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Claustral Canyon

   
Claustral
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Summary

One of the best Canyons in the Blue Mountains, Claustral is a technical (difficult) canyon with 3 successive abseils in a narrow section of the canyon called the Blackhole of Calcutta. It takes a full day to complete the canyon, and you need a wetsuit to get you through the abseils without getting too cold.

Enter via a side tributary of Claustral Brook, or Dismal Dingle and find your way in to the canyon. The canyon has a few short swims, a couple of small jump ins and a handline rope before you reach the abseils (roughly half way). The abseils at 'The Black Hole of Calcutta' are 3 successive abseils into pools. The first abseil is from a wedged log, the second is from a bolt high in the right hand wall, and the third is from a bunch of slings around the stone archway which you abseil through.

More swims and hand over hands and a few hours more to reach the end of the canyon, which is exited from a gully climb up the left hand side immediately after a 20m swim. Climb up to the cliffline, turn left and follow the cliffline to the gully, then climb up the gully for almost an hour. Continue ascending the hill following the obvious path which will take you back to the same path you came in on.

Detailed Guide

Announcements and News

  • 5 March 2011 - The Dismal Dingle approach works, but it adds about 2 hours to the trip compared to the old entrance. The 20 min reported below is unrealistic for normal humans. It took us over an hour to reach the junction where Claustral and Dismal merge (about where you suit up) and 90 min to retrace that distance on the way out. Also "steep in places" means that you have to navigate a small cliff band just below the road. We used a rope on the way down and a shoulder stand on the way back up. Once a defined trail leads to the best crossing, this obstacle won't be a problem, but it's very hard to find the best place to cross when returning to the car. Other than this small cliff band, travel in Dismal is relatively easy and pleasant.
  • 19 february 2011 - There is a way into claustral now via dismal dingle and offers beautiful and easy creek walking of 20 mins into claustral where you would normally wetsuite up. Exit is still up rainbow ravine but just head back out via dismal dingle again. Parking is on the north side of the the bells line of road at the saddle of dismal dingle in a break in the rail cross the road and head into the creek via the west side of the gully (steep in places)
  • 27 September 2010 - Changes to the property through which the traditional entrance and exit track to Claustral Canyon pass has made that path no longer accessible. Efforts are being made to find a new entrance and exit option.

Driving there

Depending on your entrance and exit routes you will either park on the side of Bells Line of Road, or Charley's Road, Mount Tomah.

  • For the entrance route described below (number 1.) from Bell's Line of Road, drive past Mount Tomah (heading west) and park in the small clearing on the left just after you come down off Mount Bell and there is the large sweeping right bend.
  • For the second entrance route given below, park at the end of the right branch (western tip) of Charley's Road, Mount Tomah
  • For the third entrance, parking is on the north side of the the bells line of road at the saddle of dismal dingle in a break in the rail cross the road and head into the creek via the west side of the gully.

Walking In

For years the entrance to Claustral Canyon has been from the end of Charley's Road Old carpark - No longer used due to Private Property - but due to a new owner of the property at the end of Charley's Road, the route through there is no longer accessible. There are currently 3 possible entrances vying for position as the new official route.

1. New Entrance and Exit Route (roughly) - From the car park, head east a little to get on the top of the ridge which runs south. Follow the ridge for about 800m to where the left hand side clearly drops away down in to a steep gully, approximately MGA587838. Find a good spot to drop down in to the gully and follow it down in to the canyon, turning right as you hit Claustral Brook, starting the canyon (albeit a little lower in the canyon than the traditional start).

2. Alternative Entrance/Exit Route Which Crosses on to Private Property - This route is more like the old entrance path, but somewhat longer because it skirts around all of the properties on Mount Tomah. However, it doesn't quite make it, crossing over on to some private property a couple of times. This route though, is a clear dirt road right up to the turn down on to the Camels Saddle (MGA597834).

