Author Archives: rachel

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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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.


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’.


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.


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


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).


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.


Upper Chute Canyon


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


Ascending Upper Chute Canyon. Water was freezing!


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.


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.


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.


Tom under Delicate Arch, Arches NP


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.


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


Exploring the Fiery Furnace, Arches NP


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.


Tom & Evan en route to Elephant Butte, Arches NP


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


Tom & Evan descending from Elephant Butte


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.


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


Fisher Towers at sunset


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.


The Tunnel near Big Horn Canyon, Arches NP


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.


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).


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.


The climb we didn’t go up


Tom in Zebra Canyon


More lounging around in Zebra Canyon


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.


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.


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.


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


Narrow section in Egypt 3


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.


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


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.


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


Entering the bottom of Neon Canyon from the Escalante River


Tom in Neon Canyon


A less common feature to get through a canyon


Tom abseiling into the Golden Cathedral


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.


Popular hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls


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.


Tom in Red Breaks


Tom downclimbing in Red Breaks


Red Breaks


Tom with all the moves in Red Breaks


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.


Balcony Camp

Part 3 – San Rafael Swell & Moab – coming soon

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Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017) – Part 1 – Zion area

Having learnt our lesson after 2013 we didn’t plan to go anywhere the day we arrived in the US. It was just a day of buying food supplies, canyoning gear (knee pads!) and sleeping. By good fortune friends of ours from Australia were finishing their trip the day after we arrived so we were able to get water containers, leftover food and various other supplies from them. Following a good nights sleep in a hotel away from the strip and we were ready to head for the canyons!


With a waffle-machine at breakfast, general slowness in getting ready and the time change between Nevada and Utah, it wasn’t particularly early when we rolled into Zion National Park. Deciding two (albeit short) canyons was probably a bit ambitious given it was after 1pm we just picked up a permit for Keyhole Canyon. Our first time through Keyhole, it’s super accessible with the walk in and out being <15 minutes. This was the perfect canyon to do to remind ourselves how to canyon – remembering of course we were coming off the back of winter and our last canyoning had been in April. We were warned that Keyhole was ‘full’ by the wilderness desk and we must wear wetsuits. Not sure where the swims were – Tom got through without getting more than waist deep. From there we headed to Zion Ponderosa Ranch. We couldn’t resist having dinner in the restaurant rather than cooking – beautiful steaks – our last for a while.


Tom in Keyhole Canyon, Zion NP


Tom in Keyhole Canyon


Tom in Keyhole Canyon


The first of many slanted corridors for the trip


Big Horn Sheep on the side of the road

The next day was one of our longer ones. We drove out to the Chamberlain Ranch Trailhead and started walking down the Virgin River. This is where people doing the Narrows as an overnight trip start. But that wasn’t our goal. We exited up a gully – which our notes did say had a couple of up-climbs. The first one was a bit tougher than we were expecting – but then we hadn’t yet got back into the groove of how grippy the rock is here. Nonetheless we made it up and over into Deadeye Dick canyon.


Tom on the first, somewhat challenging, upclimb


Tom abseiling in Deadeye Dick Canyon


Tom in Deadeye Dick Canyon


Tom in Deadeye Dick Canyon


Nearing the confluence with the Virgin River

Then a late lunch on the Virgin River before a quick run through Mighty Mouse canyon, then back to the car. A very satisfying first day.


Lunch on the Virgin River, with makeshift chopping board


Throwing the rope in Mighty Mouse Canyon


Tom abseiling in Mighty Mouse Canyon

We had a second night at Zion Ponderosa. We had planned to do Boundary Canyon the next day – which was going to be a long day, as it was a couple of hours drive to the trailhead before even starting what was a reasonable day out. I wasn’t too disappointed when in the early hours of the morning, when we were both awake (jetlag), that Tom said his foot was sore and he wasn’t up for the long day. Getting to sleep in was great but then we needed a new plan. We settled on a short canyon nearby called Diana’s Throne. It was fairly busy, as it is a good beginner canyon outside of the park (so no permit needed). It seems to be popular with the guiding companies as well. After spending a while giving some rope-coiling/management tutelage to a guy we met in the canyon we caught up to a commercial group. The guide mentioned another canyon we could do at the end – this was a great tip and made the day a bit longer. Not sure whether the slot has a name but it was a fun bonus, and despite being the last group (of 4) to leave the cars we were the first back! It also gave us time to do the rounds of the shops in Springdale to buy canyoning shoes (not available in Australia…).


