Account of bushwalk
Hilltop to Katoomba in 2 sections.
1. Hilltop to Kanangra 2. Kanangra to Katoomba
I awoke that morning with some trepidation as the previous night I realised that the train times I had looked up were for Saturday, not Sunday, and today was Sunday. My rucksack was already packed and all was ready for a week’s walk. I downed my breakfast and dressed, hoping that the Sunday train service from Richmond would not be too different from Saturdays! I was out on the road by 6a.m. to meet the taxi I had booked and had an anxious ten minutes wait lest it should not turn up. Luckily it did and although it was late it did not matter because of the confusion over train times. The driver muttered something about "bloody madness" as I heaved my twenty-two Kilo pack into the back of his cab.
I was off at last. Four weeks of planning, spending, arguing and dreaming was now bearing the fruit of motion. It may have been a cab at that moment but it was only a matter of time till it would be the steady pounding of boots on dirt. I paid off the taxi and waited on the station while the sun rose on a clear cool late winter’s morning. My spirits were high but I wondered what my fellow travellers would say about my being half an hour late. Anyway I sat back and enjoyed the trip. as much as it is possible to enjoy a trip on the Sydney suburban railway.
My anxiety about being late was completely unfounded, for I arrived at Liverpool to find no one there. Horror filled my mind as I wandered around the car park. I then phoned Brian (a fellow accomplice) and was startled to find him still at home. "There’s a snag", he said. In that few milliseconds every tragedy that had ever befallen any expedition went through my mind. It was like dying. Another member of the party had gone sick. I was told to wait at the station while Brian came to pick me up. As soon as I put the phone down along came the fourth member of the party, who was to join us at Kanangra, and give us a lift to Hilltop to get us started. I climbed into his car and while we were waiting for Brian he put forward his suggestion that we abandon the first half of the walk and wait till Thursday and just do Kanangra-Katoomba; when, hopefully, sick Mike would be well. My heart sank. Brian was suffering from a small hernia, and I thought he would think it too risky for just the two of us to go on. Brian arrived and we went back to his place to sort out what was to be done.
As his family was still asleep this critical discussion was conducted in half whispers. We decided that things had gone too far to pull out now, and that we would meet both Mike and Ted at Kanangra. This took poor Ted by surprise as he thought Brian would have been more sensible than myself. Fortunately he was wrong, we were both raving lunatics. So, after a hurried shuffling of supplies in an attempt to change the food for three men to that needed for two, thereby increasing the weight of each pack by about three Kilos, we were ready to move. Ted once again expressed his opinion that we were both in need of a lobotomy. We agreed with him, piled into the car, and were off.
The journey was uneventful and we were soon bumping along Wattle Ridge Road the other side of Hilltop. Ted seemed hell bent on doing in his springs but the car survived the worst he could give it. We passed the property known as Camelot then the road deteriorated and soon even Ted was stopped. We were not more that half a mile from the top of Starlight’s Trail so we heaved our overweight packs from the car, which breathed a sigh of relief, said goodbye to Ted and were off.
It was good to be walking but the packs did seem a little heavy. Our first objective was to find the top of the Trail, which should have been easy. Somehow in the first two hundred metres we took a wrong turn. Luckily it did not take us long to realise our error and find the right course again. Soon we were standing at the top of the path. It was not marked with a sign as we had been told but it was easy to identify from the map. After checking our position we started the descent to the Nattai River. As we were fresh the first few kilometres flew by. The Trail was just a footpath that skirted the edge of the valley gradually losing height then making a rapid descent to the river. There were splendid views on the way down of the rock walls that were gradually surrounding us. Once down, the trail crossed some grassy flats and a creek, then dissipated itself on the northern bank of the Nattai. We were now on our own so we sat down and had lunch consisting of our regular diet of raisins nuts and chocolate. We sat there munching in the sun thinking how foolish Ted was not to have come with us.
Our route was now just to follow the River downstream as far as we could for the rest of the day. This sounded easy but it was not to be. My book said to follow the grassy bank or wade on the sandy river bottom. The trouble with this was that the sandy bottom was sometimes six feet under water and the grassy banks were always on the other side of the River. This resulted in continuos cris-crossing of that stream, either by logs, stepping stones, or de-booting and paddling across. All the same it was good walking along an extremely picturesque valley in the sun. We managed to keep to schedule considering our late start, and found an ideal spot to camp just south of Round Flat, which was our aim for that day.
We made camp rather late.It was after five o'clock but it was as flat as a billiard table so in no time the tent was up and the fire was going. We were looking foreword to that cup of tea that goes down so well after a hard days walk. We had a small problem as all the main meal packs were for three and we had not been able to divide them up as they were all sealed dehydrated packets. That night we decided to cook the lot and see how it went. It went too far and we were forced to leave a large proportion of it to the wildlife. Thus ended the first and most complicated day of the trip, all future problems would be bushy problems.
The night was uneventful, but the ground was hard and at some stage there was some light rain. When I heard this, my spirits sank, but we woke to a dry but cloudy morning. We were up soon after five o’clock as we wanted to make full use of the daylight. We had a good breakfast of tea and toast, cleared up, and by the time we were off, the sun was shining through the breaking cloud.
Our route was still to follow the River northwards past Round Flat. It was good to be off again. Heading still deeper into the bush with the thought of several days ahead of us. The going was much the same as the day before and involved several bashes through thickish scrub on the steep bank of the River. Just before Middle Flat the River makes a wide loop that we decided to cut across. Unfortunately at the point we had chosen there was a fifty-foot cliff so we pressed on a bit then crossed the Nattai yet again. This time there was a strategically placed log that provided a rather insecure bridge. Brian practically ran across it but I was more cautious and otched across. Once over we took our bearings and headed up and across the hill that caused the river to detour. By some miracle our bearings were right and we came out in the right place. The only trouble was that we were yet again on the wrong side of the river. The bank was extremely steep and we had to stay on top of it until it became less severe and we were able to descend to the water and cross by means of another tree. This time it was not so easy as it was a twiggy tree and all these twigs were hell bent on throwing us into the water. In the end we were victorious and we plodded along the sandy flats for the next mile making fairly good time. We then came to
another steep bank but as the scrub was not too thick we decided it was not worth another crossing.
