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Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 12:35 pm
by mandragara
Hi all,

I was wondering if I could pick the brains trust on the continued closure of Wollangambe One. It's been almost half a year since the tragic accident, however, the canyon still remains closed. We know that the siphon that caused said accident is only an issue in times of high water - plus the feature is easily bypassable under virtually all conditions.

I was wondering if anyone was aware of when NPWS plans on reopening the canyon, and if it would be considered irresponsible (and not just rule-breaking) to enter the area regardless of the closure?

Winter swims down W1 and W2 are a favourite of mine, and while W2 is lovely, W1 is the jewel in my opinion.

Cheers,

Richard

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 12:59 pm
by FatCanyoner
I haven't heard anything reliable from within NPWS. I was planning to follow it up closer to Spring.

I know there is some track upgrade work about to begin in the area, which could be good news.

When the accident originally happened, I was of the view that this closure could continue for quite some time. Two deaths in a popular area is very significant, especially as the trip is popular with inexperienced people, families and kids.

If you have a read of the policy and procedures NPWS implemented for landslide and rockfall risks a few years ago, you'll get a good insight into how these risks are now quantified. Unfortunately, the more popular an area is / the more people using it, the lower the risk needs to be to justify a closure. I.e. a remote canyon that has a hundred people a year visit poses a much lower risk than if the same hazard is in a popular area visited by tens of thousands of people.

With the police investigation / coronial examination still ongoing, NPWS will be sitting back to see what that finds. They won't want to reopen it, then have a coroner criticise them for making that decision without a proper detailed risk assessment. It's also hard for them because there's no easy way to assess when the canyon can safely be open, without having someone physically descend it, which would be a prohibitively costly way to open and close it between rain events.

If I were you, and was considering going into a closed area, I also wouldn't be posting about it on a public forum. If you do get caught / need a rescue, the fact that you've provided evidence that you knowingly entered a closed area will make it much more likely you'll get prosecuted. Given one of the people who died was a police officer, I think they'll be taking a particularly dim view.

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 1:37 pm
by mandragara
Thanks for the reply, I'll go hunt down that NPWS policy document for my own curiosity.

I find it odd that they make a comment on the safety of canyons at all, as the sport is intrinsically risky. Do they also close rock climbing areas for safety reason I wonder? (Wouldn't know, don't climb).

As for posting on a public forum, I'm a bit of a tool at times but not a liar. I'm straight up about my idiocy :)

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 2:53 pm
by FatCanyoner
Richard, here's the link to the NPWS policy: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topi ... -rockfalls

If, like me, you're a nerd who likes taking a deep dive into the details, download the two PDF documents. It's fascinating stuff (not that I understand it all).

In answer to your question, yes, NPWS do close areas due to safety concerns. Have a read up on Spring Creek Canyon at Bungonia if you want to know about the worst case scenario. Shut for 23 years because of two rockfalls (and no one was even injured).

Once an area is a popular track -- which that section of the Wollangambe effectively is -- NPWS has a much higher duty of care. They maintain the tracks, they have signposts, they include information about it, so if it's unacceptably risky, they wear the blame.

In response to your original question, I've made some calls and I think there's likely to be good progress in the coming months. None of this is official, but I've been reliably told that NPWS have decided on a plan for dealing with the hazard, and will be starting to implement it this month. The track upgrades will also be taking place next month. All of that points to a likely reopening by Spring. That would actually be an exceptionally good outcome, in the circumstances.

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 3:21 pm
by mandragara
PDFs were an interesting read. Not quite sure how they incorporate varying conditions and their impact on patronage into their risk calculations. Basically that the canyon is busier when the conditions are safer, so a straight average of risk\patronage doesn't represent the situation. Will have to read more closely.

Thanks for the insider tips that they're working on it, good to know it's not forgotten (like I think Rodriguez Pass might be?).

I think for now I'll confine my winter splashes to between Serendipity and Boronia Point

Also not to sound ignorant, but what track upgrades are you referring to?

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 3:29 pm
by FatCanyoner
Wollangambe entry / exit tracks are getting an upgrade, addressing some of the erosion issues, etc. I believe a couple areas will even be re-routed. A NPWS contractor will be starting on that work shortly.

Tracks are often closed during upgrade works, so I wouldn't expect the Wollangambe 1 closure to be lifted until after track work is finished.

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Thu 10 Jun, 2021 5:13 pm
by rcaffin
You think I care in this weather????
Cheers
Roger

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Fri 11 Jun, 2021 11:45 pm
by mandragara
Interesting, I hope they don't sanitize the tracks too much! I quite like the W1 exits dodgyness.

Roger, the water is amazingly clear in Winter and the Yabbies are living in slomo land, best time of year to be down there IMO :)

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Sat 03 Jul, 2021 7:04 pm
by FatCanyoner
I've got some good news and some bad news about this.

I was talking to an extremely reliable source within NPWS about the progress towards Wollangambe One reopening. He confirmed that a formal risk assessment had been done, a plan to fix the hazard is finalised, and they have even flown the rocks / materials that will be used in by helicopter (they are using natural materials, but there weren't suitable rocks nearby that could be easily moved). The plan is to fix the hazard by filling the chamber / plugging the hole. This work will be undertaken in a couple weeks time. They are hopeful that this approach will work, but are being cautious as they haven't done something similar before.

Now for the bad news. Because the Wollangambe River is so popular, and visited by so many people with very limited skills, they are treating this hazard very differently to how they manage other canyons. The filling in work won't be enough to reopen the canyon. They will need to wait for a couple reasonable rain events so they can monitor the hazard and confirm that they've addressed the risk. This is likely to involve physical inspections after rain and possibly monitoring with cameras. If those examinations at higher flow levels find the hazard is still there, they will need to come up with other potential solutions before Wollangambe One can reopen.

So assuming the work occurs smoothly, resolves the issue, and we get a few good rain events to confirm its been effective, the canyon may open in Spring. If anything goes wrong in that process, or we just get a dry stretch, it may be Summer or even further down the track before this section is reopened.

Re: Wollangambe One - ongoing closure

PostPosted: Wed 07 Jul, 2021 7:34 pm
by mandragara
Thanks for the update.

Happy to hear that NPWS is taking steps towards letting themselves be comfortable with opening the canyon again - rather than doing a long term closure a la National Pass

I wonder how they feel about that jump between W1 and W2, maybe they can put a ladder in ;)

Nah I'm just joking, it's probably good to go the extra mile given the large number of newbie canyoning mishaps recently. I'm just a sadist and really like freezing my nuts off in the 'Gambe in winter haha.