[SUBW-A] Trip Report: Kanagra Walls-Katoomba, 29-31 March 2002

Joe Li, a Beacon in an Otherwise Dark and Stormy Night solestar at bigfoot.com
Wed Apr 3 12:09:48 AEST 2002

Kanangra-Katoomba, 29nd-31st March 2002, Part 2

Party: Marcelle Gannon, Nigel Donnelly, Lindon Richards, Homo nutcase

An American-ish proverb goes:

Those who dare live.

It is slightly too POR for my liking, but a little qualifier makes it a
lot more likable:

Those who dare not live too.

Just a bit differently.

Those who dare not live with dry clothes, heated room, lunch warmed by
microwave and a flat bed in suburbia.

Those who dare not are happy.  They do not have to live with daughter of
Neptune showering on them, menacing leeches desirous for their sap,
dense scrub to hinder their progress and claim their epidermis, mud and
swamp to dampen their feet and cool their blood, raging torrents
threatening to carry them afar and steep hills to hasten their breathe
and heart beats.

But they also do not live with the magnificent views atop a wilderness
peak, the fragrant breezes who gently rocked a gum tree before
befriending our bodies, the conflagrating clouds at sunset and their
multitudes of flamboyant colours, the shinning stars twinkling from the
cosmos, and the mesmerising camp fire that warms straight to the heart.

It's just a different way of life.  That’s all.

Six of us set off from Kanangra Walls to Gabe's Gap on Easter Friday.
Please refer to Albert's trip report for Part I of the trip.

The heavens opened through the Good Friday and rain percussed my tent at
Gabe’s Gap and made music to my ears.  After a fantastic dinner and a
beautiful bottle of botrytis Semillon, Marcelle and I chatted until the
sleep deprivation from the previous night caught up with us and our
chattering became intermittent and eventually ceased.  The rain
precluded any chance of socialising as people confined themselves to
their respective tents.

I slept poorly, woke rather early and just tossed and turned, which
annoyed Marcelle a bit.  It didn’t help that we shared the Gap with a
two dozen teenage boys on a church camp, who woke about 5 am and shouted
out loudly every twenty minutes: “If anyone is awake, check your tent
for leeches.  We have got twelve leeches in our tent!”.  It turned out
they only had one leech in the tent and all the others turned out to be
twigs or leaves when the morning light improved.  But two hours of
shouting precluded any chance of further sleep.

Marcelle woke and wanted to go home because of the wetness, a sentiment
well understandable given the circumstances.  However, I was not going
back to the smog and the maddening crowd that easily and was determined
to go on solo if that was what it came to.  Whether Marcelle took pity
on me or her wandering bug had the better of her I didn’t know, but when
the rain stopped at 7am it took little effort for her to change her mind
to come with me to Katoomba.  Except for Wendy who had to stick with the
mob, none of the others wanted to carry on, therefore Marcelle and I
packed up quickly, bid them happy Easter and dashed off towards Mt.

We zoomed past Mt. High and Mighty, Mt. Stormbreaker, the Rip, Rack,
Roar and Rumble Knolls to reach Mt. Cloudmaker at 11:45am.  There were
intermittent drizzles, but most of the time we had thick mist or more
appropriately water diluted sparsely with air, replacing the views to
the surrounding country with that of melancholy gum trees fading into
the dense and mysterious white shroud.

Just after we made our very illegible entry in the visitor's book on Mt.
Cloudmaker (it was wet and cold, and my fine motor control was all but
gone with exposure) and packed up to go, two homonoid lifeforms appeared
from the thick mist and trudged towards us.  They turned out to be Nigel
(lawyer) and Lindon (water professional), who tried to find the Dex
Creek camp site in the dark last night to no avail, got horribly lost,
pitched their tent on dense scrub, spent the night drenched with rain
and treated themselves with water from puddles on the ground.  The
managed to scramble back to Mt. Cloudmaker and were on their way back to
Kanangra Walls.  However, two intrepid (and possibly senseless) trampers
(ie. Marcelle and I) heading towards Katoomba seemed to give them a
source of encouragement and after a short deliberation they decided try
for Katoomba too.

Therefore, the four travellers exchanged handshakes and joined force in
their quest for Mt. Doom (umm, the dark and damp bush and our
circumstances just resembled Lord of the Rings too much even though we
were not in New Zealand) and headed for the Dex Creek camp site.  Having
had only a flimsy route description, we were quickly stuck in thick bush
and progress was slow.  Many would be disheartened by the recalcitrant
bush, the slow progress and feeling of disorientation, but this was when
I started to really enjoy the trip.  Concentrating on making the next
metre, getting past the next tree and working out where we were took my
mind off the world of torment, disappointments and pain I escaped from.
Concentrating on basic survival is the best cure for the mind, as
physical and mental exertion left little room for emotional currents and
the endorphins stealthily worked their way to lift my spirits.
Constantine Levin took to farming, Clym Yeobright took to furze-cutting,
and Joe Li took to bush crashing and scrub bashing.

