Camp cave / Canyoning / Ethics

Benighted in Claustral

Party: Helen, Kosta, Kristian, Glenn

We were up for an adventshaaaaaaaa ( “wickeeeeeed!”, “epiiiiiiiic!”). So we met up at North Richmond as usual, drove up to the Claustral car park and started walking – 17 minutes behind schedule as the German pointed out. This actually turned out to be good timing because a few meters down the track we had a beautiful view across the mountains with a really colourful sunset.

We continued down the gully towards Claustral during dusk and when we hit the forest we had to start using our head torches. We reached the junction with Claustral just as it became properly dark and Kristian already spotted the first glow worm — the true reason why we were here. We started descending into the canyon with more and glow worms appearing at the walls, down the hand over hand and we quickly arrived at the jump.

I climbed down and checked the depth and Helen was the first to jump. But as she reappeared at the surface, her head torch has fallen off the helmet. And unfortunately it was off when she made the jump. We tried for a while to find it in the water, but it was too deep and after us having jumped and swum around, there was no visibility in the water and we had to give up. Luckily we brought a few spare head torches so we moved on and decided to give it another go the next day during daylight.

Helen jumping

Helen jumping into the pool with her torch off.

We continued to descend down the canyon and eventually reached what we were looking forward to: the abseils. How beautiful would they be in the dark with starlight like glow worms everywhere? We quickly rigged the first pitch and off we went. But what was this: no glow worms at all!!! The entire section with the three abseils was in pitch black! That was a bit of a disappointment. We quickly continued down the remaining drops and at the bottom of the last pitch we finally got our glowing canyon. It was stunning to follow the canyon from there to the Thunder junction. We stopped frequently and switched off our torches to enjoy the view. From the Thunder junction we went to look for our camp cave, found it bang on and shortly after we had a small fire going and enjoyed wine, nibblies and camp fire tales before finally going to bed.

The Black Hole of Calcutta

The Black Hole of Calcutta

The next morning we slept in to compensate for the late night and then went down the remaining section of Claustral during daylight. It wasn’t long before we reached Rainbow Ravine and because we had enough time we decided to leave our packs behind and explore the canyon a bit further down stream.

After a while we met a large group of nine who had done Explorers Brook the day before, camped there and were now about to exit via Rainbow Ravine. We continued a bit further down from there and then Kristian spotted something he first thought could be some exceptionally large fungus. Upon getting closer we realised it was by far of natural origin, but littered bushwalking gear. There were two day packs and all around them some items of clothing and most prominently quite some first aid gear including a space blanket. The fungus was one of those cheap rain ponchos. It was made “waterproof” using lots of freezer bags and didn’t strike us as typical canyoning gear.

We started wondering what might have happened and tried to remember whether we heard of any recent rescue in this area. It really seemed to be left behind when a party that was in trouble finally got rescued. We then decided to pack everything into the backpacks and lug it out with us to dispose of it properly once we’re back in civilisation.

When we finally reached the top of Camels Hump we bumped into the other party again and when we told them about what we’ve found in the canyon, they told us they saw the packs as well. But not only that. They also told us that the two packs were still properly packed which everything inside the packs when they arrived. It was them who unpacked everything and spread it out to see if there was anything useful inside. We were speechless and afterwards thought we might have misunderstood them.

We continued to Camels Saddle and down into Claustral and then detoured to retrieve the head torch we lost the previous night. But unfortunately, the water was still cloudy and we couldn’t properly see the ground. After several more attempts to dive and find the torch by touch we had to give up and returned back to the car.

There we saw the other group once again and brought up the issue with the rubbish again. It seemed they didn’t see anything wrong in not only neglecting to carry out the rubbish from a wilderness area, but instead making it worse by spreading out everything to get washed away and eaten by animals separately. The only response that we got was simply that that this was our view and that we were entitled to it. Then they drove off.

