Whungee Wheengee Canyon. (26th February 2011)


Wollangambe 1:25000


Ian, Dug

A Tree Fern Grotto, one reason to go canyoning. Pic by Dug

A Tree Fern Grotto, In Whungee Wheengee Canyon. One of the gems of canyoning


I met Ian at the Mt Wilson Fire Station Car Park about 10:45 on a bright sunny morning. Just a few light fluffy clouds in the sky, pleasant temperatures, a good day to canyon. Quite busy here in this car park which is the starting point or finish point for a number of popular canyons. Ian and I decide to leave from the track head near Cathedral of Ferns Camping Area. A good selection of tents and cars in the camp ground, but we are the only cars at the track head.

A quick selection and check of gear so we take just the right amount without extras or omissions. Then we are away walking the fire trail between the properties and the National Park. A very pleasant place, the rich volcanic soils nourishing lush growth under story under tall straight eucalyptus tree. Our path goes through the head waters of Serendipity Canyon a forest of tall tree ferns. Soon we find the turn of that leads down the sandstone ridge to Wollangambe-One exit and also provides a track to the canyons on the northern side of the Wollangambe River.

A pleasant walk on a trail that is more even than when I was last here (only a year ago I suppose, as we came back from the search this way). The turn off to Serendipity Canyon has been widened and made much clearer, but the tell-tale termite mound is still there. As the ridge steepened going down to the Wollangambe a party passed us coming the other way, they had planned WW too, but someone had damaged themselves, so they changed plan to an easier trip elsewhere. Just at the scramble down the slot with the convenient tree root hand-holds, we caught up with a biggish party, some carrying BIG inner tubes, obviously aiming for a trip down the Wollangambe-Two. We offered to rope their tubes down, but no they managed by passing them down. Well done.

Narrow wade underground. Pic by Dug

Dark, narrow underground wade.

At the Wollangambe there was a crowd of people from several parties readying to set out on their adventure. Canyoners of all sorts, sizes, and ages. All looking happy and chatting away as they readied. Ian and I stopped on the other side of the Gambi, for a little snack. It is only a shallow sandy wade here. While spread out munching, another WW party of four, including Dave Noble and Sara Truscott headed up the steep gulley on our side of the river.

The Wollangambe River is spectacular for its whole length, clear sweet water running over sandy bed, or through deep pools lined by tall water sculptured cliffs. Just here, a little wider, with the steep gullies either side and wide sandy beaches, water only ankle deep. A tall, flat faced, square cornered cliff, formed by the southern gulley and the tight right-hand bend in the river, blocked the view downstream. Blocked even further by the liberal sprinkling of house size boulders in the river bed, still it make a lovely outlook. Upstream has a handy swimming pool and banks lined with typical Canyon vegetation, green at all times thanks to the abundant water. Of course behind the vegetated banks, the high cliff lines, not to many ways into or out of this place, for mere mortals. Possibly ok for competent rock climbers.

Our path up the gulley, through the cliff lines, to the ridge system above, which would take us to the start of our canyon, is much more defined than I remember from 7 or 8 years ago. It is still just as steep and just as pretty, so we do get on top of the ridge nose fairly soon. The ridge has those strange rock sandstone/ironstone formations comman to this area, interesting to study and they provide a variety of viewing platforms to see, the gorgeous views. Miles of rolling forested valleys. It can be strange to think that you cannot see the sheer sandstone cliffs that line the narrow rivers of this area, Only this gentle looking rolling landscape, on a beautiful summer day!

The path veers to the east (right) and follows a side watercourse to Whungee Wheengee creek, where we have 10m or so abseil down an overhung cliff, beside a decidedly knocked about tree. I can remember taking care in the past to avoid this tree when tossing the rope and then when abseiling. It did tend to be a nuisance. WW Creek here is a pleasantly open, green place, with lots of ferns and tree ferns. There is just a narrow run of water over a clear sandy/pebbly bed. I always enjoy walking these places, the vegetation grows so quickly that there is hardly a track, because most people walk in the water, as this causes less impact on the environment. There are cliffs either side as is usual with creeks in this general area, but they are further back and fairly low so we wouldn't call it a canyon yet.

Soon we came to a jumble of rocks in the stream bed, ahead of and below us. The place to don wet suits. Obviously used by others, as I find a fresh looking sun hat beside me in the vegetation (similar to those worn by the Dave Noble party, we will try and return it). We scrambled down amongst the rocks into the water and soon waded into one of the many, dark, narrow, low passages, under a rock fall. The first of the duck-under chambers that adds to Whungee Wheengees unique character. The creek here is still quite wide but the central watercourse has eaten down through the rock to form these passages, only a meter or so wide, 3 - 4m high. I once described Whungee Wheengee as a, scrappy, congested, awkward, little canyon, and it still is but it has an element of continuing ever changing interest, which is not matched in many other canyon. The abseils are all tricky little things, with awkward starts, drops, and rope recovery. Similar things can be said of the climb-downs and squeezes through the gaps in the rocks. All canyons have their own unique experience, but this one seems special today. Both of us have been here before, and we know several parties have been through ahead of us today, but often I wonder. "Is it wise to go down there". We know others have been through from tracks in the sand, wet patches over rock scrambles, and murky stirred up water. I do like it more when we are first through and the water is still crystal clear.