Tom in Diana’s Throne Canyon


Tom in Diana’s Throne Canyon


Tom in Diana’s Throne Canyon

Unlike our 2013 trip where I had booked camping at Watchman Campground more than 6 months in advance this time round we only got 1 night due to a late cancellation. We were in almost the same spot as previously and it was nice to be warm having dropped from 6,500ft (1980m) at Zion Ponderosa to 4,000ft (1220m).


Camping at Watchman Campground

The next day it was time to move on from Zion. Kanarra Creek wasn’t originally on our plan but with Tom’s sore foot short days were going to be necessary and it looked good. I had originally thought we’d be done in 1.5-2 hours so we didn’t take lunch. Turned out we were out for 3 or 4 hours. Kanarra Creek is a slot canyon with 2 ladders installed at the only obstacles in the creek meaning it can be done as a hike. It’s fairly unusual to have flowing water in the canyons around the area and so Tom spent a lot of time with tripod and camera.


Impressive narrows in Kanarra Creek


Tom ascending the first ladder


Picturesque Falls


The serious photographer on the second ladder!


More impressive narrows further up Kanarra Creek

We didn’t have a plan on where to camp and ended up in the Cedar Breaks National Monument at the Navajo Lake campground. We decided this was probably the highest altitude either of us had camped at – 9,035 ft (2,754m).


Tom at Navajo Lake

Part 2 – Escalante

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Utah & Arizona (Sep/Oct 2017)

Tom & I spent four weeks in south-western USA primarily Utah. The main activity was canyoning with a few touristy days thrown in here and there.

I have updated the list of things we learnt which might be helpful to any Australians planning a canyoning trip to Utah.


K2K in a Day!

An annual feature on the Sydney Bush Walkers calendar is K2K in a Day. For those not in the know that is walking from Kanangra to Katoomba (well to the locked gate on Narrow Neck) in a day. The goal is to make it in 12 hours. Total distance 45km, but more significant is the amount of up and down, +1410/-1470 (just counting the big climbs but with plenty more undulation). I had hoped to do the K2K last year, following my successful Six Foot Track in Day, but the weather didn’t play ball and the Coxs River was up way too high to contemplate a crossing so the trip was cancelled.

K2K elevation profile

K2K elevation profile


This year I hadn’t seriously considered doing it as, firstly, I didn’t think I was fit enough, and secondly, up until 2 days before I had other commitments. When the other commitments fell through I fired an email off to Alex half-expecting to be knocked-back (for both logistics and fitness reasons). Except I wasn’t! So next thing I knew I was setting up my tent at Boyd River Campsite on Friday night. As usual it was freezing at Boyd River but I have learnt by now and had 2 sleeping bags and consequently a good nights sleep. Some of the others were not so fortunate.

Having successfully negotiated an extra 10 minutes sleep my alarm didn’t go off until 4:40am. At 5:25am we left Boyd River. A special thanks to Anna and John who not only drove us round to Kanangra the night before but also got to get up in the early hours to drop us at the Walls. After our briefing at the Walls Carpark there was momentary panic when Alex couldn’t find his pack… we were contemplating having to drive back to Boyd River when… it turned up on the other side of the car. Phew. So after the mandatory photo we started – at 5:56am by my watch.


The starters just before 6am – Naveen, Adrian, Alex, Rachel, Vivien

I’ve walked the section out to the Plateau many times but the experience of doing it as dawn was breaking was spectacular.


