Trip Members: Paul, Adrian, Leo, Rick, Robyn, Marty
Date: 3-7/2/2016

This trip was planned to combine the talents of an enthusiastic group of canyoners and those interested in aboriginal artwork and conservation. Over four big days we managed to achieve a good balance of these interests.

Our trip started on Thursday afternoon with some catching the train and some driving up and over the mountains. Sadly Pete was forced to pull out and we really missed his company and his great knowledge over the weekend.

As planned a meeting of minds maps and beers occurred at the Lithgow Workman’s Club where sketches and maps were viewed and reviewed much to the amusement of the locals. Then on to Rylstone for a cheeky night of camping in a shed normally reserved for champion merino sheep.  We had a clear night with a spectacular display of stars and enjoyed an undisturbed sleep.

We were away early and were not delayed too long by fallen tree across the road after the Dunns Swamp turnoff.  We met up as arranged with Robyn and Rick for the next stage of our trip into the Wollemi.

We stopped at a spot with sweeping views of the Wollemi National Park. Our destination was a canyon with an ominous name a few kilometres to the east. Getting to it proved to be a major adventure as we dropped down through challenging pagodas into a creek thick with tree ferns, large blue gum trees and lawyer vines which did their best to catch everyone over the next few days. We changed our line of approach, deciding that it was preferable to eliminate an up and over by way of additional creek walking.   Lunch was taken on a high saddle with 360 degree views and before long we were dropping down a gully. Two abseils later we were in the canyon, but at its end. We reversed a few hundred metres of nice formation until a waterfall, and spent hours convincing ourselves that we had not missed much canyon.

With rain threatening, we headed downstream to our proposed junction en route to our camp. Adrian and Leo made a side trip to check out a large clear area marked on some of the maps whilst the rest of us headed up a side creek. There was no sign of a promised “bridle trail” used by the original settlers and it was heavy going up the ridge. We made it back to camp in near darkness and quickly made a fire and got dinner going.  It had been a long day for not much canyon, and there were threats to execute the canyoner responsible for finding it.

The next morning dawned grey and rainy and we now wanted to turn our sights on the dodgy weather forecasters at the BOM. Even our trusty Norwegian weather gurus had got it wrong. The long previous day had not helped Paul’s knee and he decided to head back to civilization to get some rest and treatment and so it was that 6 of us made plans for the day.

We relocated camp to another ridge and set off down the steepest of slopes into another clearing hole marked on the map. Several hundred meters down we landed in a beautiful grassy glade with huge blue gum trees and grassy flats just as the sun came out.  The soil was rich chocolate brown basalt and this supported lots of lush growth. The whole area was drained by a small creek. We followed the creek which was unremarkable at first. Before long we were walking between ever increasing sandstone walls and within a few minutes we were in a beautiful and sustained canyon. Despite being a deep canyon there were no abseils.

One of our party chose to model clothing (or lack of) appropriate to the canyon. I don’t think he can expect a call from the modelling agency any time soon.

After the lunch break we headed on down the canyon until we reached a large creek. A few hundred metres downstream we headed up a smaller canyon which was reputedly reversible. We were lucky to have Leo’s climbing skills in a few spots although generally we were on a good wicket on the way up. By Tea we were in another basalt hole very similar to the earlier one. Another big slog was required to climb out of the hole and by stumps we were on top of the ridge when the rain came back and smashed us for an hour or so. In the poor visibility we managed to climb about 50 metres too high and then had to drop back down to the road.

After another wet night – and more dark muttering about the BOM and the Norwegians we were up early and ready to go again.  Yet another deep basalt hole beckoned and we were soon ploughing down a steep ridge into the unknown. Once again we found huge blue gums and grassy slopes. We saw only a few wallabies and lots of large wombat holes on the forest floor. As we walked Rick and Robin explained the damage caused by weeds and thistles and the work they do with NPWS to eradicate these in the Wollemi NP. We were soon pulling up thistles as we went along.

Once again the basalt hole was drained by a small creek which quickly became a canyon confined by towering cliff lines. This was a short canyon which quickly led us to one of the major creeks in the Wollemi. After a short break we retraced our steps and were again glad of Leo’s climbing skills in a few spots. No one was looking forward to the big climb out, however we all managed to get back to camp before lunch.

The decision was taken to break camp and head to some aboriginal artwork. The sun came out and we had a pleasant lunch admiring dozens of ochre hand prints and figures drawn on an overhang below a huge sandstone rock which towers above the surrounding landscape.

Our final camp destination was a pleasant grassy flat with lots of space and firewood. Rick and Robyn spend a lot of time here clearing thistles. The campsite is also over grown with green wattle trees and we wondered if NPWS see these invasive native plants  as a problem. We climbed a hill giving us a commanding view of the northern end of the National Park and the Capertee Valley and checked out a small shelter. The evening was spent drinking wine and swapping stories around a camp fire in warm and dry conditions as the weather forecasters had finally got it right.

The next day we headed over a nearby hill and down into a small canyon with 3 slippery and confined abseils. In places the walls of the canyon were completely green. Up above the canyon we could finally see a decent sunny day after all the rain.

At the bottom of the canyon we took a short break on the banks of another major creek draining the Wollemi and admired the forest, tree ferns and yabbies.

Then it was time to head up and reverse our final canyon. This one started out with a big boulder choke and then quickly turned into a narrow constriction which went on for hundreds of meters. There was one unavoidable swim followed by lots of bridging to keep out of the deepest pools – some of which seemed bottomless from above. This was a spectacular canyon though it would not be much fun in the middle of the coldest months due to the wet conditions.

By lunch we had exited the canyon and walked up the grass slope back to our campsite to finally pack up. Robyn and Rick planned to stay on for a few hours to remove thistles so we said our goodbyes and headed into Rylstone for a well deserved coffee and cake before the long trip home. A fantastic long weekend with excellent canyons, lots of different terrain to walk in and great company. Now to plan the next trip.