PARTY: Ashley Burke
Well it wasn’t altogether surprising that I ended up with no takers for this trip – not many people are attracted to the idea of walking day and night pretty much non-stop, the objective being to reach the summits of Cloudmaker, Paralyser and Guouogang from Katoomba and returning thence within 48 hours of. I’ll admit to having second thoughts about the madness of it myself on more than one occasion, succumbing to the lure once more only because I’ve done it before, can do it again, want to relive the experience of the vastness of the southern Blue Mountains, and, yes, because it’s there.
This year I decided to complete the Three Peaks by what I call the “classic” route, which involves returning to Katoomba via the Krungle Bungle Range, Mt Jenolan, Breakfast Creek and Carlons Chains rather than the alternative route of Mt Bullagowar, Yellow Dog and Medlow Gap. The classic route is an hour or two longer but more diverse and interesting, and therefore more rewarding.
And so it was late on a Friday evening that I set out from suburban Katoomba out along the Narrow Neck, a full moon illuminating the yawning expanse of the southern blue mountains in a symphony of dark colours. Thunderstorms had moved through earlier in the day, leaving in their wake blankets of thick cloud in the valleys and clear skies above. For several hours only the sounds of my breathing, my footsteps, and the occasional thud of a startled nocturnal creature kept me company. As I descended off the end of the Narrow Neck I entered the dense fog, and in the darkness struggled to find the track, my torch beam lighting nothing except the whiteness of the cloud that I was in.
Five and a half hours after leaving Katoomba I reached the Coxs River which was alive and gurgling even at this hour of the night. I crossed the river and began climbing Mt Strongleg, it was the last hour before dawn. At last there was enough light to do without the torch, and on Mt Strongleg I took a cold breakfast, struggling not to doze off to sleep as I did so. Then I set off again, and not long afterwards, the day blossomed and my spirits began to rise. At about 8am I reached Mt Cloudmaker, the first of the Three Peaks.
The second of the Three Peaks, Mt Paralyser, was where I could look forward to lunch in the filtered sunlight beneath the trees. But I would have to get there first, and that would involve descending way, way down into Kanangra Gorge and then a long gruelling climb up again. So after only a 15 minute break on Cloudmaker I kept going.
I reached Paralyser for that much dreamed of lunch break, and as I browsed the log book I must have dozed off to sleep because I was woken by the sound of the logbook falling out of my hands, and I realised that I must have fallen asleep before I’d even finished chewing my sandwich. It was now about midday on Saturday and I hadn’t slept since Thursday night.
Then it was down, down, down again into the gaping abyss of Whalania Creek where I filled my water bottles for the next huge climb up Guouogang, the last and highest of the Three Peaks. The route up Guouogang is mighty to say the least. Nooroo Ridge, one of the great ridges of the Blue Mountains, snakes its way up the southern side of the mountain, broken only by outcrops of quartzite cliffs from which tremendous views of Davies Canyon and surrounding peaks are had. It took me around 2 hours of steady and gruelling climbing, inspired by the ever more expansive views, to finally reach Guouogang’s summit plateau, and then on to the logbook and cairn in the scrub at about 4:40pm.
There was still at least 2 hours of daylight left so I pushed on along the Krungle Bungle range, over Mt Queahgong, and on towards Mt Jenolan. Just before the climb up Mt Jenolan I happened upon a very comfortable looking spot to camp. I had been walking for 20 hours almost non-stop, so it was here that I permitted myself the indulgence of stopping for the night, enjoying a cup of tea and a hot meal, and early retreat into the sleeping bag.
At 5am the following morning there was the barest hint that night was about to end and day was to begin once more. I packed up by torchlight and got going. A long descent to the Coxs River via Gaspers Butress, and again the valley of the Coxs River was blanketed in thick valley mist. But by now it was fully light and the ridge was easy to follow. I then followed the Coxs River upstream to the aptly named Breakfast Creek, because that’s where I stopped for breakfast.
I followed Breakfast Creek upstream as far as Carlons Creek and then for the final pitch back I climbed Bellbird Ridge to the foot of Carlons Head. The climb up Carlons Chains was spectacular. It was now quite warm and humid, but from the top of Carlons Head expansive views of the Krungle Bungle Range and back to Guouogang were had.
My energy was beginning to wane during the final 2 hours of walking back to Katoomba but I kept going and by midday I had made it, happy and tired, my 13th Three Peaks trip in the bag.
The Three Peaks time was 37 hours 50 minutes.
A fantastic epic pilgrimage to the highest peaks of the Blue Mountains.