude in the ute had a bad case of road rage…
A quick phone call to Mandy and she offers to grab my wetty and meet me half way back home. She really is golden.
I’m slightly late as I pull into the car park and was surprised to see just Madie and Leo. It appears there was a little confusion over the late night change to the start time. They all know changing plans is what we do the best. Or sumfink
Anyhoo, we decide to head off for a look and if all goes well we’ll do a second run when the others arrive. But all agree it is probably going to be a none event today, we’ve had a lot of rain.
On the way down we discuss Go/No-Go indicators. If its below this rock at that point that section is good, If you can see such and such from that vantage… Blah Blah Blah. We also talk emergency exit options. The good thing about Empress is it is short and you can get many looks down into the canyon on the walk in and there are options to get out.
At each inspection point things look better. Time-To-Go’s been through at higher levels. A quick look at the radar and while there is going to be steady drizzle the heavy stuff isn’t due to hit until later. This thing looks like it is on. Woot Woot.
We are warned about which sections have siphons and whirlpools and where the water wants to force you into under cut walls and then we are in.
I’m a bit cautious as I go over the edge but I am grinning like an idiot. Dropping over the edge I get hit by a wall of water but I’m through it quick and behind the main brunt. Working my way down I’m being peppered but the main flow is to the left of me. At the halfway ledge I say hi to BeerandScotch
and then I’m into the flow.
It’s hard to describe the sensation. White water. White noise. It’s almost instant sensory derivation as the water pounds into you, pushing you down the rope. I feel a weird mix of being a passenger, being in control, being in consequential, being alive… I’m watching for the tail of the rope as I know Sketchy set up short so she could bleed rope out as I went. I see the bottom, Well I think I do and I let go and fling myself down. What A rush.
I float there being smashed by the spray and just enjoy the moment.
I hear the others calling and It’s-Time-To-Go hurls the throw bag. Perfect throw. I grab hold and they pull me across the pool. I’m still grinning like an idiot.
We laugh and high five and all that. The others are keen for their turn.
Damn phone rings and I’m stupid enough to check it…. Work. Looks like I’ll miss run 2:-(
By the time they get back to the start the water is up another 2 foot or so. Still doable and it looks like they had a ball.
The heavy rain hits a few hours later pushing water way up past safe levels. I’m glad we got in when we did. It was a great experience.
As usual there are a lot of opinions on the socials as to whether people should be out in these conditions.
Should people be encouraging others to do so. Most definitely not.
Personally with this group, at that time, in those conditions I felt perfectly safe, or as safe as usual when canyoning.
As stated earlier I trust their skill levels and their judgement. I think they are amongst the most safety conscious groups I have ever been out with. There is a level of skill across the group that we have worked to achieve and a level-headedness that I admire. I wouldn’t suggest others try to do it without building those attributes up first.
Was it risky? Yeah sure. But it was a calculated risk based on skill levels, knowledge of the canyon and escape routes, team dynamics, keeping a close track of weather apps and always being prepared to back out.
500 people die on the roads in NSW every year. What risk analysis did you do last time you hopped into a car?
“It’s in those quiet little towns, at the edge of the world, that you will find the salt of the earth people who make you feel right at home.” Aaron Lauritsen . Substitute “quiet little towns” for adventures and it captures this group prefectly
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
Despite (or possibly because) starting the year doing some amazingly awesome and epic trips I’ve been struggling to get out lately. Trying to find that balance between family, canyoning, the mountain bike club, work and all the other crap I do has needed a bit of tending.
Anyhooo I had a weekend free and the guys were keen. Our plans to do something in the Wolgan took a dive when I remembered the glowworm tunnel marathon was on and the valley would be packed.
Shall we go one valley over and do Coinslot.
It’s really short shall we follow up with Doomsday (AKA Bull Ant)
They are an argumentative bunch…
Anyhooo, We converge at my place, load gear in ute and head off.
I’d considered doing the climbing route as I know all the guys are competent but then thought if we wanted to do another canyon none of us had done before it might be best to take the quicker way up thus we take the not quiet climbing route.
Previously with different groups, some of whom needed roping up, the climb up to Coinslot always seemed a longer expedition but in no time we were up and into it.
And then it’s back down to the hill to the car, it’s barely lunch time.
I’ve got some vague track notes to get us to the start of Doomsday and after a bite to eat we head off up the other side of the valley. The climb up starts steep and gets steeper. Some dodgy not-quiet-rock-climbing sees us standing on a summit over looking the valley.
Down into a gap and up the other side then steadily up a ridge.
The canyon must start fairly high up in the system….
We reach the point were the notes say to turn towards the creek and need to drop back down through a fair portion of the elevation we just ascended.
