We wander in and wonder at the beauty of our "Land Down Under".

Sunday, 12 May 2013

On to the fabulous Blue Mountains!

Before we left the Point Perpendicular area, we had a day of stocking up supplies, doing the laundry and a bit of sightseeing in the local area. Just mundane things, really. But we did have a fish-and-chips-fix at a place called Pelican Point. There were lots of pelicans. Di took a bunch of photos but I think this is probably one of the best:

We decided that we'd like to travel by backroads as much as we could on our way to the Blue Mountains. When we looked at the map, going via Kangaroo Valley and Bowral seemed to fit the bill. Here's the route we took:

The road up to Kangaroo Valley was steep and twisty, a great route for a hard bike race I thought to myself as we wound our way up into the hills. Much to our surprise, a large group of extreme skateboarders came streaming down through the bends past us. They looked to be having a whale of a time. Moving at quite a pace, they must have thought there was some risk of coming off as they were all wearing substantial protective headgear. Very impressive!

There was some beautiful farming land between Kangaroo Valley and Bowral (and beyond), much of it tied up in large, very affluent properties by the look of it.  In fact, some of the houses we glimpsed, along with their impressive grounds and entrance-ways, spoke of absolute bagfuls of money. 

Speaking of impressive grounds, we were blown away by the Chevalier College as we entered Bowral. Their grounds were estate-like in size and very well-groomed, so much so that Di decided to check out the school on the internet.  It's a Catholic college owned by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and looks like it would be a pretty good place to go to send your kids if you wanted a nice, religion-based education for them - but maybe not given the linking of this school to child sex abuse in the Broken Rites investigations

Bowral is much more well-known as being the home of "The Don", aka Sir Donald George Bradman, Australian sporting hero and icon in the peculiar world of international cricket. Regarded as the best batsman of all time, Bradman invariably comes up in conversation when a new batting star emerges on the international scene. If you're mad enough to listen to the cricket on the radio when out working in the garden or the man-cave, sooner or later you're bound to hear the term "Bradmanesque" bandied about. Hmmm. Seem to be on a bit of diversion here ...

On to the fabulous Blue Mountains, eh! We arrived at Mount York early in the afternoon and set up the camper. Here's what she looked like when we finished:

Just the basic set-up for this stop as there are lots of trees around and the evenings are pretty short. As there wasn't that much daylight left by the time we finished we decided to have a bit of a look at the crag with the view to doing some climbing the next day. Once we started exploring we discovered this was the site of the first road built through the Blue Mountains.  Constructed over a six month period from July 1814 to January 1815 by convict labourers under the direction of William Cox, the road they built improved access to the interior for farmers and graziers. Much evidence of that early work remains. Here fence rails were set into the rock face, apparently to keep stock from falling off the cliff ...

... as this sign attests:

The next image shows a gutter carved into a rock slab to divert water away from the road ...

... and we can,t be sure, but these steps may also date back to that time:

We did go climbing the next day at Mount York, and did five pitches, ranging in grade from 14 to 18. Actually it was a bit demoralising, as we found the grading a bit harder than what we'd been doing at Mount Arapiles. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable day out. The route with the best climbing was something called "The Obituary", which the guide warns as having been the scene of a number of fatalities. That seemed rather strange, as it was a very well-protected crack. The route with the best name was something called "Currawongs and Chocolate Cake". (There's usually a story behind the name of a climb, and it would be good to hear this one).

The next day we decided to take ourselves off to Mount Boyce to do a couple of easy, five-star classics. The first was something called "The Eyrie", probably so named because of the wonderful belay in the cave just below the top. This is one of the views from there ...

... and, looking the other way:

After we climbed The Eyrie, we did a route with another great name: "Another Man's Juliet".
Here's a photo Di took of me just starting the crux, which was steeper than it looks here:

That was a Friday, and we'd arranged to meet with a bunch of other climbers for a Blue Mountains farewell to Bob McMahon. Some great stories were told and too much grog drunk: the perfect send off. Di and I felt rather under the weather the next day and  not fit at all for climbing, but okay for a bit of Blue Mountains sightseeing and a couple of short walks. After a late start we cruised around to the very scenic Perry's Lookdown. Here's a photo from the top:

Even though it is late autumn, there are still lots of native shrubs in flower. Here's a Heath Banksia ...

... and a Hairpin Banksia (there are heaps of these about):

From there we strolled to the nearby Anvil Rock ...

