Caroline Pemberton is the pioneer of Miss Adventure (a incredible movement which aims to inspire women into the outdoors) and has delved deep into the Blue Mountain’s vast canyon network for Explorer Challenge #32. A former Miss Australia, Caroline now spends most of her time out in the wild creating engaging adventure content for various tv companies and brands. (Click here to join her tribe on Facebook // all photos courtesy of Max Pemberton)
Duration: One big day
Equipment: 1x raggedy old wetsuit, good thermal layers, a dry bag and some climbing gear.
Canyoning, that delicious degustation of adventure that offers up a perfect mixture of bush bashing, rock climbing, swimming, abseiling and hiking all in one place.
For those less familiar with the sport, canyoning is simply the act of following a river, stream or tributary that cuts its way through the mountains. However unlike a bushwalk down by a peaceful creek you will be scrambling, climbing, sliding, jumping and rappelling down waterfalls and navigating through steep ravines.
It’s fun, spectacularly beautiful, unspoilt and completely removed from civilization. On the flip side, that also means that canyoning does pose some risk. Canyons aren’t something you can simply climb out of when you’ve had enough or get stuck. Once you have dropped in, it’s a one-way street until the river opens into a valley and you can walk out. The biggest risk comes from flash flooding, where a downpour could spell disaster in minutes with high volumes of rainwater flushing through the canyons restrictions. However, that is a risk you can largely mitigate with a thorough check of the weather before you leave.
There is also the possibility of getting injured or lost in an inaccessible place, but like all good adventures, it is as dangerous as you make it and by following some golden rules you are sure to have a safe and incredible time. First things first, make sure you are well equipped and have a plan. Tell people where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Do your research and know the weather forecast. Carry emergency gear and never go alone and if you are unsure don’t be shy to use a guiding company.
For me canyoning is about accessing another world. Travelling back in time into a prehistoric age where everything looks like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park. I love that there are no footprints, no signs or walking trails and you feel like a true pioneer. Canyons are magical places that have a profound impact on those who visit them, plus who can resist the promise of going for an extreme bushwalk in a wetsuit?
For my weekend microadventure I head up in the Blue Mountains where there are well over 100 unique canyons to choose from. Consisting of deep clefts formed in soft sandstone by thousands of years of relentless erosion they range in formation, grade and length but all offer a slightly different challenge. Regardless of which one you choose, you are guaranteed to leave wet, hungry and deliriously happy.
It’s not hard to look the part of a hardcore canyoner but you do have to ready for the double takes the day hikers will give you in the car park! Simply pull a full-length wetsuit (the more holes in the bum the better) over a base layer of good quality thermals and then wiggle a climbing harness over the top. To complete your sexy new look, throw on a pair of old Dunlop volleys, a helmet and a rucksack and you’re good to go. Adventure is never a catwalk, but if you are lucky, your canyon of choice may require a longer walk in, in which case you are excused from the car park fashion show and have permission to change at the entrance of the actual canyon.
As you begin to follow the river’s twists and turns, the cliffs on either side will rise, hemming you into sandstone passageways often only a few meters wide. The sunlight will change from white to green as it diffuses through the ferns and moss as the harshness of the Aussie bush gives way to gentler foliage that thrives in this damp air. The piercing sound of cicadas will retreat and be replaced with the tranquil dripping of water. At that point, the world above with all it’s daily pressure, deadlines and stress simply disappears.
You’ll spend much of your time wading through the crisp water and as scenic as it is make sure you take the time to stop and look up, otherwise you risk missing some of the best views. Feel free to hoot and holler as you slip down some of nature’s best waterslides, smooth to the touch from the passing of millions of liters of rainwater. Be prepared to leap off high rock jumps and plunge into crystal clear pools and swim a leg or two. You’ll be continuously climbing over fallen tree trunks covered with rich growth and hoping over boulders, rediscovering your childlike wonder as you spot the freshwater yabbies and peek into damp caves to see the glowworms.
For most people, the best part of canyoning is the rappels. To get down into the valley to a safe walk out, you will need to set up numerous abseils. Some will even demand to be tackled in the heavy gush of a waterfall. Adding another element, these wet descents are wildly exciting. Empress Canyon, one of my personal favourites and a fantastic starter for beginners, has an awesome 30-meter waterfall abseil right at the end. (Just remember to tie your hair up when you’re rapping. I’ve seen the unfortunate situation where a woman went into a canyon with beautiful locks flowing and came out with a compulsory hair cut after getting caught in her abseiling gear.)
At the bottom, you will retrieve your ropes, repack and continue on.
Eventually the skies will open, sunlight will pour down, the dry heat will creep in and you’ll know you’ve hit the point where your walk out begins. The sense of accomplishment is tangible. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t felt the pervasive humbling that you get walking through a new world and arriving safely on the other side.
In terms of logistics, I always have a daypack with a dry bag inside, to carry a change of clothes, a headlamp, a leatherman, plenty of food, an emergency first aid kit, firelighters and a space blanket. I also throw some reliable climbing gear into my pack including a static rope, slings and prussic devices just in case somebody needs an emergency haircut. Although it adds some weight, your pack will give you a degree of extra flotation for any long swims. I’ve also always found the guidebooks very helpful to identify the entry and exit points of various canyons because they can be subtle and are almost always unmarked. You can easily download these for free on the internet or buy a printed book from local outdoor shops.
And there you have it, a perfect one-day microadventure!