Heart on a Cold, Wet Sleeve

June 12, 2011

pickledeel-walkabout.jpgI have just come out of the bush after three wet days. Though in all truth when you can see the lights of towns on the distant ridges when the cloud lifts there were moments when I felt a little cheated – if you go bush you should go “remote”. But being in the bush is better than not being out there at all. I do enjoy being out in the scrub by myself. I find that “fills my tank”. But it is not long before I find myself thinking “so and so would enjoy this” and I know that there is nothing quite like have a like minded nutter share the remoteness with you. This weekend I walked from Katoomba to Wentworth Falls not with another nutter but another eight nutters, all of whom had the choice of staying dry and warm at home but who elected to come out in the cold and wet and share this walk with me.

Though that is probably enormously egotistical of me since this was a walk initiated by Dylan, a fourteen year old nutter who needed to do this as part of his Duke of Ed or something. So we had him decide the weekend and sort out the logistics of getting us all up there. Which proved to be an entertaining approach since we ended up on multiple trains and getting into Katoomba at about 8.30 when 7pm should have been our arrival time. Part of Dylan’s future leadership training will include Cityrail timetables – and learning how to read them. But despite a couple of train changes and some back-tracking we eventually got there – and in fairness to Dylan the screen on the station at our departure point did broadcast our destination to be a key way-point.

The track is 30km. As our guides on Kokoda would say it includes “a little bit of up and a little bit of down”. I think those who were on Kokoda are happy to say that there were a couple of sections on this track which were as tough as anything we encountered on the Kokoda Track. So I “dip me lid” to those who were attempting this sort of adventure for the first time. We had two first timers  who had purchased gear only recently so were still getting packs to shake down (it takes a while) and boots to bed in. But the real challenge is not equipment but mental. How do you stare down three days of cold and wet weather and start out in a positive frame of mind, retain same throughout and still have it when you arrive at your destination soaking wet? Even our new timers demonstrated this sort of mental toughness and it was a delight to walk with them.

We were fortunate to get away on the first day on a cool but “dry” day. The low cloud made for a damp and cold start but we soon limbered up and dropped down off the Katoomba escarpment. It was the first and last time we saw this spectacular country before the weather closed in. Soon we were in the rainforest in the basin, crossing the landslide and heading around towards the base of the Golden Stairs.  We stopped for a quick lunch there but it proved to be a busy intersection with numerous day walkers out for a fast trip. By now Peter had decided his “rainbow goodness” thermal underwear were all that needed to be worn and was crouched in this sartorial splendor as he hunkered over his little stove and brewed up his noodles. Startled, our track companions would recover with a cheery hello and hurry past.  Not a bad thing when you want the wilderness to yourself.

We were heading to Chinaman’s Gully Creek (could you name something like that these days?) but got to the top of “Informal Mt Solitary” and decided to camp under the Casurinas – it was a sheltered spot even if water was a fifteen minute walk away.  It was the second ascent of the day, the first being a fairly tough hand over hand climb. You can imagine our surprise when  a sprightly group of Chinese women came clambering down the rocks in front of us. They were very proud of the fact that they were the only women that they had seen on the track that day. We were to disappoint them. After a fashion.  They were clearly enjoying themselves and were full of beans, unlike those of us starting to feel our rubber legs.  There is of course nothing like a decent fire to lift the spirits and we coached the gang through getting a camp set up post haste and a fire going – dumping gear and looking around is not an option. Indeed, dumping gear and sitting down is a sin! Weather was damp but not raining and we had a chance to get set up without getting soaked – we had been alerted to the possibility as the climbed higher and the cloud closed in. At this point Chris D discovered he had left the fly to his tent behind.

What does that mean? The simple interpretation is simple – you have no tent. Well, you have a structure that will keep insects out but not water. So if it rained, and it promised to with a vengeance, Chris and Peter G were in strife. Fortuitously I was lugging four or five kilos of blue tarp with me so we jury rigged a fly which also served as  dry weather kitchen. We lit a fire, cooked dinner and listened to Dylan recite Carl Baron (standup comedian) until we (I) could take no more and he was threatened with, and treated to dire biological warfare if he so much as mentioned that man’s name. It took a while for the message to get through!

The loose plan was that we would walk a short second day. After a slow and steady and soaking climb on the second morning we dropped off “The Col”, a dramatic drop of a couple of hundred metres which tested a few knees and ankles. A certain trekker decided the best option was to toss their pack down the incline and follow the bouncing object on their bum.  That says something about the confidence they had in their gear. I was carrying a bottle of thickened cream (because I could, so there!) and so that was never going to be an option. Cream and brown sugar on your oats in the morning – no better way to kick start the day, especially when in the wilderness. Our day two stop was the crossing at Kedumba River but I was not happy with the site. It was damp, rocky, and ripped up by pigs. The fast flowing fresh and clear water was not attractive enough and after talking to a couple of local walkers we decided to try a spot three kilometres on.  Apart from anything else that promised an eight kilometer third day rather than the twelve we were staring down. So we plugged on and up to recce our new site.

It proved perfect and we soon had a roaring fire going, the blue tarp up and food on. The weather held off long enough for us to get well and truly set up and when it touched us it did so only lightly. Rain fell through the night but we were all in bed by then, warm and toasty. There was a lot of tomfoolery on this evening as well but Peter G hit the spot when he observed that though the day was hard, sitting around a fire in the wilderness like this, even though wet and cold, was a real treat. Or words to that effect. I couldn’t agree more. That was what this sort of nonsense is all about after all.

Our third day started clear. We had a fire going at six and were ready to walk out by eight thirty (yeah I know, but it’s not boot camp). The rain let loose as we started up the escarpment to Wentworth Falls and by the time we reached the top we were walking into a driving rain. Interestingly the three “old farts” were a good fifteen minutes in front of the young legs by this stage so while we waited for them to catch up Tony magically produced some Chateau Tanunda medicine which we polished off the last drop. Sweet nectar.

We all landed in Wentworth Falls in driving rain and to the consternation of locals and public holiday visitors who were perplexed at what had walked in out of the soaking mist. And who were possibly perplexed by the good humour of the group as they rushed about in cold huddles.  I love being out in the bush, any weather. But I love even better being out with a group of people who have the ability to rise above their circumstances and to smile and joke about them. It was not extreme by any stretch. But nor was it comfortable and I have been out with military types who have wilted at less. So as we recovered on the sidewalk, bought hot coffees and waited for the train I could only be impressed with what I had seen over the previous three days. But above all I knew that it was a walk I needed to do with these other nutters because with them I don’t just fill a tank but find that it overflows.



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