Mt Hay Canyon

by Tom Williams

Mount Hay Canyon: Always a popular trip, but a long one! Typically, you would park the car at the Pinnacles on Mount Hay Road, road bash a couple of miles, drop into Rocky Points Ravine, and continue a kilometre downstream to the canyon. Do the canyon, descend to the Grose, walk up to Blue Gum, and back to the car via Lockley’s Pylon. Many used to do it as a two day trip across to Blackheath. Once, Peter Vanamois (A.K.A. Moose) and I tried a short cut directly under Walford Wall to Lockley’s Pylon. It wasn’t much chop. Except for one thing, we spotted what just might be a pass up onto the end of the ridge out from the end of Mount Hay Rd. Worth a look!

So there we were at the end of the road, Christmas Eve, 1977. A bunch of likely lads out for a bit of fun while our Mums slaved away over the fires of Yule. Chris Cosgrove, Dave Noble, Ross Bradstock, Bob Sault, and me. We had been told by Nick Bendeli of a good route down a nearby gully to the head of the canyon. So following a faint dozered trail to a cliff top above the gully, and promptly finding a fortuitous pass through it, we started to get a bit cocky (as usual) about how we were going to “knock this bastard off”. A subsidiary cliffline sprang up through the scrub, one of us leapt out into a small tree and slid in reckless fireman style downwards, shouting “treepass” amid a spray of itchy bark fibres shooting into his underpants. Thus, the principle of one upmanship was set (as usual) and all followed, some with alacrity, some with grim jaws and a second glance at the coiled ropes decorating various shoulders.

Reaching the bed of the gully, we soon found a few small waterfalls. The last one was easily skirted, the middle one had a trickier still tree pass (Dave piked amid cheers), but the first was just a bit too much, and the rope was used to greater or lesser extent by all.

Gaining Rocky Points Ravine, we continued through pleasant Coachwood and ferns, past a small scramble down a dark waterfall in a niche and a longish, cold swim to the head of the canyon. More brinkmanship broke out at this point. Chris made the running about how the first abseil could be done as a waterjump. He did it, we followed, except for Dave, who was now joined by Ross in exercising sensible discretion. The walls moved closer and, vegetation gone, we scrambled down some boulders and slid down a slab into a pool that is now drained, then swam across to the next belay.

Now up to this point, and unsurprisingly, Bob Sault had not said much. He had, however, apparently been primed to a fever pitch of determination by the foregoing shenanigans, for without a word he started climbing down the next pitch. If you don’t know the canyon, it must be said that at this point it presents quite a fearsome image with the walls now only a few metres apart and plunging into a gloomy depth where the canyon turns a corner. A large chockstone is the last discernible object and it was this that Bob was heading for. The same Bob who had recently completed a week long bushwalk in the Bylong Labyrinth after breaking a toe on the first day, without even mentioning it let alone complaining.

I couldn’t let Bob get away with it, and followed. First slithering down a bit of a crevice next to the waterfall to the top of a large block several metres below. Then, sliding with an arm and a leg jammed in another more slippery crack in the waterfall on the far side of the block. After this, the going eases to a steep scramble over boulders to a point where the boulders give out, the last one poised above a dark abyss across which the objective chockstone is bridged. The dim lighting was relieved by white water gushing out of a hidden black pool below the boulder, spilling out into the space behind the chockstone and falling from sight. Amid the twilight the pale rock was here and there crosshatched with ocherous red. A beautiful place.

A booming splash sounded out just before I got to the boulder. Had Robert gone into his quietus? No. There he was in the dark pool a few metres below and behind. Forthrightly I inquired if he was mad. Diffidently I asked how deep the pool was. With verbal economy, Robert replied that it was knee deep and rock strewn. It is a disagreeable jump, but having joined him we both climbed out onto the chockstone, relieved at our success. Happily, the others chose to descend with the ropes, and a tirade of invective.

Dave did not manage to knock himself unconscious gaining or departing the chockstone, choosing to leave it to a later date. It is a bit of a bastard getting off that chockstone. And once down amid the pelting arc of water at the bottom, the ropes didn’t jam up but obligingly pulled clear and splashed into the deep, narrow pool. A swim, a slithery and slippery downclimb, a three metre water jump and we were once more swimming in sunlight.

Now at our backs the mighty crevice of the canyon breathed a cooling waft as we blinked off downstream through the heat and cicada buzz of the lower gorge. The cliffs on either side are one or two hundred metres apart and of impressive scale. Twenty minutes walking, rockhopping, and waterjumping brought us to the final 10 metre waterfall which Robert and I downclimbed by means of yet another hairy treepass.

With the sun some way past its zenith we decided to investigate the hoped-for pass. Much plodding up hill and under cliff, through scrub as well as heat, found us having, as predicted, outflanked the lower cliffline around in the Grose Gorge proper. But, moving back along the ever narrowing half-way ledge dissent broke out: the cliff below us was now quite big, but as nought compared to the unbroken, vertiginous mank overhanging us. The westering sun served to highlight the distance across to Lockley’s Pylon and the ledge looked increasingly tenuous as it kinked through a nitch and dove into a narrow cave. Go back, some declared.

Argument and dissent was a way of life with our little group, but as long as one kept moving, others surely followed. And beyond the cave, although the ledge did actually expire, a moderate 10 metre rockclimb landed another ledge which led back into the hospitable upper reaches of an otherwise loathsome looking gully which we had passed the base of earlier in the day.

The plodding now resumed, but now through some of the best heathland in the mountains, and with stupendous views back into the gorge of Rocky Point’s Ravine as well as more conventional Grose Gorge/Mt Banks style vistas. The ridge tops were a wonder with headspinning views and a fine assortment of mallee sedges, purple flags and sprawling darwinia and hibertia to name a few. We wound an easy mile or two back to the cars across a castle-like prominence and some broad ridges.

As was our want in those days, we finished up with a couple of schooners at the ever disgusting Gearins Hotel and ate a meal of greasy filth on the second sister.