Déjà Vu

By Doug Wheen

Sitting in the glow worm cave of Claustral having an extremely leisurely elevenses – lunch with Bob on 8/12/85. We’d got from the car to the cave in just over two hours, had 2*20m handlines and were discussing trips old and new, some planned, others done. Somehow we got on to Dave’s reports of an old member having done Claustral, Ranon and Thunder all in one day. Bob said it used to be talked about but was never done, yet another figment of Dave’s fertile storytelling.

Maybe it was something in the tea, or perhaps the mould in Bob’s biscuits left over from the previous week, but soon our distorted minds were actually planning such a trip ourselves. Where to leave the car? Ranon, Thunder or Claustral first? How long would it take? Would we find a pass where we needed one? Would two handlines do? Would we physically be able to do it? Could it really be done? We both stewed over these and many other aspects during the ensuing week. After an uneventful drive up we left the car at Ranon carpark beyond Mt Bell at 8 am. We quickly descended into Mistake Ravine and had a pleasant trip down Ranon. We recovered two excellent slings from the top of the dry abseils at the end of Ranon and underwent some very nervous moments when the ropes appeared to be too short. However, by use of a much smaller tree we were safely onto a ledge in Claustral. Whilst coiling ropes a party of eight came down Claustral – one of whom we had met in the cave the previous week. He asked if we had been in the area all week. We laughed.

Anyway 0945 saw us well ahead and at the Thunder junction. Now, the make or break question – Could we get a pass up onto Carmathen Ridge before the tunnel swim?? After quickly surveying several barely possible options we decided to try a corner crack. Bob led up some easy jugs to a vertical corner slab with cracks each side. Much grunting – “Can’t do it”. Retreat for a rest.

Doug: “Would chocks help for the crack. “
Bob: “Don’t fantasise. “
Doug: “I’ve got some in my pack.”
Bob: “You were really determined to make this go, weren’t you?”
Doug: “Just an odd thought.”
Bob: “I’ve never used chocks before.”
Doug (to himself): “Neither have I.”

Bob leads up, with much grunting, and a chock is placed, then another sling around a natural chock stone, then yet another sling around a smaller stone, more grunts, a heave and then Bob is up the corner. He climbs further and disappears – “I think it will go” is the verdict. I use a handline, the chocks are removed, the pass indeed goes and ‘AIDS PASS’ is named.

We quickly sidled back around above Thunder and dropped into the creek above the waterfalls, two quick abseils, (the second using a log placed by Norm and myself several years ago) a few swims and we were back at the Thunder junction. “Haven’t we been here before??” Herb Lippmann’s group were having elevenses and kindly offered us some cake. We thankfully accepted and zipped off, aware that our target was technically achievable if only we could physically hold up. Luckily the rocks were far less slippery than the previous week and we were soon up Rainbow Ravine, behind another group. Their leader looked at us:

“Gee, you’re like two blokes we saw this morning.”
“We are the same blokes.”
“Where did you guys get to??”
“We went and did Thunder.”
“In one day!!!!”

We didn’t have the heart to tell them we were yet to do Claustral. We had a long lunch and a rest before leaving the creek, then around to Camels Hump where we left our pack and took just abseiling gear. We dropped into Claustral just near the landslide. The abseils were done faster than I’ve ever done them by literally feeding the ropes from one pitch to another and not wasting time.

We were soon at the Thunder Junction (I’m sure I’ve been here before) and then we only had the big swims to go. They were quite tiring this time around and seemed colder. We were glad to start climbing Rainbow Ravine again and arrived exhausted at Mt Tomah South at 5pm.

This 9 hour trip was certainly one of the most challenging and exhausting I’ve been on for a while. Every section was enjoyable and the canyons, as usual, were superb. My sense of satisfaction was enormous. Even so I have no desire to return and try to better our time. That was not the point of the trip.