Saturday, 6 January 2007

Kanangra Main

In recent years I've managed to get out and do a canyon or two each summer. Kanangra Main is one of those that one doesn't take lightly. About 550 m of elevation are lost in only a couple of hundred meters, and most of it right at the start. I had only done it once before...sometime last century, but remember it to be somewhat epic. In early Jan of this year Tony, Ben, Michael and I tackled it again. A party of 4 turned out to be ideal. As we had four 50 m X 9mm ropes, whomever went down an abseil first would carry a rope and proceed with setting up the sebsequent abseil. This is important and saves a lot of time, as there are 13 of the suckers to neotiate, many of them back to back.

We stayed at Tony and Cathy's place at Mt Vic and somehow managed to be on the road at 5:10 am the next morning, arriving at Kanangra Walls some 1 hr 35 min later. After wandering out to the lookout we upped bags and left the car at 7 am sharp. Nearing the start of the big drop the sun gained in strength and warmed us in the magically still air, and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. As the track siddled around towards the big drop the tranquility was interupted by the sound of avalanche and rockfall. Peering down towards our destination a huge plume of dust and smoke rose. Hopefully whatever was going to drop for the day, probably loosened by the rising sun, had let go. We got to the drop off and geared up. I somehow managed to squeeze into the super-warm semi-dry steamer I inherited from Karel. As we milled about the top making last minute adjustments I was already starting to perspire. A short scramble gets you from the gear-up stream to the rock platform next to the big drop off.

The big drop basically consists of a short ~13 m abseil followed by three double rope 50 m abseils in succession - the last of which will just get you into the first pool. A 1/2 rope doubled will just get you down the first abseil, although a hairy move or two are required to get you from the end of the line to the next anchor (Beware of the belay stance at the end of the 3rd abseil as well, where the rock is super-slick). In no time you find yourself in a world of vacuum - huge exposure, and all too aware of the irresistable inevitability of gravity. The intense glare of the fast-rising sun was begining to take its toll. Being dressed like a seal didn't help. At the top of the second abseil I noticed water pouring out the bottom of my shoes. This, of course was sweat, and I was de-hydrating rapidly. The suit I had on is good once you hit the icy water, but hellishly warm outside of it. I can see why the whales must be unimpressed by global warming. At the bottom of the third abseil I was starting to feel giddy but was lucid enough to realise that we had a situation on our hands - and I was it! The other guys poured some cool drink down my gullet and I insisted on slipping down the lines of the fourth abseil first towards the first pool of the day. I stopping and disengaged from the rope on a small ledge just shy of the final overlap as I wasn't sure if there was sufficient line for the final plunge. There was, as demonstrated by Ben, who came next. Getting back on the line and slipping into that fresh pool of water after ~2 hours in the pressure cooker was soooooo refreshing.
Just how not-with-it I must have been became apparent when setting up for the next abseil. Somehow, in my delerium i had lost my abseil device, presumably in the pool. I remember sliding the device off the ends of the ropes (all that was required), but don't remember physically removing the device off my D-carabiner. Yet it didn't come off the D by itself. I wonder how many other belay devices might be at the bottom of that pool. Fortunately, I always carry a spare stitch plate, so didn't have to rely on any funky carabiner arrangements for the rest of the journey. Immersing myself in the gear-up stream at the top before the start would probably have prevented the incident [ Mental note for the next clear-day attempt].
The rest of the canyon, with all the remaining abseils and jumps was uneventful, although at the base of the 12th abseil (which was down a lovely waterfall and was the pick of the lot) we found all the freshly splintered rock that had rained down from above earlier in the day. The finishing drag up Murdering Gully was a bastard, as we knew it would be (climbing from 450 m back to 11oo m). We got back to the car at 6:30 pm, back to Mt Vic at 8:30 pm, and home at 10:30 pm. A big but satisfying day! I'll be back, but hopefully a little wiser - perhaps with a more practical wet suit.
For the record, here are the abseils in order;
1) 13 m, bolt anchors
2) 50 m, scary bollard anchor
3) 50 m, bolt anchors
4) 50 m, bollard anchor, into pool
5) 30 m, bollard anchor, through waterfall
6) 40 m, constriction anchor, via 1/2 way ledge to "Alexia" memorial plaque small swim and walk
7) 10 m, shrub anchor. An alternative bolt anchor can be found on the other side of the stream.
8) 10 m, dodgy bolt anchor over large boulder into pool, swim then walk with scramble down knotted rope
9) 30 m, chockstone achor, to anchors on other side of watercourse
10) 40 m, bolts
11) 20 m, piton anchor, we had lunch at the bottom, and wetsuits off
12) 40 m, bolts, through waterfall, fantastic abseil
13) 30 m
A short scramble after this last abseil gets you to a small steep stream where bottles can be filled before the stroll down the stream to the junction (1-2 km away) and the start of Murdering Gully.