Party: T2, Evgenia, Emma, Sid, Stephanie, Andrew, Michelle
Since moving into the lower Blue Mountains, I am trying to take advantage of my closer proximity to the bush to squeeze extra outdoor adventures into scraps of time that would otherwise be wasted plonked on the couch.
A few weeks earlier, on another afternoon abseiling trip, Ev and I got talking about other options that could easily be done at the end of a work day. We decided that combining a series of four stunning and quite diverse abseils around Devils Hole would work perfectly.
With the trip taking place on a Wednesday afternoon I figured it may well just be the two of us, so the final group of seven was a very pleasant surprise (particularly as several had driven a couple hours to take part).
It was a little after 5pm when we all converged. Most of the group put on their abseiling gear at the cars given we were walking just a few hundred metres to the first drop.
Despite having done all these abseils in the past, my memory was a little hazy and I completely forgot the somewhat exposed section on the way to the first abseil. Thankfully, everyone made it across without trouble, although some packs were passed to make it a little easier.
Not far on, we came to the old bolted anchor that lands you directly onto the iconic chockstone perched halfway up the sandstone chasm that is Devils Hole.
As well as enjoying the fresh air, stunning escarpment views, and the adrenaline the comes while dangling high above the valley on a single strand of rope, I was also keen to use this trip to demonstrate the benefits of rigging abseils with a fiddlestick retrievable anchor.
Em set the first drop and was quickly away, landing on the chockstone where she chose the lower, newer set of bolts (in the narrow slot, rather than above the chockstone), to place the next rope.
By the time I was down, most of the group had already completed the second drop and were enjoying the view down Devils Hole to the valley.
Em pulled the fiddlestick, and the abseiling rope tumbled down as intended, but the pullcord had other ideas. Somehow it ended up in a most impressive tangle that took a good 10 minutes to fully rectify.
After completing the chockstone abseil, we headed a short way up the Devils Hole track before an easy ledge took us out to the impressive rocky outcrop where our next two drops were located.
We admired the views before scrambling down to the bolted anchor above Africa Wall (so named because from the bottom, the rock-face looks vaguely like the outline of Africa).
In my memory, this was only about a 30 metre drop, but I’d forgotten how far back from the edge the anchor was set.
Throwing our 45 metre rope, in a rope bag, I was concerned by the lack of the “thud” usually heard when it hits the ground. From the edge I could see it hanging a little above ground level. I set off hoping it would be close enough to avoid re-rigging from a ledge.
In the end, the last couple coils in the rope bag had simply decided to get stuck and a little tug had it reach the ground comfortably.
The final drop involves a stunning free-hanging abseil that appears worryingly long from above. (It’s known as Kilimanjaro, because you hang from a very large overhang — or “roof” — and Kilimanjaro is the roof of Africa…). As a result, most of the group didn’t want to be the first one down. Thankfully, Steph volunteered to be the first lemming over the edge.
The bolted anchor here is set right on the rock edge, which makes for a very awkward start, but is needed to avoid a challenging pulldown when abseiling with double ropes. I’ve actually had ropes stick here a few years back — due to some careless knot placement — which ended up seeing Kosta work up quite a sweat while prusiking all the way back up.
Given this, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate one of the benefits of the fiddlestick. Because we didn’t need to pull a huge length of rope through the anchor, I could set it up further back, utilising a small tree. This made it much easier to get on rope.
The long, free-hanging abseil on a dry rope made Andrew regret his lack of gloves, leaving him with some nasty looking rope burns on his hands. Thankfully it was the last drop he needed to complete.
At the bottom, the group looked up skeptically, unsure how the fiddlestick would cope with the awkward angle over the rock edge and the fact that we were standing among thick vegetation. Steph gave the pullcord a tug, giving a nervous glance when it didn’t budge, before a second firmer yank saw the ropes come flying down to us.
It was only a short walk around the cliffs to the bottom of Devils Hole. We surged upwards, leaving Em to head home before the rest of us again followed the ledge out to the stunning lookout.
The last of the sunlight briefly streamed through a gap under the clouds, illuminating Narrow Neck with an orange glow. We sat back, enjoying a chat while the sun set, before the light began to fade.
After a little more playing with the fiddlestick, and some practice tying Stein (Stone) Knots, we set off back to the cars.
I was amazed, once again, by how refreshing a few hours in the bush can be, even so close to civilisation. But even more remarkable was the fact that we had such a large group of keen people, despite the unusual timing.