Whungee Wheengee Canyon
Michael Buchegger, Pau O'Neilll & Mick O'Neill
Thursday 24th January 2008
What a day and what a canyon!
The forecast was for a sunny day with a minimum of 7 deg. C and a max. of 21 deg. C and that's exactly what we got. It was a bit fresh walking down to the Wollangambie which we reached after 50 minutes but we soon warmed up climbing the ridge on the other side. The river felt colder than we had hoped and was at its normal level at the crossing, a bit over knee deep.
The track up the ridge which is described as “indistinct” in earlier reports I have read, is now well worn. There is one point near the first small cliff line where it branches. We split up and tried both ways only to find that they soon merged again. It took us 1hr 20 minutes to reach the point on top where the track to Water Dragon Canyon veers off to the left. We continued along the ridge top, along a large rock shelf, to the far side of a gully on the right where the track finally swings right and down to Whungee Whennge Canyon. We stopped for about 15 to 20 minutes, only a few hundred metres from the junction in a sunny spot, to grab a bite to eat and keep warm before entering the canyon. Little did we realise that at the junction there is a perfect spot for a break at the first abseil which drops into the canyon.
We reached the first abseil after 2 hours and were excited about what we saw already. It is a perfect abseil situation with a large open rock shelf, a large tree anchor a few metres from the edge and an easy abseil into a beautiful green gully with crystal clear water babbling over weathered stones. We were soon down and off for the adventure.
It was only seconds before we came to the first challenging climb down, one of many to come. Long legs and a flexible groin are definitely an advantage in this canyon! Those who are more vertically challenged will have a few more plunges into deep pools. The climb downs are challenging but fun because they are not dangerous. In most cases a slip would just mean another dip in the icy water.
After only five minutes we were already impressed with the beauty of this canyon. We had a perfect day with sunlight making the moss and ferns almost glow a brilliant green and the rich orange colours in the rock were spectacular. The short section of climb downs was followed by a brief moment where the canyon opens to the size of a large room and the sunlight was pouring in. As you approach this, there is a stunning hole in the wall, which forms a jagged picture frame for a view of a stand of trees behind. Next to this is a large slab of rock covered in an impressive tangle of tree roots, so we paused here for a few photos.
Soon after this there is a dark section with a scramble down to a narrow pool and a cold swim, but it is only short. There are slings here to help with the climb. I can't quite remember where, but I think it is in the following section where the duck unders occur. There was about 10 cm of space under the first one, which meant your whole face goes under. Never having done that before, that was a bit of a thrill. The second one was a bit easier with a bit more head room. There was one spot near the duck unders where we climbed up and over some boulders, I went right and Paul and Michael went left, only to find when we splashed into the water that we should have climbed down through a hole which leads into a dark cave full of glow worms. Luckily, we saw it as we looked back and swam into it for a look. That was one of the many highlights.
The canyon continues for some time and around every bend is a new surprise. There are no scrubby or plain sections. Every step is a pleasure. After strolling through a narrow section we came to the first abseil in the canyon proper. There are some very worn slings hanging from above on the right next to a new bolt. We opted for the bolt as our anchor and Paul dropped in first. The 9m abseil is a little awkward as it is a wedge-shaped start and an overhang. Paul soon discovered that it is best to follow the line of rope down the V-shaped groove to avoid damaging the rope as you drop under the overhang. Michael, ignoring the lesson learnt by Paul, decided to copy him. You can tell it was MY rope they were using! The cliff walls in the sunlight at the top of this abseil were glowing orange and we were fortunate enough to see this canyon in sunlight.
The next abseil was only about 15m further on and there is a bolt on the wall on the left for this one. It is about 6m down a pretty waterfall but it is very cold under the spray at the bottom. This was the first time when both Paul and I began to shiver a little. We soon forgot about the cold as we encountered the famous Green Room in the bottom section. I had mixed feelings here, as I knew it had a reputation for being a beautiful place but I also knew that it was near the end of the canyon and that our adventure would soon be over. I didn't want this one to end. Following the last abseil (I think) is a bouldery section which had us stumped momentarily, until we found that the way through was not up and over but down through a tight, maze of twisting tunnel squeezes into the water again. This was fun! We came out of the narrow dark section after that into a small ampitheatre of sandstone walls laden with ferns, moss and rock orchids. At the far end of this was a long, dark, narrow hallway with a tiny spec of light in the distance. We plodded through this spectacular, dark corridor with the familiar sound of volleys splashing through the water, admiring the towering walls and the huge chockstones wedged above us. The spec of light grew larger and larger and we finally broke through it into brilliant, blinding sunlight as we reached the Wollangambie River junction. It was over, but what an experience and what great memories. We felt like we didn't want to leave.
After a quick debate, we opted for the downstream exit as we were all cold and didn't want to be in the water any longer than necessary. Not being much of a swimmer, and also being a person who gets cold in a warm bath, I didn't enjoy this section as much as I would have liked. It was too cold to just drift along with the current, though I did this for a while and enjoyed looking up at the cliffs on either side. We reached the end of the canyon after 5 hours and 40 minutes and it took us a further 50 minutes to reach the exit track at 2.30pm. I expected a bit more walking and scrambling but it was nearly all swimming.
We had a leisurely 40 minute break here, emptying the sand dunes from our volleys, eating, drinking and soaking up the sunlight. We left the Wollangambie at 3.10pm and reached Cathedral Reserve at 4.30pm. As we only had one car, we then walked back along the road to the fire station and were back at the car at 5pm, 9hours after leaving. We walked quickly to the river in the morning to keep warm but after that we strolled along and enjoyed every moment, stopping regularly to take photos and videos. I'm sure it could be done a lot quicker but why would you want too? Until now I have had trouble deciding which would be my favourite canyon but this one wins hands down. I had big expectations and wasn't disappointed. Thanks Paul and Michael for a very memorable trip.
PS Paul, could you try to find a pack that's a bit bigger than a handbag next time, so that you can carry some of the gear too!