Dan stops. He is squatting on a boulder that’s blocking our way. He hurls his backpack over the side, beckoning us to follow suit. He grins and leaps down into the water, an eight-foot drop into a deep, dark pool. I take the plunge. The cold water rushes over my head. I kick up and take a breath, it’s a fantastic feeling.
Each step we take means adapting to the curvature of the canyon. We walk sometimes and we also swim. We wade and we splash. The experience is utterly beautiful. I’m struck by how remote we are, just us in the wilderness. I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. Each step requires thought, every jump needs a considered pause. It’s nothing short of incredible.
“Breathing the fresh air, I realise this is the most relaxed I’ve been in years.”
I am living in the moment and nothing else matters. We reach a narrow ledge. The water flows over the edge, dropping about twenty feet into a pool and then carrying on its merry way into a stunning gorge; so crystal clear that it looks like a mirror. It’s time to use our harnesses, so one by one we are to abseil down. Suddenly I feel my vertigo kicking in and with that, I’m forced to admit to the group that I am a first-time abseiler.
My sweaty palms tighten on the ropes and my muscles start to tense even though I haven’t started to descend yet. I shoot Dan a look of what must have looked like pure and utter terror. He nods back reassuringly, the kind of nod that says, “Oh come on, get on with it.”
I push off, my feet dangling in the air. It’s the oddest feeling, really. Naturally, I’m inclined to grab the rocks and scramble back up to safety, but I know I mustn’t. I summon my inner superhero and the calm I’ve acquired from these days out here in the city, gradually lower myself, a little at a time, slowly down until I feel touch the water below, prompting me to look up. I’ve come a long way, literally. I’m really proud of this moment.
The final leg of this canyoning adventure involves swimming through a narrow gulley. I lie on my back and my backpack helps me float. I look up and see the bright blue Australian sky above. Shafts of sunlight pierce through into the canyon, determined to light up the dark water. When my toes touch the ground, I drip onto a beautiful plateau. The sides of the canyon widen and the trees part. We are on a precipice overlooking Grose Valley. The water we have been wading through tumbles over the edge. A golden light soaks everything and we sit marvelling at the view. I take off my wetsuit and sit on the cliff. The sun warms my face and the cold water refreshes my hands. My feet dangle over the ledge. There’s a soundtrack of whistling lyrebirds and roaring cicadas. Breathing the fresh air, I realise that this is the most relaxed I’ve been in years.
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The next day, I wake from a well-deserved, heavy sleep. My body feels fantastic: well exercised, strong, and – after a huge, carby dinner of pasta and pizza (don’t judge) – well-fed. I have one last hike to do before heading back to Sydney and I’m grateful, as I feel that I’m not quite done with the Blue Mountains.
I set off to Baltzar Lookout. It’s a dusty trek into the bush to get there and the trees shade me from the blistering sun. The path gets increasingly steeper. A narrow ridge leads me through the foliage and out onto a small ledge. It’s early and there is no one else here. I have this magical place to myself, so I sit and let the spectacular view wash over me. It’s an extraordinary feeling being this exposed on all sides. I have to stand, vertigo or not. So I close my eyes and pull myself up.
I head back to Sydney, feeling at peace. I’ve been outside and active for two whole days, and I have also slept like a baby. I have allowed myself to stay focused on what I was doing: no mobile and no social media, just being in the moment. I’m at my most creative when I’m in the wilderness and I’m buzzing with new ideas. I can’t wait to get back home and see where they take me. As I’m writing this, I’m in a packed member’s club in London, but I still have that sense of serenity that I’ve absorbed from the Blue Mountains with me. I’m keen to tell everyone that I have a secret to share with them, something that will help them stay focused in the cool chaos of our city; head to the mountains and let time stop. Draw breath and just be, and then come back fighting. I know I have.
John is a chef and author. He was a guest of Visit New South Wales who used Blue Mountains Adventure Company for his canyoning experience. For more inspiration, also visit www.bluemts.com.au. John flew from London to Sydney with Etihad Airways.
Photography courtesy of Destination NSW
Get out there
… pack the right gear, including good footwear that can get wet (or stay dry), a sweatshirt and spare socks and shorts to walk in after you get out of the canyon. Make sure you get a dry bag so your kit doesn’t get wet.
… get up early in the morning and go and see the wild kangaroos bouncing around the Megalong Valley. It’s worth it.
… coffee like a pro (or Australian) and get your early morning caffeine fix in slick surroundings of Synonymous Café, Medlow Bath – easily the best brew in the mountains.
… forget to take your swimmers to wear under your wet-suit when canyoning. Trust me, it provides extra comfort where and when you’ll need it most.
… worry if you are short on time. The wonderful thing about any adventure in the Blue Mountains is that you can drive up and down to it from Sydney in a day. Of course, if you can, stay awhile.
… miss the Gilt Lounge bar at the QT Sydney hotel when you make it back to the city. Also, Gowings Bar & Grill, a modern Australian brassiere, gets pretty packed in the evenings, so it’s worth booking in advance in you want a table.