Driving up the mountains, we climbed first into thick fog, then some light rain. The weather was far from ideal — and the forecast wasn’t promising a great improvement — but we were determined to press on regardless.
After a quick Maccas stop for breakfast (which I greatly regretted a few hours later) we headed for Newnes, with Todd’s car appearing in the rear view mirror just a few kilometres from our destination.
Some organising of gear and a car shuffle — which our sore legs were very thankful for on the following day — and we were off, crossing the river before heading up Zobels Gully towards the sandstone plateau above.
Up the boulder-choked creek we went before turning left at the top into a minor tributary. Following it up we examined a break in the cliffs, but it narrowed into an impassable slot. We circled around under a large overhang to a waterfall which looked a little ominous, but was quickly detoured before a great ramp took us up to the tops.
My stomach was pretty unimpressed at this point — apparently the “Blazing Omelette McMuffin” hadn’t been such a great call — but the impressive view back down the gully and along the Wolgan made things seem much better.
One last small set of cliffs barred our way up, but a great series of ledges running off to our left made short work of it, and we were soon pushing through some scrub to the ridgetop.
Thanks to some feedback about the quality of the three canyons we were considering we’d decided to put Big Foot at the bottom of the list — an option if we had time this afternoon — and instead head for Hartleys Mistake. Moving along the ridge we weren’t 100 per cent certain we were looking into the right catchment, so we pushed a few hundred metres further north — into the northern tributary of Hartleys Mistake — so we could be certain.
From here we made short work of the decent. Racing down the steep slope we only found one major cliffline barring us from the creek, and with a few minutes of searching we managed to find a pass down.
There were some stunning rainforest sections offering very pleasant creek walking, and a few less enjoyable sections with plenty of fallen timber, before the creek started to visibly drop and become more bouldery.
All of a sudden we heard voices, then as we rounded a bend we spotted another group, from the Coast and Mountain Walkers. So much for being in a remote wilderness area!
Most terrifyingly, they seemed to know exactly who we were and what we were doing, which was a little unnerving until one of them admitted being a former SUBW member who still lurks on our email list.
We left them to their lunch and moved on, soon coming to the first abseil. It was quite pleasant, but nothing spectacular, however it did take us into the start of the canyon constriction which already seemed quite promising.
Then we came to the main drop and the excitement levels rose. The canyon dropped away into a deep, dark constriction. The abseil, from a tree which had an interesting selection of slings (everything from seatbelt webbing to some cheap Bunnings rope — which we cut off!) took us down the dark waterfall into a deep pool.
There was no dodging the swim, but despite it being a pretty cold day it didn’t seem too bad. We swam to the end before doing the rope pull down.
From here, running a few hundred metres, is a deep, dark, winding, spectacular horizontal slot canyon. It felt almost like a tunnel, the sides above came so close together.
Unfortunately, like all good things it had to come to an end, but at least the creek walking remained nice.
But we were still in for a few surprises. First we came to an interesting waterfall pouring down a narrow slot which looked very worthy of visitation from above. Then we came to the next creek, with a similar impressive side canyon, but this time we could reverse it quite some way.
With packs off we went in, squeezing, shimmying, sliding and generally brute-forcing our way higher through what was a great little canyon all on its own. Eventually we could go no further, but in this case it felt like there probably wasn’t a whole lot of good canyon above us.
Eventually we stopped for a late lunch on a boulder just below another side canyon. Well, most of us did. Todd had gone looking for a pass to the north, for us to use the following morning, and had succeeded in pushing almost the whole way to the top. By the time he made it back down, to the top of the waterfall above, we were all hoeing into our meals, so he was left ogling the hot meals from a distance while he was forced to rig a quick abseil to get down the final drop.
Originally we’d been thinking of trying to visit Big Foot Canyon later in the afternoon, but our side canyons had chewed up a bit too much time, and we were hoping to find a camp cave for the night given the still-threatening weather.
We made our way to the junction of Deanes Creek, where we found the other group already set up on a large flat, before heading downstream to explore for somewhere to camp.
The creek walking was nice, but the valley didn’t look like it would offer any caves, so we found a flat spot amongst the coachwoods and set up camp. Good firewood was in short supply, but with some scrounging we found more than enough to last our stay.
It was a great night of sitting around the camp fire, eating, drinking, and generally yarning, until an unexpected visitor dropped in. A large male funnel web, apparently brought out by the recent rain, decided to wander through our camp, coming within centimetres of several sets of bare feet! While we normally leave the wildlife alone, the thought of a potentially deadly bite from a generally territorial spider was enough to get him flicked into the fire!
