19/09/2003 - report - photos

Participants: Tom Brennan, James Yorston, Hindrik Buining

After much discussion in the morning, we were tossing up between Arethusa Canyon and Mt Hay Canyon (Butterbox). I was interested in doing Arethusa just because I figured there wouldn't be that many opportunities to do it. We figured that by dropping in from the Mt Hay Rd and rock climbing out, we may have enough time to do Fortress Canyon as well.

We turned off the Mt Hay Rd down an old 4wd track, only to find an odd guy with a Subaru and trailer camped in the middle of the track. He said he didn't figure anyone would be driving out this way early on a Friday morning. We certainly didn't expect to find anyone else.

Heading off down the ridge we quickly reached the first line of cliffs, but were repulsed. There were a couple of major gullies on the map, and a number of minor gullies which we checked out, for descent potential. No go. To compound the problem we had only brought the one 60m rope, plus a short 20m. When we tossed the rope down from a promising tree it fell short, although by how much it was hard to tell from so far above. We tied the 20m to the end and tried again - success, although a knot bypass was then needed.

We also had to rerig the drop with a sling, as we were unable to pull the rope down around the tree. It turned out that the 60m did just reach if you dropped to the right spot, but we weren't able to tell from above. Before pulling the ropes down we checked out that we were going to be able to make it into the creek in the next drop. It looked pretty comfortable, which turned out to be right. The final abseil was only about 20m.

After almost two hours we had just made it into the creek.

We spent the first bit of walking trying to keep feet dry. This quickly turned out to be futile, although it was worth avoiding it as much as possible since the water was very cold.

We soon reached the canyon proper, with a 15m drop down a waterfall signifying the start. We abseiled through an interesting cave on the right of the falls. Again we tried to avoid suiting up for as long as possible, but were soon presented with what seemed like an unavoidable swim. I went first, only to be able to point out a traverse to the other two that avoided getting wet!

The canyon itself was very slippery, with only light signs of visitation. It was reasonable in quality, but neither particularly deep or particularly tight. There were a couple of good water jumps (followed by cold swims) near the end, before we emerged too soon at the drop into the Grose Valley at about 2:30pm. [The waterfall at the drop is Arethusa Falls, although they are incorrectly named and marked on the 2nd edition Katoomba map. They are correctly named on the 3rd edition map]

The two guidebook descriptions talked of a rockclimb (grade 10) into Alpheus Canyon on the right, up the right hand side of the falls (Vida Falls) as being the quick way out. We had brought protection with us, as we figured this would be a better option than the long walk down into the Grose. It wasn't clear where the climb was supposed to be, but we mapped out the most likely route and Hindrik started up.

The first pitch was about 5m onto a narrow ledge, mostly using a large casuarina as aid. The next pitch had a couple of bolts at the bottom, which seemed promising. However, that was it for fixed pro. The climb was a little longer than the first, on to a dirt bank that led up to a longer wall, still below Alpheus Canyon. We had no cams which caused Hindrik problems on the third pitch. It was a long run out traverse before heading up some dodgy rock, and the protection was pretty scant. Finally we got to the top and were able to walk around into Alpheus Canyon.

Unfortunately we weren't out of it yet. There was still no obvious way up the cliff, and a cold pool awaited in front of us. Rather than putting wetsuits back on, we stripped down for a chilly short swim. Our passage up the canyon was stopped by a waterfall so we looked to a large log leaning against the cliff. With a lot of effort, Hindrik managed to get a rope up and we all hauled ourselves up.

Now we were on a steep dirt bank, some rock sections, but very loose underfoot. James had a near disaster when a small tree broke in his hand and he fell down the slope. Luckily he stopped, and got away with minor cuts and bruises. Finally we reached the upper cliff line, above the junction of Alpheus and Arethusa Canyons. The time was now nearly 6pm, and with the sun set we were rapidly running out of light. We quickly checked out the impressive cairn standing on the cliff corner overlooking the junction, and then started searching for a pass.

After several hundred metres traversing above Arethusa we had only found potential climbing routes, but no passes through the cliff. Things were looking a bit grim. We quickly retraced our steps, and headed under the cliff line up Alpheus Canyon. As the light faded, we still had not found anything and were facing the prospect of being benighted. After a quick discussion, we pushed on in the dark, eventually reaching the first tributary on the right hand side, which was where we wanted to head. Unfortunately, only a couple of hundred metres up this we hit a waterfall, and were forced to retreat. The ridge opposite the junction looked promising, and that was the case. We easily reached the top of the ridge and assessed our position. Nearly an hour of walking brought us to the Fortress fire trail, and from there it was another 40mins or so of road bash back to the car.

All up an eventful day. I am still curious to know whether we did the right things. It all seemed very difficult. I would be interested in hearing from you if you have climbed out of Arethusa.