Canyoning Australia Day Week 2005

 Part 1 - 21st to 23rd Jan 2005 - Cut short by weather.


  Lee and Robyn McK, Steve R, Graham S, Theo N, Ken H, Dug F.

Canyons are wonderful places of rock, moss and water, with special plants and unique wildlife.  Some full of light and sound, sometimes subdued light and subdued sound, sometimes dark and mysterious, sometimes pitch black, and often a blend of it all, with even more – how do you describe?  You are always cradled within the heart of the rock to be at one with the earth, a very special place.  The ancient aboriginals did not go here because “them place were spirit people live”.  Often as you move down the corridor of cliffs you hear the sound of voices but you know you’re the only one there.  The voices of the water as it cascades, rills, runs, falls along its course?  Or the play of wind on a fine rock formation?  Or indeed the spirit people?  40 odd million years ago the seabed raised to a plateau of sandstone rocks.  During the ensuing ages parallel faults formed running more or less North/South, then another set of faults formed more or less East/West.  Naturally as rain fell it found the easiest way to run as streams – along these fault lines.  This is why often the bends in a canyon are right angle.  Then over the eons the action of the water on loose rocks and sand drilled and scoured out these watercourses to form the canyons we see now from about 2 million years ago.  No wonder canyons are such wonderful places, 2 million years old.  In the bigger streams the valleys widened as the water carried away the sediment, the rock of the cliffs split along minor faults and fell to leave the wonderful tall straight cliffs of the wide valleys, also sometimes leaving the huge boulders we walk round, over, through, under – any which way that goes.  It is easy to see why the early settles could not find a way through this maze of cliffs, valleys and ridges.  Of course the aboriginals had easy routs to follow but the settlers were not that smart.

For this first weekend all participants are from Newcastle, Robyn and Lee left about lunchtime, Ken and I left around 3pm, Steve, Graham left about 5pm and Theo about 6pm, we all met at the “long paddock”.  Navigation on the Newness Plateau is never easy but Robyn and Lee did well to find the right place and set-up camp having never been there before, while others did have some worries on the way.  Pleasant night, leading to a morning heralded by birdcalls a lazy start as we have planned an easy Saturday, with a beginner’s trip down Sheep Dip - Rocky Creek - Breakfast Creek.  Planned this way so anyone could pull out after one or two canyons.  Ended up with all experienced people (when the beginners pulled out due to old injury and visited Glow-worm Tunnel), still I like either of these trips anyway.

Sheep Dip is always fun with water slides, water jumps and swims.  Very scenic and worth doing for the beauty of place, narrow stream continuing to cut through the rock-shelf riverbed, enclosed between tall, water sculptured cliffs, green with moss, ferns and canyon trees.  It takes less than an hour to go through, even with backtracks, to repeat a particularly good jump or slide, I have known a number of parties to go back for a second go.  The start is a footpad to the right of the track to Rocky Creek only 100m from the car park.  This pad leads to an open flat-bottomed valley with small stream beside an aboriginal living cave, with some artwork on a sheltered cliff-face.  You follow the stream down and it soon narrows and becomes the canyon, at this early stage you are rewarded by the wonderful “Pagoda” rock formations typical of this area.  The last jump is always “interesting” for first timers, about 2 m into a 2 m circular pool that spills down a water-fall to the river bed another 5 m below, very “airy”.  You could abseil to the riverbed but everyone scrambles, using a set hand line.

We continue down the well worn foot-pad to Rocky Creek, a very beautiful walk with a variety of forest types from tall, straight rainforesty Coachwoods, to tall straight Blue Gum in dryer scheroplhyll forest, to antique, prehistoric tree fern groves in wetter places, we see the imposing hanging vines 200 – 300 mm diameter some corded like a rope.  All lined by high, square, straight cliffs.  You pass through overhangs where the creek has undercut the cliff – worth a stop for a photo opportunity.  At a creek junction Rocky Creek drops down a 3 m waterfall, it looks like a compulsory jump but just where the cliffs start, is a shaft bored through the bed rock by the action of a tumbling stone and sand grit in the swirling flood waters over many ages.  The shaft forms a keyhole exit down low.  Some use this way down and test the depth of water, for the others to jump – carefully – knees bent, in a sitting position when you hit the water, arms out at the side, pack on, all to make sure you don’t go too deep.  The following section of canyon is great, narrow rock pools to wade, swim, or straddle, a couple of easy climb downs (the water level is too low to jump today), noisy with the flight of the water, dim light except where a sunbeam escapes the rock above to glisten on the water.  We come to the more open area with the big right angle bend with the 2 m slide/jump for fun and morning tea. 

