Claustral Canyon is arguably one of the most famous slot canyons in the blue mountains, and the reason why becomes apparent to any canyoner that ventures into its mossy depths. The canyoning is technical and exciting, with jumps, a long tunnel swim and a series of three technical abseils through the creepily named ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’. I’d been keen to do it since seeing the shared bottom section via Ranon Brook canyon the previous year. Luckily, everyone in our group camped at Mt Wilson was up for the challenge and we had the skills and equipment to go. There were seven of us in total with a mix of canyoning and caving backgrounds – Taner, Sam, Emilie, David, Alex, Andreas and myself.

An early start (which in my canyoning experience is never quite as early as intended) saw us and all our gear jangling along the curves of the highway, looking for the obscure track entrance marked by the painted letters “CC”. The well-worn track felt like a highway after the last few days canyoning in the overgrown Newnes section of the park, and it was no time before we were slipping on our wetsuits at the start of the stream. And by ‘slipping on’, I should perhaps clarify, I actually mean ‘squirming into’ – for our wetsuits were still damp and the rocks we perched on were slippery.

 

Proceeding along through the waist deep wades and scrambles, it wasn’t too long before we reached the abseils. Looking down, it was as dark as you might expect a deep canyon extending into the bowels of the earth to be. The faint beams of light reached only part way down the walls, illuminating the polished rock that must have been carved over thousands of years of fluctuating water flow. With Taner going ahead to set up the abseils, we moved quickly through this famous section, swimming through the dark water between the abseils and listening to the water crash down.

Emerging out of the darkness was truly awesome – and, unlike its use in the popular vernacular, by this I mean we were all blown away with a sense of true awe. All the rocks were cloaked in brilliant green moss, equal parts beautiful and treacherous to the scrambling canyoner. The light filtering down through the ferns growing on the steep walls danced in beams above us. When we looked up, the walls bent in over us and framed the narrow slit of blue sky far above. The following section of canyon is sustained and beautiful but also very very chilly due to the combination of the long swimming sections and no direct sunlight. Hence, we kept on scrambling our way through, only stopping to swim along the tributary to the cave where a whole constellation of glow-worms call home. Andreas impressed us all by doing a spontaneous backflip off a boulder into a deep pool and once again proved that Norwegians are legitimately crazy.

We managed to avoid the apparently common mistake (see previous issues of the Mountaineer) of mistaking the exit point – and our three-hour walk out was uneventful. We arrived soggy and happy on the highway and Emilie and I, with our feminine charm (I’m laughing as I write this – we looked like drowned rats), almost immediately secured a lift to our cars. A long day, a good day, a food day, a good mood day – thanks Claustral.

 

Written by Evie Clarke, Photos by Sam Thompson.

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