Canyoneering around Cradle Mountain

With a weekend free and a canyoneering expedition I’m supposed to be leading just around the corner, I thought it would be an opportune time to get out and explore some potential options. With Grant being keen to do some abseiling we met at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, geared up and walked in to Dove Canyon. After nervously looking down at the quantity of water flowing through, and how narrow the canyon was I rigged up a rope and we abseiled down into the canyon, pulling our ropes down and psyching ourselves up for the mission to come.

The shock as we hit the unbelievably cold water took our breath away. The snow run off from cradle mountain instantly drove us in to early stages of hypothermia despite our wetsuits and thermals. We swam down the canyon scrabbling to get out of the water at the earliest opportunity. Knowing we had to move fast to stay warm we pushed on hard through a series of obstacles until we arrived at a decent waterfall with some concerning looking currents at the bottom.

You can’t see in this shot but the right of the flow pushed into an alcove in the cliff, which could easily hold a person.

Not keen to jump it without knowing the depth (although in hindsight this would have been a much better option) I rig an abseil in an awkward spot precariously close to the main flow of the waterfall. Grant goes first and I warn him about sticking clear of the powerfull torrent. He starts off well but not being terribly experienced with abseiling he misjudges it about half way down and pendulums in to the falling water. He looks up and knowing he’s got no chance of controlling his descent I do the best I can to signal for him to let go and fall rather than getting pulled deeper in to the current and risking injury. He falls and I spend a very nervous couple of seconds peering down, thinking about how I’m going to conduct a rescue from my precarious position. Thankfully his head pops up clear of the current just where he needs to be. I carefully begin my abseil down. I keep clear of the flow and throw myself violently to the side at the last minute ensuring I hit the water clear of the pounding waterfall.

The view back at the drop just before I pulled out ropes down.

Uncontrollably shivering we haul ourselves up on to some rocks. We grab out my emergency warm clothes and attempt to soak up some sun while I assess the intimidatingly steep cliff walls. With the water temperature and volume we are both pretty keen to avoid much more of the swimming and abseiling if possible. Seeing a possible line up the cliffs I attempt a precarious climb, fail spectacularly and almost fall 10 metres, catching myself by my fingertips at the last second. Recognising that I can’t afford to make any mistakes at this point I decide we’d better warm up and re energize a bit before moving on so we grab some muesli bars. I look up desperately at the sheer cliffs, the following warning in the trip report running through my mind; “Dove Canyon is dangerous in high water levels. There are no exits from the canyon between the first abseil and the final swim”.

Two canyoneers
As we attempt to warm up we stop for a team shot. The sun makes things look much warmer than they felt!

We push on. I spot another point that looks barely climbable and once again we stop, Grant warms up and I focus on how I’m going to get up the cliff. Having a plan of action in mind I grab on to the hand holds and start moving upwards carefully placing my feet on the least slippery sections of slimy rock. This time I make the climb and with relief I pull myself up over the rim of the cliff. I rig up a rope for Grant to follow me up. After a lot of brutally steep scrambling we are out of the canyon and after 4 hours of scrub bashing we have made it back to out vehicles totally spent and ready to set up out tents and crash.

Bush surrounding a steep canyon
We definitely took the tough route out of the valley…

Day two starts with an easy drive to a small cafe. Grant decides to head for home, his shoulder has flared up, and after a pretty brutal day yesterday he’s keen to take it easy. Not deterred I decide to push on and run Machinery Creek Canyon. I carefully check and double check all my equipment (going solo in an unknown canyon is not a great time to forget something important) and push in to the canyon.

Kong hydrobot
Decided to use a Kong Hydrobot descender for the trip. It’s nice not to worry about dropping it when detaching from the rope in deep water (it’s permanently attached).

Everything starts off very easily, almost entirely rock scrambling. Before long I arrive at the first abseil and look down in to the canyon, steep cliff walls rising up on each side. Knowing this is my last chance to chicken out I double check the trip notes and mentally assess my preparedness for what could potentially turn into an epic. Satisfied that I am ready, I rig up a rope and abseil the first 15 metre drop down a waterfall.

Steep canyon
Definitely a committing trip!

After my experience of yesterday I was prepared for a very tough expedition. Thankfully I was over-cautious and the trip was fun, scenic and relatively straightforward. Chains are in place at all of the abseils. All the drops are really stunning with some very pretty waterfalls but nothing scary. The spray formed rainbows around me which unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture on camera despite my best efforts.

Canyoneer half way down a waterfall
I stopped half way down the waterfall to assess by line down and to appreciate the rainbows!

Soon enough I am standing at the base of the final 30 metre drop pulling my rope down, smiling uncontrollably. This really is an excellent day out and I am relieved that I’ve found something much more doable for the trip I am planning on running. I’ll do a proper write up on Machinery Creek at some point, it’s a proper vertical canyon and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly but really is a brilliant day out if you have the appropriate skills and experience.

Canyoneer at base of waterfall