Another “what was I thinking?” trip

BLUE MOUNTAINS CANYONING – 15 & 16 December 2018
Trish M says that in addition to the “In Your Dreams M” trips I should have another category “What was I thinking?” trips as so often after (or during a trip) I mutter these words.  The plan for the weekend seemed so simple (and easy), I’d done these canyons before, so should be a piece of cake right?

The plan was to do Bell Creek on Saturday, entering via DuFaurs Creek (with a sketchy climb down and sketchy ledges up out of the other side of the creek), go over and find Little Bell Canyon which I hadn’t done, use Little Bell (with a rope assisted climb down) to access Belfry, then with another rope assisted climb down enter Bell creek, then follow Bell down to DuFaurs and thence Wollangambe River.   I’d done the full Bell Creek Complete trip (down to the Wollangambe 2 exit) over 4 days in 1998 and then done Little Bell/Bell in 2009 – sadly my body is way older than I think I am and I’m not as tall as I should be for these sporty canyons.

Sunday’s plan was to do Ranon Brook Canyon, one I’ve done four times over 11 years, so I wasn’t expecting that to be an issue, except for the climbs to get out (which I always struggle with due to my height), but I had a plan for that!

The weather for the previous week had been dicey, lots of rain and rain forecast for Thursday and Friday, and maybe some on Saturday.  When I first started canyoning, 25 years ago, the weather forecast was, at best, synopsis charts in the daily newspaper, we just went out and did it.  Of course, when we got to the track head if it was bucketing down, we didn’t go, but a shower or two the day before for most canyons wasn’t a deal breaker.  These days though with the internet and everyone and their brother talking about high water, and FB comments such as “if you have to ask if it’s been raining too much then don’t go”, I have to admit I was less than confident of the water levels, but with only 7mm on Thursday and 7mm on Friday and bugger all on Friday night, I started to think all would be ok.  Of course, it didn’t help that my usual wing-man Jeff B, decided he was going to have the day off (I think his comment might have been “what are you thinking, it’s a really long day!” … grrrr!

But, I did have a strong team, Jason S, Trish M, Heather R and Coop, all of whom I’d canyoned with before and newcomers Alissa and Jon, both of which I’d quizzed and was confident that they’d both be fine.  When we got to the parking lot, I told them all that I expected it would be a 10 hour day, and that whilst I would get them to the canyon(s) the aim of the day was to get the little old lady through the canyons without hurting herself … and they took this instruction on board, helping me out whenever I needed it!

We started from the cars at about 8.15am – and easily found our way to DuFaurs Creek (well-worn track these days – wasn’t there the last time I did it!).  There is a handline in place to climb down the small drop but we didn’t like the look of it so Jason & Coop set up the rope that we’d brought along.

Alissa on the small drop, you can just see one of the boys below her they were there to spot where she should put her feet.

I had told them if, when we got to DuFaurs, the water was higher than I expected, that we would abort the trip and just float down Dufaurs, but it was only slightly higher than I had seen before.  This is a side creek and waterfall before you get into the creek proper – bugger all flow.

We crossed over the creek and there was a well-worn track up the other side, this has some sections that are ledges and quite exposed, not something that I enjoy walking across. Again, this well-worn track wasn’t there 9 years ago!

Then there was a rock ledge that we also had to negotiate, again a little exposure but the rock was relatively dry so not a big deal.

We followed the well worn track for about 2k (someone had recently been along the track with secateurs), intermittently checking it against the compass to make sure it was going the right way.  There was supposed to be a fork in the track (one arm going to Little Bell and the other arm going to Belfry) but we didn’t find it, my concern and why I was using the compass was that I didn’t want to miss Little Bell.  The track petered out on the ridge above the creek, and we probably entered the creek too high up (it was scrubby), but eventually we came to what was the first climb-down and some of my stress level went down (I always stress when I’m navigating).

There wasn’t an obvious anchor for the hand-line that we’d be using, so we blundered around finding the best way down.  Two guys had caught up to us by this time and they dropped down very quickly, but they were tall people.  We found it a little harder and were way cautious (this being our first time and all).

Heather in a section of the creek just after the climb down.

Coop assisting Heather with foot placement on this short drop.

We were soon in Belfry which was much nicer than Little Bell – having done Little Bell once now, I wouldn’t bother with it again, other than to do the sporty down-climbs (and see if I could be more efficient with them).  We were all very hot by now and welcomed the cool pools.

Coop on the next climb-down in Belfry, a very slippery log, I’ve done this before and found it easy, but maybe the log wasn’t as slippery then, Jason helped me out by pulling me over to the landing zone, otherwise it would have been an uncontrolled slide down the lot into a big pool.

A nice shot of the canyon looking downstream from where the log down-climb is (Photo Jason S)

The climb down is followed by a jump off a ledge, probably only as tall as me but not something Trish or  I wanted to jump (because of our dodgy knees and my dodgy ankle).  Jon helped us get down safely.

This was followed by a big log to slide down, trying not to end up in deep water.  At the junction which followed shortly after this climb down, we suited up in our wetsuits.

On our way downstream, a really pretty part of Bell (Photo: Jason S)

We’re now in Bell proper and this gives you an idea of why it has such a reputation as a high quality canyon, very green, very dark. (Photo:  Jason S)

But then we came to the boulder field, very slow going.  The way forward here wasn’t obvious.

