Party: Tim Vollmer, Joshua Hill, Kosta Seiler, Jeremie Rossy and Dave ‘Fritz’ Lee — photos
A couple years back, as I abseiled down beside the massive 150m waterfall at the start of Kanangra Main, I remember looking across to the other side at the dark, ominous slot. I didn’t know anything about the route, or what it involved, but peering into its shadowy depths I knew I’d like to experience it one day. So when Joshua said he was keen to finally visit Kanagra Main, The Slot immediately jumped to mind.
I asked Fritz about it, as he was only only member of the group who’d descended this route, and his reaction was nervous. He described the challenges — a slippery waterfall to access it, lots of loose rock, sharp edges, awkward abseils. His summary: it’s a trip you only do once. Despite that description (and the fact that when he’d done it one of the sharp rocks had sliced half way though his rope), he didn’t take long to talk around.
A bunch of SUBW folk — complete with two babies — had spent the Saturday out at Kanangra, so the rest of us joined them for a night around the campfire. In the morning Joshua, the last member of the group, arrived and we set off to our starting point. It was about 8.30am, which was a little later than we’d have liked, but conditions looked pretty good so we didn’t worry much.
The walk out was typically enjoyable, with pretty scrub, a friendly local snake who refused to budge from the track, and then stunning views over Kanangra Gorge. We scrambled down the loose scree to the bottom of a small waterfall where we put on our gear.
This is the point where the two routes separate. Just below us was the first anchor of the normal route, which takes you down beside the massive waterfall in three impressive pitches. Instead we made our way across the insanely slick, sloping wet rocks, on which any slip would almost certainly be fatal, and through a little patch of scrub to the top of The Slot.
Right from the start we could see things would be challenging. The anchor was deteriorated, and we needed to replace the slings, while the steep scree slope above us confirmed just how much jagged rock tumbles down this narrow crack. With the rope rigged, but not thrown, I descended to the lip where it was clear some serious gardening was in order. After kicking down a huge amount of rubbish the edge finally looked safe enough to descend.
With the ropes thrown it was over the edge. I don’t think I’ve ever been this careful on an abseil — even the slightest touch of the walls seemed to send small bits of rock tumbling down — so thankfully most of it was free-hanging.
At the bottom there was nowhere to hide from the falling rock. We ended up huddling against the most protected wall, chatting, trying to ignore the pinging sounds of pebbles ricocheting down the slot as the final people descended.
We set up a short handline off a fallen log, ignoring the fixed rope that is there due to the huge number of nicks and cuts in it from the constantly falling rocks. It took us down to a tiny ledge — only big enough for one person at a time — where there are some old bolts. These were covered by a shallow layer of fallen rocks, which I again kicked off, but thankfully the slings seemed to have avoided much damage. We only replaced one.
This abseil is even more awkward than the last, requiring you to lower yourself off the edge onto a small foothold before you even load the rope, which is a good test of faith. From here it is another stunning, free-hanging drop down the dark crevasse.
At the bottom I scrambled up and deeper into the slot, behind the ropes, allowing me to watch my fellow canyoners silhouetted, with the waterfall behind them and the walls of The Slot tight on either side. It was a truly amazing sight.
When it was Joshua’s turn, his delay coming down started to worry us. When he eventually reached the bottom it turned out he’d gotten tangled in the handline, and ended up inverting. Not an enviable position to be in! Thankfully he was able to right himself, and his whispered pleas for help from Kosta could simply become fodder to tease him with. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time the words “help me Kosta” where quietly called out over the course of the day I’d be a very wealthy man.
The next drop is either a long abseil in two parts, with a pool in between, or two separate drops. We wanted to try doing it in one go, but a test of the pull down quickly proved that it would be a recipe for stuck ropes.
Fritz set about replacing the next sling — also off bolts — while the rest of us shivered in the darkness, as the mist from the waterfall blew across us. Despite being so rugged up that he looked like he was planning an assault on Everest, Jeremie was probably the happiest to get down this drop and into the sunshine. There is something funny about it being a Swiss bloke who most felt the cold!
From here the two routes rejoin, but as anyone who has done Kanangra Main know, the excitement has only just begun. The creek continues to tumble down, with waterfall after waterfall. All up we did about a dozen abseils — four in the slot and about eight in the canyon below.
Each one was unique. The first small one came complete with its own little rainbow, while the next two-stage drop carried added solemnity thanks to the “Alexia” plaque — a reminder of the inherent dangers of canyoning. Anna Alexia Langbein, who was doing the canyon with a group of cavers, was just 17-year-old when she died after falling down this drop, apparently after failing to properly clip in to the rope.
Not all the drops were memorable just because of nature. At the short chockstone abseil someone has added a massive — and completely unnecessary — bolt setup.
The next short abseil took us to an impressive sunny ledge, high above an impressive part of the gorge, where we decided it was a good time for lunch.
The following abseil is another classic of this trip, and with a healthy flow of water and some gusty winds it was more exciting than usual, with the flow of water striking almost at random as we abseiled past it.
At the second last abseil we decided to make the throw easier by tossing the rope bag, which worked a treat (even if it did make an almighty boom as it hit the water). The one problem was that we’d forgotten that the end of the rope wasn’t tied to the bag, and the bag had sunk. Fritz, the somewhat-nervous owner of the bag swam out into the pool — which is quite deep in the middle — but thankfully the bag was shallow enough to be reached.
After the final abseil, into a great deep pool, there was a pause for a few water-jumps before the final creek bash to the exit.
It is the exit that I’d been least looking forward to. It isn’t called Murdering Gully for nothing, and my last trip up there had involved fighting off a small army of leeches.
Thankfully Fritz offered up a better alternative. He’d previously climbed the ridge just to the right of the gully, which runs up to the main lookout, and said it was much better.
Clearly we’re not the only ones who’ve had this thought, and there was a reasonable foot pad in places. The only downsides to this route — other than the steepness — is that there is a lot of loose rock. We tried to stick close, and tread carefully, so it wasn’t an issue.
The positive was the views. As we climbed we got regular glimpses of Kanangra Walls, glowing in the afternoon sun, and Thurat Spires towering on the other side.
Looking up, there did still appear to be a slight issue, with some impressive cliffs above us. Amazingly, only a slight amount of skirting to the left had us easily up and into the open forest, joining the main track just a couple hundred metres back from the lookout.
Here we found the rest of the SUBW crew, enjoying the impressive views following a much more relaxing day of bushwalking. All up it had only taken us a bit over 8 hours, which was pretty impressive given we hadn’t rushed, and the alternative exit definitely felt like it had shaved some time off the trip.
Back at the cars Joshua and Fritz both pulled out some celebratory home brew, which provided the perfect finish, before we set off for a well deserved pub dinner.
For anyone who hasn’t done this trip, I do have three pieces of advice: 1) Kanangra Main is an incredible canyon, well worth making a priority; 2) The Slot is incredible, but as Fritz had said, probably best done only once; and 3) Murdering Gully is for chumps. As long as you are a reasonable scrambler and route-finder, the ridge exit is by far the better option.