Australia rocks my socks part 2 - Mountain goat

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Blue Mountains. What an odd name to call a mountain range. That is until you get up to the mountains and see how the light reacts with the Eucalyptus oil in the air, creating a blue mist over the hills. Our base for out stay has been the YHA in Katoomba, but we've only stayed there for half the week. After an initial tourist recke, eyeing up the Three Sisters (pillars of rock that have some Aboriginal importance) and the fantastic vista from Echo Point, a plan materialised for the next few days - we'd go on a bushwalk. Not any bushwalk, mind, but a hard-core, 3 day one through snake and kangaroo infested bush, taking everything we would need with us.

What we did was called the '6 foot track', a track, initially 6 foot wide, intended to allow two laden horses to pass. It led from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, one of the most impressive limestone cave systems in the world, some 45km away (though after getting to the start of the tack from Katoomba, more like 50km). For all three days, the weather was exceedingly hot, and though we saw no snakes, we did see our fair share of Kangaroos and Wallabies, who just seemed to enjoy the fact that they could bounce around the hills whilst we carried heavy packs.

The differences in scenery on the walk were quite spectacular. We started off at nearly 1200 metres, descending through a rainforest environment, before going through a Eucalyptus forest teeming with parrots (and later Kookaburras and Cockatoos, which both make an absolute din in the morning), then open farmland, going down to just under 300 metres, before climbing back up to 1200 the next day. The sheer length of the walk in the heat meant that we used up water far quicker than anticipated, and luckily there was some in tanks at the campsites (which we steralised by boiling in the pan that we'd re-heated the food in, creating an interesting tomato-slightly dodgy brown water broth mix. That was until the gas ran out, at which point we realised than neither of us had any sterilisation tablets - one of the few things that were not where we thought they were.) We only boiled up the first batch when we were nearly out of the water we'd brought with us, and though it looked absolutely disgusting, and tasted not much better, at that point it could have been Champagne - I was just so glad to be drinking it. As the gas was used up before we'd had a chance to boil all the water we needed (coupled with a lack of sterilisation tablets - explained earlier) it was exceedingly lucky that there was water at the last campsite (given the worst drought in recorded history in NSW) and that it was relatively clear. As we were both so thirsty, we decided that it would probably do us more harm than good not to have any, so we took the risk (though we've kept some should something really nasty happen to us in the next couple of weeks).

Though the hills we had to go up were not intrinsically difficult in themselves, the heat, coupled with the weight of our packs, made them seem ten times as tough as they probably were. Only after we'd finished, I read in the guide book that they run a race along the track, from one end to the other - bunch of nutters! Though we saw quite a few wild Kangaroos on the last day, as soon as you got to within 30 feet, they bounced off. It was only on the last day, when we saw our first human for 3 days, that we came across at least 20 in a clearing. These ones were especially tame (due to the proximity of holiday cottages and the likelihood of handouts), and came right up to us, which qas quite cool.

Jenolan Caves, where we finished the trek, is quite a spectacular area. Even before you go into the caves (which themselves are around 430 million years old) you are confronted by huge archways, well over 200 feet high, which lead from one to another. Inside the caves, the amount of different formations are quite spectacular. We only went into two, the Temple of Baal and the Orient, and though it is difficult to describe them without seeming naff, had such an array of colours, forms and textures that made it wasy to understand why so many people go caving, trying to discover more. Infact, they reckon that only about 5% of the caves at Jenolan have been discovered - some figure, given the sheer size of the ones they know about.

Yesterday, ie Thursday 1st Feb, was by no means a rest day from our previous excursions. Before we left for the trek, we'd booked ourselves onto a canyoning trip. This is probably one of the things that your parents want you to tell them about after you've done it, so there we go. I'm still in one piece. The weather had taken a turn for the worse as soon as we'd returned from the caves, but this had no affect on the canyoning - infact, it made it even better, as there was more water in the system. For those of you who do not know what canyoning is, basically, you go through a canyon by walking, swimming, jumping and abseiling. We were meant to abseil first in the morning, on a baby beginners course (as none of us had really done any before) but an accident on the road to meant we couldn't go there. Change of plan meant we did the canyoning part first, followed by a 60 metre abseil in the afternoon (we were only going to do a max of 30 metres, so this was a bonus).

The canyon we went through was Empress Falls, and the mist and rain that had developed overnight gave it the appearance of a lost world, with tree ferns as high as a two storey house, and gubbies (crayfish) scattered in parts of the system. As the practice abseil was off, we did a very short 2 metre one at the start of the canyon, so that when we got to the end we could do a 30 metre one down a waterfall (exceedingly cool). To get to the end though, we had to jump (both forwards and backwards) over numerous rocks into huge pools of water, as well as swim and slide our way through. Abseiling down the waterfall, however, was possibly the coolest part of the morning. Due to the rain, the sheer volume of the water made it quite slippery, as well as hard to breathe when you were directly underneath a huge power shower. The best part was getting into the water at the end - by far the easiest way was to jump, backwards, from the abseil down into the water. You did this by bending your legs (whilst horizontal) on the wall, then pushing back and letting go of all the ropes, falling down about 3 metres. Once we'd done this, there was also another ledge (again, only about 3 metres) that we could jump off, so this kept us amused until everyone had come down.

The afternoon abseil, however, comes high up on the list of scariest initial moments of something I've done. This is because, when your arse is hanging over the edge of a 60 metre drop, there is little chance of going back. After the first few steps it becomes a lot better, and though the cloud/mist obscured some of the view, you did appreciate where you where and the sheer size of the cliff. at 30 metres from the base, the cliff stopped, and you were just dangling in the air - this was possibly the coolest part of the abseil, as you felt as though you were floating in teh air (if you ignore the narness, buckles, ropes, etc) as you gfently lowered yourself down to the ground. By the fourth time I did the descent, I felt as though I had a lot more control over everything I was doing, plus you lost the sense that you were descending over a huge precipice. Mike did a similar number of abseils and everything else, and it was one of the most fun days I've had in a long time (as well as one of the most adrenalin filled).

Today, we're heading off up the coast, and this time I'm going to try and do this thing weekly. It was just the lack of internet/anything in the bush that was a slight hindrance.
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