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
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
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.
Did I say it was hot? We quickly make our way down and enter the refreshing coolness of the canyon.
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
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
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
Once in we spend a fair bit of time just soaking in the ambience
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
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
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
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
We gathered out the front of the Conservation hut for some snaps
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
*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
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