2008 Blue Mountains - Katoomba to Mittagong

summary: One of the biggest challenges I have embarked on, seven days of solo hiking from Katoomba to Mittagong
date: 2-8 August 2008
distance: 120kms
plan: Blue Mountains - Katoomba to Mittagong
views: 3469

This was a trip that I had been thinking about doing for quite some time, but a long trip like this takes a lot of planning. So I spent a few weeks putting the finishing touches to the plan before waiting patiently for the long range weather forecast. Once that came in as being favourable, my request for a week of work was put in, and the taxi booking in place!

Day 1 - Saturday (13kms)

I was lucky enough to be provided a very respectable taxi service, my Mum and Dad. Not only that, but once we arrived at the start of the walk late Saturday morning, I was also happy to see more of my family to see me off! I have a suspicion that they didn't think I would actually go through with this miss-adventure!!

However, there was nothing that was going to stop me, not even the strong cold wind that was blowing at the top of the Narrow Neck trail!

I started walking at 10:30am, with the temperature sitting on 7 degrees, I was escorted the first 1km by my family before they tired, and returned to the comfort of their cars! From there, I was on my own and already battling the urge to turn around and go home! I kept going though, encouraged by two other guys that were just 'walking to the end and back'!

There are some great views along Narrow Neck, none better than when you finally get to the end, just below Clear Hill. The day was so clear that you could see all the way to the Sydney CDB! While I looked off into the distance I realised that the CBD was actually closer to me than my actual destination!

The next difficult section of the walk (ok the first if you don't count the mental difficulties) was to scale down the steel pegs of Tarros Ladder. This was not as difficult as I thought, but it still took a little skill, determination and will power. Fortunately, I found my camera is somewhat waterproof as the end of my water hose found its way into my camera case and empty much of my pressure H2O into it! For a while it was taking slightly blurry photos, but it eventually dried out and continued to perform as it always has.

I stopped at 1:30pm, just after crossing under the high-tension power lines for a rest and some food. I was surprised to see the 'two guys' again, still going and now intent on pushing through the Medlow Gap, before turning back to the car park.

The walk so far had already been quite steep, and hard on the knees, but the next section was going to be much more difficult. The climb down the spur to Medlow Gap took about an hour, and as expected was pretty hard. But once I arrived at the bottom, I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time! I looked around for a while and then continued down the fire trail to Birrell's Lake, which was my designated camp for the night.

It was about 1/2km along the fire trail and there was some good fire wood here, and something that looked like a lake. Fortunately, the water was drinkable after boiling and I was intending to cook on the fire tonight so there was no issue with wasting fuel to boil water.

There is also a tin shed here which would be very useful if the weather conditions were less than good. I wouldn't want to sleep in there, it looked to me like it may be haunted, but it would provide some respite from a mountain storm.

After setting up camp, having dinner and resting for a while, I realised it was going to be an early night! I was in bed and asleep by 7:30pm.

Day 2 - Sunday (16kms)

The night was very mild, so no frost in the morning although it felt colder than the 4 degrees on my thermometer.

The breakfast billy was cooked over the fire again, before packing up and hitting the road by 8:30am. Today was going to be a tough one with the traverse down to the Cox's River, and then the ascent of Mount Cookem.

The track is all fire trail for the first part of the day although don't let that fool you as there are some steep sections which require some caution. Eventually I reached the turn off the fire trail as you descend down the valley to the Cox's River. It is very well marked so there is no chance of missing it.

The weather was beautiful, a little hotter than expected at 15 degrees but at this stage it was not causing a problem. The descent to the river was very steep. Not only that but it is also very loose under foot. There are not a lot of views either, except the odd sighting of this incredibly huge and steep hill on the other side of the river. That would be Mount Cookem!

I reached the river at 10:40, and quickly crossed to the other side. It was not too deep, a bit over the knees, but it was very cold. the crossing was about 30 metres, and by the time I reached the other side I was feeling the cold pain!!

After sitting in the sun for a few minutes, I had my first accident. I bent over to pick up the camera and got a stick in the eye. It was pretty bad and I completely lost vision in the left eye for a while. I thought about options, but decided that the only thing to do was to push on. I had a spare eye on the other side, and I really don't need to see too much.

The track from here heads downstream for a while. I walked along the edged of the water for a while until the river took a bend to the right where I headed a little up the bank to try and find the track up Cookem. It took me a while but I eventually found a campsite, and started walking up the spur from there. It turned out I hadn't found the correct track at that point, but within 10 minutes of trying to navigate to the spur I finally found the well trodden trail.

To say the climb up Cookem was difficult would be an understatement. It is quite possibly the most difficult track I have ever walked up. Not just because of the steepness, but also because of the loose ground and large step ups that were required. I imagine it would be hell having to traverse down this trail!

The walk up Cookem started at about 11:30 and I reached the top at 1:00. I was pretty buggered as the sun was beating down on me the whole time. I made some lunch and then decided to walk to the turn around at the end of the track just to check it out. Well I'm guessing I was still disoriented by the climb as I started walking in the wrong direction. After about a kilometre, I decided something wasn't right and so headed back to my pack. I then collected my gear up and head off in the other direction. And to my amazement, 100m down the trail it turned around and headed back where I came from!! I promised myself I wouldn't tell anyone that story!