Following this, we had a longish discussion about the rubbish issue in the car back to Sydney and I’d like to share some of the thoughts we had here.

We believe it is everyone’s responsibility in the bush to carry out the rubbish they find wherever possible. This is especially true for wilderness areas that are far enough away from road and popular tourist access so about everything you find in there was carried in by someone in the first place and the lost/dumped/forgotten. Sure, one could say “I don’t litter therefore I don’t carry out other people’s stuff”. But let’s be honest: everyone has lost something in the bush before. Something might have been forgotten at camp. Or at the windy lunch spot it was blown down the cliff. There is the notorious muesli bar wrapper that disappeared from your pockets while walking. Or the animal that nicked something overnight. How many of us have lost (or found) gloves in canyons before. Or in our case a head torch got lost. I doubt any regular bushwalker can truly claim his party never littered in the bush. To make up for it, the least we can do is carry out the rubbish we find.

Apart from this obligation, it is also in all of our interest that the bush is clean. Nobody likes stumbling across rubbish. But if we do and carry it out, the next person will have a better experience. Just assume that were you walked before has been rubbish as well but another party removed it for you when they passed through. This way everyone benefits.

Sure, there are situations where it isn’t possible to take with you what you found. If you are, say, on day one of a hard six day hike with a small group and stumble over a heavy load trash, everyone understands that you can’t take it. But then leave it in a state where it does the least harm. Maybe you can even put it somewhere safe and pick it up on the last day. But here they were a group of nine people on their final leg of the trip. So it seems hard to justify that it wasn’t possible for them to split up the small packs between them and carry them out.

But certainly it does not seem appropriate to spread out everything that was inside the pack. By doing this, animals drag away and eat the individual pieces. Wind and water washes away every bit individually. And you’re also making it a lot harder for the next party to carry it out because that group has to collect everything first instead of just packing the whole packs. If you spread it out like this, you might as well have dumped it there in the first place.

And last but not least, this is not just our view, but it is also established in the Bushwalkers Code, which is not just written by us but in fact it was produced by Bushwalking NSW (formerly Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW).

Update 13/2/2014:

The leader of the other group sent out an explanation of the situation and he did have reasons to not carry out the rubbish. When we talked to the group on Camels Hump and at the car park, he wasn’t present himself since he and a couple others did another short canyon. Our write up above is based on the explanations we got (or didn’t get) from the remaining members of the party.

I was the leader of the other group in Helen’s post, I’d like to offer some commentary to Helen and Kosta’s comments.

I’ve been climbing, bushwalking and canyoning in the Blue Mountains for 11 years , I’ve visited 300+ different canyons and am passionate about protecting our bush and wilderness. I always carry out rubbish and practice minimal impact bushwalking, however, Sunday’s circumstances were different.  This incident is very embarrassing and has upset me dearly.

The Packs in Carmarthen Brook

  • I was the first person to the packs, noticing the same first aid kit that Helen noted.
  • The packs were partly hidden under logs/branches/dirt suggesting they had been there a while.
  • The packs were already open with several items surrounding.
  • Yes, we inspected the packs for valuables to hand to police, none were present.
  • Yes, we failed to repack the items, meaning we left the scene worse than we found it. That was a mistake that I deeply regret.
  • As leader, I decided the group wasn’t strong enough to carry the rubbish out.

My SBW Group
The group had a wide range of experience and ability, from 300+ canyons to just 2. We had an 8.5 hour day on Saturday, had already been going 4 hours on Sunday with potential for 7 more. All that with water-logged full w/e packs, some found that challenging, but just a normal w/e for me:

  • However, I lost the use of my left hand on Saturday in a fall. Through that, I didn’t have my usual balance and didn’t feel strong enough to carry the rubbish out.
  • The 2nd strongest party member had a knee injury.
  • That meant members 3, 4 & 5 had to carry the group gear and ropes.
  • Members 8 & 9 were exhausted and couldn’t keep-up.
  • That left only 6 & 7 with capacity to carry the rubbish out, I didn’t feel they were capable of that.

