CANYONING BLUE MOUNTAINS – 17 – 18 November 2018
The lead up to this weekend was fraught with changes … I had booked in on Rod’s trip to Fortress Canyon on Saturday and had put Kamarah Gully on for the Sunday. When I got back from NZ on Sunday night, I discovered that Rod had a cast of thousands and so I offered to lead a second group if he split the participants. I ended up with four on my trip to Fortress and Rod had about 12. By Friday Rod had canned his trip as, according to the weather forecast the weather would be miserable at best and he had all beginners, but I decided to go ahead with my group to Fortress – you never can tell what the weather will be.The weather forecast was cloudy with a chance of showers on Saturday, but rain forecast in the afternoon, I figured we’d be out of the canyon by then. Sunday was a little better, low chance of a shower and cloudy/sunny for the rest of the day.
As Jeff and I were driving up at the Great Western Highway on Saturday morning around 7am, we ran into mizzle (mist/drizzle) and then full on drizzle. Didn’t look nice at all so we started thinking of a Plan B – what could we do with the two people who would already be driving to meet us at the start point? We came up with a few ideas but when we arrived, and stood around in the mizzle, Chin & Bill were still keen to do Fortress Canyon despite the fact that I warned them that it would be extremely cold, especially after the compulsory swims. So, we set off for the track head. Note to self … before setting off on the track, make sure that participants have a wetsuit and that they can swim. Little did I know that Bill didn’t bring a wetsuit as he preferred to canyon with thermals, shorts!
The walk in to the start of the canyon was way longer than I remembered. I’d first done this canyon in 2000, then did it another four times the last time being 2012, obviously I’d forgotten the long walk in, plus the long scrubby sections of the creek and most of the rest of the canyon!
Once we’d suited up into our wetsuits, we headed down into the creek, Bill had taken off and I followed him but at the first pool, I couldn’t see any ripples. Where the heck had Bill gone? I back-tracked a little and found a footpad up to the left so we figured he knew of a by-pass of the first pool and compulsory jump in. I was all for that, the rock looked awkward for me to get over, so we followed the track (and Bill). This led us downstream high up on the creek/cliff walls and eventually came to a grassy/ferny slope that Bill had descended, there was no way to judge the drop off at the end, so we set up a rope and used our descenders to lower ourselves down the 10m slope (bonus 1st abseil), and caught up with Bill, we probably could have just slid down but I’m super cautious these days! So, now we’re all back together and off we go.
The first (or second if you did the jump) compulsory pool, Jeff leading the way and Chin gingerly slipping in, his hands and feet were already cold. I think it was at this point that I remembered that I was going to ask Chin if he could swim! Thankfully the answer was yes.
Lots more creek walking than I remembered, and fallen logs.
We then came to a drop, Bill leaped onto a rock (a leap of faith), I took one look at it and decided with my 2 recent injuries (ankle and knee), I wasn’t going to be leaping anything, so we set up a rope for me and Jeff and Chin used it too (2nd bonus abseil).
More scrubby creek!
There’s a section where you can walk down a rock beside a pool, the rock surrounding the pool has a hole in it that you can duck under. Jeff and I had done it before, but we encouraged Chin to give it a go. He’s new to canyoning and it’s both a fun thing to do, and good practice for the many duck-unders that you encounter in canyons.
He managed it without any problems – we found out later he goes spear fishing so has no problems with diving.
Bill going down an awkward climb … well, awkward for the vertically challenged. This was followed by an optional abseil (or jump). Chin, Jeff and I decided to do the abseil – I don’t like the awkwardness of the jump, have done it before, don’t need to do it again (3rd bonus abseil). Bill was getting cold by this point so opted to jump as it’s quicker.
The jump is followed a little later by the abseil which I really like, it’s a little challenging as to where to put your feet and ends in a pool.
Chin on the abseil, looking like he’s enjoying canyoning.
The abseil’s followed by a short swim and then about 50m of rock scrambling, and the creek then goes over a 75m cliff, but it has two lovely spa pools on the edge, on a nice sunny day, groups usually laze around here enjoying the view laying in the spa pools. With Bill suffering from the cold though, we quickly changed and headed up the exit track.
Chin (thankfully) took the wet 30m rope from me for the exit walk. Whilst the track is easy to follow (and the wildflowers put on a great display), I was really tired from the climb up to the ridge and the exit track was way longer than I remembered!
