Author Archives: rachel

Mother Woila – Jillaga Creek (Jan 2018)

I think John had been planning a revisit to Deua National Park every since our last trip in 2015. We had 5 returners from the 2015 trip plus Alan to give us 6 which is a good party size. This time John had a 4 day route in mind – to deal with unfinished business with Mother Woila on the first day, then see some new parts of Deua for the rest of the trip.

Most of us drove down the night before and camped. Some took the opportunity on the morning of day 1 to read the email with the details for the first time… and realise that we were meant to be carrying water for the first 2 days! Fortunately between extra water in cars and Currambene Creek everyone was able to load up sufficiently (though there was some disagreement about what the ‘right’ amount of water was). The first challenge of the day was getting cars to Dampier Trig. We all made it, but John’s car was smelling quite unpleasant and issuing smoke by the time we arrived. Oh well! That would be a problem for 4 days time!

And so we were off. We quickly picked up an old fire trail off Dampier Trig which took us out towards Mother Woila.

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Following an old firetrail from Dampier Trig

Gladly dumping our heavy packs we set off on a side trip to get onto Mother Woila. A couple of snakes in quick succession (black? & tiger) made us a little jumpy but it wasn’t long before we were having morning tea overlooking our objective.

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Sierra at morning tea with views of Mother Woila

We headed down to the saddle where there was some discussion about how to ascend. In the end Alex & Alan headed off to the right-hand side while the rest of us skirted around the left with the intention of heading up the gully between Mother Woila and Little Woila. The siren-call of the cliff face drew us in though and before we knew it, despite having good beta that there was no easy route up this face, I was half way up a cliff with Bill valiantly following me. I was hoping John & Sierra would get to a similar spot by an easier route and we could take their route down…. unfortunately (or fortunately?) they had backed off much earlier and so were at the bottom. I was now at a vertical face I had no chance of getting up and I didn’t really fancy reversing what we’d just done, but that was what needed to happen. Fortunately I had the only handline in my pack. A few pitches with the handline around some marginal trees we were back at the bottom of the cliff. By this point Alan & Alex were already at the top waving at us… guess they were going to be waiting a while!

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Bill bravely following me up an ill-advised attempt to get up Mother Woila

We eventually made our way up the gully, after a couple of attempts up minor gullies, and out to the rocky outcrop on Mother Woila. It had been very warm and humid as we’d made our way up and thunder rumbled overhead as a storm brewed. A few photos, an essay in the logbook by Sierra, and then we decided we’d better get off before it started raining. We were pretty happy that Alex & Alan thought they had a suitable route for the whole party to descend rather than reversing our longer approach.

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Views of the approach ridge from Mother Woila

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Tabletop from Mother Woila

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Not many (different) visitors to the log book in the last 2 years!

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Chocolate + hot day = winning combination

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Bill in the top of the chute descending off Mother Woila

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Looking back up the top of the chute

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Sierra in the lower chute

The rain largely held off until we were back in the saddle.

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Alex in the saddle as the weather closes in

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Moody Tabletop

With my unsuccessful climbing foray, and the heat taking its toll, we didn’t get back to our packs until 4pm. As it was raining we figured it was best to get to Horseshoe Point rather than have lunch. Finally at Horseshoe Point at 5pm we had lunch – has food ever tasted so good? The storm had cleared by then so we enjoyed drying out in the sun.

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After the storm clears Sierra at Horseshoe Point

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Mother Woila through the trees from Horseshoe Point

We had a pleasant time around the fire before turning in fairly early. The rain came back not long after we went to bed.

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Camp at Horseshoe Point (yes, Bill is available for fashion advice any time)

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The weather comes in again

We had a long day ahead so we got away from camp at 7am. The ridge between Horseshoe Point and Tabletop gave excellent views in the early morning light.

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Looking out to Scouts Hat

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Sierra scrambling with Mother Woila in the morning sun

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The ridge to Tabletop

Even with the early start it was oppressively humid and it was soon clear our original objective was out of the question. A new plan was hatched which eliminated several kilometres of ridge walking and took us to Jillaga Creek sooner than expected.

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Looking back on our route: Tabletop (left) and the ridge to Horseshoe Point (right)

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Something didn’t like this tree!

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First view of Jillaga Creek, and what a sweet view it was

We hoped that Jillaga Creek would be running and it was music to the ears when we heard the flow before we could even see it. The easiest walking was in the creek so that’s where we walked. It was a beautiful section of creek surrounded by ferns and easy walking on the rocky bed.

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Easy walking in the upper reaches of Jillaga Creek

Another storm came through as we walked down the creek. We kept going keeping an eye out for campsites. There were a number of single sites but not much for 6 people. With the rain still teeming down we settled on a site about 4pm.

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Another storm comes in

After standing around waiting for the storm to blow through for quite some time we eventually decided to set up. Teamwork made for a relatively dry set up and it was amazing how good it felt to be under the fly (even if it was in the mud) and out of the rain.

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Bill setting up the biv in ‘dry’ conditions

Eventually the rain did stop but everything was soaked through. Bill did a grand job getting a fire going and drying out wood. I was a little surprised to pull out my silk inner liner from my pack and find I could squeeze a considerable amount of water out of it. Note to self: pack liner is useless! Fortunately with the heat from the fire I was able to dry it and my Thermarest out quickly. In the end we had a pleasant evening and there was some damage inflicted on the 2 litres of port which Alex had brought.

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Drying out after the storm

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Camp night 2

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Delicious dehy meal Nicole made me as a thank you for lending her our dehydrator

It was interesting to see how much the creek had risen from when we arrived to the next morning. After the fact reviews of the weather data showed Snowball had 13mm and Bendethera had 21mm so I guess we got somewhere in between those numbers. (and our first day Snowball had 9mm, and Bendethera had 2.4mm)

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Jillaga Creek early on day 3

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Love a party where everyone brings a map!

We kept walking downstream on Jillaga Creek until we reached a junction with a major side creek. This junction was our original planned night 3 camp, but we were here for morning tea on day 3 instead. At this point we split the group. John & Bill headed down Jillaga Creek towards Bendethera with the hope of getting a lift back to Dampier Trig. The rest of us set off on the planned day 4 exit.

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Parting of the group

The first part of the exit was walking up the side creek. It was beautiful with lots of little cascades, a few deep plunge pools and a lot of extremely slippery rocks.

