Six Foot Track

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We still can’t work out whose idea it was to do this track.  It just kind of happened.  Technically we, being myself, my husband Kane and our friends Brad and Claudine, did it upside down and back to front according to the book Claudy purchased from the visitors centre, which you literally had to flip over and up for the Jenolan to Katoomba route.  It’s unlike me to leave without a map but I had studied it at home and had an idea in my head.  It was reported that you cannot get lost on this track.  And that was very true.

I must preface this by saying there were four of us.  This is my interpretation of the hike only.

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The Six Foot Track is an iconic 3 day, 45km hike from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves in NSW, just west of Sydney.  Like many others we decided to do it backwards.  The reason was mostly based on timing.  It was appealing to be able to finish at our own pace rather than try and make a timetable to get a bus back to the starting point.  The very lovely Nyla from TCP Tours picked us up from Explorers Tree at Katoomba at 8.30 on Friday morning for a 1.5hr drive to Jenolan Caves.  I’m ashamed to say I’d never been there in my life.  And I’m a rock lover!  What’s with that?  And now I have serious rock envy.  I’m taking my kids back soon.

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Starting point at Jenolan

Day 1 – Jenolan to Black Range
10km

We began with lots of positive anticipation with the motto that we’d be “at four with nature.”  We began a fairly steep and long ascent in the drizzle.  Up, up, up.  Slow and steady.  As it eventually evened out we were presented with velociraptors!  Velociraptors you ask?  Well, a very large group of lyrebirds which in the rain looked and moved very much like the prehistoric raptors in the movie Jurassic Park.  There were heaps of them and they all left each other individually, not as a group.  It was quite bizarre.  Frankly I felt sorry for the last one.  He/She looked perplexed and wasn’t sure where to head.  But in the end it ran away rather than towards us.  Good move “Velociraptor”.  Good move.

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The boys chatting up the front

The track got wider and there were signs along the way warning us of fox baiting and as if on cue it was about now we stumbled as cross a dead one.  It looked fairly fresh other than being eyeless.  It didn’t smell either (thanks no doubt to the cold conditions).  Poor fox.  A mere victim of over population.  Look, I know they are as pests and damage the fragile ecology of the parks but it’s still a living thing and other than eating native animals, I’m certain it was a lovely fox.  It looked like it was.

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Sorry Mr Fox 😥

Soon after we reached a set of cabins. It was lunch time and we were hungry.  One thing we learned on this hike is that you need more food in the cold.  The minute you stop you start freezing.  Exercise/movement just isn’t enough.  One needs adequate sustenance.

I suggested we break social norms and take shelter under one of the cabin verandahs at risk of being caught.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They’d ask us to move.  Meh.  And that’s what we did.  It was so cold we near burned our fingers on the bare flames of our camp stoves.

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Sneaky lunch on a cabin balcony 

After finishing our lunch we got back on the track.  It was more a combination of fire trail and single file trail but it was parallel to the road.  There weren’t many cars but still it was not ideal for nature lovers for a good few kilometres.

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We eventually crossed the road to take a more easterly direction when the sun tried to appear.  With it came a beautiful mist drifting up from a gully.  It was very “mystical”.  And we found some gorgeous purple mushrooms (I love a good fungi).  However it was a climate furphy and as the wind suddenly came up the temperature came down.  And the rain became more squally.

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The purple mushroom

The weather reports had predicted as much.  Damn meteorologists.  Right again.  And as we reached Black Range camp ground, our home for the night, we took advantage of a lull in the rain to get the tents up.  With that done, we set up under the adjoining shelter (I love a good camp shelter).  The temperature dipped again and we all threw on more layers.

We sat down to a delicious “platter?” of olives, salami and cheeses.  No risk of them going off in this weather.  We were essentially in fridge conditions anyway!

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Decadent platter for four

The threats of thunderstorms came to the fore with a crack of thunder.  We all looked at each other in trepidation.  Geez, what had we got ourselves into?  The wind picked up and the temperature dropped dramatically again (yes again, again).  We were all jogging on the spot, around the tables under the shelter and jiggling relentlessly to keep warm!

Laps around the shelter to keep warm

And then, we were all stunned when the noise of rain changed on the shelter roof top.  It was a tinny sound.  Senses pinging we all saw the rain turn to ice as it fell to the ground!  Sleet!  I’ve never seen sleet before.  Snow and hail yes but not sleet!  Who needs thermostats when you have rain turning to ice?