I’m already thinking of Chardie and Autal’s comments on my complex bush bashes to visit not so awesome canyons…
Not sure if Madie told you guys but I have a reputation for this shit, say I
Canyon better be good, says they. And I have to agree
This involves an abseil into a pool and then a duck under a low arch. The bottom of the arch is only a couple of inches above the top of the water. As I was already wet I strip off my shirt and volunteer to go first. It was freaking cold
And then we boulder hop, abseil and stumble back down the hill to the maintenance trail and thus back to the car.
It’s not often I finish a canyon wondering whether it was worth it but I doubt I’d rush back to do Doomsday. I know other friends enjoy it and to be fair on a warmer, wetter day it might be more appealing but today it didn’t grab me as anything special.
Everyone wants to experience the view at the top of the mountain. Very few realise the magic, wonder and growth happens while you are climbing it
Party Size: 4 all experienced
Time: Coinslot 2.5 hours car to car. Doomsday 4.5hrs car to car
Last time I did the Empress Falls/Grand canyon double, Empress was still better known as Valley of the Waters canyon. We were still amazed that civilisation hadn’t been wiped out by the Y2K bug. The Euro was still brand new. NASAs Mars Odyssey was mapping the red planet and Queen Lizzy was pomping about for her Golden Jubilee…
So when Gaz and Jodie said they were keen to ease back into it I thought why not.
Being anti social, disliking crowds and line ups I like doing Empress early morning or very late afternoon. The light frost on the windscreen when Gaz came to pick me up may have indicated we needn’t have worried too much about that but, anyhoo, we went early and had the place to ourselves .
When Gaz announced he and Jodie had brought 2 sets of wetsuits, spring suits of Empress and Steamers for Grand, it was one of those Why-have-I-never-thought-of-that moments. I mean I had been contemplated doing Empress in with just a thermal top. I had a spring suit hanging in my cupboard…
You Eeeejit Flynny!
Too bad they gave me that epiphany after we left, But anyway.
A quick 15min hike up the tourist track and we are back at the car putting dry clothes on for the drive back to Blackheath.
While we pretty much had Empress to ourselves we struggled to get a spot at the Neates glen car park and a steady stream of walkers filed up and down the track.
Despite plenty of walkers up top we had the depths to ourselves
Unfortunately the early start in Empress meant we were in Grand in the harshest mid-day light so the photos are no where near as good as previous trips.
Party size 3: all experienced
Time: Empress 1hr 40min car to car Grand 3hr Car to car
Look deep into nature, then you will understand everything better:- Albert Einstein
So with a bunch of other commitments I didn’t get out canyoning at all in August. In fact the last real canyon trip I lead was almost 2 months ago so I was frothing to get out.
I was keen for a couple of the Pagoda canyons on the Plateau before the weather warmed up and when Madie said she had the weekend off I thought why not combine a few of the smaller ones to make it worth her drive.
I also thought she’d might be nutty enough to join me for our first wet canyon of Spring.
Can I bring a friend, asks she.
Yep says I. And so Wouter, would be joining us for his first canyoning experience.
Jen had a morning free opted in for the first canyon too.
After a long dry spell a week of steady drizzle was welcomed by all and certainly made the first two usually dry canyons a bit more special.
The first recorded group through here called it Acoustic Canyon due to a series of these chambers. But as there was another little canyon out in the Nayook system already called Acoustic this one is now normally just called Sunnyside, though the Jameison guide also lists it as Wombat.
Back to the car we say goodbye to Jen and make our way to the next one.
So do you guys want to slip over and check out the tops or make a dash for time and go and get wet in another canyon? Asks me
Why can’t we do both, replies Madie in her best el Paso impersonation.
Then it’s back up the ridge, into the car for a longish drive around to our next stop. I have to say I was a bit excited for this one. Madie was so excited she wetsuited up while we were driving. I’m not sure Wouter knew what to make of it all.
We made the car park at a bit after 3. Starting a canyon, a wet canyon so late on a cool, wet, early spring day would normally not be sensible. But this one is super short, we managed to go car to car in just over an hour which is nuts.
But it is nice as a side trip on the way home.
So are we going to abseil down beside a waterfall? Asks Wouter on the way in
After a long dry then a week of drizzle I wasn’t sure what to expect but as we short-cutted over the ridge we could here the falls roaring and as they came into veiw it looked just right.
It’s a cracker of a abseil
All in all another great day in the bush
Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Party Size. 4 for Sunnyside/acoustic. 3 for Zorro and Alcatraz
Timing: I think it was about 2hrs car to car for Sunnyside (with a bit extra walking along the firetrail due to trees down). a fraction under 2hr for Zorro and 1hr for Alcatraz with a bit of time driving between the lot
So my nephew is keen on canyoning but for one reason or another his options for doing a long wet canyon are limitted.