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Alex enjoying our side creek

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Sussing out exit options at another lovely cascade

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Sierra and I take a high route to avoid getting out packs wet

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Cascades

We expected to hit an impassable waterfall which would be our cue to head on to the ridge, and sure enough we did.

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Don’t think we’re getting up that…

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Shower time

We backtracked downstream and had some lunch before filling up water and scrambling up a steep loose slope to attain the ridge proper.

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Heading back downstream to an exit

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Just before we exited on to the ridge

The rest of the day was all about going up. We were at about 400m in the creek and we needed to get to Dampier Trig at 1239m. And there was a fair bit of undulating on the ridges as we went. We were fortunate it was overcast and somewhat cooler than the previous 2 days, even so I was constantly dripping with sweat as we made our way up.

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Spectacular country

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Very smooth (& colourful when wet) eucalyptus

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Nice ridge walking

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700m of climbing done, only a couple of hundred metres of vertical to go (thank goodness!)

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Conglomerate outcrop

I was running on empty by the time we made it back to the old fire trail leading up to Dampier Trig. It was great news to find that John was already there. They had made good time down Jillaga Creek and then John had got a lift back to the car while Bill had walked most of the fire trail from the Bendethera Ford and was only a couple of kilometres away. Soon we were all reunited just in time for yet more rain. With the dirt roads successfully navigated back to the main road most of us headed to the Braidwood Pub for dinner and a very late, yet a day early, arrival back to Sydney. An excellent few days in magnificent country with a great group.

Morong Deep – water levels

As mentioned in my recent post about a trip to Morong Deep it was the third time I’d attempted the trip. It was interesting to compare the water levels between the three trips.

Jan 2018 Trip 2008/2010 Trips
These first 2 were taken where you cross Morong Falls from the Morong Falls Firetrail. The photo on the right was from 2010 when we decided the Kowmung level was too high to proceed.

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Upper Morong Falls Jan 2018

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Upper Morong Falls Dec 2010

These were taken on the Kowmung looking back at the base of Morong Falls (Savage Cataract)

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Savage Cataract Jan 2018

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Savage Cataract Dec 2008

These ones are in a section on the Kowmung. They have quite distinctive rock features and it’s interesting to see where the water is flowing (or not).

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Kowmung Jan 2018

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Kowmung Dec 2008

At first glance these two may not appear to be the same spot. I think this is the most interesting comparison set – the water level in the Kowmung is about 1.5m different. The rock which the guys are standing on in the right-hand photo is the largest boulder in the left hand shot. The large boulder next to the swimmer is almost entirely under water in the 2008 photo. It’s perhaps not surprising that we didn’t find a way through the pinch point shortly after this in 2008 (ended up traversing high on the true left).

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Kowmung Jan 2018

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Kowmung Dec 2008

Morong Deep (Jan 2018)

Morong Deep had been on the hit list for quite a while. We had originally attempted it in 2008 but with a combination of slow progress and rain we bailed out at Gap Camp Gully. The next time we tried to do it in 2010 the Kowmung was running very high and we ended up just camping at Morong Falls and playing in the pools. [As a side note here are some photo comparisons of water levels between the 3 trips]

Since then it’s been on the to-do list but I had a mistaken idea that we needed 3 days, plus a good weather forecast, so it hadn’t happened. It was even pencilled into the calendar for a 3 day weekend the week before this trip but with Tom out of action it got scrapped. Fortunately for me (but not Tom) Alex then put it on the program the following weekend as a 2 day trip. Maybe I would finally tick it off! I spent the week before studying the forecast as I had strong memories of how slippery things got on our 2008 trip in the rain. The forecast looked pretty good, 30°C and only a 0-0.4mm predicted for Saturday, with a cooler but dry day on Sunday which would be good for the exit.

Most of the party camped at the start of the Uni Rover Trail on Friday night, with Alan joining us early on Saturday morning. We had a 7am start due to some in the group being scarred from walking in the 40°C+ temps of the previous weekend. By 7:30am we had relocated to the locked gate and were heading down to Morong Falls.

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Definitely a trip worthy of cracking out a new pair of shoes!

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Crossing Morong Falls up high

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Descending down the true right of the falls

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Alan below Savage Cataract

We were on the Kowmung at 9am. It was a humid day but overcast not really matching the forecast ‘sun’.

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The party on the Kowmung at 9am

Our progress down stream was good, it wasn’t that long before we had our first mandatory swim.

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Alex above some cascades

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First swim of the day

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Granite gorge

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Playing in the cascades

Shortly after that we got to the 7m jump (10m in some exaggerated reports). Alan arrived first, spent about 10 seconds evaluating the landing zone, chucked his pack and followed it shortly after (not recommended). The rest of us took the more conservative approach and used a handline on the true-right to descend.

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Looking down at Alan from the jumping spot

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Jo taking the handline option

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Lots of blackberries along the way

The blackberries supplemented morning tea as we worked our way along the river.

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A flatter section of the river

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David S jumping

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Sierra & Alex river walking

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Blow out!

We had lunch at 1pm next to a lovely cascade, but unfortunately the weather hadn’t come to play. The overcast conditions worsened and we got some rain. Fortunately the air temperature was still in the mid-20s but any extended stops did mean people got a bit cold in their wet clothes. Luckily the rain was light and the rocks dried fairly quickly so we weren’t slipping about too much.

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Lunch time

We used a tape to descend on the true left at another set of falls, and then the handline got another use on the true right. Otherwise we had varying sections of flat-ish casuarina river banks interspersed with boulder fields and cascades.

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Jo using a tape to get down another drop

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Jump after using the handline to get part way down

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Amazing boulder

We got to our intended campsite at 3:15pm and right on time the sun finally showed its face so we had a leisurely afternoon warming up and drying off on the flat rock platform. That led into happy hour, the Good Weekend quiz from November, dinner and a game of hearts. (To the parties benefit David had ignored Alex’s decree of packs no heavier than 10kg, hence the port, Good Weekend and cards!)

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A good selection for happy hour

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Lazing about at camp

The clear weather had stuck around since we got to camp and David S decided to join Alex in sleeping in the open on the rock platform. I had elected to sleep under a not particularly flat overhang, while the rest of the party were up in the trees with their flies. The evening went well until around 1am when it started drizzling. I noticed some torch light while Alex and/or David S wrapped themselves in their Tyvek. The drizzle didn’t last long.. but then it came back, again not too heavy. I could see some great stars so I thought that was the end of it, but then the stars vanished and it started pouring. My overhang was on a slope and soon there was water running in, so I relocated to the upper level away from the water. I was very glad I hadn’t decided to sleep on the flatter rock out in the open with the Tyvek boys!

