Blue Mountains Hiking
My great 3-day solitary hike up Mount Solitary
It is now June and winter in Sydney – how times flies! My last post was back in February this year, and that was actually about the first few months back in Sydney in 2021. So yes, I am now way behind with this blog, but I haven’t given up! Since getting back to Sydney at the end of December 2020, much has changed and happened, hence the delay in writing and posting blogs. I have just finished my first year at university, which I think is quite an accomplishment and worth celebrating. This is my first time at big school, and while many people did their degrees straight out of high school and finished them by the time they were 22 or so, I decided to start mine at the ripe old (and much wiser) age of 41. I am the first one in my family to go to university, and it means a lot – it’s not just a piece of paper (well it is) but it represents much more than that, in that you can study, put in long hours of learning, writing, reading, plus exams, and come out on top and (hopefully) smarter and more aware of everything around you. That’s how I feel after my first year, that and sick of writing essays, but also more sure of myself as a person, slightly more knowledgeable and extremely proud of my marks and what I’ve actually accomplished. Just 2 more years (or 4 part-time) to go. Yay.
So last year was a busy one, a real balancing act between study, work and life. Family time was also important, as that was one of the reasons why I’d moved back home after so long. I studied during the week, attending campus 4 days a week and working the rest of the week, while trying to catch up with friends and family anytime I could between then. I made time for squash and exercise, dinner with my dad every fortnight, and the occasional catch up with friends. I was doing ok, and as it turns out not too bad at juggling a busy life while also getting good results at school. Well done me! That’s why, when I got a week off Uni after the Anzac long weekend, I thought I would go hiking for a few days, just me and the Red Beast (my famous backpack from the GR-11 trail). Without much planning, only some quick shopping for snacks, a gas bottle for cooking, and a quick look into the trail, I decided to leave early on a Tuesday morning (as I played squash on Mondays and I couldn’t miss that!), and come back late on a Thursday. This gave me 3 days and 2 nights in the Blue Mountains National Park, with plenty of walking to do, and just enough time for a sleep before going back to work on Friday. Perfect! I packed everything the night before, remembering my time hiking the Pyrenees back in 2020, and was already feeling happy. My 9am train on Tuesday morning was pretty much empty, with most people coming into the city for work at that time, so I could choose anywhere I wanted on the train and also have a bit of peace and quiet. This was also a long-distance train, which ran from Central all the way to Lithgow, but I was getting off at Katoomba. It had funky purple carpet and matching vinyl seating, which I thought was great, and it was also very comfortable. The ride was enjoyable, and I loved watching the Sydney suburban stops whiz by, then crossing over the Hawkesbury River, followed by the climb into the mountains, with both sides of the train skirted by dense eucalypt forests, and finally coming to a rest at my stop. I loaded up and jumped off, ready for my adventure!
Although it was late April, the colder weather had already set in up here, and I was glad that I’d brought my gloves! I wandered down the main street of Katoomba, a village that will always give me happy memories, as I spent a lot of my childhood here with my family. We had a house here, where my grandmother used to live, and we would come up for weekends, small walking trips, and then later when I was older my brother and I would come up and hit the pubs in town. There was also the yearly Magic Festival that I like going to, when people dress up in all sorts of strange, steampunk costumes, with the whole street full of food as well as craft stalls. This is in June, when it gets much colder, but for now I was heading straight to the police station to pick up a GPS tracker, just in case something happened and I needed help. This service, which is absolutely wonderful I have to say, is completely free, and all you need to do is register with the police, your name and contact number, where you’re going and how long you think you’ll be. Although I was almost certain I wouldn’t need it, if you get lost or injured, all you need to do is press a switch and it would send a signal out, and someone would come and rescue you. With this now in my backpack, I walked down to Echo Point, the start of my hike. Echo Point is also the main tourist stop, and the place where everyone who visits Katoomba and the Blue Mountains goes. I sat on a bench, enjoying the view of the famous 3 sisters and the lack of tourists, as Australia was still closed to non-residents, then made my way to the Giant Stairwell and the first leg of my 3-day hike. A steep hike down of nearly 1,000 steps, and I joined the Federal Pass which would lead me to my first stop for the day, Ruined Castle. There were far less people here on this track than at the lookout above, and it was just myself and one guy for an hour or so, then just me until I got to the campsite. It was a lovely few hours of walking, taking in the view of the 3 Sisters from below, in amongst the ferns and trees, listening to the sounds of the bush.
