Empress with a bit of flow

08-02-2020

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.

Usually dry side creeks are gushing
Normally a trickly requires a bit of bridging
Frothin’ on the froth ©Madie
Its hard not to have fun. My friends inspire confidence and laughter
I’m so familiar with this canyon it can bore me a little. I like the challenge of finding the path through a new canyon rather than doing ones I know well. No boredom today. It was like a whole new canyon
Contemplating the whirlpool ©Madie
Moslty you walk on down, climb up on the ledge and jump. but with a bit of flow the second last pool turns into a whirlpool death trap. Leo negotiates it on safety and sets up a traverse line for us

Me being a passenger on the guide line ©Madie
Madie negotiating the whirlpool on a guide line
New years eve it was a disappointing trickle. Last week it was a bit of a splash. Today was going to be the biggest flow I’ve abseiled 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

The halfway ledge, in the calm before the power ©Russ

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.

Sketchy about to disappear into the beast
Spot the abseiler. Madie is just above the halfway ledge getting pumped in the best possible way. The others had arrived to watch us

The throw bag was pretty much a must

We laugh and high five and all that. The others are keen for their turn.

2nd run!

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.

Libby Smiles for miles ©Madie
Guided abseil needed this time around. ©madie

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

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Empress and Grand

01/02/2020

A quick run through Empress with Russ and Libby then a slow trip into the Grand at night with Russ, Mark, Ethan, Jamie, Marc and Ariadna.

I can’t believe it’s February and this is my first canyon trip for the year.

Mark invited us out on a night trip through The Grand Canyon so to make a bit of an afternoon of it Myself, Libby and Russ decided to hit the only other canyon in the Bluies that is officially open, Empress, beforehand.

It was a stinking hot day and I get a message, “Car park is full. Russ parked like a dick so we could save you a space. k.”

They straighten up and I pull in next to Russ and do the meet and greet.

Stuffing ropes into pack or odd pre canyon rituals or sumfink.

Did I say it was hot? We quickly make our way down and enter the refreshing coolness of the canyon.

It felt so good to hit the water

No surprises we weren’t the only ones to have this idea today… We’d passed a couple gearing up at the entrance and come across a group at the little jump just after the matrix jump.

Want to go through? They offer

If you don’t mind, say I. But we’re not in a hurry.

Oh come through we are just practising.

They’d set the drop up as an abseil with a very awkward start.

We jump on past

It almost felt secluded
And then we ran into the bottleneck at the end

We climb up on to the ledge to wait our turn. Only to learn later earlier in the day some dirty grub decided that was where they really needed to drop a turd. Lucky some guides saw it take place. Chastised old mate and cleaned things up

A group just in front said they waited inline for an hour…. It’s a 20min canyon…. Luckily the crowd had thinned a bit and about 20min later we set up on the left and dropped on down.

Luckily it had cooled down slightly for the walkout but we were still hot by the top. So After chatting with a few people we head to the servo for a frozen coke. Except their frozen Beverages machine wasn’t frozen…

Here we say bye to the Libster and head around to Evans Lookout to check out the views over the Grose

Tiger stripes. Foreground: “Normal” Bushfire damage, burnt understory with the random bursts of where it crowned into the canopy. Distance: The Blue Gum forest seems to have been spared the worst. Middle: Devistation where even pockets of rainforest have been reduced to ash. It will trake these areas far longer to recover

Anyhoo, We are soon met by Mark and Jamie, followed by Ethan and then Marc and Ariadna and spend some time chatting and waiting for darkness before doing a car shuffle back to the entrance track and heading on in

Once again we aren’t the only ones and there is a couple dropping in as we reach the abseil point. We Phaff about to give them time to have the canyon in peace

Marc gearing up next to glow-worms
Ethan dropping in

Once in we spend a fair bit of time just soaking in the ambience

Glow-worms and Night skies through the canyon walls

Making our way down there is a constant feeling of awe as we stop often and for long periods just to sit in the darkness and admire the glow

I fall behind a little taking photos. When I catch up they have stopped in one of the more spectacular chambers. Mark, Ethan and Jamie sit quietly talking on one side of the canyon. I set up some photos then sit talking to the Spaniards on a ledge on the other side.

I have no idea how long we stayed there, certainly longer than I normally like to sit still, but I figure its such a beautiful night and atmospheric situation that everyone is just blissing out

Some time later I hear. Do you think we should go back and look for them?

Russ turns on his light. Oh there you are. We thought you were still back there taking photos.

The two groups were about 4m apart from each other 🙂

We though you guys we just enjoying the stillness

We have a bit of a laugh and continue on our way

Towards the end we start to come across the first evidence the fires encrouched the canyon. The smell of ash and burnt logs.
But even here the glow-worms survived

And then we continue down to do the loop out to Evans lookout. I haven’t been out this way for nearly 20years. The impacts of the fires are more noticeable beyond the canyon proper. What was more disappoint was a wall completely covered in new graffiti, If scrawling your name can be call graffiti. I don’t get it.

Anyhoo. We slog back up to the lookout and stare out into the darkness. The stars are out. An orange glow to the south east reminds us the fires have finished with us yet.

Back at the cars we say good bye to the others and wait for Libby to come back to pick up Russ. She brings beer and Cherry the dog. I like Libby.

Another two emerge from the track followed shortly thereafter by 2 more we say hi but in the darkness don’t take much notice. Towards the end of the beer Russ looks up and says, Is that Kylie?

The same friend of theirs we’d been chatting too at the end of Empress.

It had been a great evening with truly awesome people but its time to go home.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: We are all worms, but I do believe some of us are glow-worms

Time:

Empress: A bit over 2hrs with a long wait for the abseil

Grand: About 4 hours with lots of just sitting in the dark.