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Looking out from my little overhang in the morning. The two white lumps are Alex & David S

Alex looked like a drowned rat, it appeared all of his gear and him were soaked through. If I didn’t know better I would have thought he’d dropped his sleeping bag in the river. David had fared slightly better, probably from the combination of a higher sleeping mat, a newer piece of Tyvek and better location on the rock.

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My little overhang. I started on the lower level before the rain started coming down

We had been targeting a 7:45am departure though it was almost 8:30am before everyone was ready to go (a very unusual state of affairs on an SBW trip).

The sections immediately downstream of camp were stunning, and I was glad to be travelling mainly on the true-right which had seen the sun for longer and therefore was drier underfoot.

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Jo on a high traverse early on day 2

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Beautiful rock stains

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More high traversing – we hadn’t got wet yet!

I think we were all hoping we’d make it to the exit point without having to swim, but that was not to be. The water was warm, but once you were wet being out was not much fun.

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Sierra and David C warming up (the water was warmer than the air)

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Sierra emerging from a boulder blockade

After an hour or so travelling downstream we hit our exit point. We filled up water and then started the walk up Megalith Ridge. It was a much cooler day than yesterday and the breeze combined with wet clothes meant we were quite cold. Alex’s original plan had been to exit up Hanrahans Creek but with the weather as it was we changed plans and just stuck with the ridge the whole way up. Megalith Ridge certainly gives value for money… it goes on… and on… and on… Eventually we made it to the top where we had lunch.

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Open walking on Megalith Ridge

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One of the megaliths that the ridge is named after

Post lunch it was less than an hour back to the cars. Alan’s car claimed it was 9°C (though David & Jo’s cars had it at 14°C) – not exactly mid-summer temperatures. Possibly the earliest finish I’ve had on a Kanangra adventure! Jo & I had vanilla slice and coffee in Blackheath on our way home – the perfect end to a very enjoyable weekend. Though next time someone book the sun!

Bell Creek Complete (Jan 2018)

With 40°C temperatures predicted in Sydney and not much cooler in the mountains Bell Creek was the obvious choice for the day. Seeming to be a bit of theme for the season it was almost 10 years since I had last done Bell Creek from the top. A couple of conversations during the week was was all it took to throw together a crew for the day. Our navigation was spot-on and we found an easily descended gully to get us down to the creek. Even though it was only 10am it was already warm and the cool air was a welcome relief.

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Bram leading the troops in the first wade of the day

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Smiffy emerging from the first duck under

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Canyon formation :)

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Put your hands in the air…

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Or your legs!

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Entering a narrow section

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Smiffy swimming while Toni negotiates a small drop

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More wading through spectacular canyon

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A short tunnel

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Ruby in the beautiful canyon

We had lunch at a very reasonable hour of 12:34 in the camp cave where the ‘usual’ route joins the creek. Not long after lunch we caught up the group in front of us that were also doing the full trip.

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Toni hand-lining down, some of the group down-climbed on the true left instead

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The group in the canyon

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More vegetated section

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Into the deep dark lower section

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More down-climbing

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Smiffy

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Toni finding a way through this log blockade

I’d brought a lilo for the lower section and Toni & Smiffy had Explorer 100s. Those who were just swimming headed off while we inflated. I was certainly glad to have the flotation, particularly so I could take photos in the deepest section of canyon. Sadly my photos from that section were all pretty blurry so haven’t made the cut.

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Toni, Smiffy and their Explorer 100s

There was no real incentive to get out early given the temperatures so we lazed about at the junction of Du Faurs and Bell Creeks, and then took our time taking off wetsuits at Joe’s Canyon. We saw a couple of other groups in Du Faurs.

We mainly carried our flotation through to the Du Faurs/Joe Canyon junction. At the end we were discussing whether we’d bring them again… I enjoyed having the lilo, though I’m sure I could have gone without. But without a lilo maybe I would have brought my steamer instead of a springsuit!

The walk out wasn’t too bad all things considered. We were back at the cars just after 5pm, and gladly accepted the cold soft drinks Ruby had left in the esky.

I’d left my car in North Richmond and it was 44°C when we got back there about 6:15pm – no point opening the windows to cool it down! Incredible that we could spend much of the day cool (or even cold) when most of the state was sweltering. An excellent day out.

Bungleboori canyoning (Dec 2017)

 

With a poor weather forecast for Saturday and James with limited canyoning opportunities we made a rather late plan on Thursday night for a day of canyoning on Friday in the Bungleboori. It was a warm day, 31°C forecast for Lithgow, we were happy to descend into the cool of Hole in the Wall.

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James taking into lovely canyon formation near the start of Hole-in-the-Wall

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Such green walls, such clear water. What better place to be on a hot day.

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James taking the log descent

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James on a short abseil

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Into a hole

The tunnel section was spectacular. I don’t know that I’ve seen such a good display of glow worms. There was no point trying to capture them with the camera so I’ll just have to remember them fondly. It was like being in a cathedral of glow worms. We managed to climb over and squeeze through the various obstacles without too much difficulty. It was a bit of drop at the end of the squeeze into a deep pool.

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Canyon formation

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James on the last abseil in Hole-in-the-Wall

Once we’d made it to the exit it was time to head off on our real objective for the day; Nosedive. It had been 10 years since the only other time we’d done it so it was almost like a new canyon. Our plans were briefly delayed when a managed to bash my shin into a sharp rock. Memories of fainting after a similar type of knock two years earlier made me take a few minutes to get over the ensuing light-headedness. Two other canyoners who we’d caught up to offered me biscuits which I readily accepted. Eventually we decided to head off, I figured it would be clear quite quickly if I wasn’t going to be up for it. Though also causing concern were the dark clouds which had formed overhead – that wasn’t part of the forecast! By the time we’d made it up North East Canyon to the top of the ridge it looked like a fierce storm was about to hit us. But in the end it dissipated in much the same way it formed without any rain.

With the overcast conditions, and sections of Nosedive being quite dark naturally getting good photos was pretty much out of the question. We used our torches a fair bit to make sure we didn’t fall down any big drops!

