Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Victoria Falls to Blue Gum Forest - Blue Mountains National Park

Victoria Falls to Blue Gum Forest (Return)

Blue Mountains National Park

Mt Victoria NSW

Saturday, 21 March.

A tale of poor planning, an underestimated trail and injury.

Shell is an adventurer, a risk taker. A free spirit who throws caution to the wind.

Quickly bored with the logistics of planning. Unwilling to become tied down with tedious details.

Most often Shell will find a destination and leave the 'getting there' to me.

I am not complaining. My role as planner suits my personality. A list maker. A purchaser of maps.

Information and research is what I enjoy.

We share a balance.

Shell pushes me from my comfort zone and I attempt to keep our walks non life threatening.

This symbiotic relationship works well. Most of the time.

On this occasion my preparation was poor. Limited on time I read a few quick reviews on the hike and made some incorrect assumptions on distances.

The plan was to hike into Blue Gums and return on that evening. I estimated the return trip to be just over 20km.

In hindsight we fell well short of our goal though we still managed 19km in 9 hours.

This trail was difficult in the wet conditions. When Shell rolled her ankle my miscalculations became even more problematic.

Because we always pack for overnight hiking there was no real danger.

Heading South on the M1 simply follow the signs to the Blue Mountains.

Passing through Blackheath and take Mt Victoria Road on the right.

This dirt road terminates at the trail head after about 5km.

We arrived at 9.00am after coffee and breakfast in Springwood.

It was raining and thick with fog.

Regardless, we were both keen for another solid hit out on the trail.

Trail head.

A wet and foggy start.

Ready to go in wet weather gear.

Though I had commented on the weather during the trip I was looking forward to a wet wether hike.

The temperature was still mild and modern gear manages to keep you dry for longer.

The mood was light hearted as we set off.

The trail quickly arrives at the Grose Valley lookout.

Sweeping views of the Grose Valley.

The trip down to the falls and the valley below can be steep at times.

The trail is clearly marked and easy to follow.

Considering the weather, we took our time as the wet rocks were occasionally slippery and at times the drop is sheer and long.

Caution aside, the trail descends quickly and the scenery is pleasant.

The hike to the valley floor.

Close to the bottom there is an opportunity to detour to the Cascades.

The walk is short. Through a pretty rain forest to the Cascades.

The Cascades are certainly worth the walk.

Through to the Cascades.

The Cascades.

Soon after is another side trip to the top of the Victoria Falls.

Another short journey which is worth the effort.

I have mentioned previously how much I love these streams.

The sound of fast moving crystal clear water over a rock bed is hypnotic. Its subtle music followed us for the entire hike.

I recall falling asleep to this tune in the Victorian Alps.

The top of the Victoria Falls.

Another short hike, one which requires the most caution in wet conditions, brings you to the base of the falls.

Victoria Falls is two separate drops. While not as inspiring as a single drop the sandstone backdrop makes for a pleasing view from the base.

The base of the falls.

Continuing on Shell set a good pace considering the terrain.

Despite the rain and blissfuly unaware I had under estimated the distance of the hike by over 6km our spirits were as we made our way through the Grose Valley.

The trail on the Grose Valley Fall.

Occasionally the trail was washed out.

Easy to cross we applied some caution as the footing was wet and slippery.

The trail washed away in several places.

The trail follows the Grose River.

I could not help but feel I was an extra in Jurrasic Park. My imagination wandered.

At any moment I expected T-Rex to materialise and eat Shell.

Thank goodness I had my pocket knife and would have little trouble coming to her aid.

The trail crosses the Grose River three times in total.

The three crossings of the Grose River.

We were making poor time in the conditions.

It would be fair to say that the trail had started to grind on me somewhat.

For some reason I wanted to stretch out and find a fast rhythm.

After the third crossing the trail became littered with fallen banksia flowers.

Shell wondered aloud which tree they had fallen from.

Marching on and her eyes in the trees she stepped on an innocuous stick.

For some strange reason I was watching her feet when it happened. Her ankle rolled and down she went.

Shell is a tough girl. I have seen her run, train and compete with injuries that would sideline most.

This was a bad.

On a positive note I did get to use the medical kit.

We strapped her ankle and she attempted to put weight on it.

It was clear she was in pain and I attempted to turn us around.

A lively debate ensued.

It ended this way.

"This is not some kind of fucking toughness competition!" I shouted in frustration.

"If it was I would win the trophy and you would be last!"

With that she turned and limped down the trail.

I followed.

Flora on the hike.

The hike became a chore.

I spent the entire time watching where Shell put her feet.

At any moment I worried she would slip and require weight be put on her injury.

I worried about the climb out. The slippery footing and the sheer edge we needed to follow.

My suggestions of possible foot placement were interpreted as criticism.

