3 Bullets Dodged

BLUE MOUNTAINS NP – 12 February 2021
Haystack Ridge>Lower South Bowen> North Bowen exit.
You think you’ve hit the jackpot when you “dodge a bullet” as they say in Australia (you know, when you just avoid a near disaster).  Imagine how happy I was at the end of this trip when I realised that I’d dodged three bloody bullets!

So, what was the first bullet?  Well, back on the 29th January, I’d organised a trip down the lower part of South Bowen Creek.  We’d be walking in on Marijuana ridge, walking downstream for about 4k and then walking out via the North Bowen exit.  When we all met up it was raining so we decided to shorten the trip, going in via Marijuana canyon and out via the ridge (a third of the trip).  Determining to go back and give it another go, this time I shortened the trip by going in via the next ridge down, Haystack Ridge, eliminating about a k of South Bowen Creek walking.  Let me tell you, if we’d stuck to the original plan from 29th January, we’d still be in that canyon!  As it was, the shortened route took us 8 hours!

Anna O-B, Marcia K, Penny S, John G, Bill R and Garry S joined me – these Friday walks are becoming popular.

Before starting, I gave everyone a “lecture” on being cautious and risk averse – after 5 fatalities bush walking/canyoning/liloing over the last 5 months, I’m a bit twitchy.  We set off at around 9.30 after doing the car shuffle.

Easy walking along an old dis-used fire trail.

John recollected going down this spur and said it was “easy”, but we got to a pagoda and I pulled the pin on down-climbing it, after the fires, the foot holds are very fragile, I knocked one off at the top by standing on it, so I elected to abseil down – good thing we brought a rope (John had said that when he did this they climbed it without a rope – but I don’t like down-climbing particularly!)

The “down-climb” from below, mind you it might be easier going up the pagoda.

The next climb down was not good either, loose rock everywhere, an easy down-climb but you needed to watch out for the people below, and to make sure there were no floating rocks.

Lots of scrub heading to the creek. It was at this point that we put on wetsuits – and I discovered that neither John or Bill hadn’t brought theirs. I’m used to John not using a wetsuit, he doesn’t seem to feel the cold at all.

Pretty much straight away we were into our first long swim – and Penny surprised us all by breast stroking the swim, with no life-preserver!

Short down-climb on a convenient log.

And another long swim.

Downclimb through flood debris.

And another swim, the canyon is starting to close in now.

And then it opened out to being just a creek walk through scrub and rocks.

We then came to a drop with built up flood debris. Anna and John climbed down a level, but there was then a drop of a few metres and it didn’t look like there were any foot holds. John suspects that the last time he did it 20+ years ago, they went through a bit of a hole.

So we set up an abseil, was much easier and safer.

Marcia on the abseil, you’re able to land on the rock at the bottom.

Everyone had a bit of fun in the small waterfall.

Penny in the waterfall.

Back on our way and another swim.

We came to this small side creek, after climb up there was a lovely crystal clear pool, wasn’t so crystal clear when four of us climbed up for a photo opportunity.

Back on track and there’s another abseil, Marcia getting ready to go down the log.

Penny on the abseil, the dismount at the end was very slippery.

The abseil from the bottom, Garry on the log, John doing the photo-faffing.

Lovely green canyon section.

More lovely canyon section.

And another swim.

And another one!

This swim was particularly long, maybe 75m.

A log slide. It was at this point that we caught up to Bill who’d been ahead of us. He was very, very cold with what looked like mild hypothermia. Penny whipped off her wet suit top and gave it to him, he was fine after that – another bullet dodged – thanks Pen!

Anna spotting Marcia on this climb down.

Penny on the down-climb, Anna gave her a thermal to put on after this, we didn’t want Penny getting cold either.

Marcia on another climb down.

Very pretty green section, and another swim!

The Green Room.

And we’re at the end and preparing to walk up the North Bowen exit which is up a gully.  It was 3pm when we got to the exit.

North Bowen is a popular canyon and as it goes up the gully, there are a few tricky spots. There are three short climbs, each with a hand-line to get you up. When I first did this canyon 22 years ago, there weren’t any fixed hand-lines for these three climbs and the fourth climb – you needed to bring your own hand-lines and set them up if needed.

The fourth climb, in the past, was up a (roughly) 2m wall of rock and there was a convenient root that was at the 1m level, you still needed a hand-line to pull yourself up as there were no hand-holds.  In the 6 years since I last did this canyon, the root has rotted away and the fixed hand-line has two foot loops to help you up, it’s now a much trickier climb.  John didn’t like the look of the hand-line and so went up a 3m cleft to the right, there didn’t look like too many foot holds and he called down that it was very, very slippery.  I decided against climbing that but Anna followed him up.  I wasn’t watching but at the slippery part, she lost her footing and her hand slipped off the hand-hold (root), and she fell down about 2 – 3m landing on her front, thankfully with her face in a spot where there was sand and leaf litter.  Luckily she was wearing her helmet.

It was a heart-stopping moment for us all right up until she said “I’m ok”.  We then rigged an extra belay rope for her (and me), but she wouldn’t hear of that and went up the rigged hand-line (me with my heart in my mouth, I didn’t think she should be climbing after that fall).  She got up ok, the belay rope was set and John and Bill helped me up!  Needless to say I wont be doing North Bowen ever again, unless I take someone to rig up a top belay for me, that exit is way dodgy.

It was another 2 hours before we got back to the cars on Wynnes Lookout road, another reason why I may not do North Bowen in the future, bloody long walk out!  Let’s face it, I’ve done North Bowen seven times now, do I really have to do it again? Nup!

So, the third bullet dodged – with Anna not showing any serious injury – it could have been much, much worse.  Thanks team for springing into action after the fall!

So, great trip (apart from the bullet(s)), really lovely canyon sections and a part of Mt Wilson that most people don’t do … thank you everyone for coming on this adventure with me!

UPDATE:  Anna took herself off to the hospital the next day, just in case.  They took X-rays an pronounced her unscathed (apart from a sore neck and shoulder), but then on Monday the radiologist called back and said that she had a very minor fracture in her neck!  Very scary. She’ll be wearing a neck brace for a while.

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6 Responses to 3 Bullets Dodged

  1. Jenny Hughes says:

    As always , loved hearing about the adventure!
    Never a dull moment. As always, Penny is amazing and an inspiration! I can’t believe John and Bill did those long swims with no wetsuits!!!!
    So pleased to hear u all made it out alive! I hope Anna will b ok! That sounds very concerning!
    Thank you for the photos. As always, they were so beautiful!

  2. john L’Estrange says:

    Yes, long ago and far away! Many years ago……..
    I’m glad that it all turned out well, it is an excellent canyon but I would never, ever have gone in there without a wetsuit.

  3. Jim says:

    Nice trip report Marilyn, Looks like I dodged a bullet ( or was that Machine gun fire ?) by going on your earlier attempt via Marijuana ridge and not having to find our way out in the dark or benighted.

    • marilyn says:

      Haha Jim, yep you dodged a bullet there, it probably would have turned it to a 10 hour day, still would have got out in daylight but we would all have been stuffed!

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