BLUE MOUNTAINS – Bjelke’s Mind and Bubble Bath Canyons – 26 – 28 January 2019.
Originally this was a much more ambitious trip (in fact it was an In Your Dreams M trip), I was going to knock off Crikey Canyon too, seeing I was so close. But, things didn’t quite go to plan (as so often happens!). Overall, nothing went “wrong” and nothing bad happened but when you lead a trip, it’s always nice when everything slots into place – ah well!
First of all the weather was a problem … forecast temperatures of between 30 – 35° C, should I change the canyons to some that have more water and aren’t 3 hours from the carpark?
Then there was the question of who was arriving when – frankly it got a bit confusing … Heather R (who’ll, bless her heart, will go anywhere with me) arrived on Friday morning and walked in by herself to the camp cave at Bubble Bath creek (well done Heather). Melinda T, Trish M, Peter T, Jeff B and I drove up on Friday afternoon, hoping to get there by 4pm. Given that it was a long weekend, the traffic wasn’t all that bad and we were all there by 4.30pm to start walking at 5pm. They could have started earlier but we had the ropes and Jeff and I weren’t carrying in four ropes between us! Emma P and Murray N were driving up from Marulan and expected to start walking by 6pm. Then Andrew B and Dave would be walking in on Saturday morning, rendezvousing with us at 9.30 to start the canyon. Alan C would also be walking in by himself on Saturday. How confusing was all that? I had to have contingency plans in case someone didn’t show up.
Usually, from the car park to the overhang is a 3 hour walk. As predicted, the temperature was horrific, and the humidity must have been 99% (well around there anyway), we had to stop and rest a lot and drink lots of water. I had decided to “tape” the track when it became indistinct so it would be easy to find for those walking in in the dark. That worked out well, except by the time I got to the hard part (walking down off highpoint 932), I’d run out of tape, we’d lost the track, and it was now dark (doh!).
We were making our way to where we should be in the dark, when Murray and Emma caught up to us (what a relief), and we eventually found the gully that you walk down to get to the overhang where we’d be camping, didn’t get into camp until 9.30pm (so much for a 3 hour walk in), Heather had built a fire for us but we were all stuffed so just collapsed and went to bed.
Saturday morning we’d gotten over the trying walk in and were all fired up and ready to go, we went up to the end of our gully (sweat already pouring off us) and waited in the shade for Andrew and Dave to arrive (eta was 9.30am), and just when I was starting to think “How long do I wait after 9.30?” they turned up 5 minutes early. Introductions all round and off we went.
And this is where things got messy and our unintended adventure started. I had planned to go straight up the spur to the ridge, there is a route there, I’d taken it twice before, so knew it was a go and earlier on I thought I’d been clear about my intentions. But, (bad leadership) I didn’t take the time to reiterate my intended route before everyone started quickly walking off. Initially, the direction they took was not critical and could have been corrected (again my bad for not acting quickly), but they were quicker than me. Jeff and I (at the back) were beside a cliff-line and found a slot but decided for a variety of reasons that we couldn’t use this to get up above the cliff-line this way. And so, we kept on going, following the rest of the group who were by now way ahead of me. Jeff, Heather and I discussed it and agreed that in a perfect world we’d be on the half-way ledge and eventually come to where we abseiled in. But nothing’s that easy and after 750m we came to the spot that was at the bottom of where we’d abseiled in, we were definitely not on the half-way ledge. We’d gone too far to turn back so figured we’d just keep on going and exit via the Jamieson route (the route in) or any other convenient route. I took a rest with Melinda and then got up a small gully to discover that they’d chosen a rockface to head up.
There was speculation that this was the “normal route in”, but having spoken to others, further on there is a less challenging route. I guess one can always look on the bright side, we walked all the way back in the shade, we did a rock climb without incident, we didn’t have any close encounters with snakes and we discovered that apart from the slot there was no other non-abseil way down into the canyon for that k of cliff-line that we’d walked beside. I think there are some other positives but they escape me at the moment.
Once on top of the ridge (there was a 100m slope we had to make our way up), we made a bee-line for the saddle and our route back down to camp. We got into camp at 7 or 7.30pm … another bloody 10 hour day! Most people do the whole canyon, and walk to and from the car park in less time than that!
For me the exit screw-up tarnished the whole canyon experience, so I might have to go back and do it again, maybe on a weekend that’s not so hot!
We got back to camp and those of us with the energy had dinner, we sat around for a while and I made the decision that I wouldn’t do Crikey the next day … I think most people breathed a sigh of relief when I suggested that we do Bubble Bath on Sunday and walk out on Monday. Everyone agreed (or at least sounded agreeable) and so we all collapsed into bed.
We took our time getting ready next morning and then out of the bush walks Alan, he’d started walking in on Saturday but when it got dark decided to camp up on the top and find us in the daylight. I was relieved to see him.
Before long we were at the end of the canyon, everyone agreed that it was a great little canyon for very little effort to get in.
Everyone (bar Jeff, Heather, Alan and me) decided that they’d walk out on Sunday afternoon, so that left the four of us at the base camp. We had a campfire down in the creek and (finally) had happy hour and dinner. On Friday and Saturday none of us were in any mood to have happy hour! Then, just at the right time a thunderstorm hit us, loads of rain, thunder and lightning, so we all headed back to the overhang to keep dry.
We walked out next morning, it was overcast and a little cooler (but still high humidity). I retrieved most of the tapes I’d put in on the way out. We were back at the vehicles around 12.30pm and after cleaning up headed to Bilpin for milkshakes.
It was one of those weekends, as I said, nothing went “wrong” but it wasn’t the easy-as trip that I’d envisioned and it was far too hot. Sorry Peter T, I had hoped that the trip would go according to plan and you’d revise your opinion of my trips as always being a bush-bash!
Thanks to everyone who joined me for the weekend, who carried ropes for me (you all know who you are), and who kept their sense of humour when we were on the wrong exit in Bjelke’s Mind.
POSTSCRIPT: There’s a “back story” to our day in Bubble Bath that’s worth noting. From about 10am in the morning one, and then two helicopters were hovering around the creek that we were in. And they were there until about 3pm hovering above us, over towards Bridge and down towards the Bunglebori, at one stage they hovered what looked like 50m above us, when we were in the open section of the canyon, we gave them the thumbs up (not knowing what else to do). I was worried that something had happened to a lovely group of 4 canyoners that were camped near us and were going down Bubble Bath, crossing the ‘Bori and going up the Crikey entry and over to do Nosedive, I suspected there were plenty of spots to come to grief on that route.
Our group, when they walked out on Sunday arvo, came across him and Emma and Murray walked him back to the campsite of his friends. The guy didn’t have a GPS, any way to light a fire at night, and no mirror or space blanket to wave around at the helios (apparently he was waving his arms and they couldn’t see him). Someone (in the industry) estimated that the two helicopters searching for the 5 hours would have cost around $100,000!
On our way out, we came across a group of 3 going down to do Bridge canyon. Turns out that the helicopters were searching for their fourth member. On the Saturday they had done Bjelke’s (before us), then decided to do Bridge (just like Andrew and Dave). One of their group didn’t want to do that, so said he had map/compass and he’d walk back to their camp (on high point 932). When they got back to camp that afternoon (5 hours later), he wasn’t there, and didn’t turn up that night. So in the morning they got out their Sat Phone and called in the police to search for the guy.