We were now falling behind time as this type of walking, though not too strenuous, was rather slow. It was about ten o'clock so we stopped for a few minutes as we had been going for two hours. Soon after we started again we came to the end of the bank, and just above us we saw a sign of humanity. It was a shelter. How it got there and whose it was are mysteries that we were unable to solve. There was a track that headed in the direction we wanted to go so we followed it thinking it was the way the shelter came to be there, but at the first washout it disappeared never to be seen again. Once more it was back to scrub bashing, but we had made up some time along what track there had been. A little later we came down to the river again on a pleasant sandy flat. After that bash we decided to have another rest so we sat down and admired our situation. We were just past the Allum River Canyon, and we were able to look straight up through the break in the cliff line.
We soon continued our northward track along some easy ground on the east bank, then to our surprise we came upon another track, as this one looked more permanent we followed it. Now we really did start to make up time. We put our heads down and charged. There were several fords but we soon developed the art of de-booting in no time at all. Soon we could see the buttress that indicates the turn in the cliff line where the Beloon pass starts to rise but the nearer we got to it the more difficult it became to see because of the trees. We kept on walking past a track to the left that we thought could have been the start to the pass but we thought we had not come far enough. About a mile further on we estimated our position was about right for the pass, so we stopped for lunch.
We sat by a ford on the river and ate our usual meal of nuts and chocolate with only a drink of water as we were a bit pressed for time. We wanted to be over the pass before it got dark. Soon we were off again and decided to head due west to find this elusive pass. It was a steep climb and we were soon clear of the trees so when the pass came into view we took bearings, only to find to our horror that we were well off course. We checked it several times but it seemed we had come about a mile too far and the track we had seen earlier was the one we should have taken. We went up a bit higher to get a better look but it only became more obvious that we were wrong.
It was a quick descent back to the track but it seemed miles to the turn-off, Eventually we came to it, had a short rest, and as it was now gone two o'clock, we started the charge up. This was the first real climb of the walk and would test Brian's hernia. The track soon became very steep but at least being track, it was not too difficult. We could not understand why a track should have been put there, but we were hopeful that it would take us right to the top. We should have known better, as after about half a mile it divided, one branch curved off to the left and descended steeply to the dry bed of Travis Gully, the other branch went straight on. After following it to the top, only another fifty yards, where it ended in impenetrable scrub, we decided to go for the other branch, so I went back to have a closer look without pack. The track petered out at the Gully but at least it looked passable that way. I went back to tell Brian and we set off. We crossed the creek bed and climbed the other side, and this was when it began to get tough. I think the better route would have been to follow the creek bed, which was dry, and, although it would have involved some clambering at least it would have been clear of scrub. However we elected to bash up through the scrub to the cliff line and follow that round to the top of the pass. The scrub was almost solid and the slope was almost forty five degrees. The ground was littered with loose rocks and all these things combined in a concerted attack on us. Each step forward was against the will of every branch, twig and rock that tried its hardest to push us back into the valley. It seemed that we were getting nowhere and our goal for that day, getting to the Wollondilly, was slipping from view. After much struggling we reached the cliff line, and started to contour round. This was not as easy as we had hoped as that usual thinning of the bush at a cliff line did not occur. The traverse became more difficult as the cliff was broken and several times we found ourselves actually in the cliff and had to back track to get down.
It was now about four thirty with the light beginning to fade and we were nowhere near the top. About fifty feet below us was the creek bed. Brian went down to have a look, whilst I rested. It had been a hard climb and I did not complain. He found water down there and a very small piece of flat ground. This was not what one would call a campsite but it was all there was. Brian started on the fire whilst I attempted to put the tent up. This was not the easiest thing to do, as there was not enough ground for the floor of the tent and finding somewhere to put the pegs was almost impossible. After much cursing and swearing, jamming pegs in cracks, and wedging a post over a small cliff in order to secure the guy line, it was up. By this time Brian had the fire going nicely and the light was fading rapidly. This was to be the usual routine on this walk; up before dawn and make camp just before dusk, Soon we had a good feed inside us and were washing it down with a welcome brew. This time we only had half of one packet. There was plenty but I misjudged the amount of water so we had curry soup. It was a very remote place up there near the top of the Wanganderry Tableland. It seemed even more remote, as we were not sure that we were in the right valley, if it was the wrong one the whole walk would be in doubt. Even if we were right we were well behind schedule and the possibility of meeting Ted on time was not looking favourable. Soon the night closed in on us, and even the outline of the trees faded from view. After stumbling about over the rocks we retired. I had a poor night as the tent was pitched on a slope and I kept sliding down.
We were up well before first light as we had a great deal of time to make up. After a quick breakfast we heaved a sigh and our packs onto our backs and were off by half past seven. This time we followed the creek bed, and the going, although not easy was much better than yesterday. We stopped at the first pool of water for a wash, then continued. The day was looking fine as we clambered over would be waterfalls in the cool morning air. Soon we were at the point where the creek bed swings south. This was the point where we had to leave this rocky path and head due west. A slight valley line could be seen going in our direction but there was no creek line in it, just very thick bush. After consulting our maps and oracular compasses we decided to head right up it. It was very hard work as each step had to be forced through the close growing young trees, then suddenly, we were out. Our range of visibility leapt from two meters to forty miles and under our feet was an almost sheer drop of about six hundred feet. It was an overwhelming experience. Laid out below us was a vast expanse of the Wollondilly valley, partially filled with low lying early morning cloud that was slowly evaporating under the warm sun.
We stopped a while, fixed our position, took bearings and photographs, and had a short rest. We both agreed that the Beloon Pass should be renamed the Beloon Impass. It had certainly been a struggle to get to the top.
Our doubts about our position soon vanished when we noticed a cairn. I do not know how we did not see it when we first arrived, as we must have almost tripped over it. The descent was steep but not as sheer as it looked from the top and we were soon on gently sloping, lightly timbered grassland. We marched slightly north of west and came out just where we wanted to on an old Water Board road just before it made a right-angled turn to the west. After another short rest we were off along this road. It was good to have some easy ground to cover after the last few days, and we needed to make up the lost time. It was not long before we were at Colemans Creek. This was where we had intended to spend the previous night but we only had time for a few mouth fulls of water. It would have been an ideal spot to camp with a good water supply and smooth grassy banks. However, it was now about ten thirty and we had to keep moving up the other bank and along the road.
