BLUE MOUNTAINS – Dumbano Trail > unnamed ridges > Sidewinder Canyon > Yarramun Creek – 10 – 11 February 2018
John G and I had talked about visiting Sidewinder Canyon. Years ago he’d walked up from the bottom to a side creek and couldn’t find anything positive to say about the scrubby creek. But you know me, seeing is believing, so he very kindly put it on the MSS calendar to take me there (I’m a bit over leading these days after my last couple of epics). Jeff B, Trish M, Anna O-B, Alan G and Ebony A joined us. This would be Alan’s first trip after our Fergies epic and Ebony’s first ever canyon and overnight walk … my fingers were crossed that the weekend would be a positive experience for both of them!
We all met up at Zig Zag at 8am on Saturday morning (on time) and drove out in convoy to the end of the Dumbano Fire Trail. We started walking at about 9.30am. The weather forecast was for a hot day, a high of around 30°C, with a chance of rain on Sunday and at 9.30am it was already hot! We weren’t too concerned, but as it turned out, I think the temperature was more around 35.
We walked past the NPWS barrier and about 100m down the dis-used fire trail and then dropped down to a saddle, then traversed around the base of a high point to access the ridge John was looking to use.
A short rest (for me) on a highpoint looking out to the route we were going to take, John checking on the map (weather was fantastic, blue skies as far as the eye could see). Our objective was Shay Ridge (all the ridges around here are named using steam train terminology), John then told us about the Shay locomotive that used to be used to do the route to Newnes Oil Refinery.
There were maybe four high points to climb, and by now we are all really, really hot, some of us cursing the heat.
We came across this cool hole that had been weathered in the rock, Alan climbed up so that I could take a photo of the scope of the hole.
Just after lunch, John explaining where our route would be.
It was around about this time that one of the group came down with heat-exhaustion. We rested for quite a while then continued on, deciding around 2pm that it would be better if we scrapped the original plan (walk in to Sidewinder, drop packs, do the canyon and walk back up, collect packs and then go to Yarramun Cave). We decided instead to head straight to Yarramun Cave, where there was lots of water, shade and the opportunity to get out of the heat. Some of us were close to being out of water by this time, so getting to water became a priority.
So, we set off to a spur that went down to the junction of Yarramun and Sidewinder Creeks. We got there and found a “fair” route down but turns out there was a better one about 20m upstream. From the top it looked like we were right at the end of the creek, but in actual fact the creek made a bit of a dog-leg and we were probably 50 – 75m from the end, and it was all horrific scrub and downed trees for that 75m, plus Sidewinder Creek was bone dry. We were all thankful that we hadn’t stuck to the original plan as from the state of the creek, we wouldn’t have been able to pick up any water.
We were all pretty hot and bothered by this time so not many photos were taken for a couple of hours! I was actually too focused on survival myself as I was far too unfit to have gone on this trip and I was struggling!
Once we got close to Yarramun Creek, and we knew all would be well, the camera came out again! Here’s Ebony and John in a small walk-through cave created by a rock that had fallen away from the cliff-face.
We got to the camp cave or overhang (more scrub to negotiate) and collected water and set up camp. Trish, Anna and I decided to explore up Yarramun Creek. This was to be our Sunday activity, but it was so hot that we decided to do it this afternoon instead, we wouldn’t have time tomorrow because we were sticking to the plan to do Sidewinder.
Anna had carried a wet suit in, but Trish and I just wore thermals, the water was refreshing to start but by the end it felt freezing!
Trish negotiating through a boulder-jam.
I’d been up Yarramun before but neither Anna nor Trish had, and they were very impressed, I’m sure that they’ll be back again to do the whole section, we only walked up-stream for half an hour or so.
Back at the camp cave, and billies on the fire and everyone’s forgotten about the day’s hot walk in (l – r, Anna, Ebony and Trish)
This photo gives you an idea of the magnitude of the overhang, and there was another “lower section” down around a corner. (Photo: John G)
Through the night there was a massive thunderstorm, we were sheltered in the overhang(thankfully), half of the group slept through the light-show. I had a terrible night’s sleep, I was so exhausted after the walk in that I can’t believe that I slept so poorly.
Next morning and we’re all packed and ready to go (l – r, John, Anna, Jeff, Alan, Ebony & Trish). Because of the heat we all carried twice the amount of water that we’d carried in the day before, so I was carrying 4l. This made for very heavy packs.
A bird’s nest that we found on the walk out, it was a little over 5cm in diameter, would have loved to see what bird made it!
We retraced our steps to where we’d dropped into Sidewinder creek the day before, here’s Ebony walking along a convenient fallen tree (saved battling a lot of scrub).
Once past the tree there were a few boulders to negotiate.
We’d left camp at 8.30am and the plan was to head up to the spot on the ridge where we’d leave our packs. Here’s John explaining the plan to Ebony.
Ahhhh, the PLAN! John wasn’t expecting much canyon, maybe 2 hours at the most and based on our experience the day before, we weren’t expecting it to be wet. We got to the place where we’d leave our overnight gear at around 9.30am, had a snack and then packed our abseiling gear in day packs and headed off . We were hoping to be back at the packs by lunchtime, so we only took snacks with us.
Heading down in the scrub to Sidewinder Creek.
On the cliff above the creek, and just near an interesting “slot” that John had picked out from aerial photos, so we took a side trip to the slot before trying to get down into the creek.
Anna sitting on the chock-stone over the slot (photo: John G)
There wasn’t an easy way down into the creek, so we traversed along the cliff-face heading upstream.