Pleads to turn around were seen as negativity.

The mood was darkening.

It is hard to watch the person you love trudge on injured.

I did not know whether to admire her tough determination or marvel at her stubbornness.

Her limp was slowing us down but I dare not mention the fact.

In my mind I had ruled out camping the night.

In my experience sprains like these swell when the boot is removed and are worse the next day.

We reached the intersection of Pierces Pass and Acacia Flats and it dawned on me just how far I had misjudged this hike.

The sign indicated Acacia Flats follow the ridge line but the trail seemed to have completely washed away.

After twenty minutes scrambling the hillside trying to find the trail, the day getting late and the realisation just how far we had ahead of us I decided we needed to turn around.

We had it out at the intersection.

It was clear she viewed not making Blue Gums as a failure.

She even mentioned this blog and how I would feel not making it to Blue Gums.

Playing to my ego is usually a solid ploy but her welfare came first.

A lot was said during this 'debate'. Much of which Shell has taken back.

Needless to say we turned around.

A rare victory if one was counting.

Red triangle slug.

The hike back was tough.

Shells ankle was getting worse but she would never admit it.

I kept my words to encouragement. Always a safe bet.

The weather remained constant making the climb out slippery.

It was a stressful ascent.

When we finally made it to the Grose Valley lookout at the top we were both exhausted.

The weather had cleared and the view was stunning.

Grose Valley Lookout.

Tired and relieved.

We had travelled 19km in nine hours that day.

For Shell 14km of this hike was on an injured ankle.

It was a challenging day.

There is no doubt this is a beautiful place to visit.

I had underestimated the terrain and the distance this day.

I will take a lot away from this hike. I have learnt a lot.

Shell's ankle on Sunday morning.

It is Tuesday morning as I am writing this.

We ran this morning.

I didn't even try to convince her it was a bad idea.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Grand Canyon, Evans Lookout & Govetts Leap (via Braeside Track) - Blue Mountains National Park

Grand Canyon, Evans Lookout & Govetts Leap (via Braeside Track)

Blue Mountains National Park

Blackheath NSW

Saturday, 7 March.

An overview of this hike can be found here

I had the impression the Blue Mountains gained its reputation based entirely on its proximity to Sydney. Its popularity based entirely on how easily it was accessed by the bus loads of city dwellers who could stroll a few meters from car parks to look outs.

A baseless assumption. An ignorant opinion.

Despite the disappointment of Carlon Head it was obvious the area was a place of breathtaking landscapes.

We planned during the week for an easy overnight trip. We planned 24km over two days with an overnight stay at Acacia Flats.

I had my suspicions regarding this plan when Shell declared the night before we would be departing at 5.00am. It occurred to me an alarm set for 4.30am was a rather unnecessary.

We are fortunate enough to crew a yacht which races on Friday evenings so our normally early night was going to be later than usual (for the record Christina, the yacht we crew, enjoyed line honours this evening).

So it was late to bed and an early start.

Our departure point was to be the Braeside Track Trail Head.

Heading south on the freeway simply follow the signs to Katoomba. Passing through Katoomba on the Great Western Highway to Blackheath.

Arriving at Blackheath turn right into Prince George Street and then right at the T intersection into Boreas Street.

Boreas Street turns veers left and becomes McNicol Street.

At the T intersection turn right and follow the dirt road, James Road, until you arrive at the trail head. There is a car park on the left just prior.

After coffee and breakfast in Springwood we arrive at the trail head around 9.00am.

Car park at the trail head.

Good to go.

We headed for Evans Lookout. Our intention was to exit the following day from Acacia Flats camp ground through Govetts Leap and to the car via the Braeside Track.

Ignoring the sign for the Braeside Track continue along James Road over a pretty waterfall to the end of the road.

Waterfall on James Road.

At the end of the road turn left onto Evans Lookout Road.

This road would have lead us to Evans lookout and onto Beauchamp Falls through to Junction Rock and finally Acacia Flat for the evening.

As we made our way along Evans Lookout Road we encountered a local lady working in the garden who enquired on our destination.

When she heard that neither of us had explored the Grand Canyon she urged us to do so. During the same conversation she also indicated Acacia Flats was particularly busy at the moment.

As we continued along the trail I considered the idea of including the Grand Canyon on this hike. Adding only a few kilometres it was certainly achievable.

Shell jumped at the idea when I suggested it.

At this point she declared a reluctance to camp at a busy site.

I tended to agree.

As we headed down toward the Grand Canyon Shell suddenly declared that an overnight stay was not necessary.

I explained that without an overnight stay, if we included the Grand Canyon, to complete the hike we planned would be a big ask in a single day.

Shell's response was typical 'I want to do 20km today. I want to be wrecked at the end of it. I don't care where we go. Work it out'.