The next two miles were easy going along the road. The only confusing bit was when we turned the first corner after the creek and came upon a wide newly graded road. The Water Board must have put it in, but it was not shown on our maps. After due consideration we followed it to the top of the hill to a point where the old road went straight ahead and the new turned right. Here we followed the old, luckily rightly. It was not long before we were at the bend that led us out of the wooded country and the road turned northwest. The trees gradually receded, the road made another turn, we crossed a small creek line and came into sight of the Wollondilly across grassy slopes to Douglas Flat.
This was where we hoped to ford the river, as it would save a long detour to Jooriland. Due to the recent spell of dry weather the water was not too high and from the road it looked worth investigating. It was only ten minutes walk across what appeared to be a deserted farm, probably cut off when the valley was flooded. Down at the river the problem looked a little trickier, so we sat down, I put my shorts on, then we had a scout round to find the best crossing place.
It was not a case of the best crossing place but the only crossing place, and we soon found it. It was behind a thick barrage of trees that was hard to get through even without packs, but we were soon back with our packs on, acting like human bulldozers. The bed of the river was too rocky to do it barefoot and the flow was too strong. The crossing was about a hundred yards but it was no more than knee deep. Keeping balance was the biggest problem. A slip would have resulted in a wet pack and consequently a wet night. However, soon we were squelching across the rocks on the other side. We found a patch of grass and wrung out our socks and emptied our boots. Brian then went back to the river to capture that overgrown stream on film and to fetch some water. When he was half way there I remembered that Jooriland Creek was the ideal lunch spot but my yells were washed away by the roar of the river.
Now we were on easy country. Open grasslands were all around us, all we had to do was take a bearing and follow it, so this we did, over the hump to Jooriland Creek, only half a mile away. The sun was shining warmly and as we rose a magnificent panorama opened out that screamed out to us for a photo. After the required amount of clicking we went on to the Creek. It was down a steep gully. The water was really refreshing and we were glad of the stop for lunch even if it was only the usual fare with no time for a brew. We had covered a fair amount of ground that morning. The Beloon Pass was receding in the distance, as well as in our memories, and we were making up some of the lost time. All this, together with the perfect weather made a very satisfying lunch.
Unfortunately we still had a long way to go if we were to catch up on our schedule, so we heaved our still heavy packs onto our backs and set off.
We headed due north from the creek till we met a track on top of the ridge. We then followed this. It was a pleasant track to walk along, just two tyre tracks weaving their way across the grassland. It was a gradual climb as it followed the crown of the ridge but the weather was so good and the views so spectacular that we only noticed it on the steeper parts. At one point we came across a family of kangaroos, large red ones. They watched us a while, hopped out of the way, then continued to watch till we were out of sight. We could see the Beloon Pass in the distance and it seemed hard to believe we had come from the far side of it that day. The sun was now very warm and we were glad to rest in the shade of a tree for two minutes. Two minutes meant two minutes now as we were still trying to make up time. However it was not long before we were on top of the ridge and at the junction with the Sheepwalk Drive. Time for another two minutes.
The route from here was fairly straightforward. We just had to follow this track down to Byrnes Creek, then turn west along another road and keep going, either till we dropped or we reached Yerranderie. We had intended to turn off the track at the first left turn, which would have taken us to some old ruins from which we could have crossed Byrnes Creek and joined the main Yerranderie track further down, thus cutting out several miles of tedious road bashing. However, this was not to be. We must have walked right past the turn, mistaking it for a grader park. By this time we were getting rather dry, as we were not carrying any water. It was with joyous anticipation that we regarded our encounter with Byrnes Creek. Alas when we arrived the creek bed was dry. This was not good at all, as there was no other source of water for about six miles. It was now getting on for three o'clock. With sunken hearts we followed the road down to the ford: at least my heart was sunken, Brian is the model from which all eternal optimists were fashioned. He saw that dry bed gushing with water, and when we got to the ford he went off and sniffed out several water holes. It was time for a rest, five minutes this time as we had some water. Brian aired his feet while I guzzled. It was a pleasant spot, lightly timbered, deep in the gully formed by the creek. Although it was on the road there was no sign of it having been used, and all was quiet. Walks are not made of rests so we had to start moving again. It was getting harder to start now as we were both beginning to tire, but we slogged on up the hill away from out source of water. The next three miles were all up hill. It was a long, rather boring drag up 300 meters. All rests were strictly two minutes. Around each corner we hoped to see the ground level off but it never did, just up and up. We had the water in our bottles but that would not be enough for our usual meal and it did not look as if we would reach Yerranderie that night. Eventually the top came and a little further on there was a farm. Brian saw this as a potential water source and camping ground, so we went over and had a word with the farmer. He was the first person we had seen since we left Ted. He said our best bet would be to push on to Basin Creek. Brian was not keen on going any further but agreed when told it was all down hill, so we proceeded. We were down in no time as it was like freewheeling after the climb. I could feel a few sharp spots on the soles of my feet but they were not bad. It was with relief that we saw the creek as it was now getting dark, and we had both had enough, so we left the road and looked for a suitable place to camp.
We found the perfect spot. A pleasant, grassy, flat bank of the creek. We set about our usual chores that were now becoming habits. Brian gathered firewood and made the fire while I put up the tent. We just got everything, done before darkness enveloped us. The water here was a bit suspect as there was a light brown scum on the rocks on the bed of the creek, so we drank mainly tea. We later found out that several creeks were polluted with minerals in which case boiling would do no good, but we drank from most creeks in the area and suffered nothing. Whilst we were eating, to our absolute horror, a whole convoy of four wheel drive vehicles roared past, stirring up dust and spewing forth fumes. Our sense of smell had become accustomed to the natural smells of the bush in the last few days, and our ears had heard nothing but birdsong and the tramping of our boots. This infringement on our senses was shattering but it was a sign of things to come. All was quiet for the rest of the night and after such a long, hard day we both slept well. We had covered about seventeen miles, and were now only about two miles behind schedule, that is, Yerranderie. This was to be one of the highlights of the trip. Brian had been there before and painted a vivid picture in my mind of an utterly deserted town, gradually being overtaken by the real owner, the bush. The farmer we met earlier said it had changed, but did not say in which way; all those four wheel drives made us wonder.
We awoke the next day to clear blue sky. We were up at five again as we wanted plenty of time to look around Yerranderie and it was before eight that we were off again. We were really getting into the swing of things now and even starting off up hill did not dampen our spirits. I had a few blisters after the long road bash of the previous day, but they were not too bad and after I had been going a few minutes I hardly felt them.
