Empress Canyon, revisited
Updated: Mar 1, 2018
There is one thing I enjoy more than seeing Earth's natural beauty, it's seeing the natural smiles gleaming among friends as we experience it together. Empress is a quick and easy canyon involving an abseil down a 30m waterfall into an awaiting pool. On this weekend, 3 friends and I went looking for slippery slides, and smiles as big as the Blue Mountains.
24 February 2018
I seem to never tire of the 3hr drive down to the Blue Mountains, it relaxes me. Christina and I had planned this trip a couple month's earlier, probably after too many beers and an uninhibited session of online gear shopping. Between the two of us, we're sure we keep the owners of those online adventure retailers fed. We've been taking turns bouncing back and forth between South East Queensland and Sydney Surrounds, enjoying life while it's in our grasps. On this occasion, we each brought a friend; Maria from Catalonia and Franziska from Germany.
Franziska, a Carl Zeiss colleague of Christina, is one of those natural athletes. Give her the rules of your favourite sport and she'd probably kick your ass. Now, to be fair, it is in her blood. There are not that many people I know who's father was a gold medal winner in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
I met Maria at the climbing gym. She'd just moved to Newcastle and expressed she longed for weekend adventures. I couldn't help but think, 'you're speaking to the right person'. It didn't take long to convince her to join us on a canyoning/climbing trip to the Blue Mountains.
After a late arrival and an early breakfast, we quickly scooted to the Wentworth Falls Conservation Hut. We wanted to beat the rush of tour groups and get ahead of potentially long queues. We secured primo parking spaces, dropped the tailgate, and sorted our gear. Of course, because I'm "super organised", I led the verbal checklist, 'rope, harnesses, helmets, descenders...all good, let's go!' Halfway down the approach it became apparent that prussiks, locking carabiners, and dry shorts should have made the list.
The canyon started along the Nature Track, where it intersected with the Valley of the Waters Creek. Up until this point, the three ladies had trustingly followed my guidance, even when I clearly wasn't certain whether we were supposed to turn right or left at the earlier T-junction (right). However, my suggestion that canyons were best experienced in the nude were met with piercing glares. So on went the wetsuits and we were off to plunk ourselves into the first plunge, the one that takes a firm hold of both lungs and squeezes as your torso submerges into the clear, crisp, mountain waters.
I really enjoy Empress Canyons. It's easy to get to, the approach is quick, relatively safe, and value for effort is fantastic. I love how the water carved walls weave like horizontal waves frozen in time. It is spectacular to see the range of flora and fauna living in a fairly lightless environment and on this occasion, 3 curious yabbies teased my toes. I really recognise the escape a canyon gives me. Adult responsibilities, who needs them?
For thirty minutes we slid down slides, jumped into pools, and squeezed through tight crevices. We stopped to admire the scenery, and of course, take plenty of photos. As you're probably aware, I have a passion for capturing the moment through still and moving pictures, but on this trip, I didn't need any Carl Zeiss lenses to look through to remember the smiles of my friends. Vividly I can recall Maria looking down at me from a rocky ledge with a smile beaming rays brighter than the sun itself and asking, 'can we do it again?'
Short but sweet, the canyon came to an end and we found ourselves staring down a 30m waterfall. There were two abseiling options and the team voted for the more challenging rappel on the right. The tricky part was at the beginning where a sharp ledge forced us into a sudden drop, immediately followed by litres of water that bombarded our faces as we tried to control our descent to the first ledge. A couple of kicks and into the fresh awaiting pool we plunked, one by one.
I said earlier the flora and fauna, spectacular formations, and escape from reality is what I love about Empress Canyon. It's true, but what really gives me an internal smile is witnessing the uncontrollable smile on friend's faces that could light up even the darkest of canyons.
For more information on Empress Canyon, see Oz Ultimate track notes here.