Tag Archives: Blue Mountains





Canyoning – Blue Mountains

Serendipity and Wollangambe 2 Canyons



Summers for more than a decade I had dreamed of spending time exploring new canyons in the Blue Mountains.

Hot weather, too hot for other activities. Canyon water is cold. The perfect time of year.

Time now. Invitations to a variety of friends turned into a team of five.

Heavy rain two days before limited our options. Serendipity Canyon has a small catchment and so we could be reasonably confident most of the rain would have passed through.


None of us had done it before. Perfect.

Serendipity means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to a friend, Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he told his correspondent, were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of”. (Wikipedia)

The first abseils went smoothly and took us deeper into the green, narrow chasm. Sandstone walls towered above. We walked downstream, in the water, balanced on logs, over boulders, at our own pace, taking it all in, staying in touch with each other. Sprinkling rain – light and not a bother.

People serendip into our lives.           I’ve been luckier than most.               Kathy descended first down into a twisted gulch beside a waterfall then yelled up that there was a stance below. She was generous, committed, insightful, creative, optimistic and incredibly hard working. She had been crucial to many of the biggest parts of my career – the local Outdoor Ed. Association, professional development, training programs for adults, a national teaching award, post grad research and an unpaid staff person on most of the “Big Trips” – The Reef, The Nullarbor, Point Perp. She’s just a remarkable person. Canyoning. This was our first personal trip together through 20 years of collaborative effort.

More gorgeous creek walking, drizzle and swims.

The trick is to be awake to the fortunate happenstance. To realise that something special is going on. To take note and appreciate.           Piper scrambled down out of sight then reappeared swimming through the rift way below.             Almost a decade prior she had sat at the back of the classroom. The absolute ideal student – keen as mustard for everything, patient, intelligent, capable, sensitive to those in the team, a born leader. She had aced the course and then uni as well. And been there as a volunteer on more college trips than I could count or remember. Now standing as the ace herself at the front of the class in that very same room, in her very own program. I can only hope she gains as much from it all as I did and has similar occasional happenstances appear in her world from time to time.

The final abseil was a tricky one. Down through a narrow slot. Breon hadn’t done much roping. The rope lowered across his foot as his body descended underneath. His weight pulled it down tighter and then water started falling on his upturned face. He had spent days guiding us round the ski runs in Japan in his own time. Carefully he had inspired and managed the safety of high spirited snowboarders in my college groups as they made jumps in the backcountry snow miles out from the Perisher ski patrol.     He deserved better from me. Somehow as I eased the rope up slightly and Kathy belayed he wiggled his foot loose bit by bit. Then free. Relief. He disconnected from the rope in the deep pool at the bottom and swam to the other end.

We lunched at the intersection with the Wollangambe. A commercial canyoning group came in behind us. Another group floated by on air mattresses. We inflated our lilos and paddled downstream through long pools separated by boulder chokes and logs.

Lying back I could watch the sculptured walls above.

Another canyon, Whungee Wheengee, joined our stream from the left.  We left our gear on a mud bank and explored up into it. The water was much colder. I followed Rachel upstream into the narrowest part of the chasm. The light, the green, the scene, was sublime.           Rachel is a star. Some people just have a knack of lighting up the world. Of making things around them sparkle. Like singing up goodness out of the earth.

Just past the Waterfall of Moss Canyon was our exit beach. Another group and then another with a person with signs of hypothermia. After making sure he was ok we started the long, hot, steep climb out of the gorge. Out of my own Persian fairy tale with a prince and the three princesses of Serendip.

Capture 2


Walking with Dad

Bellbirds in the forest soundscape


Walking with Dad

9 – 10/5/15

Blue Mountains – Blue Gum Forest


As part of the younger generation we like to think we are doing new things, pushing new boundaries, making new discoveries. When I started rockclimbing and cross country skiing and whitewater kayaking and hiking in Tasmania I felt bold and adventurous. This hike was a shake down and acclimatisation for 10 days on the Larapinta Trail a few months later.

My brother, William, and I walked out along the ridge crest from The Pinnacles to Lockley Pylon. I could make out the route of Fortress canyon below where I had taken lots of college groups as part of my work as an outdoor education teacher. The views down the Grose River Valley stretched past lines of blue hills towards Sydney in the distant east. The ground fell away in a huge sucking drop close by in the west. Fortress Creek spewed out over orange sandstone verticality. We talked about Dad. His war record. How his boat had blown up in New Guinea and he’d narrowly escaped the tragic fate of some of the crew. PTSD had never been diagnosed or even mentioned. I had wanted to do this walk for a long time. I knew from family legend that it was a favourite place of Dad in his early years.IMG_4953

Charles is a climber, “It looks like Yosemite”, from the edge at Du Faur Head. A steep track led us zig zagging down among cliffs. We then followed a ridge down and down and down to the Grose River where it met Govett’s Creek.

