Date: 19/8/2023
Trip leader: Terry Sze
Party: Alex (Qinyuan), Dong, Jiamin, Jingqi, John, Weiting, Xiaomin, Yessentay, Yunci, Zhiruo, Zhuo

Mount York has been somewhere I wanted to check out for quite a while and since no one is doing trips I might as well get it off my bucket list. It’s a cold and cloudy Saturday with a reasonably early start at Central Station into Blue Mountains. With a lot of last-minute signup and dropouts we’ve got a group of 13, to which only 11 showed up. Most of those in the group are Chinese international students, who seemed to have referred a lot of their friends onto the trip.

A NSW Trainlink V set train rolls into Central Station early morning 15 minutes before its scheduled departure. The 8-car set is then decoupled and the front 4 cars form the Mount Victoria service. I’ve met some on the platform while some frantically make phone calls about where the train is. When I got the call they were on platform 1, then I told them to go to platform 10 and walk all the way down, and when they got to platform 10 5 minutes later the train has already left. It should be a general expectation that trip members are able to catch the correct service and get off at the correct station themselves. There are transport apps, station signs, platform displays and friendly station staff, and it should not be the trip leader that gives detailed step-by-step guides on how to walk to the platform. Another person also reached Central Station 3 minutes before the train’s departure and without checking the platform number in advance he also missed the train. Doors of intercity trains are often shut 10 seconds before departure to ensure punctuality.

Planning around public transport and catching the right train has never been an issue on my trip- in fact as uni students, the ability to look up information independently should well be expected. This is similar to emails where reading and responding to them is an expected skill. A lot of these pre-trip works and preparation lie within the members’ scope of responsibility and the issues around trains on that day are totally avoidable.

The trip began as we boarded an antiquated train straight out of the world 50 years gone by. Purple seats, cream walls, carpeted floors and walls and a smooth, quiet ride – one of the most delightful emulsions of practicality and luxury, a product of 1970’s design with user experience and quality at the forefront of engineering. After Blacktown the train sped up to 105kph and thanks to its design it feels very smooth on the upper deck. Other trip leaders in the committee had also shown a great deal of appreciation for the design of the train in previous trips, such as that the space between seats is wide enough to fit a coffin. Unfortunately they are far from the cleanest trains given their age, but with the union dispute settled the modern replacement should be on its way in a couple years time. I mentioned what happened earlier on and luckily wasn’t the only one that thought this way as one reacted with “Can’t they google?”.

Towards the last stop, one came out of the toilets saying that she dropped her phone and it might have flushed down the toilet. She seemed calm with this expensive loss but I still insisted that she inform the guard in case they found it in a later stage. Everyone met at Mount Victoria and the guy who missed the train took a later train to Katoomba, then Ubered to the start of the trail, catching up with the rest of the group. It was lucky that uber drivers were available. In very extreme cases (ie. Albury, NSW) there can be just one uber driver for the entire town.

There is very little traffic on Mt York Road and walking alongside it wasn’t too dangerous. We took Lockyers Road down to Hartley Vale, a gentle descent down Blue Mountains into the valley below. Soon we reached a random rock by the track for a short break. Clear views to Hartley and beyond with Mt York now out of the way. John, the most experienced person of the day, also mentions a track leading straight down to the homestead in the valley. It will be a steep descent with a lot of scrambling. After a bit of stairs the road reaches its end at Hartley Vale. This track was a road down Victoria Pass completed in 1832, hand built by convicts. While the main highway doesn’t run here the walking trail and its remnants still remained.

At the bottom of the valley is a campground. A public campground and several more private campgrounds/cabins catering to the city dwellers. We walked down Hartley Vale Road and visited Collits Inn before heading back up to Mt York. At the inn there’s a mix of animals next to the building- sheep, goat, llama and dog. The group went for pictures while the few at the front goes “Have they not seen a sheep?”. Perhaps not those not on a dinner plate.

With John leading the way the group went off track, taking a more direct way back to the official walking track. Starting with a few unofficial tracks that other people have used, then going through the bush into a fire trail and back to the main track. With several in our group being beginners it is likely a new experience for some, and something experienced leaders often feel proud introducing to international students. Fortunately with this beginner bushbashing, there were no wide creeks to cross and we managed to avoid dense vegetation. A short lunch break next to two kangaroos before the final ascent up to Mt York.

The kangaroos

The Nature Trail joins up with Coxs Road up to Mt York right in front, curving along the slope and avoiding the rocks at the top of Mt York. It was only a 300m climb but that seems to be quite physically demanding for some members of the group. Some asked if we could go back down- one way to end the walk is at Bell Station which still involves a vertical ascent, a route suggested by John. I jokingly said that they could aim for Lithgow which will likely be an entire day of walk. We had a much-needed break midway and continued straight to the summit. While on a break someone left their phone charging on a power bank on the rock surface, and only realised it at the summit, having to backtrack all the way down to retrieve it.

Near the top at the rocks is where the rock climbing area is. We saw multiple rock climbers with anchors and heavy backpacks almost reaching the top. Yessentay scrambled up a rock nearby and many followed. It wasn’t as easy as the pagodas in Gardens of Stone but still a great beginner experience.

To the east it’s Little Hartley at the bottom of the valley after Victoria Pass. Great Western Hwy runs down Victoria Pass along the ridge right after Mt Victoria on a steep descent, then through Hartley to Lithgow. Further in front is Coxs River and Jenolan Caves Rd, a great road for a scenic drive down to Oberon. John also points out that the rock cutting of the highway on the ridge is where the Mt Victoria suburb begins. The Victoria Pass descent is a major landmark for many of the trips to Wollemi, Gardens of Stone, Capertee or Dubbo to the far west.

There’s also a couple campsites next to the road and around the carpark, quite empty at the time of visit. Back onto Mt York Rd to Mt Victoria we managed to avoid walking on most of the road through a bit of bushbashing, joining Berghofer Drive at the end to Mt Victoria.

In the end, the group broke into two- the faster one in front and the slower one at the back, with a roughly 10-minute gap. The faster group caught the earlier train departing Mt Victoria 3 minutes after reaching the station. Given that the next train is a 40min wait and most shouldn’t have issue navigating around suburban streets I joined the earlier train, leaving an email to the rest of the group with the time of the next train.

On the train back I also checked out its toilet out of curiosity. Similar to other trains in the UK and Europe it shouldn’t be wide enough for a smartphone to fit through, and perhaps she might have dropped her phone somewhere around the toilet. It is still fairly rare for lost items in public transport to be found.