Canyoning in Numietta/Coorongooba [CENSORED]

Party: Mum and I. Featuring: Monika and Bruce.

A big thank you to Narelle Wilton for letting us borrow her camera!
Mine is still resting in its watery grave :/

Day 0: Thur 29th: In

(Written by Mum)

There was some discussion, whether to head out this late afternoon or leave it till the next morning. As I (mum) had spent most of yesterday on food preparation I was keen to go. A very tired Felix succumbed and soon I was driving to the gate at the Army Road, where we found Bruce’s and Monika’s Canberra car. We were thinking of maybe meeting up with them. On our way we had passed a bit of wildlife. Felix saw an Echidna on the side of the road, and I dodged a turtle and a lizzard.

We were very lucky to find shelter in an overhang right by the national park gate for the first shower. Trudging along on the road, wondering whether there would be water at our destination.

We collected firewood to cook dinner, settled in for the night and decided to leave a few things behind for our return in a several days time. Namely a fruitcake: our last day’s supply.

Day 1: Fri 30th

(Written by Felix)

An inversion might have attributed the warm weather. Clouds filled the valley, Tyan Pic poking out like an island from the sea.

We decided to do a double carry visiting a couple of canyons in the process. Monika and Bruce had given us the grid reference for where they should be camping, and we hoped our early start meant that we would find them before they set out for the day.

Retracing our steps a short way we soon veered into the bush. Soon we veered off following the spur down into the headwaters of our first canyon. The spur linked up with a small mass of rock we took to calling «The Island» as it was also shrouded in low cloud. Trees with ghostly arms raised were silhouetted on the skyline.

Reaching the saddle, we dropped down into the creek which already had a bit of water. It was easy going, the creek swelling as small rivulets and other creeks bolstered its flow. The water soon began to cut down into the sandstone creating a ‘V’ shape. We harnessed up when we reached the first drop though the canyon didn’t really close in just yet. There were still escape options until the creek again dropped. We abseiled; though from the bottom it looked climbable.

With the deadwood it was possible to downclimb the next bit and brave a short swim.

The canyon opened up and was quite vegetated but the walls were still sheer on either side though an interesting side canyon broke the cliff on the right entering via a small waterfall, it looked worthy of some future exploration. We poked around a bit in a couple of overhangs and surveyed our options for abseiling: there were lots. In the end we stuck to the chute the water had carved. You could nearly downclimb but it was a little too dicey and we both abseiled the short drop off a jammed log. The canyon quickly became dark and deep, some coachwoods stretching straight and high to reach the strip of light far above.

Instead of bypassing a boulder pile run, we followed the stream enjoying the additional challenges. We got down one drop by using our packs as a counterbalance around a large bollard. Some micro route-finding seeing us around a potential swim.

Soon we reached the main creek, admiring the wave shape rock wall upstream. We planned to come down this creek after lunch. Continuing downstream we visited an overhang and kept high soon spying what looked like a possible exit. After some brief discussion (considering it was late and the others probably weren’t waiting for us anymore) we decided to give it a crack. Waterproofing most of our gear and hanging it, we began scrambling up a rough ramp. To get up to the next layer there was a short climb up the side of a convenient boulder that provided a sort of ladder to get up. Thenceforth it was fairly straight forward.

Reaching camp we enjoyed a tasty lunch finishing off the rest of the tomatoes and sweet peas Mum had carried in.

Leaving a few things behind we again left camp. We skirted around a drop all our rope having been left down the bottom. We found a way in easily enough and soon had our feet wet again enjoying some shallow but pleasant constriction. Some harder bands of rock protruding from the walls in one section beckoned for some bridging action. A narrow slot was probably the highlight, the only real way down was by climbing some elaborate tree roots that were snaking their way across the mossy wall.

Passing through a another corridor of straight trees. Some time later a fairly long swim ensued. It wasn’t pleasant. Bits of charcoal and wood created a thick layer on top of the wood. It clung together resisting separation making it nearly impossible to swim. It was super tiring and reminded Mum of breaking through ice as we did in a canyon in Utah. But here the particles flowed around you and seemed to resolidify behind. At least it wasn’t cold.

