Edwin, Ethan, Garry, Jodie and I
Sometimes things don’t go to plan and it’s a fine line between pushing on and deciding to abort the trip.
Myself and Ed had been discussing a dry trip to a relatively little known canyon all season, it seemed. Between us we had gathered bits of information from various sources and were confident enough that we set a date and invited the others.
Jodie was a newbie with just 1 canyon trip under her belt and Ethan, while having climbing and canyoning experience, had been out of the game for a while. We were keen to show them something special
We were all in good spirits as we met up at the car park.
The car park should have been my first hunch things weren’t going to plan. We were further along the road than I thought we should be. A check of the GPS said we were a little out but not by as much as I thought.
We’d simply walk back along the creek and look for our first marker, a fallen tree acting as a bridge across the water. Lo and behold, a fallen tree across the stream gives us access to the other side not 20m up stream. OK we’re not as far out as I thought. all good, thinks I. Silly me.
We follow the other bank upstream looking for a gully with a break in the cliffline. Lo and behold just after the allotted kms a gully heads up the hill toward a break in the cliff line.
Silly thing is I know the gully we were meant to head up and looking back it’s obvious this isn’t it. But in good spirits and with the timing matching our rough track notes up we go without too much thought.
We head on up. Along the way we stumble across a diamond python, Morelia spilota spilota, hidden in a crevice. My all time favourite reptile, and despite me spending a lot of time wandering around the bush in their range it’s the first time I’ve seen one in the wild. At this stage I’m stoked on how the day is progressing.
But we don’t quiet reach the base of the cliff before being stopped by a overhanging ledge 4 or 5 meters below the break in the main cliff. I consult the map. You know what this isn’t our gully we should be further around.
It’s not an adventure unless you get a little lost, Says I. Without a mishap it’s just a trip not and adventure, agrees Jodie
Rather than head back down we begin traversing around the base of the cliff line to see what we could find. it’s little scrubby in spots but nothing too bad. Negotiating the boulders, ledges, angles and scree is slow going and saps a bit of energy but eventually after about 500m or so we follow a rough ramp upwards through the lower cliff line.
A few scrambles and a bit of hauling has us at the base of a big break. I head up to check it out. I think it’s going to go, calls I.
I continue up as the others start to follow. Except just a little further on is a boulder choke and each option that looked passable from a distance is blocked by overhanging chock stones. The others are still making their way up to me and I decide to see what I could do to get up. Reversing back down a bit I find a small alcove in the left wall that looks to give access to a ledge that might work it’s way past the over hangs. A big step up and a few balancey moves and I’m on the ledge and while there will be a few more scrambles and a tight squeeze I can see it will go all the way to the top.
I drop a handline down for the others.
We’re on top. A little behind schedule, more knackered than necessary but the views are outstanding so we are still on a bit of a high.
Now it was just a matter of gaining the top of the ridge where, if notes were correct, we’d pick up a faint trail for a bit.
This is where we experience the first of the heavier scrub. It’s not too bad, I’ve been through worse but it is scratchy. Spikey tea tree and sharp razor grass and dead wood. Gaz and Jodie had skins on which saved them from all but the worst of it but the rest of us…
I fire up the GPS again it it points straight ahead, up along the ridge to our next destination. It seems to be scrub all the way.
It’s unseasonably warm and with the traverse along the base of the cliffs we’ve taken much longer and spent more energy than I had anticipated. Ed starts cramping…
We gain the ridge and there is a faint trail but it fades in and out, we were expecting this but it is still easy to miss the next bit of trail. Suddenly we are at the end of the ridge looking down on a major gully either side of us.
Maps were consulted. you know what? Garry points out. That’s the main ridge over there, we’ve wandered onto a spur. No dramas we have only just passed the head of the gully we need to cross so traversing around a low saddle was fairly simple.
Back on the main ridge and we stumble onto the trail again. The under growth is next to non existent for a bit and the walking is much easier. The trail does disappear but we stick to the ridge line and the GSP is pointing straight ahead. It gets a little scrubby before we pop out on to a rock out crop and lo and behold there’s a cairn.
It wasn’t in the track notes but obviously a group came through recently and decided to mark it. the GPS wants us to go a further but there is a big gully down to the left which matches what I have been assuming is our descent route so we make our way down through a small pagoda cliff line into a small wooded area and work our way over towards the main cliff.
This wooded area is very scrubby and scratchy. Very.
While I use the words scrub bash often I usually like to be more a weaverer aroundererer rather than bash a trail througherer. Not much option here. It was thick and cutty… legs are getting less and less skin.
We find a little drain that looks like it might give access through the cliff line. That can’t be right why would everyone do a big abseil in if you could just walk. We slip across and climb a pagoda to see if it gives us a better idea if the lie of the land. We find we are on a big cliff line, bigger than our ropes will handle and no obvious abseil points anyway. I’m starting to doubt myself. What if it was that next big gully we could see from the top.
