This is one of those trips which will be brought up in campfire discussions for years to come. “Remember that Canyon where we had to walk out in the dark with a couple of headlamps and a couple of crappy torches between 5 people?” Yeah…this canyon didn’t go exactly as planned.
Arethusa is a less well known and less travelled canyon than most around Katoomba. I’m not exactly sure why - my best guess is because the standard guide book ‘Canyons Near Sydney’ mentions it once being polluted, and so maybe that turns a lot of people off it. It could be argued that it is the difficult walk in and walk out that deters people - but that is only the case because so few people do it. If more people do it, then clear walking tracks will appear and the walk in and out will be pretty straight forward. So I’m not sure why more people don’t do it, but thats the way it is, and that is why there is no track leading into the canyon, and why there is no walking track out from the canyon.
That being the case, we found the directions we tried to follow from the Canyons Near Sydney book lead us to a pretty solid cliffline on the way into the canyon. So we decided to ditch those directions, and followed our own navigations from the Katoomba Topographical map. We picked a path down a ridgeline, down into a gully which met up with Katoomba Creek just under the high tension powerlines.
We followed Katoomba Creek for more than two and a half hours
before reaching the start of the main canyon, marked by an obvious abseil. Again the guidebook describes getting through Katoomba creek mostly dry as possible, but our experience was that we had to do several swims. I expect the water level was a little higher than normal, but I have trouble imagining staying dry throughout the 2+ hours spent in the creek.
We climbed up to a ledge on the right hand side above the abseil, and anchored from several slings wrapped around a decent sized tree. The start was a little difficult, but I dropped down first, and boy the bush bashing in and long walk through the creek was worth it just for this abseil. Dropping straight down into traditional blue mountain canyon alongside this awesome pumping waterfall. The waterfall was just awesome (see the photos…) and as I called “Off Rope!” down the bottom and stepped off from the small rock I was standing on, onto the sandy bottom, I got a bit of a fright as I sunk to my waist (seriously) in sand. I’ve sunk to my knees in light packed sand pleny of times, but never to my waist before.
Anyway, continuing on through the canyon was pretty standard fare - there was a lot of climbing down slippery rock surfaces (all of the rocks were very slippery actually. I guess regular traffic through most other canyons helps wear away the slippery mosses and algae etc that normally cover all of the rocks), and quite a few swims. There were very few jump ins because there were always large rocks just under the surface. Some of the climb downs were quite tricky and dangerous - high risk of twisted ankle mostly.
The end of the canyon came quickly enough (took us 1.5-2 hours to complete the main canyon) and we had some lunch atop the waterfalls (I think it was about 3:30pm, or maybe even 4:30pm at this point). We abseiled down Arethusa Falls and started climbing our way down the creek (large boulders, lots of negotiating a way through it all) to the small waterfall which marked our exit from the creek up to the cliffline.
We took our wetsuits off, rinsed the sand out of our shoes, and started the stupidly steep climb straight up to the cliffline. The path was occasionally there, regularly not, then after a short while of traversing along the cliffline, it simply ceased to exist. It was hard going as the ground was steeply falling away to the right constantl, we were walking on loose dirt/rocks/scree with very few plants around to either hold on to or to stabilise the dirt, and where there were plants, they were usually sharp, spiky, thorny plants which just made things unpleasant. (Lawyer Palms? Not sure if they were or not, but there was one particular type of vine with razor sharp thorns on it which liked to trip you over and cut your legs open at the same time)
We kept trudging along this damn cliffline for hours, forever certain that just around the next bed…surely Beauchamp Falls would be just there… but it just kept not happening. Bush bashing, on an uneven unstable ground, with a group of 5, makes the shortest distances take so much longer. This wall section was less than 2.5km, but it took us around 5 hours to get to Greaves Creek. After 3 it was obvious that nightfall was coming, and we started to lose group Morale. There was talk of setting up camp and waiting until morning. Where we could ’set up camp’ exactly was another problem in itself - there was not an inch of flat ground anywhere, and getting down from this cliffline presented its own set of problems - the further down you went, the steeper, rockier, and dodgier it got.
The simple fact was, that getting stuck on this hillside wasn’t an option, and we had to press on. It was obvious though, that the situation had destroyed morale - we had been walking for several hours, it wasn’t fun walking, it was uncomfortable and a few of us had already run out of water. The group was moving slower, fatigue was setting in, and as light was failing, the risk of accident was rapidly increasing.
I wanted to get down to the creek below us, because I knew that the other side of the creek was a walking track. A walking track would resolve all of our morale issues, and simply prove that we could make it out tonight. I picked a line down the hillside, always moving towards Beauchamp Falls, and managed to get incredibly lucky by finding myself at a point above the river which wasn’t too difficult to get down into the ankle deep water. I reached the creek bank just as it got so dark that I had to pull my headlamp out.
Rob had a headlamp, I had a headlamp and a spare mini LED torch, and trev had a small torch too - Ifound the route across the creek, then guided everyone across. Alan climbed up the other side, and immediately found the path - I can’t express in mere words just how incredibly super duper holy crap releived I was. Nightfall was breaking point. If we didn’t reach the creek just as night fell, there was a good chance we wouldn’t have been able to convince the group to keep moving. Reaching the creek was a good start, but if the track wasn’t immediately on the other side - if we had to climb up the ridge for several hundred meters or something stupid like that, it could have been just as bad. But there it was. We had the track, and we had enough light (sort of - 4 light sources, 5 people) to follow it. Only another 2 hours of walking uphill to go! And all of us out fo water…
The trip from there was otherwise uneventful. We filled up a bottle with some running water as a safety, but rationed out the last 500ml water which rob had between us occasionally. And walked our way back up Rodriguez Pass Walking track to the Grand Canyon Walking track, then onto Pilcher Trail, finally walking back to the car along the dirt road. We got out first bit of phone reception on Pilcher trail at 10:30pm, and got messages out to loved ones telling them that we were alive, not injured, and everything was fine - call off the resuce parties! We got back to the cars at about 11:20pm, and have never been happier to be at the end of a days canyoning.
Better yet, we even managed to drive the two hours home (we all live in Sydney) without falling asleep while driving!