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Canyon formation in Nosedive

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Top of the penultimate drop in Nosedive

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James on his way down to Dingo Creek

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James still on his way down to Dingo Creek

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Having a snack before the wade up Dingo Creek

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Magnificent Dingo Creek

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Blue Mountains Tree Frog (Litoria citropa)

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Preparing for the long walk out!

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Meadows of flannel flowers on our way out

The walk out wasn’t as hot I was expecting, with the cloud cover cooling things down a little. We were back at the cars at 6:30pm, a 9 hour outing with two high quality canyons.

I put in a call to Tom on our way home, and his first question was “how is your shin?”. Somewhat confused I thought James had sent him a message, but no, Tom was very pleased with himself and wouldn’t reveal his sources… I figured the two canyoners we’d seen in Hole-in-the-Wall had recognised me from the many photos on ozultimate.com and emailed Tom, thinking James was him. It was my turn to be smug when we got home and my guess was correct.

Donkey Mountain (Nov 2017)

Donkey Mountain had been on our to-do list for a while. Late November wouldn’t normally be our preferred time of year for a high traverse/camp but when Jon put it on the SBW Program we jumped at the opportunity. It was a warm weekend and even though we had finished the main ascent by 10am we were dripping with sweat. To be fair we were carrying water for the whole weekend (and some people seemed to have the same amount of wine…). It was delightful to get to our camp and set up in the cool innards of the canyon.

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A new meaning to a squatters camp!

Once we’d set up tent city, and with much lighter day packs, we set up off to spend the rest of the day exploring.

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Jon above a large canyon

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I don’t think we’ll be going any further down there

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What is so amusing?

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Jo choosing her own special way through

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Tom enjoying views of the Wolgan valley

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Tom taking a more technical way into this canyon

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Zoolander eat your heart out

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Canyon

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Squeezing our way up the slot

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So Utah doesn’t have a mortgage on skinny canyons after all

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Careful pagoda climbing

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Jon and the daisies

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Jo pagoda climbing

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Happy hour views

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More exploring on Sunday morning

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Lunch views on Sunday

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Start of the steep descent

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“the slab of death”

Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017) – Part 5 – Cedar Mesa, Grand Canyon, Sedona

We farewelled the Roost, with plenty of canyons there to come back to, and started making our journey south. We camped in Cedar Mesa at a pleasant site off the road.

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Sunset at our Cedar Mesa campsite

We had hoped to do Cheesebox Canyon but having read up on the road access I’d decided there was little chance we’d make it across White Canyon in our car. Nevertheless we drove to Soldiers Crossing and wandered down the road to have a look. The White Canyon crossing was very rocky with sandy sections on either side and we figured even our Subaru Forester at home would have struggled… and Tom wasn’t keen on Kelsey’s cross-country route into the East Fork so off we went to Fry Canyon instead. Beta suggested wetsuits but that the water might be putrid. We decided some short swims didn’t warrant wetsuits – we didn’t really want stinky wetsuits to deal with after our last canyon of the trip. I was quickly chest-deep wet in the first section of the narrows. Fortunately in the sun it was a warm day.

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Tom in the first narrows in Fry Canyon (more prepared than me – I just assumed it was going to be below waist deep and didn’t strip off any top layers)

The second set of narrows looked like it would involve a lot of swimming. We stripped off dry clothes and rapped in. The water was icy and there was only a couple of places where I could stand in the 80 yard pool. Without my pack flotation I would have been struggling.

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Abseiling into the second narrows in Fry Canyon

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Beautiful… but definitely a swim!!

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Tom prepping for the swim

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Tom nearing the end of the ~100m swim (with 1 or 2 places where we could stand)

We were fortunate that the sun was streaming down at the end so could quickly warm-up. The narrows were beautiful. I wasn’t keen to find the moki steps that went down to the ruins so Tom had to settle with viewing them from the cliff above. While walking the rim back to the car we saw another group heading down canyon – made up of about 10 or so people, including several scrawny kids. They would have had been chilled to the bone after the swim!

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Above the canyon looking at the half-way ledge with ruins on it (in shadow)

We had lunch at the Natural Bridges National Monument and did some of the short walks to visit the bridges.

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Tom with Sipapu Bridge

We didn’t have a plan on where to stay that night – dispersed camping options were few on the ground once we got into Arizona. Tom suggested Goosenecks State Park but after a horrendously windy night there on our last trip I vetoed that one. We ventured down the Moki Dugway again with stunning views in the late afternoon. I wasn’t unhappy once that was done and that was the end of any dirt roads for the trip. Eventually we got to Kayenta and found a motel room. After over a week without a shower it was bliss to be inside out of the elements and clean. We did cook on our gas stove in our room that night though.

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Scenic lookout on our way to Kayenta

We were into the ‘tourist’ end of the trip. We had a permit for a 3-day/2-night hike into the Grand Canyon but with Tom’s foot still not right we decided not to do it. Instead we had a night camped at Desert View Campground, and a night at Mather Campground on the South Rim. The night at Desert View was one of the coldest of the trip (and that was saying something). We mainly mucked about at the lookouts with the hundreds of other tourists, taking photos on dodgy cliff edges and trying to absorb the enormity of the Grand Canyon.

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Grand Canyon near Desert View

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Grand Canyon

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Grand Canyon

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Watching sunset at the Grand Canyon

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Sunset at the Grand Canyon

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Breakfast visitors at Mather Campground

Finally we had two days in Sedona, where it was warm, and I managed to wear a singlet and shorts for the first time. We had lunch at Slide Rock State Park and had a go down the natural slide since we were there. The air temperature may have been warm but the water wasn’t!

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Tom amazed at how warm he is at Slide Rock State Park

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Slide Rock State Park

Tom was keen for some sunset and sunrise photography, and with lots of clouds promising a great sunset on the first night I led him on a dud walk up Doe Mountain. While we enjoyed the views it wasn’t the best photography spot.

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Tom looking disappointedly for a sunset photography spot at the end of Doe Mountain

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Compromise spot at the other end of Doe Mountain

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It was a stunning sunset!

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Views for breakfast from our motel in Sedona

The next day we hiked up to Brin Mesa, and then scrambled onto Brin Ridge for great views over the valley.

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Tom on Brin Ridge

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Views from Brin Ridge

Finally we just had a long drive back to Las Vegas to make our flight out. We had a small amount of concern as we were flying via San Francisco, where there had been many flight cancellations over the previous 2 days due to the smoke from the wildfires across Northern California. Fortunately we made our connections and were very glad to get home.

