Too much rope: unexpectedly easy canyon exploration

A few months back I finally explored a little canyon that despite being surprisingly accessible is almost completely unknown. As part of my research for that one I’d trawled satellite images, topographic maps, and photos of cliffs in the area to try and pin down its location. It turned out we found that canyon on our first search, but that left me with a couple other interesting-looking creeks nearby that were also worth a look.

Despite admitting I didn’t think we find much, and that they day would likely involve lots of off-track walking, scrub, scrambling, and the possibility of having to pass a knot on a very long abseil, Em and Leo were still mad enough to join me.

A couple days out I found myself feeling uncharacteristically nervous. I knew the final drops to both potential creeks were long, but I couldn’t work out exactly how long. With the chance we’d find ourselves at the end of a canyon with a huge, overhung cliff below, I was planning for the worst. This anxiety eased a little when Leo said he had an 80m rope he could bring.

Intense wind gusts sent shudders through my car as I drove up the mountains, making the thought of passing a knot while free-hanging seem even less pleasant.

Between the three of us we were carrying more than 180m of rope, not to mention an 85m pullcord, so as we set off from the car I was pretty confident there was nothing the creeks could throw at us that we wouldn’t have enough to gear to deal with.

We enjoyed a pleasant walk that soon had us in open heathland with spectacular escarpments in all directions. It was a spot very worthy of a bushwalk in its own right and somewhere I definitely want to come back to.

After checking out the views from atop an imposing sandstone buttress — where we also got a tantalising look into one of the creeks — we set off for our primary target.

Very quickly the creek cut through a small canyon section. Unfortunately, this pleasant two-part drop ended all too quickly.

We scrambled down the creek towards the final plunge into the valley below. At a point where the little creek dropped down a chute into a pool Leo decided to seek out a dry detour. I followed him, while Em pressed on downwards.

We rejoined shortly after, enjoying some awkward scrambles up the side and an challenging bridging effort to avoid the pools.

It was here I took a solid tumble, losing my footing on a scramble. I landed almost upside down, just above a drop, with Em grabbing me to prevent me falling.

We continued a short way to the end of the creek where the rock has been carved into a perfectly formed spout.

Our excess of rope was about ensuring we could descend these cliffs, but between the wind and the knowledge that we would then need to bash our way under the cliffs for a couple hours to get back up we decided to bail on the final drop and instead check out the second creek.

We reversed our way up the little canyon section, with ropes used in a couple places to again avoid the pools, before following the other branch of the creek back to the tops.

A short walk across the beautiful open ridge soon had us above our next creek. This one was not just much larger, it was quite a bit scrubbier.

Eventually the walking became easier. All-too-soon we turned a corner and saw the most impressive canyon slot we’d found all day. It only lasted for about 20m before plunging off the cliff, but it looked so nice we had to drop in.

We left our rope in place, allowing us to prusik back up if needed, and continued on to the edge of the drop.

After examining a couple anchor option we decided that this final abseil should be doable with our 80m rope. Em was really keen to continue on. Leo was thankfully more ambivalent. I, as the least fit member of the group, was not particularly keen on the long hard slog under the cliffs. (The thought of a big free-hanging abseil in gusting winds also didn’t fill me with excitement.)

So with my killjoy efforts the others finally agreed to just reverse out and call it an early day.

The prusik back up started awkwardly with a deep pool at the bottom of the drop. While none of us made it look pretty, we all managed to keep dry.

Leo raced up the rope. Em and I were a little slower, cursing the fact that neither of us had loops of the correct length. (Definitely a good reminded to get my ascending setup fine-tuned ahead of summer).

Other than one navigational snafu on the walk out — where too much talking saw us walk right past the saddle we needed to drop across — it was a pleasant return to the cars.

We headed back to Em’s to enjoy a cuppa and a chat. It was certainly a very civilised and easy end to what I’d expected to be a challenging exploratory trip.

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