Close to the end of the new year, 2021, my partner decided he wanted to go on an overnight hike. He asked if I wanted to go with him.
He showed me the track. 30km in total, and a lovely campsite to spend the night. Experience required, level of hike 5 (out of 6).
I have plenty of hiking experience. I have been on a camping road-trip through the Canadian Rockies where I hiked 10km+ daily.
I have went on a week-long portaging trip in a Canadian National Park, hopping between, and exploring, small islands in our canoe, sleeping in a sleeping bag under a tarp.
I have explored much of Europe on foot, walking 10km a day easy. If you feel like doing some “light” reading feel free to check out my old blog where I wrote about traveling and living in Europe.
Level 5 experience needed? Please I’m at least a level 6 with how much walking, exercise, and camping experience I have – I thought.
Now in hindsight, what I never calculated into my “resume of hiking experience” was water. Fresh water. We had to take over 10L of water with us because: It’s Australia, it’s summer, and we’re exerting ourselves- water is heavy. In addition to this, my hiking shoes were over 8 years old at this point. And they have been through a plethora of hikes and field work – they were well used.
So with our packs packed the day before, and a good night sleep, we headed on the train to Katoomba, Blue Mountains at 9:30 – we missed the earlier train by 2 minutes.
We walked from the train station to the beginning of the hike. Now the instructions suggest that we take the Scenic Railway (red line) down and then start the track, but we figured, let’s walk the 2km down.
The walk down was really nice. There was even a place to get ice-cream! Which of course we treated ourselves to.
We found a few lyre birds doing a mating dance and singing, and even a red-belly snake on the road happily basking.
Then at about the 10km mark, we got to the rock climbing part of the hike up to “Ruined Castle”. And I mean rock climbing…
I’d say we rocked climbed for a good 1.5-2 hours all together. At some point my knees started to buckled under me, so I had to start using only my upper body strength to pull myself up. Also these rocks were not made for short people, so my partner had to pull me up in some places.
We passed a few campsites along the way, but we decided to make camp at Chinamans Gulley. A small campground where we could make a fire and set up our hammock tents. We also treated ourselves to our canned sardines and bread for dinner, chocolate, and a warm fire, and went to bed.
The night was terrible. It was freezing in the hammock (yes we had sleeping bags). So I kept waking up from shivering. Then, while I was awake around 1 in the morning, I heard my partner get out of his tent and I asked if he was also freezing. He was. So I came up with the brilliant idea that we should huddle in one tent with both sleeping bags. This somewhat solved the temperature issue, but it was crowded to say the least. So in total, I mastered about 3 hours of sleep, and my partner even less than that.
The next morning we made a fire, ate our can of beans for breakfast, packed up, and set off for our last 17km or so to Wentworth Falls.
Now the first half of our walk was fine, similar to the night previous. Hard, but not impossible. Until I started to feel sharp pains in the ball and tip of my feet. It felt like my toes were stepping on nails. Going up was fine, as I typically step on my heel only, but on flat ground or ground at a decline I was in immeasurable pain. We had about 7km left in our hike and I was using my stick more like a cane, rather than a hiking stick.
We came upon a small stream and I soaked my feet in the cool water. The feeling was off relief, but the thought of putting my feet back in my shoes was dreadful. After coming out of the water I used about 20 pieces of plaster of wrap around my toes and now heels – given how painful it was stepping on my toes I started stepping on my heel more, which meant my heel also started to develop blisters. I was bandaging up my feet by the river, when the branch that I was resting my feet on collapsed and my feet hit the ground. The pain shot all the way up my spine and I burst out crying. After the pain and tears subsided, I put my shoes back on and we continued our painful walk home.
Part way through that walk back I was contemplating how hard it would be for a helicopter to land through the trees to pick-me up and drop me off in town. But my partner was very encouraging and helpful, which helped me keep going. He stopped when I needed to rest and offered tons of words of encouragement throughout. Even then, I genuinely thought we may have to stay another night amongst the trees, just so my feet could have a few more hours to recover.
It wasn’t until we reached the last 3km that I realized how slow I was due to the pain. Typically I can walk 5km in 45 minutes, but these last 3km (on a fire trail, so a pretty much a road) it took me 1.5 hours and I was now using two sticks to walk, and my partner had to carry my backpack because my feet couldn’t carry the extra weight.
Reaching the Wentworth track parking lot was bittersweet. We reached the end of the track, but we were 7km away from the train station. We sat in that parking lot contemplating what to do, until I noticed a lovely older couple getting into their car coming back from the track: “are you heading to town?” I pleaded, “if it’s not too inconvenient for you, could you please give us a ride to town?”.
I almost burst into tears again when they said yes.
In conclusion, don’t over-estimate your experience level and WEAR GOOD SHOES!