Alissa sitting back watching which way the guys were going to suggest we go.  We eventually put up a hand-line because some of the rocks were very at 45 degree angles and not easy to get on or off (slippery), and there were gaping chasms below them – handline just made it safer (particularly for me as the shortest member of the group – lol).

Another downclimb challenge, Coop got down easily but we opted for a hand-line, probably wasn’t needed at the end because it was easier than it looked.

Finally through the boulder field and the start of one of our long swims.  The water wasn’t as cold as I expected, not sure why, everyone says that this is a really cold canyon.

Nice section of Bell, the whole canyon is green, mossy and ferny, interspersed with dark tunnel sections.

From this point on I didn’t take any photos, probably just focussed on getting to the end and saying to myself “what was I thinking this is a big day”.  After 2.5 – 3k of Bell, we eventually got to the DuFaurs junction, we were all really pleased to see the junction as by this time we’re all pretty stuffed, so much rock scrambling, far more than I remembered.  We had a k of DuFaurs and whilst sections were easy going, there were a lot of scrubby parts … and then we had a thunderstorm, you could hear the thunder for a while and then it poured.  I think some of the party were concerned about the storm in the canyon, if it had been Bell I would have been concerned, but DuFaurs is quite wide and open, with quite a few places to climb onto high ground and we’d only be in it for an hour, not long enough for the level to rise significantly.

Before long we were at the Wollangambe junction with DuFaurs and then it was only 300m to the exit track. Trish and I were so over walking in the creek that we floated most of the way down to the end.  The water level in the Wollangambe was no higher than I’m used to so if it had risen with the rain from the week before, it had gone down quickly.

At the exit, I sent the kids (all the young ‘uns) ahead as some of them had a long drive ahead of them and Jason knew the way out.  Heather and Trish stayed back to keep me company.  For the kids it was a 10+ hour day, for Heather, Trish and me it was closer to 11, a very long day, I was well and truly stuffed – a big day for a little old lady!  I was lucky, Jeff who’d had a relaxing day cooked dinner for me so I could just sit there and recover (and wonder why the hell I was doing a canyon the next day).

On Sunday, Trish M, Jeff B, Jason S and Cat and Garth McL joined me for Ranon Brook on a beautiful sunny day.

We got into a scrubby section on the way down, but were soon in the creek, Trish in a nice cool pool that the rest of us walked around.

Jason setting up the first abseil, Jeff negotiating his way down a slippery log to get to the start of the abseil.

Jason on the first abseil into a pool.

Jeff on the abseil.  He thought he would pendulum over to the left, get on the ledge and then not have to swim.

Sadly the penduluming didn’t work and he ended up having to swim!

Jeff on the second abseil which is a two stage one, down a few metres, walk across and then down a waterfall.

Cat on the abseil.

Jeff ending the second stage of the abseil (in a pool).

Jason on the abseil.

The third abseil, down a waterfall, swim across a pool, then climb up out and down the waterfall.

Garth on the abseil, we had a lot of trouble getting the rope to put on our descenders, eventually rigged up a number of prussic loops so we could pull the rope to where it was safe.

Jason getting out of the pool for the end of the third abseil.

Trish on the fourth abseil.

Which ends in a pool, Jason trying to stay dry.

At the end of the canyon section a heap of logs that were all in inconvenient places, you couldn’t jump in the pool because sticks were in the mud sticking up and would impale you!

We’re now in Ranon Creek (Mistake Ravine), walking upstream to the exit.

This is a very pretty part of the canyon

The first 2-part climb up, the guys gave me a hand to get up, have always had trouble on this climb up.

The second climb up – very slippery.

And the third climb up, again slippery but with a hand line in place to make it easier.

Once we were finished with the third climb, it was just a few hundred metres to the exit point and we started the climb up.  Trish very kindly waited behind to walk with me (and make sure the little old lady got out!) always nice to have company at the back.

Within half an hour we were up at the high point (a pagoda) and regrouped, (Trish, Garth, Cat, me and Jeff). (Photo Jason S)

Thanks everyone for coming with me on this weekend’s adventures, I’ve definitely got to lift my game, was absolutely stuffed by the end of Sunday!

Big thanks to Jason too for his photos, much better than mine, must get a better camera!

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8 Responses to Another “what was I thinking?” trip

  1. Albert H says:

    Hi Marilyn,

    remember doing the Bell canyon with you back in 2009 and there were so many baby brown snakes, how many did you see on this trip??



    • marilyn says:

      Hi Albert, yes, I remember doing it with you in 2009 but didn’t remember how long it was (lol), and yes, we counted 16 snakes that trip, but they were all dwarf crowned snakes, only mildly venomous and very small, not a single snake this time though!

  2. Adrienne says:

    Enough of this little old lady business- you might have been stuffed but you did it, which is more than lot of young ladies can say.
    Once again we’ll done.🧗‍♀️

  3. Kathy Leslie says:

    Another amazing vicarious adventure for me, Thanks, Marilyn!
    Love the photos and the commentary!
    I would be lucky to walk one mile on flat ground! You are AMAZING!!!

  4. Jenny Hughes says:

    another amazing trip… making me tired just reading and thinking about it! Loved all the photos! Again, thank you for taking the time to write it up and share it.
    Merry Christmas

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