With that she set a cracking pace down to the canyon.

Suddenly the early start seemed no coincidence.

I love this girl.

Down to the Grand Canyon.

The beginning of the trail down to the Grand Canyon is currently undergoing maintenance. The work underway takes the form of steps for the most part and makes the journey quite easy. A pleasant walk in which the flora quickly changes from eucalyptus bush to tropical.

Maintenance work on the trail.

The Grand Canyon needs to be seen in person to get a true understanding of its beauty. Photographs and descriptions really fail to capture this location.

Further down the trail the fauna becomes rainforest. Moss covered walls and steps provide scenery. Running water is everywhere creating a musical backdrop as we journey to the base of the canyon.

At the bottom of the canyon the trail levels and the hike is easy. Crossing Greaves Creek we are surrounded by soaring rock faces on either side.

The trail follows Greaves Creek and often makes it way under rocky overhangs.

We were setting a hard pace. Perhaps Shell was aware of some record I was not and we were challenging this mystery figure?

The scenery was stunning and I stopped frequently for pictures.

At one point a pair of day hikers shot past when I was taking some shots.

Shell suddenly declared I was taking far to long with the camera.

We set off in pursuit of the packless couple. Apparently we were now in a race.

The best I could come up with when Shell was unhappy with my 'smile'.

Greaves Creek.

At one point we encountered a group of canyoners preparing for decent. The gaping bottomless hole they were exploring seemed foreboding.

I will admit to some curiosity as to what may lie at the bottom. This curiosity was certainly not enough for me to even consider abseiling into the dark abyss.

The gaping hole the abseilers were tackling. I have no evidence to suggest they ever returned.

The trail continues and the scenery remains consistently beautiful.

Occasionally we caught the day hikers as they paused for a photo. They seem to be mocking Shell's efforts. As we approached they would jump back on the trail and leave us behind. Moments later the situation would repeat itself.

I happily tagged along. Shell is a competitor. It is one of the many things I love about her.

As we approached the end of the canyon I had formed a plan as to how we might get 20km of hard walking in today.

The scenery had changed a little and as we approached the ascent out of the canyon Shell agreed to a brief respite. Taking in the view I was reminded of how badly I had misjudged the beauty of the Blue Mountains.

The climb out is challenging. I worked up quite the sweat. As a result condensation built up in my camera case and my photographs became foggy.

Sadly we missed an opportunity to photograph a lyrebird which allowed us to get within five meters.

The climb out.

The trail out of the Grand Canyon terminates at Evans Lookout. There is a carpark nearby and it appears to be a popular tourist destination as the area is swarming with people.

The stunning views explain its popularity.

Sweeping views from Evans Lookout.

I outlined my plan to Shell.

We would return to the trail head of the Braeside Track. Taking Braeside Track we would head up to Govetts Leap Lookout.

Retrace our steps down to Barrow Lookout and take the Cliff Top Walk back to Evans Lookout and return to the car from there.

A round about trip that would get Shell her 20km.

Shell pretended to listen then asked which way to head.

She set out at pace in the indicated direction.

Back at the trail head we followed the Braeside Track which parallels Govetts Leap Brook.

Despite the quest for speed there was time for some food and a mandatory foot rub.

The Braeside Track was a relaxing walk. The hard pace Shell set was not difficult after the break.

Govetts Leap Brook is one of those creeks that I love. Fast moving clear water over sandstone.

At the end of the trail we turned left and made our way up to Govetts Leap Lookout.

A short yet demanding climb to the top.

Similar to Evans, its proximity to transport meant it was busy.

It seems to me that almost all vantage points in the Blue Mountains afford stunning panoramic views. Govetts Leap is no exception.

Govetts Leap Brook from Govetts Lookout.

We headed back down to Braeside Track to continue our hike toward Evans Lookout.

Little dragon sunning himself near Govetts Lookout.

We made a brief stop at Barrow Lookout before taking The Cliff Top Walk to Evans.

A brief chat with a couple of overnight hikers who were heading to Acacia Flats for the night. Having made the trip in the past they agreed it would likely be crowded.

Views from Barrow Lookout.

The Cliff Top Walk was an easy journey.

As we made our way to Evans fatigue began to set in.

Occasional glimpses of scenery from the trail were a welcome distraction from tiring legs.

Finally we came to Evans Lookout.

As we began the final leg back to the car I pondered the hike.

By the time we arrived at the car we had completed over 21km in around 5 hours.

We were both wrecked.

Is this what I had in mind when I started hiking?

There is enormous satisfaction in the physical fatigue resulting from a hard push.

At what cost? Is it possible to enjoy both the majestic landscape while pushing hard?

Back to the car.

I came to the conclusion that I can have my cake and eat it too.

We can drive ourselves to exhaustion and still enjoy the views.

There is room for both.