Around the corner the canyon soon closes in again, as we find our way round the blocking boulders.  Here the canyon is wider at the base and narrow above as we rock-hop through the shallow pools.  Often described as a “green room” because of the light effect, similar to when you dive under a large surf wave in clear deep water.  Then there are the piles of old logs awaiting a mighty flood to wash them away.  Soon we are wading long pools that take us to another right angle creek junction (in the past this section was a series of long swims but the bottom has silted up – now waiting for the next big flood to scour the bottom clean again).  The area we have just travelled truly magnificent in every way.  Rocky creek from here is a wider vegetated gully well worth the walk in its own right.  We continue down stream about an hour, to the acute bend with a gully leading up from the apex.  This is the exit, scramble up to where you’re stopped by a wide overhung amphitheatre; bear left and scramble up again over the “exposed” rock.

misty rain over to the southeast but we continue on, following the footpad along the ridge top and take the fork that will eventually drop into Breakfast creek.  We use the slings we placed last year to abseil into the canyon, quite wide at this stage with some waterfalls from the sides (dry at present).  We soon come to the slippery rocky slide/scramble down to the cathedral overhang.  Then on to the place where the watercourse drops down a couple of waterfalls to abseils.  The others set up the rope from slings around a convenient tree, while I amaze them by disappearing down a gap in the boulders and emerging at the bottom of the first drop.  A nice easy narrow abseil of about 25 m all up, to a ledge with a tree log to be climbed down another 5 m or so.  A cool dim place that echoes the now regular thunder in a concerning way.  We continue on down this wonderful section of canyon and are soon into the Rocky Creek again (still not raining – but non to soon because of the thunder, it was suggested).  Again the really nice walk down another part of the Rocky Creek back to the exit we used before.  This time we take the other track fork back towards the car – still light rain to the southeast. 

As we reach the road around Galah Mountain we receive misty rain, by the time we reach the turn off to the road in, we have small hailstones peppering us.  The others have their hard hat on, mine is in my pack which I don’t want to take off because protects my back – I put leather gloves over my head.  As we near the cars the hail became bigger and bigger, 10mm to 20mm to 50mm to 75mm.  As the size increased each hit on the body hurt more.  Luckily the big size only occurs within sight of the car, so I throw my pack on my head and run and dived into the car (non of us is hit directly by the big hail else we would have had serious injury).  We sit for a short while listening to the din and watching the foliage, falling, littering the car and the ground.  Big chunks of ice are flying through the air in any direction, some times almost horizontal, no wind though.  Then thararack the windscreen cracked from bottom to top, thararack and it cracked again.  The windscreen in the Landrover is almost vertical!  The dings in the aluminium of the mudguards and bonnet are about 80mm circular dimples about 10-15mm deep; it looks as if someone is pounding with a sledgehammer.  We decide to drive on in the hope it is less severe along the track, fortunately it is.  The ground, white, like a snowfield.  Back at the campsite, (4 – 5 km away) they have had hail but not big and there was no visible damage.

It is still showering so we set up the big tarp to cook and eat under, no fire tonight despite all the wood Lee and Robyn have collected.  A pleasant enough evening congregated under the tarp – enough room for us all to cook and eat a convivial tea complete with nibblies, olives, cheese, babagannouj and bickies.  There is the odd shower during the night but we all sleep comfortably. 

Next morning more thunder and heavy showers, we decided on a tourist trip down Glow-worm Tunnel and the nearby Wolgan View walk through canyon.    The glow-worms put on a good show for us as we walk through sans torches.  I am saturated and cold by the end of this (due to a Gortex coat) so we forgo the other walks and retire to the camp for lunch.  Steve and Graham decide to drive home from the Tunnel.  Theo has lunch with us and decided to go.  Then Ken says “I wouldn’t mind going home, rather than stay here in the wet, lets come back later in the week when we have a better forecast”.  I didn’t need any more urging, as I am having bus-driving lessons, to drive the bus for the guiding job in the Blue Mountains and this gave me more time.  

Please remember that canyoning is a dangerous sport unless you know what you are doing. This includes: - weather, changes to canyons, required equipment, how to deal with emergencies, having experienced people with you.  Three of us have been canyoning for thirty or so years and have a feel for when it is dangerous, we only continued when it was thundery because we were confident that we could find a place to sit out a flood when it occurred (and if we had seen heavy rain about we would have been out of there).  The most of group are very experienced and can all set up belays and self-rescue, we did discus the advisability of continuing so anyone could have pulled out.  We chose to come home when rain was forecast for the next few days; also note we didn’t canyon on the Sunday because of the heavy showers and threatening sky with the thunder.  When I got home I found out that the Saturday that we did Breakfast creek, a man was killed by a flash flood from a thunderstorm in Empress Canyon, (regarded as a safe beginners trip) because he did not understand his limitations in the situation that occurred and take appropriate action to make it safe.  I have seen canyons in flood, not a place for the faint hearted or the inexperienced.  Trouble is, who knows they are inexperienced.

A good trip overall, everyone enjoyed the canyons and the tunnel but how do we help Graham fix his car?  Thank you for your company.  To be continued!  © Copyright 2005 Dug Floyd.