Driving towards Newnes early on New Year’s Eve it hardly felt like we were escaping civilisation, with a steady stream of vehicles racing past on the dirt road. I was already a little nervous about heading to such a popular spot on a long weekend, but nothing could have prepared me for the shanty town that sprawled outside the Newnes Hotel.
Thankfully this little glimpse of third world architecture was the worst of it and once I crossed Little Capertee Creek things looked much less crowded. I can only assume those with pets and dirt bikes chose the area because it isn’t part of the National Park.
Joshua had already been out here for a few days with his family, which is why we chose the spot, so a very nice base camp was already in existence for the rest of us coming out.
Within about half an hour Stephen, Tom, Jiri and Cat had converged on the camp site, and we quickly geared up and set off along the Pipeline Track.
Our plan was to do Nightmare Canyon — a short creek that cuts a gash through the cliff-line — an area none of us had visited before.
The air was humid and sticky, which slowed the climb up, and we all enjoyed a pause at the spectacular lookout with its views down the sandstone walls of the Wolgan River gorge.
We followed the Starlight track, eventually turning off and heading up to the ridge. We were a little nervous about navigation, given it is easy to get sucked down into one of the neighbouring creeks, but it ended up being easy.
We paused to double check the map at the headwaters of the creek, and once confident this was the right spot we set off, quickly getting into the creek proper as it cut down between some pagodas.
The abseils didn’t really line up with the rough track notes we had (there are multiple anchors on many drops, often part way down, so it can be done in an endless number of ways), but our ropes proved more than enough, with the final 35m drop the largest.
Nightmare doesn’t have any long, flat canyon constrictions. Instead it is drop after drop in rapid fire, often through very narrow slots. I don’t think I have ever used my knees, hips, elbows or bum as much while abseiling!
Some friendly competition to stay completely dry — right down to the soles of our shoes — saw some very interesting scrambles, bridges and even abseils, with several of the group pulling off the feat until very near the end.
The canyon turned out to be much more spectacular than I’d expected, with the final waterfall abseil proving to be a most beautiful drop.
From the bottom we followed along the ledges at the base of the cliffs. In places it was a little exposed and loose, but never too difficult, and the views over the valley were stunning.
We passed the base of Pipeline Canyon, with it’s distinctive overhang abseil finish, then soon after found a nice spot to pause for a late lunch.
Soon after we were back on the Pipeline Track and powering towards camp, with the lure of cold beers driving us on.
Once at camp the fire was soon lit, the first beers opened and the night begun.
At some point Drew turned up, with a girl in the passenger seat, several cases of VB on the back seat, and a boot full of firewood. You don’t get much more Australian than that!
From here on the night got hazier. There was much loud conversation, laughter, occasional violence, disturbing references, flashes of nudity, and raging fire.
As the night wore on a nearby group started with some fire twirling and other circus talents, so we wandered over to enjoy the show. The high point was probably the fire breathing, which the heavily bearded bloke managed to pull off without singeing his facial hair.
Closer to midnight another neighbour pulled out some fireworks, putting on an impressive show for the whole camp ground. Who says you need to go to the city for a good fireworks display?
At some point during the wee hours of the morning one of my comments got me a shove off the folding chair, sending me backwards onto the soft grass. Apparently the comfy ground, a belly full of beer and clear starry sky were enough for me to call it a day, and the next I recall is warm sunshine streaming down on me.
I’m not sure how late the others kicked on, or what was discussed, but I do know it was decided my snoring was more pleasant than my talking, so Joshua threw a blanket over me and let me be.
In the morning we had a lazy start, with a few sore heads nursed while some hearty breakfasts were cooked on the fire (or in my case, while the handle of the saucepan was cooked on the fire. Sorry Rocky!).
Eventually we set off up the track at a very slow speed, with a plan to do Devils Pinch, which is easily the longest and most spectacular of the nearby canyons.
Going up the Pipeline Track we were almost moving backwards, only speeding up when we finally topped out and again set off on the Starlight Track.
We dropped into Devils Pinch high up, quickly following the creek to the impressive upper constriction. A long, narrow abseil took us into the deep dark chamber.
There was a brief pause for some ‘photography’, which had the others averting their eyes!
We also explored the small collapsed chasm at the end of this section which I’d only ever walked around. It was a stunning little cave-like section, although the giant crickets with really long legs clung to every surface, making it a little freaky whenever a light was turned on.
From here we followed the creek along, with a few scrambles and sections of scrub but otherwise easy walking.
We paused for a quick lunch, with the break most welcome for those of us paying the highest price for the festivities the night before.
Then it was into the lower section of Devils Pinch, which is rather unusual. There is no abseil in, rather a bunch of small scrambles, slides, wades and climb-downs that slowly but surely take you deeper and deeper into the constriction.
This canyon is great fun, but it is also spectacular. The one abseil in this section is mind blowing and drops you into a deep, sustained, horizontal section of canyon that goes for an eternity.
Once down here we stopped to enjoy the main canyon section — with its sandy floor and shallow pools — which allowed us to reverse interesting sections before eventually heading to the end.
The last waterfall can be walked around, which is what we’d all done in the past, but we’d carried an extra rope to allow us to do this big 50m drop. It started with slippery, sloped rock, so while it looked like you could avoid the main course of the water we all realised pretty quickly this wasn’t the case.
Some really inelegant abseiling — along with some chanting from the bottom encouraging those coming down to slip as we had — got us all down, with the broad consensus that abseiling this drop was much slower and way less enjoyable then simply walking around it.
From here it was a simple race down to the river, which we followed briefly before climbing up to the road on the other side.
By late afternoon we were back at camp, with enough time for a snack and a last quick beer before setting off home.
We’d been blessed by beautiful weather and a couple of stunning canyons. What better way to bring in the new year.