Access: Getting to the carpark involves a dirt road with a few rough bits. Nothing extreme but a 4WD is handy just for the ground clearance and traction
Navigation: Navigation is fairly straight forward.
Map: Wollangambe 1:25000 These can be purchased at Lithgow Tourist information center or online for around $10
Time: Less than 2hrs with a bit of time for lunch on the clifflines at the end
Depending on which map you look at or who you talk to this is either the Wollangambe or Dumbano fire trail. Open source and google maps seem to show it as Dumbano fire trail. Wollangambe fire trail is what I always knew it as and makes more sense to me as at the end you lookout over the ‘Gambe just upstream of Wollangambe crater.
Anyhoo, whatever you want to call it, it’s a pleasant stroll with some stunning backdrops.
Turn off the Bells Line of road at the ZigZag Railway onto the Newnes Forest rd. Follow this along for around 4.8km and turn off to the right at the bottom of a hill below Bald Trig.
Unfortunitely the start of the fire trail looks a bit like a rubish tip where grubs seem to dump there soft drink bottles and coffee cups… But it gets better.
Set your odeometer here, you want to stay on the main fire trail but there are a couple of intersections where it is easy to take the wrong fork.
At Approximately 1km keep left (right follows the old Wolgan Railway easment around Bald trig to the sand quarry.)
At Approximately 2.5km stay right then at approximately 6.4km stay left. After a little over 8km you will come to the locked gate (GR 499952).
Park up and follow the old road on foot past the gate. The first couple of hundered meters is steep then it is easy going along a flattish ridge for 2km.
Either side of the ridge are sheer sided gullies and at the end of the ridge is a rocky point (GR 505931) in between where these two tributaries meet the Wollangambe.
This is a nice spot of a bit of lunch (or as we did today cheese on smith chips…) there are some great views with Mt Banks straight ahead, Mt wilson slightly off to the left and Bell out to the right. And the wild Wollangambe can be heard gurgling below.
For the more adventurous this route, with some off track navigation at the end is the shorter way to access the Wollangambe crater which is usually done as a over night bushwalk from Bell. (its not a real crater but a circular depension holding a hanging swamp. I think it is the reminants of a large billabong type feature made in a sweep of the wollangambe. It sure looks craterish from aerial photos and satelite images though.)
Note: The great outdoors is an ever changing place. Bush fires, changing weather, vegetation growth and forestry activities can all effect the trail conditions and thus the difficulty of the walk. These are a rough guide only and are by no means meant to be a definitive guide . They do not replace the need adequate map reading and navigational skills
Note 1: Taking care While reasonably well known these spots are still wild places and care needs to be taken around cliff edges and on the steep trails. Carrying the right gear as well as having adequate food, water and clothing is important. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to get back.
Emergency beckons (PLBs) can be hired from Katoomba Police for very little.
Note 2:First aid A basic first aid kit is essential bit of kit whenever heading into the Aussie bush. First aid training is highly recommended
Note 3: Maps and Navigation Having the right map, a compass and knowing how to read them is very important when heading into the bush. If you are new to bush walking joining a club or accompanying more experienced walker for you first few outing is a very good idea. I found practicing map reading on well defined trails was helpful when I started out.
The Maps mentioned are the 1:25000 series. They can be purchase at Lithgow tourism information center, from outdoors shops or online for around $10 each.
Note 4: These are wild and beautiful places, respect them. If you are able to carry something in you can carry it out. Don’ be a tosser. Leaving your rubbish behind is a sure way to ruin it for every one else.
So I always thought it odd there were some great canyons running off the Blue Mts Plateau on the North side of the Highway but not much to the South. Sure there was Empress, which is stunning, but I thought it an oddity in among the micro canyons, steep cracks and more open V-gullys running into the valleys on the south side.
Awhile ago I heard rumours that something else had been found but was vague on details. Then the 5th edition Jamieson guide came out with a brief description of the awesomely named “Great Uncle George” Canyon and I’ve been keen to check it out but just hadn’t gotten around to it.
Hey Julie, texts I, U off on ANZAC day? though my spelling and typing is even worse on text.
Sure am, says she or something to that effect and we hatch a plan to visit Old Uncle Georgeyboy. She contacts Jim who pioneered a different exit up an easy ridge back to Ingar Fire trail which makes a very short car shuffle or negates the need for one altogether if you don’t mind a bit of boring fire trail walking at the end.
Jim and his wife Lyn are keen to come along, even better.
Ed can’t make it as he is busy doing family stuff, which is a bummer. As I know he was keen to check it out too.
Tal was keen but when I woke him up at the crack of 7:45am he groaned, rolled over and pulled his covers over his head… Um OK. Julie shows up we stash gear and head up to meet the Cooks at the car park.
It’s a short walk in… if you veer through the private property but it may be best to skirt around the outside, avoiding the swamp and neighboring gully. Up top it’s a bit of an erosion scar. A trail dozed down towards the cliff edge must surely be an old fire break as it’s too steep for a standard 4WD.
Anyhoo we reach the abseil point. Jim set up on the rope, backs up and with a little hop disappears. It’s funny to watch. One second he is there, there next he is not. Hopefully I can get some video together over the next week or so as I have a good clip of Lyn doing the same.
A nice overhung abseil into a awesome amphitheater. A tall waterfall plunges into a sited up hole which must once have been a very pleasant swimming hole.
A set of stairs lead back up the through the cliff line and while the rope is getting retrieved I fire off a couple of photos and head up the stairs to see where they go. A lot of work had gone into making the stairs and the trail above them. It takes me up to a little cave where more stairs are carved up the rock face to no where, as the trail continues around a nose and up above the top cliff line.
A Lot of work went into this track
Wind swept cave in the upper cliff line
Odd place for a step
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What followed was a pleasant stroll down a very pretty creek inter-spaced with some abseils and some nice canyon sections.
More pleasant creek follows. It was mostly easy walking with a little bit of boulder hoping
Nice Creek walking
Starting to Canyon up
Some boulder scrambling and wades
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Several times the canyon threatens to form, swings around a corner and peters out
And after a bit more creek walking a canyon forms with a bit of length to it
Julie photoing me photoing her
Canyon opening out
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It opens out briefly
While never overly deep or tight it does seem to keep going for a while
Canyon formation opening back out
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And then there is more pleasant creek scrambling with enough awesome scenery to make it well worth while
The Jameison guide says to continue down stream a while then out another creek, which requires a car shuttle but Jim had scoped another option last trip and we scramble up a break in the clifflines which leads to an easy ridge back toward the picnic area near the start of Ingar fire trail and thus back to the car.
So, while I wouldn’t say the canyon itself was overly spectacular it was a very nice trip in a beautiful creek that was, for the most part, very easy going. While a couple of the abseils had tricky starts they were all a bit of fun.
Party Size: 4 all experienced
Timing: 5hrs car to car with lots of photo phaffing, exploring, chatting and taking it easy )
All in all a great day in the great outdoors with great people
I thought the entrance chamber was so awesome I went back with Mandy and Tal a couple of days later for a picnic via the stairs
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We were trying to figure out why these stair would be carved under the cave, its certainly easy enough to walk up the slope beside them then Mandy cottoned on to a likely answer, could they have quarried blocks from here to use int he stair case below?
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.
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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