Early morning Cloudmaker


Stunning way to start the day

We reached the lookout on the plateau and Alex headed off towards the Coal Seam Cave track. Naveen and Adrian, who hadn’t been to Kanangra before, didn’t know any better and followed him. Vivien & I weren’t so keen on his direction. Which earned us a “come on!” from Alex. At which point Vivien asked him if we were going to Coal Seam Cave. A sheepish change of direction soon had us heading north towards Gordon Smith Path.


Party with views across the mountains

The photo below is out of order, but about this point in the day I ‘corked’ my left thigh on a sawn off banksia. Being pretty cold it hurt a lot – but I was quite impressed to see how the bruising developed through out the day. This is the bruise about 12 hours after it happened.


Bruise from walking into a sawn off banksia on the plateau about half an hour in


Alex cuts a lonely figure at Gabes Gap


Cloudmaker and it’s only 8:45am!

We made good time getting to and departing Mt Cloudmaker before Alex’s guidance time of 9am.


Alex dutifully marking down our time (9:20am) at Dex Creek

No one needed water at Dex Creek so we were soon onto “day 2” of the 3-day route. It was 10 years since the only other time I’d done K2K (that time over 3 days). Some sections I’ve walked plenty of times, but the section from Dex Creek to Mt Yellow Dog I’ve only done the once. It was lovely to walk the ridges on a perfect bushwalking weather day.


Naveen scrambling on the way to Mt Strongleg


Vivien sidling


Adrian starting the steep descent down Strongleg

The steep descent down Strongleg spat us out into someone’s campsite on Kanangra Creek. We had wondered whether there would be running water but no need for concern as it was flowing strongly. After a quick water refill we were off again, soon realising we’d hit Kanangra Creek a fair way above the junction which is probably why it was flowing! On the plus side Alex said it was the gentlest descent he’d ever had off Strongleg.


Making our way down Kanangra Creek


Kanangra Creek a lot drier closer to the Coxs. Mt Yellow Dog looms above us

The Coxs River was about shin height for me. The Kelpie Point Gauge said 0.12 – much safer than the 0.6 it was at this time last year!


I thought there were no breaks on this trip Alex?

Now we had the biggest climb of the of the day up Yellow Pup Ridge to Mt Yellow Dog (150m to 780m). It’s a pleasant (?) enough climb as there are a number of switchbacks meaning the legs get a bit of a break from the constant ascent. I was pretty happy to get to the top at 1:05pm (exactly an hour after I’d started) and get into some food.


Mt Yellow Dog, it’s 1:05pm and I’m hungry!


Adrian taking a nap

When Alex & Naveen arrived at the top we agreed it was time to let us run free. The group would split to allow everyone to move at whatever speed we wanted. Adrian, Vivien and I set off hoping to make up the half hour we were currently behind based on the 12 hour target schedule.


Alex dismantling the “inappropriately sized” cairn


We might have been faster if we didn’t stop to photograph the wildlife

Of course the 12 hour cut-off wasn’t the only priority. We saw a bit of wildlife which we stopped to photograph.


Apparently we’ve done 39km already (I don’t think so)

The signage on the Medlow Gap firetrail claimed it was 39km to Kanangra. That should mean we only had 6km to go, sadly we knew that wasn’t the case – it was more like 17km… so on we pushed.


Medlow Gap at 3:15pm. Will we make it in 12 hours?


Like I said… maybe we would have been faster if we didn’t stop to photograph the wildlife!


Vivien on the last major climb up Mt Debert


Vivien on Tarros Ladders

As we started climbing Tarros Ladders I heard voices at the top. I could see faces staring down at me. I was about to yell up for them to wait for us to get up before they descended when I realised it was our support crew. Paul and others had kindly carried out water and snacks for us to the end of Narrow Neck. It was a this point we found out from Paul (who Alex had been in phone contact with) that Naveen had started vomiting not long after we’d left and so him & Alex were heading to Carlons Farm rather than continuing to Narrow Neck.