3. A third option is via Dismal Dingle. Park just above Dismal on the small carpark north of the road. Entrance is marked with an orange wiches-hat in the guard rail on the West-East side of the road. Just behind there you will find some red and pink tape on trees. about 10-15m behind the guard are plenty options to decend down into Dismal. It appears steep but there is plenty options to negotiate the way down and up easily.

The Canyon

Walking shin, knee and occasionally waist deep in water is the norm for Claustral Canyon. The first half of the canyon has regularly narrow sections which get unexpectedly deep, regular small drops which need to be climbed down, and regular scrambles. There is one hand over hand before the abseil, which can also be jumped in to shallowly. The Abseils are at Calcutta Falls, and are approximately one third of the way through the canyon.

The Abseils

The abseils all happen consecutively and can take a long time to complete if the group is any larger than 6 people. If anyone isn't wearing a wetsuit, this is the point where they will start to regret it. Two or three ropes are handy for speeding up the process, although absolutely not necessary (a 'spare' rope is always advisable for safety).

The first abseil is anchored around a thick log, and you then climb through a small hole - over the log and underneath a large boulder - and abseils down the waterfall (slippery surface and possible water pressure on your feet if water level is high). Abseil down into the pool, or onto a ledge just above the pool then jump in.

The second abseil is anchored from a ring bolt which is high up on the right hand wall of the canyon, almost directly above the second abseil. As the canyon narrows greatly at the second abseil, it is easy to chimney yourself up out of the water there and rig everything up. If the water level is high and there is a strong flow of water going over the second abseil, there is a tape and carabiner anchor point around the base of the first abseil, which can be used to attach a safety rope - DO NOT try to abseil off this anchor as you will not be able to pull your rope down from the bottom of the second abseil. There is a ledge about half a meter above the water level at the bottom of the second abseil, it is easy enough to jump in off this ledge too, or else simply abseil straight into the pool.

The third abseil goes through a natural rock archway, anchored from several tapes and ropes tied around the arch. Again, there is a convenient ledge at the bottom of the abseil which you can stand on comfortably before jumping into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall and swimming away.

After the Abseils

Shortly after the abseils, you meet up with the bottom of Ranon Canyon at 'Fern Gully' where there is a 20m swim. Another short walk down the canyon, scrambling over log jams and rocks, and you find the junction with Thunder Gorge come in from the right and the main canyon abruptly turns to the left and changes to a sunnier, more open canyon (there is a small beach here that makes a good lunch spot). For an interesting side trip, follow Thunder Gorge upstream for about 500m to where you see a giant boulder blocking the way - look to your left hand side down the bottom where there should be a small, thigh high tunnel which you can crawl through. Brush aside the cobwebs and go in - marvel at the incredible natural light show.

Continue down the main canyon, there are several opportunities to sit and eat lunch along the way. There is a lot of creek walking in this section, scrambling over rocks, and climbing down rocks. There is a 50m swim (The Tunnel Swim) and a couple of hand over hand climb downs. The first hand rope climb down is on the right side of the canyon and onto rocks just below the surface so it is not safe to simply let go and drop at any point (likely ankle twist or foot bruising). It is easiest if you can hold your weight on the rope (as you eventually run out of foot holds) and you take small bites down the rope (ie: move your hands only a short distance, one after the other). If you take a large bit (move your hands a long way) and lower yourself that distance, your weight tends to swing underneath the rock you lean against as you come down, and then you find all of your weight crushes your hands against the rock through the rope. So carefully lower yourself down onto the rocks - someone spotting you from below is always a good idea on this one.

The second hand over hand rope sits on the left hand side of a boulder in the flowing water, and can become quite dangerous during high water levels (See fatality accident report 6Dec07). If unsure, it is safest to set up a short abseil from the right hand side of the canyon and go down that side. Otherwise you can use the hand line to climb down to a safe height to drop into the water. The first person down can then check for obstacles in the hole which is between a rock ledge, and a large submerged boulder. If the hole is clear, than it is very easy for everyone in the group to simply drop of the edge of the boulder into that deep section.

