Valley of the Waters: Place to be when it's 39 C

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

This weekend we had a bit of an unexpected heat wave. Things went up to about 39 degrees Celsius, a really dry, moisture-sucking heat. On Friday I went out hiking at the Leura Cascades with Michaela and Marah, the two girls who are working as WWOOF staff at the hostel, as well as Danny, a French-Canadian guy. We thought we could keep cool by following the line of the river and falls. But at the bottom of the falls we found that there were few swimmable pools, mostly just water cascading over a flat section of rock. After a bit of wading we headed out along the trail (typical Blue Mountains trail: stairs, stairs, stairs) and returned via the Fern Bower, a shaded trail through giant ferns.

The next day dawned a touch cooler and four British girls from my room invited me to join them on their Wentworth Falls hike. This is supposed to be one of the best hikes in the area. We took the train two stops to the town of Wentworth Falls and joined up with the "Charles Darwin track" begins (supposedly the great man himself walked, and enjoyed, the track). This was a slender flat trail winding its way along a little stream and through light-green scrub. It was shady and breezy and there weren't, thank god, any stairs. Then we began to descend along a path that paralleled Wentworth Falls themselves; the waterfalls here often don't have a lot of water in them, but what they lack in pure volume they make up for in height and scenic location, as they drop in falls after falls into various pools along the cliff faces, hide for a while behind fern grottos, and come gushing back out again.

Halfway down we found a shallow pool where we changed into bathing suits, had lunch, and splashed around, standing under the falls to take a quick, cold rinse. Then to the next part of the hike: down the "Slack Stairs," a staircase with one of the ubiquitous "experienced hikers only" signs that, in the Blue Mountains, can be translated as "lots of stairs." Well, at least this time, we were going down. Parts of it were so steep that we had to descend the metal staircases as if they were ladders, face-in to the cliff. One rocky section could only be descended with the aid of a rope that had been handily tied to a tree. As we laughingly attempted an amateur sort of rappell over this rock we all agreed that the whole Slack Stairs experience was a little Indiana Jones, and definitely not just a regular day of hiking.

At the bottom we turned a corner in the jungle and came out above a deep, blue pool. This was the bottom point of the Wentworth Falls, and the pool was enclosed in a horseshoe of steep red cliffs, with the other side shielded from views of the valley by a windbreak of eucalypts and boulders. The pool was ringed by a gold sand beach, and the sand extended out into the middle so you could walk through shallow water almost all the way to the falls itself; then simply by stepping off the sand pier to either side you were in cold blue water too deep to touch the bottom.

This place was like the archetypal waterfall pool, the one you imagine when someone says, "It'd be nice to go swimming at the base of a waterfall." We swam for about an hour after we adjusted to the chill of the water and then came out to lie on rocks and dry off before attempting the next haul of the hike.

The other girls were beginning to tire and I was loathe to tell them I'd climbed the staircase at the end of the track with the abseiling group and that it was going to be a killer; not to mention that the track we were on was already steadily climbing, leaving them winded and unwilling to continue---except that the route the way we'd come, everyone knew, was a worse option. The trail climbed up along a series of waterfalls, each with their own personality---one over scarlet red rocks, another falling in a series of little drops over terraced rocks, and so on---and at one point we were stalled on a rock in the middle of a stream for ten minutes while a group of 45 Japanese teenagers came down the steps ahead of us, loudly singing a song about Jesus.

At the top of the stairs (finally!) we had a twenty minute walk along the back lanes of Wentworth Falls before getting back to the station; it was partway along this walk that it began to rain, and by the time the train pulled out of the station, it was hailing heavily. We were soaked to the skin by the time got back to the hostel and just missed getting hit with a heavy pounding of hail.
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