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My first Canyoning trip : Whungee Wheengee Canyon

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Walking up the Katoomba St at 6.15am with my son Harrison – I was not sure what to expect. The sun was starting to shine but the wind was blowing. Neither Harrison nor I had ever been canyoning before so this was going to be a new experience – something I had always wanted to do. I was already in trouble with wifey about taking Harry out of school for the day but I had concluded that not all life’s lessons are taught in a classroom. We had been invited to do the Whungee Wheengee Canyon by the Blue Mountains Adventure Company and had been told it was one of their favourites. We had packed the night before ticking off the list of equipment we had been told to bring

  • woollen or synthetic base layer
  • fleece
  • hat
  • sunscreen
  • 1.5L of water
  • fast drying pants
  • beanie
  • woollen socks
  • closed toe shoes
  • raincoat

Before going into BMAC we dropped into the Summit Gear store to see if there was anything else we should take. I showed Harrison the wetsuit booties and the Five 10 Water Tennies but decided to go with what we had since we were not sure if we were going to be doing this on a regular basis.

Meeting the Crew
Heading next door we arrived at BMAC to be met by our guide - Cairo as well as a husband and wife team coming on the trip - Russ and Tiffany from NZ. Russ is an experience canyoning guide that owns an adventure company in NZ and was in the Blue Mountains to compare the experience. Clearly Harry and I were novices and our hope was that we would not slow the team up. Cairo, Russ and Tiffany all had Five 10 Canyoneers with the super grippy Steath rubber tread and already I was starting to doubt the decision to stay with the Adidas runners. Cairo got us into some super tight wetsuits - tighter is warmer, some ropes, dry bag, harness, snacks and a Summit Gear Canyoning Rucksack to pack it all away. Clearly the rucksack had been on a lot more trips than me and like me – had taken a beating over many years.

Heading Out
After a quick briefing we headed out in the van towards Mount Wilson – stopping off in Blackheath to grab some awesome sandwiches which would be well appreciated halfway through the day. Driving across the tops of the mountain ranges you could appreciate the sheer expanse of the Blue Mountain’s wilderness and the impressive cliffs that surround the endless number of canyons. If you were to really get into this – there are more canyons to explore than you could fit into a lifetime. By the time we arrived the sun was well up and it was going to be nice day. The Hike in was about 40 minutes. The waratahs were in full bloom and the weather was ideal for walking – this was shaping up to be an awesome day.

Abseiling in
The only way in is to abseil down two descents. Hanging out over the edge and keeping your legs straight out and wide apart you lean back and out your life in the hands of your harness and ropes. After taking in the instruction it was Harry’s turn – his first time and I watch as he proceeded to lean out and let go of all the ropes (not recommended). Cairo had him covered and quickly reaffirmed the requirement to keep his right hand firmly on the rope with thumb to bum. We got down to the start of the canyon intact and it was time to suit up, have some food.

Cairo had suggested that we may want to put our raincoats over our wet suits. I was questioning the need and the effectiveness but as Russ said “if the guide is suggesting it – you should probably do it”. Best advice for the day…the raincoat makes a big difference as it adds another layer as well as adding great colour to your photos. So that was it, icebreaker thermal base layer, wetsuit, raincoat, beanie and helmet all on – we were ready to go. Last bit of advice from Cairo – “green is mean, brown puts you down, yellow is mellow”, meaning step on the yellow rocks as the moss has been worn off. 

It was good to see that our experience guide of 7 years also had his own personal Summit Gear Canyoning rucksack which (unlike the rental packs) has the full mesh side panels behind the Cordura side panel to achieve the most rapid water exit ever achieved with a canyoning pack. Cairo’s Summit Gear Canyoning pack dropped the water instantly delivering far superior performance compared to the slower draining rucksacks with only eyelets in the bottom.

The Duck-under
First plunge into the water and we straight away had to cram our packs under the slimmest of spaces and swim, fully submerged under the rock. The water was freezing but the layers did the trick, I popped the other side and waited for the others to emerge from under the rock. The water started steaming off the wetsuit – it was really cold and I felt it mostly on my hands and feet – the places I did not have any wetsuit coverage. After 10 minutes of going down the canyon, my feet were numb and aching from the cold, my socks were full of sand and I really wish I had brought the wetsuit booties that we had in Summit Gear first thing in the morning. Of course Cairo, Russ and Tiffany had none of these issues as they had the experience to wear the right gear. It became obvious that the wetsuit boots provided two major benefits – warmth as well as no sand – my advice to all is spend the money and get your neoprene boots before heading down the Canyon.

Nature at is most beautiful
The beauty of the Whungee Wheengee Canyon is hard to describe, the water is clear, full of fish and crays whilst lizards warm themselves on the sunny rocks beside the river. Periodically you go into dark tunnels where you can see nothing except the glow worms that make the cavern look like a starry night sky. All this nature tops off what was already turning out to be an awesome day. Going through the canyon you end up with your hands in the air to keep them warm and out of the water. Again the experience of the canyoning guides come to the fore with their far grippier Canyoneers keeping them upright whilst Harry and I stumbled from rock to rock. After what seemed like an hour and a half we stopped for lunch. Time for Harrison and I take off our shoes and socks and wash out all the sand before trying to thaw our feet out on a sunny rock. On the bright side at least my feet were smooth from the sandy exfoliation. With lunch over – it was time to put back on my woollen socks and runners and a brace ourselves for another couple of hours of frozen feet.

The final 40 minutes
After abseiling, scrambling and ducking our way through the canyon the experience changes as you hit the broader river. Firstly the river warms up by several degrees making it far more pleasant for the chumps (Rob and Harry) who did not have the right footwear….. Using the pack as a floatation device it is time to relax as you meander down the river being pushed by the rapids yet having plenty of time to take in the spectacle that is the Whungee Wheengee canyon. For me this was probably the highlight of the day. Finally we were washed up onto the banks of the river where we were to leave the canyon. Before leaving Café Cairo offered us a wide selection of coffee and tea a perfect way to warm up and finish off the canyon. I ordered a decafe soya latte – although it tasted a lot like a standard flat white.We stripped off all the wet gear just leaving shorts and the merino tee on as it was going to be a decent scramble up the canyon wall and over an hour to hike out. The icebreaker merino came into its own as it kept me warm when damp and was almost dry by the time I had finished our coffee. The hike out must have been just over an hour, however the pleasure of being outdoors in wilderness made for a pleasurable trek. The storm clouds were building and we were feeling a little exposed walking across the exposed ridge line, but the rain held off and nine hours after we headed out we were back at the van.

Wrap up
There is no doubt it was a great day – the BMAC guys are super friendly, highly experienced and had our full confidence. It is not that often I get to share a full day, awesome experience with one of the kids and something that I need to make more time for going forward. I am sure it will be an experience that he will remember for a life time. The key question is will we be back to do another? And for both of us there is no doubt, although I will definitely invest in some Canyoning shoes and wetsuit boots. Next time I will make sure I take one of my daughters, the key question is which one……

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