Cu Canyon – Wolgan Valley – 10 September 2016
This is an unpublished canyon, well, sort of, and Cu is what I’ll call it, not it’s real name. It’s not on the internet, and not in the canyoning guide books. I’d been looking forward to this canyon for months, Rod (the leader) had said there were a couple of rock climbs to get to it, but he assured me that they were “easy” and I knew that Beth, Andre and John G would be on the trip (all good climbers), so they’d make sure I got up the climbs. In the end there were 8 of us, Rod was sick and couldn’t make it, Heather, Nick, Marcella and Ed joined us (2 of us were non-climbers).
Heather and I drove up the night before, and I woke up to wallabies around the tent. One even had a joey in it’s pouch! The weather forecast had called for rain on Friday night and they called it right, there was a lot of rain, which made me question my decision not to take a wetsuit, but, pack weight won in the end and I just took along thermals.
Everyone else arrived between 7.30 and 7.45am so we were on the road by 8.10 after sorting out gear.
The walk along the valley was straight forward and easy, and John G, who was now our official leader, was able to pick out what we assumed was the canyon gully and the one beside it, which we would have to climb up into to access the canyon.
We crossed the Wolgan and stopped for morning tea by the river before starting our climb up to the cliff-line.
It took about an hour to get up to the cliff-line where we were happy to see bolts on the rock face, confirming we were in the right place. Andre started up to set up our top belay. As the route was bolted there were plenty of spots where Andre could place some quick-draws (a bolt, with some hardware on it then some tape and a carabiner – I think that’s what they’re called, in any event “hardware”). This is where the rain came in to play, the rock was wet, making this “easy” climb into possibly a grade 12. I watched John and Beth go up the climb with little or no effort, then Heather and Nick scurried up, leaving Marcella and me (non climbers) at the bottom. Marcella made it to the top and then Nick and I sent up all the packs, poor Beth had to haul them up by herself as the guys had moved onto the next climb. Then it was my turn. Ed let me stand on his leg to get up the first little climb (most of us that were short had to do this).
What looked do-able from the bottom all of a sudden was really hard, because I’m short, the hand holds were just out of reach. Luckily Beth had put in a hand line so that I had something to pull on … have I mentioned before how much I hate rock climbing? So, basically I put in about 50% of the effort it took to get to the top and Beth put in about 50% hauling me up those spots where there were no foot or hand holds that I could reach. It was such a relief getting to the top. Little did I know what was ahead.
Ed came up last and cleaned up all the quick draws that Andre had put in place to guide the rope and as “protection” I think that’s the term.
So, I headed upstream about 20m and there was another tricky little climb that I managed by chimney-ing up and saw our next climb. Again it was bolted and Andre set up the top belay for us.
This one was really tricky, wet and slimy and no foothold at the bottom. John let me use his leg to stand on and then there was a handy bolt that I could put a foot on but then the next part, I had to get my knee up around my chest height to get up to the next level. It was horrible, Andre coached me along but it was still hard and by the time I got to the top the adrenalin was really pumping … have I mentioned how much I hate rock climbing?
So, we waited for Beth to come up last and clean up the hardware that we had in place and had a quick lunch, there would be no sitting around enjoying the atmosphere today, it was already 1.30pm and we weren’t even in the canyon yet.
Our next obstacle was a waterfall, somehow Nick had gotten himself up but the rest of us found different ways of getting up this small 2m+ climb. Ed with his height was able to straddle the gap between the rock faces. John let me stand on his leg again and then Nick hauled me up. Then we set up a bit of a handline (out of prussic loops) for everyone else and at least they looked a little more graceful.
We continued up the canyon, there was one final tricky down-climb down a mossy slope but we set up a handline and that made it easier. Straight away we crossed the creek and started negotiating up the other side. There were a few climb ups that needed a handline because of the wet rock but at last we were at the base of the major cliff above us. We walked around the base of the cliff and through a really lovely overhang and made our way into the next creek system, our canyon. The views across the valley were really spectacular.
