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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bungonia Creek Canyon - a long day out

One of the advantages of taking leave on a weekday is that you have the national parks to yourself. Although the weather was superb and Bungonia is just off the Hume Highway, there were only a few people in the camping area, and the three of us had the canyon completely to ourselves. We arrived about 10.30 and took only a few minutes to get down into Bungonia Creek and start following it down.

After a few minutes we arrived at Lots Wife, probably turned to stone after fleeing from the Sodom and Gomorrah that is Bungonia camping area at Easter. The official temperature was only 22C but it was much warmer than this in the canyon, which acts as a sun trap.

Kate with Lots Wife

Kate and Chris traversing to keep dry - I was swimming by this point. With no flow in the creek the water was bath temperature.

Kate and Chris scrambling

Kate at the top of the first abseil. This is 30+ metres and a nice, clean wall into a beautiful pool. The extended anchor from a tree on the true left described in Tom Brennan's canyon guide no longer exists, but it would be a good idea to bring some gear and restore it. We used an existing anchor high on the true right, consisting of a row of three old, rusty, but convincingly solid pitons. Immediately below the anchor the rope turns about 45% around the rock, and, as we should have predicted, the rope jammed. We spent about an hour, first trying to get a better angle for the pulldown, then exploring some gullies a little downstream looking for a climb back up before Chris resigned himself to prussiking back up the rope.

Chris getting ready to prussic, with Paul doing a backup belay (later abandoned as too slow).

Chris getting to the hard bit.

Success! (much relief all round, cheers and congratulations to Chris on his heroic efforts, etc)

Finally, we were on the move again, having lost over two hours recovering the rope. This was turning into a long day! Here I am at the first jump. There is a fixed line on the true right which lets you avoid the jump, or reduce it to just a couple of meters.

Chris doing the full five metres.

Paul and Chris swimming

Soon after the jump we arrived at the top of the big drop - supposedly 80m. 

It is possibly to scramble down on the left, and if we had been unable to recover the rope on the previous abseil we would have rigged the 80m of 6mm cord we had with us as a safety line and done just that. But as it was, we were able to accomplish one of the main aims of the trip and abseil the whole thing in one go using an 80m rope on a biner-block and recovering the rope with an 80m pull-cord. We found a nice, new pair of stainless steel bolts on the true right. Chris and Kate abseiled with the biner block backed up directly to the anchor, and I removed the back up and followed them.

It is a nice abseil - vertical for about the first 30m, and then a series of ledges. This is Kate abseiling - she's just leaving the first of the ledges. There is another anchor half-way down, so we did not need to do it our way, but it it was a good test of the system. As predicted, there was a lot of friction at the beginning of the abseil, because of the weight of rope below. I stopped on a ledge half way down to add more friction to my descender. We were a little more surprised at how much elasticity there was in the Tendon 9.2 static we were using when the rope is this long. By the end of the abseil it felt like a dynamic climbing rope. Stepping off the last ledge we needed to take a little jump while the rope extended by a couple of feet as it stretched out. The first part of the pull-down was also hard work, as we needed to take the stretch out of 80m of cord before getting any actual movement at the other end.

Kate on the final bit. You can also jump from here.

Kate and Chris with the view back to the big drop. At this point, we are at the junction of Bungonia and Jerrara Creeks. There are two ways out from here, either walking downstream to the Red Track, or climbing the ridge between Bungonia Creek and Jerrara Creek Canyon. The track notes suggested that the climb is a a lot quicker, and as it was now about 4.30, as you can see from the shadow on the wall of the canyon, we decided to try the climb.

This is the first part of the climb, to the top of Jerrara Falls. As you can see, it is a very unstable scree slope with a lot of potential to take a serious fall, hence the safety line we have rigged, and an almost certainty of sending rocks down onto those below, hence the helmets. After about 80m vertical you reach the top of Jerrara Falls. The anchors seem to have been changed here too. On the way up we could see what looked like some new bolts on a large, sloping ledge part of the way down the 80m drop of the falls. Just back from the top of the falls there are slings around a good-sized tree. So it may have been recently set up to do in two 40m drops, but don't count on that, as we did not take a serious look at it.

From here on, there are no photos from the day, as we were a bit busy climbing the ridge between Jerrara Creek Canyon and Bungonia creek. However, I took some photos from the tourist lookout on another visit. On this image you can see the ridge on the left hand side of the waterfall, nicely picked out with yellow wattle bushes. For scale, the waterfall is about 70m.

The description in the Brennan canyon guide is spot on - 'very exposed, on scree and poor rock...quite dangerous'. The ridge is very steep - in places about 30 degrees off vertical - with some sections of scree with only vegetation as hand holds, and some of rotten rock where even quite large blocks can come away in your hand. At some points you are exposed to a fall right down into the canyon. There is nothing here to deter an experienced scrambler, and if you just went for it you could get out pretty fast. However, being at the end of long day, and thinking safety first, we used the rope and did it as three 40m 'pitches', with Chris belaying me while I clipped the rope to slings around a series of reasonably solid looking shrubs until I reached one of the very occasional trees, and then me belaying him from the tree on the first half of the rope, and Kate on the second half. While very safe, this, naturally, took for ever and by the time we were half way along the track back to the camp site we were using head torches. We finally got back about 8.00, having been away for 9.5 hours and feeling as pictured below!

Despite the unforced error on the first abseil (always test the pull-down before the last person comes down!), and the consequent long day out this was a great day in the bush. I would recommend the 'longer' exit to the Red Track, as boulder scrambling in a creek bed is more fun that getting scratched up on a scrubby ridge. Special thanks to Chris for the prussik ascending!

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