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Saturday, February 26, 2011

K2K (or at least, to Carlon's Farm)

The K2K is a classic walk from Kanangra Walls in the Kanagra Boyd National Park to Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains. The usual route time for serious walkers is 3 days, though many do it in 4. Some masochists do it in 2, and some people run it. Madness!

Initially we plan on four days, to allow time for side trips to Splendour Rock and other viewpoints, but pressure of work and the looming semester make us attempt it in 3. We also decide to end the walk at Carlon's Farm, near Blackheath, rather than slog back to Katoomba along the Narrowneck Plateau one more time. Enduring dreadful traffic leaving Sydney, as usual, we get dropped off (Thanks, Karola!) at the Kanangra Walls lookout on the western side of the Blue Mountains at lunchtime.

This is the point at which the slight snafu emerges (which explains inter alia why there are fewer and less good photographs in this blog entry. There are some more photos by another member of the party here). Most parties attempting this walk camp out overnight to get an early start. It's well into the afternoon when we are on the track, with 13km to the next reliable source of water, and allowing for the odd navigational snafu, it'll be a tight day. Later when we realize that there's some chance we might not make it, we also realize that while we have a day in reserve, we didn't make this clear to our emergency contacts or the police with whom we had registered the walk. So if at all possible we should try to keep to three days.

Anyhow, the beginning of the walk is spectactual indeed. While the Kanangra Walls need to be seen in the morning (they face eastish) the landscape itself is amazing. We walk through alpine heath, along the edge of the mighty walls:

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The opposite side of the Kanangra Gorge is striated to form the Thurat Spires; you can see some of this striation here:

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And a closer view here:

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See the little waterfall in the previous image? It's not little. The gorge is about 500m deep at this point. The falls plunge down the walls in a series of steps - here's an image that gives the idea.

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After this there's lots more walking though the tops. A very scenic feature, though a worrying one, is the amount of dead Banksia, Isopagon and Persoonia. Fire or disease? Unsure, but they are all Proteaceae, so that might mean a common susceptibility to a fungus like Phythoptera. The next image shows not only this, but also the ridge line that we will be walking across and some of the peaks that we will cross: Crafts Walls with the yellow cliffs, Mt Berry, Mt High and Mighty, Mt Stormbreaker, and finally, in the distance, Mt Cloudmaker, where we mean to camp.

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At first it seems like it will be hard to get down off the plateau to the ridge line, but then we realize that the Kilpatrick Causeway, a knife-edge of rock, rises up close to the level of the plateau. Finding the descent to the causeway, though, turns out to be less easy that it ought. We are almost at it, then we turn back, then we eventually find it: all the while losing valuable time.

By the time we get to the Crafts Walls, we realise that time is running out. We wonder if there is accessible water at Gabes Gap, the lowest point on the walk, which would allow us to either camp there, or else on one of the peaks following if we don't make it to the campsite at Dex Creek.

But Gabes Gap disappoints. The west side is dry, and the east side a steep and densely vegetated gully. In such a wet year there probably is water not too far down, but getting to it would be very difficult indeed. We decide that we must march on. If we are benighted, we'll just have to eat the moistest food we have, and rely on being close enough to Dex Creek that we won't get dangerously dehydrated before we reach it in the morning

It's around this time that we realize that the howling noises we hear aren't hoonish bushwalkers, but wild dogs, likely Dingos. They stop whenever we call back to them. Appropriate so near the Wild Dog Mountains and Mt Dingo, but also eerie. It's odd from an Australian perspective to think about any macrofauna (mesofauna?) that are in any way malign.

So it's on the peaks with the iconic names: first Mt Stormbreaker, then the four knolls Rip, Rack, Roar, and Rumble. The definition of a 'knoll' is pretty arbitrary, and we have climbed up and down several rocky outcrops on the ridge when the GPS reveals we are on Rip, the first official knoll! Fortunately, the subsequent knolls have fewer "prequels" than the first, and in little time, to our great relief, we are on Cloudmaker itself! Paul signs us up in the logbook on the summit at 19.00, 15m before sunset.

In the dying light we march on and find the route down to Dex Creek, getting there just when the light goes, so we are pumping water with our torches. But we've made it: well done Sons! Only another 23km to go!