Less than two miles up hill we were in sight of the ghost town, but the ghost had left and swarms of people had taken its place. The most prominent feature was not the old buildings but a colourful array of large frame tents. As we walked along the road, a ute. came tearing towards us followed by a lashing tail of dust. Brian, who was totally disillusioned, waved it to a halt. A weather worn, middle aged woman was driving it. "How did you get this in here?" He demanded, referring to the car, "and how did you get here?" "I come in by plane.” she replied, "and if you don't get out of the way I will miss this one." She pointed to the top of the hill where a light aircraft was warming up it’s engine. With a few more short words she told us that she owned the town and if we wanted accommodation we should go to the old post office and see the caretaker. Brian was about to explode when she put her foot down on the accelerator and sped off, engulfing us in a cloud of smoke. Our accommodation was on our backs. We had carried it for over three days, and to see people coming in and out by plane irked both of us. It seems the bush had been beaten again. We walked up to the airstrip and saw the plane take off. The noise was deafening. This was not what we had come to see so after making a few derogatory remarks to some tourists we continued down the road.
All we wanted now was to get away, back into the countryside in its natural state. The town is in a spectacular setting, with peaks all around and distant views of the various gaps in the surrounding ranges. It was still only about nine thirty so we decided we would stop at the post office, have a poke around and take some photos. It was only about a mile down the road and we were soon there. This part of the town was definitely better. The post office was occupied, but it still retained some of its original character. We selected a suitable building and took off our packs. I put a new film in my camera and we spent half an hour looking around. We made use of the tap before we left and looked at the map to pick a spot for lunch. We chose Butchers Creek, as we wanted to get to the Kowmung River that night and this seemed about half way.
We were still on road but it was becoming less used and gradually the ruts became deep enough to stop almost all traffic. In fact we were to see no more. It was an easy walk down to the Tonalli River where we stopped for a drink and sat for a few minutes dangling our legs over the bridge. This made my blisters throb but after a few hundred yards the pain went. Once again we were ascending. We were heading for Byrnes Gap, a climb of over four hundred feet. Not too bad after the previous day but it seemed a long haul. Eventually we arrived at the top. The road stretched out ahead of us in the sun. It was now very warm and there was no shade as the trees had been cut back from the edges of the road. We plodded on, wishing for Butchers Creek. We had done too much on road and it was beginning to wear but we knew there was not much more to go. When we met the road after the Beloon Pass it was with gladness, now we would be very glad to leave it. When we did reach the Creek we were not sure it was the right one, so it was out with the compasses. The angle between the road and the Creek proved it to be the right one so we settled down to lunch. This time we did have time for a brew, we needed one.
After a leisurely meal we packed up and started off again. As usual it was uphill. This often occurs as we needed water at our stops and this was always in a creek, which naturally, was in a valley. It was a climb of over three hundred feet and the hot sun and the hard road made the going difficult. At the top the road turned ninety degrees and headed NNE. We stopped for another of those restricted rests and looked at the map again. It was important that we took the correct ridge off Scotts Main Range. We were undecided as to whether we should take the Bulga or Dennis range down to the Kowmung River, but as the Bulga was only a mile distant and the Dennis two more beyond that. We decided to go for the Bulga and see what it looked like. We knew the snag with the Bulga would be getting up the other side of the Kowmung George: it would involve what the map called a "forty foot rock climb" and that could mean anything. Now we were up on the ridge the going was much easier and we were soon on top of the fourth rise and that was our cue for the Bulga Range. We took off our packs and had a good look round. We could not afford a mistake here if we were to meet Ted on time. Fortunately it looked good, there was a large broken tree to mark the spot and a path running off along the ridge. We were both sick of road bashing and the opportunity to get off it was too much to resist. It was now about three o'clock and we had to reach the river before dark, so we set off along the path at a brisk pace.
It was really good to be off that road. We were once again surrounded by trees; truly back in the bush. Soon the path became less distinct with many branches going off to nowhere, but we just kept to the top of the ridge and kept a close watch on the compasses. Even so, several times we found ourselves going down the side of the ridge. The trees were so thick it was like walking in a fog. About a mile down the ridge there was a spur heading North that we wanted to avoid. At the point where it left the main ridge the trees were extra thick and the ground level; thus before we knew it we were happily wandering down the very ridge we were trying to avoid. Thanks to our regular compass checks it was not long before we realised our mistake and corrected it by crossing the spur and heading South till we were back at the main ridge. We carried on along the Bulga that was now very narrow and had no signs of a path. It was spectacular country, to one side of us the ridge dropped away into the abyss that held the Kowmung, the other side was equally steep but descended to a series of wooded valleys. It was now about four o'clock and we had a great vertical distance to go, about fifteen hundred feet. When we reached the end of the ridge we stopped for a short rest. Below us was what appeared to be a forty five-degree slope that disappeared into the depths that were obscured by trees. In front of us was a horrific view of Cambage Spire. From that angle it appeared as an unassailable spire of white rock. If that was our only way out we were going to have a hard time but it was too late now as we were committed, so we started the descent.
It was the worst downhill I have ever done. Each step forced my blistered feet hard into my boot. Each step almost threw me off balance, and a roll would have been very hard to stop. Each step was onto a loose rock, and each step seemed to bring us no nearer the river. We could hear it roaring away down below but it would not come into sight. Down and down we went. It seemed endless. I feared that if we went much further we would enter the Jaws of Hell. Fortunately the river came first. Through the trees there was just a hint of water. It still looked miles away but we seemed to make better progress and soon we emerged through the bushes onto the pebbly banks of the Kowmung River. We sat down with relief but it was about five thirty and darkness would soon be with us. We still had to cross the river and find a campsite before we could rest. It turned out to be another crossing that would have to be waded with boots on. This was not what we wanted at this time of day but we did not have any choice. It was a hazardous crossing as the current was very strong and being tired, it would have been easy to have overbalanced and been swept away. However, we got away with just a wet pair of boots each. Luckily we had come out just where we wanted, by Christy’s Creek, so we crossed this to the upstream side and found the perfect campsite. It was a level grassy bank complete with a log for a fireplace. We were soon settled down with the tent up and a fire blazing; boots placed not too near, steaming, and a billy full of curry on the boil.
