Zorro Canyon: Small adventures for the Geographically misaligned

OK 2 things

  1. I’ve always thought I was a reasonable bush navigator. With no formal training I’ve always managed to  get us where we wanted to go and back to the car with out too many mishaps.
  2. I’ve always thought I had a pretty good memory for places I’ve visited. 4WD routes I did with dad as a kid I found easily as an adult many years later and so on and so forth.

Today would challenge both those perceptions a bit.

A bit over a decade ago (well closer to 15 years ago) I was on a trip that visited a few interesting slot canyons, including the Cracks of Doom. Not really a canyon, more just a thin crack that slotted down through the cliffline. Interesting though very short and not something you would do a trip up to visit on it’s own, but easily tied in as a side trip when visiting other interesting stuff out that way.

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Back then there wasn’t much info around on it. I think we may have been the second or third party to visit the cracks. Anyway on this trip our guide mentioned another dry canyon in the area called Zorro, saying it well worth a look.

I immediately consulted maps and set a goal of checking it out. Then life happened and  I never got around to it. Now getting back into the swing of things I decided I should take the chance to tick it off the list.

Now my memory was sure he said it was right out the end of the same fire road. My memory was wrong.

But that was OK. While there was little info online a few private messages to people in the know relinquished a grid reference and a bit of an idea of what we were in for re abseiling.

Quickly plotting the grid reference on the map showed it wasn’t near the fire road I thought but on a ridge nearby. The map didn’t show a fire trail heading out that way but the old series maps were pretty lacking in that regard. Luckily the surveyors at work had some aerial photos of the region and I could make out the trail running pretty much where I thought it should be.

I didn’t bother getting more info on the Cracks of Doom. There still isn’t any info online but I’d been there, I had the start plotted in the GSP and on the map and I remembered where it was. So I thought.

Anyhoo, we rounded up the crew. Tal ditched me for a weekend paint balling and mucking around with his mates. Ben wasn’t well so that left Edwin, Gaz, Bryson, Meggsie, AD and myself. We’d have a look a Zorro then if everyone was up to it drop into Cracks of Doom.

The drive up was uneventful. I lie.

We got to the turn off and after giving it a good look drove past. Now just a few months ago there was a clear sign to Birds Rock. Now there was a Birds Rock conservation area sign on a few different roads. No dramas we drove on for a bit, realised our mistake and back tracked a bit to take the right turn.

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From here a few little secret twists and turns and we found the right trail. Soon it got a bit rough and steep so we ditched AD’s Rav 4 and piled into my Triton. It felt a bit like cheating. The Canyon should start just down from where we parked the car. Most involve a bit more of a hike.

We park, I set the GPS(more cheating) and check I had the right gully. All good, we head down a scruby but not too scrubby gully. The right gully by the by. Then I decided to second guess myself and check the GPS. And the GPS did something weird. It had been pointing straight down it now pointed to the right.

I should point out she’s an old girl s far as GPS’s go. 90s era technology and the receivers some times struggle under thick canopy. Not an issue as I’d only ever used it for back up. So I consult the map and declare, confidently but wrongly “its a bit odd but we might need to be in the next gully across.” And so we skirt up a small rise to the right and into the next gully.

Scrubbier, but before long we come to a convergence of pagodas that seems to match the description we had of the entry. All good, we gear up.

We wander down a pretty little slot but after a 100m or so it opens out into an amphitheater. “We’ll that was Zorro. we can head back up now.” They laugh at my jest, or at me. Not sure which but I’m sure it’s the jest.

The cliff closes in again and we come to a tight squeeze down a narrow hole that seemed to end on a ledge that dropped away again. I’m not sure that matches the description I have of the first abseil but there looks to be a pass around the back side of a pagoda to the right so we slip over for a look before getting the ropes out.

The view from the top of the pagoda was magical and below us was a narrow slot which looked like the slot we were after. Only problems were is was a lot deeper than we had ropes for to abseil in from this point and according to the compass it was heading the wrong way.

I pulled out the map. The slot we were after should be running NW. “We should be able to scramble down just over there.”says I “But that’s where it opens out at the end.”Says Ed, pointing to where the compass assured me was east.

Sure looked like it. I have map and compass out scratching my head. This doesn’t make sense. A few of us consult over the map. It can’t open east. That doesn’t feel like east. Compass says that’s east. Map and compass didn’t align with terrain and sense.