More pleasant canyon followed, but all the bits of charcoal and wood had gotten all through our clothing. The bits between your shirt, back and bag particularly irritating. I bathed a couple of times trying to be rid of it but it was quite persistent.

Collecting our cached belongings before continuing down we cut the corner, dropping down to the ck. Mum scouted a little downstream and up a side ck whilst I went several hundred metres upstream to see if I could find the other’s camp. I found a flat area where I figured they must have camped, yelled out, and headed back when I didn’t get a reply. The upstream spot was probably better for a group, but with only two of us, we made do with a spot Mum had found a little way up the tributary.

We set up camp in the dim light and got a fire going to cook dinner.

Day 2: Sat 31st

(Written by Felix)

Despite my half asleep state, I could register that the morning bird song was spectacular… Some time later mum was beginning to mill about soon appearing already wearing her harness. (For some reason I was calling her «wobegong»). I’d better get a move on I thought. But lethargy was with me again and I spent more time swatting mozzies than anything overly productive. I dual tasked with breakfast for a time before summoning the fortitude to rinse my shoes and feet in the creek. It wasn’t that bad actually. Traveling in Chile had set a new standard for washing in cold water. Shoving a rope, a tape and a fleece into my pack I was finally ready!

Up the creek we went. The walls began to narrow, a waterfall of fine spray drifting down from one overhanging wall. Trees ran along the other slanting side, reaching upwards almost creating a way out. Mum braved a narrow pool that got deeper and deeper. Deep enough that I decided to bridge across. It didn’t make much difference as I was soon wading to my chest across a pool keeping an eye on a large yabbie. Water was toppling over a small waterfall at the other end. It looked hard to get up. Luckily the wall had broken away creating a convenient alternate route for us to chimney up.

There wasn’t much more to it. Mum led the way scrambling up some somewhat questionable tree roots and that appeared to be it. The lush creek continued but it was open, exits to either side. It seemed unlikely we’d find more canyon upstream. Climbing up to the bottom of a bluff we followed it around for a time before scrambling up a break to reach the top. We were on the edge of what proved to be quite a large flat open area. Easy walking through the long grass. Woody pear husks here and there on the ground, split from the recent fire.

Following the humble creek down, we were surprised when it suddenly dropped into a large amphitheater. Should we abseil in? I was pretty sure you could avoid it. We continued around to the left until mum picked a nice spot for an abseil. Mum rigged it with a toggle and down we went. The previously foreshortened ferns and other vegetation seemed taller as we continued down. The creek narrowed a bit and then dropped into an even narrower slot. Narrow enough that chimneying down was easy enough. Up and over a well and truly stuck chockstone and then mum let me take the lead… It was hard to see, as the canyon again dropped steeply down, this time into a more complete blackness. Jamming myself in, I worked my way down and then out, dropping into some water that wasn’t as deep as expected and stepped gingerly across a deeper section. Passing through a narrow section that clung to my bag we emerged from our cave-like experience.

A drop soon followed. Mum abseiled down using me as an anchor to land in a pool with a dead snake. I chimneyed down the first bit but traversed out over some boulders to avoid the last slippery bit. Around the corner was an amazing cathedral, light bouncing off the walls in subtle shades of earthy yellows and oranges. We admired this from various angles before continuing down canyon to a drop were we both abseiled off a cantilevered log. A nice sinusoidal constriction and again the canyon dropped into a black slot. This one perhaps narrower than the first. It looked tight! In the end we bridged over the top before sliding down at the end.

Gradually widening, trees soon sprung up around us, some interesting black markings on the wall taking our attention for a time before we negotiated a climb and series of ledges to reach the main ck. It was a short walk back to camp where we lunched (appropriately), finishing the last of our tomatoes and sweet peas.

Packing up camp it was then up through the cliffs, with good visibility of the route we’d taken the day before. Once up it was easy walking until we tried to find a way onto the ridgetop, which also acted as the watershed. Contouring for a while we zigzagged our way up finally reaching the top. We took in our new surroundings, naming the saddle «Flying Duck Saddle» after the numerous orchids around us.