We were behind schedule at this point. Once the party re-grouped, we immediately left the packs to keep the group moving, I was entirely focused on getting the group out of the canyon, forgetting to repack the gear into the packs to tidy the scene. That was my mistake and I’m responsible for that which I regret.

Helen & Kosta’s group
I don’t know the group so can’t gauge how they’d rank compared to ours, but Helen’s group was certainly younger than ours, and probably stronger and fitter too. Helen’s group had exerted significantly less effort at that point, and were not carrying packs.

The Leaders’ Decision
Given the circumstances, Helen and Kosta’s decision was a very different proposition to mine:

  • Helen & Kosta’s group were fresher, probably stronger, and weren’t carrying packs. They could share the load of 2 packs between 4 for the return journey to Rainbow Ravine before making a further decision on the rubbish.
  • My group was behind-schedule, tired and carrying water-logged full w/e packs. Just 1 or 2kg extra can be significant.

 I’m not a natural leader and the burden weighs heavy on me. Helen and Kosta noted that they thought we had sufficient capacity to carry the rubbish out. Maybe I underestimated my team? Maybe we could’ve carried the rubbish out without causing a problem to the team? I made the decision that the team wasn’t strong enough to carry the rubbish out. My group did get out safely without requiring rescue which is paramount.

The completion of our trip
6 of the group were too tired to complete the trip as planned, so exited early following a 2 hour rest. I lead 2 members through Gaping Gill to complete the trip.

Yes, I felt strong enough to complete Gaping Gill without the w/e pack, but didn’t feel strong enough (or have the balance) to carry extra weight up Rainbow Ravine – I found it very challenging with only 1 working hand, not sure how I’d fair with extra weight in my pack.

Discussions between the 2 groups
I wasn’t present at either discussion so have no knowledge of what was discussed or expressed.

Summary

  • Yes, we must all look after the environment and carry out rubbish that we find.
  • Yes, my group should’ve repacked the gear into the packs to tidy the scene. That was my mistake and I apologise.
  • However, I don’t believe our group had sufficient capacity to carry the rubbish out.
  • Thank you Helen, Kosta and team for removing the rubbish.
  • I think it’s worth re-emphasising that we didn’t put the rubbish in the canyon, we just failed to remove it because we weren’t capable of doing so.

Sydney Bushwalkers
SBW has a long and proud history and is the oldest outdoor club in NSW. This incident has caused great embarrassment to the committee and club members. I have expressed my sincere apologies to the committee for this negative publicity and have offered them to annul my membership if they deem appropriate.

Had I not injured my hand on Saturday, this story wouldn’t exist…

Richard.

Claustral rubbish

The two backpacks we hauled out of Claustral and their content. The piece of rope was not part of it – we picked it up somewhere else.

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15 thoughts on “Benighted in Claustral

  1. Wow, thanks for the report… and I’m really sorry and embarrassed by my fellow club members behaviour. That’s certainly the first I’ve ever heard of any Sydney Bushies with that type of attitude. I’ve only ever seen the opposite on SBW trips… Eg. The removal of human rubbish, to the point of removal and burying of human waste.

    One of the principals that The Sydney Bush Walkers Club was founded on, was the protection of the environment and wild places. Paddy, Myles, Dot, etc lay this foundation for us.

    Again, I’m truly sorry that this has happened. It shouldn’t have. Thanks for bringing it to light.

  2. Also just finding something does not mean it belongs to you, to take something is theft. Correct procedure is to take anything to the police, which probably won’t interest them for the things that were found, but the SBW group were probably hoping to find a camera or GPS. Maybe they will progress to taking the watches and wallets of dead people.

  3. It seems to be a growing trend, leaving camping or bushwalking gear in the bush because they can’t be bothered lugging it back out with them?

