Is it warm enough yet for a wet canyon?

SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS – 30 September – 1 October 2017
So, the conversation went like this … (me) “So, Murray, you think the full length of Macquarie Rivulet will be do-able on the October Long Weekend? Will it be warm enough?” … (Murray) “Yeah, should be fine!”  So, six months ago, the date was set!

What I was counting on was that Murray would be the “voice of reason”, being from the Southern Highlands and having done the lower section of the Rivulet in the past, he’d know whether it would be too cold or not.  But what I found out on the weekend was that Murray’s a younger, male version of me, he’ll say yes to anything!  So, checking the weather for the weekend on Wednesday, it was forecast for around 23ºC on Saturday with 34k winds, but better on Sunday, sounded ok.

As I drove down to Kangaroo Valley on Friday, I then started to have misgivings about going to Bendeela Campground (bit late for that don’t you think!), it’s known to get crowded and a long weekend might give new meaning to the word crowded.  I was sort of grateful that it would only be me, Anna O-B, Murray N and Emma P, with such a small group I might be able to find a nice secluded spot tucked away from the hordes of campers.  And then Jeff started sending me weather updates, weather wasn’t looking all that good!

This is the spot I was lucky enough to secure for us, my green tent and my Hubba set up so that there was room enough for Anna who would arrive Friday night and Emma & Murray who’d arrive on Saturday evening after the canyon.  By Saturday it was absolutely packed!

Bendeela is known for the wombats (there are heaps of them), here is a female with a joey in her pouch.  The pouch faces backwards (so that when the mother is digging a burrow the dirt doesn’t go into the pouch).  You can just see the joey’s head and one of its little feet.  The pouch drags along on the ground when the joey gets too big!

On Saturday we all met up at the Robertson Pie Shop, where it was intended that we head off to do the full length of Macquarie Rivulet.  BUT, the wind was blowing a gale, and it was cold, had to be around 9°C (and Jeff texted that it wasn’t going to get any better on Saturday).  So, we reassessed the situation and decided that we’d go and do a few abseils in Belmore Creek, and get as far down the creek as we could and then “find a way out” and save Macquarie Rivulet for Sunday (and maybe better weather).

I was keen to go back and visit Belmore Creek as the last time I was there (2014), we did two of the abseils when the creek was almost in flood, this time we’d try going further downstream.

Belmore Falls on Saturday


Belmore Falls back in 2014 when we abseiled the falls – there had been rain the week before


(l-r) Anna, Emma & Murray at the base of the Falls.

Abseil #1.  We hunted around quite a bit looking for the anchor that I remember using back in 2014 but couldn’t find it so eventually settled on this route, was a bit scrubby but was a good anchor with a clean pull-down.

Emma on the abseil

The waterfall we abseiled beside

Anna on the abseil, she managed to stay out of the gully to the right, I had to fight my way to keep out of it!

Abseil #2, there was an old anchor here but it was manky so we replaced it.  There was also a dodgy football-sized section of the cliff that was loose rock that I found on my way down. Murray (on the abseil) managed to dislodge it so that it was no longer a risk (it could easily have fallen on one of us if not dislodged!).

Emma on the abseil, with the falls to the right.

A little rock hopping downstream to the next abseil.

Someone had left a fixed rope here, wasn’t needed but if the rock had been wet it would have been useful.

Emma went the “caver’s route” under this boulder, there was another way around it.

The creek widened out with lovely big slabs of rock.

Looking downstream, the route down was in the middle distance on the left hand side.  We had lunch here in the sun, it was very warm.

A few down-climbs and we were now at the point where the 2014 trip turned around and retreated as the water was too high.

Abseil #3 was beside/through a waterfall so we put on spray jackets with the expectation of getting wet.

Emma on the 30m abseil, you can just see her at the top

Emma now getting wet, you couldn’t avoid the water

Anna managed to keep dry most of the time.

Pulling down the rope.

The waterfall from slightly downstream

A cascade that we were able to walk around just before a major creek junction.

You can just see the major creek which comes in on the right hand side.  The waterfall in this creek looks to be about 60 or 70m but with a couple of ledges … and it seems that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get to!

Skirting around another cascade and waterfall.  At this point we looked downstream and it seemed to be lots of boulders.  As it was getting close to our pull-out time (allowing for the fact that we weren’t sure of our exit route and whether we’d get through cliff-lines) we decided to exit up a likely looking spur.

The spur had no surprises in it, and there was a fairly worn footpad for most of the way.  We then came to two small climb-ups, the first one easy and then this one that was a bit more challenging.  Murray went first and set up a hand-line for us.

More steep sections, and by this time the footpad had disappeared.  We continued up until the cliff-line appeared and then traversed to the left and intersected the track down to the falls at its eastern most point.

On the track!  This track is not maintained by NPWS but is well used by people going down to the falls, NPWS will have to do more than put up “no-go” signs.  We were back at the cars by 3pm, car to car was 6.5 hours not bad, could probably shave 1/2 an hour off that if you didn’t hunt around for the first (non-existent) anchor.

We visited the Robertson Pie Shop before heading down to Bendeela which by this time was packed.  A wind storm had passed through and blown over 2 of our 3 tents but some kindly neighbours had retrieved them and pegged them down again for us.  Next morning Anna decided to stay in camp, she’d injured her eye with a stick the previous day and had over-used her knee canyoning / bushwalking the previous week so decided to rest it for the day.

