Canyon Season Is Here


Well Bulti is off to New Zealand to walk five miles up a hill in the snow with inadequate shoes or something, so in the meantime I’ll update on some new canyons I’ve visited, and a very pleasant start to summer.

Some purists will say that canyoning is a year-round sport. But I maintain that the proper canyon season is from the start of daylight savings until the end, and anything else is crazy talk!

Newnes

I’d been super keen to go paddlin’ on this weekend, but the needed rain didn’t happen. At the last minute, I accepted Nat and Tom’s offer of canyoning instead, and piled into Matt’s 4WD to head up to the abandoned mining town of Newnes and the wild Wolgan.

The campsite at Newnes is one of the best in the Blueys I reckon. Surrounded by cliffs in a beautiful location.

Anyway, after the usual late-night arrival shenanigans, Tom got everyone up-and-at-’em in the morning and we were off at the bright hour of 8AM.

The slog up Pipeline Pass is not a nice way to start the day. 300 vertical meters later, we at least had a view.

1Having not actually been to Newnes before (as I keep telling Nat, I’m not actually a canyoning expert. I just like to read guidebooks) the length of the approaches was a little bit of a surprise. Newnes Canyon itself looks like a long day.

The navigation was a bit lazy, but soon Tom was satisfied we’d descended down to the creek leading to Nightmare Canyon.

“Uh, are you sure, this looks a lot like Devil’s Pinch” said Nat.

“Pretty sure this is Nightmare, I’ve done it before” replied Tom.

“No, this is definitely Devil’s Pinch” said Nat.

By the time we reached the first abseil it was settled. Devil’s Pinch it was. We weren’t particularly keen to hike back out from the top of an excellent canyon, so we dropped in.

Tom's a fan of 70's retro canyoning.
Tom showing off his best 70’s retro canyoning vibe. Note the short shorts.

Tom did not have the best day in the end. After the nav error, he dropped the GPS into a pothole, and then his victory beer broke inside his bag.

On the upside, Devil’s Pinch is a bloody awesome canyon.

3

Probably inspired after being mistaken for 'speed climbers!' by scouts in B4-5 cave, Matt and Nat took downclimbing to some impressively extreme lengths on this trip.
After being mistaken for ‘speed climbers!’ by scouts in B4-5 cave earlier this year, Matt and Nat were inspired to take downclimbing to some extreme lengths on this trip.

5After exiting the constriction, there’s an optional big abseil down the creek towards the Wolgan.

6However, there’s still a brutal boulder bash down to the Wolgan River. The others didn’t mind, but I didn’t have fun, as I was expecting an easy walk.

At the river, we amused ourselves with leaf races in the current, while the victory beers were drunk. Then it was a long stroll back up the fire trail to Newnes. Me and Willis took some extra time to check out the ruined buildings and the collapsed coke ovens.

Back at camp, the decision was made to cancel the move to Glen Davis that night, and instead stay at Newnes and try for Nightmare again the following day. Barnesy arrived later with another carload.

So, with a swollen group and large amounts of rope, it was up the Pipeline Track again the next morning. This time, we carefully followed the ridge south and dropped right into the tiny Nightmare catchment.

Nightmare was one of the technically coolest canyons I’ve done. Unrelentingly narrow, steep and twisting, there are anchors off multiple equalised tiny trees, fixed nuts, chockstones, rebelays to help the pulldowns, and vicious tight and scraping abseils requiring foot and heel-toe jams for the feet. It ends with a spectacular 30m abseil out of the slot.

7With some impressive teamwork and multiple ropes, we managed to get a relatively huge group through 9 or so abseils in reasonable time!

I was expecting the boulder chute down to the river this time, so it didn’t seem as bad. We lazed around in the heat at camp, before making good time back to Sydney.

(Although the kayaking trip never happened, we did make it to the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, where I re-injured my shoulder with a crappy high-brace)

Return to Wollangambe 1

The next weekend, I did one of those mud-run adventure race things with Tom Lynch (not Tom Davies, a different Tom!). Although I was nursing my shoulder half the time, it was fun, and since I figured anyone who was into that sort of thing would be a good fit for canyoning, I invited Tom up to Mt Wilson for some more ‘shoulder rehab’.

Wollangambe 1 was actually the first canyon I ever did, and it seemed about the right time to revisit it. Besides Tom, Guillaume was also along for the ride.

We had a good day out and barely saw anyone, and the highlight was probably the side trip up Water Dragon Canyon, which exceeded my expectations. It was interesting to see changes in the canyon from what I remembered.

