1 October 2016
The cleft in the sandstone lets us down off the bluff through sheer slab sides that drop away into the bush below. The knees protest at each step but we are distracted by the howling wind that bends and buffets the trees on the edge high above us even as we stop and gaze at the buffeting out of our still, green hued glen of motionless ferns and mossy rocks. It’s two different worlds – the icy wind that cut us to pieces as we departed is quickly left behind as we drop through this veil of green, and descend past water washing down rocks to Nellies Glen. Who is Nellie? We have no idea. No one knows. But in short order we find ourselves on the overgrown road that once pressed up into here as far as it could before yielding to those sheer escarpments behind us. I’m always move by the merest evidence of human endeavour, even if it is a mean scratching in the scrub. Someone with hopes and dreams was involved in the cutting of this road, while others used it in support of their families and farms. Some of those folk are buried at Megalong Cemetery though their graves are long gone and the names of the interred are remembered on a plaque. Families are buried together, too often without a decent interval between the dates.
A ‘super cell’ has smashed South Australia and blacked out that state on Wednesday night. The remnants of that storm have been making their way into NSW but I am counting on the thing running out of steam before it gets here. Nonetheless we have armed ourselves with wet weather gear and so far that seems to have paid off. Cold rain has baptised us on and off in sprinklings all day. But only on one occasion was I forced into a rain jacket which quickly came off minutes later once the shower had passed.
The track is busy. Pairs. Groups of four or more. We are joined by larger groups at the Megalong Cemetery as they are able to drive there from Blackheath and get dropped off. A Russian couple with four kids launch from there and they become our track companions on and off until mid-afternoon. A group of Indonesian students carrying their flag and not much else – no walking gear at all. No wet weather gear. Just out having an explore. They depart the track and disappear towards the Cox River, which is in moderate flood. They reappear at our feet as we cross the river at the Bowtells Swing Bridge. At ‘one walker at a time’ the bridge holds us up for half an hour as we wait for other walkers to gingerly pick their way across, most deterred by the swinging motion. I pummel across at a rate of knots, just to make a point – but to whom I have no idea. Everyone else just picks their way over in no hurry at all. We arrive at the Cox River camp site in very good time despite that and to my surprise there are very few campers. Perhaps we are saved by the footy finals, with both codes playing this long weekend. Or maybe the threat of storms has deterred some walkers. We arrive at Megalong Cemetery in 2 hours and at Bowtells bridge 2 hours and 20 minutes after that. We waited at the bridge for 30 minutes. Having arrived at our site ten minutes after getting over the bridge we explored the river then had a nap – we had risen at 0500 to get on the track early so the nap was welcome. But by the time we woke 26 individual tents and bivvies had sprung up around us. Some belonged to those we had passed on the track, though the Russian family had only stopped for lunch and then pushed on. Their youngest is two years old and oldest about ten but they belt up the track with great enthusiasm.
The sun sets and the cattle move in, bellowing away. At least one is grazing out there among the tents as we settle down for the night. Thai green curry for dinner. Entre was pork sausages. We are filled up and retire like everyone else by 1930. There are goats in these hills. Caught sight of a couple of them ducking away from us today but caught the pong as well. I imagine a snap shot with the .243 and know in my mind that I hit them.
2 October 2016
The wind eased up just before we retired last night and the sky was clear. Which meant when we rose the next morning we were greeted by a wet tent and the occasional plant that was frosted over. Perhaps it was most appropriate that it was mother-in-law’s tongue’ that was iced up the most.
The camp site was slow to get going though we were not the first out of bed. But after a feed of porridge and a hot drink we were packed up very quickly and away before most. The sky remained clear and we were treated to a warm day, not necessarily the best thing when we have a 19km walk, all uphill, ahead of us. Despite that we make good time, negotiating three fords and climbing ever upwards to a flat ridge which drew us to the Black Range camp site. It took us four hours to get up on to the ridge, then another three hours to make our way to the camp ground. We were in by 1420, a day of seven hours and five minutes on the track. Third or fourth in, we found the camping ground empty but by 1700 the place is crowded mainly it seems by a loud voiced young man who wonders that he has walked so far. He defines boofhead. It’s clear some are doing this for the first time. They want to erect tents in dangerous places and some have to be advised they need to be sleeping with their heads uphill. Still, there is a good crowd outdoors and that is a good thing, even if that means a noisy flock around us.
