Blue Mountains adventure guides help create 3D map of Claustral Canyon

A team of Mountains adventure guides has been working with a specialist American 3D graphics expert and photographer in recent months to map a 50 million-year-old canyon in one of the most remote parts of the Blue Mountains.

The aim is to bring a virtual 3D experience of one of the most dangerous canyons in the Mountains to an armchair near you.

This virtual travel experience is being put together by a 3D graphics expert from America, Luke Farrer, and photographer Michael Breer. Breer had one more day of photography to film in Claustral Canyon in Mt Tomah in late April and then the movie experience was set to go into final post production in America. 

Mr Farrer said his specialist laser scanner, which would look more at home in a hospital and sits in a rather large red suitcase, takes millions and millions of laser signals producing 3D images which, when layered afterwards with detailed photographs of the surroundings, can give the appearance of actually being there — even better than video.

Mr Farrer saw an image of Claustral in National Geographic in 2011 and a visit two years later confirmed it was the place to map.

“It’s old, it’s ancient, and unlike the canyons in America is full of the most beautiful ferns, mosses, and wildlife. There’s a whole different ecosystem down there. It’s like being in a different world, a Garden of Eden.”

Viewers will get interactive control of the canyon. The dark, narrow canyon is one of the most advanced in the Mountains with the warning on guiding websites indicating it’s for fit, adventurous people only.

More than 160 backers donated $37,000 through an online crowd funding effort called kickstarter to fund most of the project. They will be able to see the final result first. 

The project means viewers will be able to don a headset to rapel down the canyon, moving up and down — even possibly seeing a snake.

Mr Farrer said he could not have contemplated the project without the help of the five experienced Mountain guides; specialists in rigging and safety in canyons.

“It took a lot of planning. Claustral is very inaccessible and requires abseiling down three really tough waterfalls ... the scanner was very heavy and couldn’t get wet.”

Lucas Trihey of Leura-based Event Safety Services said there were plenty of practical challenges to overcome to produce that immersive visual experience and get the scanner and the people into the narrow canyon safely.

uipment and a unique radio network to maintain communications to the production crew while in the canyon.

“The iMax movie we did in the ’90s had similar logistical challenges ... there was fairly advanced rigging work, we made special mounts for the equipment to sit on, it had never been used in that environment before.”

Head guide Gilbert Meunier brought them into the canyon where, with National Parks and Wildlife Service permission, they lived for about 12 days on and off, far from any creature comforts, mapping the sculptured walls all around them and the dramatic abseils down waterfalls.

Mr Meunier said he enjoyed going through the canyon slowly, seeing so much detail.

“I think that was the highlight, I’ve never gone through the canyon so slowly, normally we shoot through and we need to get out in a reasonable time [because of the cold and the difficulty of the canyon].”

Mr Trihey is excited that armchair bushwalkers will get to experience what the hard core canyoners enjoy.

“I think in balance it won’t stop enthusiasts, it will show many people who never have a chance to see this unique place and from an environmental perspective it’s very positive, it will create a lot more advocates to protect the canyon.”

Dates for release to museums have not yet been revealed, but laptop viewers may get to access it in September. Rather like a video game on a computer they can use a joystick or keys on the keyboard to move around or, for the full experience, they can use a virtual 3D headset. (Details:  www.kickstarter.com and search for journey to a lost canyon).

Scenes from the canyon may also be shown during Vivid Sydney at Circular Quay next year.

Meanwhile Mr Farrer’s next stop is Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, another natural place just waiting for an armchair explorer to discover.

Claustral Canyon. Photo: Michael A Breer.

Claustral Canyon. Photo: Michael A Breer.

Guide Stewart Hayes and production manager Gilbert Meunier  prepare to abseil into the narrow waterfall section of Claustral Canyon with a load of scanning equipment. Photo: Michael A Breer.

Guide Stewart Hayes and production manager Gilbert Meunier prepare to abseil into the narrow waterfall section of Claustral Canyon with a load of scanning equipment. Photo: Michael A Breer.

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