Mt Hay canyon/Butterbox canyon, A short canyon with lots of adventure

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Edwin and myself

As far as constrictions go the one in Rocky Point Ravine, known as Mt Hay or Butterbox canyon, is fairly short. It’s more of a vertical slot with barely any length. That said it is a damn impressive vertical slot and the getting to and from adds greatly to the adventure.

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Ed has been regaling us with the time he did Mt Hay canyon in flood, as the second canyon he’d ever done with some guy he met at the climbing gym (Sounds like the start of a news report…). Seeing the video of him abseiling off the chock stone in a torrent of water is a little scary but he maintains it was a great fun canyon.

Meggsie on the other hand did the trip back when he was a scummy youth, which I’m guessing was some time around 1624. Back then it was longish walk in and the usual exit was down to the Grose river and then up and out Lockleys pylon, a massive day. A few members of his party had heard of a new, shorter exit that involved a bit of a rock climb. The rest went the usual way. Getting back to the cars after dark the noticed the guys who took the shortcut were still not back…

So, when I found myself with a freed up weekend at the tag end of the “wet canyon season” and I asked who was keen Ed said yep and Meggsie said… well what he said can’t be typed on a family friendly blog but he wouldn’t be coming.

Gaz was keen but got called in to work and unfortunately Tal came down with Tonsillitis and was out.

There was a lot of fog and a smattering of rain as I drove up to meet Ed at Leura fairly early. By the time we got to the car park we were the first car there and the fog was just starting to lift.

Between the 2 of us we have about 120m of rope jammed into our packs. Eds 60m for the big drop. My 20m for the smaller drops. A 50m dynamic for the climb and some hand/safety lines. Needless to say the packs were a fair weight sitting high on our backs

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The old entry track cut straight down through a section of hanging swamp which was not good. In recent times National Parks have done a great job in putting a new trail down along the ridge, which seems just as quick and has some nice views down into the upper gorge. They have also installed signs. I know some people are against signs as taking away from wilderness experience but in such a high trafficked area, close to town I reckon its a good thing.

The signage is pretty informative too and gives good reasons why it’s important to avoid the swamp as well as some explanation of the terrain. Top work NPs, top work

Anyway the walk in is fairly short. Down the ridge, first little obstacle is a short climb down a fixed rope. The scenery changes into more rain forest style vegetation as we enter the gorge.

As I said earlier the constriction itself is very short but the descent down the gorge to get to it is pretty action packed. 3 short abseils, a few down climbs and a couple of swims. There doesn’t seem to be any boring bits. It’s one mini challenge after the other in a pleasant gully.

Occasionally the 20m seemed a tad short but it generally gave enough to get us to a sloping ledge we could then scramble/slide down (and eveything was freakin slippery), saving the need to uncoil and recoil the 60m each time

And then we came to the show piece as the creek tumbles down a narrow cleft and disappears around a bend far below us.

This is negotiated in 2 stages. The first abseils down a series of small drops over awkward ledges to a chock stone, wedged delicately into the cleft. There’s not much room on the stance for more than 3 maybe 4 people and once on it and clipped into a safety anchor the ropes are pulled down and reset for the next stage.

Ed went first and I have to admit I was a little nervous about this one. Seeing the video of Ed being pounded by the waterfall and hearing stories of people having trouble getting on to the chock stone had me apprehensive and excited.

In the end getting onto the chock stone was fairly straight forward, and if you miss it there is a ledge just under the inside of it. Still, in my nervous excitement I messed up setting the rope through the next anchor and had to recoil it and try again.

From the chock stone there a two options, over the outside or under the inside. last time, with the water levels high Ed’s group had no option but over the outside but then they had trouble retrieving the rope so this time we would try under the inside. I’d go first give the rope a test pull to make sure it would come freely then Ed would either follow or reset.

Now I’m not sure whether it was a combination of my nervous excitement and the awesome location or just the shear pleasure of this drop but i’m going to put it up there as one of my favourites. Usually for me the abseils are just a means to get to the next bit of canyon. In this case the abseil is pretty much the point of the canyon. It’s a tip top rappel down a dark slot.

The anchor makes for a pretty easy start down the inside of the chock stone to the afore-mentioned ledge and from there down into the darkness through the water fall to a small plunge pool. With a bit of care/good luck I avoid dropping to the pool and work my way over to a small ledge to a tight squeeze which separates the plunge pool. from the rest of the drop The bulky pack makes it an interesting challenge to get through the squeeze and turned around to start the next bit.

As the water poors out of the pool the slot takes a turn this means the water flings out towards the far wall so you abseil first through the waterfall, then under it and back through it again. heaps of fun

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Final 8 meters or so of the chock stone abseil

A quick swim and the next drop or two are climbed/jumped and then the slot opens back out

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Looking back up the slot
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Looking back up from where it opens out. Short, Vertical and Impressive 

So the slot opens out but the action is still not over. There are two more short abseils to negotiate then we de-wetsuit and grab a bite to eat before we tackle the exit.

Even with a bit of stuffing around with photos and what not we’d made good time and were surprised how early it was, barely 10:30. Obviously with just 2 people we were getting through the abseils fairly quickly. Just a 2 or 3 more people stacking the abseils would add an hour or 2 the trip.

Apparently people have trouble finding the exit climb but as along as you spot the start of the trail to the right of the final abseil, or at least know you need to get to the base of the right hand cliff line, it is pretty well trodden and easy to follow.

Perhaps the confusion is that you follow the trail further around than the impression you get from the various guides available. It’s steep and loose in spots but after 30min or so we find our selves heading up a steep gully to the big ledge we need to cut back on. The ledge goes a fair way back towards the canyon before the upper cliff closes in and there is a narrow pass around the point, made super awkward with the big pack, luckily at this point it there is a low, cave like over hang you can crawl through to save getting too close to the edge. Once out of the cave a little rock climb heads straight up.

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Ed making easy work of the climb

Its a short, fairly easy and , well protected pitch but the exposure is awesome as you are a  hundred meters or so up the cliff and  3 or 4 hundred above the valley floor before you start so it’s easy to see how newbies could get intimidated. The top section was also a little blank for the worn out grip on my tevas. Lucky it’s not a style comp or grade chaser so pulling off the hangers and using the big U bolt as a foot hold is fair game.

 

We are still perched under a fair chunk of chossy cliff but a narrow pass leads around the corner and up a steep gully, so steep it might as well be a rock climb without the rock.

Looking up at Ed a few meters in front but more meters above I can’t help think, holy crap this is steep. Looking back… well it’s best not to look back. At one stage I dislodge a loose rock. The thuds of it tumbling down seemed to go on and on and on, broken by a few moments of silence as it hurtled over the cliff line followed by more thuds, getting quieter as it tumbed into the depths of the valley. I sincerely hope there was no one below.

there were a number of places to stop for a lookout and, again the views kept getting better the higher we climb

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Edwin at the top of the steep gully after the rock climb pitch. The canyon can be seen cutting the cliff on the left
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Looking back down to where the canyon opens up out of the cliff line
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The going gets easier towards the top of Margarine point
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It’s not often you get such a clean view back over the length of the canyon, the horse shoe like gully on the edge of the shadow middle picture is the extent of the gorge
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Margarine point, a little bit of a side detour but a great spot for lunch with the Gross Valley as the back drop

So yeah its a big trip for a short constriction but well worth it.

Party size: 2 both experience 1 having done the trip before

Time: 6hrs car to car. Steady pace with some photo faffing and a good lunch stop.

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