We made the 1 km scrub bash to the campsite in 90 min, where we set our
well-scratched bodies down for lunch and de-leeching.  As we were
getting our food out, a vista we thought might never come unfolded
itself in front of our very eyes - patches of blue sky started to fly
past, and before we knew the sun was shining its rays upon the cold and
famished trampers.  Therefore, lunch was a rather pleasant affair and we
got to know each other a bit better and disgusted ourselves by
discussing racist Australia’s persecution of refugees.

We made a crucial mistake at the next section.  I had supposed the
Gaigerang Plateau to be a walk-through since it seemed to be an open top
on the map - a naïve Kiwi who forgot that to get open tops in Australia
one needs to go a lot higher than 1,000m.  Therefore we headed west
towards Karrung Top in hope of catching some of this open terrain, only
to find ourselves trapped hopelessly in short dense scrub.  Navigation
was difficult since we had no views most of the time, the terrain was
flat, taking bearings was fairly impossible and the scrub put up a good
fight.  After trying out a few false spurs, we finally managed to take a
good bearing close to Carra Top and found the ridge leading to Mt.
Morrilla Maloo.

The one kilometre from Dex Creek to the ridge took us 2 hours, slightly
longer than would be desirable.  Therefore we moved rather quickly down
the ridge past Mt. Amarina, Kullieatha Pk. and Mt. Strongleg.  There
were good views to Mt. Morilla and to the Kanangra Falls, especially
while the sun shone through dark clouds in bright beams to give a
spectacular and contrasty vista.

We arrived on Mt. Strongleg at 6pm and started our descent to Kanangra
Creek.  The end of Strongleg Ridge is badly eroded and colonised by
weeds probably brought about by the horse camp in Konangaroo Clearing,
therefore the track degenerated into a maze of possibilities, although
most of the party it seemed a mess of impossibilities as most of the
team had painful bad knees.  Therefore we took our time getting down,
and by the time we were down on the river flats it was pitch dark.  For
some reason, Marcelle was determined that we had come down to the bank
of Cox's River when compass bearings told us we were on Kanangra Creek.
However who am I to reason with a woman?  Therefore we duly bashed
upstream along the river in quest for the Kanangra-Cox confluence, only
to come across a riverside cliff in pitch darkness which indicated we
could not have been on the Cox's River. However argument was the last
thing needed when a party was bush crashing around in darkness, so we
found the next patch of flat grass and set camp at 8:30 pm.

After we pitched our tents, the moon came out shining and stars twinkled
at us.  A roaring campfire was made, and the tired but happy foursome
sat around the fire, dinner and wine at hand, and chatted away about the
Vietnamese language, modern Taiwanese history and Chinese character
formation.  It was another one of the classical tramping nights that I
love so much, under the stars around a bonfire, congenial conversations
amid the incessant chattering of the river.  Just perfect.

The sun shining on our tents woke us the next morning.  We took a long
time to get ready, learning about the exhilarating world of working as a
lawyer and how corporations, politicians and lawyers team up to save the
environment and serve the country.  (OK I’m being just slightly
sarcastic.)  We trotted down the supposed “Cox’s River” to a point
convenient for crossing.  Marcelle became just slightly discoloured when
she saw the rapidly flowing river, having had not much river-crossing
experience.  So I took a bit of time to explain how to cross rivers
properly, and we linked up to cross.  There was still a fair amount of
water in the river and Marcelle panicked just a little, but it wasn’t
bad really.

After listening to me rambling a bit more about river-crossing theories,
we moved down stream among tall grass.  About 15 minutes later, we
suddenly came across a deep, smelly, dark and murky river joining the
creek that we crossed and bore all the hallmarks of being the real Cox's
River.  Marcelle finally conceded the folly of navigation by emotion ("I
feel it is the Cox's River, therefore it must be"), and now we had to
cross back to the other side of Kanangra Creek as the Cox’s is not
traversable at this point.  So a few more freak out moments for
Marcelle, but it was really not much drama.