    On my almost daily lunchtime hikes in the Glenbrook gorge area I am constantly finding (more so after school holidays) sleeping bags/tents/camp chairs & even an inflatable boat left laying around… as I am on a very short time frame on my lunchbreak & also travelling very light I don’t have the chance to clean it up but I do try to move stuff into piles & have noticed that they do get picked up by someone….. I really need to get back there on a day off with a big empty backpack & lug some of it out.

  4. Thumbs down to the duds not only leaving it behind, but rummaging through it as well. Very poor form. Good on you guys for taking the high road. I love glowworms too and have several special spots I visit here in QLD to view the constellations. I also had my first firefly experience recently, a real life affirming moment.

    • Richard I find your explanation to the events a sound one and believe that you made the tough calls you had to make at the time, and have been very gracious in your apologies for the few short comings of your decisions.

      However is sounds to me like you were pushing your group very close to the line of exhaustion and your plan may not have been the right one for all the group. Traveling in large groups in the bush is a very complex task as you well know by the sounds of it, my view would be it sounds like you were lucky to get out without having and epic yourselves.

      Just my two cents.

  5. Great trip report, loved the photos! It is a bit of a shame about the rubbish, but I can understand where richard is coming from, and we all make little mistakes some times. I am wondering: If the bags were left behind by a rescue, is it possible for someone in the emergency services/police/NPWS who knows the location of the rescue to pass this on to a bushwalking group so that a trip can be made to recover the rubbish? Does anyone have any contacts that might be able to facilitate this?

      • I’m not just talking about this rescue, I’m talking about rescues in general. I know that in helicopter rescues the packs are mostly left behind, so it could be useful to know the locations for a trash recovery effort. The packs could then be returned to the owners, or if not wanted, donated to a club 🙂

      • That’s an interesting point. And it also gives me another idea: maybe the police should communicate more broadly that you will loose your gear when you get rescued. That might reduce the amount of unjustified calls for rescue…

      • I like that idea, although the flip side is that it could deter someone from calling even though they legitimately need a rescue

  6. Just a follow up from my earlier comment. Richard’s great and humble explanation makes complete sense. Being a leader is a big call and there is constantly 100s of decisions and things to be considered, of which the safety and capacity of your party and yourself must always be number one. I think he made the right call and if I’d been in the same position, I would have too. Tough call, glad it turned out ok… And whatever you do… Please don’t hand in your membership!!!

  7. I was one of the group of 9 and just wanted to clarify a few points made by Kosta. Although I wasn’t there when my group first came across the pack and looked inside, I was there when we discussed it – no one in the group was rummaging through the packs with the intent to take anything, but rather to see if there was anything that should be handed in to police. Any comment along those lines at Camel’s Hump was said as a joke. Richard led a fantastic trip that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and was an excellent and conscientious leader. Daryl: he didn’t over-estimated the capacity of the group and it wasn’t a case of narrowly avoiding a serious mishap – the group was well-equipped and capable of completing the trip, although 6 of us decided we didn’t have the energy to take the side-trip on the second day; the only thing we had not factored in was the potential of coming across a couple of packs and needing to carry it out. As Richard explained, we weren’t in a position to take on that extra gear – I was Member 8 or 9 (one of the slow ones) and while I did find it challenging and tiring, and would have struggled to carry the extra weight, I was not at any risk and completed the trip without incident or close call. Throughout the trip all of us were very careful to tread lightly and ensure that we left nothing behind, and one member picked up and carried out a bit of old rope that we found somewhere along the way.

    It’s a point worth making and re-making that we all have a responsibility to do our part in protecting and preserving these beautiful areas that we all love to spend our free time in but I think the portrayal in this article is a bit of a case of chinese whispers. I also wasn’t present at the cars when this was discussed so I don’t know what was said then, but from my experience on all SBW walks everyone is very much conscious of minimising our impact.

    Thanks,
    Meredith

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