We decide to scramble up the next pagoda to get a better look. The view from up here was stunning. “Amazing.” I mutter for the first of many times today.

Another thing happened too. Taking out the map and compass again everything aligned as it should. Odd, I’ve experienced this sort of magnetic anomaly once before where the compass needle was pulled off north for some reason. I assume a big mass of iron stone or something mundane like that. Not aliens… Probably.

Not sure why that would effect the GPS too, maybe aliens, but anyway we now knew where we were.

We skirted back up the ridge a bit and then around into the gully we had started down in the first place. Gaining it pretty much as the canyon started.

All righty.

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This was an interesting slot. Dry so far, yet after a short scramble down the cliffs were towering above us. It wasn’t as twisty and turny as most canyons but it was nice sustained, narrow slot. Most canyons tighten in and open up as the water carves and weaves it’s way through the rock.

This was almost uniformly narrow and deep. And straightish.

Soon we came to the first abseil. Tight and over hung we looked down on what appeared to be 2 pools of water. “I thought you said it was dry.” says Meggsie “I said dryish.” says I “I do think that was the terminology used.” AD back me up. “I’m pretty sure we can bridge across them.”

I rope up and head down. It is a lovely little drop.

 

Bryson comes next and heads on down to check out what is next in store for us while the others descend.

By the time we have the ropes pulled down he has bridged across the pools, just getting his feat wet and has scrambled down the next drop.

I weigh up the risk, effort needed to bridge against getting wet to the knees and decide just to wade through.

I look down the next drop, impressed Bryson managed to down climb it with out roping up. A convenient semi shelf lets us slide our butts down while chimneying with our feet on the far(not very far at all) wall. It was slippery and awkward with a pack but not as difficult as it looked at first.

Another pool at the bottom could be bridged with just getting ankles wet.

Not far on the canyon opened out to the infamous Z that gave the canyon it’s name. The walls took a 90° turn left, opened it to an chamber with amazing rock formations then turned 90° right to continue on just as narrow as before

My iphone 4 camera and lack of editing skills just doesn’t do this chamber justice.

Another short pool easily bridged and then the canyon opened out to an amazing view down over the 6star Wolgan resort and across to donkey mountain. It was here, sliding across a ledge to get a photo of the guys roping up that I tear the arse out of my shorts. I apologise in advance to who ever is foolish enough to belay me down the next drop…

A fairly straight forward 20m abseil and a bit of a scramble  and we’re at the base of a spectacular cliff which we follow around to find our exit gully

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The exit gully proved to be a nice fern filled canyon itself and while the far end contained a steep scramble it has to be one of the easiest exits I’ve done

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Before long we’re on top. Almost exactly opposite the spot we had been an hour or so earlier

On the left you can make out the Z in the canyon just above the center of the frame. The big pagoda with the orange underhang at the top left was the pagoda we climbed earlier to get our bearings. On the right is looking down into the exit canyon.

 

The views for the top were amazing

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Ed and Bryson with the Wolgan Valley and Donkey mountain in the back ground. You maybe able to make out the cabins of the Wolgan resort in the Valley.

 

A short, very short, walk later and we are back at the car, Gaz is handing out Apple Ales, it’s barely noon. Don’t mind if I do

Cracks of Doom then?

We trundle back into the ute. Both Gaz and I are sure there is a short cut across to the fire trail that I am sure leads us to the CoD but we opt to head back out, retrieve the Rav4 and slip around the main road.

Now with Zorro I can blame the navigational error on a magnetic anomaly (be interesting to know if anyone else has experienced that out there) the next error comes straight fro my obviously addled memory.

Now I’m sure I’m on the right fire trail. Map doesn’t show it going exactly were it needs to, but then it doesn’t show any other trails going there either.

I grab the GSP out and it’s pointing pretty much straight along the trail.

“We should swing left here some where” and sure enough the shortcut comes in on the right and we swing slightly left. The road gets very 4WDy. I don’t remember it being that rough but it was 2002(?) and we were on mountain bikes.

 

Anyhoo.

I’m sure we need to drop off to the right at a small saddle between slight high points. The road gets rougher and we decide to ditch the ute and hoof it the last 1km. A 1km flat walk in, Kind of luxury on  canyon trip.

