No trip to Australia would be complete without a serious dose of “the bush”.
To enliven my last few weeks, my old pal Kerry and her beau Graham invited me for a three day walk to Mt. Solitary in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
I have always wanted to do this walk. Especially when I lived in the Mountains nearly 30 years ago! But it always seemed a bit out of reach. Mt Solitary dominates the skyline from all of the classic escarpment lookouts of the Blue Mountains (Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls). Across a deep and wide valley of seemingly impenetrable bush.
But with two trusty local guides, backpacks full of fabulous food, and some rather reluctant ageing knees, we set off. It was early Spring and it had been one of the warmest winters on record so the wildflowers were going off!
The first days hiking was gorgeous, inspiring and debilitating. We only walked about 6 miles but we came down off a ridge into the deep valley of the Kedumba Rver and then inexorably climbed all the rest off the day all the way up to the peak of Mt. Solitary along a narrow rocky ridge line – big altitude change, rough ground. I was looking forward to the fresh shrimp pasta we were having for dinner but not relishing the pound of thawing prawns in my back pack. To top it all off, just as we got to the edge of the Mt. Solitary escarpment we were deluged by a hail storm! Very refreshing.
The camp that night was under a canopy of gum trees next to a tiny but delicious spring fed stream.
Right next to our campsite was a spectacular view back towards Katoomba across the Jamieson Valley. Good spot for breakfast!
The second day was easier walking – just as well as my calves and thighs were complaining. We walked for a couple of hours along the ridge line to Chinaman’s camp where we knew we had more spring water available and where there are some amazing cliff overhangs that are perfect for camping under.
Here’s a short time-lapse of the closing of the day under the cave overhang.
As it turned out the spring that we were counting on was almost dry. Fetching water required a hike down to the very end of the dry creek bed until just before it plunged over the cliff. The last little puddle held about a kitchen sink full of brown and murky water full of mosquito larva! Now that’s what I call camping!
But this is the sunrise 10ft away from the water source!
The next day dawned clear and bright and threatened to get hot. This was just a week or so prior to the first bad bush fires of the season up in this part of the country.
Our path ahead was clear. Follow the edge of Mt. Solitary along until it drops into the valley, follow the ridge line to the “Ruined Castle” and then through the rain forest under the escarpment until we get to the “Golden Stairs”. Then up, up, up, the Golden Stairs until we get to a hot bath somewhere. Graham told me that we weren’t the first to see the Golden Stairs as the path to salvation. Early in the white history of the Blue Mountains the valley’s edge was mined for coal and shale kerosene. At the end of a hard week of toil the miners would head out of the valley for some well deserved R&R in the bars and fleshpots of Katoomba. Waiting at the stairs were a crowd of well-intentioned christian ladies who would sing hymns to discourage the wanton behavior of the weary miners. One of their favorite ditties referred to the Golden Stairs on the path to Heaven – but the miners saw the path in front of them climbing to a more earthly paradise!
We had other companions on our walk. The furry critters in the Australian bush mostly come out at night when its cool, but insects and lizards are around during the day.
Our most constant companions were the amazing Australian Cicadas. Cicadas are widespread around the temperate regions of the world, and the US is proud of its cyclical cicada emergence which is happening this year. But trust me, there ain’t nothing to compare to Australian cicadas!
This year promises to be a boom year for the Ozzie cicada too. Everywhere I looked their perfect carapaces were lined up all along trees and fence lines. The trees and air were full of their fat little bodies (my cousin Malcolm says they were created as Christmas dinner for the birds), and the air was thrumming with their ear piercing song. Part of me wished I had my excellent sound equipment with me (duh) but a bigger part of me was glad not to have had the weight! How would the iPhone hear this?
As we came under the shade and moisture of the escarpment we went from the dry Eucalyptus and Casuarina dominated forest into the green moist Coachwood and tree fern dominated rainforest and the cicadas gave way to the raspy mimicking repertoire of Lyrebirds
At the foot of the Golden Stairs we had a breather, and sucked down the last of our brown spring water from Chinaman’s camp before climbing out of the valley, enjoying the views back across the valley to Mt. Solitary.
Oh and a final 180 degree panorama of the view South into the Burragarang valley and Sydney’s water supply.