Adventure photography is about balance. The photographer must figuratively balance the benefits of taking a superior camera with the risk that it could be damaged, or compromise on image quality in order to have a camera that is always at hand. Then of course there is the literal balancing when taking photographs in situations that often pose a physical threat to the camera.
This is the terrible true story of a photographer literally losing his balance with a camera in a canyon.
My introduction to canyoning had been in the South Wolgan area of the Wollemi National Park, so this trip with the Australian National University Mountaineering Club was a return to familiar territory. We were even returning to the same campsite at Barcoo Swamp on the Newnes Plateau where I’d been annoyed on our previous mission that a group of campers had left smouldering fires and enormous piles of rubbish. This time, however, we were in training for the upcoming Tasmanian Canyoning Expedition funded by the club, so it was all seriousness.
At the very least we were testing out our new Bestard Canyon Guide boots, which had arrived from Spain just in time. These are almost universally reviewed as the best all-rounder canyoning boot on the market (Fat Canyoners; Canyon Magazine, our own review to come soon). Best of all, when I contacted Bestard to source the boots (they are almost impossible to buy in Australia) they had also been very friendly and supportive of our expedition, and in spite of being a small family business they were willing to give us a good price on the boots and send them directly to us. But this had been my initiative, and the Aussie dollar had not been kind, so the boots had a lot to live up to.
The other thing at stake was the reputation of canyoning itself. My ginger compatriot and fellow blogger Chris is highly skeptical of bushwalking in general, but was convinced to attempt canyoning on this trip.
We’d chosen a good location to show off the sport and the boots. Galah Canyon is well-respected in the canyoning community as good value for effort, and tends to be fairly high on most people’s list. This was the first time that almost all of us had done it, and we were indeed rewarded with a typical Blue Mountains slot canyon.
Highlights included the infamous anchor buried somewhere under the sand and of questionable safety.
And lowlights included Chris not being as taken by the sport as we’d hoped.
The boots certainly held up well, showing no wear, but there was some discussion of the discomfort in using them to descend hillsides as ones toes tended to slide forward and be crushed against the front of the boot. Still, they seemed to grip well enough (nothing will ever be grippier than a pair of Volleys of course) and were very comfortable the rest of the time.
Our mission the next day was to train for exploratory canyoning by exploring the unknown canyon of Penrose Gully… which turned out to be overambitious when we couldn’t find the entrance. Our back up canyon was Tiger Snake, the one that I’d completed on my first canyoning weekend and been so enchanted by.
Yet this time it was not to end so well.
Chris’ hand, damaged from crashing off a mountain bike only a day before the canyoning trip was not looking happy, as the wound was being kept open and puffy by the waterlogging of the skin.
The bundle-of-sticks anchor had seen the addition of new sticks since I’d last abseiled here, although it didn’t look any safer for it.
An adorable little green frog provided a happier distraction.
And the rest of us tried to keep up his spirits, with photographer Jason and I running around taking shots of all the pretty pools in the constrictions. Earlier in the trip I’d remarked on how brave Jason was to throw around his Canon DSLR without so much as a neckstrap in such an environment, only protecting it in the Pelicase for abseiling. He’d assured me that he’d never dropped a camera in his life.
Of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in.
Jason had scrambled up between two walls to get the right shot, and, in a moment of imbalance, the camera plummeted into the pool below. There was some cursing and a hurried retrieval of the camera, but the rest of the trip certainly turned quiet.
The worst part was that later, back at camp, in carefully drying out his SD card, he left it behind.
But at least there were wildflowers!