Cave Climb


“Why do you want to go to Narrowneck? I don’t know anyone who’s ever climbed there!” asked Simon. Well, it sounds like an adventure. And more than that, it’s historical. Easy trad multipitches without the crowds or the bolts of Sweet Dreams. Some of the routes even have stars, how bad can it be!

Mike Lee, however, had done the climb, and tried to sandbag us into doing Fuddy Duddy instead (with an amusing story about a large individual who got themselves stuck in the squeeze chimney). But eventually he advised “Definitely make sure you climb out the back of the cave on the second pitch”.

The Approach

On a beautiful Sunday morning, Damon, Johannes and I made good time up to Katoomba, and parked on a shoulder near the National Park sign on the Narrow Neck road. We even found the track and a cairn about 15m back from the sign as promised.

Morning glory on the Narrow Neck Road.
Morning glory on the Narrow Neck Road.
Starting off through the heath.
Starting off through the heath.

Here however, mere meters from the road, we got stuck trying to find a gully on the left to descend into. After backtracking and blundering around in the scrub for a bit we eventually scrambled down some ironstone plates, and Damon found another track, or “possibly just a watercourse”. We bashed left through some thick bushes, down across a small gully, and then over to the base of the upper cliffline on the other side.

I was beginning to think this was a canyoning trip. Thrashing through scrub, scrambling over pagodas, and looking for gullies, all while not-quite-lost. And the heath seemed particularly scratchy on this day.

Eventually, we found a good track which led into a deep gully. Skirting around the gully and along the shale ledge on the other side (still heading leftwards) we finally found a pair of rings as the ledge ran out.

Contemplating the abseil.
Contemplating the abseil.

Rapping in took a while, we took our time. This was an easy day, remember?

Damon goes over the lip.
Damon goes over the lip.

At base Johannes took a while to untangle the ropes from some trees. This didn’t seem to be a very well-used abseil…

Once all at the base, we began wandering south down the cliffline looking for the route. Many impressive corners presented themselves, but all the initials were completely unfamiliar.

“Perhaps we should have brought the guidebook down. Damon, can you get out the route description”

“That little piece of card? Was that important?”

“Yes, yes that was…pretty important”

Of course, we didn’t have any food or shoes either. Fast and light had turned into dumb and naked.

Further along the base of the crag we found a rather spectacular wreck of a car.

It must have been a sight to see that thing hit the ground after falling 50+ m off the cliff.
It must have been a sight to see that thing hit the ground after falling 50+ m off the cliff.

We didn’t pay too much attention to the car, as at this point it was past midday and it was clear we were getting properly lost. Eventually, we returned to where we started, and started to decide which corner looked the most on-sightable. I decided to have a quick look in the other direction, and approximately 1 meter north of where our ropes had hit the ground, there were painted two big T’s – for Toll and Tal. Somehow we’d ended up abseiling down Toll.

6

Walking north this time, we quickly found the escape route Herbaceous Gully, and then, finally, the letters ‘CC’.

(Looking at the guidebook, many of the corners we looked at climbing were kind of hard, and some had aid grades…so in hindsight, an epic was narrowly avoided!)

Hooray.
Hooray!
First sight of the Cave.
The Cave.

The First Pitch

Ah well…time to get some climbing done.

It wasn't so bad. There were carrots, and they weren't even that rusty.
It wasn’t so bad. There were carrots, and they weren’t even that rusty.

Having no route description I traversed to the best-looking corner, plugged a shaky cam or two and pulled up into the cave. I accidentally linked the first and second pitch.

Bomber. This was actually better than I was expecting, believe it or not.
Bomber. This was actually better than I was expecting, believe it or not.

Damon and Johannes came up.

10

12

The Cave

In front of us was an easy corner against a juggy face. Behind us loomed the depths of the cave, sandy and chossy, and with some sort of nest (not wasps, please not wasps) hanging from a particularly grotty section of the ceiling for good measure. A faint light shone in, six or seven meters above us.

13

Well, that’s what we’re here for. Can’t chicken out now really.

I offered the lead to Johannes, but he sensibly declined.

So, I started up into some pretty radical 3-D climbing. I ran it out pretty seriously while climbing all around the place (literally, in 360’s). I finally committed to some ironstone jugs and pulled up into a good stance, to plug some cams while the others helpfully discussed worst-case scenarios.

We figured if I fell, Damon would helpfully break my fall.
We figured if I fell, Damon would break my fall.

I downclimbed back to a little footledge, made a delicate traverse move and bam! There were the jugs. I pulled up, and was now standing in the hole, staring back out at daylight.

The light at the end of the tunnel.
The light at the end of the tunnel.

The corner outside was brilliantly positioned, easy and fun. The wind had picked up and was funnelling into a fierce updraft, making for an exiting finish. There was even carrots to belay on (and a bolt plate for booty, yeah!)

This anchor was a bit more confidence inspiring.
This anchor was a bit more confidence inspiring.

Meanwhile, down below (and completely out of earshot), Damon was negotiating the cave.

15

He finished the climb in style, and was able to snap some great shots of Johannes on the final corner as I belayed.

18

19

And we were done.

So it all turned out fine in the end.
So it all turned out fine in the end.

Of course, to get back to the bags, we still had to bash several hundred meters through the thick scrub along the top of the cliff, in climbing shoes (Damon chose to go barefoot). Walking back to the car via the proper track, I discovered it descended down a gully to the RIGHT of the ridge instead of the left. I absolutely love everything Simon Carter has ever done, but fuck, that’s a pretty important distinction in a guidebook! Apparently the Herbaceous Gully track description is out of date as well. Ah well, we know the way now.

And we went and had a delicious late lunch and iced coffees in Katoomba.

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