Claustral Canyon is one of the most impressive canyons around. Three abseils through the dark Black Hole of Calcutta are followed by 700m of high quality canyon.
It was discovered by SUBW parties in the early 1960s but the waterfalls were first descended by a Kameruka Bushwalking Club party in 1963, after placing a bolt on the blocked up keyhole.
The NPWS requests that canyoners use the entry route that starts from Bells Line of Road on the SW side of Mt Bell, via the gully that runs in a SSE direction roughly S of Mt Bell. The NPWS also requests that canyoners returning from the Camels Hump use the old track across the Camels Saddle to the minor saddle, and down into Claustral Brook, rather than forming new tracks. The notes below describe these routes. These are shown roughly on a map.
Drive west along Bells Line of Road and park at a large pull in area on the left at MGA583847, just after the road swings sharply right just past Mt Bell. Walk back to the corner and try and pick up a track heading SSE and into the gully at MGA588839. There is a log book about 10m off the road. Follow this gully down to Claustral Brook. Note that the track crosses the top of a massive rock outcrop about 100m from the road, and is hard to pick up until you are on the other side of it.
Turn right and walk down the creek to the canyon.
There is a climb down or jump in (only if the water is very high) of about 4m with a swim. Not long after is another short (2m) jump in, and another swim.
Then you reach the abseils. A short scramble leads down to the first of these, 10m, through a hole. There is a convenient ledge to unclip on - a 17m rope reaches this. After a swim across the pool, the second abseil follows, also 10m, from a ring bolt up high on the right. The first two abseils can be combined with a 50m rope, but the pulldown may be difficult. The third (about 15m) also goes through a hole (the Keyhole, unless the hole is blocked, in which case you have to swim across the pool and go over the top). All of the abseils have ledges that you can detach the rope from before getting wet. A short swim follows, and then a wade, through a deep dark section, to the junction with Ranon Brook.
700m of high quality canyon brings you to the Thunder Gorge junction. If you have time it is worth visiting Thunder Canyon from the bottom.
The creek opens out for about 500m before narrowing again. There are some tricky climb downs in the next section. There are also two longer drops of about 5m each, which often have fixed ropes in place. It is advisable to abseil the first of these drops on the right side. The second is easier, but is dangerous in high water, and should be abseiled on the right hand side in those conditions. In between these two drops is the Tunnel Swim, which can sometimes be a wade, but is usually a long cold swim up to 50m through a dark tunnel.
About 50m past the second climb down, Rainbow Ravine is a reasonably obvious sloping waterfall that comes in on your left, as the creek bends right. A further 50m past this there is a final 20m swim to the exit gully. Many parties miss this exit and end up being benighted in the canyon, so be careful.
Scramble up the exit gully for about 20m and then traverse left under the cliff to Rainbow Ravine. Head up Rainbow Ravine. There are a few tricky scrambles, and some wades (for those who carry dry socks or shoes).
Where the gully splits higher up, head up the left branch. At the top there is a small waterfall, involving two tricky scrambles. It is easier (and quicker for most parties) to avoid these scrambles by walking to the right along the ledge to the other gully, and then up a ramp and back over the top. This avoids further erosion in the already eroded gully above the waterfall. Otherwise, scramble up the waterfall. The first is up a log braced with rope. The second can be made easier by stepping to the right and using the side of a good handhold for the left hand.
From there follow the obvious track up to the Camels Hump. Head down and right to the Camels Saddle, ignoring tracks off to the left, and then up a short way to the next minor saddle at MGA597834. Turn left here, and follow the track steeply downhill until you reach Claustral Brook.
A track can be followed alongside the creek for some way. Continue downstream past the junction with Dismal Dingle. There are a couple of canyon sections in here. There are two deep wades or short swims shortly before you reach the exit gully on the right at MGA589837.
Head up this gully and back to the car via the route that you came in.