When rain drops freeze

We watched out tents gather ice on the roofs and decided now was the time to break out the port and Baileys.  One must do all they can to keep warm.  As we all toasted to surviving the night, a 4WD came into the camp area and then drove out.  It was pretty weird and unsettling to be honest made worse by Brad deciding the driver was a serial killer looking for their next victims.  He’s a cop so we take his predictions seriously.

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Survival shots

All this and it was only 4.30.  It was dark and all we could think about was going to bed.  We were bored and cold.  We eventually made dinner and were all in bed by 7pm with the wind and rain above us.

Now, with my obsession to reduce pack weight, and a few reviews that said my brand new 2-7 degree celcius sleeping mat would do ok in 0 degree conditions, I laid on it hopefully.  But it was driving stone cold up through my body like the Night King’s ice-breathing dragon was expelling frigid air from the ground beneath me.  I became very remorseful of my decision to test this bit of gear tonight.  I left my nice warm high R rating mat at home.  Grrr.  I started by putting an emergency blanket under it.  Nup, didn’t work.  But it did help when I put even more layers on and the emergency blanket on top of my mat.  I do believe my words to Kane during what must have been for him a very annoying half hour of me noisily getting things right and warm, were that I may need to set off the emergency beacon in fear of developing hypothermia!  Drama much?  That’s me!  But I was genuinely worried.

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Ice on the tent and it’s only 5pm 😲

The wind and rain continued all night and by 10pm I needed to pee but there was no way in freezing hell I was getting out of that tent and I managed to hold on until a very surprising 8am (thanks Mersydol).  I was the first up and frankly that’s impressive given I was sure to die that night.

 

Day 2 – Black Range to Cox River 19kms

With a late start and 19kms to get through we high tailed our packing up and breakfast in order to get a move on.  But we were spooked by the same creepy 4WD returning to see what we were up to again this morning.  That provided lots of opportunities throughout the day to speculate on his motives.

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Heading out on Day 2

It wasn’t raining when we left but it was still pretty cold.  The track was very mundane for a good 8kms.   It was all shared fire trail with noisy motor bikes. But to our delight the clouds eventually dissipated and the sun made an appearance.  Claudy loved the look of the dense bush which she related to the paintings of Australian Impressionists Tom Roberts and Fredrick McCubbin.

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Just like a painting

I found another dead animal on the track.  Sadly this pretty little native bird was killed by a motorbike rider as it had track marks on it.  Broke my heart.  I don’t believe motorbikes should be allowed in National Parks.  I think that’s fair.  There has to be a sacred space where our precious flora and fauna are safe.

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I’m sorry the motorbike killed you little birdy 😓

It was really fun to mix it up a bit and do a few creek crossings as we got closer to our planned lunch spot, Alum Creek.  It was as lovely small camp area with the cleanest pit toilet I’ve ever been in.  I say this because toileting is a part of hiking and when a nice toilet presents itself, well it’s worth a mention.

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Creek crossings were fun

From here we started a hard and long ascent where Kane walked ahead and wrote love notes to me in the rising track which eventually transformed into the hardest and longest descent any of us had ever undertaken.  It went for kilometers and was unrelenting and extremely steep in some sections.  There were no stairs though.  It was all fire trail and the surface was gravely sandstone and quartz creating what Brad referred to as marbles.  Yep.  There were plenty of slides.  It took its toll on our knees.  It’s difficult to use hiking poles effectively on this type of surface it turns out.

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Declarations of love in the track ❤

During our descent we came across a few other hikers making their way to where we just spent the night.  Some stayed in the Eco Lodge next to what would be our new camping digs for tonight.  They spoke of warm dinners, coffee and booze…. bloody cheats.  Not hardcore like us.

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Hardcore hikers 😉

Honestly, it took forever to get to the camp.  The descent got more and more difficult.  We did pass through a beautiful gully that dinged with the sounds of what must have been twenty Bell birds.  That was special.  We also started passing through some gates.  The fresh animal dung littering the track was a gentle reminder that we were never really alone.

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Heading down into the gully with the bellbirds
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There were lots of gates to pass through

Cox River camp was nice.  There were kangaroos and a solo hiker there to welcome us.  We wandered down to the pretty rock strewn river.  The water was icy cold but fresh and clear.  We cranked up the camp stove and enjoyed a cuppa before setting up our tent.  Other hikers started turning up and there ended up being another five people in camp compared to last night when us four were all alone.

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Our tent set up at Cox river campsite

The weather was nicer and were weren’t in a hurry to get to bed this afternoon.  There were some more sneaky ports and Baileys but they were for our enjoyment this evening rather than survival.  Kane spotted a fox hanging around our tent.