Tom gets a special mention for doing the whole trip in shorts and t-shirt and not getting cold once.

Wollangambe Crater and the Upper Wollangambe

More ‘shoulder rehab’ was definitely required, and since I knew Damon, Phil & Co would be at Mt Wilson next weekend, I pulled out a trip idea I’ve been sitting on for a while: a walk from Bell to Mt Wilson.

After considering a solo walk, I put a quick post on the UNSWOC Facebook page instead, and Nat and Garrett (who I hadn’t met before) were in.

Starting from the 9AM train at Bell Station, we walked to Wollangambe Crater using Tom Brennan’s excellent sketch map.

DSCN6000

There is a track the whole way, although we did get off of it once. I was roughly following the compass east and a bit south, down what seemed to me to be the obvious ridge. But doubts were raised as to the complete lack of a track. Garrett pointed out a nearby pagoda, and we bashed over to have a break and a map party.

It's hilarious how many photos there are of me angrily pointing at maps.
It’s hilarious how many photos there are of me angrily pointing at maps.

Eventually there was a consensus that we were on the south-pointing ridge in the vicinity of MGA502916, and needed to traverse north about 400m to head towards the saddle at MGA505921. With Nat leading, I started counting steps to measure the distance, and was just about to yell out “300 meters!” when Nat found the trail.

Navigation, fuck yeah.

It was a hot day. Really hot. So we were very happy to reach the river, and after a quick token visit to the Crater itself, plunged straight in and started wading downstream.

We passed the afternoon with several hours of pleasant creek wading, with a couple of swims and chest-deep wades. The water was perfect and wetsuits were definitely not called for. (Gliding waist-deep through a river silently always reminds me of some Vietnam War movie. Badass)

DSCN6047

We found a cave to camp in a short but very difficult bash up from the river, with a system of several ledges under a huge overhang. We cooked dinner (did EVERYONE bring MSR Pocket Rockets!?) and sat contemplating into the evening.

DSCN6019
How’s the serenity.

DSCN6034

The cave had a spectacular outlook, and kept us so dry we didn’t even noticed it had rained overnight until the next morning. However, it looses a lot of points because I didn’t get much sleep on my awkwardly sloping ledge! I did not have trouble getting up nice an early. We were suited up and back on the river by 8AM, with lilos and donuts inflated.

Although overcast and a little gloomy in the mist (or mysterious?) the water was still warm from the rain, and we made our way down between the huge walls and through some deep constrictions.

DSCN6044
Come on, how can you not love the pink pool donut. That is style points, right there.

There were many long and difficult boulder chokes, which were hard going with the overnight pack and especially slippery rocks. There were comparatively few swims though I thought. Nat’s lilo got a tear, so we started loading up my pool donut with extra packs. Until I rammed a sharp stick while padding backwards at full speed, for a hilarious and catastrophic failure.

We reached the Bell Creek junction not too long after, and were soon lounging at the beach at the exit track.

Beach camp.
Beach camp!

This was very relaxing, and we continued to lounge around at the beach for several hours, chatting to another party who’d done Geronimo Canyon, and waiting for the oppressive heat to drop a little. Eventually we slogged back up to the Fire Station, to wait for Nat’s mum and the shuttle.

Our Spiritual Home

My weekend however was not quite done, and I made my way to the big Cathedral Of Ferns campground at Mt Wilson, which I consider to be the centre of the Blue Mountains canyoning universe. I cooked another dinner while waiting for everyone else to show up. Simon, Phil and Bron soon arrived, and with them social atmosphere.

However, Damon’s party didn’t return from Claustral until nearly 10pm. They’d had a horrible time bashing all around Mt Bell and Dismal Dingle before having to walk several kilometres up the road, having not researched the new legal access routes properly. Sigh, I should have known.

The Claustral situation really is a clusterfuck, and nearly everyone I know who’s done it recently seems to be trying different routes. It’s been like two years now since the Mt Tomah access was closed. Does no-one else obsessively follow OzCanyons? I guess things are improving slowly.

That place will never ever get old, though.
That place will never ever get old, though. The crew from the weekend, with a cameo from Disco.

Anyway, after a well-earned beer or two and a cider around the campfire, I slept under a tree beneath the cloudy sky. I nearly got away with it, before having to make a hasty retreat to the picnic shelter in the face of a few drops, at about 6AM. In the morning, it was a good surprise to see Melinda from Sydney Bushwalkers again, before finally packing up and making our way back to Sydney.

Well, what next? Hopefully some kayaking. And the two-day complete trip down Bell Creek is looking very interesting.

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