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Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017) – Part 4 – North Wash & Robbers Roost Areas

Our impetus to leave Moab was plans to meet Angela in Robbers Roost for a few days. The weather forecast was a bit dodgy but as we didn’t really have a better plan we decided to head into the Roost anyway. Angela had brought along her friend, Sam, who was visiting from Uganda. Sam had done his first canyon the day before, so we decided White Roost (East Fork) was probably a more responsible option than Chambers for his second canyon, though Angela assured us he was a natural at stemming. Plus I’m not sure the car would have made it to the Chambers trailhead.

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Angela near the start of White Roost

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Getting some stemming in early to avoid the water

True to form on this trip White Roost was wet and muddy – it was Angela’s 3rd time through and the wettest she’d seen it.

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Narrow section of White Roost

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Tom elevatoring with an abseiler in the background

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Tom abseiling

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Tom in the pool, Sam about to downclimb, Angela abseiling

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The walk out

We were pretty inefficient on our ropework and so it wasn’t an overly quick trip through. By the time we got out it was windy and cold, and with the forecast, combined with how cold some of the group had been in the wet sections in the canyon we decided the Roost was not the place to be tomorrow. So off we went to North Wash.

It was far more pleasant at Sandthrax campsite, and we were pleased to accept an invite from Oliver and Lisa to join them round their fire. We woke to rain so we didn’t rush to get up. It was cold enough that Sam decided a fire was an essential part of the morning. Eventually we decided we couldn’t sit round the fire all day and made moves to Hog 2. I was very close to sitting in the car as I was so cold I couldn’t move my hands properly. In the end I was glad I didn’t, the weather improved a bit and of course once we were walking the body warmed up. Tom was keen to have a look at the shortcut route (which required some climbing), fortunately he made easy work of it and soon had a rope down for the rest of us.

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Tom leading up the shortcut ‘exit’ for the Hogs

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Dropping into Hog 2

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Tom on the 17m (not 40m!) abseil

The beta we had said there was a 40m abseil, we’d been dubious at that length in North Wash so had brought a 36m rope and 2 x 20m ropes. We spent a lot of time setting up a releasable anchor with the 36m in case it was actually 40m and I needed to be lowered. In the end the abseil was about 17m total. Glad we had all those ropes!

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Sam in Hog 2

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Tom abseiling in Hog 2

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Angela and Sam in Hog 2

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More stemming

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The final drop which I probably should’ve tried downclimbing instead of faffing around replacing the anchor and abseiling.

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Sam and Angela having been released by the canyon

Hog 2 was a fun canyon and a perfect choice for the weather. Possibly the first canyon of the trip that I didn’t have wet feet by the end of the day.

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Sandthrax campsite

So buoyed by the successful day in Hog 2 there was some talk of heading back to the Roost the next day. But the forecast was for cool temperatures and we expected the canyons in the Roost would be still holding water so elected for another day in North Wash. Fortunately I had downloaded the North Wash section of the Road Trip Ryan app just before we left Moab! Going through all of the beta we soon narrowed down our options (needed to be dry, not require any specialised gear, not need 4×4 access, not be too long…). Eventually we settled on Monkey Business. The car made it through on the road and we were off.

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Angela early on in Monkey Business

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Tom in Monkey Business

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Deploying the rope

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Sam abseiling

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Tom half-way down the two stage rappel

It threw up enough challenges to keep things interesting and fortunately the semi-keeper pothole wasn’t too wet (waist deep?), both Tom and Sam managed to get out unassisted. Angela wasn’t too keen on the natural anchors on the final two drops but there weren’t a lot of other options.

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Tom about to get out of the semi-keeper pothole

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Angela and Sam above the semi-keeper

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Sam above the final abseil

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Tom on the final abseil

Angela also wasn’t that thrilled when she realised the exit was the same one as for Shenanigans which she’d done earlier in the year – we made it up the crumbling gully without any issues and it wasn’t long before we were back at the car.

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Helmets going back on in anticipation of the crumbly, chossy rock of the exit gully

Back at Sandthrax we farewelled Angela and Sam, leaving decision-making for the next day with just me & Tom.

We settled on a short canyon, Morocco, in the morning, then heading to Hanksville to try and get a weather forecast and make further decisions. We’d been told by a guide at Hog Springs that Morocco was full (what a surprise) but we decided there wasn’t enough swimming to warrant wetsuits. Things went fine until we got to a drop after the third abseil.

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Tom avoiding the first pool (photo taken through a lovely arch but you probably can’t tell it’s an arch)

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Tom rigging the second abseil

There wasn’t an obvious anchor and Tom reckoned it was a downclimb down a 6m chute. I was dubious but such is my faith in Tom’s judgement that I agreed to give it a go. It wasn’t long before I concluded it was a bad idea and I was going to go for a very fast slide into a pool of unknown depth. Tom hurriedly anchored the rope to himself and sent me down a line as I precariously wedged myself on the wall. The line came down just as I was losing my position enabling me to slow down my arrival into a chest-deep pool. Convinced that it should have been an abseil I made Tom look about for an anchor he couldn’t see anything. Tom managed to downclimb by bridging over the initial drop and down in a far more exposed line (which I had originally wanted to do but chickened out on). In retrospect it must have been the fourth abseil based on what was to come in the canyon. Fortunately the only injury was my wet clothing!

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Tom downclimbing the fourth drop, after I got a faster than expected entry to the pool by trying to downclimb directly down the chute

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Tom making things look awkward

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Getting wet

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The final abseil, with deadman/cairn anchor

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The very long walk back to the car along the road. Maybe 5 minutes?

Making full use of the wi-fi at Stan’s, while we had yet another shake and fries, we discovered the weather was finally going to settle. Back to the Roost we went. We camped above White Roost where we had a full 360°C view of the horizon. On the Eastern horizon we had the moon rising, and on the Western horizon we had the sun setting. I have never been in a spot on the day of the full moon where there was unobstructed views of both horizons. It was quite spectacular (and not possible to capture well on camera).

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Camping above White Roost

It was a very exposed spot but fortunately there wasn’t much wind and we had a pleasant night. It finally felt like the trip was going as planned. Tom had re-tweaked his foot injury while we were in Morocco so the North Fork of Robbers Roost seemed like a good, short-ish option for the next day.

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Tom abseiling into North Fork of Robbers Roost

We enjoyed doing a straight-forward and beautiful canyon – more akin to the Blue Mountains style.

