Date: 26-29/12/2023
Trip leader: Alex Duck
Party: Andrew, Dean, Kosta, Rebecca
Photos: by Andrew


This trip started in true SUBW style, with a last minute trip post and some even more last-ditch efforts to get gear from the locker. Thanks Sunil and Aidan for your help, and thanks Ian for lending some additional gear too.

Day 1

On the first day after Christmas…we did Serendipity.

Rebecca, Andrew and I met at Cathedral Reserve after some early-morning shopping, since everything was shut on Christmas Day. Andrew even managed to bring his GoPro…but the batteries were still at home. So there is not much footage of the day.

Rebecca had never been canyoning before, so Andrew and I spent the majority of the walk-in either hyping it up or attempting to instill fear. Sometimes both at the same time. Thankfully our attempts were unsuccessful and Rebecca was still keen as we reached the top of the first abseil.

In the interests of less faffing around, we decided to start with wetsuits on at the top of the upper section. The first three abseils were relatively dry, providing a good opportunity for a lesson on the finer points of a figure 8 block. In the interests of less faffing around, we had started with wetsuits at the top of the upper section, so by the end of the creek walk to the lower section we were glad to see some deep pools to cool off in.

Soon enough Rebecca had learnt enough to start rigging the abseils. Which was good, because despite his rigging skills Andrew had decided that jumping was much easier and more fun than abseiling. Another hour or two of this brought us to the Gambe and the exit point.

There were some particularly aggressive lizards at the exit point, who seemed very interested in our lunches. Likely the result of too much food from too many tourists.

At this point we still had the better part of a day, so we decided to wander up the Gambe and poke around the bottom of Kelvinator Canyon. What proceeded was an hour or two of swimming against the current, some very dodgy climbing just above a whirlpool, and a whole lot of fun.

We left our packs at the Gambe 1 exit and continued upstream. Ditching our flotation devices turned out to be a really dumb decision, because there are two very long swims between that exit point and the base of Kelvinator. Thankfully the water was not too cold.

Kelvinator was beautiful, with a long dark constriction for a few hundred metres. Rebecca spotted some glow-worms on the wall. There were only a few of them, but still very pretty to see. We reached the final abseil just in time to see a rope coming down, shortly followed by two people. Since we couldn’t go any further, we stopped for a chat and then retraced our steps to the Serendipity exit. Pro tip: swimming is much faster when you’re trying to travel in the same direction as the water.

We made it back out to camp by mid afternoon, hung our gear out to dry, said goodbye to Andrew as he had work the next day, and promptly turned in for a siesta.

Dinner was a mixed bag. Rebecca had ramen, I had some snags and veggies. Dean decided to outdo both of us by joining the party that evening after a pub dinner in Blackheath. Over dinner we discussed what to do the next day, and eventually settled on Waterfall of Moss, quietly hopeful that our gamble would live up to more than the 3/10 rating it gets in Tom Brennan’s guide.

Home sweet home, complete with clothesline

Day 2

On the second day after Christmas…we did Waterfall of Moss.

Today it was me, Dean and Rebecca. An early start was slowed somewhat by the confusing series of gates, trails and signs on the loop trail near Cathedral Reserve, but we eventually worked it out and soon found ourselves on a very overgrown trail down to the Big Bend, likely due to fires and a lack of foot traffic during winter.

Swimming across the Gambe without a wetsuit was a refreshing experience, followed by the slightly warmer experience of climbing the fixed handling in the opposite gully. This, combined with a pack-hauling rope and Dean’s noble attempt to tie knots instead of lots, saw us at the top of one cliff line and the bottom of another.

We contoured around for far too long before getting cliffed out, and realising the easy track up was behind us. At this point the footpad became fainter and far less distinct. More scrambling and climbing was followed by a more gentle uphill, some ridge walking, and extra fuel – Dean had brought red frogs, while Rebecca chose a block of Cadbury hazelnut to share.

Some more contouring and another brief bit of backtracking found us at the top of the canyon, with a sling off a tree into a small pool. This became something of a pattern, with several more tree anchors into pools until we reached a more constricted section. Tree anchors gave way to bolts, and a sling around a rock at one point. Many of the maillons were getting rusty but none so bad that we felt it necessary to replace them (yet).

The second-to-last abseil was notable for two reasons. One would be the absolute impossibility of doing it without getting pinned against the wall, due to the angle of the bolts. The other memorable event was a failed pull-down, the result of my brilliant scheme to get a second run down such a lovely abseil…I’d forgotten to unclip the quickdraw from the 8-block before coming down. Ascending was required.

Finally the eponymous Waterfall of Moss. Slippery, as befits its name, and quite a lovely little spot, with a view over the ledge towards a shallow pool of the Wollangambe itself.

A short swim down the river meant lunchtime, and a long lunchtime was followed by a similarly long punch up the hill.

Back at Cathedral Reserve, the late afternoon disappeared amid various discussions of Germany, Australia, food, campfire baking, skiing, and many other topics besides. Quite pleasantly, it was only punctuated by the occasional band of rain or sun-shower. That night, Dean left us to return home, and then there were two.

Deciding whether to press on upstream, or turn back

Day 3

On the third day after Christmas…we did Claustral.

Andrew drove up from Sydney that morning and met us at the carpark. After loading him up with a spare rope and checking whether he’d brought his GoPro batteries this time (he had) we set off down the track.

