A Big Sky Place
It would really suck to suffer from vertigo. And I don’t mean watching Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak run amok in San Francisco only to discover the DVD is missing the last 10 minutes.
I’m talking about having an unhealthy urge to throw oneself off of cliffs when it has nothing to do with mental health or abseiling.
Thankfully, neither myself nor my 5 other intrepid adventurers from Sydney Bush Walkers Club suffer from such a fate. Just as well really, considering what we planned on doing over Easter 2013.
I planned this Easter trip to start on Saturday, which meant that Good Friday was spent as a leisurely day packing and slowly heading up to the Walls carpark where we camped for the night. Checkout a 360 of the sunset which I enjoyed with just one or two glasses of red. Ah, a great start to a holiday!
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and we tucked into a quick breakfast at the shelter shed before heading out.
After a quick briefing, I broke the news to the 3 newer members of the club that I wanted them to really work on their navigation skills and take the lead with map and compass. Nothing like being thrown into the deep end. Kind of like Celebrity Splash… But thankfully not.
Not feeling in too much of a rush and slightly delirious from the amazing Autumn day we were having, we took our time passing Dance Floor Cave and headed up onto Seymour Tops to take in the views across to Kanangra Main Canyon.
The navigators located the correct turn off and we headed off towards Coal Seam Cave. As the video explains, this is a great little spot, where some far-sighted individuals installed a bucket underneath one of the (almost) permanent water drips from the cliff lines above. This bucket has quenched the thirst of many tired hikers, after lugging themselves up one of the many alternate ridges from the Kowmung River on a hot day. The water is a little brackish, but I’d be happy to drink it.
Speaking of these alternate ridge routes, this was what our trusty navigators now focused on. For the rest of the day, they followed the toppo diligently and after what seemed longer than I thought it should have (an elastic ridge no less!) we arrived at the river for a refreshing dip, just as the sun was sinking over the tops.
It was here that the newer members of our club also narrowly avoided one of the little known hazards sometimes associated with the dear Sydney Bush Walkers Club.
You see, there’s been something of a tradition in the past of some members, well… getting their members (and other bits) out.
You’ll notice from the above pic that our club has an incredibly diverse age range, having started in 1927, with an influx of younger people in their 20s and 30s joining in the last 5 years or so.
I love it when new members come on their first walk and see what they perceive as “elderly” people at the briefing in the morning. I can see what they’re thinking. What they don’t realise, is that these ‘old dears’ have been walking their arses off since they were teenagers, with exceptional fitness and endurance. These grey haired gurus can carry a full pack up and down any Kanangra 850m ridge, for 10 hours without blinking or breaking a sweat, whereas most gym junkies only workout for a couple of hours… tops.
I then have a secret delight when about 3 hrs into a walk, the Crusties (my term of endearment for the older members) are going strong and the 20 something’s are struggling to keep up.
So… Back to the, ahem Member’s member…
DR thoughtfully went ahead on the track and beat us younger types to the river, allowing himself to feel the breeze, splash in the river and truly be one with nature, without scaring the younger, Member’s members.
Finding a campsite was next on the agenda and although there was one nearby our swimming spot, I would only give it a 2.5-3 star rating. Surely we can do better than that! You know when you just “feel” that there’s got to be somewhere better… just a little further along? Now sometimes that type of thinking can lead to disappointment and plodding by head torch, “just another 500m”, through thick scrub for another 5kms or so. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go that far before we came upon a truly amazing clearing with lush green grass – a true 5 star campsite and just as the sun was disappearing behind the hills.
After a deep nights sleep, we woke up to Easter Sunday and what was going to be the hardest day of the trip. There was a whole lot of UP involved and a fair bit of navigating by map and compass to ensure that we hit the old pass in exactly the right spot.
The lower ridges were pretty clear and the going was fairly easy, with only the last pinch up one of the buttresses of Ti Willa Plateau causing us all to huff n’ puff. We pulled ourselves up through rock falls and through scrub, occasionally experiencing the two steps up, one slide back on loose scree, constantly checking our compass bearing and reading the terrain, before magically… we looked up… and right in front of us was the bottom spike of the pass. Our navigators had done extremely well!
Up we went, making use of the chains and spikes along the way and being super careful on the very slippery Casuarina needles on the ledges. One slip and… well…
Lunch was had at the cairn on the top of Ti Willa plateau as a cool change moved in from the south. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees in 10 minutes and a gentle wind picked up. Off we headed (to warm up again!) to walk across of top of the Plateau and head for the sleeping cave. In the past, there have been stories about impenetrable scrub and Hakea making this journey not very enjoyable. Thankfully, we found this not to be the case. Sure, there were a few pockets of the stuff that made the going slow and painful at times, but generally speaking, it was good going.
We made good time and only felt a few of the raindrops from the threatening sky, before arriving at cave and starting the fire. Drinking water was flowing well in the usual place and before long we were enjoying a lovely afternoon’s cuppa.
As there was still at least 3 hours of good light left, I offered to take everyone to a great lookout to take in our elevated surroundings. This did involve a bit of scrub, but we be hardy types in Sydney Bushies, Argh!
The evening was calm and still at the cave and we all enjoyed the hot rum and lime drink that I brewed to a secret recipe, which no doubt helped us sleep very well. It was at this point that I broke the news to the group that I wanted to leave the cave at 7am. Oh the shock of it! They’d clearly gone soft. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that I’d told them to sacrifice their first born on the morning fire… Sheeesh. Get used to it guys – I’ve started to enjoy early starts!
The lazy bunch didn’t quite manage 7am, but around 7.20am we slogged up the hill out of the cave and made Mt Cloudmaker in good time, where we signed the logbook before heading off along the footpad towards the Walls.
This stretch of track-ette, is the most used piece of terrain in the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness Area and forms part of the traditional Kanangra to Katoomba (K2K) route. Although there is a footpad, there are no signs and the track does disappear here and there along the way. For those experienced types, you might find it hard to believe that there have been people lost between here and the carpark, even in recent times.
The views along this track are truly amazing, not only north or south into the valleys and gorges, but all around – I am a big fan of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and spots along here literally explode with them.
All too soon, we found ourselves having lunch on the top of Gordon Smith’s Pass which always signals to me that the end is nigh… the Kanangra-Walls carpark is just a few kms away.
Back at the cars, we changed clothes and decided to head to the Gardener’s Inn at Blackheath for a well deserved cooling ale before heading home.
A truly wonderful Easter break and a great adventure!
So what’s your favourite big sky place?