Abseiling / Canyoning / Dry canyon / SUBW

Dry canyons in winter: Zorro, Pleasant View and Sunnyside

Party: Tim Vollmer, Tim Gastineau-Hills, Joshua Hill, Jack Gough, Mariacristina (Mary) Merlo, Diana María Ocampo, Adrian Spragg and Stephanie Spragg — Joshua’s photos | T1’s photos | T2’s photos

By late winter it’s hard not to get a bit antsy for some canyoning, but it is still far too cold for anything involving swims or long, dark, cold constrictions (even with the thick layer of blubber some of us have!)

The Sunnyside area, on the western side of the Newnes Plateau, offered us the perfect compromise, with several short, dry, easy canyons on offer in an area none of us had been before.

The first abseil into the constriction of Zorro Canyon (photo Joshua Hill)

We’d spent the night in a camp cave on Narrowneck, after doing a spectacular night abseiling trip down the iconic Malaita Wall, meeting up with Joshua and Jack at the reasonable time of 8.20am at the Bungleboori camp ground.

From here we hit the road, navigating the maze of fire trails through the state forest to get to our first destination, Zorro Canyon.

We avoided the obvious trail, following some advice that it was rough and an easier option was available. Unfortunately, this second trail seems to have been forgotten by everyone bar the dirt bike riders, and it wasn’t long before several fallen trees in close succession forced our retreat.

We returned to the first option, abandoning Adrian’s 2wd van at a tricky point then continuing on to the boundary of the Gardens of Stone National Park. Here we geared up before doing a short walk along the trail to our turnoff.

Beautiful canyon formation in Zorro Canyon

Mary was left behind after deciding that her ankle was still far too dodgy to risk, but thankfully Diana had packed her Kindle, giving Mary a whole library of books to choose from.

Before long we headed down a gully, which suddenly turned through a rocky shelf, then dropped down a long, narrow crack.

We scrambled down, admiring an arch where the creek entered, then moved down to the first pleasant abseil from a very sturdy tree.

From here it was much darker, leading us down to a scramble over a murky pool of water.

Suddenly the canyon turned left, through traditional, water-carved rock, then right again into a second, parallel fissure in the rock (I’m assuming it is this ‘Z’ shape that inspired the name).

Some fun bridging over another pool had us at the end of the constriction, with a low ledge leading out to a spectacular view over Carne Creek and Donkey Mountain. One last long abseil had us down, and we headed around to the next gully which provided a very attractive exit back through the cliffs.

The acoustic chamber Sunnyside Canyon (photo Tim Gastineau-Hills)

Once on top we dumped our abseiling gear, heading for a quick walk-through of Pleasant View Canyon. It isn’t a true canyon, but rather a pretty section of creek snaking through some stunning pagodas, and including several spectacular overhangs and caves.

Once at the end we backtracked slightly, finding an easy ramp to the top where a large pagoda gave us great views.

Back up to the ridge and it was an easy walk to the cars where we stopped for lunch. After lunch we headed back along the road to Adrian’s car where some muscle power was needed to help him get enough traction to turn it around on the steep, rocky ground.

From here it was off to Sunnyside Canyon. Again we stopped at the park boundary (although this time there was actually a barrier in place), doing a brief fire trail bash before heading down hill to the canyon.

What better way to celebrate a great day of canyoning than with some nude star jumps? (photo Joshua Hill)

This is a lovely canyon, with some fun little scrambles, caves and constrictions. Best of all it has the most amazing acoustic chamber which has been carved out of the cliffs. We climbed up to the top, where several members of the group decided to take advantage of the spot by breaking into song. It’s acoustic properties were so good that even the wings of a small bird 20m away could be heard clearly.

We eventually moved on, enjoying a rather nice canyon constriction that can then be reversed on a ledge directly above.

Joshua narrowly avoided death at the end, dislodging a boulder which plunged down with a crash, before we returned to the amazing exit up a narrow crack in the rock.

From here we climbed up the side of a stunning pagoda, reaching the top where an amazing view of the Wolgan Valley awaited us.

With some time to play there was some extreme handstand action, nude star jumps, nude planking and general nude sitting around (are you seeing a theme?).

Sun rays shining through the clouds and into the Wolgan Valley (photo Joshua Hill)

We enjoyed the spectacular afternoon light, as the sun pierced the clouds, sending rays into the valley that put on a spectacular show for us.

With the weather cooling we returned to the cars, collecting Mary, then raced in to Mt Victoria for our third pub visit of the weekend. The Imperial Hotel didn’t disappoint, with tasty, reasonably priced food, quick service, and a friendly waitress who confirmed Joshua’s urban myth about Lithgow local’s getting free coal for their fireplaces.

All in all a very enjoyable 24 hours and a great way to get back into the swing of things, even in the depths of winter.

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