Newnes: Pipeline, Devils Pinch and Firefly Canyons

Party: Tim Vollmer, Tim “T1” Gastineau-Hills, Denis “Boris” Alexandrov, Tony Ruzek, Joshua Hill, Bjorn Sturmberg and  Stephen Sharwood

With preparations even more shambolic than usual — I packed in half an hour between work and driving up, called T1 because I couldn’t find my map, and had no idea exactly who was coming — things weren’t looking particularly promising.

When only Tony and I met up at Lithgow McDonalds, and it was still only the two of us around the camp fire at 1am, it was looking even dodgier.

Thankfully when the alarm went off I looked out to see Boris’ tent a short distance away, having arrived in the wee hours, and T1 arrived not long after having slept just down the road, so things were looking respectable.

We set off by 8am with a fairly ambitious plan to do Pipeline and Devils Pinch canyons. It was with a healthy pace that we plowed up the Pipeline Track in some warm morning sunshine, arriving at the lookout just after a bank of clouds rolled through.

We didn’t dally, wanting to ensure we saw the often-missed upper canyon section in Pipeline Canyon, so we headed off along the Starlight Track until we were close to the headwaters, then push our way through the scrub and down to the creek.

We weren’t disappointed. The upper canyon section is a short but spectacular constriction which towers above, with a flat sandy floor and some nice little caves and overhangs to explore.

While the creek above this had been scrubby and hard going, it was pretty good from here, with nice coachwood sections and several little side canyons coming in.

The lower section was much wetter and also much prettier, with a surprisingly good and fairly long canyon section with some fun abseils.

It finally came to an end with a great view across the valley to the cliffs opposite, with the stunning glimpses continuing through the trees as we followed the base of the cliffs back to the Pipeline Track.

Being only about midday we pushed up and out towards Devils Pinch, with the plan being to have lunch somewhere cool and with plentiful water now the day was warming up.

It was here we made the most spectacular navigational error of the weekend (and probably of the year!) when we followed the Starlight track but not for as long as I’d thought.

Thinking we’d circled east of the headwaters of Devils Pinch we headed west, dropping down a gully and through some thick scrub to the creek. Whoops. As soon as we emerged we climbed onto a large fallen tree which looked worryingly familiar from earlier that day.

After earlier lecturing on the evils of GPS I surrendered and let Boris and Tony take out their playthings to confirm my suspicions. Sure enough we were back in Pipeline.

With a sigh we pushed east, scrambled up a pagoda and onto the ridge, and bashed over to the next creek, having lost close to 45 minutes.

The first thing we noticed was that despite the recent rains Devils Pinch was distinctly dryer, a far cry from when T1, Joshua and Kosta had done it in pouring rain, with us later finding spots where the water level was 2 or 3 metres lower!

Dropping into the upper section I was blown away. The drop was close to 40m, in two stages, through an incredibly dark and narrow constriction that completely shut out sunlight.

It is one of those ‘no bullshit’ canyons that lets you know straight away that you are in for something special, and it didn’t disappoint.

After bashing our way downstream we paused for a late lunch just as the second constriction began, enjoying some sweet creek water and energising for the final push.

In the lower section came another long dark abseil, making the canyon one of the most fun to descend, while also delivering an exceptionally long, windy, dark and wet constriction that puts it up there as one of the best canyons I have ever had the privilege of traveling through.

While the last section opens out a little, where a few massive coachwoods having taken up residence, it still provided the perfect spot to stop and rest while Boris photo-pfaffed with a camera better suited to capturing the beauty than my point-and-shoot.

We skipped the last optional abseil, having had no desire to carry a superfluous 50m rope with us all day, and bashed down to the river in great time, with a handy log taking us across with dry feet.

Despite worrying about time all day, especially after the geographic disorientation we had experienced, we plowed along the fire trail bash and were back at the camp site before dark.

With plenty of fire wood brought with us it was a very comfy fire, and the BBQ lamb, roast kangaroo and bountiful supply of drinks ensured we were all in good spirits by the time Joshua, then Bjorn and Steve, stumbled in.

After another impressive night we were much slower moving in the morning, with the sun streaming down on our tents before we finally got up for breakfast.

By 9am we were off, quickly finding the gully that led to our pass to Firefly Canyon. We climbed the ridge on the left, which was quite easy going, and were at the small waterfall scramble in no time. We continued to scramble our way up before eventually reaching a large, impassible waterfall with a beautiful camp cave.

From here we moved a short distance to our right where first a buttress of dirt and boulders, then a narrow crevasse, let onto the tops. The view from here was incredible.

Annoyingly we then came upon a huge number of cairns, clearly placed by someone who thought the concept of going over a saddle and into the creek opposite was a little complicated and needed markers every few metres. Needless to say we rectified that.

The gully down was actually quite fun, with a few slides and scrambles but no need for rope.

From here came the long creek walk which although pretty was a constant tease. Regularly a small drop, side cliff, or boulder block-up would look like the precursor to canyon, only for our hopes to be dashed time and again. Eventually we stopped for lunch at a spot that looked really promising.

Sure enough, after lunch we were at the first abseil in about five minutes. There were several short but nice waterfall drops into pretty but open canyon.

As we were approaching the last of the fun we turned the corner and saw the narrow entrance to Looking-Glass Canyon. We scrambled up a small drop using the fixed line, but  the next section, about 10m up a slippery waterfall and through a hole looked pretty impassable.

Bjorn started to climb, despite several slips and slides on the rock, and I decided to incentivise him with a $50 wager on whether he could get up. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes he had finally done it. A rope was thrown up, tied off over the arch, and in no time the rest of us were up.

Again using the rope, and me as a human anchor for it, Bjorn was soon up onto the ledge above and again we were all up, albeit with a little difficulty at times.

From here we could examine the lovely constriction coming in above, with a series of small pools joined by the curving rock. Definitely a canyon worth coming back for and probably better than Firefly if you are forced to chose.

Eventually with time getting later we decided to bail, with the first person single-roping it down on a Hydrobot (which if anything produces too much friction when rigged this way) before sending up a 30m rope for the others to use.

One last optional abseil beside a waterfall took us into an enormous overhang, complete with stunning ironstone stalactites and a lone glow worm in the dark section.

From here it was a simple bash down to the fire trail and race along to the cars, with a surprising amount of time to spare. In fact, we were changed and had driven in to Lithgow by about 6pm, so kicked ourselves for not trying to force our way a little further up Looking-Glass.

All up it was a great weekend and a reminder of just how incredible the Newnes area is for canyoners. Devils Pinch is by far one of the most incredible canyons I have done, probably in my top three, while the pass to Firefly is also great fun with unparalleled scenic value.

Now we just need to get back out there to make our way through a few of the more remote and less-visited gems this area has to offer.

2 Replies to “Newnes: Pipeline, Devils Pinch and Firefly Canyons

  1. Hi Guys,
    I tried your reverse starlight canyon before Christmas but came to a waterfall with a tape around a tree high above us. It couldnt have been more that a few 100 meters from the canyon proper but I couldnt find a way around so tail between my legs I turned us around back to newnes. :O(
    Next time you partake in that canyon I would love to join you.
    Richard Young

    1. Yes, most people going down the canyon will abseil down the drop you came to. It is possible to bypass, if you’re comfortable with off-track walking and scrambling. The canyon was originally discovered from below, climbing around that drop, but there probably aren’t many people who access it that way these days.

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