Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wentworth Falls - Mt Solitary September 2014

Wentworth Falls – Mt Solitary

Epic. Just epic. Ticked off a number of items on the “to do” list on this trip.

The main box to tick was a camp out and watch the sun rise on Mt Solitary. It has been on my list for years. I have been up and over, but never stayed.

Mt Solitary

Starting from Wentworth Falls Station at 10 am, I headed down the Charles Darwin Walk. A lovely 2.5km meander along the stream and the first box ticked.

From Wentworth Falls, it was down the stairs to the National Pass. I have been watching folk walk down these stairs from a distance for a while now, but never did it myself until today. Tick that box. A lot steeper, but way more fun than I had imagined. 

Wandered across under the falls, then down Slack's Stairs to the Wentworth Pass. Ticking this box was tricky as I had on my full pack, with a sleeping mat tied on the back, which proceeded to get stuck and wedge me in several places. This was the first time carrying a sleeping mat, and over the course of the next two days it copped a beating and became well and truly shredded at the edges. As it was $5 yoga mat from a white elephant stall it really wasn't a problem – except when I got caught up.

Slack's Stairs with their nice covering to trap folk with foam mats

I had never been along the Wentworth and National Passes. Wentworth Pass is a lovely tree covered walk. Surprisingly tricky to navigate in places, and spent some time with other walkers scouting our way, but reached the Valley of the Waters easily enough (another box ticked). VOTW was as beautiful as I imagined it would be, and it was lovely ascending to the National Pass.

The National Pass
The National Pass took me by surprise with how breathtaking it was. The amount of work to create such a track is astounding, and the views are amazing. I was in no hurry to move along. It was great to see so many people using it (although the young girl walking along playing games on her iPad was a bit bewildering...). Finishing the National Pass (tick that box) and returning to the crossing beneath the falls I had to climb back up the steep stairs. A bit slower on the return up.

crossing under Wentworth Falls

In May I had run The North Face 100 and trained along the trails between Katoomba and Wentworth Falls, but had always wanted to slow down and explore more (part of the reason for this trip). Today was the day. The interesting thing I found was that during training I had repeatedly run the same direction. Today I was “going backwards” and I found it extremely confusing at times. I was following signage like a newbie tourist in many places as my brain tried to make sense of doing things in reverse.

I casually strolled the Undercliff Track before heading to the car park area. I was overjoyed to see that the new toilet blocks were completed and the taps were running. Last time through here there was nothing but construction works and I was desperately short of water. Not today. Drank like a camel before heading off to The Conservation Hut via Shortcut Track. As usual the Hut was awash with the smell of yumminess, but I pushed on after refilling water bladder. Today as I sauntered along I took (a lot of) time to stop and visit all those little lookouts along the way. Stood and looked down from Lilian's Bridge. All those things I missed in training. The Cliff Walk is absolutely magnificent.

Another couple of boxes to tick was scouting out starts to the old Roberts and Gladstone passes at the back of the Leura Fairmont Resort. I quickly found what I was looking for (tick one box, but add another to the list) and it was time for a bit of nibbling as I walked along sunny Sublime Point Road. A delightful trail mix of nibblies left over from a dinner party, stale asian noodles found hidden in the pantry, soy crisps, and a cup of soup mix tossed in for seasoning. Originally was only going to eat half, but it was all so delicious. Was tipping the last salty crumbs back just as I hit the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and headed to the Pool of Siloam and Gordon Falls.

The Pool of Siloam

About now I began to think about the time left in the day, and distance left to travel. Decided not to think about it at all and just let the day unroll. However, by Leura Falls I did have a decision to make. I was pretty certain I was not going to find water along the way, and none on Mt Solitary, so it was time to refill the bladder with enough water to complete my day, and also get me to the Kedumba River tomorrow – as well as enough water for a camp out. Did some rough sums and came up with 3 litres, add another ½ litre for good measure (I sucked the last of my water the next day just as I heard the river so it was an AWESOME piece of planning. Well done me). However that meant suddenly adding 3.5 kg to the load. Not fun. I had developed a lovely calf niggle, and descending the ladders with the extra weight was not good (however, during the descent I scouted out the signage for the hidden Lindeman's Pass (tick), also known as the “Mystery Pass”. Another biggie on the “to do” list. This is a big box to tick one day.

It is an interesting feature of this area that during the day there are people everywhere. Then at 4.30pm suddenly you are on your own. It is so lovely, quiet and peaceful. Relaxing through Leura Forest and onto the relative flat of the Federal Pass, I began doing sums in my head and pondered my options. The light was fading. Do I camp early ? Push on to Mt Solitary ? I was nicely balanced between pain in my calf, pain in my shoulders and hips from my pack, general soreness and tiredness, but I was still nicely full, well hydrated, and was happy to continue. I postponed using my headtorch as long as possible just to keep the roll going, but eventually needed to stop after missing a big squelchy mud patch and kicking a rock. However, it is amazing how much information the eyes and brain can process with even minimal ambient light. A bit of moon and I would have been fine.

However, a night climb of Mt Solitary is not something to be taken lightly (in fact it is a bit crazy – well really stupid in fact). I am very used to running trails at night with a head torch, I have climbed Solitary before, it was a beautiful calm night, and I had my PLB, but the deciding factor was the Ruined Castle campsite filled with loud voices and a big fire. Not for me.

