Multi-pitch abseiling at night: Malaita Wall

Party: Tim Vollmer, Tim Gastineau-Hills, Mariacristina (Mary) Merlo, Diana María Ocampo, Adrian Spragg and Stephanie Spragg

Standing at the cliff edge, all we could see below us was a black abyss. The full moon we’d planned the trip around was hidden behind a pretty solid layer of clouds, but worst of all, we were cutting things a little fine with our choice of ropes.

We knew the first abseil on Malaita Wall — which involves five big drops down the towering sandstone cliffs of the Jamison Valley — was about 45 metres, but we were trying to do it with a second rope that is just 42.7m long (it’s a long story why I have a rope that length, and why I measured it so precisely), so we were hoping this was a slight exaggeration.

For safety we tied two alpine butterflies, clipping a carabiner between them, allowing me to abseil single rope on the longer strand, then check the situation from the bottom. Worst case scenario, we were going to need to rig a ‘biner block, but we were hoping to avoid it. As I landed I could see the other strand dangling at waist height, which was perfect, so I yelled out for the others to follow on double rope.

Despite the clouds, there was enough light once the eyes adjusted, so most of the group did the abseil without their head torch, allowing them to see the cliffs disappearing into the dark, hazy valley. Opposite, Mt Solitary looked ghostly, seeming to rise out of the same misty haze. The only bright area was the Three Sisters, which glowed a sickly yellow thanks to the bank of spotlights trained on it.

We made great time leapfrogging down the drops, which are all between 25 and 45 metres, with the only complication being a nervous moment when the pull down on the third abseil (which involves a large overhang) refused to budge. Thankfully it was just confusion caused by the two identically coloured ropes, which had caused me to identify the wrong one as pull rope.

In no time we were at the bottom, quickly hitting the tourist track and heading for Furber Steps. Given we’d done the trip so far in under two hours we decided to detour onto Orphan Rock, an amazing pillar of stone which is overhung on most sides and forms a huge arch, with a hole through the middle.

I couldn’t recall where to turn off, but got the feeling we were close, so led the group through some fern filled forest until we hit the saddle just below it. From here we followed the old track, nervously climbing the rotten wooden ladders.

Despite being closed off fifty years ago — thanks to an engineer’s fears that it would collapse imminently — the rock still delivers an incredible view, with 360 degree views available with a short stroll along the top.

Once back down we followed the old track to the correct turnoff, with Mary managing to sprain her ankle on one of the flattest bits of track we’d enjoyed all night! Despite being a little slow, she managed to walk out herself, waiting at Scenic World for us to return with the cars.

We decided to head into Katoomba to a pub to grab some ice for the ankle, so headed to the Family Hotel, enjoying a drink and some live music (except for Steph who pulled out her iPod to avoid the jazz and folk, which she declared her two least favourite styles of music).

After enjoying some entertainment at the hands of a couple drunks who wanted to punch on in front of us we jumped into the cars and drove out to Narrowneck to our camp cave for the night.

With packs on we made the short stroll, just 100m or so, down to Psyn Cave, where we quickly settled in and enjoyed a nice nights sleep in the spacious overhang.

The next morning we made an early start, racing out to the Bungleboori camp group to meet up with Joshua and Jack for a day of dry canyoning in the Sunnyside area of the Newnes Plateau.

— Read more — Dry canyons in winter: Zorro, Pleasant View and Sunnyside

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