Saturday, 25 February 2017

Narrowneck - Mobbs - Dunphys (or "Its too darn hot")


The things that we do.  The things that we learn.  Maybe I should buy a set of Dr Seuss walking guides.  They could serve me well.

Oh the places you'll go !

My plan was to walk out from Katoomba, along Narrowneck.  This is a journey I have undertaken many a time as a walk, training run, and as part of The North Face 100.  Familiar territory.  As part of a long term goal to walk the Kanangra to Katoomba (K2K), my plan was to extend it out to the Wild Dog Mountains, to the Cox's River via Mobb's Soak, Mt Yellow Dog, and camp by the Cox's River at Konangaroo Clearing and do a bit of recce work.  A big day out, but doable.  Then a pleasant day river walking along the Cox, up Ironmonger Ridge, and camp at Dunphy's Camp Site (a place I love).  Then day 3, a leisurely stroll along the Megalong Valley and out via Nellie's Glen.
Narrowneck - let the journey begin

The heat had been fairly relentless up to this point, but weather reports suggested something cooler for a couple of days, which influenced my thinking.  A lovely relaxing train ride, and I began rereading 1984 - just a brilliant work.  Last walk I had grabbed "Diamonds Are Forever" which I soon realised had been the same book as I took the previous walk.  At 10.30 I set out under clear blue skies from Katoomba. It wasn't overly hot, and the Mountains were turning on one of those special days.  The air smelled amazing, and the skies were perfect blue.  As I started along Narrowneck, Boar's Head Rock looked particularly Boarish.
Boar's Head Rock

most boarish

As time passed, the day got hotter, and hotter...and hotter.  I am pretty good in the heat, but that is based on slowing my pace, rest breaks and keeping the fluids up.  I can go for hours this way.  Which was fine except that I was falling behind schedule and rapidly using up my (usually more than enough) 2L of water.  I had chucked some hydralyte sachets into my bottles and these were life savers.  I stopped at the fire tower to nibble on my trail mix.  This mix included stale indian nut mix, stale Twisties, some old rice crackers, and fresh corn chips. nommy nommy nom nom.

I descended Taro's Ladders, as usual lamenting that they were designed for taller folk, not Hobbits like me.  I thought I must be gushing sweat, but it was a simply a small shower which did nothing to reduce the heat but did kick the humidity up another notch.  Awesome.  A lovely bit of afternoon scrambling and strolling across Debert's and down to Medlow Gap.  A lovely new sign proclaimed 20km to Katoomba.  This left me with about 10km to the Cox's River.  Not normally a problem, but with water running low, and venturing into new lands (for me), I had a little rethink of my plans.  I decided to see if water was available at Mobb's Soak (supposedly always reliable).  This was 4km along the way.  If so, I would camp there and head down to the Cox tomorrow.
across to Mt Mouin and the Wild Dogs

The turn off to Mobbs is nicely sign posted (as part of the K2K walk), but the walk along to Mobbs was less defined than I had expected.  Easy enough to follow, but slower than anticipated - especially given that every leaf curl spider within cooee had set across the track.  I was clearing as best I could, but I still ended up having to pick them from my hat and glasses and off my hairy legs.  I was like a walking mini eco system.

By the time I reached Mobbs it was about 4pm.  I spent an hour scrambling up and down gullies and along creek beds, but no water (but I did find "the cave" which I had read about).  At best a few small black swampy pools teeming with insect life, and I did not have the equipment to filter and treat.  Decision time.

Pushing on, I ran the risk of running out of water and finishing up with a possible descent from Mt Yellow Dog in the dark.  I had read enough track notes to suggest this was slippery enough in the day time.  I carry a PLB which I have never had reason to use, I I didn't plan on doing it today.  Girding my loins, I sipped down half my 500mls and began retracing my steps.  At least I had already cleared the spiders which sped things up considerably.

Back at Medlow Gap I finished off the last of my water, then hoped that Breakfast Creek (another 2km away) was still flowing.  I was massively dehydrated by now.

As usual Breakfast Creek had a lovely flow.  Smaller than I had ever seen, but cool and clear.  I ripped my pack apart, dug out my milk powder and Milo, and enjoyed a lovely 500mL chocky milk.  Followed by another one.  Then I drank 500mL water.  As I walked I downed another 500mL.  2L and I was still thirsty.   Last time I had been at Dunphy's, the water tank was busted, so I was carrying 3L of water just in case.  I couldn't decide whether I would be more glad to see the water tank fixed, or whether it would be better to find it still busted and not a waste of effort to drag along with an extra 3kg of water on my back.

