Centennial Glen Canyon (The Grotto)

Party: T2, Bron, Steph, Em, Gill

One of the perks of living in the Blue Mountains is the ability to have sneaky after work adventures. Knocking off at five still allows a couple hours of sunlight — time enough to escape the drudgery of everyday life and get a much-needed dose of nature.

Unfortunately, ongoing park closures — about 80 per cent of the greater Blue Mountains was burnt by the recent bushfires — have really limited the available options. (There’s only so many trips through Empress or Grand that can be done in one season!)

Thankfully, with a little bit of imagination, there are still plenty of ways to get a canyoning fix.

This week’s solution was to explore the small canyon in Centennial Glen. Sure, there’s a century-old bushwalking track that follows the creek through the cliffs, and it is possible to access the canyon section known as The Grotto without ropes, but it can easily be turned into a technical canyon if so desired.

Setting off, we were soon enjoying stunning views along the Blackheath escarpments and over the Kanimbla Valley. After months of drought and fire, the recent heavy rain has transformed the area, with patches of grass in the valley turned such a bright green they almost looked artificial.

The rain had also given our chosen watercourse a solid flush, with signs of flash flooding that had cleared out vegetation and made for easy walking.

We’d decided to make things more interesting by visiting the upper part of the creek — one section that doesn’t have a track following it — which would also provide an additional waterfall abseil.

The creekbed had been scoured by the recent flash flooding, with no leaf litter or vegetation settled in the pools. The result was a nicer-than-expected creek walk (I had warned of a likely scrub bash) which soon had us at the waterfall.

Here, the creek cut between two rock walls before leaping into a forested valley that was glowing in the late afternoon sun.

The fiddlestick made the anchor situation easy, but the abseil took us straight through the flow of the waterfall, making for a chilly start on what was a relatively cool summer evening.

The awkward, low start also made for a less than ideal first drop for Bron to use her new maternity harness (the high anchor point will take some getting used to).

We continued down the creek, which was surprisingly pleasant going, with the occasional scramble as it dropped gently into the valley.

Just after the junction of a small side branch, which was flowing well, the creek dropped into the attractive constriction known as The Grotto.

An old sling was attached to a tree that had been uprooted by the recent flood, so we cut it free and used a more secure natural anchor.

The drop again followed the water flow, with a pleasant gush crashing past as we abseiled down.

Each person seemed to find a slightly different solution to the short swim and awkward clamber over the logs wedged across the pool.

A large healthy yabby stood guard in the chamber, watching us inquisitively while standing proudly on a rock, guarding his territory.

The next 50 metres or so contained an attractive constriction, confirming that Centennial Glen definitely deserves the title of a canyon (and certainly exceeds some of those that appear in the guidebook).

A short scramble down logs, then a squeeze beside a massive boulder, and we were at the final abseil. This waterfall looked beautiful with the additional water flow, even if we had to ignore the handrails and stone-carved steps that ran beside it.

With a cool wind howling up the canyon, Steph and Bron decided skip this optional abseil and walk down the track, but not before providing the ultimate in gear-free releasable anchors (amazing how leaving someone at the top makes rope retrieval simpler).

Gill decided to take advantage of a rather rare natural anchor — two metal poles cemented firmly into the rock — making the abseil particularly humorous as we used the associated handrail while taking the first few steps.

Once down, we were quickly out of the wind. We warmed up in the afternoon sun that was illuminating the cliffs above us in a rich orange glow.

We walked north towards Porters Pass, using the opportunity to check out the abseil below another micro-canyon I want to explore, before reaching another pleasant, lush valley.

A side trip past a small climbing area took us to a spot where we could check out another nearby mini-canyon, giving a glimpse of the small constriction and interesting looking abseils. Something for another after work exploration.

It was twilight when we emerged above the cliffs, pausing on some pagodas to enjoy the soft evening light and have a final examination of one of those future ‘canyons’.

Back at the car about three hours after setting off, we’d been rewarded with spectacular views, an attractive little canyon, and a stunning bushwalk.

It’s amazing what is still accessible in the mountains, even with the current closures.

Best of all, the dose of cold water, lush ferns, and stunning sandstone was just what the doctor ordered.

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