Blue Mountains Canyon News

This page has been set up to provide news of interest to canyoners and those who go canyoning in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Please feel free to submit any items of interest to David Noble

This page was set up and is maintained by David Noble.


January 25


September 24

I have never exited from the canyon at that point - but from the top of the pass (marked as "fairly easy" on the map) - there is a fair ridge walk back to the Bell Road. And the ridge is scrubby.

It is important that canyoners do not attempt to access the canyon via the old route from Tomah South through the private land. Private land extends well below where the track leaves the firetrail below Tomah South - so it is not possible to walk around the private land from Tomah South.

September 14

March 23

March 7

I was overseas when the tragedy occurred near Wollangambe Canyon. It seemed that a party visiting Wollangambe Canyon became disoriented and then lost for a few days. One member of the party, whilst climbing, may have pulled a rock down on himself resulting in his tragic death. Not being familiar with many of the details of exactly what happened and where the party went, like others I can only speculate and offer some advice to future parties visiting popular canyons.

The accident that led to the death occurred after a period of heavy and sustained rain. In such circumstances - when the ground is saturated, it is common for rocks and boulders to pull out easily from steep slopes and cliffs. Great care and caution is advised.

It is a mystery how the party became so disoriented. Perhaps they did not carry a map and compass? It seems that they missed some of the common exits to Wollangambe Canyon and spent a night overdue in an overhang south of the Wollangambe River. The next day - they climbed up and found themselves on a track. They followed the track - back down to the Wollangambe River and reportedly "swam across" and continued up the other side - spending another night in an overhang. The next day, while attempting to get to a high point in the hope of attracting helicopter, the accident occurred which resulted in the death of a young member of the party. Not long after, the remaining members of the party did attract the attention of a helicopter and were rescued. This information is based on a post by to the oz.canyons email list.

Now - how did the party become so disoriented? In particular, what led them to re-cross the Wollangambe - bringing them further from roads and help?

First - the accident occurred in the Wollangambe Wilderness. This is a very rugged area with lots of deep canyons and cliffs. Navigation is often confusing and drainage patterns can be particularly difficult to discern. Parts of the area are covered with magnetic rock which can confuse compasses (although these rocks, in my experience, tend to be further away - near Lost Flat to the north). In good weather and clear conditions even experienced parties have been confused with their navigation. One example I can give is that I know if at least two separate parties attempting to visit Bell Ck Canyon after crossing Du Faurs Creek and climbing onto a ridge above Bell Ck, miss-navigated and finding themselves back in Du Faurs Creek. They continued down Du Faurs Creek (Clatterteeth Canyon) assuming they were in Bell Ck, until they got to the Bell Ck/Du Faurs Ck junction.

There are many passes in and out of the Wollangambe Canyon. Some are easy, some are tricky. I would speculate that the above party continued down the Wollangambe a fair way (it is mainly easy going) and probably found themselves below traditional exits - such as the one near the Waterfall of Moss side creek. If it was wet, cloudy and overcast it could be difficult to work out which way to go when they arrived on a ridge. If they climbed up onto the ridge with a track that goes to the Cathedral of Ferns - then they may have been unsure which way to go. Do you walk left or right? In clear conditions - it is easy to observe the higher ground to the south. In this case - the party may not have known how far down the canyon they were - and as it has many big bends - some times flowing north and at other times flowing south. If they thought they were in a north flowing section when they climbed out, but where really in a section flowing south - then it would be natural to think you go right when you reach the track. The track in question even has a slight saddle - so to go to the right would be going uphill, at least for a while. If they were on this track - then to cross the Wollangambe - they would have to "swim across". Why did they cross? Perhaps they saw a bit of rope hanging down that is used by parties visiting creeks and canyons to the north? This may have encouraged them to seek a way out? After climbing up - they would have been close to where found (near Whungee Wheengee Canyon).

Some advice -

One great danger that could happen in an easy canyon like Wollangambe Canyon is the danger of a flash flood. I have seen water levels rise very quickly in the nearby and similar Bungleboori Creek (water level up several metres in 10 minutes due to a very intense hailstorm). Canyon visitors need to be aware of this possibility and note high points and possible escape routes.


October 12


June 3

April 10

The Summit Gear Edelrid Canyon Photography competition has been a great success, with well in excess of 200 entries received!
This Saturday 12th April at 6.30 pm at Summit Gear Katoomba is the exhibition opening and prize giving, and all OzCanyoners are welcome. It will be a night of great photos, great company, and great stories from a bumper summer in the canyons.
The fine print: 80 Bathurst Rd KATOOMBA, on Saturday 12th April (this Saturday!) at 6.30pm.

February 3


December 23

December 17

There is now a report in the accident register site. Quoting from it -

At this point there are two options for descent; either down the groove  on the left (facing downstream) that usually has water flowing down it, or alternatively on the right which is usually free of water. Both  options have been known to have a fixed rope in place and there is a log anchor on the right (often with slings around it) that would allow descent by staying out of the main flow of water. It is also possible  to drop off the centre of the rock into a pool of water although care must be taken to avoid a large rock that is often just under the water. A number of people have been injured here after hitting the rock. In low water the left groove is an easy scramble that for most becomes a safe slide into the water as it becomes hard to hold the handline.