In the late afternoon light we found an enormous log forming a bridge over the stream. I crossed with William and had a photo taken of us in the middle. It was like we were entering some special kingdom. The blue gums towered everywhere. Massive trunks disappearing skywards to small pleading canopies. Scrubby undergrowth. Impossibly difficult to photograph and capture the grandeur. I explored on my own for a while between the trees and could almost feel Dad’s presence in the stillness. At 16 he had left school to be a message boy man with the GPO. 1936. He joined the Sydney Bushwalkers who would meet on Saturday lunchtimes at Central Station for the train trip to the Blue Mountains for the weekend bushwalking. Often Dad would have to work Saturday afternoons so caught the night train and then hiked down to Bluegum and other places to meet up with his mates by torchlight. He was apparently a “tiger” of a walker accomplishing feats like Katoomba to Kanangra and return in an Easter weekend. His father helped him construct his own frame and rucksack. The only tale we got direct from him was told at the Three Sister Lookout from where he pointed out Mount Solitary as the place where he had put his rucksack down on a ledge which gave way. Two weekends were spent then searching for it. I rejoined the others and we walked the short distance to Acacia Flat to camp among the gums in a grassy clearing. IMG_4993IMG_4986

Collecting water from the creek which was noisily cascading I was reminded that Dad had taken up canoeing and became an active member of the River Canoe Club. In rereading his memoir for the first time in the 30 years since his death the night before the walk I’d found that he had built his own canoe, bending the spotted gum timbers with steam and covering the deck and hull with stretched canvas. He’d described a an epic trip down the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven Rivers in 1938 from Hampden Bridge to Burrier. Part of this trip, now on the backwaters of Tallowa Dam I had also taken numerous college groups on.

Bluegum Forest had been rescued in the early 1930s from a commercial leaseholder who was about to clear the land for farming and transport out the timber. A group of bushwalkers, just prior to Dad’s time, got together and raised enough money to purchase the lease to protect the area. They, and a little later our father, and then us 85 years later would camp under these same trees. The night was cold without a fire.

In the tent it was cosy and warm and still but all hell had broken loose in the tops of the trees. Rushing air like a freight train built up speed and momentum down from the cliffs before hurtling across the forest canopy above then rushing off down valley. Gusts built up and crashed past every half minute or so for hours. I thought again of Dad during the windstorm. He had taken up sailing just before and after WW2. In the second Sydney to Hobart race he had encountered “a force South West blow as we rounded Tasman Island and Storm Bay certainly lived up to its name”. Apparently his father too had done some sailing.

IMG_4992By morning the wind had blown itself out. We had a last wander through the blue gums. William and I found a massive old ancient eucalypt. It stood tall like Dad as I remember him. Strong, dependable, gnarled, firmly rooted to the earth. Standing quiet among its kin. Was there a twinkle in the sun’s reflection on the leaves above?

My three brothers and I have all had adventurous lives in different ways. Between us William, David and I have ascents of aspiring, the Matterhorn, Mt Blanc, Big Ben, Balls Pyramid, new routs at Point Perpendicular, descents of many of the canyons of the Blue Mountains, expeditions to Antarctic, trekked in Nepal. Following time with the army John has worked in Aceh, Pakistan, Swaziland, PNG, Gambia and Botswana. Dad never talked about the war that gave him “bad nerves” that made him “physically unfit for Naval service”. PTSD? He didn’t talk about his adventuring much either. He wasn’t comfortable being the centre of attention. He worked hard. Became Chief of Naval Supply. And when we were around only had time for family and work.


The track wound beside the creek. At Junction Rock we rested. Then a little more along the flat until we branched up hill on a wrong path towards Evans Lookout. The un maintained trail was a ripper, rising steadily and then surprisingly through the cliff band. Among the calling bellbirds I considered the things in addition to family that sustain and mean so much to me – the natural world, adventure, making a contribution to the world – that I’ve been lucky enough to forge a career out of. My father’s been gone for nearly thirty years now but in coming to this place and rereading his story and talking to William and my wife Cath its only now becoming clear that he’s been the source of all these things that I cherish. Without even speaking about it.  I remember him so diligently involving us in Scouts, building a big white two ended canoe that took the whole family, with Mum taking us on family camping trips, supporting all our interests.

