People say the first step is the hardest. But right now I reckon it’s the twentieth step. Clinging to the swaying wire holding a footbridge high up above the river, my feet are refusing to move. This narrow corridor of chicken wire is about to get seriously emotional on me.
There’s no way back. It’s a five hour hike back to Katoomba and two days ahead to reach Jenolan caves. To hell with it! Time to summon my inner Indiana Jones.
It wasn’t for the love of instant noodles that I set out walking for three days. I could have “seen” the Blue Mountains in a day (well, photographed the Three Sisters) and been back in Sydney for (a proper) dinner. But the area has too much going on – spectacular scenery and tonnes of activities – to give it short thrift. You could spend a week in the mountains and still feel you’ve missed out.
The perilously steep path drops down through sticky mud and lush ferns into Nellie’s Glen. I pass farmland and an abandoned mining village before reaching the steep banks of the Cox River. Then Bowtell’s Bridge… Thankfully, no-one is around to witness my pathetic shuffle across it.
The tough trek up to the deceivingly-named Mini Mini saddle the next day rewards with a distant view of spectacular escarpments through the blue haze.
Down into Alum Creek valley, a creek runs the full width of the path. With cold water swirling around my weary toes it suddenly all seems worthwhile.
But when path meets creek again, and then again, I decide it’s too much effort to tug off my boots. One lunge and a nifty leap get me three-quarters across, but with all the grace of a drunken bear I hit the water bum first. Hilarious, until I realise my sleeping bag is now wet too.
A dozen wallabies graze around me as I set up camp on the highest ridge of the trail, 1,200m up.
It’s an eerie landscape of charred eucalypts with only the occasional termite mound to suggest any other sign of life.
I’m soon joined by three others. “Do you mind if we make a fire?” asks the girl as her boyfriend piles twigs outside their tent. I wonder if she’s noticed all the burnt trees.
Sensing my hesitation, she adds, “it’s been raining. The Korean guy thinks it’ll be okay”.
Last time he was here, I learn, the Korean guy called a friend in the city for a lift but got an airlift instead. Too much drama surrounds this guy.
Thankfully, the boyfriend loses interest in gathering soggy sticks.
Day three and I hit the 40km mark. The final downhill stretch offers tantalising glimpses of fractured limestone cliffs through the dense cloak of trees.
Aged at around 340 million years, Jenolan caves are thought to be the oldest
in the world. This time the first step really is the hardest.
“This is the hardest walk of all the caves,” says Charles, our guide for Lucas Cave.
“The climb is the equivalent of a 10 storey building.”
But hey, what are 900 more steps when you’ve just walked 45km. We spiral upwards into the mountain before stumbling out into an enormous chamber.
Stalactites hang from the roof and walls like heavily folded drapes, lit in peach to tease familiar shapes from the darkness.
Charles releases a musical tornado that spirals up to the roof and rushes down around our ears as we feel the magic of the Cathedral.
You can also opt to squeeze through narrow tunnels on all fours on the “Plughole” caving tour.
Not for me, unless there’s a lost ark or crystal skull at the other end to motivate me. The only plughole I’ll see today will be the one in my bath.
The damage and the details: It’s all free, except for a transfer from Jenolan with Trolley Tours (Freephone: 1800 801 577www.trolleytours.com.au; info on the caves at www.jenolancaves.org.au); for more info on the Blue Mountains visit www.visitbluemountains.com.au; more info on walks at www.wildwalks.com
MORE MOUNTAIN MAYHEM
From canyoning to horse-riding, rock climbing to mountain-biking and Aboriginal cultural experiences to myriad pampering options, “the Mountains” have got it going on. David Fairs and Joanna Tilley got sore bits…
Wheelie good: Mountain-bikingg>
After gathering supplies (jelly snakes) and our bikes in Katoomba, we squeezed our trusty steeds onto the train and headed to Woodford for the start of the Oaks Fire trail. Famous for its nearly all downhill run, according to the bike shop owner, this course is for those who don’t want an adventure to be too adventurous. Sounds easy, I thought.
It was go time. As we went flying down the track, trees and rocks rushed past and I noticed how fresh the mountain air was. Brakes screeched, tyres skidded, knuckles whitened, as we clung on for dear life.
We hit a patch of smooth sealed road and a brief sun shower. I was in heaven – no more bumps. It was brilliant, but it was not to last. We reached the end of the road and stopped in our tracks. We stared at the last 1km of our journey, the steepest road I had ever seen.
However we made it to the top and hit the local pub in Glenbrook for a well deserved schooner. Though I was quite sore around the butt region, leg area, hands and knuckles, arms, chest and well, everywhere, it had all been worth it. We all agreed mountain biking is one of the most exciting ways to take in the Blue Mountains. DF
HARNESSING YOUR FEARS: Abseiling
After living in Sydney for three months, it was nice to immerse myself in the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains. However, on this occasion, nice wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted to climb into the scenery, be a part of it, hug those heroic cliffs.
Luckily for me abseiling could make my dream a reality. When instructor Timmy pitched up next to a 30m drop I realised my dream was quite scary. But being one of those stubborn people who never turns back I had no choice
but to, in the words of Fat Joe, pull up my pants, do da rock away and lean back.
On reaching a small ledge I bravely decided to turn face to face (instead of butt to face) with the view. Never had I found myself so frightened and exuberantly happy. After a couple more abseils I was a pro and even did a jump every now and then.
After six abseils we’d come a long way (metaphorically and literally) so it was delightful to discover that a train was waiting to take us back to the top. Not your average train but the steepest incline railway in the world. On our roller-coaster ride back, I was left to reflect on a roller-coaster of a day.
Tb de portero? Increíble… yfrog.com/oblc7lkj
— Carles Puyol(@Carles5puyol) March 12, 2012