This Easter, I made the long car drive journey up to New South Whales to join in the annual pilgrimage to go canyoning in the Blue Mountains. With four drivers in the car, driving for 10 hours wasn't seeming like such a horrible prospect. Along the way we stopped just outside of canberra at one of the rest stops to join our friends in the car ahead. There was tea and a fire in a can being hosted by some kind volunteers who were there over Easter to promote driver safety, they were really nice, and we decided to just get out our mats and sleep under the picnic shelter.
The drive continued in the morning, but after a stop to admire a sheep's behind, we managed to go an hour off course towards Sydney! After turning back, the journey resumed, and we wound our way through gradually smaller roads, until hitting the dirt shortly before reaching Kanangra Boyd National Park.
After grabbing a bite to eat for lunch, we headed down into Dione Dell. The decision to make our Blue Mountains Canyoning debut in this location was based on the notion that this canyon offered numerous chances to escape, should our intentions of working together effectively and efficiently as a group begin to falter, as we had never all been canyoning together.
The afternoon passed quickly, and I noted that Dione Dell felt kind of similar to Little River Gorge. An abseil down the middle of one of the waterfalls to land in my first proper wet exit after an abseil almost resulted in a dropped figure 8 trying to detach from the rope while swimming! Something to keep an eye on for next time, as that thing would have been long gone down the bottom of the pool had it been dropped (Always carry a spare, and know how to use a Munter!)
We hiked up out along the ridge, but as we neared the top we hit an insummountable a cliff line. The instructions weren't clear which way we needed to traverse, so we stumbled along, eventually clearing the cliff and heading towards where the road was supposed to be. Wanting to be sure that we wouldn't miss the road stumbling around in the dark, we made the good decision to pull out the GPS, and soon learned we had another 500m of scrub bashing to reach the road. It was heartening just to learn that we were nearing our objective (and not travelling away), despite the rigours of crawling through and around stubborn bushes at night.
The drive to Newnes the next morning was an interesting one, as the roads were exceptionally... interesting. Tight corners, big drops, and a short tunnel through Jenolan Caves provided plenty to look at as we descended towards the greener low lands before turning off to Newnes. The campground at Newnes was very popular, probably all up, around 2,000 people staying there that weekend. The cliffs surround the campsite, dominating the skyline; they provide an eye catching backdrop.
Near the entrance to the campground I was surprised to see some rather large looking rail carriages, with the label of an oil company. It seemed like a rather strange location to leave a carriage, and there didn't appear to be a railway in sight. Furthermore, it seemed unlikely that a railway would even service such a dead end location. Walking up the "pipeline" track on the way to Starlight canyon, we passed a number of relics from a bygone industrial era. Signs indicated that the "pipeline" track had indeed accompanied a small oil pipeline, used when the area was subjected to shale oil mining. The mystery was answered.
It was getting late in the day, our group split in two, the other group going to do Pipeline canyon, and ours, to continue on up and over the hill to Starlight canyon. It was almost certain that we would be seeing some starlight this evening as we scrub bashed our way down the hill. We ended up downstream of our intended entrance to the canyon, obviously a common mistake, as demonstrated by the recently placed anchor we used enter the deep slot. The transition from bush to slot canyon as I abseiled in after the others was startling, having never been in a place like that before.
Down there it feels like you've entered another world, with vines hanging down from the canopy far above, and snaking about your feet.
Eventually the landscape opened out, and headlamps were turned on. We crossed the river at the bottom and walked out along the 4wd track.
Devil's Pinch Canyon
By far my favourite canyon for the trip was Devil's Pinch, also at Newnes. Devil's pinch runs almost parallel to Pipeline Canyon. This time we made a better effort at navigation and entered the canyon from the top. Our second group accompanied us up for the walk, and split off to Pipeline along the way. It was interesting to see how the watercourse gradually had its effect on the geology downstream.
We entered a constriction, and again abseiled into the slimey and narrow depths, the laughter of friends bouncing off the walls.
Out the other end we made it just in time for sunset. I was glad I decided not to drink the water in the canyon as we passed a dead kangaroo who had fallen to an unfortunate death during our final abseil down the waterfall!
The final canyon for the trip was Grand Canyon, near Blackheath I think. To enter the canyon, you travel along an extremely popular tourist track. It feels rather strange to drop down into the canyon with many onlookers, to find the place picture perfect and all to yourself. The voices of the hoards of tourists drowned out by the water gurgling down below.
This canyon was a lot of fun and I would recommend it to beginner canyoners as it seemed fairly simple, the first abseil being the only major problem spot, and even this is bolted and clearly sign posted next to the walking track.
After the final cold swim win wonder-land, our re-entrance to civilization was marked by the discovery of faeces and toilet paper sitting on a rock, just round the corner from the tourist track.
I can't wait for next year to come around, and another fun Easter canyoning trip in the Blue Mountains!
I made a short film about the trip which can be found on youtube here: Blue Mountains Canyoning Easter 2017