By now the sun was nearly gone, but it was still hot.  I limped into Dunphy's just before 8.30, and slumped myself down.  10 hours and 38km.  A few car campers were there (and lots of kangaroos), and I heard questions about "how did he get here?"  A voice was explaining that I had walked in.  It was a tour operator who had set up camp for two lovely ladies after a camping adventure, and was about to drive off.  Did I want a bottle of cold water and some ice before he left ?  Oh Yeah !

I had the 500ml bottle of deliciously cold water, then sat adding water to my cup of ice and drinking it down.  I had drunk over 3L in under 2 hours and still going strong.  I had added a sachet of Tailwind "Green Tea" to my water, and the glucose and caffeine was blowing my mind.  I sat watching stars appear overhead.  After putting up my tent, all thoughts of eating disappeared.  I just sat sipping water and crunching on my ice.  Eventually I collapsed onto my ever trusty $5 yoga mat, read for a while, then crashed.

In retrospect I needed an extra hour of sunlight, another 1L of water, and a day less hot than the surface of the sun.  But that's why we do recce walks.  Might as well make small bite size mistakes.

I woke several times in the night.  The entire camp ground was lit by the moon, and I could see and hear kangaroos munching and coughing all around me.  Quite magical.  

Eventually the moon light became sunlight, but I was in no hurry to get up.  Not hungry.  Not needing to pee yet.  Knackered.   I had a nice lie in until 7.30, then got up to brew a coffee, then another....why not make it three.  The water tank had been repaired and there was plenty of water after all.  Eventually I needed a pee.  Don't know where all those fluids had gone though.

As I sipped away, and the sun gradually cleared the trees, I heard what sounded like a koala....interesting.  The first rays of the sun arrived and said "it's going to be another hot one".

Eventually I decided to eatI had gone to so much time and effort to organise my food, I had to at least try.  Tired of 2 minute noodles every time I camp, this time I had cous cous and beans.  This had necessitated much driving the lovely Cait crazy with endless cooking questions ("no darling, cous cous and quinoa are different").  I had also been experimenting with soaking beans, and had been running endless kitchen trials.  For weeks our kitchen has had little (failed) experiments of beans in numerous small containers, which the lovely Cait has patiently endured.  Eventually I had just soaked my beans, cooked the shit out of them, and froze them.  Now I wasn't even hungry, but I ate anyway because I knew I still had a big hot day ahead of me. 

All packed up, 2L of water and about 20km to go.  I had considered a day walk to the Cox, another night camping, then heading out tomorrow, but I was trashed.  The camp ground chatter had included mutterings about storms coming through, so I was headed home.

The heat began kicking in again, so I took it super easy.  The initial walking was shady and flat, then the steep climb began and the shade disappeared.  Eventually I reached the intersection with the Six Foot Track, then end was nigh, and I could smell the barnAt Megalong Creek I grabbed water to sterilise, and kept on keeping on.  It was now a head down slog and I was treating it as a training exercise.  I still took time to stop and soak in the sights though.  Instinct kicked in along the way, and I stopped knowing a snake was nearby.  About 1.5m of tiger or brown snake was on the side of the road, happily keeping an eye on me.  I moved back watching carefully, but the moment I looked away it was gone.  Obviously camera shy.  

I began hearing giant rumbles of thunder, and clouds began massing.  Over Katoomba way it looked like they were copping a hammering, but I still had blazing sun and rising humidity.  I passed a large group of walkers who looked like they were about to have a very memorable Six Foot Track adventure.  

At the base of Nellie's Glen the rain finally arrived, and things began to cool a little.  I was already dripping with sweat, so rain was no problem.  It was a long climb, but no one was going to carry me, so it was just plod plod plod to the top.  I downed the last of my water (2.5L for the morning and still thirsty), and headed off to Katoomba.  The heaven's opened up and I got soaked.  At Katoomba station I drank myself stupid and watched as a storm of apocalyptic proportions ripped all around.  Walls of cloud swirling and tumbling, lightning leaping across the sky,  water lashing down.  What a shame I wasn't setting up camp for the night.

Safely ensconced on my train, I looked across the valleys to where I could see sheets of rain as far as the eye could see.  The trip home was delayed because of lightning strikes.  What a shame I was heading home.

As I finally boarded my train at Strathfield, the two ladies from Dunphy's were sitting across from me.  Small world.  How did I get back to Katoomba ? You walked ! Oh my !  

