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Wolgan Wombats Weport
2nd December 2000
Something was different this time. Even the goodbyes seemed a bit more serious. We had prepared ourselves as best we could but this time no one knew exactly what lay ahead. Thick scrub; huge abseils; flooded creeks; thunderstorms; lack of belay points; not enough daylight; rescue scenarios or snake bites were all possibilities we hoped would not eventuate. Then there was the excitement of the unknown thrills that we might experience. These factors are what made this trip more worrying but more exciting than any other.
The 3.20pm bell was even more pleasing to the ears than normal on Friday, 1st December. Terry, Tom and I were soon giving tearful, passionate goodbyes and heading for Bathurst. We stopped for a quick snack at Cowra then on to Bathurst where Kentley had the traditional meal of chicken and fried rice waiting. We argued over who was going to sleep with whom and eventually avoided such a fate when Kentley produced a couple of mattresses. Tom was disappointed but Terry and I were relieved!
After noticing that Kentley had no sleeping bag, tent nor food for Saturday night, we realised that Kentley was unaware that we were camping at Newnes! This caused a short delay and a few unkind words about the organisation but we were soon headed for Newnes. After the now familiar drive from Bathurst to Wallerawang, we headed for the magnificent drive through the Wolgan Valley. After dodging countless potholes, and hitting a few, we arrived at Newnes.
We took the obligatory photos and headed for Pipeline Canyon at 8.50am. After 50 minutes we were high above the Wolgan River at the "photo spot", (GR446262). Fifteen minutes later we were at the top of the climb where we found several packs belonging to the Sutherland Bushwalking Club. W followed suit and dropped our packs to head out to the lookout above the Wolgan. Kentley had never been there before and it is a view that can't be missed.
Fifteen minutes later we were on our way again to the saddle at the turnoff to Newnes and Devils Pinch Canyons. Instead of dropping into the gully here, we climbed up the ridge on the right and continued north along the ridge top to the end of the next narrow saddle at GR446274. Here the fun began. From this point we were in unfamiliar territory and an air of excitement swept over the Wolgan Wombats. We headed down into the small gully, following the bottom of the south wall of the small cliffs. We were soon forced into the creek itself as the animal track we were following disappeared into thick scrub. Terry mentioned that he wished Hammo was here and then chuckled.
It wasn't long before we were stopped by a 20m cliff, where the creek cascaded down the rocks into a pool below, (GR449272). This was a bit more than we expected on this little tributary but it certainly created some excitement. It was time to gear up for the serious business. Kentley donned the Darth Vader helmet; Terry the fluoro wetsuit of course and Tom transformed into a green bullfrog that was about to explode! Some also took the chance to commune with nature and others enjoyed a snack.
The abseil turned out to be more eventful than we would have liked. Terry descended first with screams of ecstasy as he plunged into the chest deep water below. Tom somehow wandered off course and when he jumped over the overhang damaged the rope as it sheared across the sharp edge. On first inspection the damaged looked to be superficial but after a closer look we decided to retire it. This left us one 30m rope short after the first abseil! Not a good start. I demonstrated the inverted abseil recovery manoeuvre but Tom obviously took no notice, as you will discover later.
Another photo in the pool and we headed off for Pipeline Canyon again, only to be stopped 20 meters downstream by another 20m abseil! This was most unexpected but enjoyable with Pipeline Canyon visible from this point. Terry spotted a sinister looking branch dangling precariously above the abseil so we gave it a nudge and it crashed down to the creek bed below us. The abseil was a bit slippery but had an easy take off. In hindsight, we should have stopped for lunch here in the warmth, as there weren't many suitable spots from here on. We were very conscious of our slow progress so far, so decided to go on to the next abseil.
Finally, we reached Pipeline Canyon after 4 hours of walking. The first few hundred meters were flat with lush vegetation and many large rotting logs. The easiest route was in the water. Suddenly, the canyon became constricted and the fun really began. The next section, to the creek junction on the right, was all thrills and spills. We were treated to one of natures fun parks, full of water slides and splashes into small pools. We were impressed by the buoyancy provided by our packs, though the bottom of Tom's pack looked like it had been prepared for an apple bobbing contest!