From a high rock shelf at the head of the valley we look across at the huge orange cliffs of Carn wall. There’s a terrifying roofed corner that I’m sure has been climbed. Charles and I have our eye on another easier long route near Mount Hay further down the Grose. It occurs to me that what we are doing isn’t new at all. Maybe now I can accept this easier because I’m not part of the younger generation anymore. Dad’s own adventuring was cut short by the war. We haven’t had a war, we’ve had different opportunities.

IMG_5016We’d come up the unmaintained horse track instead of the intended Rodriguez Pass Track and ended up high on the ridge below Evans Lookout. So we headed down the steps to pick up the Grand Canyon Track. It’s an old trail built in the Depression, hewn out of rock in some sections. Along the creek was sublime. Waterfalls tumbledover green walls past perched tree ferns to the black canyon floor. Cold. Moist. Water bubbling over smooth rocks. In his book Dad wrote about his first trip to the Blue Mountains. His father had taken him on a hike with borrowed pack, sleeping bag and swag. The trekked through Wentworth Falls, camped in a picnic shelter, Laura, Katoomba, Medlow Baths. They stayed a night in Wall’s Cave which left a great impression him. “Firelight and shadows on the roof of the cave many feet above”. From there they went through the Grand Canyon and down Beauchamp Falls which was our intended route up. They finished going up Govetts Leap and back to the train station. Quite a walk. On the track above the canyon I tell Bob and Sue, friends from work at the outdoor school years ago, about the abseil and canyon trip I have guided lots of times for students in the depths below.

The final walk up from Neates Glen to the car is tough. Sore knees, tired muscles, packs that seem heavy. I’ve felt very close to Dad. Like we’ve been walking together almost. I wonder about what I’d say to him if we could connect across the divide somehow. Maybe just “thanks”. And him to me and us? If he could talk, father to son, or his father to him and me to my daughter and son? “Look after Mum? Love each other? Take care of the family? Keep adventuring? Do something good in the world? Look after the special places? Live life to the max! See you in the blue gums?”

For all of us the walk has been a cracker. Classic. Wonderful. Great to share it with a bro and our Dad. A confidence booster for our big walk later.


Day 1. The Pinnacles on Mt Hay Rd, Lockley Pilon, Du Faur Head, Bluegum Forest, Acacia Flat. Approx 6 km with 600m descent.

Day 2. Acacia flat, Junction Rock, Evans Head Lookout Track, Grand Canyon Track, Neates Glen, Evans Lookout Rd. Approx 9 km with approx 800m ascent.

Adventure Climbing


Adventure climbing

March 10 – 12

Secret spot in the Blue Mountains – no clues given

Rockclimbing new routes

Ian Brown is one of Australia’s foremost current adventurers having expeditioned across the Antarctic, climbed in Greenland fjords, established major new climbs in the Darran Mountains of New Zealand and hiked criss cross over Cape York among other major undertakings. He has also quietly been one of the most prolific rockclimbing new route pioneers over a thirty year period in Australia. As we trudge through scrub, up and down steep talus slopes and balance along unstable cliff edges in yet another area he has dug out of the encyclopaedic recesses of his archive of new crags, this one from a hike 30 years ago, I contemplate the privilege of being a part of a couple of these exploits. Some have ended badly – the most oft remembered is the so called “fabulous outback rock untouched by modern people” that turned out to be conglomerate rubble miles from the car. We just looked at it and started the long return journey home leaving behind a small pile of large pebbles/handholds that fell off the cliff as we pulled on them. Oh well. Some of the discoveries were good and one had been a cracker. We had shared a gold mine of new climbs at Point Perpendicular over a five year period before rumours got out. Each treasured day was strictly divided depending on whose turn it was to select the line and lead. We both had notebooks of climb names that were added to as fast as they were used up. Ian had persisted, and uncovered the place that has become Australia’s premier sea cliff for climbing, where many others had looked but not appreciated the potential. I’d learned to trust his judgement and knowledge and take the risk.

So here we were saturated with sweat and scratched to buggery by scrub gawking up at the most amazing climbers crag. Every meter a zooming line of superb and mostly hard climbing on rock that looked great where it didn’t balance in precarious spires and worrisome pedestals. Steep, thin, perfectly straight crack lines the full 40 – 60 m height of the cliff. This was another gold mine of classic climbs as good as anywhere. At the far end disappointment. At about 1/3 height on a nondescript line a piece of protection was hung to a carabiner. There was some minor evidence of a foot pad along the bottom that we had tried to ignore. Here was incontrovertible evidence that we had been beaten to the treasure. Many of the lines however looked unclimbed. Research would have to be done to investigate just how many of the climbs had been done and by whom before we returned with climbing gear.