After breakfast we packed off and headed back upstream, aiming for Todd’s pass. Taking a slightly different route up the lower cliffs we found a reasonable little camp cave — one to remember for next time — before following a series of ledges and scrambles up through the main cliffs.
There were a couple pack passes needed, and one dodgy section climbing up a pile of small branches and then a small waterfall, but before long we were at the base of the final band of cliffs. These were impressive in size, and quite overhung, so we skirted along until we were able to round the nose and find an easy way up to the top.
We paused here to take in the impressive view, and marvel at just how deep and rugged even the smaller gorges on the Newnes Plateau are.
As we followed the ridge north we could hear a male lyre bird working through his repertoire of bird calls. We eventually got within a few metres of him – momentarily seeing him dancing on his mound with his tail plumage up – before he spotted us and fled with a shriek.
The CMW group had told as about an interesting side creek to enter Twilight by, with a series of nice abseils, so rather than drop straight in we circled around the headwaters and headed for this small tributary. Down we went, eventually coming to a couple abseils which weren’t too special, before joining the main creek. We weren’t too sure what they’d been on about, but didn’t think much of it.
A few hundred metres on we sudden saw a very interesting creek coming in on the left. Sure enough, it was a short canyon, so we scrambled as far up as we could before reaching an impressive amphitheatre with a waterfall tumbling in from high above. Whoops, this must have been the creek they were telling us to enter by. One for next time.
The weather had been improving all morning, and by now it was getting quite warm, with clear blue skies above, making us really long for the start of the canyon.
A nice abseil took us down into the start of the constriction, but it was quite open and not too spectacular. It was still fun though, with the first small water jump of the day and some interesting pot holes. It was also here that we saw the first of the dead goannas, which turned out to be a theme for the trip.
Eventually it opened out, but the creek remained nice. Either side a number of impressive fault lines joined in to the creek, with at least one looking well worth exploring if we’d had a bit more time up our sleeves.
From here the canyon closed in nicely, and continued for quite some way. The walls above were water-worn, but in places quite differently to how they appear in most canyons.
It was also in this section that we stumbled on the zombie goanna — seeming standing upright with his arms out — which managed to get a spectacular reaction from Mary! He was the third dead one in this canyon, and the fourth deceased goanna we’d seen this weekend, which seemed really unusual.
Eventually, at a point where we thought the canyon was probably coming to its end, we found a very cool little camp cave. Now this would be a nice spot to spend a hot summer weekend!
After scrambling down some boulders, thinking the best of it was behind us, the canyon closed in again. In close succession there were a series of water jumps. Only a few metres each, but into quite shallow water. Each one seemed to take us deeper into the cavernous depths of the canyon.
I went first on the second last jump, swimming across the pool with glasses off, so couldn’t see much of my surrounding. But then Mary, who’d followed close behind, let out a shout of “snake”. Sure enough, a couple metres from us on the other side of the pool, a very large Tiger Snake was giving us some very dirty looks and looking pretty determined to have us move on.
We gladly obliged, with everyone else jumping away from him and moving quickly through, before making quick work of the next drop. He was a beautiful specimen, but a narrow canyon is not the place you want to be in close proximity to such a dangerous snake.
Eventually, after what felt like several hours of good sustained canyon, the creek tumbled down a massive boulder chute into a huge gorge. While totally different to the canyon, this section was still beautiful, and provided lots of fun scrambling.
It did pose its own challenges, with Todd catching himself on a log after a section of ground gave way, and my knee taking a pounding when a huge rotten tree decided to roll as I stood on it, sending me tumbling.
A final steep decent down a ridge to the left, where we came across the remains of an old farm fence, and we were down on the Wolgan where a fire trail provided us with an easy pack march back to the cars.
It was good timing, as Mary’s Volleys had well and truly had it, with her feet protected more by sock than shoe!
We powered down the road, taking about two hours back to the cars, with hardly a pause other than when we spotted our first living goanna of the trip in a nearby tree!
About six o’clock we were back at the car, which was a relief for sore legs, so with the recovery of the other car we were able to get changed and head for dinner.
As Evan, Garrett and I arrived at the pizza place in Lithgow (which we were testing out for the Good Grub Guide), the phone rang. Todd and Mary were heading straight for home after Todd was forced to pull over and ferilise the side of the Wolgan road with the leftovers of his lunch!
For us, the adventure was only just beginning… I’ll save the full story for around the camp fire, but I will say this: our meal involved: 1) classic music from an old record player; 2) pizza from a former priest; and 3) a blood curdling scream from the kitchen as the owner’s son decides to wave around an antique Canadian axe!
“Fenton! Fenton! Jesus Christ Fenton!”