When we were on the BNT, Z and I took a side trip down to the Jenolan Caves, where we were surprised to find a mob of fellow backpack-toting, chip-munching hikers in the cafe.
“They must be on the BNT too!”, we whispered to one another, excited at the prospect of finally sharing this surprisingly under-utilized trail with other campers.
Alas, we were soon to discover that these folks were not on the BNT, had never HEARD of the BNT, and in fact were walking the Six-Foot Track.
The Six-Foot Track
The NPWS website describes the track as a challenging 3-day hike, winding through state forests and the Blue Mountains National Park from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, passing rivers and waterfalls.
Having recently flown to Sydney for a work thingy, I decided to squeeze in a sneaky trek on the Six-Foot track.
I disembarked the red-eye flight from Perth, running on caffeine and a heady anticipation of being back in the mountains again. By midday I was at the trail head in Katoomba, scoffing three days worth of strawberries and mangoes and checking my water filter for the third time. (BNT Lesson No. 87: Never pack mangoes on a bushwalk).
The sign nearby was adamant that it was a 7 hour hike down to the campsite at Cox’s River, so I decided I’d better get a move on. I was so buzzed, I practically skipped my way through the Megalong Valley. All my long-lost BNT friends were here- swamp wallabies and currawongs, stringybarks and scribbly gums, with not a karri tree in sight.
I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face and it suddenly hit me how much I missed all this, even the crazy bitey ants that seem more than ready to pick a fight when compared to their more sedate cousins in the west.
Just like coming home….
So why does it feel like coming home when I’ve spent my life in the west? Is it because I have spent more time outside on this side of the country than anywhere else?
Somewhere between all those days spent heaving my way up mountains and nights camped under casuarina stands, this part of the country seems to have got under my skin, despite the rather grumpy moutain poem I once penned. Put a small dose of mountains together with walking, and I was in my happy place.
“Hi guys!,” I felt like calling as I spotted a pair of crimson Rosellas overhead. This state of otherworldly bliss continued until I spotted the swing bridge over the Cox’s River, after which the silent symphony ground to a halt and my jaw dropped open.
“Hooooooooooly Moly....”, I murmured, gazing with trepidation at the steel contraption. “I’m supposed to cross that?”
Now this may be a good time to mention the four things that scare the heck out of me:
- Confined spaces
- Going fast
In roughly that order. But this August, I’ll be doing something ridiculously crazy that is going to take every ounce of mettle that I’ve got. So in the name of ‘toughening up’ training, I swallowed my fears and
strode edged my way across the wobbly bridge, even making myself give it a good shake in the middle, for good measure.
Be gone, fear of heights!
At the campsite that night, I got talking to a female female hiker.
“Which direction are you headed?”, she asked.
“Up to Black Ridge campsite,”I replied.
“Oh”, she said forebodingly. “You poor thing! That is the most horrendous climb. Have you checked the gradient chart?”
She proceeded to fill me in on all the gory details- steepness of slope, possible water sources and expected temperatures before bidding me good night and good luck.
I went to bed chewing my dirty fingernails. It had been a long time since I’d been scaling slopes on a daily basis. I hoped I still had what it would take.
Day Three on the Six-Foot Track
In anticipation of my mountain, I set out at dawn, armed with four liters of water and a measure of determination. As the trail began to ascend, my legs popped into gear and once again I began to feel like the walking machine I had left behind in Healesville a year earlier.
A few hours later, I stared in disbelief at the sign announcing the Black Ridge campsite.
“Whaaaaaaat? Already? But where was the steep stuff?,” I wondered as I unpacked my tiny tent.
On that note, I would encourage anyone to reassess their definition of steep by tackling the BNT’s Lazarini Spur. I know I did.
The following morning I had a minor meltdown when I realized there was only 8 1/2 walking kilometers between me and a return to work and the city. With the Six-Foot Track done and dusted and a few hours before the bus back to Katoomba was due, I decided to knock another fear off the list.
Otherwise known as being stiflingly stuck in a dark, confined space. With crowds. Double whammy.
When we traveled past on the BNT last year, Zaydee went off on a kids caving tour while I sipped coffee in the sun outside, which suited me well. But not this time. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the experience, and quickly added CAVES to my list of things to get excited about in life.
As I boarded the bus and the haze of blue mountains faded away into the distance, I felt almost like I was leaving a soulmate behind.
“Don’t cry, you woos,” I scolded myself.
But I wasn’t crying for the mountains, nor was it a pining for our long-gone year in the bush. It was a bittersweet recognition that that time could never come again. With Z off to High school next year and Fly not getting any younger, I felt a wave of gratitude that the stars had actually aligned to help everything fall into place for our trek on the BNT.
I remember once asking some fellow BNT-ers whether they’d do it all again if given the chance.
“No,” came the confident answer. “Too many other things worth doing.”
Limping past the finish line in Healesville, I probably would’ve answered the same. After all, I would never read a book twice, and seldom have the patience to sit through an entire movie even the first time. But with the benefit of a year’s hindsight and still intoxicated with a weekend dose of mountain air, I hatched a sketchy plan.
After all, some things are more worth doing than others. “Who says the BNT can’t be done twice?,” I pondered to myself. Perhaps a ten-year anniversary trek might be in order for 2026? This time round, I’d most likely be on my own and the BNT could well be a whole different world of hiker permits and stiff biosecurity laws. But the thought of returned for more than a weekend was comforting.
As the bus neared the train station, I took one last look at the limestone crags, reaching up ambitiously into the endless blue sky.
“I’ll be back,” I whispered. “One day.”