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Trip Report – Exploring our Local Canyons

By: Julie Burton

Source: Australian Section Newsletter (December 2016)

Elusive sunlight tries to penetrate the dark shadows of the narrow sandstone corridor, lighting the brilliant bright green ferns growing from the rock high overhead and casting a coppery green glow on the walls below as a group of neoprene-clad figures appear. The jangling of carabiners and descenders at odds with the ever-present sound of running water. The canyoners stop, and stare in awe and wonder at the magnificence of this secret, timeless place as the leader shrugs his backpack from his shoulders and prepares to rig for the abseil into the dark slot yawning at his feet. The only way out is down.

Canyoning is the practice of descending the narrow gorges and slots that have been cut into bedrock over eons of time. Canyons such as those in New Zealand, are found in mountainous terrain, but in Australia many can be found on plateaus too. A variety of skills including scrambling, downclimbing, swimming, jumping (into pools), and abseiling are used to traverse these obstacle courses cut by Mother Nature. Quite often, good navigational skills are required to access some of our less visited or remote canyons. Some of these canyons can be deep and forbidding places. Others are pretty and easy. But all require skill and care.

Australian canyons are mostly found in the Blue Mountains National Park, Wollemi National Park and Kanangra-Boyd National Park, all just a few hours drive from Sydney. The most popular and easily accessible canyons are found in the Blue Mountains in clusters around Mt Wilson, Mt Tomah and on the Newnes Plateau. Most Bushwalking Clubs regularly feature canyoning trips on their programs, but many experienced canyoners prefer to run their own private trips with a bunch of mates.
Climbers already have the basic skills to take with them when venturing into canyoning: roping, knots, abseiling. But canyoning is a completely different way of using those skills. The abseils are almost never straightforward and can be up to 60m. Anchors are generally slings around rocks or trees, which nature doesn’t always place in the most convenient places. Some starts can be quite awkward to negotiate, and the abseil itself slippery with narrow v-slots, overhangs or logs to work your way around or through. You may be abseiling through or beside a waterfall, or landing in a deep pool so you need to tread water while disconnecting from the rope.

You will need (static) ropes, wetsuit (3mm is fine in Summer but 5mm if you’re a hardy Winter canyoner is advised), harness, helmet, descender, prussiks, a backpack with drain holes, drybag for keeping your lunch edible, and good sticky rubber-soled shoes. First-aid kit and PLB are a good idea too.canyonsAU

So how does one venture into canyoning? If you prefer to try it first before splashing out on a wetsuit and canyoning specific backpack (which has mesh sides and/or drainholes so you’re not carrying a bag full of water all day), you can go on a commercially guided trip. There are a few operators in Katoomba such as Blue Mountains Adventure Company or Australian School of Mountaineering. There are canyoners here in our Australian section who run trips from time to time in NSW and Qld, so keep an eye on the upcoming trips list. If you prefer to hook up with canyoners who just do their own thing, the OzCanyons facebook group is a great way to connect with people.

Tom Brennen has a very good canyoning website including an online canyon guide to the more popular canyons and is a great resource if you’re looking for more information

Posted: 17/03/17

Posted By: Narina Sutherland