One week down on La Réunion

By Jonathan Smith 8 November 2013
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One week down on La Réunion trip and the boys are going full steam ahead.

Jonathan Smith blogs about his team’s adventure to La Réunion – a trip sponsored by Australian Geographic Adventure and The North Face

WE HAVE NOW COMPLETED the first week of our expedition and we have been canyoning at a hectic pace since we arrived. After spending our first night together camped by the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, Scott, Linc and I headed up into the mountains and after 400 switchbacks arrived at the hamlet of Cilaos. After stocking up on French pastries, we began our descent of Bras Rouge, a canyon with a few moderate abseils and slippery, ochre coloured rock.

Even the seasoned professionals Scott and Linc had difficulties dealing with the glassy rock and thin ropes on the first few pitches. After a while we settled in and within a few hours – consisting mostly of rock hopping, jumps and slides – we were hiking up the steep exit trail. The following day we were up before dawn to descend the entire Fleures Jaunes canyon. This canyon, with a series of deep, plunging abseils up to 60 m, is the most popular on the island and we found ourselves behind several groups. The lower section, known as La Chapelle, contained a vast undercut chasm with a powerful waterfall which we were able to descend from an impressively placed anchor in the ceiling. We found ourselves walking out in the dark, before driving across the island to camp at the Jurassic Park-like Foret de Bebour.

The following day we descended the narrower, more aquatic Trou Blanc. This canyon receives a significant amount of water and several canyoners – who had underestimated the torrential power of the water rushing down the canyon walls – have died in recent years when it was in flood. We continued to hone our skills, focusing on slippery rock traverses, as this canyon contained many. We refined our equipment (eg. length of safety lines, use of the head cams) and found ourselves working better as a team.

Scott had developed our schedule with increasing difficulty – starting with easier canyons and working our way up to the more technically challenging and physically demanding canyons. At every opportunity we picked the brains of guides and locals for tips on exit and entry routes, weather conditions and anchors.

The next day we began the first of our longer canyons, the unusually named Dudu (le Grande Ravine). This canyon presented us with our first real challenge. After descending 42 m into a pool on our first abseil, we were unable to pull down the rope – it had become tangled and as much as we pulled from below it would not budge. We all looked up together, asking the same question in our minds. Before the question was asked, Linc volunteered to climb up through the scrub and jungle on the side of the waterfall to retrieve the rope. It took him almost two hours but he was successful, and received the `hero’ award for the day.

The next pitch was 73 m off of a solid anchor, followed by a 35 m abseil from a tree with a hanging re-belay for a 90 m overhanging abseil into a pool far, far below. I was pleased Scott was leading the way. The rugged track out involved several climbs through the thick undergrowth, hanging off roots and rocks – it felt like a real Indiana Jones adventure. I wished I had a machete.

The weather had been kind to us, so we continued canyoning for as long as the rain stayed away. The next big canyoning challenge came in the form of Takamaka 1 – a deep, broad canyon with a mixture of wet and dry rock surfaces, huge, exposed abseils and a mongrel of a walk out. Just getting to the first belay anchor was scary – an exposed slab of vertical rock with limited holds and a nasty drop onto dry rock below.

But despite the challenges we encountered over the next few hours of abseiling and rock hopping, it was worth it when we descended the towering falls into mini Trou de Fer. Water cascaded down all sides of the semi-cirque, careening past beautiful palms and ferns clinging to the sodden rock face. The final pitch felt almost magical – with water plummeting down the slick black walls into a pool surrounded by lush vegetation. It felt like descending into the Garden of Eden.

The following day we decided to rest – to check and dry our gear, and prepare for the big one – the infamous Trou de Fer (The Iron Hole). Scott in particular was itching to do it. He had thoroughly researched the route, especially an imposing hanging re-belay on the monster third falls (270 m), which required some skill to throw a grappling hook toward a target while swinging in thin air 90 m below the anchor and 140 m above the ground! To the best of our knowledge we were to be the first Australia team to complete the two-day epic journey unassisted. We had spent a week refining our skills and building up our experience on the slippery La Réunion granite. And now we were ready…

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