It was a bright shiny day up at Wentworth Falls on the 14th of November as we headed towards the upper section of Empress Canyon. We walked to Edinburgh Castle Rock, then a short walk around to the bottom of it and we dropped into the gulley through the hanging swamp (which we later learnt shouldn’t be done any more because of the ecological impact on it from the erosion).
Happy to be in the creek finally, somewhat out of the direct sunlight and heat, the water was beautiful and refreshing on the feet. After walking in the small stream for maybe 30 minutes we eventually reached the first obstacle - a waterfall over a chock stone which needs a hand over hand rope down into the shallow water below. I personally find hand over hand ropes to be about the most difficult thing to master in canyoning - The problem with them is that you have to be able to hold your entire weight on one hand, on a small rope (while lowering your second rope down to the next knot) while usually in awkward positions jammed up against large boulders. To make it worse, you usually have to do this over large jagged rocks under an indeterminate depth of water, so if you slip or let go, you are probably going to twist, sprain or break an ankle. Luckily none of that has happened on any of my canyoning trips so far though, and hopefully it never will!
After climbing down this waterfall, I attempted to get another photo under a waterfall (like the classic photo we got from Serendipity canyon the week before). None of the photos we took really turned out, but looking back on the series of photos clearly marked where it was that I lost my camera… You see, I bought this you-beaut little head mounted video camera to wear when canyoning so that I could hopefully capture some spontaneous footage to put into the video logs from each canyon. It wasn’t overly expensive, but it wasn’t free either. Anyway, I forgot that I was wearing it (un-secured more importantly) and while I was trying to stick myself underneath this waterfall, apparently the camera came off my head. I didn’t realise this until right near the end of Empress… So by now either someone has found it, or there is still a video camera sitting at the bottom of this waterfall waiting for someone to fish it out. Not sure whether its waterproofness can stand up to several weeks or months of being submerged (pretty sure it can’t) but maybe it still works….
Anyway, on with the canyon. Shortly after the hand over hand there was a nice 4m or so jump in onto a sandy bottomed pool which ends the upper section of the canyon. Immediately after that jump in you cross the walking trail which brings people down into Lillians Glen. The track crosses the stream again and that is where the main canyon starts.
A beautiful waterfall and pool are just off to the side of the start of the canyon, so we took a group photo there before heading into the canyon. As we entered we crossed paths with a large tour group. We didn’t want to get stuck behind them on the abseils at the end, so we pushed through the rest of the canyon pretty quickly. We also met Owain there, who is an old member of the University of New South Wales Outdoors club (or the Bushwalking and Mountaineering Club (BMC) as it was known back in the day). He is now leading tour groups through canyons around the mountains (and probably rock climbing and anything else you could want to do), so if you are inexperienced at canyoning and want to hire someone to guide you through it, be sure to ask for Owain!
All of Empress was quite fun. There was nothing particularly difficult about any section of it, but there were several small jump ins, several short swims and all of the usual fun stuff you get in canyons. Then when you reach the end and look out over the final abseil, it takes your breath away. After walking through such a narrow canyon for so long the open exposure you encounter as you look out over this huge drop is quite startling. The abseil actually isn’t very difficult at all (be careful of your fingers as you go over the lip) because you get a couple of ledges to stand on an a sloping wall to walk down most of the way, but before you get a chance to look down the actual drop, and when you see it for the first time, it can be quite frightening to consider going over the edge…
While we were setting up our abseil rope, I climbed back up and jumped into the pool a few meters back from the abseil. Its a nice 5m or so jump, and I have no idea how deep it is in the pool (I didn’t touch), but that is something you can do while awaiting your turn to abseil over the waterfall.
Once we were down the bottom of the falls it was the usual change of clothes out of the wetsuits, repacking our packs, and the slugging it out straight up a zillion steps up the cliff face taking us back to the top of the ridge where we walked back to our car.
A great canyon for an easy day’s trip. Very accessible, but also quite crowded for that same reason. Obviously some experience abseiling is a must before attempting the abseil at the end of the canyon, although it should be noted that it is possible to walk back up the canyon and walk back out the way you came down.