A Boy’s First Canyon // Lower Bowens Creek North (NSW)

Spend a full day adventure wading, swimming and abseiling your way through an almost pristine canyon in the world heritage listed Blue Mountains of NSW, or more specifically Lower Bowens Creek North.


Highlights

  • A perfect way to introduce your adventurous friends (or children) to the world of canyoning
  • Experience an almost religious sense of wonder and joy as you float beneath mossy cliffs
  • Trail starts at Mt Wilson, just north of the Bells Line of Road – about 2hrs drive from Sydney

Into the depths of the Blue Mountains

I confess I was not in the least bit psyched about canyoning at first. But the moment I laid eyes on Lower Bowen Creek North’s glorious first pool, I was a convert. The experience of floating on my back, looking at blue sky framed by mossy, fern-covered cliffs was almost numinous.

Two years later, I was back. This time I was with friends Keo and Matthieu as well as Garry and his eldest son, Ryan, 12. It was Matthieu’s first wet canyon and Ryan’s too. There are so many things kids can learn in these wild places, from managing risk to developing a love for the natural world.

On a sunny, late-November morning, we met Matthieu and Keo just south of Mt Wilson. Our approach led us along a firetrail before veering off to follow a footpad down a rainforest gully where stately tree ferns, coachwood and sassafras trees shade the steep descent.

‘Definitely not a risk-free approach,’ said Keo, as he climbed down a muddy embankment, clinging to exposed tree roots.

After an hour or so we arrived at Bowens Creek and slipped into our wetsuits. We waded through shallows before climbing down the first drop – about 2m into a waist-high pool (we rigged up an abseil for Ryan, just to be on the safe side).

The first proper abseil is about 8m into a deep, cold pool. I hit the water with a loud exhalation, despite my wetsuit. Then it was Ryan’s turn. Garry had given Ryan a quick abseiling course the previous week but this would be his biggest one to date. He gingerly lowered himself while a waterfall tumbled down only a few metres away. I held the other end of the rope in a “fireman’s belay” until he was safely down.

‘Nice work, Ryan!’ I exclaimed.

The bottom of the first abseil is typically where the real canyon experience begins and Bowens Creek is no exception. We swam down the creek, a cold and timeless place yet one that abounds with a joyous sense of enclosure. The next abseil followed quickly – a more technical descent requiring an exposed traverse on a slippery ledge.

Garry guided Ryan across watchfully. Then Ryan slid down to where Keo was waiting in what is the deepest, longest and most stunning section. We swam, waded and scrambled our way to the final abseil. There were two options. One was to use some old webbing tied to a tree. The less obvious but far more appealing route was to squeeze into a hole and down a waterfall.

Matthieu went first and duly got smashed in the face by the torrent even though the water level wasn’t that high. A few hundred metres later, the canyon opened up and we joined Bowen Creek’s southern branch. Ryan had ticked off his first canyon with aplomb and Matthieu was also a convert.

It’s not until you journey into these places that you can start to claim a full knowledge of the Blue Mountains. Its majestic valleys and views are iconic but the intricate chain of smaller gullies and canyons reveal a more subtle experience of the landscape. These are places where pristine ecosystems – many barely seen by human eyes until the last 50 years – demand every bit of your focus.

And then there is the inevitable killer climb to escape them. But that’s another story.

Essential Gear

  • Technical abseiling gear: harness, abseil/belay device, locking carabiners, slings, cord, and webbing
  • Wetsuit and an old pair of shorts + t-shirt to protect them
  • Rain jacket – good for instant insulation if you start to get cold
  • Helmet (any helmet will do but an enclosed rockclimbing-style helmet is best)
  • 30m Static rope – longest abseil is about 12m
  • A large daypack – 30L+ is good
  • Dry bags – heavy-duty vinyl bags for rafting are best but you can nylon/ultra-sil ones as well ­– I suggest double-bagging as these are not meant to be submerged
  • Shoes with good grip (e.g. approach shoes or Dunlop volleys) for scrambling along slippery rocks and logs
  • Dry clothes back at the car
  • Head torch
  • SV Blue Mountains North Map and compass
  • First aid kit
  • Water filter
  • Friends – these are remote and potentially dangerous places

How To Get There

The trailhead starts on Wynnes Lookout Rd, just before the quiet village of Mt Wilson, just off the Bells Line of Road in the Blue Mountains. Car is the only way to get there. It’s a loop walk so one car is enough.

Full track notes are available at Tom Brennan’s excellent Ozultimate website.

Activities

  • Bushwalking – along a firetrail and then down a beautiful rainforest gully
  • Abseiling
  • Canyoning
  • Wild Swimming (admittedly in a wetsuit through frigid canyon waters)

Skill Level 

Intermediate – you’ll want to know how to abseil before you get down here or be heading in with an experienced leader who can guide you safely.

If you haven’t got abseiling/canyoning friends, alternatives include joining a bushwalking club like the Coast and Mountains Walkers, or a commercial tour run by guides like the Blue Mountains Adventure Company.

Distance Covered / Elevation Gain

8km km / approx. 370m gain to escape the canyon (and it’s pretty relentless too – all in one hit at the end)

 

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