It was a longer day than I expected (and much longer than Bill anticipated, I think he thought it would be a fast trip), and there was much more scrubby walking in the creek than I remembered, so I’m not sure I’ll be going back to Fortress in a hurry, however, we were blessed with the weather, no rain or showers and only the odd drop on us for the walk out, although the clouds did look threatening (so much for the weather forecasts).
We drove over to Mt Wilson to camp, Bill joined us and later in the evening Heather R (with apple pie and cream) and Melinda T joined us, it was a very sociable night with lots of wine consumed! The forecast rain held off until we went to bed, so we were able to have a nice fire with the firewood that Bill brought along.
According to the weather forecast, Sunday was only supposed to be cloudy, but we woke to drizzle and rain showers, Bill and Melinda decided that they’d go home, Jeff, Heather and I decided to hold off making a decision until Trish arrived so she could tell us what the weather was like on Bells Line of Road. Mt Wilson tends to create its own weather, and it can quite often be drizzly there, and fine at lower elevation. Trish arrived and said that according to YR’s weather forecast, it would be iffy until 11am at which point the sun would come out!
So, at 10am we set off to do Kamarah Gully, an exploratory trip, all we had was a grid reference and two lines of description in the canyoning guide.
The walk in was really nice, very little scrub down to the creek and some open grassy sections.
Getting down closer to the creek itself, great wildflower display.
Once in the creek, although a bit scrubby, it looked like it would develop into canyon sections very quickly – based on this creek-eroded rockface.
But then we got into nasty scrubby sections.
We then came across a nice amphitheatre, you can just see Heather up in it.
Heather and Trish in the amphitheatre.
More scrubby creek that we avoided by sticking up higher on the bank.
Heather found an overhang higher up on the bank to check out.
We came to a drop in the creek – about 3m, we couldn’t see from up above whether or not there were hand or foot holds, and there was no anchor, Heather searched around on top, but still couldn’t find one, so we elected to continue along the high side to see if there was an anchor further along so we could drop into the creek, which by now had two vertical sides.
We found a likely tree so Trish set up the rope.
Heather coming down the very scrubby abseil.
This was the climb-down, we couldn’t see any wear marks on the rock, so figured that it wasn’t used as an abseil or climb-down and were mystified as to how others got into the creek. I’ve since heard that this is may be the climb down that’s used, I wouldn’t have liked it! Or, there was a tree further along which you could also use, but at an overhang, would have been hard.
Trish in front of the climb-down, gives you a better idea of its height. (Photo: Heather)
Heather and Trish in more scrubby creek! So far we are underwhelmed by this “canyon”.
Trish on a small climb-down.
Me on a slippery log, you can just see Jeff’s helmet, he was doing this climb-down, and me sitting on the log almost tipped him in! (photo Heather)
Jeff setting up the first abseil down a slippery log. Others have down-climbed this, but as it had been raining for the last 2 days, I think the log was slipperier than usual.
Jeff on the abseil, which ended in a deep pool.
We were soon at the next abseil and its dodgy anchor, am sure it was bomb-proof, but it didn’t look like it (photo: Heather)
Heather on the abseil.
Whilst you could get off the rope in water up to your ankles, this was followed by a walk along a submerged log and then a chest high negotiation around the rock, Heather got wetter than the rest of us I think.
The abseil was followed by a climb. Now, we all know how much I hate climbing and scrambling, but I managed to at least get myself up to the rock in the middle of the shot (Photo: Heather)
And then entertained everyone with my method of scrambling over the rock, my harness/descender didn’t help. (photo: Heather)
Trish doing the same climb made it look easy, as did Heather. They obviously found a foot hold that I didn’t find.
We then walked along about 100m of canyon formation, quite constricted with lovey mossy walls. (Photo: Heather)
The canyon ended at this overhang, it looks like someone had spent the night here (fireplace in the foreground). From here it was an easy-as climb out up to the ridge. (Photo: Heather)
Trish and me on the ridge, heaps of wildflowers. (photo: Heather)
Apart from the scrubby bits, we had a great day and the weather co-operated. Yes, the sun did come out, but at 1pm not 11am! It was a 5 hour round trip but we did faff around with photos, and exploring every nook and cranny of the gully. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely if I wanted a short half day trip, but I’d choose a different way in to avoid all the scrubby bits, and I think I could cut it down to a 3 hour trip.
Thanks so much Heather, Trish and Jeff for joining me on the exploration and particularly Heather who lent me her camera when my battery flattened.