Party (Grand Canyon Only): Cathy Stansbury, Chee Wong
Party (Grand Canyon and Camping): Ashley Burke, Chloe Wu, Claire Chatry, Izabela Rydz, John Kam, Laura Ivonne, Lisanlu Kri, Michael Trent,Tony Le
Party (Camping Only): Isabel Hanson, Kaushalya Madugalle, Adam Mills, Peggy Huang and Stephen Zaman, Ruby Stephens, Leo Garnac, Natalie Wang, Kosta Seiler, Tony Ruzek, Roger Lembit, Dave Noble, Rob Hynes (Mr Bean), Pat Miller (Max Cady), John Robens, Chuin Nee Ooi and children Jasper and Sebastian, Su Li Sin, Brent Roylance.
Date: 12-13/12/2015

Some came for the canyon. Some came for the camping. Some did a different canyon. Some walked in independently. All were part of the SUBW Christmas Dinner Walk 2015. You couldn’t have hoped for better weather for it. For a midsummers’ day, this is as good as it gets, clear blue skies and not too hot, not even down in Megalong Valley where it was just plain hot instead of the usual oven like furnace that you’d expect in Megalong in December.

For those doing Grand Canyon in the morning, there was track work on the Blue Mountains railway line so we all met at Strathfield station and proceeded to Neates Glen by car. Eleven of us assembled there from about 9:30am. Many had never abseiled before, and today would be an introduction to canyoning, a completely new experience particularly for those in the group who had arrived in Australia within the last year. It must have seemed strange to be in a sunny car park on a summers’ day being told how cold it was going to be and having to pack wetsuits or layers of woollen thermals. But the reason for this would become apparent soon enough.

We headed down the track into the shady rainforest gully that is Neates Glen and we setup ropes at a convenient spot to learn to abseil.  The beginners quickly and enthusiastically took to the idea of walking backwards off a cliff and soon we had two ropes going so everyone had a chance to practise abseils at least twice before entering the canyon.

We headed down to the start of the canyon, a mysterious chasm where water could be heard but not seen, and the lower reaches invisible and unknowable until you were committed on the rope. All but Chloe took part in this phase of the trip, and with 2 ropes going it did not take too long for the ten of us to make the descent. Once in the canyon we walked, clambered, waded, swam and slipped our way downstream. It is deep and beautiful, with the rocks glistening with moisture or tinged green with moss or drooping with ferns, and there were the ancient relics of long fallen trees. Most of us got pretty cold thanks to the constant dipping in and out of the water. There were one or two long swims, and at the longest Lisa needed a little help to get to the other end but after a time we all gathered at the end of the canyon, cold but exhilarated from the experience. We all quickly got warm again during the climb back to the car in the warm sunshine.

It was now time to make our way to the Coxs River campsite and Adam, Isabel and Kaushi were waiting for us at Blackheath. So without further ado we headed in convoy to Blackheath. Our convoy grew to 4 cars at Blackheath and then we made our way down into Megalong Valley. At the start of the walk we finally stopped for a well-earned late lunch in the grassy shady spots away from the road. Peggy and Stephen turned up, as did Ruby. After lunch and after a lot of sorting out of canyoning gear and camping gear we were at last ready to set off.

After a pleasant warm walk through farmland we descended steeply and found ourselves at the familiar Christmas Dinner camp. Already present were Dave and his group including Mr Bean, John and Chuin Nee, Su Li and others. My group quickly settled in and soon made themselves at home at this amenable camp site and it wasn’t long before everyone had found the deepest pool for a refreshing dip. Others arrived at the camp during the late afternoon including Roger and those who had done Leo’s Arethusa Canyon trip.

The water level of the Coxs River generally was pretty low, with the rapids not gushing, and the main pool had a fair bit of weed. But downstream from that was a smaller but clearer and deeper pool and that was where many people congregated. Others wandered among the smooth granite boulders, admiring the smooth curves and hollows, carved out through millennia of scouring floods. The sun crept towards the hills to the west and dipped behind clouds but the smooth rocks remained warm and inviting. You could lie on the rocks like lizards, revelling in the warmth. Now was a time to mix and converse, or find solitude to take photos or read a book.

As the long afternoon blended into evening we migrated up to the campfire and the evening rituals began. First it was cups of tea and platters of cheese and bikkies and other delicacies being handed around. People cooked their dinner, and even people like Chloe and Lisa who had never even camped before ate very well indeed. Later the cups of tea became cups of wine. Later still the singing began, if you could call it that. I mean, not many people had brought their songbooks and so some songs were recited from memory. So it was a not terribly well coordinated or tuneful attempt at campfire singing. But then something quite extraordinary happened. There was applause. That is, a few people clapped at the end of each song. To what feat of artistic virtuosity and choral skill this applause was in appreciation of remains a mystery, but it was nonetheless accepted with good grace.

Then at last, long into the evening we had the obligatory Wild West Show. We eventually got through most of the most common verses (though certainly not all) and it culminated with Roger’s rendition of the now defunct Tony Abbott Bird. In between all this raucous and tuneless attempt at singing there was some interesting and meaningful conversation that continued right up to midnight when, in keeping with club tradition, those who were still able rose to their feet for a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. Soon after midnight most people retired to their tents to sleep it off.

The morning was another mild day with morning cloud and there was plenty of time to take it easy and relax. Most people took a morning swim and a leisurely breakfast which blended slowly to a leisurely brunch. By about 10:30am people began heading off, and by midday only a few remained. All had headed out by mid-afternoon.

So once again the SUBW Christmas Dinner Walk came to a close. For some of us, this was our 30th or more Christmas Dinner Walk. Yet no matter whether it is your first, your 10th or your 30th time down here, each trip is unique and memorable, and it isn’t just about the differences in the course of the river and the height of the grass or the heat of the day or the size of the campfire that makes each time unique, but the people who come to share this time and place, once per year, every year.

We’ll be back in 2016. Same place. Same time. See you there.

Ashley Burke