Thurat Rift canyon (Kanangra)

Party: Leo Garnac and Adrian Spragg

Leo arrived at Boyd Crossing campground in Kanangra-Boyd National Park at 22.00 Sunday night, tired from guiding Malaita Wall and Empress Canyon on each of the last two days. He claimed to have made a lot of noise on arrival. A large emergency vehicle, possibly a fire truck, roared through with a short blip of the siren, returning from Kanangra Walls lookout 45 minutes later. Adrian blissfully slept through all of it in his tent, having done Danae Brook canyon that day.

We left the van at King Pin Firetrail, setting off at 5.30 and passing over Mt Thurat at 6.00. With the aid of a GPS route (thank you Adrian K.) we wound our way over the heathland, through a 100m band of saplings along Burra Gunama Ridge and SE down a spur to arrive at Thurat Rift Creek at at 7.30.

The creek was an incredibly rich rainforest with tree ferns and lush mosses. After 300 metres the hillsides gave way and the creek plunged over the first abseil of Thurat Rift Canyon. In front of us across the valley was the amazing vista of Kilpatrick Causeway, with Thurat Rift Canyon and Kanangra Creek hidden below us.

The creek was an incredibly rich rainforest (photo Adrian)
Adrian leaving abseil 1 (photo Leo)

After the second abseil the creek became canyon and we down climbed two metres through a hole.

Abseil 5 (photo Leo)

The abseils were straight forward, all off trees and down the side or middle of waterfalls, with a low water level. After the sixth abseil, the canyon made a right hand turn and opened out. There was a pleasant 500 metre walk to the next abseil.

Leo was captivated by the crystal clear water of the pool below the seventh abseil, expressing the desire to jump it. Adrian steered him left to where there was meant to be a belay from a tree to avoid the pool. The grin returned to Leo’s face when we returned to the pool, having found the belay tree with its multiple slings torn away from the cliff and lying horizontal.

Adrian checked out the slide, but his assurances that there was only a small lip of rock under the water proved unnecessary. Leo’s rucksack made the test run, followed by Leo himself. Adrian had failed to notice the bulge half way down the 8 metre slide which launched Leo into the air clear of all rock.

Abseil 7 into the pool – Leo’s slide became a jump (photo Adrian)

Leo’s full descent here (video Adrian)

After completing the rest of the 40 metre abseil over the pool lip, we down climbed 5 metres to the edge of the “abyss”, flanked by rock walls to reveal … nothing below. (It is when one can’t see the bottom below that one admires the first canyoners to make a descent)

Leo on abseil 8 (photo Adrian)
Abseil 14 (photo Leo)

Abseils eight to 14 took a little less than two hours. Below us were “to be avoided” stinging trees with their large leaves. During a half hour lunch break next to a clear pool we tried to understand the antics of the water skaters that circled and met, circled and met continuously. We didn’t realise that we had stopped just a few metres before the 15th abseil, and shortly after we had the final 16th abseil behind us.

We passed the usual Gerygone (pron. jer-ig-on-nee) nests hanging above the creek like flood debris, and then a most delicate nest with 3 small white eggs. Mrs Grey Fantail flitted around us in consternation, but then disappeared, hopefully to reappear after our departure.

Grey fantail and her nest (photos Adrian)

We walked on through the scrub to come to an open grassed (but by no means flat) area in the sun which allowed us to get a GPS fix. We believed we had just completed the last abseil and neither of us felt the need to push on through the entangled vegetation to Kanangra Creek.

Adrian was not keen for Leo’s suggestion to exit up a spur leading over Mt Danae, pointing out that we were right next to a spur that would lead us up to Burra Gunama ridge west of Burra Gunama Hill. We had both easily exited from Carrabeanga trips from the other side over Burra Gunama Hill and this route would lead us back to our route in, obviating unknown obstacles. Or so we thought!

The grassy hole in the jungle canopy proved so hot that we retired for a half hour to the shade of the creek, drinking water like camels. Neither of us were keen to start the hot climb out of the canyon. We heard the wind like a jet engine above us, and hope that may be it would provide some respite from the heat ahead of us.

Finally we headed off at 13.30 up a steep scree slope, but shaded by overhead jungle vegetation. Finally we reached the steep ridge which took us onto slightly firmer terrain. The ridge developed increasing bands of rock, but we believed we were making good progress. About three times Leo climbed ahead and belayed Adrian up, but the rock showed no signs of giving way.

After our initial scramble, we reached the ridge, which initially looked promising (photo Adrian)

At one point Leo downclimbed from a pinnacle and ascended the next.

Leo:       “Fantastic views.”

Adrian:  “I’m not looking down until I get to the top.”

Adrian looked ahead, and could see behind Leo a larger cliff than any we had ascended. As he looked around, Leo’s suggested route on the other side of Thurat Rift appeared to “go”. The narrow ridges beside us that Adrian had discounted as likely to have cliffs (the topographical maps are renown for not showing cliffs) appeared to “go”. It was only our ridge that did not want to “go”.

Adrian baulked at going on, so Leo returned and at 15.20 we downclimbed to a suitable tree from where we could make two short abseils off the northern side of the ridge to where we were able to traverse loose dirt ledges around the base of the cliffs and eventually up onto our ridge. In fact, our back track and revised ascent proved much easier than we expected and probably only cost us an hour.

Leo pushed on, contemplating the next ascent … but a proper cliff loomed behind this outcrop (photo Adrian)
But Adrian baulked back on this outcrop, so we retraced our steps and abseiled off the left side to ledges below (photo Leo)
The cliffs we had to get around (photo Leo)

Our ascent was not under the expected burning sun. We did not recognize that the heatwave had chosen to dissipate at the very time we started our arduous ascent. The Sydney Morning Herald the next day reported: “The city had its warmest day since February, with the mercury reaching 35.4 degrees just before 2.30pm, or about 13 degrees above the October average. Sydney Airport was one of the hottest sites in Sydney, with 37.3 degrees reached at 3pm. It was also amongst the fastest to cool off, dropping 11 degrees in seven minutes…” The classic southerly buster caused general Sydney temperatures to drop 10 degrees in 20 minutes, and we in the Blue Mountains had also unknowingly benefited.

Our ascent appeared interminable, and we alternated the lead according to the lows of our energy levels. We reached Burra Gunama ridge at about 17.00, then our band of thick scrub and saplings, the open heath, and Mt Thurat in the setting sun at 18.30. We were able to make it back to the van at 19.00, making for a 13.5 hour day.

We changed out of damp clothing, cooked up a pasta and tuna dinner, and were in bed shortly after 21.00. We agreed to make a slightly later start of 6.00 for Kalang Falls the next day.

We awoke to rain and cold. At 6.00 each of us spied on the other to see no movement — clearly we had each independently decided no canyoning today. Back to Wentworth Falls to swap photos, discuss routes on independent trips about Numietta Creek in the Wollemi, and then Adrian took the train back to Sydney.

Thurat Rift is a beautiful canyon, and we rated it as probably more picturesque than neighbouring Carrabeanga canyon. We had been blessed by warm weather (which relented for our climb out). Some good track notes, along with Leo’s superior ropework, had allowed us to move quickly and accomplish what is normally a one-and-a-half or two day trip in a long day with lighter packs.

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