Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Canyoneering in Canyon Creek

I always knew that Gold Run's Canyon Creek was good for more than hair-raising, cliffy trails, rainbows in mist, wrangling wrens, access to the North Fork, and the general elfin glamor of it all.

There is such a thing as "canyoneering," in which gorges with waterfalls and pools are descended, often using ropes. A few days past, such a descent was made in Canyon Creek, from the little wooden bridge, down to the North Fork.

Here's an eyewitness account:

Joe's Report
Did my first Californian Canyon yesterday.. t'was awesome.

6/8/2005 -Ophidiophobia aka O-pho

Rob Cobb, Joe Budgen, Steve Brezovec, Greg Brown

After a early morning start on what promised to be a hot day.
And a prety cruzie walk in.. our descent started about 1000m above
sea level and ended around 300m above sea level... so it was a big
ass walk out... similar in size to a Blue Mountains style, Kanangra
exit.. and just as nasty! Tho, instead of leeches we had to deal
with Rattlesnakes, Hornets, Bees, Mozzies, Bears (-thankfully we
didn't come across any of those) and a lovely little plant called
Poison Oak..

The creek showed the scars of California Gold-Rush fever. Signs of
yester-years' mining attempts, in the way of various metal objects
scattered in random spots throughout the Canyon.. steel plates that
are at the begining of a long journey toward the Pacific Ocean.

During the course of the day we found evidence of only one existing
anchor, so although it showed signs of a limited 'Canyoneering
History' none of us were sure if it had been decended 'in full'.
This kept things interesting for our group, as none of us knew what
lay hidden around the next bend, or beneath the next waterfall.

Our day started off nice and easy with a walk in via old Mining
Trails (dodging small patches of the Poison Oak along the way). Soon
enough we hit the creek and began wading down-stream. Almost
immediately we were confronted with a 20m rappel through a ranging
waterfall into a open 'v' shaped valley.. for the first 20mins the
Canyon remianed open and pleasant, giving no clues to the
seriousness of terrain that lay ahead. Just when it was looking like
it would be 'a walk in the park' the mellow creek tightened-up and
plunged into a deep rock chasm with un-relenting waterfalls.

The chasm was carved out of solid (white) granite. The unforgiving
white-water had carved long sections of Canyon barely wide enough to
swim through.. and boulders created constant obstacles that tested
our (or at-least my) scrambling abilities.

We would drop through raging waterfalls and be confronted by either :
1. A tight swim through narrow corridors of towering rock walls to
the next fall
2. Drop directly into hanging potholes, fight the current to the
safety of a ledge where we would clamber out of the water before it
plunged over yet another drop.

This process repeated itself throughout the day (there were about 10
major waterfalls and several smaller ones, most
requiring rope-work to negioate).

Due to the savage flash floods that pass through this canyon, the
walls were polished 'baby-butt' smooth, with no signs of life.. just
un-living, un-feeling rock.. rock, everywhere you looked. A big
change from the lush green Canyons I had experienced the previous
week in the PNW (and my local Canyons in Australia).

No trees for anchors here. We carried a drill and bolts, fully
expecting that at some stage we would be faced with no choice but to
drill anchors into the canyon wall, a time consuming job (and not
much fun for us -or- the canyon). However, with the aid of some
inventive anchor construction.. sometimes a choc-stone that we could
wrap a sling directly around, other times a 'custom-built' anchor,
made by stacking up a small mountain of rocks in the streambed and
tying a sling around the base.. the day passed without having to
resort to 'bolting'... (so yes.. we
carried a heavy-ass drill and batteries through the canyon for
nothing!).. Tho I estimate Stevee donated about 100-200ft of webbing
to this monster of a creek.

Snakes were the name of the game (Hence the name Ophidiophobia,
which I'm led to believe means "fear of snakes"). We came across a
massive Rattler, drowned in a deep Pothole.. not to mention a whole
bunch of other more friendly snakes that Rob tried to catch and show
me.. I, being terrified of most creatures, am happy to report that
most of them were able to slither off under rocks etc.. before Rob
could wave them in my face...
"You're Australian.. you guys love snakes don't 'cha?"
"Umm NO, I think you have me confused with that guy who hunts

Finally, just as I was thinking there was no end to this beast, 9hrs
after entering the water, our passage through the canyon was
complete.. we busted out into the valley floor. The sunlight (and
heat -did I mention it was 40degC) was fading.. now all that was
left was to pioneer a 700m ascent out of the gorge and back to the
car. So began our uphill battle against Gravity, Poison Oak and
clouds of Mozzies. Our fearless leader displayed some fine scrub-
bashing skills that would put the most seasoned Blue Mtns walker to
shame.. and before we knew it we were back on the old mining trails
that skirt the rim of the canyon.

Looking back into the dark chasm we had just passed through I
couldn't help but think "I'm damn glad I didn't walk down here and
check it out before hand.. I don't think I would have had the
courage to go through it!" But I'm sure glad I did.. without a doubt
it was some of the finest 'canyoneering' I've ever participated in.

To our surprise we arrived back at the car about a half hour before
nightfall.. (guess I bought the head torch along for nothing as
well!) and promptly set off in search of the nearest Pizza joint..
yet another successful Canyon adventure.

Nth America once again shows the humble tourist that it possess some
awesome adventure.. I am truly amazed at the variety of Canyons on
offer. From the Ultra-lush canyons in the PNW to this polished
granite beauty of Ntrn Calif.. I can only dream of what gems are
hidden amoungst the Colorado Plateau..

Once again a big 'Cheers' goes out to all those involved.

Sounds like an awesome adventure, tho I don't like the idea of bolting Canyon Creek (they did no bolting, fortunately), or of leaving webbing behind.

Why didn't they just take the trail back up from the river?

A true environmentalist would have attempted to revive the poor rattlesnake using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Once again a fine bunch of metamorphic rock is somehow dubbed "granite," I suppose if it's the Sierra, it must be granite, right?


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