Adrian on Tarros Ladders


Beautiful views to Lake Burragorang


What’s in the snack stash?

Vivien and I got to the top just before 4pm. I didn’t actually need any water or snacks, still having plenty in my bag, but I drank some Gatorade and ate a chocolate digestive out of guilt for the effort the support crew had put in. I could see in other years though this would be a crucial replenishment. You couldn’t ask for better weather than the day we’d had – it was sunny but not too hot to need to drink that much. Shortly after 4pm I started the fire trail bash. The sign said 9.5km, which was inconsistent with the signage we’d seen at the bottom of Mt Debert. It didn’t really matter though the main thing in my mind was to get to the locked gate by 6pm.. well 5:56pm on my watch.


Narrow Neck walking with the sun setting


Vivien running the downhills

And so it was we made it the locked gate at 5:39pm. We were pleased to see Anna waiting for us – a massive effort from her this weekend as well – driving us to Kanangra Friday night, then up early to drop us at the Walls, before hanging out on Narrow Neck waiting for to finish, then driving some of the walkers home after dinner.


3 finishers


Started 05:56 – Finished 17:39. Total time 11 hours 45 minutes

We reconvened at the Grand View Hotel in Wentworth Falls for dinner. Paul, Alex & Naveen joined us about 7:15pm, Naveen fortunately feeling better. Most people headed home about 8pm.


Dinner at the Grand View – Anna (Support), Vivien (Walker), Tom (Fan boy), Lyonel (Support), Jane (Support), Geoff (Support), Adrian (Walker)

Tom and I had decided to stay the night which meant there was plenty of time for dessert. Yum, a great way to end an excellent day.


I think I deserved this!


Compagnoni Pass (2017-08-12/13)

I organised a weekend trip in the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness with SBW. I had a lot of takers, probably because it was a Q (Qualifying) walk for Prospective Members of the club. Despite being full weeks in advance there were a number of pull-outs (including Tom – now blacklisted!) so in the end there were 6 in the group which was a good number.

Our route took us from Kanangra Walls Lookout out to the plateau. We had made very good time initially and had an early (9am) morning tea at Cottage Rock.


Enjoying views from the plateau first thing Saturday morning

We had a second morning tea at the Roots Ridge turn-off before continuing down Gingra Range. A slight navigational error on Fourth Top gave the group an extra 120m of ascent/descent, for which they were highly grateful, before we had lunch on the ridge between Fourth and Fifth Top. After lunch we descended to the Kowmung River where we filled up on water for the rest of the trip.


Darryl contemplating having to carry 5 litres of water up the hill for a high camp

With considerably heavier packs the last couple of hours were a 650m slog up Willa Spur. We made camp in a nice cave just on 5pm. Wagyu biltong was the highlight of happy hour (Tom wished he’d come along after I told him about that). I threatened no one was allowed to go to bed before 7:30pm and despite the solid day in the legs we all made it through till 9pm!


Tent City, Darryl & Helen in “Werewolf Cave”


Early morning light hitting the cliff

The first task of the morning was ascending Compagnoni Pass. It would have been a much simpler ascent if the rock wasn’t covered in Casuarina needles.


The bottom section of Compagnoni Pass


Helen climbing the lower section of Compagnoni Pass


Helen at the very top of Compagnoni Pass, along with the waiting paparazzi

From there we traversed Ti Willa Plateau before having morning tea on Cloudmaker.


Bill & Helen on Cloudmaker

From Cloudmaker we were in well-trodden territory and it was straight-forward, if undulating, walking for the rest of the day.


Beautiful Kanangra


Helen climbing Gordon Smith Pass


Helen, Bill, Nigel, Sebastian, Darryl


Almost back to the cars. Seasonal burn-off smoke in the distance.

We made it back to the cars at 3:15pm. An excellent weekend in beautiful country.

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