Further on, I got my phone out surprised to have far better reception than we have at our family house. Monika had sent me her new grid reference. We’d past there camp by a couple of hundred metres less than an hour ago! What to do? It’d be nice to meet up we thought. Scouting around we found a somewhat sheltered camp below a small rock outcrop. After settling in on a giant rock sarcófagos I shouldered an empty pack with empty water bladder and headed back down to find them. On the ridge I took, I found a surprisingly deep sandstone cave that would probably escape even the worst storm.

Crossing the flats I found more and more flying duck orchids making me wonder if I walked around with my eyes closed most of the time. I think maybe I’m searching for terrain features for navigation most of the time. Perhaps the planar landscape meant I had more time to look at the plants? Who knows. Almost passing their camp, their white fly got me back on track… But they weren’t there. Looking around I was surprised to find a note written out to me. They were off visiting a canyon and would be back around five. That wasn’t far away. Leaving my pack and my name written in the dirt in two places I headed off in an attempt to get water from the small ck we’d crossed earlier in the day. It was a little slow, time drawn out by the biting mozzies, but finally I had the bladder full.

When I returned it looked like they’d just gotten back, still hanging up gear in the trees. It was nice to put a face to the names and voices. I whistled out as I approached: soon we shared greetings and stories. It turns out we’d just missed their note they’d left for us. I’d gone to the grid reference they’d camped at but missed the note by maybe 20 or 30 metres. Once they started eating their noodle soup dinner, hunger sent me back (more so than the sun’s low angle). We made plans to meet at 8 the following morning and visit a couple of canyons together.

Mum had found water surprisingly close to our camp and had a fire alight. Our billy had three holes now. The 2L poured in, poured out in less than a minute. Nevertheless we enjoyed a hot meal cooked in our titanium pots and soon retired for the night, the moon making a brief appearance as it arced through the small section of northern sky visible to us. Flames from the fire flickering back to life now and then.

Day 3: Sun 1st

(Written by Felix)

Mum was up early making all manner of noises. But it was still early so I enjoyed the warmth of bed a while longer before nature and breakfast called. We’d decided not to move camp so didn’t have much to pack. Just some lunch, warm clothes and our harnesses. We’d be using the other’s ropes so I was looking forward to a relatively relaxing day. Retracing the route I’d taken the day before we found the ant hill I’d mentally noted as a marker and walked almost right to their camp. Congregating around the smoldering fire, introductions were made and soon we were ready to go. Monika set a good pace aiming for a saddle up on the ridgeline. Talking with Doug, time passed quickly and we were soon faced with a route decision. Down and up, or up and around. ‘Around is sound’ apparently for unanimously we decided on the latter. Paying more attention to chatting than where we were going it wasn’t long before we reached the drop in as noted in ‘the book’. I wanted to drop in higher as there was definitely canyon there, even if it wasn’t narrow. The others didn’t seem keen however and not really caring, just went with the flow. We tried dropping in despite my warning that it looked like an abseil . Cliffed-out we did almost abseil, but heading back up managed to walk in via a gully instead.

The other two put on their wetsuits. We resumed some time later. I visited a side creek entering from the SW. There was a nice waterfall, but there didn’t seem to be much potential for a canyon adventure up higher. When I caught the others, they had finished deciding which hole to try and climb down through the boulders and long legged Bruce was leading the way (Mum said he looked surprised when she made it down relatively easily).
5-10mins later was a similar looking set of boulders, but this time it was much further down. Time to get our harnesses on. It was easy enough to abseil down through a hole, despite the low hanging anchor that was already in place. Not much further on the creek dropped into a dark and narrow slot. A rock chocked into the canyon meant the pull wouldn’t be particularly easy, but a chockstone further down the slot was reachable and would make for an easy time of it. I went last, and as it turns out did have to chimney up to retrieve the rope.
A spectacular section of canyon followed though unfortunately the others had already pressed on so I didn’t have any subjects to take photos of 😦

The others seemed to be working on how to get down from the end of some giant boulders, or maybe from where to abseil. I decided to drop down some holes where I could hear and see the stream flowing. Following the voids between the boulders, I managed to pop out the other side and traverse around the edge of a pool. I dumped my pack and headed back to look for the best way for the others to follow.

I can’t recall much from the next 500m or 600m apart from a swim through a tunnel created by a large chunk of rock that had carved off one wall and was leaning against the other.