I will not go into details of the climb. Except that as the last 4km of a 30km day, trying to ration my water, with tired legs and a tricky calf, it was tough. By the time I reached the causurina clearing at the top (at about 8pm) I was ready to drop. A couple of hammocks filled with sleeping campers meant I needed to push on a few hundred metres more, then it was pack off and layers of dry clothes on. The climb had left me dripping with sweat and hypothermia beckoned. All rugged up, I downed a litre of powdered milk and MILO which my body soaked up like a sponge. Then I tried to set up the tent. Being a bit tired I initially pegged it out upside down and struggled until I realised my mistake. I was massively dehydrated from the climb, so it was another litre of MILO and a phone call home to confirm that I was alive and well. I had no appetite for solid food. It turned out this was good as it meant I had extra water for the next day.

Laying in my tent listening to the wind, I could see the lights of Katoomba and Leura twinkling. I read for a while. The book of choice was “The Man with the Golden Gun”. A nice easy bit of James Bond. Book choice is always crucial to a successful overnight walk, and I had chosen well. Completely mindless and requiring no thought at all. Eventually it was lights out.

A few wakes in the night, but quickly back to sleep. Not having used a sleeping pad before, it made such a lovely difference. No sharp pointy bits. Heaven. Then suddenly it was getting light. Really? Dawn already? I popped in my glasses, but a lens was missing. Crap. A bit of scrabbling found it, and (thankfully) it popped back in easily (all covered with sweaty dirty fingerprints). Then I lay in my toasty bag and watched my long awaited sunrise on Solitary – and yes, it was awesome. I will be doing it again (albeit in a slightly less challenging way)

dawn on Mt Solitary

Eventually it was full light, so I emerged to brew up two extra strong coffees (not instant coffee. I'm a bushwalker, not a savage). I set up my clothes to dry on a bush, still wet from the day before. It was so clear up here that they dried quickly, and my tent had no moisture in it at all. Another litre of MILO and a muesli bar later it was an easy pack away for an 8.30am start. Sadly I had to put on my clothes from yesterday. Dry, but smelly. My neighbours passed by and were happy to discover I was the noise they had heard passing in the night. Apparently my spooky footsteps creeping through their campsite in the night had been a bit disconcerting. I wonder why? 

some idiot
take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.  so I had better start packing

top of Solitary
top of Solitary

the north face of Solitary
Chinaman's Gully

Mt Solitary is huge. I had a wonderful time wandering about. Apparently there is water at times, but I did not see a drop. Every small creek bed was dry. I did see a large bushy tail disappear at one point. A fox? Really? Up here? Lots of birds but no other animals. Lots of spectacular views.

Mt Solitary is enormous up on the top, much longer and wider than you see from Echo Point

views south to Mittagong, Lake Burragorang and Kanangra from the back of Solitary
Reached the Eastern Col, wrote in the log book. Being an anally retentive preschool teacher I used a stick to collect all the lost pens in the bottom of the box, and neatly bundled everything up in a plastic bag. Just wished I had a label to remind everyone to please to box neat and tidy and please put away pens properly. Next time.

Eastern Col

views from Eastern Col of Kings Tableland and Kedumba Crossing

Speaking of which, I had begun using a plastic bag to collect rubbish as I went. There was a bit of general litter, but the campsite at Chinaman's Gully in particular was a pig sty. Seriously, if you are strong enough to cart Bundy Rum and cheap Bailey's Cream knock offs up a bloody big mountain, then be a decent human being and cart it back down. Don't be a disgusting feral pig excuse for a human being. Seriously.

Anyway, the descent down Solitary was its usual rocky, dusty, treacherous slippery self. A few nice slides and a bit more shredding of the yoga mat. No “downward facing dog” position, more like “dog rubbing bum in the dirt”. It was getting nice and hot by now and I was sucking back the water knowing the Kedumba River lay below. Just as I heard the river burbling, I drank the last of my water, and I hit the river hungry for lunch. I had plenty from last nights uncooked meal, so it was time for a lunch of noodles, peas, and mash. I collected up some water to sterilise as I ate, in preparation for the long haul home. By this time I had consumed 2.5 litres during the morning, and only just begun peeing, so I made sure I had plenty of water for the last stretch home.

Kedumba River and my lunch spot

Lunch done, all packed, I hit the trail at 12.30, hit the Sublime Point Fire Trail at 1.15, then dragged myself up Kedumba Valley Road. I have descended a few times, but never climbed out this way. I have encountered walkers coming up, and today I discovered why they all looked so beat. By now I also had some lovely blister action happening, and somewhat sore knees. Pure slog. However, all things do pass. Hit the gate and car park at 2.15. However, once you reach the top you are still faced with about 8km of road grind to the station. I deliriously considered on the roof racks of some cars parked at the gate, and waiting for a ride, but instead power trudged and limped my way to the Wentworth Falls Station in time for the 4.10 train. The toilets were all locked so my fellow commuters were treated to my peeling off layers of sweaty clothing and a quick air bath before putting on a dry shirt. I'm sure it made their day.

Kedumba Valley Road.  It goes on and on...

...and on and on...

Epic journey complete.

1 comment:

  1. as a fellow bushwalker, this is great. BUT! your shredded mat left blue foam all over the track. if your shop around you can get a thermarest for under $100. please consider shelling out the $$ and do this - it will fit in your pack and not leave blue foam all over the place! you've whinged about bundy bottles - you left more than footprints behind you..