The track notes on the site have ratings for difficulty, number of abseils, longest abseil, quality, wetsuits, time, distance and ascent. Read the following to see what these ratings mean.
Rating canyons for difficulty is tricky. Canyons are changeable environments and can be quite different from visit to visit. Conditions under which you visit a canyon also play a big part. After rain, the rock may be slippery making for awkward scrambling, waterfalls may be more dangerous to abseil and swims longer or pools deeper. If you are not familiar with a canyon, you should wait until conditions are favourable to visit it. The difficulty ratings are at best a guide, and you should use your judgement when deciding whether you are qualified to do a certain canyon.
The main factors included in a difficulty rating are: number/difficulty of abseils, amount/exposure of scrambling, navigation to/from the canyon including some factor for length (but see Time below), how wet the canyon is.
- Easy - a canyon involving mostly walking, swimming or easier scrambling. Likely to have tracks in and out. No abseils, though rope may be needed for scrambling. Note that even an easy canyon will probably be challenging for people who have done little scrambling.
- Medium - a canyon usually involving abseiling. Some of the following difficulty factors will be present: tricky or awkward abseils, exposed scrambling, difficult navigation to or from the canyon, long day.
- Hard - as for Medium, but more difficulty factors will be present and in greater quantities.
The number of abseils a party needs to do, or wants to do, can be quite variable. Small abseils can be often be scrambled down by skilled parties. Some abseils can be walked around. Others can be jumped. One big abseil can be split into two or more, or shorter abseils combined into one. The bottom line is that there is no fixed figure for the total number of abseils for a canyon.
This figure is indicative, as typically the more abseils, the harder the canyon and the longer it is likely to take.
Read the notes for what is recommended, keeping in mind that conditions change.
This length is a fairly conservative number, generally rounded up to the next 5m. If you read the notes carefully, you will find in many cases that by splitting drops, or not doing optional drops, you can in fact complete the canyon with less rope. This length is mainly provided for people who don't want to read the notes closely prior to starting out.
Note that even if you have this rope length, there are choices that you may make that will put you outside this number! Don't assume it will cover you for every eventuality.
Many of my canyon track notes have a rating out of 10 for the canyon, mostly based around the quality of the slot.
- The canyon ratings are completely subjective, based on how much I enjoyed a particular canyon, the quality of canyon, the length of the canyon and probably a bunch of other factors peculiar to me. Note the words I and me. So if you think I've rated your favorite canyon as a 1, 2 or 3, well that's what I thought of it. If you want your say, start your own web site!
- The canyon ratings are out of 10. Even the crappiest canyon gets a 1. If something gets a 0, then it's not a canyon (in my opinion again of course).
- Ratings are predominantly for sandstone slot canyons. I'm not so interested in comparing other sorts of canyons.
- Most of the well known canyons will probably get between 7 and 10. They tend to be well known for a reason.
- There's nothing fixed about the ratings. I can and do change my mind after revisiting.
- Note that a 3 or 4 doesn't mean a bad canyon, just not one I'll be racing back to visit too soon.
You can see a list of the ratings of some of the canyons I've visited.
Times are estimated based on a moderately experienced party of around 4-5 canyoners, including a couple of experienced leaders.
A small, very experienced and fast moving party may cut as much as half the time off the estimates, while a larger party, or a party with a number of inexperienced canyoners, could take up to twice the time. Any canyon that involves a long day should be avoided with a large or somewhat inexperienced party, particularly if there are many abseils, or long abseils.
Distances are measured off the map or with GPS. Given the meandering nature of tracks to and from the canyon, and route finding in the canyon, they will typically understate the actual distance travelled by 10-30%. Also keep in mind that distance sometimes has little bearing on time taken. While walking on tracks at 3-4km/h is possible, while boulder hopping in creeks, or pushing through thick scrub, walking speed can drop to 1km/h or even less!
Where alternative routes are suggested, the distance usually relates to the first or primary route.
The ascent is an indication of the total height gain during the trip. It is the sum of the largest climb, plus any other significant climbs - typically those of 50m or more. In most cases, this will either be on the walk in or the walk out of the canyon.
Whether to take wetsuits or not can be a difficult decision. A lot of canyons near Sydney do not have long swims, so wetsuits are not always needed. They are heavy and bulky, and in some canyons end up being more trouble than they are worth. However, there may be times when you wish you had them. If in doubt, it is usually better to take them and not need them, than to not have them and need them. See Keeping Warm for more info.
Descriptives used are:
- No - parties should not need wetsuits. Typically canyons with waist deep wades or less
- Not required - with appropriate care, most parties will be able to do without wetsuits. Typically canyons with some short chest deep wades and possibly a swim
- Optional - small, fast moving parties will probably be able to make do without wetsuits but larger or slower moving parties are advised to take them. Typically canyons with longer or more frequent deep wades and possible short swims
- Recommended - most parties should take wetsuits. Typically canyons with frequent wading and swimming, possibly including longer swims
- Lilos - both wetsuits and lilos are recommended. Typically canyons with many long, deep pools. Confident swimmers may make do with wetsuits only, but long immersion in cold water means that a full steamer-type wetsuit is recommended, and flotation in your pack
Listed maps are all 1:25000 topographic maps of NSW, and can be purchased from outdoor stores and map shops. Digital versions can also be downloaded for free from SIX Maps e-Topo portal.
Many of the track notes have a brief paragraph or so on the history of the canyon. I have not footnoted these, but sources for this information include:
- Back from the Brink, Andy Macqueen
- The Golden Years, David Noble
- South Wolgan Exploratory Canyoning - Part 1 and Part 2, David Noble
- Journal of the Kameruka Bushwalking Club
and these are worth seeking out for further reading.