WHERE: Blue Mountains NP / Kanangra-Boyd NP
WHEN: last weekend
WHO: Jiri Svec, Tom Murtagh
WHY: walking off the canyoning kilos from a lazy summer

This feels like it was probably one of those walks that was planned enthusiastically after a few jugs at a Canoe Club slide night. I do seem to recall something about us all taking a blood oath to ward away the evil piking spirits, but then Wilmo snapped his arm off at the canyoning weekend (or bruised his hand, or something) so clearly something thicker than blood will be required next time.

And then there were two.

Jiri and I hopped on the first train from Blacktown up the mountains. By golly that smarted. Did you know there’s a four in the morning now? The pre-dawn greylight barely lit our way as we stepped out of Katoomba station at ten to six, hearts full of loathing for the venture we were embarking upon, but mostly for each other for not piking. We had almost fifty kilometres to cover today, so no time for dilly-dallying.

As the grey light turned to purple and then to red we bashed down Narrowneck, and our photographic muses were stirred by the awesome sight of the Pooken Monster — the low mist in the valley. A fair breeze had whipped up, thus keeping the fog low and picturesque. Undeterred by time constraints or those BLOODY nuisance trees getting in the way of *EVERY* *SINGLE* *SHOT* we attempted to justify our expensive featuresque cameras. To our dismay the light kept getting better and the five minute photo stop took the better part of an hour.

It was well past nine before we made Tarro’s Ladders. Very worrying.

Good walking weather, though. The sort of comfortable temperature which spurs your step, a nice breeze to cool the brow … not hot enough for snakes, but certainly warm enough to tease out the goannas. There were quite a few of them, and we felt obliged to photograph every one. The country had also benefited from large amounts of rain — not only was Mobbs Soak flowing, but so was the track going into it. Been a while since it’s been like that! Get in there while you can. Take some photos. The moisture had also teased out fungi of all shapes and sizes, particularly interesting shapes and sizes to my judgement, so I snapped those too. Are you getting the picture?

By the time we were at the Cox’s it was time for lunch, and the mercury was heading for thirty. On the other hand, Kanangra Creek was flowing well, and Konangaroo clearing was most pleasant. Not to mention photogenic. It took a great deal of effort to summon our carcasses up and away.

From then on things changed a bit. Despite a strong wind, as the predicted trough came in from the south-west, it was as tough as always storming up Strongleg ridge. Tougher, really, because we had eschewed the lean “3 Peaks” style packs in favour of bringing sleeping bags, cameras and food. By the time we reached Moorilla Maloo the sunshine had long gone and it had been two hours since the last photo. Jiri was getting a bit shakey, I assumed it was from aperture withdrawal. We pressed on to Dex Creek (flowing extremely well) and thence to Cloudmaker in the rain.

The poetry of this was very much lost on us at the time.

From Mt Cloudmaker it is ten kilometres to Kanangra, and we still had two hours to get there before night. Huey, however, had different ideas. The weather was just miserable, and besides our light had gone. As we squinted through the drizzle to our destination it became clear that the beautiful payoff of dawn at the Kanangra Walls was just not going to happen in a manner suitable for photography.

A drop of rain hit the logbook tin. I was sure it said “pike”. I consulted Jiri about this, but he wasn’t so sure. I urged him to listen more carefully, taking the opportunity to remind him of the relationship between discretion and valour, and of the fact that the picnic shelter at Kanangra is a miserable place to spend a night. Jiri cocked his ear and really concentrated. Pike! Pike! Pike!

“I .. *think* I hear it …” he conceded.

“And if you turn your head in THIS direction,” I elaborated, pointing west, “you’ll be able to hear the wind passing by the entrance to the Hundred Man Cave. It sounds like this: DRYYYYYYYYYYYY.”

So we called off Kanangra and trotted down to the Ti Willa Plateau and bedded down in the magnificent toasty sheltered opulence of the Hundred Man Cave. I don’t know how comfortably it would sleep a hundred, but it does two and a nice big fire just fine. I would recommend it to anyone.

Next morning was overcast but pleasant walking temperature as we struck out along Ti Willa to Compagnoni Pass. While navigating our minds out trying to avoid Watch Your Step Spur, I managed not just to not watch my step, but in fact to perform a spectacular 270 degree flip followed by a backspin over a slippery log. I was not of course in a position to assess the quality of the performance, but the New Zealand judge gave it a 9.5 and Jiri assured me that it was a highlight of the walk. Despite the tricky nav we found Ti Willa Ridge, then Ti Willa Creek (flowing all the way from top to bottom) and the Mighty Kowmung for elevenses.

We followed Dave Hordern’s tin-tags over the Wongas and down Whaites Pass for early lunch at the Cox. I was feeling pretty miserable — a throat infection from earlier in the week was making itself known again.

TOM:   *HACK cough cough BLERK*
JIRI:  That doesn’t sound healthy.
TOM:   … it’s okay i think i have some cold and flu tablets …
(five minutes later)

I’m sure there’s a valuable lesson in there somewhere.

The stately Coxs River, not be underestimated, proceeded to throw a bunch of absolute garbage walking at us and it took us almost an hour to make it to the base of our ridge. Bash bash bash, up the Random Dog, we exhausted our conversational repertoire just as we wandered into Med Gap. This brought us to 3.45pm (we adjusted for daylight savings time at lunch) whereupon Jiri utilised his fearsome maths skills to calculate that we would be really pressing it to make it back to the Gearin by six o’clock.


Well, no — not quite, it really is quite a long way, and anyway a stiff frozen wind proceeded to bring in chilly blasting rain from the east. Needless to say the cameras stayed packed away but we made it back to the pub about twenty past six to be greeted by Pete’s crew fresh from the Lindemans Pass Experience, a couple of massive steaks, and the world’s loudest ever swing band. A churning gutful of light and sound bombarded our respective senses as we shivered ourselves out of hypothermia.

So that was my weekend, and it was great. Our observations, of which there were a few, are not limited to the insight that we should not have brought our cameras if we were serious about making Kanangra. That said, if we had continued onto Kanangra we would have had a much longer Sunday (55km versus ~40km), would have borne the brunt of more fearsome weather, and would have missed out on meeting up with Pete and co., but not the swing band who did two consecutive sets. There’s probably a valuable lesson in there somewhere too.

A great walk, anyway. I’m still feeling it. Thanks Jiri!

Press On,

PS: some of the many photos from the first day are now online.