Lydia and I woke up with an excited zeal for what lay ahead, a 10km jaunt of lugging hefty, overstuffed backpacks along the first of three legs we had planned to walk, spanning an equal measure of days, covering the famous - or infamous, depending on your disposition towards this sort of thing - 6 Foot Track. The 6 Foot Track is a 45km hiking trail that traditionally departs the ‘Blue Mountains’ in Katoomba, an historic little town about 2 hours’ drive from Sydney, before winding its way through - as well as up and down (but mostly up or so my weary legs tell me) - a variety of terrain types, concluding at the mouth of the world’s oldest known open cave system in ‘Jenolan Caves’. Such is the way the course is traditionally meant to be traversed – Katoomba to Jenolan - but alas, due to some unavoidable logistical issues, we had chosen to undertake the endeavour in reverse order, commencing our journey from Jenolan Caves and arriving in Katoomba 2 days later.
The track itself is a former bridle trail, but since the arrival of cars and roads - you know all that modern stuff - it has become a mainstay of the Sydney long distance hiking community to test their mettle against. A higher caste of steely souls even turn up each year to run the course in one continuous effort...
That’s right, you read it correctly! These warriors run the entire 45km, in one go, over and around mountains, through creeks and streams, down and up sets of stairs, across swing bridges that really DO swing and on trails at times no wider than the gutter of your average sidewalk. It has to be said that these narrow trails come complete with a drop either side that would spell certain doom for those unfortunate enough to lose their footing. All of this carried out with minimal supplies; certainly no 30kg backpack that my sorry soul was attempting to piggyback across the void between the start and finish lines. As I lay here under the stars and type this, my body well worn out from today’s effort, I doff my cap to those brave enough to attempt such a feat! Truthfully, I’m wearing a beanie as it can get fairly chilly up here in the Blue Mountains, but let’s not get bogged down with the minor details. As humble new initiates ourselves, the symbolic badge of honour we would receive in completing the journey through a slow and sustained effort would sit well on our mantel piece; at least that is what we believed a few weeks ago when I first proposed the endeavour to Lydia.
It would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t strongly recommend that you visit Katoomba Police Station before your hike and notify them of your trip intentions and particulars, including who best to contact should things not go according to plan. They’ll even lend you a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) for good measure. A small, 5-minute form to be filled out electronically and you’re on your way. The comfort and peace of mind that this action will give you is worth the 5-minute investment of your time and the extra 150 grams or so stowed away inside your pack.
The Blue Mountains Trolley Tours was kind enough to provide us safe and speedy passage from the streets of Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, an 80min bus ride easily bookable online for $50 per person - a carriage service that was well worth the money paid. It saved us the headache of worrying about arriving to the start line through other means; had we driven there and left the car at the start, we would have needed to re-collect the car once we had reached the other end! We simply parked the car in a free parking station in Katoomba, jumped on the bus with our friendly driver Darryl and away we went, whisked down the winding roads that lead to the Caves.
We arrived at Jenolan Caves around midday. After a quick lunch and a small chat with a fellow hiker who had travelled all the way from Vancouver, Canada we were ready to roll. Our Canadian friend kindly offered to take our photo at the start to commemorate the occasion. Ominously, I joked that it may be the last photo ever taken of us. My attempt at humour fell on deaf ears. My three companions had a look of steely determination in their eyes, ready to get going after weeks of planning and waiting for the big day to arrive.
The start of our procession is up, up and up. So much so, that for the next 90 minutes, I believe we all began to question the non-essentials we had smuggled into our packs. As we climbed the stairs and ramps out of Jenolan Caves, the track, winding its way upwards over fallen trees and rocky sprawls, opened up to a wider, gentler ascent that every so often opened up to a view that was well worth the scramble and the sweat, a fair price paid for the sweeping sights and refreshing scent of eucalyptus that hung in the air.
Even at this early stage in the piece, it felt good to breathe fresh mountain air, inhaling something that only mother nature could authentically provide. Speaking of mother nature, it had rained hard the night before. We were thankful that she had kept the rain at bay for this little adventure. The downpour had created bark and bush debris highways that zig-zagged across the floor beneath our boots, channelling the deluge down the mountainside.
