Getting outdoors is good for the soul
On Saturday 29 October, a group of intrepid trekkers from GEO and some friends headed out into the wilderness of the Blue Mountains. The plan was to hike the famous “Blue Gum Forest” walk which covers just over 20kms of trails and involves a stay overnight in Acacia Flat.
We all met at Victory Cafe in Blackheath at 9.30am on Saturday. This was to be our last real encounter with civilisation, a chance to meet each other, and get in a final hit of real coffee before powdered milk and instant coffee became the norm.
The group included myself, Rob and Gwok, Floody, Phil, Nick, Kaino, Rach, plus some friends from outside of the GEO – Brian, Michelle and Digger (Jess). Just as a side note, everyone who is competing in the Pan Pacs Masters Comp next week was on the hike – an interesting observation I made.
Despite the weather forecast all week predicting a high probability of rain, spirits were high. At this point, the temperature was about 11 degrees, and visibility was very low due to a heavy fog that hung over the mountains, but that just meant it was going to be great walking conditions – not too hot, not too cold.
We set off from Govetts Leap (just down the road) at 10.30am. Everyone had their own tent, sleeping bag, and food. For some that equated to about 10kgs of gear and for others it was about 20kgs. When we reached camp, we were to discover why there was such a difference in individual’s gear.
The first leg of the walk took us south along the cliff top to Evans Lookout. Part of the attraction of this walk are the spectacular views over Grose Valley, the sheer cliff walls, and the other peaks off in the distance. Unfortunately we could only steal small glimpses of this due to the still heavy fog. Nonetheless, the walk was pleasant and gave everyone an opportunity to get to know each other and make adjustments to their packs.
About 90 minutes later, after walking through some dense bush and seemingly away from civilisation, much to everyone’s dismay, we arrived at a carpark. It was Evans Lookout. From the reactions of everyone, it would seem that the consensus was we were well and truly on our way into the deep dark forest……….Ah, not yet. Tourist buses pulled up and unloaded passengers. Mothers pushing prams walked down to the lookout. And the only working pit toilet gave some the opportunity to offload some weight.
We headed off from Evans Lookout onto the real trail that would take us down into the valley. We immediately started descending, firstly through some dry native style bushland – lots of grasses, grevilleas, gums etc, then the landscape changed to a moist, green rainforest system with creeks and ferns and moss lining either side of the track.
About 45 mins on from Evans Lookout we stooped atop a rocky area at the foot of a waterfall to have a bite to eat and take 5. Nick and I consulted the topographic map to try and work out exactly where we were. We looked at the map and compared it to the surrounding landscape. We checked the position of the sun and compared that with the moss growing on the side of trees to decide we were currently at Beauchamp Falls. It was a nice little stop and we met some other trekkers – one, a group of young hippies heading in the same direction, and the other, a young group of Japanese, not really looking like they knew where they were going, but heading in the opposite direction.
To this point all was well. We had been hiking for about 2 hours and there were no injuries or run ins with the native wildlife. We set off following the creek (Greaves Creek) with sheer walls rising high off to our right and the stereotypical Australian native bush vegetation off to the left. The trail took us over some creek junctions and through bush that was obviously enjoying the Spring weather and was encroaching on the narrow track. For the most part, the walking was pretty easy going.
There were some changes in the order of where people were in the pack which allowed everyone to chat with someone different and get to know each other a little more deeply than what had been the case to date.
About 3.30pm we heard the first rumble of thunder. We thought we were going to avoid rain altogether, but the empty space between each boom of thunder became shorter and shorter, and getting wet now seemed inevitable. The hippy group we had met at Beauchamp Falls (who had left that point before us) were stopped at Junction Rock (a cross section of waterways). By this stage our group was quite elongated along the trail and there was some distance between those in the front and those at the back. The lead pack saw this as the perfect opportunity to put the foot down and get to the campsite ahead of the hippies and secure prime real estate. And that’s what they did.