From here, the track was all fire trail again, and was going to be this way for the next couple of days. So how hard can it be?

The next point of interest was an amazing view over the Kowmung River, at the aptly named location of 'Kowmung Lookout'. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth a stop. There is even some areas here that would make a very good campsite.

From here I kept going as far as I could before succumbing to my exhaustion. The location I reached was the old Kowmung House ruins. It was about 2km short of my desired destination but I figured I could make that up by leaving early in the morning.

The camp site was very good, with plenty of fire wood. No water of course, but a nice relaxing spot which some broken views of the clearing sky. Camp was reached at 3:45pm.

Day 3 - Monday (32kms)

The night was much cooler, but still no frost. It was 1 degree when I got up and packed quickly to make an early start. I left camp at 8:00am. Fortunately, my eye sight had just about returned to normal, so I was glad I made the right decision yesterday.

Water was always going to be hard to find up here on the Main Range, but I stopped shortly after New Yards at a watering hole to fill up with slightly silty water. I was later to find that it actually tasted quite ok, despite the gritty feeling in your mouth! This stop was at 9:30 and at that time there was also a couple of 4x4 that drove past me, I assume they came from New Yards.

At this early stage of the day I could see that I was already behind schedule and so I decided to push quite hard to make sure I made camp at Butchers Creek by 4:00pm.

Along the Main Range you get a splattering of views as you reach a clear section, and the views to the East were amazing. They were looking over the Butchers Creek valley. I passed Bran Jan hill at 10:30, and then took a short break at 11:30 before reaching Mount Feld at 12:30. I had been going at a pretty fast pace, so the body was already starting to feel 10 years older! Thank goodness I don't always need to carry so much weight!

I took a quick lunch break at a pluviometre before continuing along the trail to Kowmung Mountain at about 3:00pm. I knew this was not too far from Butchers Creek, which was good because the weather had started to change, and I felt a few spots of rain. Fortunately it was still vey warm so there was no need to pull out the rain coat yet. I reach Butchers Creek at 3:20pm, and to my dismay, there was no camping option here. Nor was there any water! I thought about options for a minute, and decided to push on to the next campsite which was likely to be Tonali River.

It was raining now, but I pushed on. Passing through Byrnes Gap there is a private house here with large rainwater tanks to fill up from if required. I didn't as I figured there would be some good water at Tonali.

I eventually reached the river, after using up all my water and all my energy. It was now 4:30 and I had just completed 32kms in one day!

This camping area was great though, nice flat ground, a reasonable amount of fire would and in a good season there would be plenty of water! Today there was a small stagnant pool! But I had to use it as I had no other water and I needed some for tonight, and for tomorrow.

Day 4 - Tuesday (13kms)

The start of the night was cold, with a frost settling even before I got to bed! Up early though and there was a very thick frost with a temperature reading of -2. It took me a while to warm up, with the fire going I was back and forth to the river to collect water. I was also paid a visit by a local NP officer, who didn't appear to be to impressed by my camp fire. But he didn't say anything, other than I picked the coldest place in the valley to camp! no kidding!

It was a short day today after the extra distance I did last night, so I didn't get away until 9:45am. The walk up to Yerranderie was quite quick, taking about 30 minutes. I had a quick chat with the care taker before heading off.

The fire trail is pretty flat for a while, before I turned off the main road towards the Centre Ridge trail. It was another warm and sunny day, and once I got to the next turn off I was already feeling the heat. It was incredibly dry here, and looked like a bush fire could break out with the slightest spark.

I was initially a little concerned about the Centre Ridge trail as it is not the common track for people to use, so I was concerned it might be hard to find. Luckily it was not. I followed it all the way to the first of the clearings where I stopped for some lunch. From here I could actually see the cliff face across the other side of the Wollondilly which looked like it could be Beloon Pass!

After lunch I continued another kilometre down the track before stopping to camp. This was a very short day, and my body was glad for the rest!

Later in the evening, the weather looked like it might change, so I was into bed early again. This is a good camp though, plenty of fire wood, plenty of flat ground for camping and some great views out to what I decided WAS Beloon Pass. It looked intimidating though, so I was stressing myself out with concern!

Day 5 - Wednesday (17kms)

I hit the sack at pretty much the right time, as shortly after the rain started. And it rained pretty much all night. Fortunately it was not heavy. And first thing in the morning it was still raining a little, but not enough to cause too many problems.

I was away from camp before 8:00am, its amazing what a little wet weather can do for your tardiness! The gate to the main trail was not far along the track, and then down to Jooriland River was only another hour. However this was another river that was as dry as a, well you know it was really dry!

From here, the track opened up into the Wollondilly plains. This place was incredible. Kangaroos everywhere and views to die for. In the south was Bonum Pick, and in the north there was just more amazing cliff line. It stretched off as far as you can see!

