Abseiling / Canyoning / Dry canyon / SUBW

Gaping Gill Canyon

Party: Tim Vollmer (T2), Tim Gastineau-Hills (T1), Nigel Butler, Katerina Rnic, Nicole Van Malder, Sebastien Decerf – photos

Thankfully Gaping Gill is the shortest canyon in the Claustral system, so despite our lazy start time of 9am, which was blown out of the water when T1’s Nokia mistakenly set his clock back for daylight saving, making him an hour late, it was a great day. The late start was fitting given the trips organisation had been haphazard at best, with T1 and I lending out gear to Kat and Nicole, and forcing Seb to spend several hours frantically calling everyone he could find from Suboir on Saturday in an attempt to get his hands on a harness.

After doing Ranon the other week Gaping Gill had been on my mind, and it seemed a perfect short trip for the promised warm weather. We were a little nervous given the three newbies (Kat did her first canyon, Claustral, last weekend, while Nicole and Seb had never even abseiled before), but with only two abseils and at about half the length of other nearby trips we figured we were pretty safe.

It was already very warm as we started off down the road, soon getting to the turnoff and beginning to bash our way down the ridge. I had no sooner told the new guys about the wonders of lawyer vine — promising we probably wouldn’t see any — when we stumbled upon our first clump. Walking was slow going, between the loose basalt boulders, lush undergrowth, lack of track and regular encores by the lawyer vine, leading to more than one or two decent falls.

Walking down Gaping Gill Canyon

After about half an hour scrambling our way down, a defined creek began to form, making for easier going. The appearance of sandstone also allowed the undergrowth to open up. We found a nice little drop, rigged up the 20m rope which Nigel had managed to find early on (a fairly new looking 10mm!) and gave Seb and Nicole their crash course in abseiling, as well as a quick refresher for Kat.

Gaping Gill really can’t be described as a canyon, although it is a pretty creek with towering walls and some lovely little waterfalls dropping in. Before too long we got to the first abseil — about 15m from on top of a giant chockstone. It was an awkward, slippery, slightly overhung start: exactly what you want for beginners! Amazingly everyone did fine, and you couldn’t wipe the smile off Seb’s face at the bottom. He admitted that he had been “shitting himself” and contemplating a solitary walk back to the car, but thankfully gave it a go and had a great time.

As the group was abseiling the first drop the sun disappeared, with it suddenly becoming much darker before a long thunderous roar tore through the air and rain drops started falling. We quickly pulled down the rope and walked on, looking for a sheltered spot in case the weather was particularly bad.

At the base of the second abseil

We spotted a nice overhand and stopped for lunch, with the rain not getting too heavy and eventually clearing, despite still more thunder. It was probably about here when people first noticed the leeches, with Kat by far the worst, letting our an almighty scream following by a rather odd dance each time she discovered one of the little blood suckers. I discovered just how hard it is to pull a leech of someones leg as they dance around!

With the rain gone, we decided it was safe to go on, and within about 50m we were at the top of the second drop; a 28m beauty down a waterfall. Yet another tricky start on some slippery, overhung boulders, before a long beautifully water-worn slot down to a shallow pool.

From here it was just a short stroll to Thunder Gorge, then about 45 minutes upstream to Rainbow Ravine. While no where near as constricted as further up, it did give the newbies an idea of what proper canyon looks like, and hopefully some inspiration to do the rest of the system.

In Thunder Canyon

T1, Kat and I swam and waded the 100m or so up stream to the last climb down, admiring the waterfall where Rainbow Ravine joins up, before heading back to the others and starting the slog out.

Rainbow Ravine as always was beautiful, and worthy of canyon status itself in several places; its certainly more of a canyon than Gaping Gill! We all worked up a sweat on the walk out, except Nigel who merrily plowed ahead, with the whole crew back at the cars before 5 after a very pleasant walk. A few more leeches were removed, clothes were changed, and we jumped in the cars and headed for the Apple Bar at Bilpin for a beer and some wood-fired pizza, minus Nigel who had an early start at work on Monday.

Driving through Mt Tomah there were plenty of leaves and debris on the road from the storm, as well as a fair quantity of snow-like ice on the side of the road, making us realise how lucky we were that we only caught the side of what must have been a pretty impressive storm.

All up a good trip, and hopefully not the last for Kat, Nicole and Seb!

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3 thoughts on “Gaping Gill Canyon

  1. Dear Tim,
    Thank you for your article and photos.I spent my childhood living at Berambing, just off Mt. Tomah, and my grandmother and several uncles had places on Mt. Tomah itself as well. I had been asked to do some research about this area, and this is when I found your account.
    My aunt Hesba Fay Brinsmead wrote five authobiographical novels about her childhood in the 1920s and 1930s at Berambing, and tells a story of being caught at The Gaping Gill during a search for a cow. We do not think that she and the cow wandered this far, but then again, we cannot be sure.
    I also have an account, still written in pencil, by Athol Abrahams from Sydney University Bushwalkers, of a trip he and friends did in the 1960s down Claustral Canyon, and Thunder Canyon. Possible date 1964. I married Athol in 1968. (He now lives in the United States). His account makes it more dramatic than your trip, but I am not sure how they exited to Mt. Tomah South, maybe up The Gaping Gill. (named after a cave in Yorkshire).
    The only Canyon I have been down myself, is over on the northern side of Carmarthan Hills, Wollangambie Canyon, which we accessed from Newnes.
    Best wishes,
    Lesley Abrahams (nee Hungerford) (living In Dubbo, NSW)
    Research for Kurrajong Comleroy Historical Society, Kurrajong, NSW

    • Lesley, thanks so much for the message (and sorry for the slow response… this one was lost in the chaos of Christmas!)
      Those historic accounts of Gaping Gill are really interesting. I can imagine the cow story is possible. The gully goes quite deep without any abseils, and even the first abseil could possibly be scrambled around on the side, so you could plausibly find yourself caught under it. There’s lots of steep, scrambly terrain around there — not to mention thickets of lawyer vine — so it wouldn’t have been fun!
      I’d be really interested in seeing that trip report by Athol too. I assume it’s the trip he did in Dec ’64, as per our club’s old log books. That was just 18 months after the first descent of the canyon, so it’s no surprise it seemed extremely challenging to them still. I’m not sure how they exited, but Gaping Gill is a possibility. The standard exit is before this, at Rainbow Ravine, but I’m not sure what they used this early on.
      Athol’s name is one that comes up quite a bit in the old club archives, so it’s very interesting to speak to someone who was actually married to him! I actually did a canyoning trip a week ago down Burumin Canyon, which was first descended in ’63 by a party that included Athol (his trip report is here: http://www.subw.org.au/archives/POR/Unnamed.html).
      Good luck with your research about the area. Let me know if there’s anything we can do to assist.

  2. Hi Tim, Thank you for the reply. I have sent you Athol’s trip report from 1964, via email separately. Thank you for the link to the SUBW archives. It will prove to be interesting.
    Best wishes, Lesley

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