Fergies “should be a shorter day”!

NORTHERN WOLLEMI CANYONING – 25 – 26 November 2017

Well, those would be famous last words!  We had an amazing day on Saturday doing Greenup/Midwinter – no issues and we arrived back at Ray’s right on 6pm (as planned).  Sunday was a whole different ballgame – a trip of epic proportions!

Taking advantage of being in the Northern Wollemi for the MSS AGM and Christmas party, I decided not to waste a weekend of canyoning so planned Greenup/Midwinter on the Saturday and convinced Rod to go with us to do Fergies on the Sunday.

Joining me for Greenup/Midwinter were Jeff and the girls, Heather R, Beth L, Cathi H-H and Anna O-B.  We set off from Ray’s house at 7.30 am and we had a tight schedule.

After a fire trail walk, we peeled off on a ridge and walked out to a saddle which was the entry point for Greenup Canyon.

The country out there is very dry, lots of leaf litter on the ground to slip on.

I can’t remember going down this rock the last time, but I’m sure I did.  Beth sliding on her butt was the best way to go, with someone to break your fall. Anna got down first, don’t know how she did it without someone down the bottom.

The next obstacle (right before the 1st abseil) was a climb down on tree roots.  Heather making it look easy.

Cathi on Abseil #1.  It was a perfect day, sunny, blue skies, the worst weather for taking photos!

Abseil #1 (Photo Cathi H-H)

The first abseil is followed by a short climb down a mossy rock.

Followed soon after by a walk along the rock-face, on a root about the size of a man’s arm.  Here’s Anna, you really have to trust the root, there’s a big drop down the slot, mind you it’s not very wide, your pack would probably wedge you in, but then how would you get back out!

Heather walking the root.

The root -walk is followed by another nice abseil.

Abseil #3 ends in a pool, here’s Jeff sussing out where to land (Photo: Cathi H0H0

The bottom of Abseil #3 – everyone but me landed in waist deep water, I found the only deep hole (Photo Cathi H-H)

We were down at the main Creek (Numietta) for lunch where Jeff discovered that the whole heel of his 510 shoes had come loose necessitating a quick repair with knife and cable ties.  Shoes trashed, all the excuse he needed to get out of doing a second day’s canyoning.

Very pretty walk upstream in Numietta Creek (Photo: Cathi H-H)

A rare shot of Jeff and me, he’s obviously giving me grief about something … probably telling me he’s never going canyoning again. (Photo: Cathi H-H)

We’re now in Midwinter canyon, walking upstream.

Midwinter is a very sport canyon involving lots of climb-ups, I had terrible trouble on this climb the last time, so had some tube tape rigged so that I could have a good hand-hold.

A short way up the creek, before it became constricted, there are lots of trees that are growing off the side of the rock-face, like this one.

And this one – the rock slopes back on a 45 degree angle and the roots have just attached themselves, no soil or anything, they just exist living off water I guess.

Finally we get to the constricted part and the compulsory swims.  Water was cold but with wetsuits on, bearable.

In the canyon, very constricted – hip/shoulder wide (Photo: Cathi H-H)

Another climb up, Cathi making it look easy, and Beth trying to straddle the walls to get to the first shelf.

Beth looking around for an easier way, eventually she decided to go the way Cathi went.  Everyone up now except me, and it was just too high to get my leg up, so, they threw down a rope and I tied some alpine butterfly knots to give me a foot hold.

Me making it look very hard – Photo Cathi H-H)

Heather (and Anna), avoided the rock and chose to go the way of the tree roots, the rest of us took one look at this way (that Heather had done before), and opted for the rock, would have been nasty if you fell.

More of the constricted canyon – Photo Cathi H-H

At the top of a small climb, we came to this pool and you could see the reflection of the sky in it, and see how constricted the canyon is even at the top.

Beth in one of the constricted sections.

Beth on yet another climb, this one up through a hole.

Climbing up through some tree roots, the canyon opens out for a while.

And then constricts again.

Another swim

This section had a curtain of roots coming down on the right from high up.

And finally we’re out into the sunshine.

It’s a relatively straight forward exit from Midwinter, basically following the creek up to a flat grassy area and then up to the fire trail.  Midwinter’s a great canyon, it just goes and goes and goes, very sporty with lots of climbs and dark constricted sections.

On Sunday, there were only four of us for Fergies, Rod, Heather R, Alan G and myself. In hindsight, it was good that there were only the four of us!  This would be Alan’s first canyon with MSS and Rod had given it a good sales job (the question now is will he ever canyon with us again).

Based on Rod’s recollection (having done it a year or so ago), it was only supposed to be a short day – definitely shorter than Greenup/Midwinter, I left Jeff at Ray’s so that he could pack up, have a rest and be ready for my return around 4pm for the long 4.5 hour drive back to the Central Coast.

We left Ray’s at around 9am – it would have been better if we’d left earlier!

