PARTY: Jo Boyd, Ashley Burke
I have put together a photographic diary (of sorts) of the trip which may be found at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~aburke/CanyonExploration20070120-26/Day1.htm
Our aim for this week was to head into an area that neither of us had been to before and explore for canyons and other places that are nice to be in a hot dry week of summer. It was an excellent trip, and we certainly found what we were looking for.
On the first day we headed out with full heavy packs for a while and dumped these on top of a ridge. We would spend a couple of days doing day trips that radiated out from this ridgetop base camp, a far preferable arrangement than lugging the big packs everywhere. By the time we got to the base camp it was time for lunch, leaving half a day for some exploration with day packs.
We ventured off into our first creek system and soon found ourselves in a deep rainforest gorge. The depth of the gorge was truly remarkable as was the scale of the vegetation we found ourselves in. Gigantic rainforest trees towered above us creating a closed canopy. It took a while to get to water though, but when we found it, it was clear and cold, and we guzzled deeply. Big cliffs flanked the creek and we began to think about how we were going to get out. We tried two possible passes and were repulsed by cliffs. Finally, on the third attempt we found a route out of the gorge, and once on the rim, gained excellent views of the rainforest canopy below. Then it was back to our base camp which we reached at about 7pm.
It was a pleasant and relaxing evening back at base camp as we sipped our wine and port, until a scorpion bit me, causing an immediate torrent of howling, cursing and bitter fulminations.
For day 2 we decided that the creek we had gone into yesterday deserved more extensive exploration. Selecting a different branch, we descended once more into seemingly tropical rainforest, the creek flanked by narrow walls. A large eel was found in a pool which seemed too small for the size of the eel. This poor creature was trapped by the drought. A bit further on the creek went through a narrow canyon section, there were towering walls in every direction. Everything in this creek seemed larger than life. There were trees with gigantic girth. We saw a gigantic spider and a huge dragonfly. And for that matter, the eel wasn’t exactly a tadpole size either. We wandered further down the creek, found a different exit, and after a sweltering climb out, returned to our base camp.
Night 2 at base camp was warm, the scorpion had gone, and the port and wine hadn’t – yet.
On day 3 we decided that a different creek needed exploring. This time we took enough gear and food to last us overnight, and only left our remaining food and extras at the base camp. We thought that in subjecting this creek to careful scrutiny for canyons, we might need that extra day. It was a good move as it gave us the flexibility to explore some interesting looking side gullies. It was another hot day, but beneath the canopy of rainforest all was well. There was a good variety of rainforest trees in this valley to make it interesting. We checked up a side gully which had incredibly steep walls and the promise of canyon upstream. But frustratingly there was one chock stone in the creek that we couldn’t quite get up. We were so keen to see what was around the corner that we resolved to come down this gully from the top the next day.
Late that afternoon we climbed out of the gorge, carrying full bladders of water, and camped among pagodas on the ridge above the gully that we had not been able to climb up earlier that day. It was a dry and somewhat barren spot to camp, as the area had been burnt recently, but it was cooler than yesterday and we were in a wild place with sweeping views across wilderness that waited to be explored.
So the first part of day 4 was spent exploring the gully which had looked so tantalizing on Day 3. Surprisingly we were able to descend all the way down to where we had got to on Day 3 using only a hand line. Then we wondered if we could climb out via another side gully which looked promising. Not only was it reversible, but we found canyon in it too! Reversing it was interesting. On more than one occasion it required teamwork to get up. I would be the artificial foothold and Jo would climb up. Yep – I got trodden on. But it was worth it. New canyon and new dots. The gully became canyon and with a bit more pack passing and rock scrambling we were out! Sensational, but our water was running low.
So it was back to base camp where we had left all our remaining food plus a litre or two of that precious fluid, water. After lunch, we headed off with full packs to our next tributary, leaving the base camp behind us for the last time. After 3 nights of ridgetop camping we thought that a creekside camp would be nice for a change. This was all well and good, as we didn’t have to worry about how much water we drank, and the pools were just deep enough that you could have a refreshing lie-in-the-creek before dinner. The disadvantages though were the poor quality firewood, the dimly lit gloom of the rainforest in the evening and early morning, and the incessant buzz of mozzies. Our mozzie nets saved us the torment of mozzies but there were enough other spooky sounds out there in the black rainforest to make us wonder who or what was sharing our abode.
Day 5 was the ultimate in exploratory canyoning. We baked ourselves some damper on the camp fire and then taking only day packs we decided to try going up one tributary and down another, returning to our creekside base camp that night. This humble aim turned out to be a full day canyoning bonanza.
The tributary that we reversed began easily enough but soon narrowed up into canyon formation. Then came the first obstacle, an awkward upclimb. With a leg-up, Jo managed to squirm up it, but she wasn’t the only thing squirming in that part of the canyon – a snake slithered away and under a log just as Jo climbed up. A little further on the canyon presented us with a dry waterfall which was impossible to climb. We assessed our options. The only way to get above this waterfall would be to clamber up a very rotten log and try to reach some pendulous looking swinging vines and then use these to Tarzan our way up to a ledge, head along it, and then drop back down into the canyon above the waterfall. Nice theory. But it did in fact work – just. The rotten log crumbled and fell apart just as I reached the Tarzan ropes which just held enough for me to climb up and throw down a hand line for Jo.
That got us up into the headwaters and above the canyon formation, so as the rain came gently down, we crossed over a ridge into the tributary that we would use to return to camp. Based on what we had seen thus far, I guessed we would be back at camp by lunch time. How wrong I was. This tributary turned out to be full blown long, deep, and committing canyon the whole way and it took the rest of the day to get down. It was absolutely amazing, we used the rope and hand line constantly as there were many short drops and short abseils. We had lunch at a spot that we thought must be near the end of the canyon but it was far closer to the beginning. On and on it went. It was incredible, and the highlight of the trip. The photos that you can find here are all of that one canyon. More than once we wondered nervously whether we would get through at all. What was around the corner? What if there was a drop with no belay points? But we did survive and get through, even if one or two of the belay points required some improvisation and healthy optimism about how secure they were.
By the time we got back to camp the rain had eased off and we relaxed and reminisced about the day’s exploration.
On Day 6 we headed out with full packs to check out another tributary. This time it wasn’t lots of little drops that took us by surprise, just one absolutely massive 50m abseil. After a fair bit of faffing and procrastination, we decided to give it a miss. The start of the abseil looked treacherously loose and fraught with danger, and the ropes disappeared over it out of sight. One of them might only have reached most of the way down. So we piked.
We decided to go down a different tributary instead, which turned out to be a dry coachwood gully but no canyon. But it did get us well positioned that evening so that we could try going up the tributary that we had piked on from the bottom. Maybe we could reverse it up to the bottom of the huge abseil. Anyway, that would have to wait until tomorrow. For now, it was time to camp.
On Day 7, the last day, we had a try at climbing the tributary to the base of the huge abseil. Sure enough we managed to get there, and the photos from the bottom of the huge drop are here. Below it there was some good canyon formation and it could all be climbed up with a bit of teamwork – that is – I pretend to be a foothold so Jo can climb up. It was well worth doing and the canyon was green and dark in places.
Well it was Day 7 so time to head out. It was a hot climb and walk out, but after one or two pub stops on the way home we had rehydrated sufficiently and we could relax – we had survived another epic trip – yay!
All in all, a fantastic week of canyon exploration. One of the best. And the total snake count for the trip stood at about four. Not too high for a week of midsummer in the bush and no nasty close encounters.
Photos of the trip are here http://members.ozemail.com.au/~aburke/CanyonExploration20070120-26/Day1.htm.