Some of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning might know how I went camping in the Blue Mountains a while back with our 4WD drive and rooftop tent set up. While camping in luxury compared to the people we saw walking in carrying their own tent and sleeping arrangements in their backpack, I thought who in their right mind would want to put themselves through several hours of hiking with a heavy backpack. Now here I am, preparing for my hike to Everest Base Camp, solo with no guides or porters. It’s amazing how much I have grown ever since I saw these hikers walking into that campsite in the Blue Mountains.
My first agenda was to wear in the new hiking boots that not only cost me a small fortune, but are the single most expensive item of clothing I have ever owned. It wasn’t hard finding a hiking partner as all I had to do was mention wanting to go hiking in the Blue Mountains, few hours away from Sydney and Justyna put her hand up right away. This was to be my first proper hike in the nature with no reception and no water on the trails. I didn’t even have a proper backpack for it, but that wasn’t going to stop me seeing the beauty of the National Pass trail I had seen on so many photos online.
Building the National Pass Trail
"The National Pass hiking track was built with picks, shovels, crowbars and dynamite between 1906 and 1907 for about £430. Much of the track was fairly easy to create as it runs along a claystone ledge separating massive sandstone cliffs above and below. Access to the mid level of Wentworth Falls was the greatest challenge – solved by cutting a zig-zag staircase into the sheer cliff face from the bottom up, then quarrying into a corner of the cliff to create a pathway to the stairs. The Grand Stairway, as it came to be called, is the tallest outdoor staircase in Australia. Construction details are sketchy, but it's said that the project involved its workers being suspended in a Bosun's Chair. At the western end, the claystone ledge fades out several hundred metres before the Valley the Waters. This section required 142 stepping stones and a zig-zag stone staircase partly supported by drystone walling and partly cut into bedrock. The trackbuilders - known as "the Irish Brigade" - had made the inaccessible, accessible. Conservation policies today would prevent the Giant Stairway being built as it involved blasting away some of the cliff face. However this iconic walking track is now regarded as a national treasure." Reference: Tracks into History - Jim Smith, David Beaver and Chris Betteridge for Dept of Environment and Conservation 2006
We left early in the morning to catch a train from Central station towards Wentworth Falls and got to the starting point of our hike four hours later. We got to Wentworth Falls picnic area where our adventure had begun, but we had no idea how to read the map that was out there or which way to go. The start sure seemed promising! Two rangers were kind enough to direct us on the Overcliff track following the cliff line with plenty of lookouts over the vast valley down below. The stunning views were complimented by beautiful green rainforest and bare sandstone cliffs on the horizon. The track was easily followed, maintained and properly signposted.
From the Overcliff track, Valley of the Waters was waiting for us showcasing beautiful waterfalls one after another where eucalyptus and grass trees give way to ground and tree ferns. The track took us down the cliff on plenty of stairs, crossing streams and hearing the water splashing and tumbling before splitting in two. One way leading down to the bottom of the valley with a track rating of hard where’s the other took us on the famous National Pass trail on the side of the cliff with sandstone overhangs peering down on us and little waterfalls splashing down from above. This truly was as beautiful as I had expected and walking along the massive cliffs made me realize how small I was and how powerful nature is in comparison.
We stopped for our packed lunch on a beautiful rock off the track (I know you aren’t meant to go off it) overlooking the beautiful valley and realized 11 am had turned into 4 pm. Not wanting to hike in the dark, we made our break short and sweet in anticipation of the big climb ahead towards Wentworth Falls. The stairs were so steep that going up them without holding on to the burning hot handrails wasn’t an option unless you wanted to fall and break your neck. The highest outdoor staircase-the Grand Stairway with hand carved stone steps is truly a highlight of the whole track. The flat portions of the track were perfect for marvelling on views to Mt. Solitary (which I want to climb) as climbing out from the rainforest cloaking the mid-level of the falls. On top of Wentworth Falls a lookout on the stepping stones greets us being the perfect prize for our 12 km walk offering views on almost one million acres of wilderness-a vast green landscape studded with cliffs, creeks and distant mountains that make up the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park.
As we were making our way off the waterfall, I noticed a half full plastic bottle being thrown over our heads in the bush close to the sheer drop off of the falls. Justyna and I both hate people who litter and especially the ones with no shame doing it over our heads. When the people involved were confronted, they pretended to not being the ones throwing the bottle even though there was no one else there. I should have gone and taken a photo of them as the only thing I could think of putting some sense into them would be public shaming. However, we were better than that, by just picking it up until a bin became available.
Our hike didn’t stop there as we still had to walk to the train station and decided to walk back to civilization through Charles Darvin walk that proved to be so different from what we had experienced during the day. An easy stroll following a board walk on a stream for half of the way that happens to be the same stream that plunges 187 metres into abyss and is the one we were just standing on. An easy walk was exactly what I needed as it would have been a struggle going up any more stairs. For a first hike to break in my boots I had done well and even though my feet were sore and I was exhausted in the end, it gave me confidence that Everest Base Camp is something I can achieve.
Have you been hiking in the Blue Mountains? Which track is your favourite and why? Let’s talk in the comments!
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