On the bank of Cox’s River we were entertained by Nigel’s effort to
scare off a metre-long red-belly snake.  The point to cross the Cox’s
was reached soon after.  The river was waist-deep and mildly fast
flowing at this point, and I reckoned another 20 cm higher would be the
limit of my capability to cross it solo unaided with a pole.  But for
the rest of the team who were used to the proper technique by now, the
much-feared crossing was a piece of cake for the three-person link-up
and Marcelle did not freak out at this more serious crossing.  Just
shows how a little practice gives confidence.

After drying ourselves out and debriefing from the river crossing
lessons, we set ourselves upon Yellow Pup Ridge.  It was already getting
quite late due to our late start, my river-crossing lectures and the two
“practices” across Kanangra Creek.  We burnt up to Mt. Yellow Dog for a
very late lunch at 3pm, and then quickly negotiated the very easy and
flat track below Mts. Dingo, Merrimerrigal and Warrigal to Medlow Gap.
We watched a beautiful sunset atop Mt. Derbert, where the clouds above
Cedar Valley put on a whole spectrum of flamboyant colours within

By the time we got to the bottom of the cliffs it was pitch dark.  The
map of the area erroneously showed that the Tarros Ladders and the
climbing spikes were the same thing, which was nonsense. We followed the
map and bashed around the bottom of the cliffs for twenty minutes in
pitch darkness to find a track that lead to the ladders, to no avail.
Upon our retreat Nigel our hero spotted one spike where the track first
met the cliff.  Marcelle, whose knees would not allow her to carry a
pack, went up the spikes without it.  Somehow I was volunteered into
coming down to ferry the pack up.  That was an interesting experience
hanging onto spikes on a vertical rock face in pitch darkness, looking
for the next foothold – luckily I dug into my student loan last year and
invested in a headlamp!  It would have been interesting doing night rock
climbing with a torch in one hand

We learned to ignore the map and followed the easy route up the cliff
further and ascended the Tarros Ladders to the four-wheel-drive track on
Narrow Neck.  From there it was an excruciating 2-hour walk along the
intolerable road back to the cars.  It was pitch dark, misty and cold,
and I offered to bet my lifesavings on there not being another single
soul on Narrow Neck Road, let along wearing T-shirt and shorts.
Unfortunately no one took it up; otherwise I would have been a rich man.

This was the time for a song like "That Lonesome Road" by

Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don't turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself
when the silver moon is shining high above the trees
If I had stopped to listen once or twice
if I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
if I had coold my head and warmed my heart
I'd not be on this road tonight
Carry on, carry on, carry on,
never run sorry for yourself
It doesn't save you from your troubled mind
Walk down that....

After a long, dark and cold walk, we finally stumbled upon the gate and
the cars at 10:20 pm – more than 4 hours of tramping in darkness!
Totally knackered, the team decided to stay in Katoomba for the night
and the three professionals offered to pay for the accommodation of this
scumbag student, which I gracefully accepted.  Therefore we spent the
next half-hour driving around Katoomba looking for a backpacker which
was not full on a Easter Sunday.  Of course we had fat luck, and the
scumbag motel with a vacancy wanted $220 for a night which was
completely ludicrous.  Therefore we decided to drive back to Sydney that
night.  It was then a matter of finding the last bit of food in Katoomba
at 11pm on a Sunday night.  Nigel managed to persuade the pizza joint on
Katoomba St. to open up their kitchen and make us two family-sized
pizzas, despite they were just about to lock up the place.  So after
devouring the pizzas and coke from divinity, we exchanged contact
details and handshakes, and went our separate ways at midnight.

So concluded a very memorable weekend in a fantastic place, seeing the
fantastic sights, experiencing the fantastic nature, bashing the
fantastic scrub and forging friendship with two fantastic fellow
travellers.  There was only one thought now: what if I could stay there
forever, far far away from the oppressions of the world?

N.B. Absolute leech count (ALC) and Volume of Blood Drawn (VBD) in mL:
Joe: 1, 0
Marcelle: 7, 5
Lindon: 15, 10
Nigel: 45, 15
+ 1 leech which was found on the plastic bag for the coke cans that
Marcelle carried from the pizza joint to the car – we had no idea from
whom the leech lept onto the plastic bag!

N.B.B.  This brings me to a point: how many people would be interested
in learning how to cross big scary rivers?  It is not very relevant in
Australia since it’s difficult to find a drop of water normally, but
occasionally one has to cross stuff like the Cox’s.  I used to teach a
highly popular practical course on river crossing with some advanced
bush survival and leadership thrown in, and I’d be willing to run one
for the club if there is enough interest and we can find a suitable
river (one with fast and deep rapids to sweep people away to a nice
beach downstream

Joe Li be my name
Mountains on my mind
Rivers through my veins
Birdcalls in my ears
And love in my heart

More information about the SUBW mailing list