Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hat Hill Canyon

If you live anywhere on the east coast of Australia you know it's been raining. Raining for hours, days, actually what is now stretching into weeks. Our rock climbing plans screeched to an abrupt halt when the second week long spell of rain began. Before that, we had got in five good days at a few different crags around the Blue Mountains. It was all grand fun, even as our fingertips were getting tender and our forearms swollen.

Pagoda country

On a rest day from climbing, we went canyoning. Doug's first time descending a canyon while for me it was a flashback to my youth when I used to canyon with a ragtag group of friends with more gusto than experience. As usual, I jumped into canyoning feet first and the first canyons I did were Kanangra, Thurat Rift and Claustral.

Hat Hill Creek

Back in those days, the late 1980's, no-one had dry bags, helmets, GPS units, head cams, harnesses, or expensive water shoes. We were old tennis shoes - Volleys were singularly popular - layered our gear in multiple plastic garbage bags, purloined second hand wet-suits from the "op-shop", rigged harnesses from webbing and used a map and compass to navigate through deep bush.

Doug in one of the creek sections

Trips were not without adventures, most notable for me was in Thurat Rift canyon when I fell down a 10 metre cliff while trying to downclimb a section of canyon where no abseil anchor was available. My friends stood over me while I lay bleeding among a jumble of rocks at the bottom and said "she'll either have to get up and walk out or we'll have to go get a helicopter." I got up and walked out. The next day, when I went to a medical clinic to get various X-rays taken and lacerations sutured closed, the nursing staff thought I had been in a car accident. A week off work, 10 days off canyoning, and I was back in Claustral Canyon, such is the resilience of youth.

Green, green canyon

But, on this day, we were simply out for an easy day in a spectacular location and chose the popular Hat Hill Canyon near Blackheath. I was tickled to see that the two old school canyoners we met at the car park were still wearing Volley tennis shoes and wetsuits from the op-shop.

It's another world in these canyons

A good track leads down to the Hat Hill Creek and within minutes of switching clothes for wetsuits and wading down the creek we entered the canyon. These wet oasis of greenery always have an otherworldly feel to them, and Hat Hill Canyon is no different. Giant tree ferns grow along the creek bank, moss clings to the walls and rocks, greenery literally drips from every surface. The light is dim and filtered green, except where shafts of sunlight pierce the gloom leaving steaming tendrils of humidity.

Gorgeous section of slot canyon

There are three discrete sections of slot canyon along Hat Hill Creek separated by long stretches of sandy or rocky creek bed. The first canyon requires a tricky little downclimb into a big pool. If you knew the pool was deep - which it is - you could simply jump in. Not knowing that, we eased into it and swam to the end of a narrow slot canyon before crawling out onto the further bank.

Doug looking into the entrance to the second section of canyon

The second canyon is the most spectacular requiring another downclimb or jump into a deep pool and then a long swim between the narrow walls of a green slot canyon. The light hardly penetrates here and it is easy to feel like an explorer only hours from the cafes of Blackheath.


The third canyon features a big sweeping section of cliff above your head as you walk along rocks, wade the stream, swim through deep pools and scramble over logs. Near the end of the canyon sections a side creek leads up to a narrow waterfall tumbling through a hole in an arch.

Sliding into a pool

There are two exits, neither of which we found although I think we started up each. Both are before the third canyon so a short section of backtracking is required. We went roughly up the first exit (on your way down the canyon) which heads up a southeast facing tributary creek. Within minutes, however, we lost the rough track up the creek and ended up sidling around short bluffs until we could scramble up to a spur ridge from Bald Head Ridge. The bush was open and the going easy and soon enough we had joined the track that Bald Head Ridge.

Log jam

The walk back is very enjoyable as views of the surrounding mountains and valleys open up along the way. It had been a 30 year hiatus from canyoning but it was still as much fun as I remembered.  You can watch the video here.


  1. I've never tried canyoning, it was too pricey for us when we were in the Blue Mountains. One day........ DD (year 10) has returned from a rock climbing school camp at Natimuk. It was spoiled rather by the idiot outdoor ed leader who was sour, abusive and disorganised. To top it off, they ran out of food, not popular. I reckon we might engage our own guide one day up there.

    So your post on injury recovery spurred me on to get 4x acupuncture treatments for my year long plantar fasciitis, yay, relief, even though I was sceptical, having tried everything else under the sun.. and I am happy to say that over March/ AprilI I did "Couch to ABC in 30 days" trek and succeeded despite a chest infection. With ds25 and ds 13. I just trained doing 100 storeys or 1700 steps in the gym 20 days before , sometimes going home in my nighty or getting there at 5 am. So hard when work days are long. My motto is work hard, play hard, but doesn't always work out..

    That Annapurna is really something.

  2. Glad to hear you are back in the game, Paula.