Since 1915 National Geographic has produced the highest quality representations of our world through our wall maps. See photos and get wallpaper of Australia in this travel photo gallery from National Geographic. Today perhaps thousands of Aussies hike canyons, hundreds descend into them by ropes, but only a handful explore new ones.
During the past 38 years Noble has made some 70 first descents in the Blue Mountains, just a few hours' drive west of Sydney. Noble's chief rival in the sport is a canyoneer named Rick Jamieson, who earned Noble's disapproval some years back by writing a guidebook that revealed a few secrets of the canyon landscape. Canyoneering by sunburned white people began in the 1940s, but the biggest slots weren't explored until the 1960s, when modern climbing ropes and equipment were adopted. Robens and I drive west from Sydney for four hours, camp in Kanangra-Boyd National Park, and by dawn are tramping down the Mount Thurat fire trail. After less than an hour Robens has guided us precisely to the top of Danae Falls, although he's never been here before. Up this high, Danae Brook hasn't yet cut a slot in the rock face, so we rappel through plumes of spray beside the waterfall, our feet slipping on giant fern fronds. At the top of the third rappel we're deep in the dark slot, standing on a slick, sloppy ledge in a pouring waterfall. Below the big boulder the slot closes up, and the silky water flows horizontally along the cavelike chamber back out to the edge of the cliff.
The next three descents are just as extraordinary and drop us into hanging ponds of frigid water, like swimming pools midway up a skyscraper.
Robens is perfectly happy to continue in his birthday suit, but I pull on heavy nylon pants. When we reach the bottom, the Danae becomes a steep boulder field, which Robens, naked but for his pack and tennies, practically runs across. Wet with sweat, we reach the peninsular plateau of the Gangerang Range, directly opposite Danae Brook Canyon, shake hands, and whoop. Striding along the track, the sun at my back, dreaming of the avocado-tomato-prosciutto-provolone jaffle I'll cook over our campfire tonight, feeling warm and tired, my body and mind cleansed by the descent of Danae, I see Robens swerve off into the bush.
Our executive series features an elegant, richly colored antique-style that delivers incredible detail and accuracy. These driven individuals tend to have a rugby player's legs, knees crosshatched with scar tissue from all the scratches, a penguin's tolerance for frigid water, a wallaby's rock-hopping agility, and a caver's mole-like willingness to crawl into damp, dark holes.

More than a decade ago Jamieson, also a physics teacher, took me on the first complete descent of two big canyons in the Blueys, Bennett Gully and Orongo. Danae Brook Canyon, hidden in the labyrinthine heart of the Blue Mountains, is one of the most difficult. Most weekends for the past ten years Robens, 39, has escaped the city to go canyoneering in the bush.
We stretch into sticky wet suits, clap on helmets, cinch up our harnesses, and sail out into space. By our next rappel the Danae has sliced a fissure that's only four feet wide but cuts 50 feet back into the stone. It's a canyoneer's hard-knocks joke: "roll stone" for "ralstone," referring to Aron Ralston, the American who was forced to cut off his arm when a boulder rolled on top of it in a Utah canyon. Sliding to the inside of the giant stone turns out to be like squeezing into a narrow, ten-story elevator shaft pouring with water. Two weeks earlier in another canyon I managed to step into a stinging tree, a uniquely horrific plant that burns like stinging nettles and leaves a painful rash that doesn't go away for a month. Robens throws himself off the stone, howling like a free man, arms and legs spread wide in the air, closing them like a butterfly right before he hits the water 20 feet below. He leaps, lands on a slimy, snot-slick stone, almost loses his balance, finds his balance, and leaps again, all in one fluid motion.
From here we can take a trail, the Kilpatrick Causeway, and the going will be easy (although in 2006 a hiker fell off a 230-foot cliff on the same trail and died). A row of stick figures drawn in ocher red, obviously naked, all with their arms and legs spread wide, all quite obviously rejoicing.
Carsten Peter photographed an expedition into the crater of Nyiragongo, a volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for our April 2011 issue. The Australians have canyons, so they go canyoneering, a hybrid form of madness halfway between mountaineering and caving in which you go down instead of up, often through wet tunnels and narrow passageways. The "Blueys" aren't mountains at all but an ancient sedimentary plateau deeply incised by river erosion and densely carpeted in eucalyptus—imagine the canyonlands of Utah covered with Louisiana foliage. In his guidebook Jamieson describes it as "one very, very long day" in which canyoneers must make nine or more tricky abseils, a climbing term for descending on a rope.
A shaggy-haired, wry, soft-spoken, self-employed computer consultant, Robens, like Noble, fearlessly bicycles the city streets, and he has thighs like Lance Armstrong's to prove it. After crossing Kanangra Creek, we strike out into the trailless bush, navigating by map and GPS.

We're forced to swing into the pounding waterfall, an awkward maneuver that slams us both into the rock. Holding my head under the emerald water, I spot blue-shelled yabbies, the native crayfish, clawing their way along the bottom of the pool.
It's amazing to watch, like witnessing the movements of some earlier, better adapted human. Indigenous people have lived in the area for 45,000 years, and at Manyallaluk village, elders instruct guests in spear throwing and basket weaving.
Unlike other places with slot canyons, such as Utah, Jordan, or Corsica, Australia has a rich, deep heritage of canyoneering. He lives with his wife, Chuin Nee Ooi, also an elite canyoneer and fellow computer programmer, in a compact midtown house that appears to have been hit by a typhoon: carabiners, canyoneering ropes, and mud-clotted clothes are scattered among computers, hard drives, disks, coffee cups, and a grand piano. Canyoneers share an ability to travel swiftly through seemingly impenetrable brush; Robens glides through this giant briar patch so efficiently he's hard to keep up with. Halfway down I make the mistake of looking up, and the blast of water almost tears my head off. Nitmiluk, packed with hidden waterfalls and lush valley rain forests, is called "the Dreaming Place" in the local tongue.
In a way, it's an extreme form of bushwalking, something Aborigines were doing tens of thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Following a compass bearing, we hop over fallen trees and branches and crash through scrub, passing through giant spiderwebs, mouse-size spiders scurrying across our necks. Stumbling and falling, I watch Robens dancing and hopscotching as if he'd been born for it. We could go up a slope like Murdering Gully but take a rocky rib instead, nicknaming it Manslaughter Ridge.
And since you'll be so close to Australia's red-rock icon, Uluru (Ayers Rock), add on a stop at Alice Springs to observe its ever changing colors.

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