Into the Wild – Mittagong to Katoomba
Friday April 2 to Tuesday April 6, 2010 (Walk 125km)
I finished the last of my scroggin as we headed to Katoomba along Narrowneck after a five day walk from Mittagong. I wandered if I could make the last Smartie in the scroggin last to the gate on Glenraphael Drive which was a milestone to us finishing this walk. It kept my mind occupied. The Smartie did not last, but I did. We made it to Katoomba railway station on Tuesday just after 1pm after setting out from home on Friday at 5 am by bus to Central, then train to Mittagong and then a taxi to Hilltop (approx 12km north of Mittagong) for the start of the walk. I have lived in Sydney for most of my life and have never really fully appreciated the grandeur that is on our doorstep. Over the Easter break, the Hammer and I set out to walk the Blue Mountains World Heritage area from south to north, the classic walk from Mittagong to Katoomba. The flu I had since the finish of the Six Foot Track Marathon had not fully passed but I felt fine enough to attempt this walk especially since we did not have a time target and could take our time. As it was it ended up being being a trial as availability of water was the determining step to the distance needing to be walked each day.
Day 2 Saturday April 3, 2010
It was a beautiful sunny morning as we started the climb up to Beloon Pass. This trip was a chance for me to try my newly developing map reading and navigational skills. As it was the ascent of Beloon Pass was made easier by the blue arrow marks on the trees and outcrops pointing out the route to the top. The way up was incredibly steep and fairly narrow with lots of fallen trees blocking the path.
Just as I started to think I have had just about enough of this relentless climbing with no end in sight, suddenly we reached the top of this very narrow shelf with a steep drop off to the north. A most wonderful scene of the valley ahead and our ultimate goal in the far distance, too far too contemplate.
The descent off Beloon Pass was a heart stopper for me – not a fan of heights. It drops very steeply where I was reduced to crawling down on my backside on all fours and in section where the pack pinched on an overhang, I was sure I was going to be hurled tumbling down like a rag doll. Amazing what you can accomplish when you have no idea what is ahead. Slowly, slowly we made our way down to the less steep section where we bush-bashed to reach the trail marked on the map. From here it was walking along Sheepwalk Trail- a fire trail towards Yerranderie.
Walking was fairly slow as the trail was exposed and littered with sharp quartzite rocks which were sharp and rolling underfoot. By mid-afternoon we realised that we had to keep walking to our next water stop, which was likely to be at Yerranderie, as we were slowly running out of water. This made for long hard afternoon and evening of walking. What a relief it was to reach Yerranderie well after 8.00pm. But disappointingly the camping area was fully booked (Easter school holidays) with a few big loud groups, one with a generator. We were so exhausted we did not mind camping in the middle of this bedlam of noise. I thought this was a sanctuary. That’s what the sign on the way in said. I woke up in the middle of the night sick and vomiting and worried that I may not be able to carry on the next day.
Day 3 Sunday April 4, 2010
By the morning the worst of whatever it was that made me sick had passed and after a strong coffee I was full of energy and ready to tackle the next stage. It was daunting looking at the map – we had to traverse what looked like a very long open fire trail of Scotts Main Range. This ended up being a mental challenge more then anything. The main vista of the escarpment of Beloon Pass was behind us and ahead was the beautiful grasslands of Joorilands just after the crossing of the horrible smelly Wollondilly River. It was at Joorilands that we saw a wild Alsatian skulking in the grass – it looked fairly well fed and was wary of us. It was Easter Sunday and a few 4 wheel drives passed us going in the opposite direction, one stopped offering to pick us up on the way back offering us a camp at New Yards. They did pass again in the late afternoon and as we had enough water we were determined to make it on our own, we declined their offer. Walking into the late afternoon we decided to have an early day and stopped to camp about 12 km short of New Yards on Scotts Main Range. I had trouble sleeping here as our camp spot was just off the fire trail -which is a closed gated road. I had bad horrible bad dreams which kept me awake through the night. As it was only 3 vehicles passed along the fire trail through the night.
Day 4 Monday April 5, 2010
Another glorious early start saw us hit the track just after 7 am walking along Scotts Main Range reaching the Catholic Bushwalkers site at New Yards at around 10am. We stopped here for coffee and a chat. It was very tempting to stay for scones which were just coming out of the oven as we headed off. I knew that our lunch would taste pretty ordinary compared to freshly baked scones. We also needed to keep moving if we were to reach Medlow Gap by nightfall with the descent off Mt Cookem, the crossing the Cox’s and climbing White Pup Ridge still to go. We reached the top of Mt Cookem at around 2.30pm after a slight detour to the Kowmung lookout and we were feeling pretty optimistic. But the descent off the mountain proved to be slow and slippery although reasonably well trampled. I stopped a few times to make sure were following the correct bearing. As it was the trampled trail off Mt Cookem reaches the Coxes a little bit too far to the north of the shallower river crossing. We bush-bashed southwest along the river bank following ground recently disturbed by pigs – the disturbance was too great to be human tracks – until reaching what looked like an easier shallower crossing of the river. We were happy to find that on the other side we were directly in front of the sign pointing to Medlow Gap. I was pretty pleased with my navigational skills at this stage. And we went up and up and up and just when you thought you can’t keep climbing any more there was another uphill. We had enough and as the trail levelled off we decided to camp about 2km short of Medlow Gap just before it got dark. It was the coldest night we had camping so far which is not surprising due the higher elevation.
Day 5 Tuesday April 6, 2010
We figured we only had about 19 km top go to reach Katoomba station with Taros ladder the next milestone. The traverse of Taros was still causing me to go weak at knees. Another beautiful day although a little overcast, so far no sign of the rain which was predicted for the weekend. Today I was bit navigationaly challenged missing the turnoff to Mt Dibbert – we went along almost for half an hour before realising it was the wrong way. A little bit too relaxed as this was familiar and we were almost home. Lesson learnt, we had to backtrack losing an hour all up. We got to the base of Taros ladder and I was keen to get the climb out of the way before anxiety and nerves got the better of me. I clung close to the rock-face mindful of the weight of the backpack. By the time I reached the top my heart was thumping so hard I though it would burst out of my rib cage. I hollered as I reached the top – I made it. The rest of the way was just finishing off the walk, enjoying the view of Megalong Valley to the west as the mist rolled in around us. We dropped in to Katoomba Police Station to report back and then booked a night at the Carrington Hotel to celebrate finishing this classic walk, to have a bath and to celebrate our wedding anniversary.