The OFD I streamway was just what was needed. Water levels were high, yet
they had dropped considerably from the day before. There was foam on the
roof high above my head in a four foot wide passage that was not part of
the streamway! Several deep pots in the streamway are crossed by
scaffolding poles which were well under water. We were guided by the
Martins (Hicks and Laverty) without an error, miraculous in such a
complicated system, although the phrases "vaguely familiar" and "vague
recollection" which were used quite a few times, did not inspire hope of
our eventual return to the surface. It was fun and varied. the only
routefinding point that I think I can
remember is a letterbox at the top of a blank wall, leading to a flat-out
crawl and emerging 30 feet above the floor with an interesting 30ft climb
down. We came out through Cwm Dwr which had some beautiful pristine white
flowstone that nobody remembered seeing before.
Sitting in the Oldest Brewery in Australia one weekend, after a canyoning trip that had been something of an epic, five desperate characters supped their ales and hatched a plan to see out 1994 in style. The Blue Mountains was to be the venue, canyoning and climbing was to be the game. The Blue Mountains is really a high plateau dissected by huge canyons lined with 100-200m high cliffs. Imagine the Grand Canyon with all the non-vertical surfaces covered in gum trees and you'll get the idea. The tributaries to these big canyons cut deep slots through the cliffline, dark, wet and fun to abseil down.
So it was that just over a week later, we found ourselves lurching along the suspension-shagging Mt Hay road, Mt Hay Canyon our objective. According to the guide Mt Hay is grade 5, i.e. pretty hard (grades go up to 6), it also had the added interest of a quick alternative exit to the long walk, comprising of a scrambling route up the 150m cliffs broken by a short rock climb in the middle. Thinking this would be a good way to do the canyon, I took the precaution of asking the internet for more info as the guidebook description was pretty vague. Soon I was recieving emails about terrifying epics, parties spending the night in wetsuits half way up cliff faces unable to find the elusive exit route. It sounded great!
After camping the night at the Mount Hay roadhead seven of us headed down into the canyon via a tributary. Soon we had climbed around the first set of clifflets and were romping down a small overgrown gully, clambering round tree ferns and over logs and scaring off the odd basking lizard. I raced up ahead looking for the first abseil, determined that We Were Not Going To Have An Epic. We reached the first drop, which was shortly followed by two more short abseils leading into the canyon proper. High sandstone walls reached up above the trees leaving a strip of deep blue Aussie sky at the top. We clambered and splashed our way down through the streamway to a cold canal swim which soon sorted out the wusses from the water babies! A little further on we made our way along a mossy ledge to an untidy sloping pitch down boulders and logs. This landed us at the head of the big pitch, something that had loomed large in the email Tales-of-Terror I'd received the previous week. The pitch featured a changeover from one rope to another on a chockstone with some rusty bolt belays and a rusty peg held in place with a teaspoon, however as I kept reminding everyone, We Were Not Going To Have An Epic. Mark and I popped down the pitches first, dropping down through a waterfall which was followed by a short swim - no worries (as they say in these parts) - must've been all those wussy bushwalkers thinking the abseil was really hard, but we were cavers and made of tougher stuff!. This was certainly true in Mim's case - on reaching the bottom she casually informed us that she'd dislocated her shoulder abbing down to the rebelay, but she'd managed to pop it back in - happened all the time apparently! Soon we were all down - Paul whining loudly about the swim, and Tony heroically derigging the pitch and doing the swim with three bags without once removing his shades.
This part of the canyon was most cave-like, the winding walls obscuring the sky and hiding the cool dark streamway from the sun. From here it was only a short (and very wet) abseil followed by a fun leap into a deep pool before the canyon opened out again. Some of us amused ourselves catching Yabbies (crayfish type things) in the sunshine while watching the last few make the 8ft jump into the pool. Moving on, we could see out into the Grose valley, the view of the cliffs on the far side giving a clue to what we'd be climbing on the exit route. After a short thrash downstream through exotic greenery we reached the last drop. Pausing briefly to apply sunblock (this is melanoma territory) and have some lunch, we abbed down and headed off to the right, following the base of the cliffline into the Grose valley.
All that remained was to find the exit route. Others before us had tried and failed, but I was armed with an excellent email description of how to get there (thanks Steve N!). We struggled up and down the rubble in the oppressive heat, keeping to the base of the cliffs - we all felt shit after about 10 minutes of walking in the full glare of the sun. I trundled off ahead determined to find the way up figuring that I'd be pretty unpopular if I didn't find it soon! Reaching the top of one boulder pile we saw a sort-of ramp that sort-of fitted the description. Sort-of wasn't really good enough though and we pressed on. Shortly after we found the ramp that fitted the description perfectly - a vegetated ledge sloping gently up across the cliffline. As we made our way along it the cliff dropped away beneath and pretty soon we felt exposed and high-up. The ledge became narrower and sandy, ending in a low undercut cave which we all crawled into (well some of us teetered round the edge until Mark fretted at us). The climb was just on the far side of the cave, and supposedly a grade 8 (about V. Diff I think). We lay in the cool cave drinking in the amazing view and generally being wowed by the exposure of our perch while we sorted out the climbing gear. Mark led the pitch and I followed, thinking as I went that "...hmm this really isn't that straightforward in wet trainers and a pack... and its very exposed and high...and some of us haven't been climbing before..."
As it happened, everyone got up it fine, although Sharon - a dedicated gym climber - came up saying "natural climbing sucks!". Mim (who'd never climbed before) needed a bit of encouragement from John at the bottom, and Tony climbed with a poker face until he topped out, finally muttering that he'd never been so terrified in his life. A good time had by all I guess! From the top of the climb it was a short scramble to an easy gully running up to the clifftop. An easy walk got us back to the cars about three quarters of a hour later, after a brief pause to admire the view and drink some water. It had been a great day and most of all Not An Epic!
This has been a very long write up so I guess I'll have to save the bits
about the arachnophobia incident, about Mim becoming a legend and about
sandbagging John into leading the crux on the Three Sisters (a famous
Aussie landmark) for some other time ...