More Pics from another trip of ours:
We met at the golden staircase at 9am to find the parking lot
almost full. As it turned out we had 22 people for our little abseil trip
today! Luckily I had bought my 60m rope as a spare, bringing our total number
of ropes to 6. Our aim was to do the 5 abseils at Castle Head and then head
on down to Ruined Castle for some lunch to meet up with another group of walkers
coming from further back.
We headed off along the fire trail and soon branched left off the fire trail on a marked walking track towards Castle Head. The few km of walking was easy, although we alternated between hot and cold as we hit patches of cool wind every so often. The weather was absolutely perfect.
Upon reaching castle head around 10:30 we admired the spectacular views for a while and could see Ruined Castle in front of us, but it seemed so far away and so small from the top of the cliff.
From the top of the cliff you scramble down the nose to the first set of abseil chains on the left. We took advantage of the extra room at the top and harnessed up before scambling down to the lower level. Those with the ropes headed off first and scrambled down to set up the abseils so we could get a good flow and avoid bottlenecks. We knew this would be essential if we were to get 22 people down 5 abseils in any reasonable time.
The first drop went over the left hand side of the nose of the
ridge. This was about 25m with a fairly easy start and a "walk"
down the jagged face of the cliff. The views over the Jamison valley were
supurb. The cliff line shielded us from the wind coming from the other side.
bottom of this abseil you need the belayer to swing you over to a small ledge, grabbing hold of a tree. This is fairly easy, but just a bit awkward. This first abseil I thought was the second best of the trip.
Luckily we had bought two sets of walkie talkies and were able to use them effectively over many of the drops to relay belay and other instructions. I left one at the top for the people at the tail, and the other three tranceivers were scattered throughout the group.
The 2nd abseil is just a few meters around to the right and consists of a more gentle 15m slope down another nose.
Another 20m or so straight ahead towards ruined castle the next anchor can be found a bit back from the nose of the rock. This 20m abseil is straigher than the second but not as shear or exposed as the first.
After a short walk of 100 or so meters, with a large and somewhat
tricky and exposed scramble down the right hand side to a lower level, you
come to the 4th abseil. This one is a small 10m abseil which goes over the
left side of the rock beside a large bare tree. From the bottom
of this drop you have go right for a few meters and then scramble back up the opposite rock, bringing you to the same level as where you abseiled from. You can also avoid the abseil and jump across the rather large gap between the two rocks, and I heard on the grape vine that one of the group did this jump. It's fasinating how word spreads throughout a large group of people on an abseiling trip as people leap-frog each other on the way down!
Yet another short walk straight ahead brings you to the 5th
and final abseil. But not before having to step across a rather large and
daunting gap, a safety line here may be needed for nervous or vertically challenged
people. It's easy as long as you don't look down. I don't
think any of our party used a safety line here.
I was one of the first few in the group, and from the top of
the fith abseil I could still see people coming down the first drop. A quick
check on the walkie talkie confirmed that there were another dozen people
still at the top waiting their turn, including my partner who had
all our lunch in her pack!
Getting to the chains for the last drop involves walking very
near to the edge as the chains are on the very nose of the rock, the most
exposed anchor of the trip. In high wind this could be very dangerous, and
a saftey line here should be mandatory for everyone until they are
on the rope. An experienced person should wait at the top here to help beginners with the safety line and getting on the rope.
The final drop is the highlight, almost 25m down the nose of
the cliff and then another 20m or so of overhang at the bottom. Just before
the overhang is a small bush that gets in the way of the rope. We had one
inexperienced abseiler get the rope caught up over this. Under
instructions shouted from below she had to climb several meters back up the cliff and untangle the rope from the bush, a good effort for a beginner.
From the bottom of the 5th drop you follow the ciff line on
the left straight down a track towards ruined castle. There are a few tricky
scrambles here and a handline make things easier in two or three locations.
This was one of the rare trips where I left my handline at home. So being near the front of the group without any retrived ropes we had to cobble together a few handlines with bits of small prussik cord and some tape.
A short troll through the bush on a rough track brings you to the Ruined Castle track. Left takes you back to the Golden Staircase and right takes you to Ruined Castle.
We headed off for well earned lunch at ruined castle around 2pm. From the castle we could still see people coming down the drops!
At the castle Les eagerly free climbed one of the pinacles for an excellent photo opportunity.
It took about 1.5hrs to get back to the cars via the golden
staircase, and a lovely walk it is. From the lookout half way up the stairs
you can see ruined castle again, and it looked incredibly small and so far
The cars left at the golden stairs allowed us to shuffle back to most of the other cars parked at the castle head end.
This was one of those trips in which we made good use of the UHF tranceivers, with which we were able to communicate over all 5 abseils. 4 tranceivers actually wasn't enough, we could have used many more for a large group like this. If the wind was strong we might not have been able to hear much at all without them. We also should have ensured that the first person over take a transceiver with them. We didn't always do this and found one person on the last abseil waiting down there alone for a long time not knowing what was happening at the top.
With 22 people spread over 5 abseils, we also fell a bit short of gear towards the end, so next time I would ensure we took more more handlines and bits and pieces. All up we had six ropes of varying lengths, half a dozen pussik cords and tape yet were left struggling.
Overall it was a classic abseil trip and a fantastic experience.
We did it comfortably with 22 people. The anchors are good and easy to find,
and the abseils are fairly easy for beginners (if they can handle the height).
It is one trip I'll be going back to at least once every season