We pass a motor bike trail that is well known to members of the group and continue on. The road ends at a camp site. “This isn’t what I remember” says I. But the GPS says our destination is 800m straight on and there is a bit of a foot track heading that way so on we go. 50 meters later we are standing on the edge of a cliff looking 750m straight across the valley at an impressive crack cutting down the opposite cliff line. “That’s our crack” says I “We should be on the other side of it”

Gaz pulls out his phone, fires up his gps mapping ap and sure enough there is another fire trail on the ridge behind the crack we are looking at. Buggar. Wrong ridge, Wrong road. Oh well a nice perspective of the crack.

I had been sure, 100% certain this was the right ridge. So certain I didn’t bother double checking. “Sorry.” says I.

Oh well there is a slight ledge heading down that looks like it might give us access to the valley floor. I entertain the idea of slipping down, crossing the gully, ascending Cathedral crack then dropping back down CoD and then back.

The valley floor is impressive but it’s lush in a thick, very thick undergrowth kinda way. And there looks to be a bit of a slot with opposing little cliff line barring our way to the other side. We had left the ropes and gear in the ute.

Oh well, we decide to slip around the base of our cliff line and just have a look along this side of the gully. Hopefully we can get another pass out further around. There are some interesting caves in this area so you never know. And what’s the point of adventuring if you don’t have a bit of an explore.

The cliff line is nice but the going soon gets very scrubby. We come across  pretty waterfall and some decide to cool off before we continue around. Much scrub bashing later the find a pass up.

Once again the view from the top is amazing. Delicate plate pagodas and awe inspiring cliff lines. Odd to find the plate pagodas so close to the smooth, rounded pagodas of Birds Rock. We faff about with some photos before slipping back up the ridge line to intercept the motor bike trail, and hence easily back to the car.

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Disappointing I didn’t get to show them down CoD but we did have a nice view of it from across the gully. More disappointing my memory was so off. But it was interesting gully with great views so not all doom and gloom

 

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We get home just in time to intercept my newly P plated daughter backing out the driveway “Coming for a swim at Clarence dams, dad?” says she. “I’ll meet you there” says I. I need to unpack, refuel and find some other swimmers…

 

*Another attempt at the Cracks of Doom and finally *a descent of the Cracks of Doom

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Tiger snake Canyon

It’s been fun slowly getting back into this canyoning caper.

I never completely stopped, we’ve always managed to get down 1 or 2 of the smaller ones each year with the kids, but last season was the first in a while we took on a couple of the more adventurous ones. However with free weekends few and far between it seemed like the season just started when it was already over.

We should do some drier ones through winter. It was a good sentiment but, again, weekends just didn’t align.

As the weather warmed up the keeness grew. A date was set. lets do Tiger Snake. It’s a relatively short trip but if memory served me correctly the abseils were interesting and the slot very tight and deep. The crew were available. Anticipation grew.

As usual the warmth of early spring gave way and in the week leading up the rain set in. Constant drizzle interspersed with heavy storms. Um weekend forecasts predicted an easing of the wild weather. I was looking forward to seeing the slot with water in it. The call was to suck it and see. If it was still raining we’d walk in and if there too much water we’d abort.

Saturday came with perfect weather. The sun was out, birds were singing… Sunday early morning drizzle was back.

Nothing but a groan greeted me as I woke Tal, but he rolled out of bed and we got ready to go. Rain jackets were packed but we we confident it would burn off.

Gaz and Bryson arrived looking keen. We called in to collect Meggs and Ben and then convoyed up to the ZigZag to meet up with Edwin.

Despite, or maybe because of, the rain and logging operations the road out was smoother than usual and in no time we at the car park.

Of the group only myself and Meggs had done Tiger Snake before. Me 20 years ago, Meggs some what longer.

Last time I had done it a bit of careful navigation was needed to find the start from the end of the old fire road. Now a clear trail continued on and we blindly followed it down into a low saddle before deciding to have a quick check on the map. Yep we’d taken a wrong turn and were a little too far east. We retraced our steps slightly, realising that the reason this bit of trail was so well trodden was quiet a few groups must have done the same, walked down then turned around and walked back, doubling the trail wear.

Just a little back up the hill we found our error and an obvious cairne and bit of tape around a tree clearly marking the spot where we should have veered left instead of continuing straight.

Back on track it was clear that a lot of water had flowed down the gully over the last week or so but now it was mostly dry, the catchment area was relatively small and the sandy soil drains easily, and soon enough we found the slot we were looking for.

