Friday, 12 July 2019

Dry Canyon (Wollemi National Park)

An easy canyon walk in Wollemi National Park, the Dry Canyon is one of the few canyon walks in the Blue Mountains that does not require swim throughs or abseiling. Initially passing through forest and rock pagodas, the easy to follow trail passes through two constrictions, with the second being relatively sustained, dark and spectacular. One of the more accessible canyon walks, this is a great introduction to Blue Mountain canyons

Distance: 3 km (return)
Gradient: Generally easy, gentle gradients with on scramble down into the gorge
Quality of Path: Largely on a clear and well defined path in spite of being an non-managed trail
Quality of Signage: No signage; this is not a managed trail
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time:  1 Hour
Steps: Some informal steps, including a scramble into the canyon
Best Time to Visit: All year
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: From Lithgow, take State Mine Gully Rd north. As it passes through forestry plantations, the road becomes the rough and pothole-filled Glow Worm Tunnel Rd. Keep on Glow Worm Tunnel Rd as it enters the better graded section through Gardens of Stone National Park. Not long after entering Wollemi National Park, look for an unmarked car park on the left side of the road. This is before the 's' bend and tunnel and is listed on Google as the 'Pagoda Track'

Having fallen in love with the slot canyons of Karijini National Park during our 2017 road trip to WA's North West, visiting more slot canyons was something I'd been wanting to do ever since. Researching walks to do while in the Blue Mountains became a journey down the rabbit hole of the area's slot canyons, as the area is filled with an extremely large concentration of canyons. Unfortunately for most bushwalkers, none of them other than the Grand Canyon Walk are on a managed trail and it is difficult to find information about which ones can be done without abseiling or swim-throughs. Oz Ultimate lives up to its name as the ultimate website for information about these canyon walks online, and I was delighted to discover information about the Dry Canyon. Also known as Wolgan View or Nobles Canyon, the Dry Canyon is considered one of the easiest slot canyons in the Blue Mountains as it is both dry and not needing abseils, and as such it became a priority walk for us to check out after completing the overnight hikes part of our NSW holiday. 

Reached via the poorly maintained Glow Worm Tunnel Road, the walk starts at an unmarked car park just after entering Wollemi National Park. Considering the lack of trailhead and recognition as a walk by Parks and Wildlife, Alissa and I were surprised to find that a well formed trail could be followed from the car park, with any easily discernible trail all the way through to the end of the canyon.

Almost immediately after leaving the road, the trail passes through a series of rock pagodas that made the area look like the ruins of an ancient civilisation. These formations are really intriguing, and are one of the reasons the adjacent national park is known as the Gardens of Stone.

A cool landmark along the walk is to the canyon is a large pagoda that looks like the head of a turtle, with the rock behind it it being its shell. Over the years hikers have placed rocks in its mouth to make it look like it has teeth. As you can see, Alissa was clearly excited by this whimsical feature of the walk.

One aspect of the canyon that was of some concern for us was that most blogs and online sources seemed to gloss over how clear the start of the canyon walk is, or make a vague reference to scrambling without indicating how hard it is. Causing Alissa some concern, some online photos confusingly showed people abseiling into the canyon. Thankfully, the transition to the canyon couldn't have been easier, with the trail running through a narrowing of the rock.

From the narrow entrance, the trail continues into an open amphitheatre-like chamber, with the upper walls of the canyon towering overhead.

Ascending slightly and then dipping down, the trail leads to the edge of a scramble into the main part of the canyon. This was a section we were concerned with as it was not clear how difficult a scramble it was, and again there are photos of people abseiling down. What we found was very easy, so much so that even Alissa - who is scared of heights and doesn't love scrambling - said "oh, this is fine" as we climbed down.

After the scramble down, the trail enters a vegetated passage filled with ferns and thin trees.

From there the trail opens up slightly to a small chamber that features some taller trees growing up and out of the canyon.

Following the trail through a stand of tall ferns, the canyon enters the first of two constrictions.

This was exactly what I had been hanging out for; a narrow slot with dark corners and light shining down from above. Being accustomed to the roughness of the slot canyons in Karijini, the fact it was an easy stroll made this a lot of reward for very little effort.

The only negative of the first constriction is that it is not very long, and Alissa and I found ourselves entering another vegetated amphitheatre chamber almost as soon as we had entered the constriction.

This large amphitheatre did have its charms however, with ferns and some tall trees being a feature that reminded me of the Karris growing out of the doline at the entrance to Giants Cave in Margaret River.

Leaving the amphitheatre and entering the beginning of the constriction, the trail passes through a section filled with many tall ferns that once again heralded the transition to a slot canyon.

Although aptly named the Dry Canyon, the slot does seem to nevertheless provide a certain degree of lushness given the moss and ferns growing along the walls just before we entered the dramatic shadows of the Dry Canyon's best section.

Entering the narrowest part of the slot, the vegetation disappears and is replaced with bare rock with a greenish tinge (presumably from moss or lichens). Given the low light, I had really wished I had borrowed a tripod for this walk (or taken my lighter lens with my trekking pole tripod) as it would have been great to get some photos of the canyon shot at IS0 100 and with some longer exposures to really capture all the glorious detail.

Tripod notwithstanding, the constriction was really magnificent and we spent a good while admiring the way the light filters in from above and illuminates the canyon floor while the walls are engulfed in deep, dark shadows.

What's more - unlike the first constriction, the slot here is much longer and more sustained, providing a more satisfying experience that again was pretty easy.

The canyon widens slightly at a point that requires an easy drop down a low ledge to continue to the end of the canyon.

More well lit, this part of the slot provided an interesting contrast to the more shadowy section we had been in earlier.

The slot widens as it reaches the end of the canyon. Here a large chamber filled with boulders provides a dramatic end to the Dry Canyon before opening out.

The canyon end at a forested area. Here the trail continues on slightly before fading away. Apparently pushing on provides views of the Wolgan Valley and the extraordinarily expensive Emirates Wolgan Valley One&Only Resort. This is where the canyon's alternate name of Wolgan View Canyon comes from. Alissa and I were somewhat disinterested in seeing how the 1% spend their time in the Blue Mountains, and decided to simply begin the return journey back up the canyon.

While return walks aren't always great, being able to explore the constrictions again meant this was a welcome return leg that we felt was superior to looping up above just for the sake of not walking through the canyon again.

Besides, walking through the slot again meant being able to see it from a different angle and with slightly different lighting conditions.

And it also gave Alissa and opportunity to let out her inner goofball with some theatrical poses under the canyon's dramatic lighting.

The scramble out of the canyon was even easier than the scramble down, as you can see from Alissa's rather casual approach to the ascent. From, there is was a very easy walk back along the trail to the car.

After a bumpy, pothole-filled drive along Glow Worm Tunnel Rd, Alissa and I were really hoping that Dry Canyon would be worth the effort. Thankfully, the Dry Canyon was fantastic - a relatively easy canyon walk with two constrictions, the latter of which was a gorgeous display of a relatively sustained slot carved by the elements with spectacularly dramatic lighting. The fact it is a well defined trail in a dry canyon with easy terrain makes this a great beginner's experience of a canyon walk and one I would definitely recommend for those looking to explore a canyon as a day walk without entering the more challenging world of canyoning with abseiling, swim throughs and lilos.

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