Xmas in July in June in 2021

26/06/2021

Kylie, Jason, Jen, Kristo, Hywaida, Aimee, Ethan, Muz, Sonya, Mon and meeeeeee

With a couple of birthdays around this time Kylie wanted to get the gang together for an excursion. As it was going to be July and the gang likes dressing up Xmas in July made sense

And then we moved it forward a week so Xmas in July in June it was.

Lucky, as that afternoon the Gubberment announced lockdown,/stay at home rules for the filthy flatlanders and extended them to include the pox ridden, beanie wearing, hippies in the Blue Mountains

Anyhoo, We’d been talking about wandering down Valley of the Waters to check out Vera falls (the highest falls in that particular creek, one I had done before but only had vague memories of) and thought why the hell not. Surprisingly many in the group hadn’t ventured further down than the base of Empress falls. Oh man the next two, Sylvia Falls and Lodore Falls are beautiful and not 10min further down.

But I get ahead of myself. Pulling into the car park I see Kylie in candy stripes and Hywaida is busy Grinching up Kris.

Shit! this green stuff doesn’t come off. says she as I get out of my car

Kris looks alarmed. What is a grinch anyway?

Worth it but

Others rocked up, frocked up and off we went

First stop: the base of Empress for a photo op

Stunning location. Stunning people
Mischievous elves in their natural habitat
The Grinch stealing Christmas.
Christmas didn’t seem to mind being stolen

After lots of photos and nearly as many laughs we continue our way down the trail. Vera is a long way down but it’s pretty walk

Below Lodore the trail gets rougher but not as vague as I remember it and despite the distance the time flies in good company and banter and before long we are standing on the large, slippery AF rock shelf at the top Vera

the top of Vera falls

You are probably thinking, That’s a big group, but technically we are not canyoning and only half of us are doing the abseil. The rest are out for a walk and Xmas in July cheer.

So now we need to work out how we are going to do it.

We want to go through the falls and work out a good anchor option. Aimee and Krys get busy setting it up.

Me and Kylie breifly discuss the abseil. The toppo suggest the falls are 45-50m. My rope is a tad over 50. We left Jason’s 60m in the car. I tie the end of my rope into Aimee’s anchor and toss the end down to see if it will reach. Then try to get to a spot were I can see.

I can’t see if the tail is on the ground.

We know there is a large ledge about 10m from the bottom but I can’t see it. Kylie suggests first person down takes the spare rope and if possible joins the two at the ledge so that we are not needing to pass a knot mid abseil in what is going to be very cold water spray.

From here we had some communication break downs.

I was planning to be anchor bitch… I mean “monitor”. I know me and Kylie spoke about whether to swap over to a releasable or leave it as we would probably need the full length of rope.

Those not planning to abseil had already continued down the walking track to the base so Kylie moved up to a place where she could signal down to them. The rope isn’t on the ground.

People looked nervous and reluctant to go first.

I have ascending gear, I’m happy to go. I volunteers.

Aimee took over anchor duties. We discussed that if I needed to tie the extra rope on at the ledge I’d give 5 clear whistle blasts. Or maybe I discussed that with Kylie. As I said communication broke down. We all put trust in each other and assumed things.

Never assume things

Kylie somehow makes phone contact with Hywaida who confirms the rope reaches the ledge. Relief.

Ok no need to whistle, everyone knows the ropes will be joined and they need to pass a knot on the ledge.

I check Aimee is good, get on rope and go. We didn’t pause to discuss changing the anchor now that we had updated info.

Slippery Start. Then boosh.. I’m into it. It’s pretty much 40-45m of overhanging abseil. You’re in the main flow, then behind it. The wind moves the waterfall meters sidedways and front and back so you are in it then not in it then bam! back in.

Yours truly coming over the edge
I have a shower every 2 weeks whether I need it or not

I stop on a small ledge 3/4 the way down. There are a lot of loose rocks and I kick them off now rather than have them dislodge and smack someone on the noggin later, not thinking the sound of rocks crash down might freak out those up top….

I reach the big ledge. There is 4 or 5 m of rope on the ledge and a large dead tree between me and the edge. Rather than leave a long tail to possibly tangle in the tree I go off rope and signal for the slack to be taken up.

I hadn’t discussed this possibility with Aimee but she takes up the rope and when I signal to stop she is wondering what now? Remember, we hadn’t converted back to a releasable system.

She realised I needed the rope reset so ties a alpine butterfly and captures the slack in the loop. Yep that’s 4m of rope in the AB’s loop.

Meanwhile, down below I’ve joined the ropes and tossed the end down. Rookie error, I don’t keep hold of the rope and the angle takes it out away from me. Gingerly leaning over the dead tree I grab the rope and pull it back to me.

Unbeknownst to me, Aimee feels this but without being able to see and with communication difficulties she thinks I’m getting back on rope, she is only halfway through tying the alpine butterfly. Understandably it freaks her out and she gets it locked off as fast as possible, leaving a bit of her hair in the knot in the process

So she believes I’m on rope. I’m on the ledge waiting for an OK to go.

Once again the waterfall is swaying in the wind. I’m out of it. I’m in the spray. It’s dumping on me. I’m getting cold.

I look to the others at the bottom for guidance. I get a thumbs up (I think that is they have confirmation from the top I’m right to go, later it was explained it was confirmation the rope now reaches the ground

So I give the rope a gentle test pull. It holds. I pull again. Sweet. I get back on rope and make my way around the tree to the edge of the ledge. There I notice the rope has caught behind a flake on the next ledge up. I flick it a few times to free it and this gives me a tiny bit of slack,

I’m stranding on the lip.

I try to adjust up as I normally would but I’m using the cutaway tag on my harness to leave room for my ascender so where I’m use to the device taking up is 2 inches above where it actually does. I have a little slip

Shit!

Now back in my misspent youth I may or may not have done some dumbshit(TM) that I don’t condone now. One of those dumbshit(TM) things my brother and I may or maynot have done on the odd occasion was the old Hollywood throw a heap of slack out and jump over the edge trick. So as I slip it’s second nature to me to make sure I have the least amount of friction at the device as I can so when the rope takes up it reduces the shock load as much as possible.

As dramatic as it looks my “big slip” was just a few inches (story of my life) followed by a fast but controlled slide into the pool at the bottom (shut up)

Safely at the bottom I dance about to get warm.

How was that rope stretch at the ledge, Jen laughs.

Near shit myself, says I

Kylie and Ethan come down

The post I-was-scared-but did-it anyway-fark-that-was-cold awesome feels, excellently captured by Monica

Jason had opted out of the abseil as he had thought we were doing the dry line and didn’t bring the right gear. I offer him mine and we head back up.

Up top Aimee fills me in on her freak out which freaks me out…. She was still a bit rattled and wasn’t going to do the abseil. We talk it out and she decides to give it a go. It really is an awesome abseil

Aimee-abseils-Xmas-in-July-in-June-style

We all head back up to the top of the falls for a bite to eat, some not so awesome Xmas carolling and bell ringing and a bit of a debrief on how the communication had fallen down (the great thing about this group is there is no blame or finger pointing. Just, this is what we think went wrong and this is how we think we can improve. The conversation continued online over the proceeding days)

It doesn’t get much better

Now all that’s left is an hour and a half or so up stairs to get out….. Of course we had to break up the walk with a bit of fun….

Icy cold fun

The tourists were amused

So in the end the falls were about 60m lip to pool, add in the anchor is a fair way back…. Take long ropes.

All in all a very Yuley day out with very Yuley Folk

Find people who inspire you, make you laugh and are great to hang out with. then hangout with them

And remember you are awesome too

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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 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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