It was a good meal after a hard day. By this time all light had gone and only the outline of the surrounding hills was visible. For the first time since the Beloon Pass we were back on schedule and it looked like we would meet Ted as planned. We talked about the next day’s walk. The big unknown was Cambage Spire, I resolved then that I was not going to take any unnecessary risks and that if it looked dangerous we would have to find another way out of that awesome valley. Brian agreed. The rest of that walk would be over Mount Cloudmaker to Dex Creek. At least that was the plan.
We had a reasonable night with some light rain, but by morning it had passed on although it was still cloudy. As daylight appeared we could see our surroundings better. The river looked dark in that early morning light and the walls of the gorge were steep and imposing. Unfortunately we did not have time to linger. It was up and off as usual. I took one photo as we were leaving, we then got stuck into what was to be a hard climb.
We crossed back over Christies Creek and started up the beginning of a trail that petered out after a few yards. At least it proved that people had been this way before and that there must be a way out. Soon we were on our hands and knees clinging onto any available root or branch within reach. It was really steep and the river was dropping away rapidly below our sweating panting carcasses. The ridge became slightly less steep after a few rests; it also became sharper. Seven hundred feet above the river we reached a knoll. It was a welcome break but it was only a temporary one and soon we were struggling again as the ridge became steeper and then it became rocky. We thought this must be the Spire as we clambered up this broken rock wall. About half way up Brian said "I thought you said you were going to do nothing dangerous." It was not a difficult climb but there was a nasty drop off to the side. Soon we were on top thinking we had 'done' the Spire but the ridge continued to soar above as my spirits sank at the thought of something even worse to climb, but we had to get on with it so off we went.
Still upwards, and the gradient increased as we went on. The trees thinned out and we could see the spire ahead of us, It looked impassable but as we got nearer cracks appeared. It was not long before we were at the top of the slope and leaning against the hard rock of the spire. Following the base round to the right we came upon a wooden arrow pointing skyward. There was a corner with a tree growing in it. This was obviously the way so we took off our packs and Brian went ahead to see if we could manage it. I rested and shouted advice that did not seem to be appreciated, as Brian ascended amid a hail of falling stones and curses. He was soon out of sight and I admired the view. We were well up now and a panorama was opening up but cloud was building up and it was beginning to look like rain. After a while a shout of triumph came out of the heights above me. Brian was up; but it had been a struggle, and that was without a pack. This did not please me as I wasn’t so good on the rock as my companion. We heaved our packs on and started up. Brian led the way and he was soon at the tree. The moment I put boot to rock a light rain came to lubricate the rubber rock interface. After several unsuccessful attempts I had to take off my pack and pass it up to Brian. I was then able to scrape my way up to the tree. From here on it was more difficult and we both had to proceed with our packs off passing them from one to the other. After much struggling with the overweight packs we reached the top. There was a terrific view from those giddy heights. It was an almost vertical drop of sixteen hundred feet to Christies Creek. Away to the South there was a view right down the Kowmung George. I took a couple of photos but we did not have time to waste if we were to meet Ted as planned, so we loaded up and set off again.
The rest of the route was to follow the main ridge, the Bullhead Range till it met the Gingra and then follow the track to the top of Kanangra. This was still almost eight hundred feet above us so the hard work was not over. The ridge was a series of rises and falls, which were very wearing. We plodded on saying we would rest when we met the Gingra track, which, we were told was wide enough to drive a car down. After what seemed like an eternity we saw a sidetrack joining ours from the right. We concluded that this must be another way down to the Kowmung and continued on our way. It was still up and up, not too steep but a long drag. Where was the Gingra? Then, on our left we saw Cottage Rock. That little side path was the Gingra. It would have been difficult to have got a push bike down that. Our informant, it seemed, was not too well informed. Anyway we were pleased to know we were near the top and it was not long before we were skirting the cliffs surrounding Kanangra Tops we now just followed the path, which at this point was trodden by horses.
The general direction was still up but it was now fairly gradual, the only snag being a huge rain cloud that was heading straight for us. We stopped and put on our waterproofs just as the first big droops began to fall. Those beers that we had bullied Ted into bringing were not looking so attractive as they had when we were clinging onto Cambage Spire with teeth and eyebrows. Soon we were in sight of the trig that was our rendezvous, and there standing swathed in mist and rain was Ted. For once this was a welcome sight and the three of us were soon plodding through what was now, pouring rain. Mike had recovered from his flew and was hiding in the bushes with our beer, so we hurried on all trying to relate their experiences at the same time. A few hundred yards later we found him and eagerly accepted that brewed ambrosia, but somehow the edge was removed from the experience when we turned our faces, with cans ready, heavenward. The rain was now coming down in torrents and although the beer found its way down our throats, the rain found its way down our anoraks.
Ted said that he knew of a nice dry cave nearby and in a moment of weakness, which both Brian and I have bitterly regretted ever since, we decided to accept this dry alternative to the decidedly wet ridge out to Cloudmaker. As it turned out, this cave was about two miles away but at least it was dry and the four of us set about making camp. I was wet cold and miserable. This was the end of the walk, we would be wasting too much time here to be able to complete it in the time we had. It was three o'clock. The other three went out into the rain in an heroic effort to collect firewood for the night. I was a coward and decided to smash the wood they collected into a suitable size. It was good therapy considering the situation.
The night was not uneventful, it never is when Ted is around, but I don’t think be had anything to do with the strange happening of that night. I was not aware of the time, but it was dark when I awoke with the tent collapsing about me. In a blind panic that befalls one when woken in these circumstances I threshed about and managed to find the foot of the offending tent pole and put it in its place. Brian was groping about for a light, complaining that something had trodden on him. At the same time, unbeknown to us, Ted had shone his torch over our way, saw the tent in its death throes, thought it was no concern of his and went back to sleep. At least that is his story. The morning revealed a displaced packet of peanuts so the general opinion was that it was some animal after food.
The morning was wet but the rain was easing and the cloud was beginning to lift but it was too late now. Still, what we had done was extremely enjoyable walking over varied country and was not a walk to be missed. Our problem now was to get home. We packed up our stuff and scrounged a lift off a couple of walkers with a car. As we were making our way up to the car park we passed another pair who were off to the Kowmung. "You have to take the wet with the dry they said, as they put their wet shoes on. This struck a chord with Brian and I. We would not be caught that way again.