12191854_10153106575681160_4852723574365829807_n  The was a few dubious looks shared as we considered the narrowness of the hole in front  of us. 20 years ago I was 15kg lighter and belatedly I recalled it being a tight squeeze even then.

Meggs wasted no time getting the rope out as we geared up. Tossing the ends into the crevice there was a definite splash. “You said this was dry!” “I said normally dryish”

Anyhoo I volunteered to be guinea pig and roped up. I didn’t get far before realising there was no way I was going to get down with my backpack on and the chest mounted go pro was in danger of being destoyedo so I wedged myself in and striped off the pack, handing it back up, readjusted the go pro then squeezed my way down.

Once past the start it opened out a little and it was more a roped down climb than an abseil.The spanner water in the pool at the bottom was about nut deep and full of the biggest tadpoles i’ve ever seen. No wonder tigersnakes sometimes made their way up into the coldness. Edwin bridged his way out and lowered the packs down to me and then the others made their way in.

The next drop was scrambled down pretty easily and then were were at the dodgy log anchor

11261030_10153106576276160_3168608634852814726_n I can’t remember if we used the logs last time but there had been a set of equally dodgy looking ring bolts installed. Of course this was back in the day when any permanent fixture in a NP was frowned upon and so they had been removed. Now the Logs wedged across the canyon walls and were the only thing to set the ropes on. About a dozen logs were in place but even a quick glace showed 1 would take the weight. 2 would act as back up and the rest were as useful as a hat full of dandruff.

Ed tested their strength and every one did their best to ignore the creaks and groans of the log as we descended

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Another tight squeeze and the canyon opened out and an easy handover hand downclimb brought us to the big over hang abseil that ends the top section. Ropes were set and I was volunteered to go first. I descended the first easy few meters to a tiny ledge and looked out over the overhang. “Are the ends on the ground?” Called Meggs as he saw me pause. “Yep but there’s a big knot in the rope.” I think i’d been set up. Locking off on my balancey stance I hauled the ends of the rope up, cleared the knot and continued down.

This is a nice abseil beside a waterfall, which after all the rain was a picturesque drizzle of sparkling droplets.

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From here the creek opened up a little and we wandered down to the next section.

A short time later the gully closed in again and clifflines began to hem us in. The drop into the next section looked very pretty. The green moss almost translucent on the walls but we decided to do the optional entry a little further along. Apparently it has become the more popular way in and after doing it I can see why. Taking Ed’s brand new 60m rope we left him to take some photos then back tracked a little until we could scramble up and along the top beside the canyon walls. Soon this brought us to a section where chock stones have formed a bridge across the top of the canyon.

Is it just me or do new ropes always tangle when you first try and unloop them? A little swearing and much untangling followed.

By the time we had the abseil rigged to go Edwin rejoined us and we graciously offered him first descent on his new rope. Not that we were scared of the drop that disappeared through a tight, cave like hole and into the darkness beyond. It was just the polite thing to do.

12187823_10153106577241160_5885931341013566767_nMeggs and Gaz followed so they could relieve Ed off belay and give him time for more photographolodating. I Helped the boys rope up and came down last. All I can say is “Wow!”

While short and dry the bottom chamber of Tiger Snake is spectacularly dark, deep and narrow anyway and this entry just adds to it. Almost 30m, mostly over hung and nearly completely dark. Very cave like.

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The shortness of the trip gave us ample time to kick back and enjoy the experience. many iphone photos were snapped as Edwin set up his tripod and camera for some proper shots. We scrambled up stream to check out the short section we’d missed before making our way down

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Emerging back into the light Bryson decided it was time to eat lunch and set up on the rocks. By the time I told them there was nice sandy cave just a below bags were already open and the rocks seemed just as good a spot.

Bellies full the boys soon darted down the little glowworm caves just below our lunch spot. It was all fun and games until Ben let out a shreek and came bopping out of a tight squeeze as a mid sized bat ran up his back and used him as a launch pad, ducking into the next little hole.

The rock fall above the cave (really just a large low overhang) seemed fairly fresh and hemmed the cave in a little more.11220869_10153106577796160_60862263140824681_n

A quick scramble up through the cliff lines and then the exit trail meandered easily along the ridge, pretty much following the top of the canyon close enough that it was tempting to veer off and do the bottom section again. A quick climb up over a pagoda offered stunning views out over Deans crk and the cliff of the Wolgan and then an easy walk back to the car. all in all a pleasant little trip