28/02/2009 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan
Unable to find any other takers for my lower Wollangambe trip, I set off by myself up the mountains. At the North Richmond Bakery I chatted to some other canyoners, off to do Whungee Wheengee, and then bumped into Dave Lee and Nicole St Vincent Welch, heading up to do Twister and Rocky Creek.
The drive up Bells Line was slow as, first behind a small truck towing a horse trailer, and then behind a vintage car. Neither seemed to be able to get above 40km/h on the hills. It wasn't until Mt Banks that the traffic got up to speed.
The same Whungee Wheengee canyoners were getting there ready as I set off down the track to the Big Bend at about 10:30am. The canyon was still in the shade when I arrived, the water cool and still, a contrast to the warm, windy weather on the tops. I inflated my lilo, donned wetsuit, and set off into the unknown.
The first section of canyon was much as I expected, a continuation of the good canyon at the end of the lower tourist section. I spent time looking for exits, camp caves and side canyons, finding some potential in all three cases. Most of the side canyons looked like they petered out a short way up, but would be worth checking out a bit more fully. The liloing was good, though the main canyon had opened out a bit. I didn't have to get off too many times as there were numerous little rapids that were rideable.
It was some time before I reached the first major blockup. The wind had reached the canyon by this stage and jumping across blocks with the large sail of a lilo became a major challenge. Below the block up the canyon decreased in quality, with the cliffs lowering or stepping back from the river on both sides. The liloing was still fairly pleasant, and I had lunch on a log in the sun opposite a large sand bank.
Below the second blockup the river became somewhat scrubby, and numerous small unliloable rapids blocked the waterway. Liloing became a bit of a chore, and when I finally reached the bottom of the big C-shaped bend, I had almost had enough. I checked out a possible pass up the gully - it looked doable, but with a tricky move to get to easier ground, I decided to leave it for today and returned to the river. I pushed on towards the easy exit on the north side of the bend.
It was well that I did, as the canyon returned, with the best bits since the start of the day. The longer pools returned and the minor rapids became less frequent. I could hear a roar up ahead that ususally signalled a large blockup. I could see the final bend, with my exit just around the corner. At the head of the blockup a small whirlpool was sucking water underground with a vengeance. I had not seen one so big. I scrambled over the top of the massive boulders and did not like what I saw. On one side a steep slippery slab ended a metre or two above the water, on the other a 4m drop on to rocks. I was initially confident that a way down under the boulders would present itself, as it so often does in these wider creeks, but searched fruitlessly.
What now? Sliding the slab looked possible, but the bottom was problematic, and with no partner, I could not hope to reverse it if I got into trouble. Abseiling the other side was a possibility but the obvious anchor was a few metres further back, and I had only brought a 10m rope. Jumping was also a possibility, but dangerous without checking. Then I spotted a small rock bollard at the top of the drop. It would hold the rope if I kept a low start. Luckily I had thrown in some tape, a few biners and an ATC, and I tied myself a tape harness. The start was awkward as I had my body jammed in the large crack. Thankfully I was soon at the bottom, and while the rope would not pull, it flicked off easily. I searched around at the bottom for any possible routes through the boulders that I had missed. There were none. The water squirted out from numerous small holes under the massive rocks. Jumping, or even sliding and dropping, would have been fraught with danger as the pool at the bottom had numerous rocks at only knee depth in the water, some not easily visible from the top. Luckily I had been overly cautious and brought (barely) sufficient gear.
From here it was a short paddle through more good canyon to the exit. It was a slow but easy slog up the hill and back to the fire, with enough of a track to only have to do occasional bush bashing. The last section was back along the main road, though I was not lucky enough to score a lift. It was not til after 7pm that I reached Cathedral Reserve. The Whungee Wheengeeans had not returned.
For the drive home, a thick haze had descended over the mountains, and the sunset looked like the moon. The other side of the Grose Valley was barely visible - it looked like fires, though none could be seen. I stopped at Richmond for a dose of the Colonel's Wicked Chicken before the final push home. A good day of canyoning.
Afterwards, I checked my references regarding the abseil.
Jamieson (Canyons Near Sydney) says "the creek gets rougher and the cliffs higher, and there are not so many exit points" but makes no comment about any particular obstacles.
Dave Noble (Wild Guide) says "No ropes are needed although two water-jumps are encountered along the way". See my comments about jumping.
Nicholas Gooch (Kameruka Magazine) was probably the most interesting. "Around 4pm a block up of gargantuan proportions confronted us, the boulders were steep and smooth sided and afforded no visible way to the river, some 15 ft below."
"Much head-scratching ensued and various suggestions of heroism were sensibly dismissed. An accident down here would cause untold technical difficulties as no obvious exit routes were to hand. We searched for an alternative, a high level traverse being considered. A ledge some 15 ft above us on our right looked promising. Leaving my pack I scrambled up to the beginning of the ledge and followed it a short distance before an overhang forced me on to my stomach, just as the ledge curved around to the right to follow the river. Once around the corner, the ledge terminated into a series of sloping rock faces with good footholds."
Based on the rest of the trip report, the description above seemed to be describing the same section of the river. Perhaps that's the trick? That said, this trip report was 33 years ago and conditions change.