Aussie FreezeFest 2013 — Newnes Plateau

Party: T2, Joshua, Drew, Peggy, Albert, Emma, Tom, Shaun, Helen, Grant, Mike, Andres, Fritz, Sky, Mon, Ulla, Nicola, Prab, Kshitij, Ian, Wannes, Sam and Rick

It was a few days before FreezeFest when the weather forecast arrived: the chance of showers, falling as snow above 800m. Given we’d be camped at just over 1000m above sea level, I thought it was pretty exciting news.

Not everyone saw it that way. A few emails started arriving, asking if we were still going ahead. “Of course” was the answer each time. “It is FreezeFest after all. Snow can only make things better.”

As I drove up the mountains on Friday night the weather was a little more miserable. Light showers turned into patches of heavy rain. There was no sign of snow, but there was certainly plenty of precipitation coming down.

I was a little hazy, having smacked myself in the head with a car door earlier in the night, which perhaps caused enough brain damage to ensure the sub-standard weather wasn’t being rationally processed as a reason to pike.

Sitting around the campfire (photo Ian Lu)

As we raced along the dirt roads of the Newnes Plateau, dodging fresh potholes full of water, the rain started to ease. Good news.

By the time Drew and I hit Barcoo Swamp, our camp site for the weekend, the sky was starting clear, although it meant the temperature was dropping. We did a quick drive around, looking for other FreezeFesters, but it was a ghost town. Perhaps the weather was going to kill things.

We parked the car and started the search for a good spot to camp. As we looked around in the torchlight a car arrived. It was Joshua. At least now there’d be three of us.

We settled on a good spot and unloaded the ute-full of wood Joshua had carted from Orange. We still had to find some kindling to get the fire going. Hadn’t thought of that. Everything was wet. I ended up raiding old receipts from my glove box and some napkins from dinner.

Eventually the fire burst to life and we could enjoy its warmth. As we stood around the flames our fellow FreezeFesters slowly arrived, one by one.

A full moon and fast-moving clouds (photo Ian Lu)

Eventually we had a good sized crew of people, and as the night wore on Joshua’s keg of home brew became increasingly drained.

Mostly the sky was pretty clear, with moonlight beaming down on us, but the clouds were racing overhead and occasional showers sent us scurrying under Grant’s big shelter.

It was getting late, and people started drifting off to tents, but a core group kept on going. After a few final shouts of “lollies” (apparently that’s what a good peach should taste like) the last of the group finally stumbled off to bed.

The late night flowed through to a late morning. The group slowly convened around the fire, enjoying cups of tea. Some interesting questions, like “has anyone seen my glasses” and “do you know what I did with my pants last night” confirmed that it had been a big one.

Breakfast around the fire (photo Ian Lu)

We were planning on a late start, waiting on a few morning arrivals. Some appeared, and others were running quite a bit late. Finally we started peeling off to our various canyons.

In the end a total of 23 people were canyoning on the Saturday, although it wasn’t until that night, when we finally all caught up, that we confirmed the final numbers. Best of all, eight or nine were people I’d never canyoned with before. It was nice to see so many new faces and meet other canyoners. It was certainly a big increase on the inaugural FreezeFest in 2012.

A mix of canyons were done that day. Two groups did the Twister and Rocky Creek double. Another lot headed through Tigersnake Canyon. A smaller group visited The Dry Canyon (Wolgan View) and the Glowworm Tunnel.

When people started trickling back into camp a few more trips were inspired, with a group heading for a late afternoon run through River Caves. Finally, just after dark, seven real die-hards headed for a fast-paced but extremely cold naked run through Twister Canyon, which came complete with a brief dusting of snow.

Part of the FreezeFest tent city (photo Shaun Nielsen)

Back at camp the fire was raging. The wind was stronger and colder than the night before. The extra layers of clothing were all on.

At some point after dinner another trip was convened, with a bunch of people piling into Joshua’s ute for a night trip through Wolgan View. The stars and moon put on a spectacular show worthy of the cool weather.

Finally, after yet another big night, the campsite fell silent.

Sunday morning came with plenty more dusty heads. A few people had headed home the night before, and a couple others were heading further afield for a trip through Jugglers Canyon, but there were still about 17 people floating around.

A couple lobbied quite hard for some more wet canyoning (the night before there’d been bold discussions about Surefire or Hole In The Wall Canyons), but most of the group was after something relaxed.

The campfire was the place to be all weekend! (photo Shaun Nielsen)

We finally decided on Acoustic (Sunnyside) Canyon, as it was dry, easy, nearby, and fine for every level of ability we had.

We packed up the camp, piled in the cars, and bid farewell to Barcoo Swamp.

While this winter has been one of the warmest on record in Sydney (apparently Al Gore was right!), we had managed to jag what was probably one of the coldest weekends of the year, putting the freeze in FreezeFest.

That evening, as a good sized group enjoyed a pub meal at the Imperial at Mt Victoria, there was a unanimous desire to do it all again next year. Although perhaps better prepared for the cold, so that some longer, wetter, more technical canyons could be added to the mix.

Given FreezeFest 2013 was much bigger that the year before, with quite a few trips taking place over the weekend, each canyon has been written up by a different participant. You can check out almost all of the adventures from over the weekend below:

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