Some comments -

In my guide "Blue Mts Canyons" for Wild magazine I wrote about this drop -

Before long there is another awkward short drop; it can be jumped, but this requires great care as the pool contains many submerged boulders. In low water it can be downclimbed on the left. In higher water an abseil down the right side is needed. (emphasis added)

In a posting to the OzCanyons yahoo group of 9 Nov 2004, I wrote about Claustral Canyon -

A few points -

The minimum rope for Claustral is 22m

If in flood - you can climb out before the abseils, downstream of the two waterjumps. I have climbed out onto the Camels Hump - and it was not too difficult to scramble out of the canyon, and I know of another party that climbed out on the true right - although they later had to abseil down a cutting onto the Bell Rd.

Where there are pools - it is a good idea to use an abseiling device like a piton brake or rappel rack rather than an ATC - to avoid the danger of dropping the device into the pool.

and in relation to the short drops in the Thunder Gorge section -

In really high water - they are not climb downs - and must be abseiled (emphasis added) - eg the last drop, after the tunnel, do on the right, off the high log. If you can climb down - then the water is not too high

For the second drop - the one where the accident took place - I have never seen a fixed rope in place on the true right - and it is not a climb down or hand over hand - it is an abseil. The left hand route is a climb down (in low water) - and no fixed rope is needed for this. It is quite easy to chimney - squirm down to a hidden ledge near the bottom and then carefully drop into the water - not too far out because of the submerged boulder - which slopes out towards the waterfall.

Here is a picture of the drop - taken in low water

The drop occurs because of the huge boulder. The left hand (low water) route is just right of the middle of the photo. Only a tiny amount of water is flowing down the groove. The right hand (high water) abseil route is from a log wedged on top of the second, smaller boulder on top of the huge boulder. The route goes down the groove on the left of the photo - next to the shadow. Once the abseil rope is deployed - start the abseil from the large boulder, not from the log. At the bottom - you can traverse the slopping ledge, shown on the left looking back, if you want to avoid turbulent aerated water.

I have placed a short movie of the left hand route here. This movie was taken last saturday - in fairly high water (but probably a fair bit lower than the party involved in the accident experienced). In the movie - you can see the fixed rope still in place at the top.

The above two images (frames of digital video) show the top of the drop showing the left hand route in the relatively high water of last Saturday.

This image shows a member of our party abseiling the drop using the right hand route.

December 10

I know many of you knew Ian Knapp, both personally and via this forum.
Yesterday whilst doing Claustral Canyon, Ian accidentally became wedged
in a stream of water and was forced under due to the pressure of water
and drowned.

Ian was last in our party of 4 and became jammed above the last fixed
rope climb down, about 200m upstream of the exit track, so it was
extremely difficult for the rest of us to get back up to him. Due to
the extraordinary rock climbing skills of one of the party we did
finally reach him but it was too late.
The weather conditions were fine and the volume of water in the canyon
was high but definitely not extreme. I have done the canyon safely
with Ian in water conditions that were much higher.
I know this forum can sometimes go a little "over the top" in people
presuming what may or may not have happened in events where they were
not present. Under the tragic circumstances I ask those who may be
tempted to conjecture to respect Ian's family and please refrain. I
was there and am happy to discuss the circumstances one a one-to-one

For those who want to know the safety message it is that we should not
used fixed lines placed directly in the stream of water (especially
when water levels are high), as is the last one in Claustral. The
member of our party who managed to climb up to Ian is a professional
canyon guide in France and he commented that in Europe where they often
experience very high water flows in canyons they never use fixed
scramble lines that take you into the main stream of water.
There is a substantial log with slings on it on the opposite side of
the creek and that would be the more appropriate place for a fixed
line/short abseil.


Thanks to Jim for permission to reproduce his email here. Another friend of Ian's - Julie Burton has placed a pictorial tribute to Ian here.

There is a new report here in the Lithgow Mercury and there is a police report here that says that Claustral Canyon will remain closed.

December 7

November 23

November 21

The Department of Lands will be holding a public meeting to gain valuable public input into the future management of this Reserve, which will now be open to the public for recreation following the successful resolution of risk and access issues.

The Minister’s office is arranging for a media release to be in the local papers and radio, however we have your contact details as an interested stakeholder and so would like to extend an invitation to you to attend the meeting:

Date: Monday 26th November

Location: Clarence Rural Fire Service station

Time: 6.00pm

Please reply to this email with your intention to attend so that we may ensure sufficient seating and other arrangements.



Tamsin Martin

Team Leader Environment

Department of Lands
Tel. 6391 4309
Mob. 0428 934 330
PO Box 2146
Orange NSW 2800

October 2

March 9

Older news items are archived

here (from November 2001 to 2005)

here (from April 2001)

here (from June 21 2000),

here (1999) and

here (1998)

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