Day 2

Up we get in our leafy hollow; the creek is deep enough that there is little light well after dawn on a clear day:

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Dex Creek is a lovely spot, a little valley on the Gangerang Plateau in the heart of the Blue Mountains. The small creek is surrounded by ferns, and the heathland on the tops gives way to full-sized trees, so the valley is full of green shade. But we have to leave. Finding the path to Carra Top takes a little while, but soon we get some interesting views. You need to get this far into the mountains to get a real wilderness feel. There is no farmland visible in any direction, even from the peaks, just forest and cliffs. The Blue Mountains towns along the far cliffls are too far away for the buildings to be visible. The cliff to the left in the next photo is the Moorilla Lookout, another great side-trip we have to miss out on for reasons of time.We don't know what the triangular peak in the distance is, but it looks as if it is in the Grose Valley. Mt Hay?

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The day stretches on: we really need to make the Cox River by the middle of the day in order to get to the campsite at Mobbs Soak by dark.

Here's Paul descending a cairned slope en route:

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From Mt Strongleg, we descend 600m to the Coxs River. Hard on the knees, and trekking poles are invaluable. It is now the hottest part of the day, and as we descend the dry, stony soil, scrubby trees and a ubiquitous herb that looks and smells like sage makes for an atmosphere not unlike walking in the south of France. When we finally reach the Coxs River it's well after three, and the temperature must be close to 30C. It's certainly not the time for a 600m ascent up the other side of the valley, so we decide to camp there. Our decision is vindicated when we later try to find the track up to save time in the morning. Coming down from Mt Yellow Dog the track enters a dense belt of trees along the river and spits you out right at the campsite. From the river, however, it is a barely visible gap in the vegetation and we have to sweep across the hillside above the river to hit the track and come down it again to find the entrance.
For someone who knows Australian plants the Cox river itself is not a very attractive spot because it is so infested with invasive weeds. Not too many woody weeds, but the herbaceous vegetation is mainly weeds. It is also crawling with snakes this year. We see four, and there are snake tracks in the sand along the riverbank. Other members of the party ignore these deficiencies and concentrate on the chance to laze about in water only just cool enough to be refreshing.

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Day 3

The big question of the day is whether to attempt to walk out (in effect doing day 2 of the masochists 2 day version of the walk) or to take four days and camp at Mobbs Soak. This is where poor planning gets us - we hadn't told the police or our emergency contacts that we had the fourth day in reserve. So we decide that at least some of us must walk out, and we all decide to go in the light of that.

It is a pretty hard day, but there is something undeniably satisfying after the fact about completing it this way! The day starts with a 600m ascent of Mt Yellow Dog up the Yellow Pup Ridge. Starting at 7.30, and mostly on a south-facing slope, we get to the top while it is still delightfully cool. On top of the Wild Dogs there is a flock of Gang Gang cockatoos flying about, calling to one another with their characteristic 'rusty hinge' call. From here it's on to the slopes of Mt Dingo and then to Mobbs Soak, where we fill up with water and eat lunch.

Then we march on; the toughest part of the day is probably the descent to Breakfast Creek: it's very steep - 400m vertical in 1000m horizontal - and very eroded, and has almost no switchbacks. Basically the track follows the path made by the first person to bash straight down the hillside. Once again, trekking poles are much appreciated to save strain on the knees. Like the day before, we do the descent in bright sunlight in the hottest part of the day.

But after a swim at the creek and refilling water, we are ready to finish: we realize to our delight that we will probably make it to Carlon's Farm by 5.00, in time to meet our lift out.

The climb up is along Carlons Creek, or, if I can remember the words that came to mind at the time, a putrid weedy cloaca of a gully, infested with European Nettle and Brambles. We are getting too close to farmland. But at the end we get to the carpark on time, having earned real stripes by doing day two of the two-day masochists version of the walk. Bravo us!

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This is the very neat and well-equipped National Park carpark at Carlons Farm, with Black Billy Head in the background. There is cellphone coverage here to call the Katoomba Cab company, and surprisingly good rabbit stew (and tolerable pizza for the vegos) was consumed at Blackheath.

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