Summary: Ranon Canyon is an impressive canyon with a series of lovely abseils followed by a long, sustained constriction. It also allows you to explore a large part of the better-known Claustral Canyon.
Difficulty — Medium
Time — 10+ hours
Distance — 8 to 11 kms (depending on entry route and side trips)
Elevation — 350m (much of this is done twice!)
Number of abseils — 3-10 (depending on which entry you use)
Longest abseil — 20 or 30m (depending on anchor choice)
Swimming — Yes
Quality — 10/10
There are two upper branches that can be used to access Ranon Canyon: Mistake Ravine and Ranon Brook. Ranon Brook requires a short car-shuffle or longer walk, and also has up to four additional abseils. For most groups, this will lead to a longer day, so requires an early start.
If entering via Mistake Ravine, park your car in the Claustral car park. Driving west along Bells Line of Road, soon after crossing Mt Tomah the road passes to the right hand side of Mt Bell. Just after Mt Bell the road turns sharply to the right. Pull in approximately 50m after the corner in a large parking bay. There is also a larger parking area on the opposite side of the road if this is full or you are coming from the west.
If entering via Ranon Brook, the easiest option is to arrange a short car shuffle. Park one vehicle at the Claustral car park (as above) then drive west approximately 2km to a small parking area on your left, just past the 888 high point. If you only have one vehicle you will need to walk this section.
If entering via Mistake Ravine, walk about 50m west from the Claustral car park. Just past a small cutting, head south, following a footpad out a spur. From a rocky outcrop the track drops quickly to the south west before joining Mistake Ravine. Once in the creek, continue downstream about 700m to the junction with Ranon Brook. This section involves several sections which can be abseiled or carefully downclimbed. In some places a handline is useful.
If entering via Ranon Brook, join the foot pad from just north of the 888 high point, following the spur in an east-south-easterly direction towards a minor creek junction. From here it's about 900m to the junction with Mistake Ravine. As you get close to the junction, there are a number of drops starting with a 10m abseil, followed by a 5m, 15m, and 4m abseil. There are also several other awkward climb downs and a handline may be useful in places.
Continuing downstream from the junction, you will reach a short drop that can be downclimbed using a handline. Shortly after is a 5m abseil, a section of lovely canyon, then another abseil of about 5m.
As the canyon approaches the junction with Claustral, it can be followed down a pair of beautiful two-stage abseils (this can be avoided by traversing along ledges on the right hand side to a sling which allows a direct 30m abseil to the junction).
Scramble down logs into a small cavern (a handline is useful) to an anchor. This takes you down a small waterfall, across a pool, over a small ledge, and down a second waterfall. In total this drop is about 15m. Almost immediately after is the second drop, from a low anchor tied around a boulder. This is the most impressive abseil in the canyon and snakes down a waterfall, across a pool, then down a second waterfall to the junction with Claustral. In total this drop is about 20m.
From the junction, take a moment to explore about 100m into the spectacular Black Hole of Calcutta. It is possible to swim to the base of the final abseil in Claustral, but much of the deep, dark, impressive canyon can be viewed without doing so.
Following this junction, the impressive canyon formation continues for about 700m and provides great opportunities for photography.
Where Thunder Gorge joins from the right there is a nice sandy beach that provides a pleasant lunch spot.
It is possible to reverse Thunder Canyon for several hundred metres to the base of Westerway Falls. Explore around the base of the falls and you will find some enjoyable tunnels and caves, complete with stunning glowworms.
The creek opens up for the next 500m, but is pleasant walking. There are a number of awkward climb downs once the creek begins to narrow. There are two larger drops of about 5m, both of which can be carefully downclimbed or alternatively abseiled from slings on the right. Be cautious of the fixed rope that is often located on the left hand side of the second drop as this downclimb can be dangerous in higher water and has resulted in the death of an experienced canyoner. What was traditionally a long, dark, cold swim of about 50m through a dark section of canyon has become much shorter in recent years and all but 20m can generally be waded.
Soon after, you will see an obvious sloping waterfall coming in on the left. Go beyond this about about 50m, through a final swim, before the exit gully appears on your left. This is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. There is plenty of space here on rock slabs to remove wetsuits and have a snack before heading uphill.
Scramble up about 20m before traversing left under the cliff (don’t make the mistake of continuing straight up as it gets increasingly steep and dangerous). This traverse takes you into Rainbow Ravine, which you should follow upwards.
There are a number of tricky scrambles as you head up, which may require teamwork for members of the group who are not confident scramblers. Higher up, where the traditional exit route involved an awkward climb up tree roots (and usually fixed tapes), it is better to instead turn right and follow a foot pad under the cliffs. After following the ledge around the point, an obvious ramp allows you to walk up through a break in the cliffs. (This alternate route not only avoids two tricky scrambles, it avoids an area that has become seriously eroded due to canyoners).
Continue on the obvious track which goes up to the east of Camels Hump. When you reach the saddle, ignore the false tracks and turn right. The track continues over a small rise before coming to a minor saddle. Turn left here, following the track down a steep gully until you reach Claustral Brook.
Continue downstream for some time, ignoring a number of minor gullies that come in on the right. Following the junction with the larger Dismal Dingle, the creek drops through several small canyon sections, involving some short wades and swims. About 100m past an unavoidable swim, where the creek turns to the left, you will see an obvious gully joining from the right.
This track is the entry and exit track for Claustral Canyon, so is generally quite distinctive. Follow the gully upwards until the track climbs up on the left towards a minor ridge. From here it flattens out, before climbing again to join a spur. Follow the track across a large rock outcrop before reaching the road at a major bend. Turn left, walking behind the railing, to get to the parking area.
Be aware that the exit alone will take most groups three to four hours, so a late start may see you finishing in the dark.
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