Our first challenge was a tree across the road.  I’d factored into the weekend fallen trees so had organised for a chain saw to be on the trip, would have been better if we hadn’t had the use of one, we would have turned around and done something “easier”.  Although Heather was talking about just dragging it off the road with her winch!  This set us back (time-wise) about 30 minutes.

So, another 30 minutes and we’re at the locked gate and walking down the fire trail.  Rod indicated where we should peel off and head into the bush looking for Cirque D’Soleil pass, took a bit of looking and sidling along to find it but eventually we were at the spot that we both recognised.

We rigged up an abseil to get down the 2m drop, last time Rod did it, it was with a handline and he wrenched his shoulder, so he wasn’t going to make that mistake again.  Alan on the abseil.

A small scramble down through scrub, and 50m upstream on the Coorongooba Creek we turn left into an unpublished canyon.  This is a really pretty canyon, particularly the section without abseils, very lush and green.

We walked upstream and the canyon walls closed in a bit more, here’s a giant section of the cliff-face undercut by floods in years gone by.

We were headed for a gully on the left, and we came to a junction and both Rod and I assumed that this was our gully, taking the left fork and heading upstream.  If I’d bothered to take a look at our map, I would have realised that we were still going up our unnamed canyon stream, it was only when I got to an impassable waterfall, that I recognised it as the final abseil in the canyon.  So, we turned around and retraced our steps, probably set us back another 30 minutes.

The climb up didn’t take all that long, but it was very hot.  And then we got into head-high bracken fern with lots of logs to trip us up.  By this time it’s around 1pm and I hadn’t let anyone have lunch yet, I figured we’d get into the shade of the canyon and have lunch there.

The bracken ended but then we were in a forest of tiny saplings.  But eventually the walls of the creek closed in and we arrived at a tiny pool to fill up with water, don our abseil gear and have some lunch – at around 2.30pm.

Shortly after lunch we came to the first abseil, just after a big chock stone.  The anchor was old and manky so we replaced it with some nice tube tape.  The anchor was just around a log, also very dodgy but there was nothing else we could use.  I went down first.

It was a lovely abseil, and immediately we’re in this amazingly constricted canyon, with compulsory swims.

Just like Midwinter, the overall impression was one of walking through a green passage with all the moss on the walls.

Alan coming to meet me at the second abseil.

This too was a dodgy anchor, you can just see the tube tape around the rock, very old and mossy, but the bottom was buried in sand and you couldn’t put in a new one.  From the anchor you walked a metre or so and then dropped down between some logs, a “keyhole”.  I tried going with my pack but it was too narrow, so I shouldered it off and let it drop to the bottom, and I followed it down.

It’s not a very big abseil but it’s very tight and you have to worm your way down past this rock sticking out on the top right.

Alan on the abseil.  Heather came next.

And this is where things went hideously pear shaped.  I’d walked/waded further on to set up the next abseil and then I heard the words no-one ever wants to hear “I’m stuck”.  Rod was in the key-hole with his legs dangling and wedged into the slot, caught up by either his harness or his prussic loops/carabineer, we couldn’t figure out (or see) what was caught. 

Fortunately he was in a spot that we could climb up a little way to maybe give him some assistance.  We tried everything but nothing worked or helped.  At least with a stuck rope you can just leave it behind and cut your losses, but we weren’t going to be able to do that with Rod.

At this stage I’m seriously considering using the PLB.  I asked Rod if he was ready for me to set it off,  “not just yet” was his answer, but I truly couldn’t see how he’d be able to release himself from whatever was holding him in place .

The problem with setting off the PLB was that I’d have to walk out to the end of the canyon, find an open spot where it would get reception and set it off (probably high up on a cliff and for that I’d have to get to our exit route) and then walk back to the vehicles and call up emergency services to tell them that the problem wasn’t where the PLB was, but over in the creek.  All this would take hours, and Rod (and someone else) would be left in the canyon.  For the three of us down in the water, hypothermia was becoming a very real possibility, we were all shivering despite having on thermals.

Almost at the moment I was about to make the Big Decision and start walking out, Rod dropped his helmet and it landed in a crevice and he was able to get his foot up onto it and wriggle himself around, dislodging the prussic loops/carabineer and he was on his way down to us at the bottom.

Blurry pic, but you get the idea, dark and constricted.  We were all cold and Rod was in adrenalin overload, so we exited as quickly as we could, through this very dark section, with another wade.

Alan in the wade out.

Fortunately, there were no more abseils, just some scrambling over rocks, and this is where I came to grief.  I held onto a very dodgy piece of tree and it broke, and I fell a couple of metres.  When you are tired that’s when you make poor decisions, and this was certainly one of them.  Fortunately, I fell on my backpack which had a 40m rope in it, so it “sort of” cushioned the fall.  My helmet should be replaced now (hit my head), have heaps of bruises and a swollen wrist, plus later on in the evening it felt like I’d also torn a muscle!  However, once I got over the shock, I was back up, avoiding that ledge!  Then I discovered that my water-bottle was sporting a big dent and my GPS screen had been punctured, GPS working but wouldn’t function when icons pressed … not good! But at least I had a photocopy of the map, albeit a little damp and some running ink!