We nailed the entry to the canyon perfectly, the track notes say that the canyon starts near a big chock stone, and there it was and it was now 2pm+.
There were no anchors in place but a nice handy tree that we used, obviously those who’d done the canyon before us had used natural anchors too, or releasable anchors.
Unfortunately, the abseil went down to a place where only two people could stand and a huge big-arse (BA) dead that we used as the next anchor. The BA tree had to be 1.5m in diameter and our two 60m ropes went around the back of it, not a good anchor, but we didn’t have enough tape to set up a better one, it would have taken 5m of tape! There was little or no room to stand, so only one person (the bottom belay) and the person abseiling could be there, so it was very, very slow doing the first and second abseils.
I was the last person down the first abseil and Beth and I retrieved the 40m rope, then I took off down the second abseil.
The second abseil was FANTASTIC! it was about 45m, maybe longer, and down a small waterfall, we all got super wet. The canyon was dark and very narrow, just how I like them.
Once everyone was down, there was another small 20m abseil, John, Nick, Marcella and I headed down this pitch while the others stayed behind to retrieve the 2 x 60m ropes. Here was where things got tricky! The two largest people had gone down first, leaving the four smallest people behind to pull down the ropes, and the pull-down was potentially going to be a problem. Despite the fact that Beth had moved the rope up that BA tree a bit, the friction on it was just too much. They pulled and pulled and the rope just wouldn’t budge. Eventually it started moving but it was slow going and finally with most of the rope down they gave up. I expect because the BA tree had been there a long time and was always wet, it had rotted a bit and the rope just cut into it, forming a groove that caused more and more friction. Nick was given the job of cutting the rope (which was under tension), and that was a thrill for him, seeing what a knife on a tensioned rope would do. We probably left about 20m in place, maybe the next person along will use it as an anchor!
By this time it’s getting way late, and while Andre, Beth and Nick were trying to pull the rope down, (and we thought they had it under control), John and I moved ahead to the next abseil, again down a small waterfall.
This one was made challenging by a large tree that had fallen onto where the abseil started, which meant we had to negotiate our way through dead branches and leaves down to the waterfall, once through the waterfall was nice, very mossy.
Eventually the rest of the party joined us and as that was the last abseil we took off our harnesses. It was now 4.30pm or thereabouts. We had just an hour to make our way down to the river and over to the old fire trail before dark.
The route down was relatively easy (almost the same route that we took to get up to our climbs), and we popped out at the river in the place where we’d had morning tea!
We quickly crossed the river (I slipped on mud and was now totally wet to everyone’s amusement) and found the fire trail. There was about half an hour before dusk, I set off before everyone else because
I knew that there were some major hills in front of us, and a good 2 hour walk, so as I would be the slowest I wanted to get a head start. I didn’t have a head torch with me (had left my reliable one at home … first canyon of the season, you always leave something behind) so I also wanted to get as far along the track as I could in the failing light.
We got back to the vehicles at 7.55pm – fortunately as we had 2 x 4wd vehicles we’d driven across the Wolgan and left the vehicles at the locked gate – what a bonus that was, we avoided the 1k walk to and from the gate! Heather broke out cold beers and Beth shared her brownies that she’d baked the night before.
We were all stuffed, it had been an epic 12 hour day, but we all agreed that it was great climbing up to the canyon and the canyon itself was very nice, probably not to be repeated though. It’s possible it would have been quicker if two of us were more proficient at rock climbing, but that would probably have only cut a half hour off the time.
I’ve decided that I have to do some basic rock climbing though, I just can’t avoid canyons because there’s a climb involved, and as entertaining as it may be for others, I can’t do the climb constantly swearing and complaining about how much I hate it!
Thanks to Rod, our absent leader, for putting the canyon on the calendar, we’ve probably all forgiven him for saying it was dry (not!) and the climbs were easy (not!).