Thursday, 27 February 2014

Never Never River - Dorrigo National Park

This has been a good summer for canyoning. The humidity has been suffocating and temperatures above 30 degrees celcius for days in a row mean we have sought out cool, refreshing escapes each weekend. It has barely rained here for more than 8 months and the creeks and rivers in our neighbourhood are low so their rocky banks are easy to walk. But, water is still flowing in the upper reaches of the Never Never River in Dorrigo National Park and its deep black pools are breathtakingly cold. Up here the river is hidden beneath a thick canopy of rainforest, on the shady side of the mountain, and the stifling heat is a memory.



We have explored this section of the Never Never River once before, about 5 years ago, but the detail of what lies along its narrow course is only vaguely remembered. How many abseils are there? How big? I know we nicknamed one section Staircase Falls, a series of waterfalls that kept dropping and dropping again. Then came "The Split" right at the end; an exciting feature we are looking forward to revisiting.

At first the creek walking is straightforward, although slow going on the greasy rocks: it narrows in early to form a slot through the bedrock, but we skirt around the top and avoid swimming one long pool so early in the morning. The ground on the slopes is rotten stone and crumbling loose dirt and even the biggest rock only needs to be taken on the wrong angle to be dislodged. Around us though is beautiful, dimly lit rainforest: bangalow palms, hoop pine, coachwood and the buttressed roots of straight carabeen trees laced with pothos vine. 




The first abseil is a 25m drop beside a small waterfall and we land on the rocky edge of a deep pool. From here we down climb a little cascade that is choked with a big log. This is our unavoidable first swim. When the water hits my chest I feel like I am suddenly sprinting - it is not even 10m to the end of the pool but the water is so cold my heart is racing and my breath comes in short gasps.

It is then a long rock hop along the flat river bed. I remember this section from our first visit - it lulled us into a false sense of security, thinking we may indeed just be rock hopping the whole way with no more waterfalls. But then, 'Staircase Falls' is just around the bend. 

This major, multi-drop waterfall is now choked with storm debris and in particular one large tree with branches everywhere. From the top of the first drop to the bottom of the last, we estimate this waterfall is at least 60m. With the fallen tree blocking the head of things, we opt for a steep traverse to reach the side of the last drop and find a spot where we can abseil back down onto the river. The slope is so steep  and slippery it feels like it is moving under my feet, sliding away, eel-like, gripless. It is a big, messy drop to the river below. There are small trees to cling to but many of them are rotten to touch and simply crumble as I grab them. We persist. It is slow, careful progress.


We put our jackets on for extra warmth at lunch time as there is no sun and what little sky we can see is just dense, blue cloud. Then, thunder rumbles. At the final abseil it is overcast and as dark as dusk in the forest although it's only 3pm. The storm is gathering and a light drizzle has begun to fall making the tricky abseil feel more challenging than I expected.

I'm desperate to do a nervous wee but that means undoing the harness and stripping everything off. It will be a laborious process. I decide then, standing on the crumbling edge of the 20m drop to the river, that fear is a good emotion, it makes me sharp and alert. Nerves however make me jumpy and clumsy and at that moment my nerves have jangled my mind and limbs. I decide to make the effort and wee.  It makes it easier to concentrate.

My only complaint about canyoning is the gear we are forced to leave behind: slings on trees. It is a form of littering, marring the pristine forest. It is also a thought I haven't resolved yet because canyoning is so much damn fun. We finish our final abseil but spend some time playing around at the base of the last pool, climbing around and admiring the rocky bowl the water has carved out of the mountain. 



We told ourselves in the morning "we had all day", but we are now only just approaching The Split, with a good one hour, off-track walk out still ahead. It is 4pm. It is overcast and dark in the rainforest. We are quickly running out of time and, more importantly, light.

The Split however does not disappoint.  Memory matches the moment, it is a surprising and exciting little feature. Unfortunately today is not the day to abseil in and explore its hideous, cold, black depths. I want Caz to get a photo that matches its dark beauty but, from where we stand it is difficult to get the entire scene in, to get the right perspective.

The Split
And, time is up. We practically sprint up the ridgeline, keeping a major side creek to our left and emerging into the storm clouds on the mountaintop so the forest is full of ghosted trees and the snig track we end up following is all that keeps us pointed in the right direction.


This has been a summer for canyons everywhere and we have been enjoying other great blogs out there with info and pics on canyoning. See Darren's blog for some Blue Mountains canyons and Fat Canyoners for the same. If you are on Google Plus look for the Canyoning group page, its only small but some fabulous stuff from around the world: check out canyoning in Spain and canyoning in Greece.

9 comments:

  1. Cool trip guys! Very different looking terrain but the reward is the same I'm sure. Being scared of heights, I quite often get that nervous feeling on high pitches....It's a wonder I manage to talk myself over the edge of even 20m drops!

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    1. This is mid north coast canyoning style - we don't really have the slot canyons like in the Bluies! But yes, still very rewarding and beautiful. A fun day out. And, Ive decided I'm not scared of heights as such, I'm scared of falling! (P.S Sorry about our tardy reply!!)

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  2. Hello Hello!
    Wow what a great read! I am actually going for a trip up to Coffs Harbour for canyoning and stumbled across your blog when looking for the right one to do...this one is a top contender it sounds like a lot of fun!!
    I was wondering if you could help me out and tell me the entry and exit points and the ropes I'd need. I've got 2x50m and 1x20m rope abut will get more if need be. Any other info would be greatly appreciated :)

    David Magro

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    1. Hi David, glad you found our blog. For any of the canyon trips we've covered you will need the Brooklana 1:25000 topographical map as a starter. Would be happy to pass on more information, just contact us via our email address awildland at gmail dot com.

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    2. Hey Bud, i sent an email to you, not sure if you received it. It was awildland@gmail.com right :)

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  3. do you have a facebook site?

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    1. Hi Dan, no we don't have a Facebook site. We try to keep the technology side of things minimal - leaves us more time for adventuring!! We do have an email address if you need to contact us - awildland at gmail dot com.

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  4. Hi Guys, i enjoy your blog its a great resource for local adventures. i spend time pouring over sixmaps and topos to find these places then find you've already blogged them!I agree with your concern for littering while canyoning, i think for 10 to 25m drops its possible to use a retrievable anchoring system. http://www.canyoneeringusa.com/techtips/tworingretrievableanchor/ this is one ive rigged for myself. Thanks again, Jonas

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    1. Hi Jonas. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It's great to hear someone else scours Topo maps looking for possible adventures. That's always how we start. Like the set up in the link you provided. Guess the trick is though what (how much) to carry when you don't know what lies ahead? Keep on exploring. Plenty of spaces still on those maps that we haven't got to. Cheers Caz and Chrissy.

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