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Participants: Gill Fowler, Rachel Grindlay, Fee
With the late arrival of Fee last night and the departure of Chris, Liz & Jamie this morning our party was just 3. We had decided to do Big Foot canyon which the Jamieson guide rated as a 3 (out of 6) which is a Moderate rating. Given we had done Devil’s Pinch which rated a 5 and another harder canyon the previous day, I was not concerned about setting off on my first all-female canyoning trip. We left Tom to keep camp and Fee, Gill & I headed off in Fee’s car to park opposite Zobels Gully. The Jamieson guide said to park 2.5km before the 'usual tourist' campsite. We weren’t quite sure what the 'usual' campsite was so probably parked a little early. We rock hopped across the Wolgan, the water levels being so low that keeping one's feet dry was pretty easy. We then headed up the gully ahead of us, Gill quickly realised we weren’t in the right gully so we traversed along. Gill complained the Jamieson guide didn't really give any description of Zobels. However, when we finally reached it we realised there was no need since it was so big it was pretty hard to miss!
We had been advised by friends who had attempted Big Foot 2 days earlier to go up the right hand side of the gully as it was easier going at the top - plus they had found an old miner's track. We didn't find any track but the bush-bashing wasn’t too bad. Gill stuck lower in the gully while Fee and I took a higher route. It was a deceptive climb as we appeared to be much closer to the top of the ridge then we were. We reached the pagodas which signalled the final barrier to the ridge at 11am. We were quite pleased with progress as it had taken us just under 1.5 hours to cover that ground. We had morning tea and took in the views down Zobels Gully. Then hunted round for a way up and over the pagodas. The most likely option had a slightly reachy scramble and with our party all being under 5ft8 it was a slight obstacle. Fee and I provided Gill with a foothold and she scrambled up and set off up the pagoda to ensure we could actually get up. What seemed like a long time later Gill returned and set up a rope for us to get onto the pagoda. The climb over the pagoda was reasonably lengthy and steep but eventually we topped out. We had made it to the ridge top though it was now midday.
Jamieson’s guide recommended heading straight down a scrubby gully to get to the canyon but our friends had suggested we would be better off heading out on the ridge and dropping into the gully closer to the canyon. We duly followed that advice and headed off through some fairly unpleasant scrub along the ridge. Gill was duly checking our direction on the compass every few metres and soon realised we weren't quite right. We had pushed out onto the ridge to the right of where we intended to be, so we had to backtrack a few hundred metres, which in the thick scrub took longer then you would hope for that distance. Confident we were now on the correct ridge we pushed on. The ridge vegetation varied between particularly unpleasant and uncomfortable, and the collection of scratches on our legs accumulated regularly.
At 1:30pm we stopped for lunch and then continued on, aware that time wasn't really on our side. After another 200m we reached a gully we had been aiming for, about half way along the ridge. Originally we had planned to head out further, but sick of the ridge bashing, we thought creek bashing might be a change if not an improvement. We had to cover around 500m (120m vertical) from the ridge down the side gully to the main creek where the canyon was. The gully was even more overgrown than the ridge had been, and we had to consider whether it was worth going on. We knew that even if we got to the canyon quickly – unlikely given what we had experienced so far – we would have to return to the car following the route we had covered this morning, another consideration being our decreasing water supplies. Gill was keen to at least get to the canyon even if we didn't go down it, so we agreed to continue down the gully. It opened out briefly onto some pagodas, which was some relief ,but quickly after that we reached a drop which would've required a 6-8m abseil. Given our increasing inclination to backtrack at some point, we didn't want to abseil down, so decided this was our turn around point. The going looked reasonably tough down the gully and we assumed the main creek was likely to be similar.
We had no real issues getting back to the top of the ridge (other than more scratches) and then located the pagoda top where we had climbed up. It looked far steeper when looking down! We climbed down using the rope again for the final 3m drop. We had a quick stop for an orange and then the return bush-bash down Zobels Gully. We were most of the way down when the storm, which had been building for some time, finally let loose. The previous 2 days the storms, brought very little rain, so we were expecting something similar. Today was different. We were soon saturated to the skin with the torrential rain. I was very glad we were on the lower slopes of the gully rather than having to negotiate what would now be very slippery pagodas. We made it back to the car and did a quick strip to try and minimise the amount of water we brought into Fee's (borrowed) car. Several 4WDs passed us on there way out, obviously not game to spend New Year’s Eve in such wet conditions!
It was disappointing to not get to the canyon. I don't think I would bother trying again unless fires had been through the area, as the large quantities of dead undergrowth make the walking unpleasant.