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The yogi is in the canyon

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Tom abseiling

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North Fork of Robbers Roost was beautiful

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The section below the final abseil

I got to use a jumar for the first time after we rapped down the third abseil to check out the end of the canyon before ascending and taking the shortcut exit.

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Tom ascending the final abseil to get back to the shortcut exit

From there we headed deeper into the Roost and camped at Motel 6 that night. It was fairly windy but (hopefully) nothing will ever compare to the night we had at the Egypt Trailhead so it didn’t seem too bad!

There were so many options to choose from in the Roost, each with issues. We settled on Not Mindbender for the next day as Tom decided he would be able to make the 5.5 exit climb… We never got to find out as the migrating sand dunes on the road out to the trailhead were definitely migrating and we decided not to risk getting stuck.

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Migrating sandunes across the road to Not Mindbender

The back up option was Larry Canyon. Since we only had one car that meant a road bash at the end of the day of about 8km – hopefully Tom’s foot survives! We used the Moki steps to get in and soon had our feet wet in a few pools.

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Tom using the moki steps to get into Larry Canyon

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Beautiful formations at the start of Larry Canyon

Getting to the first rap with a pool at the bottom I stripped off my top layers to avoid getting them wet – unnecessarily as it turned out as we could avoid the water altogether. I don’t think it would be possible for the pool to get more than waist deep as there is an outlet about that height.

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Tom abseiling towards the pool

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Tom rigging the next abseil. This photo taken from the same spot as the last one – all I had to do was turn around!

Larry was a great canyon, lots of variety, though I think Tom would be happy to skip any more slanted corridors!

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Tom near the end of the cumbersome slanted corridor

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Making our way up to the road

We made it out the exit and started on the road bash, taking some time to check out the views of Alcatraz on our way through. Tom had been talking about camping above Alcatraz that night but the road we were on was quite sandy and I didn’t think the car would make it. Tom tried to convince me that since Rich & Mel had made it out there in their hire car it couldn’t be that bad. We kept walking and it kept getting sandier and I was mentally wondering at the abuse which their hire car must have taken. Eventually I said ‘this road doesn’t get much use’…. At about the same time that Tom decided he should check the GPS as there were fewer and fewer tyre tracks. We were on the wrong road! Doh. Not having been on the road before we didn’t realise the road actually went up the wash from Alcatraz. So a bit of cross-country later we were back on a much better road. So good that I agreed we should drive it back to Alcatraz to camp (hoping the bits we’d missed were also in good nick). It was a very pleasant campsite though we did get some company first thing the next morning from an ATV recreationalist. Despite being camped at Alcatraz I wasn’t that keen to do it – I’d had enough of very narrow canyons for the trip.

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Camping above Alcatraz Canyon

Instead we headed back to the main road and into the Little West Fork of Blue John. It was a beautiful slot, even if it was relatively short.

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Tom abseiling in the Little West Fork of Blue John

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Little West Fork of Blue John

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Mmmm…

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Tom about to set the second abseil

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Spectacular canyon after the technical section

Then we headed up the Main Fork of Blue John hoping our up climbing skills were up to scratch. We were less than thrilled when we hit a little lake caused by a rockfall damning the canyon, that gave us a thigh deep wade and muddy shoes. Futile attempts were made to get the mud off our shoes for the climbing only to find we kept hitting more mud the higher up the canyon we got.

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A small lake in the Main Fork of Blue John

It was a stunning canyon and amazing to walk through. When we finally got to the climbs they were quite challenging as the slots were awkwardly narrow – easier for a smaller person like me to get up then for Tom (who also had a bigger pack).

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Tom making things look awkward. No idea if it was as tricky as he made it look – I went under the boulders!

A little concerned when we heard voices coming from above as it would be difficult to cross-over in the narrow sections. Fortunately the dad & son were not in any hurry and let us get up before they came down. As we were working so hard on the climbing there weren’t many photos taken.

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Tom having a rest part-way through the upclimbs

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The final climb at the very top of the Main Fork of Blue John

We had to laugh when both the dad & son and the group of 5 dudes, who turned up as we were getting out of our protective clothing, both asked us if they were in the Main Fork. Nothing like having confidence in your navigational ability… The 5 dudes had some paracord for pack passing and 2 radios, I don’t think they had anything else resembling technical gear. I hope they made it through alright as they weren’t inspiring confidence from the top! We were pleased to have made it to the top as it was quite a lot of effort – but very satisfying once done.

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The guys who turned up just as we’d finished….

And then it was time to leave the Roost.

Part 5 – Cedar Mesa, Grand Canyon  & Sedona

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Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017) – Part 3 – San Rafael Swell & Moab areas

The next day it was time to move on from Escalante heading for the San Rafael Swell. We had a mandatory stop at Stan’s Burger Shak for a shake and fries in Hanksville before heading to the Little Wild Horse trailhead. We’d skipped this hike last trip in favour of Ding & Dang canyons but apparently it is the most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell so figured we should do it. We went up Bell Canyon first and then looped back down Little Wild Horse Canyon. Bell Canyon was underwhelming and unless you’re looking for a longer hike I would just walk up and back down Little Wild Horse. Like many of the canyons we’d done Little Wild Horse was holding water (and of course mud). We had been warned by other walkers that there was a section where it was impossible to stay dry and that we would get thigh-deep wet.

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Tom in Little Wild Horse Canyon

So every section of water we got to (and got over without getting wet) we wondered if we’d passed the ‘impossible section’.

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Tom avoiding water & mud in Little Wild Horse Canyon

Eventually we got to it – a 30m long pool. It looked like it was just narrow enough to be able to be bridged. It was with great satisfaction (and a lot of stretching & contorting) that we both managed to keep out feet dry. We camped near the car park that night in the dry wash which was a pleasant spot.

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Sadly my timing was out and I didn’t get the shot of the woman walking underneath Tom’s legs

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Tom nearing the end of the ‘impossible to avoid getting wet’ pool…

Tom’s foot was still giving him grief so a very long Music Canyon/Muddy Creek loop was scrapped from the plans. Instead we headed to Baptist Draw and Upper Chute Canyons. It was only after we turned onto the access road, having already driven for over an hour on the main road, that we realised we could have cut off 100km of driving by taking the Temple Mount Road directly from where we’d been overnight. A lesson in having a look at the map rather than just following directions on the track notes! Getting to the trailhead took longer than expected as the roads were pretty rocky. The canyon (including walk in and out) only looked like about 4km all up and Tom was having trouble understanding how it would take 4-6 hours. Another super-easy canyon to get into, and it was a good one. We were pleased to be out of the squeezy narrows and enjoyed the ‘narrow enough to walk through without being awkward’ nature of Baptist Draw. The abseil into Upper Chute was beautiful (unfortunately my photo below does not do it justice).