Having map in hand helped us manage expectations as we climbed out of Cox’s River and it was a handy refresh of reading contours and interpreting gradients. All to the tinging, resonating clear pings of the Bellbirds which are thick along the creek line as we first lift out of the gully where we have camped. So thick, they line the track and allow us to watch them feeding and calling from only a few meters away. Usually they are an elusive bird but not through here and we enjoyed their company as the sun rose and started to bake us.
When we stopped for lunch it was at a point where we knew the worst was behind us, even though the track still inclined uphill. As we sat on the top side of the track on a half rotten log three groups tabbed through, heads down, tails down and all looking knocked out. The last, when they spotted us, enquired our understanding of the track. We assured them “The worst is behind you”.
Really? (in a hopeful tone).
Yes. The road ahead is a gradual incline for another kilometre. Then a flat run along the ridge to Black Range campsite.
So how far do we have to go?
Eight kilometres. No sorry, it’s more like nine.
I would have taken eight!
As they plod off we hear one of them mutter to the other
‘He said “gradual incline”, in a tone that indicated he was not a believer. We pass them shortly afterwards. They are snacking lunch in the heat, a little way off the track. We wave. They wave back. One calls out “Only twelve kilometres to go”.
We spent the ten kilometre uphill haul reminding ourselves that somewhere in front of us are five kids, one not much more than two years old who have dragged themselves up here. They pushed through Cox’s River yesterday to spend the night Alum Creek. Crazy Russians.
Alum Creek is actually located at the head of a tight, pretty little glen with old beech, birch and plum trees hinting at someone’s long gone residence. It’s an evocative place as we wonder at who first found and settled this place, and imagine their hopes and dreams. A clear stream bubbles through. The seduction of the place belies the rotten thought , that we have lost ground climbed hard earlier in the day and that we may lose even more. To our perverse relief we cross the third ford and after avoiding a couple of cyclists start to climb again. And climb. And climb. Climb through thinning vegetation which allows in more and more sun. We finally overhaul our Russian friends up on the top of the ridge. They are binding up the ankle of the five year old (Max) but despite that they all seem to be in good heart, Max included. We compliment them on their progress and are genuinely impressed at their progress. From where we perch later in the day at the camp site we watch them arrive about an hour after we had set up. Amazing.
The sky remains clear into the evening and each time I check through the night the stars are visible. But the wind has picked up as the sun dropped and it howls all night through the tree tops. The camp site is well situated for the tent is barely touched though the occasional zephyr drops out of the maelstrom above us and thrashes the nylon just to get our attention. Despite that we drop off and get a good nights sleep.
The day starts when the lashing wind rips a shower of rain over us at about 0430. Then another. A long pause and then another, as if unsure about waking us so early. We ignore it and drift off and stir at 0800 or thereabouts. By then the rain is a steady lash on the tent. We boil some water in in our cosy alcove, have coffee, a dry biscuit and then we pack. By the time the tent comes down the rain is heavy when it falls but teases us with the occasional break, enough to have us walk out at 0900 without a jacket. Ten minutes later I pull that on, along with overpants such is the downpour. But then I overheat and they come off again shortly afterwards. But by then the rain eased off and we settle into an easy and steady pace that drops us along a wide track into Jenolan. In fact some of the track is really the old highway to Jenolan, long overgrown, but wide enough to make the trip a pleasant and more conversational route than the narrow bush tracks usually allow.
We arrive in Jenolan at 1200 on the dot, though the track finished 100m up the hill, where we stopped and took photos and swapped stories with others who were finishing the track around us and with whom we had interacted on the way. 45km! It’s been quite the little adventure.
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