For the second weekend in a row I’ve spent a bucket-list item-crossing time with people I met in the UNSW Outdoors Club. About two weeks ago, 40 of us were sitting around the massive table that the Outdoors Club reserves every Thursday at the Forest Lodge Hotel. We were all talking about the adventures we have been on, and I mentioned that I really wanted to try canyoning but wasn’t sure when I would have the time. Three of the guys sitting by me said that they could take me the next weekend, so I enthusiastically agreed and let them plan the trip.
On Thursday afternoon I ran off to the gear cupboard, where club members can borrow all sorts of mountaineering, camping, climbing, and canyoning equipment. I went into the gear club with a vague sense of what I might need, and Francois (a friend and member of the executive team) helped me find a thick enough wetsuit, a safety sling, a descender, a climbing helmet, and a drybag. Instead of going out on Friday night, I researched Claustral Canyon and the details of the day ahead. On Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, Daniel picked me and Noah up from UNSW and we headed off for the Blue Mountains. We met up with Pat at the carpark and packed our bags with all the equipment and food we would need for the next ten hours. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I knew we were headed into an awesome adventure.
We descended down the gorge into the canyon and scrambled down some sections until we arrived near the first abseil. From there we suited up, ate some nuts, and loaded our drybags into our daypacks. Daniel has lots of experience leading canyoning trips, so he set up the first abseil and off we went. From there, we went down a series of three more abseils and waterfalls, and landed in perhaps the most stunning canyon I have ever been into. It was covered from the floor to the cliff-edge in layers of moss and cascading ferns. Simply unreal. After a break for some more nuts and water, we wandered down into the canyon and ended up at the break-off into Thunder Canyon. We left our packs at the mouth to this side-adventure and scrambled/swam our way through rock formations and sections of creek. At one point, we crawled on our stomachs through a narrow hole and entered a massive cave covered in glow worms. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. The glowworms were like constellations in the night sky, and lit up the walls despite the darkness of the cave. For a while we laid there, staring up at the roof, but eventually decided to break the trance and head back into Claustral.
I have been climbing and abseiling at many different levels but never canyoning, and was thrilled to finally experience it. The only thing that surprised me was that instead of wearing specific hiking or climbing shoes, we wore beater sneakers that we didn’t care about (or in my case, converse). It was so slippery, and while I never felt like I was in danger, it was inconvenient walking around on wet rocks with tread-less converse.
We made it to the end of the canyon much sooner than we thought we would, and stripped the wetsuits to go sit in the sun. Unfortunately, the sun was clouded and we ended up eating hummus and pita in the wet cold. After about half an hour of sitting in intermittent sun, we packed back up and started the climb out of the canyon. The first 30 minutes involved some intense 4th-classing and scrambling, and we eventually hit a more established trail. We napped on a sunny rock for about half an hour while Noah recovered from the steep hike (he’d been sick for the last few days and we were all happy to let our legs rest). We kept going and went up and back down past a saddle, back into the canyon, and did some more scrambling amongst the mossy rocks and trees covering the trail. After what ended up being just short of a 10-hour day, we finally made it out of the canyon and collapsed by the cars, exhausted from the steep uphill climb. I ate a carrot and we drove out to the nearby canyon just in time for sunset. When we arrived, we ran into some friends of ours from the club (who had just finished their own canyon) and sat around their campfire. We hung up our wet clothes, set up camp, ate dinner, and talked with people that I considered to be new friends.
On our way out the next morning, Daniel, Noah, and I stopped at a little mountain bakery for pie. I had a scrumptious meat goulash pie, apple pie, and Nutella cronut, followed by some heartburn. Overall, the trip was amazing; Claustral Canyon is one of the most renowned canyons in the Blue Mountains and now I know why. I’ve also made some lasting friendships and know just a bit more about Aussie culture overall.
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Stella is currently a mechanical engineering student at the University of Colorado Boulder, where her goal is to always have at least one foot out of her comfort zone. When she is not on the engineering grind, she is passionate about playing guitar, backpacking, climbing, dancing, or really anything that will get her outside and soaking up the sunshine. Being raised in a French/English bilingual household, she grew up with an appreciation for other cultures and traveling. As she continues on her journey toward adulthood, she hopes to keep experiencing the unfamiliar and become an increasingly global citizen.