I’ve been meaning to get him down another dryish canyon for a while. My original plan was to take him down Tiger Snake canyon but we had to get back to town early and I had not taught him to abseil yet so we descided on this one with an optional abseil for the hell of it.
Now some people dismiss the smaller, drier non abseil canyons but this one has one of the prettiest constrictions going and it’s close to home so it was a no brainer
Nathan and Mandy enter the canyon from the bottom
A massive storm 18months ago scoured the sand out of this bit leaving a puddle just on balls deep. Today it was icy
With frozen toes we decide to slip up onto the tops for a bite to eat and a bask in the sun
It was glorious
looking back into the depths
Warmed and fed we continue on
And make our way back to the cars for a bit of wedding cake action
What if something is on TV and it’s never shown again? :Smudge- Outdoor type
With the worst of the scrub still recovering the effects of last years hazard reduction burn this is a pleasant trip at the moment.
I pull into the meeting spot and note someone is missing. Ev broke down on the highway, Marchelle informs us. She wont be coming.
But we load ropes and packs into my ute and off we go, weaving our way down into the mighty Wolgan valley in between green pastures, towering cliff lines and Kamikaze kangaroos.
We park at the start of the Ruins walk for Newnes shale works and make our way down river to everyones favorite little pass, The pipeline track
Well that’s a good way to warm up. We gain the top and make a quick side trip to the lookout.
After a brief stop we continued up the Pipeline trail spearing off just before it heads down green gully towards Glen Davis.
The trail out along the ridge between the Wolgan and the Capertee is reasonably clear indicating the canyons up this way are getting more visitation than they use to. The views out over the Capertee towards Tayan Pic are superb but soon we veer off trail and make our own way along a side ridge.
In the trackless terrain it is easy to veer off on the wrong ridge and end up in the much wetter Devils Pinch canyon but with the scrub mostly clear after the Haz burn following the right ridge is much more obvious.
Before long we begin descending into the gully that will soon drop into th etop of the canyon. We scramble around the first abseil described in the Jamison guide and find a big tree with an bright yellow tape anchor right at the start of the main constriction.
There has been much talk about using Single Rope Techniques (SRTs) on the ozcanyons group over the last few years and they seems to be gaining more momentuem, especially in the newer generation of canyoners. It’s the norm in most other countries. Thou other countries also tend to have either much higher water flows or much less prevelent anchor options.
Though I trained in their use and used SRT way back in my brief stint as a guide and it made sence to me in thate situation for private groups I’ve always preferred the throw and go, loop the rope through the anchor and every one abseil on double ropes.
When heading out with Tim’s group I’m happy to fit in with their SRT method of isolating the stands with a butterfly knot and people abseiling on alternate stands.
Last weekend I attended a training day with the Upper Blue Mountains Club where we practiced setting SRT with a releasable anchor. IE isolating the abseil strand with the Munter/mule.
The advantage of this is if someone gets stuck on rope for whatever reason you can undo the mule under load and use the munter hitch as a belay to lower them to the ground.
Now in mumblecoughmumble years of canyoning I’ve never come across a situation where I needed to do that but it got me thinking (must be getting old or the weekday job of Safety Cordinator is rubbing off on my weekend self) What if that 1 in 100000 case came along. Sure there are other methods to preform a rescue but are they as safe and as quick and if they didn’t work would I be kicking myself for not using the “Rigging for Rescue” technique?
Anyhoo Anna is pretty keen to put this technique to use in every canyon trip she leads and I thought it might be a good idea to run this trip that way for practice (Ev had done the training day too, so it’s a shame she missed it.)
So I rig the first drop. I really had to think about it as it was a long abseil requiring 2 ropes working out where to put the munter so the knott would not impede it took more thought than it should have, It’s pretty bloody obvious but I guess thats why you practice these thing is relativel benign situations so these it become second nature.
All sorted I head down first.
Hey Chardie, Calls up I from a ledge halfway down. This isn’t where we normally drop in.
It’s a very nice abseil down over 2 big ledges and around a corner.
If it wasn’t for the very dry conditions this would land in a pool that looks like it might get over waist deep, probably the reason we don’t normally drop in there but today was dry enough to get around.
Was a bit worried about the pull down around the corner and over the ledges but a test pull indicated it should come fine and Anna stopped on the last ledge to pull the knot down to her so it owuld be less likely to catch.
A short down climb and we round a slight corner to see the cliff face we usually come down directly above the next short drop.
This one is shortish, maybe 10m but its a tad narrow, and I’m not. Big shoulders and stomache bones or sumfink
This results in some gentle exfoliation as I squeeze on down.
From here there is short tunnel like bit and some careful bridging
The canyon opens out for a bit with some short abseils and tricky down climbs. We are blown away at how dry it is. Little holes that usually involve contorionistic moves to stay dry are now little more than damp sand and sometimes not even that.