Ian’s second crag in the same area proved more immediately fruitful. Half a day’s scrub bashing showed us about a kilometre of cliff broken in places by gullies and ramp systems.  The rock angled back a little with the strata of the geology which also produced overhangs at regular intervals. The climbing appeared initially ok but not fantastic. Ian picked a promising line and tentatively made his way up to a steepening having threaded his way between loose blocks. At the hard part he hesitated and put in some protection. Then another piece of protection. And another. Then confidently he pushed through to the top. On following I found the hard move desperate. He was climbing well. Strong and confident. “Footloose 19”. A quality first climb.

New age crystals

My turn next and I launched up a rising traverse out of a corner onto an arête which continued up to a large ledge and belay. Surprising great climbing on good rock. Earlier we’d found a bunch of copper pipes hidden in the rocks at the summit. Two of them had big crystals taped to their ends. New agers must erect them to attract lightning during storms. “Crystal Power 16”Leading Crystal Power

Last of the day Ian led a hard crack system. I struggled on the hard section. Again the climbing was excellent. This crag seemed to be revealing a hidden quality not apparent from observation. This is sometimes the case. It’s not until you actually engage with the rock that you appreciate what it offers.

More exploring. Aboriginal grinding grooves on flat topped mesas nearby. Sunset over ridges to the west.

Next day Ian wove his way up the line of the crag. “Watch me here” – this near the top, so I paid careful attention on belay. He threw a few loose rocks off and pulled through to the top. Following I really had a hard time at the start. The climbing was superb, the rock scrumptious. The top move I found desperate – Ian had done this while removing loose rock and placing protection in the best hand jam hold making it unusable for him. This was one of the most impressive leads I’d seen him do. “…………. 19/20?”

Ian on the hard move near the top

Ian on the hard move near the top

At the top we spied another whole section of quality cliff a couple of kilometres away on a far ridge. And another granite wall in a gorge on the other side of the deep valley.

I got in an alpine style ridge climb that had some beautiful easy moves up nice rock.

Writing up the routes and sketch mapping what we’d found at the end of the trip I could feel the excitement of the next few years of developing another “secret” spot. Another little notebook of lists of climb names would have to be produced. What a valuable treasure time is.

Biggest Abseil


“The biggest abseil you could do on a school trip”

March 5

Blue Mountains


It’s like a guilty pleasure in times of global warming. Driving at night on the highway with the headlights leading the way and loud, loud music setting the groove. I delve way back to one of the biggest selling albums of all time, 2 years in the charts. The heartbeating start transports me back to 1973 where I lay on the floor in the dark between speakers on high volume, thinking in deep teenage about life. Some music dates but this is still rich and fresh and sumptuous. A brilliant full moon rises. Themes sing straight to my heart even from the little voices in between the main tracks “I am not afraid of dying, why should I be afraid?” – I’d been to the funeral of a relative’s best and beautiful friend a few days prior, “Time, ticking away the moments that make up a dull day” I’m trying to work out how to best spend my time in retirement, the guitar soars inside my speeding metal and glass cocoon, “money, its a hit, don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”, how much do we need to live a good life? “Us, us, us and them, them, them”, we’re still at war with each other.

Dan Pitch 1

I met up with the group from my old college from which I had recently finished work. It was late. Sleeping in the staff cabin was interspersed with snorers, Siri being bumped on and the wind. 5,30 am get up, quick cuppa and muesli then off in the bus by 6.00.

We set up the ropes on the top pitch of Malaita Wall. I had wanted to do this famous descent for years. Dan, the teacher in charge, abseiled down first as the sun rose between the Three Sisters, pink clouds in the south, dawn light shining on the sheer face. He’s a great operator – experienced guide, knowledgable teacher and very skilful people person.

Pitch 1 45 m vertical and spectacular, a little scary in strong wind, to the top of a pinnacle.

Pitch 2 30m down a steep groove to a large ledge. I supervise as a trainee guide anchors the students then sends them down on a safety rope belay. Scramble down a steep but safe track.

Pitch 3 35m between two trees with the southern Blue Mountains stretching off behind into the distance, range upon range. Down a steep slab, over the first exciting overhang to a wide ledge, scramble right on a safety line.

Pitch 4 25m almost vertical wall, everyone confident by now.

Pitch 5 and 6 45m We run them both together for the students then the last person descends in two sections to minimise rope drag on the pull down.

Total 180m

Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall

Dan “That’s got to be about the longest abseil done by a school group”. He’s right. We take two groups down in the day. Punters pay about $250 to be guided down this wall. I wonder if the students, who all took it in their stride, appreciate what they’ve done.

Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall – Dan descending first

Dark again on the long drive home. I sing out, alive and wide awake like I’m at some “great gig in the sky”.