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Tom abseiling into Upper Chute Canyon from Baptist Draw Canyon

We had no idea that Upper Chute was going to be so stunning, or so long! There was plenty of water, and it was icy cold. We were glad it was never more than waist deep as we hadn’t bothered with wetsuits. Despite the beauty we were both glad when the narrows finally relented and there was no more mud or water! It took its toll on us. I went a cropper in the mud and landed heavily on my knee and Tom strained his shoulder as well as falling into a pool while high bridging to avoid the water.

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Upper Chute Canyon

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This was meant to be a video, but technology fail on my part. Taken just before Tom fell in.

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Ascending Upper Chute Canyon. Water was freezing!

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Looking over Upper Chute Canyon. Easy navigation – “aim for the teepee-shaped hill” said the track notes

Camping at the trailhead would have been lovely but the forecast was for potential rain the next day and with the dodgy roads we decided it was better to get back to the main dirt road that afternoon. We camped in the vicinity of Family Butte and went for a scurry up a nearby hill to get a better view as sadly the ridge blocked a direct view from our campsite.

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Campsite (sort of) below Family Butte

The next morning the weather was definitely turning and we felt good about our decision to get out early. We had intended on spending another day in the Swell but with fairly mediocre options on the table and the weather looking unpleasant we decided to head to Moab early and get a motel room. It rained for most of our drive to Moab but cleared just as we got to Arches National Park. After 25 minutes queuing to get in we joined the masses who were avoiding the weather in the visitors centre. After securing a hiking permit for the Fiery Furnace the next day we went on a tourist drive of the park. We visited the Windows Section, having lunch under the double arch.

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Getting our tourist grove on at Double Arch, Arches NP

I’d randomly found the motel on google that morning and when we arrived we were amused to find it was the same place we’d stayed in 2013 when we were driven indoors by a blizzard.

The next day we returned to Arches, without the queue this time, and headed to Delicate Arch. Apparently the most famous arch in the world this was an excellent hike and highly recommended if you are in the park, despite the hoards.

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Tom under Delicate Arch, Arches NP

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Tom under Delicate Arch, Arches NP

Next we headed into the Fiery Furnace. The Fiery Furnace experience is meant (as I understood it) to be about not following trails, or other people. Tom and I didn’t see anyone for quite some time as we explored up various ribs with varying degrees of dodgy climbing. After lunch we were quite surprised to round a corner and find about 3 groups looking agitatedly for ‘arrows’. They couldn’t grasp the idea that we weren’t following arrows, and we were a little concerned when they started following us! We quickly left them to their arrow finding to continue our meandering. Admittedly once we’d discovered there was a marked path we did end up following it (backwards) back to the car park. We seemed to have been the only people who hadn’t followed the arrows in – I’m not sure how we were supposed to know they existed or even see them at the start. Of the other groups we encountered their first reaction was “People!” as if they had been stranded in a jungle for several days. I guess it just shows how often we are in wilderness areas where seeing people is a surprise compared to the average tourist.

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Is this Tom’s Alex Honnold moment? [Exploring the Fiery Furnace]

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Exploring the Fiery Furnace, Arches NP

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Looking back out to the Fiery Furnace, Arches NP

We had a pleasant evening with Evan, who we’d met in the Blue Mountains earlier in the year. And then we headed out with him the next morning to do Elephant Butte ‘canyon’. It’s classified as a canyon for the purposes of getting a permit but there’s not much to make it a canyon, more of an hike with some abseiling. The top of Elephant Butte is the highest point of Arches NP with amazing views of the surrounding areas. We were amused to find an entry in the logbook from (presumably) our friends Jarrah & Megan.

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Tom & Evan en route to Elephant Butte, Arches NP

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Tom enjoying the final climb up to the summit of Elephant Butte

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Tom & Evan descending from Elephant Butte

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Tom abseiling from Elephant Butte

In the afternoon we headed out to Fisher Towers for a sunset hike. There were a number of climbers topping out on the popular climb on Ancient Art as we went past. We had to set a quick pace as we’d left it a little late in the afternoon but made it to the end of the ridge and official end of the hike with good time. Unfortunately being out for sunset meant getting back to Moab after 8pm and dinner options were thin on the ground. We had a very disappointing meal at Wendys just because it was over the road from our motel.

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Fisher Towers in the late afternoon. There’s climbers on Ancient Art (the corkscrew formation on the left)… not that you’ll be able to see them in the photo

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Fisher Towers at sunset

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Views from Fisher Towers at sunset

We figured we needed to actually do some canyons while we were in Moab so lined up a Big Horn / Dragonfly loop as the objective for the next day. We set off from the car with the sky looking a little threatening but the forecast had been for a slight possibility of rain in the afternoon so we figured we could knock off Big Horn and bail on Dragonfly if needed. We got to the tunnel below Big Horn as the grey clouds started crackling lightning.

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The Tunnel near Big Horn Canyon, Arches NP

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Approaching storm put paid to plans to do Big Horn Canyon

Heading up onto the ridge wasn’t an option with the amount of electrical activity going on – so do we sit it out or head back to the car? We decided on the car, getting soaked in the process – though the weather didn’t bother a lone hiker we met who was keen for a long chat while we were standing in the open with lightning directly overhead. By the time we got back to the car Courthouse Wash was flowing fairly healthily a good illustration to us of how quickly water runs off the slick rock here.

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Run off in a minor wash after the storm

We hung around at the car parks watching waterfalls form off the rocks before heading back into Moab for lunch. The road into Moab was flooded in a couple of places – many 4x4s just speeding through splashing murky red water over anything in their path.