I reached the Wollondilly at 9:45. This was another of my big concerns, how hard was this going to be to cross! Well as soon as I saw the river, my body gave me that sinking feeling! After relieving myself of some weight, I paced up and down the river bank trying to plan a crossing. It was no good, I was going to have to cross at the ford, and keep the boots on. The water was too deep, and flowing too fast to use my planned thongs to cross. The water was about waste deep and the distance to cross was over 100m.

So there I was, just about to pick up my re-packed back pack, I really must have looked a sight! When my prayers were answered! A water board 4x4 appeared on the other side of the river! Very soon it was on my side of the river and I was being offered a dry ride to the other side!! I was extremely relieved!

So once on the other side, I filled up with water, re-packed my pack again and then set off along the fire trail to Beloon Pass. I reached the pass turn off at 11:00am, again this place is very well marked so you cannot miss it.

A little further down the trail at 11:30 there is another marked turning which takes you directly towards the pass. I followed the very faint fire trail to the left of the sign which took my 3/4 of the way up the hill, at which stage I could then follow the marked rock cairns. It was tough going, but I did manage to find markers most of the way.

The trail is very difficult though and as you can imagine, quite steep! Eventually I reached the base of the cliff face and started up the giant rock stair case. Actually this was probably the easiest part of the day, and I was at the top of the pass at 1:00pm! However, it would be a very different story if you had to climb down here!

The views from the top were nothing short of spectacular. You could see for miles in all directions (except East). I sat around and had lunch until 1:45, before following the tape marked trail down the other side.

The tape lasted about 20m before I got myself lost in the jungle. It was raining a little on this side of the cliff too, just a little. I found the best track to follow was directly along the dry creek bed. This worked out just fine until I reached a junction and continued along the river base. There were lots of markers at this point, and I must have failed to follow them as I eventually found myself at an impasse. I hate those impasses! I spent some time thinking about options (again) and then eventually saw a marker about 50m up the other river bank. Thank goodness my eyesight had returned!!

After picking up the marker I made sure I didn't loose them again, and managed to find my way down the trail quite easily. There was still some distance to travel, but it was quite easy to find, and I eventually made it to the bottom of the trail at 4:15pm.

My camp for the night was just a little further along the trail at a clearing next to the river (which DID have water in it!). As with every other night, I was exhausted, and it didn't take me long before my body gave out! Fortunately I'd found enough fire wood for a reasonable fire, and I relaxed for a quite night.

Day 6 - Thursday (17kms)

In the end, the fire turned out to be one of my better ones. Nice and slow burning with lots of heat. So much heat that I managed to kick it off again in the morning with just some semi-dry leaves.

Morning in the valley was very different from the last few mornings. The valley was shrouded in mist, and very cool. I was away from camp at 9:00am, and thinking that today could be quite a quick walk out to McArthurs Flat.

As has been the case with the rest of this trip, I was very mistaken! The fire trail walking was not too bad. There was a rather difficult water crossing which I eventually managed to complete without getting wet feet.

I then eventually found the tree marker that indicated the turn off. From there it was into raw bush! I was unable to find any markers, so spent the next couple of hours up and down hills and river valleys fighting off the thick undergrowth. I knew where I was, but I just couldn't find the real trail.

I knew in the book, it indicates a river crossing that I was heading towards and hoping to pick up some markers there. I finally found this crossing and stacks of markers at 1:30pm! I still had a long way to go, so I stopped for water and then pushed on. Once again I could see the weather changing so there was no time to dilly dally!

Shortly after, I started to see lightning ahead, so I stopped and put on my rain coat. Fortunately at this stage I was still able to follow the markers. I had to look twice on a number of occasions, but they are all there and easy enough to find. And there was only another couple of kilometres before I hooked back up to the trail I had been on in the past. However, prior to that, the heavens opened up!!

I decided to continue walking as I was going to get wet anyway. The track was pretty wet and slippery though, and at one stage I slipped off a 2m cliff and came very close to ending up in the Nattai river! I made it to Cathedral forest at 2:30, but decided to push on to McArthurs and hope the weather would clear.

I reached McArthurs just after 3:00pm, and right on cue, the rain stopped!! So I got the tent sorted out, and collected a stack of firewood before starting to get things dried out. The weather completely cleared in the end, and the evening was great.

Day 7 - Friday (7kms)

After having a very wet afternoon yesterday, the night proved to be very dry! There wasn't even a hint of frost or due on the tent in the morning. Today being the last day, there was a bitter sweet sorrow packing things up. I took my time, and tried to make the most of this last morning in the wilderness. Breakfast was very slow, once again cooking on the fire.

The climb up Starlights trail started at 9:15am. The weather was warm again, but I was in no hurry.

I reached the top shortly before midday where I called 'the taxi' only to find they were waiting just a few minutes down the road!

So at the end of the seven day event, I completed a total of 121km. The trip is certainly a battle of physical ability and mental strength. I've never attempted or completed anything quite so intense before. Right after it I was thinking I never would again, but its amazing how even a short time can cloud the painful memories!

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