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Cox River shelter shared with others

My bedding was set up much better this night.  I used 2 x emergency blankets this time and other warming strategies (Thanks for the extra silver blanky Claudy xxx).  Kane and I played “I Spy” until we got the shits with each others choices and it was nice to fall asleep with the sound of the river flowing over the boulders. Something pinged one of our guy lines during the night, no doubt smelling the food in the tent which I suggested should be strung from the rafters of the shelter but no one listens to me.

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Our tent at night

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When “I Spy” was fun to start with

Day 3 – Cox River to Katoomba
16kms

Warm but with a wet down sleeping bag from my breathing and the condensation in the tent, I woke at 6am to the distinctive noise of a growling kangaroo.  We boiled the billy up at the shelter and sipped on hot drinks watching the sun rise over the range and waiting for Brad and Claudy to wake.  We were off at 8am with Brad all drugged up following a significant knee injury yesterday.

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Heading off on Day 3

We walked past the tempting but taboo Eco lodge on what became a smaller single file trail for a good 6 or 7 kms alongside the Cox River.  Early on we crossed the famous suspension bridge (famous in Cox River anyway).  I led out mostly today and noticed heaps of tracks of human shoes and bikes but most notably a very large paw print.  Only one but it was really big.  I should have taken a photo.

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Fun on the suspension bridge crossing the river

We passed through some gates and then transitioned from National Park to farm land where the track widened again.  We saw goats, horses, cattle and sheep and we all joked about how my Kiwi husband Kane was doing well to contain himself.  Most importantly we passed a vineyard and winery and I didn’t even go in!  Now that is containing oneself.  Many of the gates were actually ladders over the fences.  We eventually crossed the only road traveling through the Megalong Valley and continued along the fire trail, Brad and I hobbling along with our sore knees and Kane and Claudy up front with their body’s intact.

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The vineyard and winery we didn’t stop at 😥

As we were coming up to the site of an historic old village, now a horse paddock with foundation stones and scribbly gums everywhere, I needed to poo.  Sorry but I did and I found the absolute perfect private sheltered spot with very little undergrowth.  I thought I’d hit the hikers toilet jackpot.  But no.  As I went to hitch my pants down I spotted a camera tied to a tree!  I shit you not! Pardon the pun.  I knew it was too good to be true.  It was at about squat height too so I had to delve deeper into the forest.  They must have been tracking animal movements (not human “movements”).  Anyway the weird thing was that Brad kept going and saw a large paw print, just one, that made him stop and wonder.  He mentioned it to me as he found it odd.  Sounded just like the one I saw earlier that morning.  Maybe the camera was to produce definitive evidence of the fabled Blue Mountains Panther! Well that’s my theory and I’m running with it!

Gorgeous old dead tree and impressive fungus along the way

We stopped by a small creek for a billy lunch then continued what was to be our last 6kms of steep and steady ascent into Katoomba.  This would include 600 steps through rainforest surrounded by the sheer orange cliffs the Blue Mountains is famous for.  Kane actually counted 502 steps but they were the timber supported ones not the additional sandstone stairs.

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Billy lunch by a small creek

It was cool and wet through here with recent rains causing some sections of the stairs to become waterfalls.  It was muddy, sludgy and slippery.  This was tough.  All the steps had different heights and widths.

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The stairs just didn’t let up

 

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Surrounded by spectacular but intimidating sandstone cliffs

We were all exhausted and relieved to reach the top.  But no.  No that wasn’t the damn end!  We still had to continue on a steep ascent for another 300-400 metres, just a little bit of extra torture on the quads, knees and calves before we made the end point where the car was waiting for us at Explorer’s Tree.

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Feeling sore but accomplished at the end

We had been hoping for cold weather on this trip to test gear and identify holes in our strategies for our recently booked October trip to Tasmania for the Overland Track again (we are anticipating wet cold conditions for that).  So the hiking gods bestowed what should be similar conditions on the Six Foot.

I’ve learned never to sacrifice weight for comfort in anticipated freezing conditions again but I love my Nemo tensor for warmer climates.  I’ll never hike in the rain again without my North Face rain pants.  They were a ripper.  We definitely need more food in the cold.  Our fancy Zpacks tent did the job but Brad and Claudy’s double shell tent didn’t get any condensation while we got heaps (which is bad for down fabrics).  It might become our summer tent.  Some more squats and quad work is required by all for the OT.  And finally, check for cameras when using the old bush “toilet” and watch out for serial killers.

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