Author Archives: rachel

Hidden Valley (March 2018)

It’s always nice to explore a new area – no one on the trip had been into this area of Morton National Park before. The first challenge was finding the Sassafras entrance and driving along the road.


The gate at the turn-off on Braidwood Road


At the NP entrance

That successfully negotiated we then had a long and fairly boring fire trail bash, though Dee and Alex did manage to have a ‘swim’ in a small creek we passed along the way. Things started getting more interesting when we got nearer to The Vines and the vegetation changed from low heath to rainforest.


Clive in the forest (trying to avoid leeches!)


As usual a plume of smoke follows Alex around


Alex surveying the land at lunch

It was nice to be on a track rather than fire trail as we headed down to the Hidden Valley turnoff.


Hidden Valley turn off

Five of us headed into Hidden Valley, visiting Dark Brothers Cave and scrambling up onto Sturgiss Mountain where we enjoyed wonderful views.


Dark Brothers Cave (I presume?)


Views from Sturgiss Mountain – Pigeon House unmistakeable in the distance


Descending Sturgiss Mountain, views over Styles Plain


Clive on a scrambling section of the descent

Returning to our packs at the Hidden Valley turnoff we headed to Styles Creek where I was hoping we’d find a campsite. Fortunately there was – quite a luxurious one at that! Having been in Eucalypt forest for much of the walk it was great to come out onto the flats where there were great views of the surrounding features.


The team at camp


Sturgiss Mountain at sunset


Quiltys Mountain overlooking Styles Creek

The temperatures indicated we’d tipped into Autumn with most of us slightly under done on the warmth front overnight. There was a lot of dew but my borrowed bivvy bag did a good job of keeping me dry.


Breakfast time

The second day we just had a retrace of our route (minus the Hidden Valley excursion) from Saturday.


Alex crossing a side creek. Is the log an old bridge?

It was a long, hot walk back along the fire trail.


The long, hot fire trail bash back to the cars

We were all very happy to get to the pub in Nowra for a beer and dinner!

A great walk to get a feel for the area and start planning some further walks.

Arabanoo Creek (Feb 2018)

This was Vivien’s third attempt to run this trip with extreme heat and wet thwarting the previous two. I was a johnny-come-lately to the event not having been on the list for either of the earlier trips. Injuries and life brought our starting line-up down to 5, some defectors in a rival party of 5 taking a much easier trip to Box Creek Falls.

Alex started the weekend well by forgetting both his bushwalking clothes and his sleeping bag. Fortunately Tom had brought two sleeping bags up to Kanangra so Alex was able to borrow one. We were away from the Walls carpark just after 8am. Sierra had never been out on the plateau and was soon pointing out landmarks to us… just the completely wrong ones.  We took our time enjoying the views from the plateau lookout before heading off towards Coal Seam Cave.

We had an early first morning tea at Cottage Rock and then we were off track down to Arabanoo Creek.


Jo taking in views below Cottage Rock

We were joking about whether there would be any water in Arabanoo Creek and were pleasantly surprised to arrive at a pool. The going was pretty straight-forward as it was largely dry and we could in the main just march down the middle of the creek. I managed to trip over and land heavily on my right hand so we decided it might be a good time to have morning tea.


Jo on one of the trickier sections

There were a couple of scrambly sections which we had to negotiate fairly early. With my right-hand somewhat out of action this upped the difficulty level for me. When it came to skirting round pools for the sake of keeping my feet dry I, for once, was the first to plunge in. At one stage Alex decided he was going to throw his pack across the pool… after a few swings he realised the pack wasn’t going to make it and tried to stop… next minute both Alex and his pack were in the pool having lost his balance. Fortunately nothing hurt other than pride.


Vivien still laughing over Alex’s fall into this pool (from about where Vivien is standing)

After that pool I decided to take the high route and managed to avoid getting more than knee deep but the others went down the creek getting chest-deep wet. After his unintended ‘jump’ Alex decided it was time to hit the heavy stuff – out came a can of berry cider (never to early to start drinking?!).


Other than the hat you’d think he’d got lost from the streets of Newtown


Vivien admiring one of the more dramatic sections in Arabanoo Creek


Our only mandatory swim


A planned jump this time

After a slightly canyon like section the creek flattened out. Then the snakes began. Red-belly black after red-belly black after red-belly black. Ever pool had a snake. We learnt that if the person in front was taking an odd line down the dry creek it was probably because there was a snake in the obvious line.




Not sure if this guy was alive or not, certainly wasn’t scuttling away

Eventually we made it to Christys Creek which had perhaps even less water than Arabanoo Creek. Then a few hundred metres to the junction with the Kowmung where Vivien had promised a “decent campsite”. I was less than convinced of the ‘decency’ at the stony spot we initially ended up at, but fortunately Jo discovered the real campsite slightly upstream. The Kowmung was in a pretty sad state – no flow, just large, somewhat unappealing, pools.


Relaxing at camp

Vivien & I did manage to find a pool that was over waist deep for a swim which was fantastic. With a Park Fire Ban in place there was no fire to ward off the mosquitoes that were out in force. The women seemed to receive a lot more attention from the mossies than the guys and ultimately that was what sent us all off too bed. I had a bivvy on loan from Bill which the others were pretty disparaging off. After some initial difficulty sorting out how to best have my pack propped up to keep the bivvy off my face it came good. I had a brilliant night, safe from the mosquitoes and not having to swelter in my sleeping bag.