Part 4 – Robbers Roost & North Wash – coming soon

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Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017) – Part 2 – Escalante area

The man at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM) was very helpful and it was great to speak with someone who seemed to have direct experience with the sort of things we were planning. It was after midday by the time we turned on to Hole in the Rock Road and so a short hike to Zebra and Tunnel Canyons seemed to fit the bill. While eating lunch at the trailhead a number of other hikers returned, advising that the canyon was flooded. Trying to discern what that meant we spoke to a number of groups, the last 2 guys saying that there was swimming and it was freezing and no way through etc. Since we had wetsuits in the car we figured we may as well take them if it was truly that wet. I’m not sure if we were the first people to wear wetsuits in Zebra but we did look slightly ridiculous compared to the many other groups just stripping off and sucking up the cold water temperatures. In the end they were unnecessary, other than for saving our skin on the up climbs (the water was cold, and there was swimming, but the length of the swim was not that long).

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Tom above one of the drops we climbed up in Zebra Canyon

We managed to make it up 2 or 3 obstacles before turning around at a 3m climb which Tom was sure he could have got up… but maybe not back down that safely.

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The climb we didn’t go up

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Tom in Zebra Canyon

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More lounging around in Zebra Canyon

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Too much excitement for one day!

We then headed around the corner to Tunnel Canyon, which was also full of water, but we didn’t bother putting the wetsuits back on for that.

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Tom avoiding the water in Tunnel Canyon

We camped at the head of Egypt 1 canyon that night and marvelled at the first ‘downclimb’ which was pretty daunting.

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Camp at the head of Egypt 1

Egypt 1 wasn’t on our hitlist, the next day we headed for Egypt 3. It was full of mud, and a lot of squeezing, with the non-technical section never particularly deep. I wouldn’t be rushing back to it.

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Tom with some particularly painful rock to squeeze through in Egypt 3

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Narrow section in Egypt 3

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I think this is what they call Type 2 Fun.

The optional technical section had a semi-keeper pothole which Mel & Rich had told us about. When we got to it there was a lot of water. I gamely dropped into the pothole only to find it was neck deep! And right next to where we needed to climb out I couldn’t touch the bottom. That wasn’t part of the plan! Tom had a go next, and also couldn’t touch the bottom where we needed to climb out, but could a metre to the right. After a couple of attempts I managed to launch myself from standing on his cupped hands across to the lip and haul myself out. I anchored a rope for Tom to climb out on. The second pothole was also wet and muddy and probably not something one person could have got out from. It was satisfying to get through the technical section after being somewhat frustrated by the mud & squeezing in the non-technical section.

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Tom checking out the way out of the first pothole. A metre to his left he couldn’t touch the bottom.

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Tom in Egypt 3

Walking out it was windy and so we were keen to find a sheltered camping spot. Not far from the end of the Egypt Road we tucked ourselves in amongst some bushes. The wind just got worse so we ended up sitting in the car for the remainder of the afternoon and the evening. There was a brief period where we struggled to cook dinner outside before returning to the car to eat. Needless to say I didn’t sleep very well as the wind kept up all night. Just before dawn it finally settled.

We had various options for the day, one of which was to do Neon Canyon as a day trip (originally we were planning to camp a night on the Escalante River). Initially when the alarm went off I said I didn’t want to go following such an awful night. But after 20 minutes of contemplating I changed my mind and so soon we were eating breakfast and packing gear for the day. It was not long after 8am when we left the Egypt Trailhead. Buoyed (?!) by conversations with other groups that had camped out that it had been a horrendous night with the unseasonable wind for them too. We were a bit scared by the track notes and warnings of a long day which had the pleasant effect of making Tom faff less. However, we managed to do the technical section of the canyon in just under 2 hours (compared to 7h that a group we spoke to on the way in had taken!?). I was very pleased Tom had convinced me we should drop in at the North Fork rather than the earlier entry options on Tom Jones’ track notes. For the first time in the trip we had lunch at lunchtime rather than mid-afternoon.

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Near the start of the hike. Neon is in the slot in front of the dome.

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Entering the bottom of Neon Canyon from the Escalante River

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Tom in Neon Canyon

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A less common feature to get through a canyon

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Tom abseiling into the Golden Cathedral

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Tom pulling our rope having abseiled into the Golden Cathedral

We had a leisurely lunch at the Golden Cathedral, including watching a solo canyoner rap down, before the long slog back to the car. All up 8.5 hour round trip. (including 1.5 hr lunch?)

I was worried about getting back out on the Egypt Road and so wanted to get out that evening rather than camp at the scenic trailhead. So off we went, planning to camp somewhere in the vicinity of Spooky/Peek-a-boo Canyons. Using the Kelsey guide we headed off on the Early Weed Road looking for a nearby campsite. Quickly we came to a sandy wash which Tom sped across only to find we couldn’t get out of it. At this point we discovered we had a rear-wheel drive car. A group of 3 women noticed our problem and stopped to help. After letting the tyres down a lot and with pushing we managed to get back onto the road. The car had inbuilt tyre pressure monitoring, and apparently the front left tyre was now at 17psi (instead of 36, the others were in the mid-20s). I was not happy to keep driving round on that and insisted we headed into Escalante to pump the tyres up. So 42km later we were in Escalante as the sun had set, on a Friday night, with no accommodation organised. After driving past numerous motels with ‘no vacancy’ signs we managed to get a tent site at an RV Park. The hot shower was greatly appreciated, as well as the USB charging points at the site, and the lack of wind to keep us awake all night!

We weren’t going to drive all the way back out to Spooky & Peek-a-boo so we decided to head for Calf Creek Falls instead. Getting there early in the day meant we were able to get one of the first-come, first-serve campsites. The hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls was busy but the falls were spectacular. Yet again we underestimated how long it was going to take and didn’t bring lunch so we had another mid-afternoon lunch when we got back to camp.

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Popular hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

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But with the right angle you can make it look like you’re the only one there!

Our final day in the GSENM we headed out on the Old Sheffield Road (Spencer Flat Road) to do Upper Red Breaks Canyon. We almost didn’t get there as the car struggled to get up one steep, rutted out hill, but after 3 attempts we were through. Other than that one section the road was good quality. We descended the East Fork of the Upper West Fork of Red Breaks and ascended the Upper West Fork. The East Fork was ok, but the West Fork was stunning. We had to work pretty hard in the last really tight narrows, which were both squeezy and an up-climb. A beautiful canyon.

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Tom in Red Breaks

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Tom downclimbing in Red Breaks

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Red Breaks

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Tom with all the moves in Red Breaks

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Tom in the most strenuous section of the day. Narrow and an up-climb!

That night we camped just off the Old Sheffield Road at a balcony camp with far-reaching views to the East.

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Balcony Camp

Part 3 – San Rafael Swell & Moab – coming soon

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