I didn’t like this spot, massive drop just below your feet and the rock that Jeff’s resting his hand on was very pushy. I held onto the same spot that Jeff did and it broke off in my hand, that was a heart stopping moment.
Eventually we agreed on a possible route down, zig zagging down a few metres.
Then trusting our lives to a dead tree that we balanced against to get down the next metre or two, here’s Trish trying not to push the tree, but not wanting to drop forward over the cliff just to her left. By now, Ebony’s not too sure about the whole canyoning thing, looked far too dangerous to her!
Jeff on the next obstacle, a controlled slide down a small muddy slope.
Finally we’re in the creek, and (thank goodness) it has water in it. None of us brought wetsuits (we were assuming it was dry), but it was really hot so we didn’t care at this point. Here the creek is starting to show some promise.
We determined that there wasn’t any canyon upstream (the aerial photos showed just green vegetation) and the scrub was a bit average, you can barely see Ebony and Jeff.
And then the canyon started. First of all there was a big boulder that had fallen into the creek. Anna checked around the left of it and determined that whilst you could abseil down to the next level, it was maybe better on the right hand side. This involved crawling through a small cave. Anna and John set up an anchor around a boulder.
Ebony heading for her first abseil in a canyon.
Ebony setting up.
And she’s off, Anna and Trish were already down the bottom to belay her.
The first abseil is into a pool, followed by some really good sections of tunnel and a couple of swims!
At the next drop there wasn’t any evidence of a sling and nothing really you could anchor off, so we set up this anchor using a convenient slot in a rock (on the right) and 5 logs.
Whilst this sort of anchor was “standard practice” for the rest of us, Ebony was debating whether or not canyoning with us was something she really wanted to do. Jeff tried to reassure her (not sure that it worked). Anna and Trish volunteered to go over first (John was to stay until last with our spare rope). We decided that we’d send Ebony next before she started looking for a way to rock-climb out.
Not at all happy with that anchor but she gave it a go – and was extremely pleased to be down the bottom. We assured her that even if the anchor failed, all that would happen is that the person would drop into deep water, but that didn’t seem to cut it!
Alan and his Go-Pro abseiling off the dodgy anchor.
Jeff on the abseil, making sure not to shock-load the logs.
Jeff at the bottom of the abseil (photo: John G)
Another swim and then a nasty section with smelly water, mud and sticks.
A nice section with a chock-stone above it.
Another lovely section of canyon.
There were two ways to go around another chock-stone, this way through lots of dead trees and branches, or
This way which involved crawling through a cave.
Another nice section of canyon.
Followed by this swim with a really tight squeeze, Anna, Trish and I had already squeezed through when someone decided that you could actually bridge over the squeeze and then drop into the water.
We then came to this massive flat canyon wall, straight as a dye and very high. And this is about where some of us started getting cold (some of us had put on thermals or shark-skins but silly me didn’t put on my thermal, carried it in my pack for the whole canyon).
The slot that we’d looked down into earlier in the morning.
This was followed by a drop of about a metre or so into a pool, but it was really slippery so we rigged up a hand-line.
And more canyon formation and swims – great canyon formation in this section.
A difficult climb down a very slippery log, and if you fell, or slipped a 2m hole to fall into.
The canyon was truly spectacular, photos (even as good as this one) didn’t do it justice (photo: John G)
More canyon formation, much better photo though (photo: John G)
And more. This was a canyon that kept on giving, and had everything from squeezes, swims, great formations and beautiful green mossy sections.
And even a duck-under (of sorts).
Eventually of course, all good things must end and there started to be more and more vegetation, but we still had some more wades too, I was expecting the creek to disappear, not sure where all that water goes but it didn’t get to the end of the creek!
Anna coming down one of the last drops. We used this log but it was split and so Jeff wedged it so that everyone was able to use it to get down. Finally though it broke, so not sure what the next group will do.
Alan on a convenient log to avoid some more muddy section.
And finally the last pool.
John had a “mission” on this trip, to at least get to the side creek that he’d used to escape the scrub in Sidewinder when he walked upstream from Yarramun a few years ago. Getting to this side creek meant that he’d “done the whole” creek! Anna led the way to get out of Sidewinder once we got to John’s previously used side creek.
It was up hill all the way, but not too hot as we were all wet.
We then had to walk back to our overnight packs. This involved negotiating a few pagodas and by the time we got to our overnight packs we were all dry!
We reached the packs at around 2pm (maybe a bit earlier), we were all starving so had lunch, repacked everything and headed off for the cars, we estimated that it would be between 4 and 5 hours.
I was really exhausted (after a bad night’s sleep and then 4 hours in the canyon), so I was struggling the whole way. The group was very good, waiting for me to climb each hill and giving me plenty of rests – I’ve got to get fitter! Jeff took some weight off me, but really I didn’t even notice the difference of that couple of kilos.
We dragged ourselves out onto Dumbano Fire Trail at 6.30pm – a really good effort from everyone, particularly poor Ebony – do you think she’ll walk with us again?
Thanks John for putting the trip on the calendar, and I agree with you, February’s too hot to even contemplate an overnight canyon! I was really impressed with the way everyone worked together on Saturday and thanks to those who carried some of my weight when I looked so pathetic.
I’d definitely recommend Sidewinder to anyone, it was very good, but it’s a big effort to get to. If you were a fast group and prepared for (maybe) a 12 hour day, you could probably do it in a day, but who wants to do that! You’d be rushing through the canyon to keep to your timetable!