Given how miniscule Alex’s sleeping mat & pillow are I can see why he doesn’t bother sleeping on them.


The mighty Kowmung. Or where it should be.

The next day was going to a be a long slog back up to the cars so we got an early start. The first bit of uphill was the most unpleasant as we were directly in the sun.


Early steep climb on Stonehag Hill


The most technical section of scrambling we did, on Stonehag hill


Views over the Kanangra-Boyd wilderness


Morning tea and trying to match features to the map. Mt Colong of course is unmistakable through the trees.


More scrambling to get to Arabanoo Peak


Lunch in a cave below Mount Colboyd


Descending into the saddle at the other end of Mount Colboyd


Grass trees on Marrilman Heath

The Box Creek party were waiting for us (well, out at the lookout) at the Walls carpark when we got back. We had dinner in Lawson on the way home – a good weekend had by all.

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.


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.


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!


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.


Views of the approach ridge from Mother Woila


Tabletop from Mother Woila


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


Chocolate + hot day = winning combination


Bill in the top of the chute descending off Mother Woila


Looking back up the top of the chute


Sierra in the lower chute

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


Alex in the saddle as the weather closes in


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.


After the storm clears Sierra at Horseshoe Point


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.


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


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.


Looking out to Scouts Hat


Sierra scrambling with Mother Woila in the morning sun


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.


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


Something didn’t like this tree!


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.


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.


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.


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.


Drying out after the storm


Camp night 2


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)


Jillaga Creek early on day 3


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.


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.


Alex enjoying our side creek


Sussing out exit options at another lovely cascade


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



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


Don’t think we’re getting up that…


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.


Heading back downstream to an exit


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.


Spectacular country


Very smooth (& colourful when wet) eucalyptus


Nice ridge walking


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


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.


Upper Morong Falls Jan 2018


Upper Morong Falls Dec 2010

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


Savage Cataract Jan 2018


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).


Kowmung Jan 2018


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).


Kowmung Jan 2018


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.


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


Crossing Morong Falls up high


Descending down the true right of the falls


Alan below Savage Cataract

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


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.


Alex above some cascades


First swim of the day


Granite gorge


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.


Looking down at Alan from the jumping spot


Jo taking the handline option


Lots of blackberries along the way

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


A flatter section of the river


David S jumping


Sierra & Alex river walking


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.


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.


Jo using a tape to get down another drop


Jump after using the handline to get part way down


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!)


A good selection for happy hour


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!


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.


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.


Jo on a high traverse early on day 2


Beautiful rock stains


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.


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


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.


Open walking on Megalith Ridge


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.


Bram leading the troops in the first wade of the day


Smiffy emerging from the first duck under


Canyon formation :)


Put your hands in the air…


Or your legs!


Entering a narrow section


Smiffy swimming while Toni negotiates a small drop


More wading through spectacular canyon


A short tunnel


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.


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


The group in the canyon


More vegetated section


Into the deep dark lower section


More down-climbing




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.


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.


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


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


James taking the log descent


James on a short abseil


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.


Canyon formation


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!


Canyon formation in Nosedive


Top of the penultimate drop in Nosedive


James on his way down to Dingo Creek


James still on his way down to Dingo Creek


Having a snack before the wade up Dingo Creek


Magnificent Dingo Creek


Blue Mountains Tree Frog (Litoria citropa)


Preparing for the long walk out!


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 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.


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.


Jon above a large canyon


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


What is so amusing?


Jo choosing her own special way through


Tom enjoying views of the Wolgan valley


Tom taking a more technical way into this canyon


Zoolander eat your heart out




Squeezing our way up the slot


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


Careful pagoda climbing


Jon and the daisies


Jo pagoda climbing


Happy hour views


More exploring on Sunday morning


Lunch views on Sunday


Start of the steep descent


“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.


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.


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.


Abseiling into the second narrows in Fry Canyon


Beautiful… but definitely a swim!!


Tom prepping for the swim


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!


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.


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.


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.


Grand Canyon near Desert View


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Watching sunset at the Grand Canyon


Sunset at the Grand Canyon


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!


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


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.


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


Compromise spot at the other end of Doe Mountain


It was a stunning sunset!


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.


Tom on Brin Ridge


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.


Angela near the start of White Roost


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.


Narrow section of White Roost


Tom elevatoring with an abseiler in the background


Tom abseiling


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


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.


Tom leading up the shortcut ‘exit’ for the Hogs


Dropping into Hog 2


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!


Sam in Hog 2


Tom abseiling in Hog 2


Angela and Sam in Hog 2


More stemming


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


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.


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.


Angela early on in Monkey Business


Tom in Monkey Business


Deploying the rope


Sam abseiling


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.


Tom about to get out of the semi-keeper pothole


Angela and Sam above the semi-keeper


Sam above the final abseil


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.


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.


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


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!


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


Tom making things look awkward


Getting wet


The final abseil, with deadman/cairn anchor


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).


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.


Tom abseiling into North Fork of Robbers Roost

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


The yogi is in the canyon


Tom abseiling


North Fork of Robbers Roost was beautiful


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.


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.


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.


Tom using the moki steps to get into Larry Canyon


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.


Tom abseiling towards the pool


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!


Tom near the end of the cumbersome slanted corridor


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.


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.


Tom abseiling in the Little West Fork of Blue John


Little West Fork of Blue John




Tom about to set the second abseil


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.


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).


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.


Tom having a rest part-way through the upclimbs


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.


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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