Some big fat rain drops started to fall but it was bearable. About 4pm Rach and I (the back of the pack) arrived at Acacia Flat to see everyone setting up homes for the night. There was another group of campers off to the side who were already settled in. The worse thing to happen when you are camping is to set up your tent while it is raining. Well, that was what we were now doing. Some of us were halfway to being set up when Gwok emerged from the trees about 50m away and informed us that there was a nicer spot with softer ground just on the other side of the trees.
We begrudgingly pulled up camp and dragged everything to this new site, proclaimed by Gwok to be Nirvana. The camp site was quite large and exploring the area revealed that there were lots of nooks and crannies you could camp in. Our site looked as good as any with a bit more space and a few extra blades of grass than the last one so we settled in.
Just like a scene out of “Survivor”, tribe members were then tasked to A – start a fire; B – collect water; C- prepare the cheese, crackers, olives, salami and quince paste platter. Like I said, just like “Survivor”.
It seemed Happy Hour was called and after getting the chores out of the way, and performing a highly skilled operation of burning a leech from Robbie’s leg, we settled down to said cheese platter along with red wine, vodka and orange and a bottle of “Sailor Jerry’s” Rum. I now knew why some people had heavier packs than others. A variety of dehydrated meals were prepared – Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb casserole, Beef stew, Mushroom Risotto. Kaino and I went old school and ate Maggi noodles.
As the sun set, some went for a wash in the creek whilst others staked their claim by the fire and enjoyed the serenity of being away from the stress of their everyday lives back home. There’s definitely something to be said about finding the time to commune with Nature and remove yourself from your creature comforts, iPhone, Facebook, TV, email, the News, even your family. The opportunity to just switch off, breathe deeply and appreciate the sights and sounds of Nature is highly underrated.
The night was spent gazing into the campfire, trying 6 different types of Lindt Chocolate and sipping on Green Ginger Wine. About 10.30pm everyone turned in.
I woke up to a chorus of native birds singing, and the muted movement of those already up but trying to be quiet as they reignited the campfire and sat down to a brew. Apparently there was a chorus of snoring and farting through the night – I wouldn’t know anything about that. The general consensus was that no-one really slept that well and that those of us who had only recently purchased lightweight hiking tents felt like they had been sleeping in a coffin – these things are small. I had a 2-manner and it was tight. Nick had a 1-manner……poor guy.
We ate breakfast. Some made necessary trips to the world’s worst smelling drop toilet, whilst others went for a walk into the bush. About 9.30am we headed off for our trudge back out of the valley. It was soon quite apparent that this was going to be a tough day with humidity levels high, and the ascent being dramatic and relentless. It was a shorter walk compared to yesterday but the difficulty of the trail meant we were going slower and stopping more often. Being CrossFitters though, everyone pushed on and we eventually got to the top after a couple of hours. Calves, hips and knees were screaming out but we were there. We now had a 3 km walk along a dirt road that seemed to go for 10 kms, then we popped back into the bush at Pulpit Rock. The views here were amazing and everyone took the time to soak it all in. By this stage though, we were all keen to finish and just get those packs off our backs. The last part of the trail took us along the clifftop on a winding path with the group now extended over about 1 km.
About 1.20pm the first of us arrived back at the Govetts Leap carpark, happy to have experienced all that the hike entailed, but also happy to have finished it. We were soaked in sweat and hobbling around the carpark, waiting for the others to arrive. Just prior to 2pm, were were all done. Eleven of us set out, and eleven of us returned safely. We were all a little bit broken but better for the experience.
Actually, it couldn’t have been too bad because everyone said they were keen to come on the next one. So for those of you who missed out, watch this space. There will be another hike and it will be in another stunning location with the opportunity again to remove yourself from the headaches and stress of home and work, and just chill.
Thanks to everyone who came along on this trek. You all made it fun and it was nice to get to know you on another level.
Lets do it again some time.