On that small note of being a hero, my adventure ended.  Time for a beer.  

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Six Foot Track 5&6 November 2016

Well that was fun !

This year has been a struggle in some ways.  Changing jobs has meant no more school holidays (boo hoo).  Instead of sneaking off for some much needed quiet time, it has been go go go most of the year.  As I have survived my daily train commute, I have stared longingly off towards the Blue Mountains, wishing I were there instead of rattling along off to the daily grind.  The fact it has taken so long to finish this post is an indication of life at present.  Not enough time !

A new staff member began talking about the 6 Ft Ttrack.  To make matters worse I have just finished a great read about the  6 Ft Track which had given me very itchy feet.  I have done the trip four times before and loved it every time.  I have done a two day solo 90km return trip, also a two day slog fest in searing summer heat with friends, as well as running the 6 Ft Track Marathon with hundreds.  

Eventually my wife the Lovely Cait said "go for a walk".  Love ya Babe (actually she said "you are driving me nuts talking about it.  Just  bloody do it !").  Of course track work was scheduled so my initial plans went south immediately.  Enter Cait the lovely wife.  "Take the car !".  Love ya Babe.

I decided to catch the Saturday 10.30am Trolley Tours bus to Jenolan, walk 30km to Cox's River campground, then a leisurely 15km out on the Sunday.   Easy Peasy.

Of course I spent useless hours perfecting the ultimate iPod playlist which I never used.  Not at all necessary when the bus was driven by the lovely and oh so chatty and informative Rebecca.  She narrated the entire way, making musical distraction completely unnecessary.  She kept pointing out "the gentleman at the back" who was going to be walking home (me).  I felt like a bit of a rock star.  It was great just sitting in a bus, centre of attention, watching the world go by .

At Jenolan Caves I had a last toilet stop, a big long drink to camel up (from a tap, not the toilet bowl), then shouldered pack and set off up the long uphill stretch to start the walk.

Some experienced walkers rate the 6 Ft Track lowly.  I totally understand why, but each to their own.  Yes, it does have long endless stretches where all you do is walk, but I have a fondness for long endless sections where all you do is walk.  This trip was really about clearing my head.  I had the ultimate playlist all ready to go, but as usual, once I started walking, I couldn't bear to break the silence.  I embraced it.  It was heavenly.
A nice cool breeze was whipping around.  Apparently Sydney was being hammered, but it was just an occasional chilly blast up here.  I was wandering along and working up a nice sweat.  Yet I passed so many walkers completely rugged up in multiple layers, as I wandered along in shorts and t-shirt.  Could they really be that cold ?  

After about 3 hours I arrived at the Black Range campground.  I had thought to top up the water supply, but as a nice tea coloured water came out of the rain tank, I decided to just make do with what I had, and take a little as an emergency back up.  I have tempted fate and drunk it before with no problems, but not today. Then it was time to start the Black Range.  Some folk dread the Black Range not because it is particularly hard, but because it is flattish 10.5km slog through unchanging open forest.  Very few views.  However, I love it.  As I wandered along, I appreciated that all I had to do was walk.  No navigation required.  An occasional blast of wind tried to knock me over, then it would be still again.  The skies were perfectly clear, and the occasional glimpses back towards Katoomba revealed the Hydro Majestic (possibly freshly painted) standing out blazingly white.  Walking like this clears the mind, which is precisely what I was after.
Hydro Majestic
Yes, the Black Range can be boring, but it is in some ways a fascinating stretch.  It is like a highway, and many many feet have trodden it.  Hellcat Ridge drops off to the south and connects to Kanangra Walls.  At the end is Cronje Mountain which drops to the Cox's River and up to the end of Narrowneck/ Medlow Gap and a whole world of possibilities.  Or, as I would be walking, it drops down the Mini Mini saddle and heads towards Katoomba.  It also makes other connections that interest only nerdy nerd walkers like me.  