Kangaroo Valley, the camping area and the valley were shrouded in fog but once you got above the valley it was bright sunshine with little or no wind.  Having said that, it was still only 7 degrees C.

The plan was to do the whole length of Macquarie Rivulet, a wet multi-pitch trip.  Sounds crazy I know, but we had wetsuits and spray jackets and there were numerous pull-out points along the 6k route, and once we hit the half-way point, there is actually a track all the way if we were too cold.  We did the car shuffle and set off at 9am (or for those who didn’t change their clocks to day-light saving time, 8am!  this was confusing for the whole day as Murray’s watch was on AEST not ADST).

There was a faint footpad some of the way, but for the rest it was Murray consulting the map.  It was only a k of walking in the scrub, but felt much longer, and before long we were stripping off our thermals and sweating.

Abseil #1 – Emma on the first short abseil with Murray in the background setting up the next pitch.  We put on our wetsuits here in preparation for some compulsory swims.

Doesn’t look much but it was a 1.5m gap and if you didn’t nail it, you’d end up in water (too soon to be getting wet).

Me trying to get over to the ledge so I didn’t have an unintentional swim, eventually Emma pulled me across to where I could wrap my leg around a rock! (Photo:  Emma)

Murray on Abseil #2

The view out to Wollongong and the ocean on Abseil #2.

Emma on Abseil #2, a small pool at the top that you had to avoid and then pretty straight forward.

Abseil #3, probably a 35m pitch, we used both 60s on this one.

Emma about to go over.

The pitch from the bottom, and we almost came to grief here. I had brought the knot over the edge but then queried myself when we got to the bottom about which rope was the “puller”, anyway, we tried both and the rope didn’t budge.  Eventually we moved way over to the far wall of the amphitheatre so that the rope wasn’t going over the edge of the rock (and causing more friction), eventually we got the ropes down, the fact that we were using Murray’s 10mm rope was also possibly a factor as 60m of 10mm rope weighs a ton.

After abseil #3 there’s about 40minutes of walking downstream.  There were quite a lot of boulders in the creek but we managed to avoid most of them by staying high on the side of the creek, nice easy going.  By this time Emma had had enough of the wetsuit and took it off.  I made do with wearing the wetsuit and submersing myself in the occasional pool.

Abseil #4 (and the last abseil in the top section).  Murray and Emma setting up the ropes.  I opted to go down first, it was a fabulous abseil, well worth the effort.

Emma on the abseil

Murray on the abseil.  I suspect you could have walked around on the bottom ledge and avoided the compulsory wade but it looked really slippery.

Emma doing the compulsory wade, we called her the Brass Monkey after this.

There was another 30min of creek walking after the 4th abseil.  Here we tried to avoid a slippery cascade by getting around this pool.  Murray went first Emma and I had different ways of doing it.

The slippery cascade, would have been better (but less amusing) to run the risk of slipping.

By now we’re at the mid-way point (the Causeway) and the section where commercial groups come in.  Emma was the first over Abseil #5

Murray on abseil #5 with Emma down in the bottom rh corner

Murray on Abseil #6

The compulsory swim on Abseil #6 (and Emma yelling “pull me across Murray”).  This abseil might have been a jump for commercial groups.

Negotiating some small boulder sections

A slide into a pool for commercial groups, we skirted around it.

Actually it’s a bit of a dodgy slide.

We had a late lunch in the sun here.

A dicey scramble down rocks to the next abseil (or maybe jump).  There was an anchor point above, not sure whether it was to do one abseil (instead of the shorted one off the ledge) or to get down the rocks safely.

Abseil #7 (for us) from a ring bolt.

Emma not looking forward to another compulsory swim on abseil #7.

The pull-down – it was a chest deep wade for Murray but a swim for Emma and me.

The last half of the bottom section is lovely rock slabs, very easy walking.  When Murray had said it was 6k in length I figured it would take us 6 hrs which is the usual time for creek walking, but we were able to make up a lot of time on the slabs.

We were at the last jump by about 3pm and there were people there sunning themselves and having fun.  From there it was a half hour walk down to the road where the car was parked.  There was one section that looked like a footpad out that Emma and I were ready to take but Murray convinced us to continue on (without any footpad for a while).  A good thing we did, when driving back up Macquarie Pass Road (which is way scary) we ran across 3 guys walking down the road, obviously they’d exited to early.

Car to car was about 7.5 hours for the full trip, but we didn’t do all the jumps and one or two of the wet abseils in the lower section (we figure we’ll be coming back in the warmer months anyway!).  The upper section was worth doing, we had the place to ourselves and some of the abseils were really nice, but I wouldn’t do it again.  The bottom section, if you could get a really early start (like 8am before the commercial groups), would be worth doing in the summer.  It’s a fun multi-pitch creek, lots of jumps slippery slides and abseils, and wouldn’t be as cold as Twister (for example) because it gets more sun during the middle of the day.

So snake count … nil
Tick count … three!

Thanks so much to Murray and Emma for taking me on this trip (and carrying the ropes), and to Anna for joining us on Saturday.


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6 Responses to Is it warm enough yet for a wet canyon?

  1. Eric rowlands says:

    What a wonderful coverahge, congratulations

  2. Jeff says:

    Looks like a great trip sometimes I wish I was a canyoner.

  3. Jenny Hughes says:

    Looked like a great tip. Can’t believe you are canyoning in such cold water!!!!

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