The end follows a 20m swim and the exit is found heading straight up a narrow gap in the left hand side of the canyon. For the adrenalin junkies, it is possible to check for obstacles in the water while you do the final 20m swim, then climb up the exit path, and walk along the top of the canyon and do a nice 10m jump straight down into the canyon. Be particularly careful as a fallen tree is currently stuck above this position, and may well fall into the canyon any time now (20 Dec 07), and create a dangerous submerged obstacle.

At the end of the swim there is plenty of rock space to get out of your wetsuits for the incredibly long steep climb up and out of the canyon. Don't bother trying to put dry shoes and socks on if you have them, the gully that you walk out in involves often walking in water.

Walking Out

All exit routes follow the same initial path up to the Camel's Saddle (MGA597834) - this route involves climbing up shortly after Rainbow Ravine, and backtracking along the cliffline above the canyon back to Rainbow Ravine and then up the ravine. There are a couple of tricky climbs with sticks usually in place to assist the hardest bits. The Rainbow Ravin just 10m above the exit where you used to stay on the right wall was completly wet and covered with green slime, wich made the lead climb out very tricky, my beginner started to panik due to the slippery and wet conditions.

From the Camel's Saddle, entrance route 1 and 3 involve heading back down to the right along the old entrance route to meet up with Claustral Brook, then simply retracing your route in. Route 2 continues up the other side of the saddle, back the way you came in.

Example Timings

  • Group of 2, one exp. but first time in claustral with new entrance one fit beginner, very high water level. 10hrs
    very short break and some track finding on the Camel's hump.
  • Group of 3 people, moderately experienced. Total trip was 11:10 using the Dismal approach, including food breaks and 30min exploring upper Thunder Gorge. (Note also: a 30m rope is more than enough for the rappels.)
    • 90 min to junction with Claustral proper (but we were indecisive; it shouldn't have taken longer than 60 min)
    • 30 min more to first rappel
    • 70 min to thunder gorge
    • 2 hours from rainbow ravine over Camel's hump and down upper Claustral to junction with Dismal
    • 90 min from junction back to car (includes finding a way up the cliff band)

Old Entrance/Exit Route timings

  • Group of 6 people, 3 experienced, 3 with some experience. Setting a reasonable pace with a longer than usual abseil, a side trip up thunder gorge, and a standard lunch break - total trip was 8h 45min.
    • 45 min from car to suiting up
    • 1h 20min from suiting up to first abseil
    • 2h from start of first abseil to thunder gorge (with problems on second abseil - required prussiking back up)
    • 2h 15min from thunder gorge junction to Exit Point (includes side trip up thunder gorge and lunch break)
    • 2h 15min from exit point back to car.
  • Group of 4, 2 experienced, 2 moderately experienced. Fairly leisurely pace, 1hr lunch break, no side trip up Thunder Gorge. Total trip 8h 30m.
    • 30 min from car to creek
    • 1h 40m from creek entry to first abseil
    • 1h 40m from first abseil to Thunder Gorge junction (had to wait a while for a group in front)
    • 1h lunch break
    • 1h from Thunder Gorge junction to exit point
    • 2h 15m from exit point back to car
  • Group of 3 experienced. A VERY leisurely pace with all group members fatigued from other activities, 45min lunch break and side trip up Thunder Gorge, 30min delay helping member from another party. Total trip 9h.
  • Group of 3 experienced. 9hrs car-to-car. Done as a night trip. None had done canyon before so time lost route finding in the dark. Exit delayed by breaks for leg cramps. 30min to canyon, 6hrs through canyon, 2.5hr exit.
  • Group of 3 experienced. 9hrs car-to-car
    • Photography trip with lots of standing around and leech checking.
    • 2.5hrs from canyon back to car via new exit (slowed down ~20-30mins by humidity)

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