Running into other people – especially those groups that you can hear coming for the best part of an hour thanks to their shouting and carrying on – generally defeats the purpose of canyoning and bushwalking for me. Rather than feeling like I’m wandering through unspoilt wilderness, I end up thinking that I might as well be walking the tourist tracks around Katoomba.
That’s why I generally steer clear of the Mt Wilson area, despite knowing the exceptional quality of many of the canyons. Thankfully it is now well outside the ‘peak’ period, and while it is still warm enough and the days still have enough sunlight, the weekend warriors have packed away their ropes and harnesses until next summer.
I’d only decided to do this trip at the last minute, realising I had a day free which fortuitously lined up with the date that T1 had postponed his rained-out trip of two weeks ago to.
We made a reasonably early start, meeting at North Richmond for breakfast, then setting up the car shuffle and gearing up before 8.30am. There was a slight setback 100m down the path when we realised the keys to the shuffle car, parked on the side of the road just east of Range Hill, were locked inside one of the cars at Pierces Pass. Whoops!
The sun was shining brightly in the crisp autumn morning, with the stroll along the ridge-top most pleasant. At the rocky outcrops that mark the turnoff we were reminded of exactly what I hate about some of the knobs that enjoy the more accessible canyons, with an old CD player remote control left perched prominently on a pillar of rock. (Anyone know who / why?)
We were soon down the steep slope and in the creek, suiting up a short distance along under a pleasant overhang.
It wasn’t long before we were at the first, optional abseil, which we rigged as two single strands to speed the descent. It was then on to the next optional abseil which we did from a large tree beside the first actual canyon section.
The last abseil in this section is down a stunning waterfall, just before the junction with Corkscrew Canyon. As soon as I was at the bottom I realised that I recognised this waterfall. It turned out this was the very waterfall that first inspired me to learn to abseil and discover what this canyoning caper was all about some four or five years ago.
I knew I had done a ‘bushwalk’ with the NPA in this area, at a time where I still bushwalked in jeans and steel-caped boots, and had visited ‘The Corkscrew’. On this trip I remember the leader pointing out this very waterfall and explaining that some people came in that way, but you needed to abseil.
As we reversed the deep, lower section of Corkscrew Canyon, I was amazed how much of it was still crisp in my mind, from the waterfall climb-down to the actual corkscrew where the creek disappears for at least 100m under debris.
The corkscrew itself had changed for the worse. When I first came here most of the water still did a 180 degree turn before plunging down a whirlpool and underneath the terrestrial creek. A new second hole had appeared, but it was only taking a small amount of the water. Now it seems a third hole has opened up, swallowing the whole creek before the corkscrew begins. I guess it goes to show how quickly things can change in a canyon.
While I vaguely recalled another nice, if shallow upper canyon section, we turned back and continued down Bowens Creek. This section of canyon was lovely, with an incredible array of lush ferns.
We had lunch in a nice coachwood grove when the creek opened out, but despite some occasional beams of sunlight making it in the group was feeling rather cold, so we didn’t linger. Before moving on T1 did respond to a friendly dare and managed a questionable scramble and squeeze into an enormous cave half way up the cliff-line.
Further downstream the creek began to drop again, with most of the group doing another optional abseil rather than scrambling down through a small cave into the canyon section below. This lower section of canyon is spectacular, with one area particularly deep and dark.
There were a few fun jumps (onto sand), scrambles and a long, slippery log slide. While the upper section was vaguely familiar from all those years ago, this lower section was all new and it completely blew me away with just how deep, sustained and beautiful it was.
Towards the end we came to the junction with Range Creek (Hobnail Canyon) and decided that with the day still young we would reverse it as far as we could go. This was well worth the side trip, with Hobnail Canyon proving to be long and stunning, with several fun scrambles, squeezes and small caves to negotiate before finally reaching the top.
So with that we quickly made it back down to the junction, grabbed our packs and moved downstream to where the canyon ends. Soon enough we spotted the obvious exit on the right and began our scramble up.
By now the weather had changed for the worse, with clouds overhead threatening rain, so we didn’t dawdle, racing upwards. The exit went through a fun little tunnel, and a little later under a lovely overhand, with a scramble up a fixed line (for some) or the pagoda next to it taking us close to the top.
The cairns had clearly been breeding, with one over couple metres at one point, so the feet got a bit of a workout returning the rocks to their natural homes.
Then all to soon it was onto the fire trail and the pleasant bash along the ridge to the car. We finished off the shuffle, got changed and raced down the mountains for a beer and a feed, all before a drop of the threatened rain landed. Too easy.