Once again I found myself struggling on the 10 hour drive from Melbourne to the Blue Mountains over the Easter Weekend. In the car with me were 3 other intrepid folks, keen to get into the moist green air of the canyons in the Wollangambe area.
At about 9:45pm, deciding we were definitely unwilling to try Mc Donalds at Glenrowan, "We're not going to Mc Donalds!", we pulled off the highway and into the township of Benalla looking for some slightly more appetizing sustenance. As we drove through town, we passed a very closed looking pizza store, our first preference. The Indian resteraunt was just about to close, and the prices on the menu made our eyes water. And so it was, with our tails between our legs we passed through the door to the golden arches. Can't say I'd be keen to try the chicken wrap (without chicken) again!
Arriving at about 4am to the Mt Wilson campsite, we eventually found our friend Taner's car in amongst the sea of Easter weekend campers. This year was a much bigger crew of around 20. It was something of a reunion for me, with friends from both Melbourne and New South Wales present. Most of us met each other over the years through connections between the various university outdoor clubs and communities in Melbourne.
For a casual trip with a group of friends, everything was surprisingly well organised. A Google spreadsheet created by Taner and shared with everyone as contributers was an excellent tool for coordinating transport and gear logistics before the trip in a decentralized manner.
While we were there, every morning groups would form and write their names and canyoning intentions on a list in the middle of our campsite. Each night, as the groups returned, we would all keep an eye on the list and who had made it back to the campfire. A few of us would stay awake until everyone returned so that a rescue party could go out that night if the missing party failed to show up. It was comforting knowing that people would be waiting for you every night and able to respond quickly and effectively should mishap occur.
The first morning, as an opener, David, Simin, Amy, Guillaume and myself walked out of the campsite and down the track leading towards Serendipity Canyon. In the beginning the canyon is fairly open, but it tightens into a constriction with a fun abseil into passage of swimming. In the afternoon we emerged shivering out into the valley with the Wollangambe River and ate lunch in the sunshine before jumping into the river from the rocks.
Whenever someone talks about canyoning in New South Wales, Claustral Canyon often comes to mind and gets a mention. Its reputation precedes it. And so it was, on the second day the Serendipity Canyon crew joined with an additional Keith and Lauren to clamber down through the rainforest, sliding into the many pleasures that awaited us in Claustral Canyon.
The most noteable feature of the canyon is a series of abseils into the "Black Hole of Calcutta". I was amazed as we descended, we had our headtorches turned on for the final abseil which starts from a small, round hole through which the stream flows.
Finally at the bottom of this hole you emerge into one of the most majestic sights I have ever encountered. The sunlight thrown in from far above dances among the ferns and moss lining the walls. It casts everything in an aura of green light.
As I caught up with the group, we discovered that Lauren had managed to place her hand on the resident snake, who was lying sleepily on a rock in the sunlight.
Towards the end of the canyon, we were doing well for time so we decided to explore Thunder Canyon, which joins onto Claustral Canyon. It was well worth the side trip, as Thunder Canyon, is possibly even more beautiful than Claustral Canyon. There is even a cave of glow worms which is lit up like stars in the night sky!
During the walk out of the canyon, we managed to lose the track and had a bit of an epic night. Someone's backpack also fell to pieces. We made it back to camp by 10pm so perhaps it wasn't so bad!
Unfortunately I didn't get any photos in Yileen as my camera and phone were wet and out of action from the previous day. The views in Yileen were spectacular and we were very glad that the skies were clear during the afternoon light and the 50m abseil at the end.
The final day we spent sport climbing and relaxing at the Dam Cliffs climbing area near Lithgow.
On the way home on Tuesday we stopped in Gundagai for lunch. As we parked, we noticed the door was open to an interesting looking building. So I ran up to it and poked my head inside. It appeared to be an old jail. Guillaume and Amy followed me and we had a good look around inside the old jail cells. We were about to leave when we met an older couple who were also leaving. They looked surprised to see us. They told us that you needed a key to get in, and they were about to lock it up, we were almost locked up in Old Gundagai Jail!
I made a short film about this trip: