(Familiar Faces) Philip Clegg, Kristie Shelter/Wulf, Sabrina (‘Jasmine’) Füchsle
(From The Cascades) Min Jie Lin
(New Peeps) Adam Carter & Leigh Foster
(‘The Poles’) Konrad & Ilona
(‘The American’) Keith Whitaker
(‘The Climber’) Jessy Haiyang
I’d been very noncommittal about my time after Christmas; was our extended family gathering happening? would immediate family come and visit? Would I soon be in Tassy? With a new outbreak of COVID in the northern beaches, one after another things were canceled – including my flights. In a way it was a relief not having to worry about whether I’d be flying or not. Now I could join Tim F’s Explorers Brook trip over New Years and commit to joining Phil for a day of canyoning out at Newnes. He was actually running a 4-day WW trip, but seemed particularly keen on me joining their long Starlight, Upside Down, Fireball trip. I last visited Fireball on a trip in December 2015 with David, and whilst visiting Upside Down numerous times from the bottom I’d never actually pushed it all the way… so I was pretty keen to tag along!
Most of the others set up camp the night before, but my parents place was close so I drove down in the morning arriving on time at about 8am. There were lots of new faces and I have to admit I didn’t really get to learn everyone’s names. Almost everyone managed to get their packs into the back of my ute and some ppl grabbed seats before I drove off to the start of the Pipeline Track. It wasn’t that far away, but only planning on sticking around for the day I didn’t want to leave my car at the campsite. A family headed off to visit Pipeline whilst we waited, but we didn’t wait long before the others came into sight looking a little out of place without packs… that is except Keith who hadn’t quite been packed when I drove off (Sorry! I thought I got them all!).
The track was easy to follow even if it was a little overgrown. We jumped across Petries, a new sign then pointing us in the right direction up some old steps – remains from a building from the shale oil heydays – the 1911 census recorded 1652 ppl living at Newnes! The track contoured up fairly gently, footings from the old pipe that transported the shale oil across the mountain to link up with the existing rail-line visible here and there as well as some old insulators from the telegraph line. We paused for a short break before the last steep section that saw us to the top and the detour to the almost compulsory lookout across the Wolgan. We couldn’t sit around too long however… we still had a long day ahead of us.
Turning off at the Starlight sign and generally following the ridgeline, we soon took a bearing to the start of the canyon. Hoping to get down into the ck without abseiling it quickly became evident we needed to abseil in. Others had abseiled in from the same spot as Phil found some half burnt anchor material – I carried it out. Whilst everyone was gearing up and beginning to abseil, I scouted upstream to look for a walking way in. I got close but after 5-10mins ended up turning back. I think I’d have needed to go a lot further upstream – I have walked in before.
Hearing some commotion I quickened by pace. I was hoping they hadn’t pulled the ropes already! Then I’d be forced to go the long way ‘round. There were several ppl at the top (phew), however when I reached the bottom I discovered what may have been the source of the commotion I’d heard… abseiling single rope on a Hydrobot meant Conrad had gone way to fast and now had fairly serious burns on both hands (mainly left since he is left handed). Its hard to say what happened since I wasn’t there…
Wearing hobo gloves and taping up each finger we soon pressed on. Phil et al had continued along under the cliffs. I’d mentioned I still thought it was 10-15mins to the drop-in. It was a bit of a bum-steer, as I happened to wander down to the creek and spy the top of the familiar first drop. I yelled out to the others hoping they’d some back and called the others down. Setting up the ropes, I dropped down to check the tunnel for blockages. The main pinch point is fairly early in the tunnel, but I wandered a bit further (maybe half way) just in case my memory was a little shabby. Again admiring the sun beams on my way back I gave two sharp blasts on my whistle to indicate all was well. Some amusing half understood conversation then followed… I thought they were yelling down something about two ropes (Conrad coming down double rope was my line of thought), so I yelled back: “On belay”… this went back and forth some time before I finally understood they wanted to pull up the ropes. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe to keep dry as the new line was overhung and avoided the waterfall, though the water had reached my breast as far as I’d gone.
I belayed a few ppl, took some photos and getting a little chilly, wandered downstream to the others who where enjoying a patch of sun out of the wind generated by the waterfall. The pocket of sun was also being enjoyed by a snake… though by the time I arrived it had hidden.
With most of the group down we entered the tunnel, Jessy taking the lead after ‘the squeeze’. You could smell the guano from the bats roosting above and if you were quiet you could hear them chattering to each other.
The tunnel was longer than I remembered but perhaps still shorter than I would have liked. Patches of glowworms provided some illumination and you could make your way without a headlamp. Light spotted ahead, we exited the tunnel mouth and enjoyed some nice canyon before stopping for snacks in the sun and letting everyone catch up. More deep pools followed, a bath line could be seen in one area that had a natural dam. Maybe a lake was here after the downpour the other day?
Where the canyon opened up (just before Upside Down), we stopped for lunch. I wasn’t super hungry so went to reconnoitre. After returning to leave my shirt behind I made it up and over a chock stone, wedged a tree branch into the canyon to aid me up the next climb, braved a neck deep pool and made it to the top of the next waterfall climb. It seemed like I was pretty much out so I returned to report. It seemed like the group was a little split. The option of staying dry by climbing out using some vines was tempting for many. Luckily Phil was of similar mind to me and in the end the decision was made to go up through the canyon. We pack-passed over the chock-stone (most ppl pushing through the hole below it) and up the next climb.
Some of the bags I sat against the wall were initially sitting in shallow water, but Phil and I standing on a log levered it up creating a hole for the water to drain. A small roar of water below was the first sign, then islands started emerging from the pool up canyon. The pool ended up draining about 0.6 or 0.7m. What had been a neck deep pool for me earlier was now a friendlier waist depth.
I found the climb up the waterfall easier then the previous, though there was some contention about this. I dropped down a handline and after hauling packs up I cut off an old piece of tape. The pool here also drained a little but almost everyone got wet crawling under a boulder and up through a hole. Sabrina and Kirstie however managed to squeeze through a hole high on the side.
The canyon opened up after this but the cliffs on either side seemed somewhat impenetrable (though I’m sure there’d be a way somewhere if you looked hard enough perhaps walking back above the canyon). After perhaps 500m I was surprised and excited to see the walls again pressing in from either side. A fine bit of canyon followed… though I soon ran into Jessy and Sabrina… there was a waterfall. It looked like this might be our turnaround point…
Looking at it more carefully I thought that perhaps it was doable. Trying from the right, I then switched to the left (to stay dry). Testing the rock a whole chunk broke off landing on my other hand. Youch! It wasn’t too bad. Just some bruising and a little broken skin. Hands searched for holds and I felt somewhat confident. Sure enough to give it a crack. Returning for my helmet, I kiwi-coiled some rope about me and went for it. I got my feet up and moved up to the sloping bit of the falls with more confidence. Blinded by water, I tried shielding my eyes, but couldn’t see much. Somewhat blindly I groped for holds and soon managed to scramble carefully out the rest of the climb. There was a decent anchor a ways back so a longer rope was pulled up, secured, and periodic butterflies introduced. I dropped back down the last bit to grab some photos.
Two separate routes out of the canyon were pioneered, the group slitting and merging to continue up the small insignificant side creek that provided easy access to the top. I enjoyed a delicious mango as we walked.
Dropping down the other side we dropped into Fireball Ck and encountered the first small drop fairly quickly. Leading everyone along a ledge, we dropped back in thus avoiding a potential abseil. A gentle sloping drop followed. I down-climbed. I recall David and I using roots to avoid the pool at the bottom, but couldn’t really swing it this time, and was a little too short to bridge. Maybe last time we also went through the water too?
Half a k of ck walking or so, and my usually unreliable memory actually got it pretty much right; the canyon proper began with a long (~20m) drop into a deep, but wide constriction. It took us a long time to descend. Maybe half an hour. The start was a little tricky.
It was then easy walking through the canyon, a boulder field to negotiate and we were soon breaking through the cliff line with the canyon. Sticking to the left a fairly straightforward route through lots of pungent wild tobacco(?) was found. It was less of a drop to the Wolgan than I remembered but that was a good thing as it was almost dark by the time we paused on the old rd to prep for the walk back.
I walked at the back in no real hurry. The moon was bright and headlamps weren’t required most of the time. Just here and there where creeks and puddles threatened wet feet.
We knew we were pretty close when we reached the old kilns. The gate soon came into sight. I left the others crossing the river to retrieve my car. In hindsight, I probably should have walked a bit further – maybe until I spotted the numerous lights from other campers.
It was about 10pm when I walked into camp. 13.5hrs! A bit more than I’d expected… but I guess that is to be expected with a big group. I’d originally planned to go home, but wasn’t really feeling it now. Leigh let me use her pot and Min his stove. I cooked up some emergency Mi Goreng that lives in my car, some falafel from Phil added a nice touch and various cheeses and crackers kept me from burning my mouth as it cooled. We talked and joked, but didn’t stay up too late, as it was already late. Various sleep commodities were lent to me – a pillow, sleeping bag, bean bag. But it was a warm night and my Tyvek overalls actually kept me really warm so I slept well simply on a groundsheet. I’ll have to try it out a bit more!
(I was surprised Paul was camping practically opposite us so went over to chat for a bit before dinner. I first met )
Peals of thunder crashed in the early morning. The storm was early. I rose when I heard some chatter developing, but like the others felt that my sleep had been cut a little short. The rain started. Breakfast happened and then a game of Rummiking though this particular version was named Rummikub. The only difference seemed to be that you couldn’t tag a 1 on the end of a 13… anyway… The game proved to calm and placate the clouds and blue soon spread across the sky. Canyon plans were soon voiced. Maybe Suspiria. Maybe Pipeline. In the end it was Blue Stains. I was on the fence about what to do. In the end I bailed and headed home. Contrary to the forecast, the weather held and was good for almost the whole day.
Thanks for a fun trip guys!