The lift to Jenolan Caves was uneventful, and as we left the rain stopped and by the time we got there the sun was peeping through the cloud. This rubbed it in but there was nothing to be done now. We spent some time looking round Jenolan as we had a long wait for the bus. I used a real toilet. We were back in civilisation. The bus took us to Katoomba, where we caught a train. It was a dismal journey and it seemed ages till we arrived at Blacktown where I said goodbye to my companions to catch another train to Richmond. I then had to pay the earth to get a cab out to Yarramundi. It was now quite late and the kids were in bed. My early return was of no surprise to my wife who thought the weather was enough to send anyone home. It was good to sleep in a real bed again and have a bath but I could not help regretting that last thirty miles that we should have walked to Katoomba, and would have, had it not been for a moment of weakness.
It was now early the following autumn, the time was about 10 p.m. and we were all back in that cave in Kanangra Walls. It was a clear night with a bright moon and the walk from the car park across the head of Kanangra Deep to the cave had been stunning. Cloudmaker in the moonlight is a sight not to be missed!
We were the same four. That last thirty miles had been eating at Brian and I for the last seven months, now we were going to get back at it and do it in two days, (hopefully).
Ted and Mike were going a short distance with us then go back to the car. We had a brew and a natter then settled down for the night. It was clear and cool, unlike the last time we were there, and we were fresh and ready for a hard walk the next day. I set the alarm clock for 4 am and perused a somewhat elusive sleep on the hard rocky floor of the cave.
When the alarm rang I could not reach it and it rang itself back to sleep, but it had roused us all from our slumber. It was still as dark as when we had settled down for the night but now it was cooler. We all fumbled around in the dark cursing the time and each other till we had a fire roaring away and two billies coming to the boil. One was for our porridge, the other for that bush ambrosia; tea. As usual at this time of day we all lapsed into a kind of lethargy as we sipped our tea, except Ted who was sipping his cordial. The next thing we noticed was dawn, and the contents of our packs were still strewn across the cove floor. Brian and I wanted to be walking at first light in order to see sunrise from Kanangra Tops and to give us time to get some of the way up Yellow Pup Ridge on the far side of the Cox River, before nightfall. We were being wildly optimistic.
Sunrise was at about 6.15 am. It was now about 5.45 am and a mad scramble ensued. Ted and Mike had to go back to their car first to dump their sleeping gear, so they were away first. Within a few minutes Brian and I were off, feeling really fit and almost running up the incline to Seymour Top. The track here was well defined with steps cut into the rock in places. In about five minutes we were on top gazing down into the misty depths of Kanangra Deep, impatiently waiting for the other two, so we could proceed. We could see across Murdering Gully to the car park but there was no sign of them so I shouted that we would go on at a sedate pace so they could catch up. My echo was loud and clear so we assumed they heard, and set off on what to be an extremely tiring but fulfilling day.
The stroll across the tops was delightful. The contrast in the surrounding deeps gradually increased as the sun rose above Cloudmaker and we could see the Kowmung Gorge and the Mountains beyond, through which we had plodded many months ago. We were now looking down on the Gingra Range and we remembered looking up on those blue heights from the Bulga on our way down to the Kowmung.
We were so rapt in all this that we missed the turn in the path to Brennan Ton. This meant struggling through the wet, prickly scrub to find it again. The first thing we saw was Mike and Ted charging along the top of the ridge, obviously on the path, so we clawed our way up to them. Both of us now had our shoes, (we were trying running shoes instead of boots for the first time) soaked through and our legs scratched, but not badly. After the expected, sarcastic comments from our companions we followed the path which was now becoming indistinct, (as do all paths in the mountains), to the north east wall of Brennan lop.
We had only come one and a half miles and we still felt good, but time was passing and the sun was now shinning several degrees above the horizon. The way off the Tops was via Gordon Smith Pass. This was a very narrow gully, narrow enough to jump across at its upper end, which broke the cliff line about fifty meters from the Northern corner of the wall. We dithered a bit here as there was no cairn and it looked too small to be a pass. However, Ted started to descend whilst the rest of us checked the surroundings for any other signs of a pass. There were none and Ted seemed to be making progress so we followed. The route followed the northern edge of the gully till it widened out enough to clamber into it. It was then simply a matter of dropping to the base of the cliffs. From here Kilpatrick Causeway was clearly visible across a slight depression. The path was again fairly well defined so we just followed it.
The Causeway was the rocky crest of the ridge that extends to Cloudmaker (3819 ft). From here there were magnificent views of Kanangra Deep. The sun was now highlighting the ridges and it was time for photographs, (Ted's obsession). We climbed small rise in the ridge and decided that we would part here as Brian and I had a fair distance to cover and Ted and Mike just wanted to wander about.
From here it was only about 1 mile to Crafts Wall and we were soon climbing out of the small coll that separated it from the causeway. It was the first climb of the trip but was only about 100 ft. The path was distinct but divided at the wall. The main and shortest route followed the north west edge of the base of the wall. We noticed a small cave in the wall where the path divides; a welcome shelter in time of rain, but no good in the dry. The path undulated its way passed the wall, but we did not have time to climb to the top. The way up was from the other side. About half way round the wall we passed another cave which looked in if it had a good wet weather soak.
Once passed Crafts Wall the path turned more northerly and followed a bearing of about 20 deg. We skirted a small rocky outcrop, from which we took more photographs of the deep, which was now well sun-lit, then dropped into another small col before rounding the eastern flank of Mount Berry. We knew we had a steep drop from here to Gabes Gap, the low point an the ridge (2550), and as down is down, and down was all around, we nearly took the wrong ridge. A compass check showed us our error, and we were soon romping down to the Deep Col. Here we stopped for a rest. We had come about two miles since we had left the other two, but it was all easy going. The hard work was about to start. Gabes Gap was a very pleasant grassy col, it was a textbook example of negative curvature. Someone had camped there by the look of the fireplace but they would have needed their own water.
The track was now very steep and as that initial burst of fitness was beginning to wear off we were puffing and panting all the 700-ft to the top of Mount High and Mighty. The path was less well used from here on but we stuck to the crest of the ridge which was clearly defined. From the top, Cloudmaker looked menacing, but we had very little time for stops. As usual our schedule was a little tougher than our legs. We descended again into yet another col then skirted the side of Mount Stormbreaker. It was hard to make out the path and I am still not sure whether our way was the best but we could see no other. We made our way back up to the crest of the ridge just passed the summit. I suppose we had cut out about 100 ft of uphill. We had hoped to stay lower down and come in to the col before Cloudmaker, horizontally, but the scrub looked too thick so we made for the ridge.