Pausing for a belated lunch on some rocks in the forest at the base of the creek walls we quickly cooled down as we filled our bellies. It was a longer break than mum and I were used to taking. Overall it was quite a relaxing day for me as I let the others run the day, indeed the feeling I’d gotten was that they wanted to be in charge.

The canyon section that followed was pretty but short lived. After a belly button deep wade, Monica and Bruce elected to put on their wetsuits… Mum and I didn’t have any and it didn’t really matter as no deep water followed in the pleasant ck. One side ck we explored had some good canyon and a dark cave where our progress was halted by a waterfall. Using my camera as a light Bruce and I entered. I noticed more and more glowworms. Luckily the others had found an easier way up into the canyon (avoiding an easy climb) and soon joined us.

Returning, we collected our packs and continued up the ck for a time, soon discussing whether to keep heading upstream or exit to the left onto the ridge we’d walked down earlier in the day… in the end we exited and ran parallel to the ck, dropping down to cross the bowl we’d skirted around in the morning and scrambling up the side to the saddle.

Chatting away we had reached where we’d be separating. At that moment I happened to notice a line of ants, what was unusual was that they were transporting the larva and pupa etc… I couldn’t remember seeing this before. I spent some time watching and photographing them. Even after we said our goodbyes (the others dropping down and Mum headed off along the ridgetops) I continued observing them. They seemed to be moving home or maybe they were ‘swarming’ like bees, and establishing a new colony… do ants do this? (I did a little reading and pasted some info I found online below).

Soon I gave chase and caught mum just before reaching our camp.

Moving to a new place is no small feat when it comes to ants: after they’ve found a new place that suits them, they have to move all their stuff there, too, not just themselves. That stuff is the young of the colony: eggs, larvae, pupae and newly eclosed (hatched) individuals, both workers, queens and males.

I want to give some very short background on ants and their biology, since it might help you understand the effort it takes and the dangers they face when they decide to move. Ant colonies consist of one or a few queens, who are the reproducing females in the colony, and workers, who are also female but don’t reproduce. Instead, the workers do everything else in the colony. Always when you see ants running around, they’re female. Occasionally, there are also males, but they usually live only for a few weeks: they’re born, they mate, and die almost instantly after mating.

The size of the colony can range from tens of individuals to millions. A queen mates only at one time during her lifetime (possibly with more than one male) and stores the sperm from that mating for the rest of her life. She can live up to 30 years, and continues using the sperm acquired during that one mating flight to fertilize all the eggs she lays during her whole life. Most of her offspring are workers who build the colony, maintain it, defend it from invaders, take care of the developing young (from egg to larva to pupa and finally an enclosed adult), collect food and feed the queen. During a move, it’s of course these individuals who make it happen and usually also carry the queen to the new nest. The young are carried one by one in the workers’ jaws.

Moving is a risky business for ants. Ant larvae and pupae are full of nutrition and lack jaws or stings and are thus the favourite food for many animals. Transporting them from one nest to another means that they have to be taken from the dark and safe depths of the nest up to the surface during daytime.  This, of course, is literally bringing otherwise difficult-to-get, nutrient-rich food into broad daylight.

So why do they do it? There are many reasons, but in the end, it’s because the old nest has become unsuitable in some way: maybe it’s too dry or too small or maybe it’s infested with some parasite (like a fungus). There’s no way of knowing why this particular colony decided to move, but since it’s not an everyday activity

Day 4: Mon 2nd

(Written by Mum)

In the night we were awoken by some strange loud animal noises. It had obviously taken an interest in us… I flashed my light in the direction where I assumed the animal to be, trying to make it leave; but it merely changed position and kept up the loud noises. I kept flashing my torch in it’s direction and it soon had enough and left, which unfortunately prevented Felix from recording it. I wasn’t aware what it was trying to do.