When evening closes nature’s eye, the glowworm lights her little spark, to captivate her favourite fly and tempt the rover in the dark: James Mongomery

 

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Empress Falls and Sweet Dreams

31-12-19

Madie and meee

I’d strained a tendon in my arm so hadn’t climbed for ages but with 99.99% of canyons closed due to the devastating bush fires that are raging across the country I was going a bit stir crazy.

I text The Mad One to see what she was up to over new years.

Want to go climbing now?

It’s like 6pm Monday afternoon. Sure

There’s an easy climb at Mt Boyce that I use to really enjoy that she hadn’t done yet so we decide to go give it a crack.

A quick look at the guide. You need bolt plates she says.

I have plates.

Cool.

We meet at the car park. a quick check of the guide and we drive around to the new car park…. It’d been 20+ years since I’d climbed this one.

Mandy 2/3s the way up the Eyrie, circa 1996

So we abseil in, and leave a rope in place. Good call

and head around to the start of the climb.

©Madie

I can’t see many bolts, says she

I remember it being run out, say I

And up she goes to clip the first bolt 6 or 7 meters off the ground.

Um, Flynny. I can’t see any bolts above me.

I lock her off while she pulls out her phone to check the online guide .

Um this is a mixed route….

We didn’t pack any trad gear. Ooops

A delicate retreat was made and by the time we ascend our abseil line it’s dark… Bugger! shall we try something again tomorrow?

It’s New Years Eve and we skived off work early to see if we could find somewhere open.

Pulling into the car park we step out of the car… holy crap it’s hot.

Wanna do a quick run through Empress to cool off first?

Yep.

Changing plans is what we do the best

Back in the car and out to the conservation hut

Entering the cool confines of Empress Canyon ©Madie

Back at the car we check online to see what crags are open then head off for the classic Sweet Dreams. A climb I’ve never done before

I totally sooked it and “let” Madie lead every pitch but I thoroughly enjoyed the climb,

Cheers 2019. you have been eventful.

Here’s to 2020

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Empress Falls the Weird Way

16-02-19

Joel, Amber, Jen, Madie, Matthew, Gabby, Andrew, Sonya, Mark, Bernie and meee. Oh, and Geoff as the devil taking photos at the bottom

One day Joel (the sweet, innocent, shy fella he is) had an idea to do something wild.

Let’s have a dress up canyon party, says he.

And so we had to ask ourselves. What would Ginger Jesus do?

Um, He just suggested a dress up canyon…. Well der, dress up canyon party it is

The theme went from Anti-Valentine to Porn to Slotty to hot and wet to anything goes and eventually a mixed bag of fun loving freaks turned up to, um , have fun and, ah, be freaky in one of the most popular canyons in the Mountains.

If only someone had taken a camera…..

Note: there were more cameras than people

Jack Sparrow and some rock chick he picked up on the way in, AKA Madie and Matt
Cat Woman and Lucifer

We gathered out the front of the Conservation hut for some snaps

Just your standard Saturday morning canyon crew ©Geoff


I’m only doing 1 canyon today, says Gabby. Like hell, retorts Madie. We’re doing all the canyons and we are doing them all today! Come on

Lucky Joel was there to settle them down

Like a bizarre Piped Piper Joel leads the sexy people away
Not your standard Empress Falls attire. It was almost disappointing that we only ran into 1 other group, and that was at the end of the canyon.

With all the fun of the costumes at times I had to remind myself we were in a very pretty canyon
We’re not in Kanas any more Toto

Did I mention the canyon was pretty?


Cattitude

Cap’n Jack

School Girl Jen, Schooling

They’re fighting again

Wait. No they’re not

By the time we were all down the abseil there was a large ensemble of tourists/walkers cheering, jeering and leering at us. Well I say “us” but it was mostly at Joel.

and the looks we got as we hiked back up the tourist track for a bite to eat at the hut were priceless.

Party Size: 11 but we split into 11 groups of 1 because, like, who’d want to associate with those other weirdos.

Time: Time has no meaning when you are having that much fun


If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be: Maya Angelou

 

https://vimeo.com/317642115

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*March 2019 I am once again participating in the Wests Cycle Classic to raise money for the Westpac rescue helicopter. If you enjoy my blog or just want to help this great cause think about making a small donation

Empress and Grand Canyons

11/11/2018

Gaz, Jodie and meeee

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.

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We didn’t do the upper section today but did make the detour up to check out the Asmodeus Pool.

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And then it was into the main section

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The water was bracing… We opted to carefully down climb the obstacles rather than jump and get fully submerged

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Which works well except for the squeeze under the chock stone

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there came a time when we had to swim

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It’s such a short little canyon, but very pretty

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And the final bit is OK too I guess

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Empress falls, just 1 of many falls in the Valley of the Waters

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.

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The entrance to the Grand Canyon is pretty awe inspiring, No wonder the commercial tour companies love it.

 

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Despite plenty of walkers up top we had the depths to ourselves

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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.

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Back in the day the guides challenge was to see how far you could rockhop, scramble, bridge and generally dick about to avoid getting too wet.
Gaz took the challenge on today and got all the way to the final 20m swim without getting wet over his waist. Here a submerged log saves his shorts a dunking

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Me and Jodie had given up by this stage. Water wasn’t *THAT* cold

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The bastard is still dry, this bets my best effort in my short stint as a guide

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But he wont be dry for long….

 

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

Previous trips with better light for photos

Empress 10/01/2016  / 05/02/2017

Grand  29/01/2017 / 25/01/2018

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