LONG GULLY & FORDHAM CANYONS – OCTOBER 2014
I’d long wanted to do Spring Creek, everyone said what a good trip it was, but it’s been off limits for years now, so the next best thing was Long Gully and I figured if we were down there we may as well do Fordham too. I convinced Steve to lead it for me (I didn’t want the responsibility of a two Grade 6 canyons) and Theo, Jason S, Chris F and Trish M joined us.
We all drove down in the long weekend traffic on Friday night and camped at Bungonia SRA for an early start on Saturday. No need to crack the whip with this group, after a bit of pack re-organising we drove out to the junction of the Trestle Track and Stan Jones Fire Trails.
Packs were heavier than normal with our overnight gear, plus abseiling gear and ropes, but the walk to the start of Long Gully was on the Stan Jones Fire trail so was easy going. Within 15 minutes we were at Long Gully, not too much scrub and only a couple of fallen trees. Whilst it’s described as a Grade 5 or 6 (difficult) and a very long day, we’re not sure why it warrants the high grading, perhaps only because of the “very long day”.
There were about 10 abseils, all of them easy starts from good anchors, some we climbed down, you would have to abseil them if the rock was wet (which it wasn’t). There were a few small pools which were unexpected, most of them we avoided, just to keep our shoes dry. It’s a really nice canyon, smooth rock, ferny groves and lots of shade. The biggest abseil was around 55m and on the new ropes was a little fast with the heavy packs. Long Gully is definitely worth doing again, and with early autumn/late spring daylight hours (and a party of 6), you could easily do it in a day and walk out in daylight.
We reached the Shoalhaven at around 2.30pm and dropped packs at a good campsite and went upstream to explore the bottom of Spring Creek to check out the final abseil, sadly Spring Creek is closed to canyoners due to unstable rock higher up the creek, but the pool at the bottom of the last abseil is very pretty. After lazing about for a while, taking in the rock formations and reflections on the pool (and skipping small rocks), we collected some water and headed back to set up camp stopping along the way for a quick dip in the river (very quick for some of us who found the water just a touch on the cold side).
Next morning we broke camp and headed downstream for about 100m, crossing just above some rapids. We left our overnight gear behind in the trees out of the reach of pigs/goats but sadly plastic bags are no barrier for determined birds, when we got back some of our gear was scattered around but they (thankfully) didn’t get any food. The intention was to do the canyon and then walk out in the afternoon back to the cars where cold beers were waiting.
Once safely across the river we set off up the almost vertical 500m spur to tackle Fordham Canyon. There were lots of lose rocks and scree but convenient shubs/trees to hold on to. We took lots of rest breaks and after about 2 hours we were at the top (roughly high point 559). We then headed down, probably 50m vertically on scree and lose rocks to Fordham Creek, arriving at around 11am and having an early lunch in the shade. Described as a Grade 6 (very difficult) and an exceptionally long day, Fordham is more a multi-pitch abseil trip than a canyon, and it lived up to its grading. The canyon gods must have heard me “dissing” the canyon because they sent two small snakes to me and a large rock which flew within a metre of me whilst I was abseiling, so hereafter I’m giving the canyon the respect it deserved.
The 6 abseils weren’t particularly difficult, and had easy starts, but they came in quick succession, many of them 60m (imagine a building 20 stories high) and some from very small ledges, the exposure level was very high and a lot of the time we were in the blazing hot sun.
At most anchors (some of which were less than average) we set up handlines or used our cows-tails as added protection. We thought we were home and hosed by about 4pm and then discovered we had another waterfall in front of us, another 60m pitch. For a while we were flummoxed and couldn’t find the anchor and then it took ages to set up the rope because of the vegetation and angle of the rope throw and a headwind, but it was late in the day and we wanted to get it right. Finally, we all reached the bottom and the rope pull down was without incident, cause for high-5s all around.
It took us 15 minutes to walk down to the Shoalhaven and by this time it was dusk, so we picked up our gear and retraced our steps back to the campsite from the night before. After such a hot day, everyone cooled off in the River (amazingly the water wasn’t as cold now!) Luckily we had all taken sufficient food for 2 nights out, and some of us still had a little wine. We were all in bed pretty early (no big surprise there ) and were up early next morning for the walk out leaving camp by 7:30am.
An hour downstream from our campsite we picked up the Trestle Track, walking steadily uphill for 2 hours, by this time the track was in full sun and it was a hot, tiring walk. However, there were cold beers and chocolate at the cars, and water enough to wash off the dust of the trail, life doesn’t get much better than that.
I don’t think I’ll be doing Fordham again but I would go back to Long Gully in a heart beat!