I reached the Ruined Castle campsite much earlier than I expected, and the signs seemed to be quoting a lot longer than was actually needed, even though I wasn’t walking quickly and was also stopping quite frequently for photos. The difficulty mentioned on the information boards was also misleading, at least for me, as I found the very hard or experienced walkers trails very easy – does that mean I am fitter than I think and also experienced? I’ll put it down to that. I dropped my bag, had a snack, then set the tent up for the night. As it was still light, I decided to climb to the top of the ‘castle’ itself and see what I could see, as I’d read that the view was spectacular. It wasn’t a hard climb at all, and I soon found myself at the top of the rock’s craggy tower-like peak (which gives it its name), with the spectacular view that I was expecting. I was not disappointed at all by the 360c views, only that it was so windy that I had to hold on or get blown off! I snapped a few pics, watched the sun go down, wishing that I had a beer for the occasion, then scrambled back down to cook dinner and get an early night. It was a tasty meal of instant noodles, which went down extremely well, filling me up and making me nice and warm. The cold had set in, but thankfully there was a small fire pit, which allowed me to keep a nice little fire going while I was having dinner. I was also very happy that I had planned ahead and collected my firewood before climbing the hill, as I could hear my new neighbours stumbling around in the dark with their little headlamps searching for suitable logs. When I’d finished dinner and chilled by the fire a bit, I decided to hit the sack and get an early night, ready for the next day which I knew would be a little longer and a litter harder.
Day 2 on the trail was a fair walk though, tougher than I’d had so far, but nothing that I couldn’t do. Leaving camp early, it was a little chilly but soon warmed up and the terrain got rockier and steeper, making me use my hands and feet. What I was climbing was one edge of Mount Solitary, the flat-topped mountain that sits on the opposite side of the Jamieson valley to Katoomba and the 3 Sisters. I’d never been this side before, and after a short scramble up, I found a nice flat rock to sit on and look back out into the valley. It was a great spot, and I used the time to relax and enjoy the view, while taking some of the warmer clothes off as the sun was well and truly up now. I was at the top of Mount Solitary now, so I headed along the plateau, sticking to the path which zigzagged through the scrub. Parts of the vegetation here appeared to have been burned quite badly, and I could still smell the bitter scent of ash, but most was already showing signs of bright green regrowth. This is the wonder of the Australian bush – it burns black, and causes huge fires to rip through the land, but it comes back so quickly. There are a few problems though; one is that most of these bushfires are deliberately lit by people who just want to burn something. Other issues are accidental fires when rubbish is dropped in the bush, like glass and cigarettes. Global warming isn’t helping, with longer dry spells and higher temperatures, but as an individual there are small things you do to prevent most of these fires – take your rubbish with you, and have some respect. There wasn’t much to see up here, the occasional bird call was heard, and I did pass one other walker, but soon it was time to walk down the other side, deep back down into the valley and my camp for the night. There was a decent road that led me to a river with no bridge, so I had to cross by taking my boots off and doing it the old-fashioned way. The water was freezing, but it also felt nice to have a little refreshing foot spa, complete with rocks that bruised my soles. Least I didn't fall in! I set up camp, and much to my delight, there was a real fire pit, so I started collecting some firewood immediately to make sure I could have a bigger fire tonight. On my walk around for wood, I nearly stumbled right into a kangaroo and her joey, which were munching on grass under some trees. They just looked at me, as curious as I was, and I enjoyed the experience, taking some photos and just smiling to myself.
I had the campsite pretty much to myself, with only one other group there, but they had chosen a site 50 metres away. I had the fire going, enjoying the warmth while I had dinner, before letting it die down and then going to bed. It was colder than the previous night, maybe because there was a small river close by, or maybe because I was in an open valley, rather than nestled up against a rock on higher ground. I made it through the night, waking several times because of the cold, but that’s just camping. I packed up and made ready to go, but as I was walking out of camp, I saw dozens of kangaroos, in the fields, under trees and even hopping along the road. It was a beautiful sight, and I couldn’t help but spend some times snapping some pics and just watching them hop about. There were some mothers with babies even, and I saw a little bald joey pocking out of one mum’s pouch. I stopped to check out some old headstones, which I read and discovered that one belonged to William Maxwell, who died in 1914 aged 84. The Maxwell family lived in the Kedumba Valley from the 1850s, with William living off the land as a stockman, while his sons received correspondence education. They had a small slab hut just across the valley, which has been restored to its original state, all timber with a small garden and gate in front, sitting in a beautiful part of the valley. The walk back to Katoomba was pretty uneventful, just 15 odd kilometres of up and down, rough dirt roads that seemed to go forever. What made this bearable was the landscape of green ferns and soaring trees – and the fact that I actually heard (and recorded) a Lyre bird’s amazing call! If you’ve never heard one before, you’ll flip out – they can mimic nearly anything, and this one did loads of other birds, including a kookaburra, and what sounded like a chainsaw! Check this one out if you want to hear true mimicry!
I was very tired by the end of this walk, with the last day of uphill killing me. I’d also run out of water, but thankfully a very generous soul gave me about half a litre from a spare bottle as he was heading back to town. That gave me enough juice to climb back up the 1,000 steps of the Giant Stairwell, which is impressive on the way down, but hard-yakka on the way up. With frequent stops for my poor legs, I made it back up and hit the main road to Katoomba, dropped off the GPS at the cop shop, before finding a pub to drink and eat to my great 3-day solitary hike up Mount Solitary. The first beer went down without touching the sides, but the second one really hit the spot. The pizza was also amazing, and just what I needed after a hike. I napped on the train home to Sydney and promptly crashed early that night, thankful for a real mattress! I had an absolutely magical time in the Blue Mountains, as always, and will have to do another hike soon!
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. April 2021.