Once down in the col we could only see the top of the first of a series of ascending knolls, affectionately called Rip, Rack, Roar and Rumble. The day was beginning to warm up as the sun was still shinning with only a small amount of cloud. There were tremendous views as we struggled led up that sparsely timbered, rocky spine.
The sweat was running and our lungs were gasping as we clawed our way over each of those torturous humps. The shoes we were wearing now began to show their limitations. That rock felt awfully hard through their not too stout soles and the ankle support given by a good boot was noticeably lacking. However, despite this and a number of black snakes we soon found ourselves having a well-deserved rest at the summit. Brian made an entry in the visitors book whilst I poked around and took a few photos. It was now midday and we had covered about seven miles that morning. The top was fairly level so the trees prevented any good views but it was good to know it was almost all downhill to the Cox River.
We now had to make our way to Dex Creek, which would be our first water since we left the cave at Kanangra. As the ridge was broad we took a bearing of 65 deg and followed it. There was a sign of a path but it was hard to follow. We kept to the ridge for just over a mile then followed the last ridge north before Ti-Willa Canyon. This was a reasonably sharp ridge and there were aluminium markers on the trees. The wood was quite dense so we could not see much except trees, but we soon hit the creek. It was dry! At least it looked it, but a little searching found a small pool. It was sufficient to quench our thirsts and fill our bottles but a few more weeks without rain and even these puddles would be dry. We decided to have a bar of chocolate here but we could only stop for about ten minutes. It was now a question of reaching the Cox that night. We knew now we would not be able to climb the ridge the other side that day.
It was about 1 p.m.when we set off again. We had hit the creek a bit too far up-Stream so we followed it down to the grassy clearing that is often used at a camp site. It was a pleasant spot but we had no time to waste so we took bearings and continued. We followed 17 deg which took us straight up a fairly steer 100 ft hill. The scrub was thick, with no sign of a route or path so we just had to bash our way through, keeping a close eye on the compasses. On the maps the top of the hill was marked "clear" and we had visions of us making up time as we charged across open grasslands with extensive views. This was not to be. It was clear of trees but there was dense ground cover to a height of about 4-ft. I was soon regretting wearing shorts as the sharp twigs slowly skinned my shins. We stuck to the compass bearing for about a mile. This took us through a small copse and bank into the so-called "clear" country. A few more hundred yards of this leg abrasive and we were in woodland again with its thinner understorey.
We now had to change bearing to 351 deg and drop about 150 ft. onto the ridge, to Mount Moorilla-Maloo. As the ridge became sharper a path gradually appeared. It was comforting to know we were still on the right route. Crossing the plateau of Gangerang was the only tricky bit if navigation and luckily we had mode no mistakes that would have wasted time we did not have.
After crossing a small hump in the ridge about 800 meters south of Moorilla-Maloo we come upon another of those small cliffs that are not shown on the maps to confuse weary walkers. There was a good view from here of the path and the ridge leading off to Mount Strongleg. The cliffs of Moorilla-Maloo were glowing yellow in the mid-afternoon sunlight. We picked a way down the north west corner of the cliff where it was well broken and dropped into another col and then up again, skirting the south west corner of Moorilla-Maloo. As the path passed under the cliffs it became very clear. Then turned westward at a bearing of 283. We checked our compasses just to make sure we were right, but it was hardly necessary as both path and ridge showed the way.
It was now simply a case of following the Moorilla Range out to Mount Strongleg. The general direction was 347 deg after rounding the corner in the ridge and there was a mean drop in height. However this was not as easy to our, now tired, legs as we had expected. We had to climb over Mount Amarina, Kullieatha Peak and finally Mount Strongleg, which was a climb of over 200 feet. The ridge was rocky and hard on our scantily clad feet. Despite this it was no relief to reach the summit of Strongleg, as we knew the 2100-ft descent to the Cox River would be punishing.
We dropped to the end of the ridge and paused, peering into the depths below, it looked steep. Not as steep as the Bulga down to the Kowmung, but still very steep. We took a bearing of 13 deg from the map and followed it. We kept to the crest of the ridge most of the time and in places there was a path, but it kept disappearing. The outsides of my knees were becoming painful with the strain of holding my body and pack-weight back. It was still down and down. In places we had to force our way through thick scrub in others the ridge was fairly clear. After much cursing, slipping and thinking, "what an Earth am I doing here” the river came in sight. It was still a long way below us, at least we were making progress and soon we were climbing down the last few feet to a lush grassy clearing on the bank of Kanangra Creek just upstream from its junction with the Cox River.
This was ideal as the water in the Cox is polluted. It was wonderful to he on flat ground, although we both had sore feet and the sides of my knees were hurting quite badly. We chose a spot for our camp and sat for a while, savouring the moment. It was about 4.45 p.m. and we were down in plenty of time, but neither of us felt like going any further. We had come about 14 miles and had been walking, with hardly a break for eleven hours. We had not even stopped for lunch, only for that bar of chocolate at Dex Creek. We scouted about and collected a good supply of firewood then had a refreshing wash in the creek. Soon the fire was going, the tent was up and dinner was on. We had decided to try the lightweight freeze-dried food instead of the usual dehydrated stuff. It was not as good, but in our state anything was welcome. For a change we enjoyed the luxury of being able to see what we were eating as there were still traces of daylight about. However, this soon faded as we slowly sipped our tea and talked about the events of the day, and what faced us tomorrow. We knew it would be another early start so I set the alarm for 4.30.a.m. and we settled down soon after eight for a well deserved and sound, sleep.
When we struggled from out sleeping bags in the pre-dawn darkness the cloud cover that had built up the previous night had gone. The air was fresh but we were both stiff. My knees were really painful, and our feet were sore. Despite all this we soon had breakfast going and before we knew it light was upon us and we were rushing once more to get packed up and away. There was just enough light to take a photo before we set off. It was 6.30 a late start?
We headed down Kanangra Creek and filled our bottles before we met the Cox River. We continued down the Cox looking for a suitable crossing place. The best seemed to be opposite Yellow Pup Point. We de-socked, but kept our shoes on for the extra grip. It was just over knee deep and there was a moderate flow, but there were no problems other than our scratched legs, which stung in the cold water. However that river in flood would have been a different story. Once over we dried out feet and put our socks back on. The sun was rising now and the valley looked very impressive in that early morning light. It would have been nice to linger a while but we had a climb ahead of us.