When we woke up in the morning it was surprisingly cold. This was supposed to be a warm day. We took our time, lingered around and discussed plans. In the end we decided to go for a walk first and, staying nice and dry, try to find an aboriginal site Felix knew about (he did not tell me what I was to see if we’d find it) and then proceed to visit a canyon or two

The walk along the ridge towards the cliffline where we were going to look for the aboriginal site was pretty and easy, quite similar to the ridge/spur we came up on yesterday. At a saddle, where we would later drop in, we dropped our packs and wandered with a lightened step on our mission to find the big overhang with the ‘surprise’ art site. By Felix’s former remarks I thought it was going to be a ‘short’ stroll. However, after wandering for may be 2 hours or more along and below lots of cliff lines, many of them interesting and pretty – but no sign of aboriginal art – we dropped down and finally were successful.

Time was getting on as we headed back to our packs. We dropped into a creek but there wasn’t really any canyon to be found.

This was exciting: Was it possible to reverse this ck? If not we had to find another way up and probably run out of time. We needn’t have worried, after a surprisingly beautiful start with lush green mosses, narrow walls and lots of fun climbs. Soon we came to a steep part. For me unclimbable, but I was sure that Felix will get up – and he did. Before he got through the trouble trying to help me up he checked out the next part of the canyon. The verdict: Another climb, quite a bit harder than the last; but if we managed that one it looked like we would be making it out.. So we began the final stretch. Felix set up the rope for me and put loops in, so I had good hand-holds for the first climb. The second climb was tricky, hard and very slippery. Felix jammed a log in-between the canyon walls. Maybe it would help. I held it in place at the bottom, but in the end it wasn’t used. Once Felix made it, I had the easy task of climbing up ‘my’ personal ‘rope ladder’ (or etrier).

It had taken a while and it was getting late. I was exhausted. Thinking of going down, and then back up our exit ridge sounded a big task to me. I was hoping to be able to sit this one out, or let Felix do it alone and walk around to our camp. Some heated discussion followed. Apparently I did not have a picture of the map in my head, and Felix seemed very disappointed to miss out so close to the goal. We «discussed» options and seeing that walking around would not be a lot quicker and Felix wasn’t willing to split up; We finally ventured down into the ck.

(Written by Felix)

We abseiled about four times before getting into the ck proper. I (Felix) downlimbed the first one and jumped out onto a tree branch and then koala climbed down the trunk. For the rest of the drops we worked up to simul-rapping, first not abseiling simultaneously but just acting as meat anchor at the top or bottom.

Continuing down the ck we downclimbed through a large log jam that might have been a 10m abseil had it not been there. We abseiled the next drop off a second log jam. We weren’t sure our rope would reach… it did. But we were still happy for the extra cord as the pull took a lot of effort.

The canyon here was deep and spectacular… though perhaps a little too dark due to the late hour (Making photography almost impossible for our small camera). Exiting the canyon, we headed down to our exit ridge. It was pretty straight forward and the scrub fairly benign even after it became dark part way back to camp.

Day 5: Tue 3rd

We left camp at 8:30am and had a pleasant walk to the start of the canyon for the day. There were two main sections, the upped and lower. Both very good but with quite different character. The upper was sporty, quite narrow with lots of good photo opportunities.

The ck opened for a time and soon we were dropping down a series of drops all quite close together.

It was then some more horizontal canyoning between towering walls. A ck walk followed and utilising an exit ridge, we were soon back at camp.

We packed and decided to forgo the afternoon canyon we’d wanted to visit. Instead we walked cross country and began trying to find a pass down to the ck. We were foiled by cliffs a couple of times, but were then rewarded with an amazing ramp that dropped us in above a tributary. We’d wanted to press on a little further, but Mum was tired so we set up in a couple of small overhangs.

Day 6: Wed 4th: Out

(Written by Felix)

In the morning we dropped down to a ck and followed it downstream for a time before exiting and making our way to the bottom of the cliffline. We could then sidle into a ck. Quickly we encountered a small waterfall and had to backtrack to find a way to climb around. Passing some cool looking crack climbs we followed the flat, meandering creek wondering where the canyon was. There wasn’t really much. A little disappointing.

Reaching the road, I went to collect our cache (fruit cake + water) and returned for lunch. It was then a road bash out of the park. We ran into the construction workers having a smoko. I chatted for a time until Mum caught up. They past us as we were wakling out. One in a 4wd the other on a motorbike.

It was nice to reach the car. Another successful canyoning foray 🙂

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