The Black Range finally done, left turn at the pluviometer, it was time for a long slippery walk to the Cox's River.  The surface of the road was like walking on rolling marbles, and I kept embarking on long slides, hoping not to land on my butt or disappear off the trail into a gully.  A few close calls.  Saw a disgusting rolling lump of caterpillars that I tried not to slide into and land on.  It was a relief to reach Little River, have a break, drink a few litres of flowing mountain water, and play with the camera.  I tipped out my brown emergency water, and replaced it with clear water.  I had planned to fill my Nalgene water flask as well, but that was a problem as I realised that it was still at home on the chair next to my pack where I couldn't possibly forget it.  oops.  I had a small bottle, and could squeeze 1.5 into my hydration bladder, so 2L would just have to do.  
kinda gross
Little River

Little River
As I set off, the sun was beginning to fade, and kangaroos were starting to appear.  Some fled in terror long before I was anywhere near, some just popped their heads up to play peek-a-boo, and then got back to nibbling.  Some burst out of nowhere and scared the crap out of me.  I passed Alum Creek with it's new water tank and toilet.  I had thought to stay here, but I was still travelling well, and happy to wander on.  The day began to settle into a nice twilight, and it was lovely to wander along and listen to the birds start singing.  After about five hours of walking, I began doing sums in my head about when I would reach the Cox's River, and came up with the wrong number.  I was tired.  The stretch over Mini Mini was way longer than I remembered.  Way longer.  Thankfully it was cool, the evening was beautiful, and the bell birds were lovely to listen to.  I mucked around taking shadow shots wasting even more time.  I was in no hurry.
spot the 'roo
perfect for a lovely twilight stroll

I eventually reached the Cox at about 7pm, after seven hours of walking, pleasantly stuffed.  There was lots of water in the tank which I could boil, so plenty of water for cooking.  Sadly my previous tent site had been used as a fire ring, so I was forced to scout out a new spot.  As usual, the soil was rock hard and a bugger to get pegs in.  However, for the first time ever, I lay out my swag tent right perfectly first time.  I love my little swag tent friend, but after a long day, I always bugger it up and it does my head in.  My spot was also next to a bench, which was nice touch of luxury, and helps prevent losing stuff.
home sweet home with bench - luxury
coffee's ready
As the sun set, and I began mucking around with food, a couple with all the gear under the sun began cooking.  They had driven in, and they had set up a light which you could see from the moon, up under the covered area.  It naturally attracted every winged bug in the area.  I left them to their cooking and swatting and waited until they were done.  When they had finished, they kindly offered to leave the light on for me.  I thanked them, but politely declined.  Once they had gone, and they went back to their camp site with their big ass light, taking all their bugs with them and spraying and swatting furiously, I was able to cook in peace by the light of my head torch on low power and no bugs.  Occasional burst of music from the Eco Lodge nearby.  I munched happily in the dark, watched the stars and satellites pass silently overhead, then off to bed.

Having knocked over 30km yesterday, left me with 15km today, and no need to rush.  From the direction of the Eco Lodge I watched a huge 4WD (plus trailer) pass by with two men in camo gear which matched their truck.  Interesting.  I had a morning wander, thinking how nice the river looked.  Some folks had camped out on an island spot.  Very creative, and very lovely.  An idea for the future.
The Cox

The Bowtell's Swing Bridge was extra swingy this morning, and extra fun.  I wandered along passing slower walkers, and being surprised by trail runners appearing out of nowhere.  In no hurry, I was determined to locate "Toad Rock".  I wandered off trail a few times to explore various perspectives.  Artistic license may have come into play, but I think I found it.  The original sketch seems to have impossibly placed "wing rocks" which makes me suspect a bit of exaggeration. 

a bit toad like from this side

come on, it's a toad !
After this bit of buggering about, I got walking again.  All went well until I came across my worst fear - cows.  I screwed up my courage, tried to show no fear, and walked through the valley of death.  Large bovine eyes gazed upon me as I passed by silent as a ninja.  Once more I emerged unscathed, living to tell the tale. 
deadly cow creatures
home stretch
Took time out to wander about the historic Megalong Cemetery.  A lovely place to meander about.  The signs warning against camping there were totally unnecessary though.  As if.  Took time out to play with the timer on the camera.  Then it was up Nellie's Glen.  From the base of Nellie's I began encountering human wreckage dressed in Active Wear.  No hats, no sleeves, no sun protection, dying in the heat (which was really kicking in big time).  As it turned out, these were the group partying at the Eco Lodge, and were part of a outdoor adventure boot camp type group on the last stretch of their death march.  A few fitness types in camo gear were doing their best to get them to the end short of fireman carries.  At least they were out giving it a go (but I suspect that their love of the great outdoors was fading fast).  

I wandered off track to find Bonnie Doon Falls.  It is hard to imagine what this area looked like before a million tonnes of fill was dumped down here in a failed attempt to build a road down into the Megalong Valley.  Not the most spectacular falls, but who knows what they used to look like.

Then it was a blazingly hot walk back to the car, got the air con cranking, then off to Mountain High pies to purchase dinner for the family.  Another trip done.
Mission accomplished !