Party: Tim “T1” Gastineau-Hills, Dale Cotton, David Kyle, Glen Charlier
With Dale visiting from the States – who in just a few short weeks has already seen some of the best Blue Mountains canyons – the hastily-made plan was to see a very different region and canyon. Plus, pack in a few caves and be back in Sydney for Mothers Day, what more could one want? Well, a good sized group is always nice and we were lucky to get David and Glen on board a day or so beforehand.
Long Gully is an open rocky gorge twisting its way down to the Shoalhaven River. It is popular as an off-season canyoning trip, having no swims or wades, and up to 9 abseils, one of them an exciting 56m. In some ways, the region reminds me of Kanangra, with the precipitous cliffs, loose scree slopes, big waterfalls and sparse scrub… but as we know Kanangra is much wetter, deeper and leech-ier.
We met at the Bungonia State Conservation Area park office a little after 8am and drove out to the Stan Jones Trail car park (also the start of the Trestle Track). A short walk of about 15 minutes to Long Gully and we traversed above the scrub for a little way before following the creek to the first abseil (~10m). Just minutes later we had a view of the Shoalhaven from the mighty second drop. So close is the river, but 8 abseils away.
In the end, we easily down-climbed the 3rd and 5th drops (say 12m and 9m respectively), although anchors exist if you prefer to throw a rope down. We arrived at the Shoalhaven for a leisurely lunch at midday, before wandering into nearby Spring Creek for a look at its impressive final waterfall.
Our walk out, up the ridge opposite Fordham Canyon, was knocked over fairly quickly and we were back at the cars by 3:30pm.
Glen returned to Sydney, turning down the offer of a post-canyon beer (what?!), so the three of us set up camp at the main campground and had an early dinner. We then threw ourselves at Grill Cave for a few hours. The confined spaces didn’t sit well with Dale and we rested for some time at the Horizontal Ladder, with bats shooting past us in the dark. A relieved Dale then returned to the surface leaving David and I to delve deeper. The cave formations around the Crystal Palace are better and more varied than I remember; a little below this we encountered (and tested) foul air and reached the area known as “Safe From the Russians” before turning back.
Early next morning, in thick fog, David and I walked over to B4-B5 (Fossil Cave and Hogan’s Hole). A little navigationally-challenged leaving the campground, I accidentally chose the long way there, so we ended up short of time and dashed through the caves without messing about. As always, the Hairy Traverse, Kings Cross and Canyon sections were highlights.