Straight down the middle for maximum fun | Jake Anderson
The most frequent question I get asked as a canyon guide? Easy! "Dan, what is YOUR favourite canyon?"
The answer, however, is not so easy. For many years I gave the diplomatic reply that choosing a favourite slot canyon was like choosing a favourite child - it can't be done. They are all beautiful in their own way and you love them all equally, I would reply. It was my honest belief.
But as the years went by and I thought about it more deeply I realised that, for me, there was a first among equals when it came to the canyons of the Blue Mountains - Empress Falls Canyon.
Because of its immense scenic beauty, much of the land around Empress Falls Canyon was among the first in the Blue Mountains to be set aside as a recreation reserve back in the 1870s, during the reign of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and her Australian colonies. Another of Victoria's titles was Empress of India and the stunning falls were named in her honour. The name is perfectly apt. Empress Falls Canyon, I believe, is the queen of Blue Mountains canyons.
Why did it take me so long to work this out? There's a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. I've certainly never had anything remotely resembling contempt for Empress Falls Canyon, but as a guide it is inevitably the canyon you work in the most often, the canyon where you do your initial guide training and - in my case - the very first canyon I ever did. Living in Wentworth Falls, it's also my backyard canyon. And that familiarity can cloud your judgment.
Why do I now reckon that Empress is my favourite? Because, metre for metre, there is no other Blue Mountains canyon that gives you greater pleasure.
That pleasure starts with simply driving into the beautiful village of Wentworth Falls, with its sprawling gardens of cool climate plants and quaint weatherboard homes.
From the rock shelter on Kings Tableland where Aboriginal occupation has been dated back 22,000 years to the rock lookout where the famed naturalist Charles Darwin stared down into the cliff-lined Jamison Valley in 1836 and declared it one of the most astonishing things he had ever seen, this is a part of the Blue Mountains that just has so much history and so many great stories attached to it. Your BMAC guides can share all this with you.
The half-hour walk to the canyon (which starts at the iconic Conservation Hut cafe) is an absolute delight. The Valley of the Waters Track descends steeply through a fragrant forest of eucalypts, tea tree, banksia, wattle and mountain devils. Along the way you will often see or hear cockatoos, lyre birds and kookaburras.
The vegetation within the canyon is also magical. It is temperate rainforest, a remnant of the time Australia was still part of Gondwana - the great southern continent that included Antarctica, South America, Africa and India - 100 million years ago. Here the mighty coachwoods, sassafras and tree ferns create a real-life Jurassic Park. This is the Australia dinosaurs roamed through! This is canyoning, but it's also time travelling!
For the adrenalin junkies, Empress kindly contains four very exciting and very different jumps into the cool waters trapped by the rock walls squeezing in on either side. They never get old! The smooth, steep rock walls of the canyon are a natural masterpiece themselves, sculpted over millennia by rushing water. Then comes the crescendo - a 30 metre abseil down Empress Falls with a crowd of bushwalkers below cheering you on as water from the falls tumbles onto your helmet. Absolutely exhilarating! It's also a serious challenge, which is why we like to take you out abseiling on some dry cliffs in the morning so you have the technique and confidence to tackle the waterfall with style. At the bottom of the waterfall, it's time for your Blue Mountains Adventure Company guide to brew you a hot drink and hand around the lollies as you reflect upon your amazing canyon adventure.
The walk out is steep and hard work, but the perfect place to stop for a rest is Queen Victoria Lookout, which boasts a priceless view over the Jamison Valley, Kedumba Walls, Mount Solitary and the massive Blue Mountains wilderness beyond - the traditional country of the Gundungurra people.
As an adventure-loving Blue Mountains boy, Wentworth Falls resident and now a Blue Mountains Adventure Company guide for the past eight years, I long ago lost count of the number of times I have done Empress Falls Canyon, but every time still feels like a pleasure and a privilege.
And during this crazy summer it is the only canyon we can currently guide due to the bushfires, and I'm extremely grateful that I can still share my favourite canyon with you.
Written by Dan Lewis - BMAC guide since 2014
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