TRIP: Easter Canyoning, 21-24 Mar 2008

PARTY: Rachel Melrose, Dan, Ashley Burke

In the end it was just three of us that managed to escape Sydney on the warm and humid evening of the Thursday before Easter for a 4 day canyoning adventure in the northern Blue Mountains. In keeping with Easter tradition, a change in the weather brought cool and damp conditions for most of the weekend.

On Friday morning we set off from the car, climbed strenuously up a pass and then began a long walk along a ridge in the cool and overcast conditions until about lunch time. Our first canyon lay not far from our lunch spot and after lunch we left our packs where they were and headed off with ropes and harnesses to see what the canyon had in store from us.

The canyon had plenty in store, as it turned out. First a short abseil to whet the appetite, and then beyond that the canyon disappeared out of sight, deep, narrow and mysterious. We abseiled safely down this larger drop and all was well until for some inexplicable reason the rope decided it didn’t like being pulled down. I soon began cursing and muttering various expletives at the prospect of prussiking up to free the ropes but Dan came to the rescue because he actually wanted to prussik. So Dan was the man and quickly and efficiently prussiked up to a ledge from which the ropes were realigned, and after abseiling down again they could be pulled easily. The reason for the original jam remains a mystery.

So all was well and we continued through the canyon, taking photos in the dim light, and then climbed out easily back to our main packs, carrying water with us. Our packs were conveniently located under a rock overhang and in the drizzly weather this offered an excellent dry camp spot. So here we lit a fire and stayed dry and warm and enjoyed a great evening and a good night’s sleep.

On Saturday we spent a half day walking deeper into the wilderness, aiming for a remote and rarely visited canyon, which we reached just in time for lunch. Our lunch spot was a pretty small leafy glade, just metres from where a narrow canyon began. The canyon itself was breathtaking. Although there were no abseils, a narrow slot led us into a deep sandstone realm. Apart from the warm colours of the sandstone walls, the most striking feature of this gorge were the coachwoods. These elegant trees stretched skywards on tall straight trunks, as if in symmetry with the sandstone walls, a legacy of their lifelong quest to reach the sunlight high above. We took our time walking through this quiet and special place, with cameras poised.

We followed this creek which degraded into a bouldery gorge and then entered a larger creek system where good camp sites were expected based on past knowledge. But to our disappointment the good campsites turned out to be wet overgrown thickets due to recent bushfires followed by all the recent wet weather. So we had to press on downstream looking for alternative camp sites, none of which were particularly inviting. It looked increasingly like a better option would be to climb high over our next pass where hopefully things would be drier and less weedy. But it was getting late. So with our packs full of water and the daylight dimming in the heavy cloud we laboured up the pass until right near the top we found an enormous camp cave with plenty of underroof area, enough of which was liveable so we could again enjoy a dry evening in complete comfort.

Early the next morning there could be heard the pitter patter of Easter bunnies, and their chocolate eggs could be found around the cave when we got up for breakfast. Fecund Easter bunnies indeed.

Today we crossed another creek and climbed a pass to a high plateau where we arrived for lunch and then dumped our packs for an afternoon canyon. This canyon was very long and spectacular with several abseils. It was another very long day and it was again getting late and dim when we were still in the heart of the canyon. But right near the end of the canyon an exit route was spotted and up this we steeply climbed, reaching the plateau for evening views deep into the chasm out of which we had just climbed. By the time we reached our packs again it was well after dark and raining lightly. Fortunately the rain held off while we cooked dinner and by the time we’d done that it was late and time for bed – tomorrow would be another big day.

Easter Monday dawned cloudy but later fined up to a beautiful day. Today we had to get all the way back to the car and between us and the car was an unknown canyon. Not knowing what lay ahead we descended through wet scrub, below us was the sound of running water. Further downstream the running became rushing as the water plummeted into an immense chasm. Two abseils down waterfalls were thrilling and the last of these was 30m. It was an exhilarating and spectacular gorge with white waterfalls and layer upon layer of sandstone.

Then it was a long afternoon of creek walking until finally we were out and back at the waiting car.

Truly a fantastic 4 day canyoning adventure. Thanks Rachel and Dan.

Ashley Burke