The further we pressed on, the more the realisation washed over us; we had escaped the throng of our suburban life, if only for a few days. The cackle of a pair of Kookaburras rang through the air, reminding us that we were guests in this wild place. Were they laughing at us as we entered their home, all red faced and sweaty? No time to rest and reflect on their questionable approach to hospitality. Time to push on. The ascent along the Mount George fire trail, towards our first overnight stay at Black Range camping ground, was only a modest 10km effort from whence we came. But first, we had to get there! As the climb began to ease, we were rewarded for our efforts with a casual – and most importantly flat – stroll along the trail as it straddled the side of Jenolan Caves Road.
My chicken legs crossed the road and immediately began a steep descent into a valley that undulated through a wonderland of green and brown flora. At times the descent was quite steep, the trail covered in thousands of tiny, loose rocks that, under the weight of our cumbersome packs made these sections a slippery affair and one to be taken seriously, lest we end up sliding over the precipice towards certain doom; we loved the view that the drop off afforded us, but not that much! All of this certainly added to the excitement and challenge of the walk however, the need for care and patience in these sections was not lost on me or my companions. As the descent levelled out, we pushed on over a few more bends and some slight undulation. Before we knew it, we rounded a turn and arrived at Black Range campsite, a small, fenced in section that would do just fine. We dumped our packs and revelled in how good it felt to be relieved of our baggage. Lydia’s feet were a mess. The uneven terrain and constant up and down had gifted her some mean looking blisters that would need to be drained and patched up. But we had made it! With a few hours of sunlight to kill I took a nap under the shade of my sombrero – yes, I did indeed bring a Mexican sombrero to shield my pasty white skin from the sun’s all too eager rays.
Now, it would be a half truth to tell you that we came here purely for the physical achievement of besting the distance between point A and point B. As I reflect on the day, I am reminded that the best part of the journey is the journey itself. The destination, whilst being reached is an achievement, becomes merely an arrival point on the map.
I can say that there is something about getting away from society for a few days to find something that at first may seem hard to describe. Nature always seems to call to the both of us and even though we aren’t always listening as intently or as immediately as we should, it is a call that we always come back to responding to. It is a chance to remind us both what matters most to ourselves, individually and collectively. It is our chance to soothe the soul and refresh our outlook. To reset the body clock and to replace the loudness of city life with the stillness and softness of nature. To afford ourselves a little selfishness to focus on us instead of everyone and everything else.
Today we worked hard. We finished the day sweaty, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, blistered (Lydia’s poor feet!) and aching from those heavy packs jammed with all the necessities - and then some. But it was so worth it and I can’t wait for tomorrow. We came here to add some meaning, trading a few days of the stresses at work and home with the relative solitude of living out of a backpack in backcountry and sleeping with no roof over our head - no seriously, we even left the tent at home. Try as I might, it would be a challenge greater than the one we faced today to put into words how meaningful that is to both Lydia and I.
As the glow from our tiny stove top cooker dies down and the light fades from the sky, my eyes struggling to stay in the land of the woke, I find myself looking up at a smattering of stars smeared across the black canvas overhead. I can’t help but reflect on my good fortune to be out here in the cool spring night air, laying on a foam mat 8mm off the ground in a sleeping bag next to my best friend (even if she is passed out from her own efforts, snoring softly, keeping any potential wildlife visitors at a safe distance).
EDIT: We were in fact visited, numerous times, by one particularly persistent little critter – a possum the size of a small dog - whose senses had zoned in on our stash of food supplies.
Tomorrow we push on, almost doubling the distance we covered today with an 19km effort that will really test our determination.
We will meet the challenge with the same grit and determination we gave today.
Make Living Fun.
Nath Clouds of Lythiium
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PART 2 will be released shortly. Our second day on the trail was meant to be a 19km push towards camp 2. The day started off innocuously with all four of us covering ground with haste. That is when things started to deteriorate. By nightfall, half of our tribe would be left behind, while the other half had pushed on towards the finish line. Find out what transpired on the trail when we release the second chapter of our effort to conquer the 6 Foot Track!