Is going down here  really that scary? Pic by Dug

Is it really so scary going down here? Are they really spirits'?

There are many obstacles to be overcome and a number of different ways to do that for each, so that no two trips would be the same. Today the water level is higher than most times I have been here in the past. A couple of the duck-unders are underwater swims today. In a few places we must take off our packs to get through. As we move on down the canyon, the side cliffs become taller, but the fallen rock jumbles in places is still only just above our heads. Lots of bending, leaning, crawling, swimming, wading, squeezing through/around/under/over. There are many awkward scrambles down, a few awkward abseils (only 8 -12m). Many of the chambers are dark and it takes a while till your eyes adjust, so that you can dimly see your way onwards. A number of places we need to search about to find a way ahead, sometimes needing to backtrack and take a side passage between the jumbled boulders, sometimes and underwater swim. I suppose some would be tempted to use torches, but for us that would spoil the fun.

Photography in these places is always difficult due to the wide rang of lighting, but everything is so beautiful you just try and try. Today for some reason there is an extra problem the lens seems to be misting up. It must be condensation inside the camera due to the cold water. We have washed the outside lens so know it isn't that. Just a thought, "I hope those ghostly images are condensation. Not real spirits!".

As we get further down the canyon the side walls become taller and taller, they are probably 300m high here, wide enough to walk easily down here but way up there narrow enough to step across! In places the cliffs are straight up parallel, in others they wave in and out and lean over to the side a long way. Water cuts down through the sandstone rock, at the least resistance, hence ever changing shape and direction. Many of the passages are straight lines and then right angle corners. The rock plateau has formed parallel fault lines, bisected at right angles by other parallel fault lines. You can see that on the macro scale at Katoomba with the Jamison, Kedumba, Cedar Creek, valleys.

The two abseils lower down the canyon have been bolted to make permanent anchors, rather than the jammed logs used in the past, I guess that is desirable given the large number of canyoners that go through here, although it does detract from the wilderness experience. Wilderness, come-on, there has probably been 50 canyoners through here today!

Deep down here in this narrow world are some wonderful little corners where a tree or patches of tree ferns have set up residence, little gems to come across. In others small waterfalls run down the cliff faces from way up there. The dull lighting down here even on this bright day make for a special place. Many chock stones wedged between the cliff faces way up, hope that stay there. A number of wedged logs, jammed between cliff faces above our heads, "the logs of Damocles", don't sneeze as you duck under, whatever you do!

Eventually we come to a rock jumble with a huge overhead chock stone. Difficult passages leading down but one gap above. A gap to squeeze through, sans pack, while standing on a dodgy looking jammed tree branch. Both Ian and I are largish bodies and have a little difficulty wriggling through. Once through we are standing on a big flat boulder the whole width of the canyon here, about 10m. The safest way down is to abseil from a selection of slings, no problems really and we don't even disturb the moss on the rock face. This chamber is part of what I call the green room which you walk up to as a side trip when liloing the Wollangambe-Two. Ian names a smaller chamber a little further down as the green room. Whichever it is certainly a wonderful place to visit. We walk through a very narrow chamber with very tall smooth sandstone cliffs, very spectacular. The moss, ferns, tree ferns and subdued light make for the feeling of a green room. When surfing in deeper water on a big day with clear water, surfers who get dumped call it the green room. I get a similar feeling here!

Log of Damocles.  Don't sneeze whatever you do! Pic by Dug

Logs of Damocles. "Don't sneeze whatever you do!

Round about now we start to hear a heavy lift helicopter passing about above the cliffs overhead. Ok, we both know what that means, some sort of emergency nearby. Nothing we can do so we continue on to the Wollangambe. As we near the creek we heard voices passing by in that river.

The Wollangambe seems much wider and brighter after our long time in the narrow confines of WW and the water is certainly much warmer. We decide to move on down the Wollangambe, to the exit beach to have lunch. Two hundred meters or so, downstream we caught up with a party of NSWU canyoners who have done Serendipity and decided to come down Wollangambe-Two to make a day of it, rather than use the usual exit.

They told us that a man has been bitten by a snake, beside the Wollangambe, and is being cared for, by first aiders in his party. They were stopped a couple of hundred meters up stream of the WW exit. They said that party had popped a PLB but nothing had occurred for 3 hours or so. Some of the party had continued downstream to raise the alarm. The NSWU then popped their gps enabled PLB and left it with the party. They said the helo had come into the area about 3/4 after they activated the second PLB. The NSWU group offered to stay, or any help they could give such as, shelter, food, first aid, etc, but the other party felt on top of the problem. Our informant felt that the first aid had been done well. The helicopter was still travelling over head obviously on some sort of search pattern.

Ian decided to go upstream to make sure the snake victim didn't try to walk out. We both knew of a case of snake bite, where the victim still felt fine after a couple of hours and thought it had been a dry bite. He started to walk out and he nearly died. Only save by the timely arrival of a helicopter. Ian is fitter than me and is an exceptional first aid instructor so that made sense. I thought the best thing I could do was get out as soon as possible with the information we had, in case this hadn't been resolved, by then.