The path along the crest of the ridge went 350 deg for the first mile. Although the sketch map had it marked as only a route, it turned out to be a reasonably well defined path. The gradient was not too steep for the first 3/4 mile and we had good views to the west down to our camping spot and the junction of the Cox River and Kanangra Creek 400-ft below. Soon the ridge became steeper and we were struggling against the pull of gravity and our packs. Rests became more frequent but only enough to regain normal breathing. Soon we were at the point where the ridge swings eastwards on a bearing of 210. The change in direction was gradual and only noticeable through regular compass checks. Another 1/4 mile and the gradient eased a little but it was not to last. We had climbed 1300 ft above the river and still had 700' to go. The final steep pitch was eased slightly as the path began to zigzag, but it was still hard work. At times we doubted whether it was the correct path to the top so wide were its excursions but eventually there was no more up-hill in front of us, only a cairn to mark the top of Mount Yellow Dog (2508') 2000 ft above the Cox River.
We had left the river at about 8.a.m. and it was now about 9.30.a.m. so we decided we deserved a rest. Brian ate some chocolate and I drank some water and the ants ate us. We had only come about 2 1/2 miles so we had to keep moving. We set a bearing of 44 deg and, continued along the Yellow Dog Range.
The going was easier now. The ridge was fairly sharp and rocky at first but as we gained height it became broader and the path became well trodden. There were a few small descents that were painful on my knees but it was not long before we were face to face with Mount Dingo, which towered 500 ft above us. Fortunately we were not going over it. There is a route up but we did not have the time, so we stuck to the path which was now unmistakable as it skirted along the western edge of the range an a mean bearing of about 20 deg.
We made good progress along this section. The weather was fine, there were no major hills and we were in reasonable shape except our feet, that were now getting rather sore, and my knees which only gave trouble on steep downhill stretches. The path crossed several creek lines but they were all dry. Whilst we were investigating one of these another party of three walkers passed us, we exchanged notes very briefly and they were off crashing through the bush. Our next stop was Mobbs Swamp. There was a pleasant grassy camping spot there but the creek was dry. This was not good news as we had worked up a thirst and were looking foreword to a good guzzle. However, a little further on the main path there was a small creek line, this too was dry, but about 20 meters upstream there were several small pools of clean water. There was a bit of wildlife swimming about on it but that did not spoil our enjoyment.
It was now about 11.30 a.m. and we planned to have lunch in Medlow Gap so we were soon off again. The path rounded the north west shoulder of Mount Warrigal and headed east. The going was still easy and it was not long before we met the Water Board road that took us into the Gap. We left the road the other side of the gap where the path starts the ascent of Mount Debert, and settled down to lunch. It was now about 12.30 p.m.
We had promised ourselves a good half-hour for lunch and we enjoyed each minute of it. It was pleasant to sit back in the shade of the trees and nibble our nuts. We had done a good mornings walk but we had about eight miles to go.
We roused ourselves and started the 400-ft climb up Mount Debert. This is a small hump off the end of Narrow Neck Plateau almost a mile long but only a few hundred meters wide. It was very steep at first and in the warmth of the afternoon sun we were sweating freely. However we were soon on top of it and the views to the south were beginning to open out. The top half-mile was easy going through almost level woodland. I was not looking for ward to the descent into Little Cedar Gap because of my knees, but when we arrived it did not look too bad as it was down another rocky spine, not a slope that would be painful.
Soon we were down and were surprised to see a road and an electricity pylon. The road was only access to the pylon but it was still a scar on the country. This rapidly faded from our thoughts as we slogged the 400-ft to the foot of Narrow Neck cliff line. The views were not really impressive but we decided to wait till we were higher before taking photos. We rounded the left-hand side of the cliff to Taros Ladder. This was a sheer corner in the cliff of about 80-ft with iron spike strategically placed to allow fools such as ourselves to climb up. We wasted no time except that necessary to photograph each other climbing up. It was not difficult but a bit hair-raising, especially with packs on. At one point my pack caught on one of the spikes but with a little manoeuvring I was free and standing on the top. At least we thought it was the top but above us towered another 200 ft of cliffs. We decided to take out photographs here and it turned out to be the best spot; higher up there were too many trees. We could look south over our whole walk. In the distance, the sheer walls if Kanangra were shinning in the sun, Cloudmaker loomed in the, mid-distance with the Cox valley carving its way in front. Then there were the Wild Dig Mountains in the foreground and Mount Debert immediately below. To the east the blue waters of Lake Burragorang stood out against the surrounding green. It was splendid! White arrows on the rock indicated the way to the top. It was fairly easy over a few rocks to the next step in the cliff line then round to the left again and up a steep, narrow, gully. Climbing out of that cool, dark, dank gully into the open sunlit expanse of Clear Hill was an experience not easily forgotten and we sat for ten minutes admiring the view.
It was now about 3p.m. and we had about six miles of road ahead of us so we had to start moving again. The road. although only a rough track was hard on our sore feet. We were cursing the day we decided to try sports shoes instead of boots. It felt as if the whole sole was one big blister. However, we had to carry on and the sun was shinning and the views were magnificent so we did not feel too bad. It was a long drag up to Bushwalkers Hill but on the way we found a source of fresh water. To the right of the track was a small clearing and out of a pipe in the bank flowed the clear refreshing liquid. We ditched what we had left from Mobbs Swamp and filled up with this newer supply. Soon we were on out way again.
It was a hard slog bashing along that road our feet were getting worse and my knees were becoming painful again, but we just kept putting one foot in front of the other as the sun slowly sunk in the sky. We crossed the Narrow Neck and stopped for a photo; there was a tremendous view of Mount Solitary. We pressed on up the steep slope the other side of the neck and over a few more rises and falls. It was gone 5 0.pm. and the air was cooling rapidly as daylight began to fade. As we mounted the last hill before the descent to the car, which we had left at the top of the Golden Stairs, the sun set. That last bit of downhill was very painful and I needed a stick, which Brian wrested from the bank, to take some of the weight off my knees. It was down for 200-ft and we were both relieved to be at the car.
The time was 6 p.m., it had been a long, hard day, we had sore feet and were very weary but this did not stop us discussing our next trip whilst having a meal in Katoomba.