NPWS have done a good job with the Claustral track in recent years – there are now timber steps all the way to the point where the track enters the creek. We made it to the junction point with only a handful of slips and near misses on the way down the creek.

We ran into a fairly large group from SBW at the top of the Black Hole of Calcutta, and pretty much chased them down the three abseils there. Luckily they were moving quickly and we weren’t waiting long. Calcutta didn’t fail to disappoint and it was just as spectacular as ever.

Lunch was thankfully devoid of inquisitive lizard/seagulls this time, but instead it featured a side trip up Thunder Canyon to visit the glow-worms. Very cold swims.

Andrew was fairly sure that there’d be no more abseils after lunch, so he and Rebecca packed their harnesses away. I decided to leave my Mazerin on to protect my wetsuit from the many non-optional butt slides ahead.

This proved to be wise, as there was one more abseil left – barely 5 metres into a small pool. I abseiled it and confirmed to Andrew that it was too shallow for a show-off jump. So he decided to climb down it as a handline, while Rebecca chose to don her harness and do it properly.

On our way out, we ran into another group in the exit gully, who told us to keep an eye out for their friends ahead up the hill. We saw a lot of slightly dodgy climbing and scrambling as we continued our exit, but no more canyoners. The abseil exit from the side of Camel’s Hump was in good condition, and since we had a 40m rope we did the whole thing in one go.

On the final hill up to the cars, Rebecca educated me on the German equivalent of “she’ll be right”: “passt schon”, which means “it will do”. Not quite the same, but still a very close translation for such a uniquely Australian expression.

We made it to the cars by 4pm, whoch gave us a not-too-bad time of 8 hours from car to car. Andrew left us at the Claustral carpark as he had to return to Sydney, while Rebecca and I returned to Cathedral Reserve and whiled away the time with an excellent afternoon tea of Vita-Weats and tomatoes. This slowly morphed into dinner time, whereupon Rebecca discovered she’d eaten too many snacks and was no longer hungry. I still had my second stomach ready for pasta bolognese.

Rebecca had asked earlier about fireflies, forcing me to recall my limited memory of whether we have them (yes) and what season they appear in (summer). And sure enough, after dinner we saw a few of them flitting around. They were remarkably bright, and I wondered out loud whether that was an adaptation to environments that are more light-polluted. Food for thought as we went to bed and faded to sleep.

Lunch in Claustral

Day 4

On the fourth day after Christmas…we did Geronimo and Horseshoe.

The day was shaping up to be a warm one, the flies were particularly annoying, my breakfast milk had gone a long time without refrigeration thanks to my second battery conking out, but none of this could dampen spirits. Rebecca and I broke camp and said farewell that morning; she had to pick her partner up from the airport and couldn’t stay for the canyon that day.

I met Kosta at the fire station, and was immediately very interested in the fiddlestick kits and Canyon Extreme ropes he’d brought. I’d never seen the former and couldn’t afford the latter, and anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for shiny new gear. He had also brought my lunch – I’d asked him to get some snakes and muesli bars to cover my dwindling supplies. Unfortunately I failed to mention my nut allergy, and he’d duly bought the good bars with protein, nuts and no added sugar. Oh well. I reckon the snakes were excellent rocket fuel.

At the Gambe we were amazed to get the luxury of crossing with dry feet, courtesy of a well-placed tree. The track up the hill towards Geronimo was almost too obvious with pink paint dots and cairns every few metres, which Kosta took great joy in disassembling.

We met a group of three at the top of Geronimo, the only others we saw that day until the walk out. Kosta broke out the fiddlestick kit and showed me how to rig it on the first two abseils – apparently it is supposed to look twisted when rigged, so that everything comes apart neatly at the end.

We debated whether to rig the eponymous third abseil, and I volunteered to jump first…into what turned out to be a metre of water. Thankfully there was a sandy bottom. Kosta quickly followed, aiming for the deepest section I could find but getting much the same results.

Lunch on the river was followed by the same hill from this morning, v2.0 – now with helicopters! First rescue we had seen all week. Perhaps that was what distracted us and forced us to backtrack about 100m to get below a cliffline and stay on the correct contour for Horseshoe. We found a very faint footpad and wound up at a huge chockstone with a tree in the middle of the creek, and a sling on the tree. Since the sling had no maillon and there was no abseil there, we decided the sling would be more useful elsewhere, and packed it out.

There are three anchor points in Horseshoe, but the first two are easily combined if you have a 35m rope, which we did. The final anchor has a menagerie of rusty maillons and definitely needs to be cleaned, but that would require bolt cutters and new hanger plates. We had neither, so we double-roped through the tape and found ourselves traipsing and quickly sliding down a very slippery waterfall. The final reward was a lovely section of cave that wound around before opening into the Gambe.

As we swum upstream to the exit, we spotted our second museum piece, sitting at the bottom of a sandy bend. Kosta dived down to retrieve it and came up sporting a pair of freshly-lost sunglasses. The womens’ style didn’t really suit him, so we packed them out instead. They remain in my pile of canyon loot, awaiting their return to a rightful owner.

Kosta, resurfacing in style from his diving mission

A cool southerly change on the walk out brought patches of rain and a welcome drop in temperature, though the bulk of the rain held off until after we reached the fire station. With four full days of canyoning to wear me out, I was almost glad to return to Sydney at this point. Almost.