We arrived at the junction of Fergies and the Coorongooba and then had to make the decision about which exit to take, the one with the rock climb, the one up a non-abseil canyon or a walk up ramp – that Rod remembered doing once. We opted for the walk up ramp, further away but with less risk to us all as by this time, we’re all exhausted.  Fortunately a lot of the walk on the side of the creek was in good open forest.

We found the break in the cliff, I set off ahead (because I would be slower than the others).  Heather dropped into the creek and filled up all the water bottles and then everyone started up the ramp.  It was short and sharp, that is, pretty much climbing the whole way through scrub, but with sections which were not scrubby.  We were up the top by about 6.00pm.  Alan had his phone with him, so we tried it for reception, but sadly he’s with Optus, so, no reception.

As my GPS was stuffed and I’d left my compass back in the car (after all Rod was navigating! will never do that again), we had to get ourselves back to the fire trail by dead-reckoning, basically it was keep going up hill to the high point and then drop down to the road.  Still, it was very scrubby, scratchy and slow going.

We made it to the road by about 7pm.  I was so relieved that we made it with daylight to spare as there were only 2 head torches (I think) between us!

We were all back at the locked gate and cars at 8.30pm and fortunately Heather’s mobile service provider is Telstra and so she had reception.  We were able to call Ray (and Jeff) and let them know that we were out “safely”.  Then it was the 1.5 hour drive back to Ray’s, mostly on dirt road, dodging wallabies.

Predictably Ray and Jeff by 6pm were thinking that “something had happened”, and then by 8, they knew that definitely we’d had a problem.  Jeff suspected that I’d have a PLB with me, but wasn’t sure.  So, all in all, they had a couple of hours knowing that something was wrong, but not being able to do anything about it!

I encouraged everyone to spend the night at Ray’s (Jeff and I would drive home together but the others were all solo in their cars), but in the end only Rod decided to stay.  Jeff and I didn’t get back to the Coast until 2am.

So, lessons learned …

  1. I may be getting too old for this s*%t!
  2. Always have an additional strong man along on a trip, one’s not enough if he’s the one in trouble, fortunately we had Alan.
  3. Have everyone carry Hydrolyte (or sachets of salt), I’d left mine at home and Jeff had left his on the car seat for me to take but forgot to tell me.  We could have used extra Hydrolyte for Rod.
  4. Always carry matches and a torch (both Heather and I had them).  Make sure the rest of the group have them too.
  5. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if I ever find myself in a situation like this again, when we have a bit of time up our sleeves, rather than each of us have in our own minds solutions, take the time to sit down (figuratively) and brainstorm.

Everyone seems to have gotten over the “trip from hell”, Heather’s provided us with some medical information on “harness hang syndrome” so we know now that this wouldn’t have been a problem for Rod.  We’ve suggested to our training person in MSS that some practical rescue scenarios would be a good idea, and knot practice as I was the only one who could tie the alpine butterfly and I was too short to get it up high enough.

Alan has suggested that someone also carry a wire saw, we could have cut a log for Rod to stand on (maybe) … he’s asked for a more extreme canyon next time (lol)!  Good to know that he’ll be back for another one and I haven’t “burned” him.

I am battered and bruised (you wouldn’t believe how many bruises I’ve got).  Will take me a few weeks to get over the experience.  Will I go back to Fergies?  Not sure, part of me wants to see if it really is a short day (technically it should be!)!

Thanks Rod, Heather and Alan for going with me, and for your support!

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8 Responses to Fergies “should be a shorter day”!

  1. Roy Cotton says:

    Another excellent report wonderful photos you should write a book. All these adventures make great reading. Good to see the lessons learned. Get well.

    • marilyn says:

      Thanks Roy .. this is a book (well, sort of!). Hopefully I’ll be out again in a couple of weeks, will need to sort out the pulled muscle in my back first though.

  2. Shirley H says:

    One again I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘couch potato’ adventure – phew!!

    Pop some Arnica in your First Aid kit M


    • marilyn says:

      Great, that’s what I’m here for Shirley, to entertain you with my adventures! Hope you kept yourself hydrated whilst reading! Yes, Arnica would have been a good thing.

  3. Jeff says:

    You’ll be OK Marilyn Ive got a few band aids to patch you up keen to head out again this weekend to try out the new canyon shoes!!


  4. Eric rowlands says:

    Seems this adventure had to many twists and turns,safety seems to be be the main object, i liked the story,,,,

    • marilyn says:

      Hi Eric, thanks so much for commenting on the blog! Yes, many twists and turns and could have turned out much worse than it was, pleased you liked the story!

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