Then there is 3 long abseils in a row. All of them can be done as shorter ones using intrim anchors on ledges and chock stones but they are nice to do as long ones and the rope pull seems fine on all of them.
The first of these involves a tricky start then some delicate moves to stay above some chock stones (going under would make the pull down difficult) then round the corner and down down down.
The next one use to be rigged off the log but pull down was very dificult. An eye bolt has been installed backed up by 2 very old climbing nuts whose wires seem very rusted… IF you are going to use that anchor I’d take nuts to replace the ones there.
The final abseil is awesome but lands in nut deep water. We opt to have lunch in the chamber at the top figuring it would be better to eat up here while we are dry than to get wet and then stop to eat down there in the wind.
It was a nice spot for a bit to eat.
3/4 of the way down the last abseil I run into the spot of bother and think maybe I’ll need Anna to put the lowering me down method into practice. There is a knot in the rope below me. Usually no big deal. Just stop pull the rope up and undo it (tip for young players. Stop early and pull the knot up to you. The closer you get to the knot the harder it can be to get slack and if you abseil down onto the knot you’ve got buckleys of getting it undone)
Usually when the rope knots itself it just a few loops caught on themselves and a bit of a shake get is clear. This had somehow done a proper job on itself and I had trouble getting it undone while hanging in space. I was nearly ready to call out for Anna to pull the mule and lower me when I got it sorted and continued down.
Now what if I hadn’t been able to undo the knot or hadn’t been on a lowerable system?
I hadn’t yet locked off properly and was trying to undo the knot left handed so I could lock off to get both hands free as my first option. Second option would be to prusik back up to the ledge or top and sort it out there so I’m confindent I could get myself out of that situation. But what if it happened to someone less experienced or without those skill sets? (Other than the obvious everyone on a private group should get themselves those skills sets. Good point but we were all beginners once.)
Those at the top could deploy the spare rope, someone could even abseil down to me to help out. That all takes time and hang syndrome becomes a factor. Abseiling down to help out puts the rescuer at risk too. So much to consider.
Anyhoo I clear the knot and continue down
I land in the pool. It’s cold. My outie becomes and innie and I make my way to the side to belay the others
With a bit of team work the first person down can pull the others across to the dry bosun chair style. if all works well. Chardie had rigged a bit too much friction and struggled to pull him self across and ended up in the drink. Anna and Marchelle managed to stay dry.
From here we follow the base of the cliffs around and back down to the car.
All up another great day in the bush with great company.
Party size: 4 all experienced
Time: 6hrs 50min car to car.
I wish I was a glowworm. Glowworms are never glum. How could you possibly be sad when the sun shines out your bum : Anon
How much did the rigging for rescue slow us down? Last year with a slightly bigger group the trip took us 6hrs 23min car to car. Today practicing what’s still fairly new to us took us 6hrs 49min. Though there is probably a bunch of other factors in there as well
So what are my thoughts? I’m still undecided.
Anna was keen to only lock off one side of the rope and keep the other stand at the top to avoid confusion.
I prefer to do a munter/mule in both strands to allow people to rig up alternate strands and quicken things up. If you then need to lower then the person on the spare strand gets off and it’s quick to undo that one altogether and lower the other. Which is fine until you have 2 ropes joined with a knot at the top and then it’s not posible.
So here what I see as the pros and cons. Feel free to comment if you have other ideas.
Simple to set up and fairly quick to tie once you practice a bit
Ability to quickly and safely lower a stuck abseiler down to the ground.
Ability set the end of the abseil strand just on ground/water level to make getting off the rope at the bottom quick and easy
Cons of releasable SRT using Munter/mule
It does take longer to tie and untie (not to mention it’s a ugly looking knot)
Rope wear and tear. A single strand taking full weight obviously is under more strain than if you were abseiling on double strand.
Chardie pointed out abseiling on double rope with an isolating knot at the top gives you some back up if you cut one strand on a sharp edge. Not an advantage if you use throw and go with out isolating.
Only possible to use one strand if the abseil involves joining ropes.
Can be tricky if the anchor is close to/below the edge but not too much more than normal.
So I’m still tossing this one up. the ability to quickly and safely lower a stuck abseiler down to the ground is a big consideration though if you have a competent person at the top with a spare rope is it that much quicker and safer?
If the stuck person is unconcious I’d say yes.
What is the liklihood of that happening though? And does that likelihood justify the slightly longer more complicated set up of each and every abseil?
Also when lowering do you increase the risk of having the rope fail while rubbing over unprotected edges fully wieghted?
I don’t know.
Is it appropriate for all situations? Maybe not.
I’m leaning towards it being a valuable tool that is appropriate for certain applications but should be backed up by various other skills and knoweldge.
Being able to set the end of the rope just to water height is a big advantage in highwater but we don’t tend to have that in Australia.