Just before I caught up with the rest of the Uni party the helo went slowly overhead and hovered above where most of the Uni party was. I was told a crew member winched down and they told him the story, he winched back up and the helo headed upstream. I managed to walk out before all the others in the river, but by the time I reached the Fire Station (about 7:30ish), it was all over and everyone had gone home. I hoped a good result.

I went back to wait for Ian's return where his car was parked and made a well earned cup of milo, after my tiring walk out. Ian arrive out about 8:30. He said the Helo did another pass over WW and then followed him to the incident scene. Ian said the arm was bandages with a crepe bandage and immobilised in a sling, best to leave well enough alone as the helo was almost there. After they winched the victim out Ian walked to the exit with the rest of that party, who were doing very well. On the walk out he passed a group with young children, as it was obvious that they wouldn't get out till after dark and they didn't have a torch, he walked out with them. We were both tired so decided to forego a canyon Sunday. But while munching piza at Richmond, I did get a voicemail from Grahame suggesting a canyon on Sunday. Too late I'm not driving back.

The lower part of the Wollangambe is just as lovely as the upper part, lots of sandy river bed to walk along, or wade along. A number of longish pools to swim. With a pack, I prefer to lie on the pack partly supported out of the water by its buoyancy and paddle backwards watching the magnificent views I was passing. At the place where the helo had hovered a couple of quite big trees had been blow over, these were a mess to scramble past. At one place the river disappears under a big rock jumble and we needed to scramble over the rocks and rock platforms. A most amazing place of polished shiny rock, and oddly worn and shaped boulders. I always like this passing.

At the exit there were three or four parties as well as the NSWU group, stripping for the long uphill exit walk out. I just made sure my pack was empty of water, took off my abseil harness and walked out in my wet suit, to save time. It is a tiring walk nowadays but I still do it.

I'm pleased to anounce that I found a home for my crippling Sumit Gear canyon pack. Ian has a use for it and took it away.

Thank you, Ian a great outing. It is a pleasure to share this experience with you. Till next time. Copyright Dug Floyd February 2011.


Abseil into WW Creek.  Pic by Dug

Abseil into WW Creek

Ian at top of first abseil. Pic by Dug.

Ian at top of first abseil.

Ian, first abseil Whungee Wheengee Creek. Pic by Dug.

Ian on first abseil.

Ian on first abseil. Pic by Dug.

Ian abseils into the pretty WW Creek.

Ian walking in Whungee Wheengee Creek. Pic by Dug.

Ian in Whungee Wheengee Creek.

Ian WW Creek. Pic by Dug.

Whungee Wheengee Creek.

That "tack" is the river bed with ankle deep water.

Whungee Wheengee Creek above canyon. Pic by Dug.

Whungee Wheengee Creek.

Whungee Wheengee Creek

Whungee Wheengee Creek.

Whungee Wheengee Creek

Whungee Wheengee Creek.

Dug at duck-under. Pic by Dug

Dug going down to the first duck-under.

Messy jumble down to a duck-under. Pic by Dug.

Messy jumble down to a duck-under.

Narrow swim

Narrow swim, only a bit dark!

Way to a duck-under. Pic by Dug

Narrow wade to duck-under.

Narrow swim to Duck-under. Pic by Dug

Narrow swim to duck-under.

Abseil into hole. Pic by Dug.

Dug abseil into hole.

Dug and ghosts? Pic by Dug.

Ghosts? Jumble to get through anyway.

Dug by Waterfall.  Pic by Dug.

Dug, Waterfall and rock formations.

More canyon Ghosts. Pic by Dug

More canyon spirits and Dug.

Crawl through to a grotto.  Pic by Dug.

Crawl through to a fern grotto.

Out to the light. Pic by Dug.

Ian comes out of the dark into the light.

Ian coming back to the light. Pic by dug.

Ian into the light.

Ian into the light. Pic by dug.

Light for Ian now.

Back in the light. Pic by Dug.

Open canyon way up high above but still subdued light.

Back into the dark.  Pic by Dug.

Ian back down to the dark.

Back into the dark. Pic by Dug.

Ian back into the dark.

Wading back into the dark. Pic by Dug.

Ian disappearing into the blackness again.

Gap up high in dark chamber. Pic by Dug.

Gap to the light up high in dark chamber.

Slot out to the open past the spirit. Pic by Dug.

Slot out to the open, past the spirit.

Tall cliff in a narrow section of WW Canyon. Pic by Dug.

Tall water sculptured cliff. Hanging garden of ferns.

Light ahead. Pic by Dug.

Light ahead.

After 2nd last abseil. Pic by Dug.

After 2nd last abseil.

Narrowing again. Pic by Dug.

Narrowing again!

Ian coils rope, with ghost. Pic by Dug.

Ian coils rope after 2nd last abseil.

Water worn Cliffs. Pic by Dug.

The spirits are leading us on!

Down through there to get ahead. Pic by Dug.

The way ahead is still down through there!