There is a tall pagoda just to our right which I think will give us a look at the gullies to either side. Problem is we need to descend back into the scrub to get across to it.
Hang about I’ll head across and see what I can see, says I. I’ll join you said Ed.
We descend into the thickest, scratchiest, clingiest scrub I have ever tried to push through. It was only 10 meters but it seemed to take 10mins or more to find our way through.
And it was tall too, well over head height. My arms are joining my legs in being scratched to bits. Death by 1000 cuts…
We reach the base of the pagoda and pull ourselves out of the scrub. But the view from top didn’t offer much help. Reluctant to go back into the scrub and not wanting the others to need to come through after us we call for a bit of a retreat. Make your way back up to the ridge the easiest way you can, we’ll meet you up there.
Energy levels were low, disappointment levels were creeping up.
I need to reengerise. We meet back up on the ridge top and decide to have lunch before consulting over the maps. From our vantage point we can see an obvious slot in the next gully across.
GPS, google earth and good old fashion paper map were discussed in length. Could it be that gully over there? I was 100% sure it is that gully back there. But my navigation has been off all day and I’m now doubting myself.
Looking down over the cliff lines, you know what we did park too far down stream. That log and the gully the right distance away, pure coincidence… I just stuffed up and am no longer confident.
Gaz is on google maps he thinks we need to explore upstream of where we were a bit. Ed is pointing to the other gully. Look there’s a slot there. That could be it…
I’m torn between the two. The more I look at the paper map the more I regain confidence that we are in the right spot and the gully further along is wrong.
So many conflicting inputs
Ok it’s later than we had planned we need to consider sun down. If we can’t find the absiel point within 30min we have to abort and head back the way we came.
Through all that scrub? The canyon is going to be the easiest way down from here. Yep but if we absiel into the wrong gully and there is another 1oo m of cliff to get through.. besides without the detours and the traverse along the cliff base it wont be such an ordeal
Truth be told my energy levels were sapped and the thought of leading less experienced people down long tricky abseils late in the day was loosing it’s appeal. We agree to do a quick search. Standing up, lo and behold a cairn!
There’s another over there. And there’s the first one we saw earlier! We should be following them the other way. I honestly think we’re too far north as it is. They must mark out something else.
The urge to push on is strong but that’s also how people end up on a news story. I make the call to abort.
We make way way back along the ridge, the trail seems clearer and we make good time until spearing off. We could continue along the trail to the gully we were suppose to come up but our pass was interesting and we decide to go back that way. This meant more scrub. legs were very tender by now. Belatedly Ethan remembers he has pants in his bag…
We head towards the top of out pass and notice right beside it a stunning hole dropping down into a slot. I wonder if it’s negotiable. We check it out but decide not to abseil in as you really couldn’t tell if you’d be able to fit through the crack.
We drop down the pass and then slip around the base of the cliff to explore the slot from the bottom. It is stunning. Short, but stunning. Finding it certainly boosted the spirits and we spend a bit of time in there taking snap shots and enjoying the natural cooling convection breeze that flows up towards the top.
All to soon we need to start heading down the hill. We decide to abseil the hairier bit but make good progress with the rest of it, getting back to the cars just after dark.
A 6hr round trip with 400m elevation gain has taken us 8hrs with over 650m elevation and we’ve had one of those U2 moments. ie we still haven’t found what we are looking for…
Putting our GPS trace on google earth and confirming the location of our missed abseil point with those in the know we were agonisingly close. Within 100m at most, maybe just 10m the wrong side of 1 pagoda.
On the way back down off the escarpment I had half joked that we should never ever speak of this trip ever again.
I’m exhausted. My legs are a crosshatch of cuts. My shoulders ache and I’m disappointed and a bit embarrassed that I didn’t find our mark. No one sets out to fail.
But you know what? We got back safely, we live to try another day and the strange thing is, despite the effort, despite the disappointment, despite the cuts and bruises, despite the embarrassment of promising a grand day out and delivering a pursuit of untamed geese we are all keen to have another crack.
Failure is a learning experience and while it is drummed into us over an over as we grow up that you should never quit, knowing when to err on the side of caution is the difference between ending up on the news as a cautionary tale and succeeding on another day.
And looking back it actually was a grand day out. We explored terrain and saw views few others ever have. I got see a wild Diamond python. We found a pass and slot maybe no one else had ever visited…
Still I’m glad Mandy and Meggsie never came. i doubt either would be talking to me….
Postscript. I was using a new GPS and had plotted a route,but being a bloke hadn’t read the instruction manual and thus hadn’t actually started the route. I think the GPS was pointing back to the car the whole way along the ridge top… That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Technology is all well and good but sometimes you should just trust your gut