Terry led most of this section, demonstrating to Kentley how to stop at the end of a slide to avoid plunging underwater - a lesson wasted! We thought of Hammo again and after a few seconds of grieving we resumed our high spirits and continued our quest.
The creek junction, (the entry point described in Rick Jamieson's guide), finally appeared on the right, four and a half hours after leaving camp. It was like two deep trenches carved into the sandstone, meeting and twisting out of sight to our left. Here we plunged into the deep narrow trench and followed its course downstream. The next abseil was just around the bend and there was nowhere suitable to stop for lunch.
The belay was a suspicious looking bundle of small logs and a larger, hollow log across a narrow opening at the top of the abseil. I added another log for security and Terry lead us off, full of enthusiasm. His enthusiasm was soon tested as he started to cramp up, straddled across a deep pool of cold water, as he prepared to belay the rest of us down. Suddenly a couple, (Peter and Lyn) appeared from behind us, so I suggested that they use our set up and continue in front of us. Lyn went first. Terry, thinking she was Kentley, made some rude remarks, calling her a wombat!
There was a bit of a debate at the next drop as it consisted of a sloping log with strategically placed bumps on it. We eventually decided to abseil down the log in a sitting position, which would have looked good on video. Tom looked like a frog on a log in his green wetsuit and Kentley managed to make dubious sound effects as he slid down. Terry and Tom went ahead for a few metres while they waited for Kentley and me, and Terry discovered a dead koala in the water, (GR450268).
There was a short walk down a flat section until the next abseil. This one was about 20m from a large tree behind, on the left. It had several tight slings around it, designed to prevent them from slipping down. This abseil had a tricky start from a flat, but angled rock, with the canyon wall close enough to be a nuisance to the packs. The first half is overhung and then there is an easy section ending in a pool. The next drop is immediately after the pool and is visible from the top of this abseil.
Tom, in his daring style, suggested we jump the 3m into the deep pool below. Kentley gave him a strange look, but after some encouragement was about to follow Terry's swan dive and Tom's less than graceful plunge into the pool below. He had removed his pack but forgot to detach his safety sling connecting his harness to his pack. As he wound up, shouting one - two - -----, Terry yelled out to warn him. If Terry hadn't called out the results could have been very interesting! I tried it pack and all, hit the bottom and rocketed back to the top in a huge mass of froth and bubbles caused by the pack.
The next abseil, which isn't mentioned in Rick Jamieson's book, provided the greatest drama of the trip. It had a terrible, slippery start at the top of a waterfall. The belay was a small bundle of logs at water level and fairly close to the edge. This caused a lot of concern and hesitation and it was decided to throw the packs down first. Terry led off again, and after some time reached the cold water below. Everyone was beginning to feel the cold, due to some delays and wind blowing through this section of the canyon. Tom was very hesitant and I tried to lower him down the first tricky section. Unfortunately, he slipped, inverting and, at the same time, his descender became jammed with knotted rope! To make matters worse, his leg was painfully trapped under the strain of the rope and the rope was so tight against the rock, he couldn't get his fingers under it to try to pull himself up. Added to this, the water was rushing straight over his face, making it difficult to see or hear what was happening. I was able to quickly rig up a pulley system with some spare carabiners and, with Kentley's help, hauled him back to the top. I decided to set up a top belay and Tom and Kentley then managed without problems. This shook us up a little and it was a while before the laughter and humour returned.
The last abseil, at the end of the canyon, has two pitches, with two coachwood saplings acting as belays. With some relief and a great sense of achievement, we left the canyon and headed of for the final challenge - finding a way around the huge cliff face to the "photo point" on the track we used earlier that morning. Within 20 metres each member of the group had slipped on exactly the same spot on a deceptively slippery rock. We all cursed it and warned the person behind, (- except for the last person!), but to no avail. The laughter returned and we edged our way West along the bottom of the cliff face. We reached the "photo spot" at 4.55pm where we met Derek, from the Australian School of Mountaineering at Katoomba. He was heading out to do the canyon we had just left! From here it took us 45 minutes to reach camp. Tom and Kentley must have smelt the beer waiting for them, as they showed speed that we hadn't seen all day!
What a trip! It was everything we had hoped for plus more, and an experience we will never forget.
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