Written By Zoe and Flynn H
Love hiking but just want to be more wet more of the time? Do you like jumping in and out of icy cold rock pools? Canyoning might be for you.
So you’ve hiked through scrub up to your knees or higher on trails ranging from defined to nonexistent. You’ve had 20kg+ in your pack and you feel proud everytime you conquer a steep uphill with that weight on your back. But the lack of new experience and adventure wears on you every time you look for a new trail to trek. Your list of completed hikes, while an impressive achievement in itself, means there is little left to do unless you redo them all again.
Spicing up a hike in the typical sense leads many into thinking about speedrunning it, going ultralight weight etc. But what if we told you hiking down a creek is an option and also a popular pastime for other avid adventurers? Canyoning offers similar challenges to hiking: pushing through physical and psychological barriers, sore calf muscles, complaining about the cold, swimming through water you thought you could wade- the list goes on. Canyoning provides an exciting new experience for experienced hikers that also doubles as an introduction to rock related activities. In this article we’ll work through what you’ll need, what to think about while canyoning, and what canyons you can do as a beginner.
On a serious note: if you have never canyoned before, please look into going with someone more experienced or one of our local bluies guiding companies in the effort to keep the day as safe and fun as it can be! If you read this and realise you don’t know anyone who has canyoned before, there are facebook groups brimming with keen canyoneers who would come along/ let you join their adventures if you ask.
While canyoning, gear can make the difference between a fun day out and something you don’t want to do again. Essentially, keeping gear dry and keeping yourself warm are the two main goals when it comes to gear choice. Down below is a list we’ve put together from our collective years of canyoning experience so you’re not unprepared.
- Helmet: because you’ll be moving around rocks and jumping into pools at weird and wacky angles, a helmet is essential to protect our ever precious heads. This can be a climbing helmet you already have or a bike helmet, as long as it protects your noggin.
- Wetsuit:2/3mm+ spring suit (short sleeved) or steamer (full length) wetsuit. The thicker it is (mm) the warmer it is, but also the more expensive and heavy it will be to carry.
- Swimmers and thermals: your average swimmers combined with Icebreaker’s merino or 360 Degree’s polypropylene full length thermals to be worn under the wetsuit.
- Fleece: if you know you get cold easily, consider wearing a polar fleece like Earth Sea Sky’s Honey fleece or Element fleece under your wetsuit too.
- Windbreaker: a windbreaker or light rain jacket like Outdoor Research’s Apollo Stretch Jacket will stop the wind from robbing you of precious warmth when you get out of the water.
- Dry Clothes: after you finish the canyon, you will want to change out of your wet clothes and wetsuit and put on something more comfortable and cooler to walk out in. You always warm up on the walk out so our tip is to always change out of your thermals and wetsuit.
- Old shorts/board shorts: there’s a lot of sliding down rocks in a canyon, and board shorts are cheaper to tear up than a wetsuit is.
- Shoes: any grippy and fast drying shoe will work well. When the time comes to replace your trail runners, keep your old ones around. We’ve used our old pair of Salomon’s Sense Ride 3 for this very occasion. Canyons aren’t kind to shoes and whichever you do wear, they will become your canyon shoes and nothing else.
- Drybag: anything you want to keep dry, put it in a dry bag. They also work as really good floatation devices within your pack for swimming sections. Link Exped’s Fold Drybag
- Day pack: This one isn’t tricky, just a simple daypack like one from Lowe Alpine’s Airzone daypack range that drains well or can be emptied of water will set you up for a good day canyoning. Exped’s Torrent pack range works really well in conjunction with drybags for the essentials.
- Head torch: waterproof lights like Black Diamond’s Cosmo or Spot are great in case the canyon takes longer than expected/ if track notes suggest it for long, dark parts of the canyon.
- First Aid Kit, emergency blanket, and whistle: in case of emergency, all of these items are a must. Stock your first aid kit with items specific to your needs e.g. epipen, asthma puffer etc. Emergency blankets like the one from Lifesystems work brilliantly in combating hypothermia. A whistle is also a must as we can all whistle longer than we can yell if we get lost, check out FOX 40's Classic whistle for one of the best ones around..
- PLB: emergency beacon just in case anyone gets injured/ gets lost. Beacons like the Rescueme PLB1 or the Spot are a must have, on every trip things go wrong when you least expect it. Click here to check out PLB's
- GPS/maps: never a bad idea to have a map print out on you in case you get a bit off track. GPS units like Garmin’s Etrek or Inreach are an option for the more tech savvy adventurer. Click here to check out GPS's
- Food and water: 2-3L of water to keep you hydrated, and food to last you the day trip and a half (just in case it takes longer than you expect).
WHAT TO THINK ABOUT:
Weather: from about a week out up until the day you plan to canyon, always check the weather forecast. If it’s been raining heavily assess the flow of water on the day so you aren't putting yourself or anyone with you in danger, flash floods are a risk in canyons after rainfall and the extra flow can make what is normally considered an easy canyon much more challenging. The same can be said for rain and thunderstorms predicted for the day, just keep in mind the effect it might have on your trip. As the polar opposite, be mindful of scorchingly hot days too. While in a canyon might be nice and cool, the walk out will be a hot sweaty mess. If you don't believe it will impact the safety of you or anyone else, prepare accordingly to minimise the risks and have fun!
Where to go: gathering information about what to expect is essential for keeping you and those with you prepared and safe on a canyon. Whether you have done it before or not, reading up on guidebook notes (Rick Jamieson’s guide book “Canyons Near Sydney” is a great start point) and up to date track notes (OZultimate’s canyon track notes) is always a good idea. Joining up and regularly checking facebook canyoning groups is another great way of keeping up to date on canyoning conditions and getting advice from others.
All the canyons mentioned below are selected for beginners. They contain nothing more than walking, wading, swimming, and jumping. They can all be found in the aforementioned guidebook and more detailed track notes online.
Wollangambe and Bowens Creek Canyons:
- Joe’s canyon: set aside about 4hrs for this one, lilos recommended.
- Wollangambe one: currently closed pls dont. If in the future this one tickles your fancy, it takes about a day and lilos are needed.
- Wollangambe two: Duration for this one is a day. Bring along a lilo each and a 10m handline rope for one section of downclimbing.
- Wollangambe two dot two: alternate and shorter start for the Wollangambe two canyon above, so lilos and short handline are still needed.
- De Faur aka Clatterteeth canyon: assign a day for this trip. Lilos needed for long cold swims, be prepared for the cold.
Canyons south of Bells Line of Road:
- Birrabang canyon: one short day, and getting wet is mostly avoidable. It's handy to bring along a 10m handline for steep scrambles.
Newnes Forest Canyons:
- River Caves canyon: a nice short canyon that takes about two hours all up and will only result in wet feet.
- Deep Pass Canyon: takes about half a day, good to take a 20m handline to help with one climb. Wet feet are to be expected.
- Twister canyon: great three hour trip with a lot of jumps and slides. Be prepared for the cold with this one.
- Rocky Creek canyon: set aside a day for this one. Lilos aren't needed, but there are some cold swims. You can do this one after Twister by following the track down to the start. Makes for a great day out.