... and a cave-like feature that seems to have been shaped by wind erosion. If you look closely you can spot Di in the lower centre of the photo:

During our slight exertions, Di felt the need for a little lie-down ...

As you will see from the next photo, the seat is a lovely memorial 
to a woman who lived a long time and loved the bush:

I'm not sure I care to be around for the ninety-four years old Joyce managed, but I'd be very pleased if someone put a seat like this up on Mount Wellington somewhere for folks to remember me by.

When we returned to camp that afternoon, Di went for a wander around the the crag and took a number of shots that show the wonderful work the Blue Mountains Cliff Care is doing around the base of some of the more popular routes to prevent further erosion. Here is one of them:

A little while later she got this picture in evening light of the Explorers Monument ...

... and this beauty of a majestic gum tree:

After our day of R & R we felt much restored and decided to head to Mt Piddington for  a couple of days of climbing, which is regarded as having the greatest concentration of quality, moderate routes in the Blue Mountains. And what a terrific time we had! On the first day we did three five-star classics - including the fabled "The Eternity". In case you're interested,
I've just found this amusing Youtube video made using a GoPro camera on a stick:

The next day we were a little tired, so we did some easier routes, but still of great quality. One of them was the fantastic Tombstone Wall. Here's Di leading up the arete after the traverse:

And another photo of her on an under-graded slab called Sincerity:

Unfortunately, the next morning we awoke to find that Di's iPad Mini had died, and that our so called Telstra "Ultimate" Mobile Modem was also playing up. Fortunately, there is an Apple shop in nearby Katoomba, the main tourist destination and historical centre of the Blue Mountains, so we drove down the road and dropped off Di's iPad. Had it not been "personalised" with an engraving, we could have had a replacement the next day. As it is, we're hoping to have it back tomorrow. If not we'll have it forwarded to us in Cairns. Next stop was down the western slopes of the mountains to the nearest Telstra shop in Lithgow, the hometown of Marjorie Jackson, aka "The Lithgow Flash". 
A helpful technician reset the device with the latest software, 
which seems to have solved the problem (fingers crossed!)

The next day we thought we'd investigate the James Bond crag in the Megalong Valley, which the guidebook promises has "all day sun in winter". While it's not quite winter yet, it seemed to be a good bet for copping some sunshine. No dice. As it turned out the forecast was a bit skew-whiff and we had cloud cover most of the time we were at the crag. Not to worry; another day, another good day of climbing! We did eight pitches - albeit some very short ones. However, we did a lovely three pitch route called Honey Ryder. It was a really sweet climb that largely followed an arete. 

If Katoomba is the tourism centre of the Blue Mountains, Blackheath is certainly seems to be "Climbing Central".  If the weather's good, rock jocks rendezvous in the carpark here before heading off for a day on the rock. The greatest number of crags are scattered around Blackheath and nearby Mount Victoria, which lies just a few kilometres to the west.  Actually, the town is a hub not only for climbing but for outdoor activity in general. There are lots of great tourist walks nearby, some of them nature-based and others suited to the history buff. The Blue Mountains Heritage Centre is also located here.  By the way, you might not have known that the Greater Blue Mountains Area is listed as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site (I certainly didn't), but after spending a week and a half here it is easy to see why. Di was quoting a website a little while ago that stated there are more than 1000 known species of plants in the area. They include the famous Wollemi Pine, one of the world's oldest and rarest plants. It was rediscovered in 1994 after only being known via fossil records, and less than 100 trees exist in the wild (although it is now being propagated commercially). When you put that on top of the incredible geological maze that is the Blue Mountains, no wonder it's rightly regarded of global significance. The area is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, with plenty of bushwalking, canyoning and, of course, climbing to be done. It is also very popular for paragliding, and we spotted two paragliders up in the sky just a couple of hours ago. There is even a local club based here in Blackheath. Here's a Youtube video shot in 2008 which gives you a look at the local environment from the air:

As an aside, Blackheath also bills itself as the Rhododendron Town, and they hold a Rhododendron Festival each year. And there sure are a lot of huge old rhodos around the place.

Well, back to our story. After our day visiting James Bond, we rendezvoused (not in the Blackheath carpark!) with Bruce Cameron, a Blue Mountains climber we had met a few times before with Bob McMahon and re-connected with at Bob's funeral. He was also at Bob's Blue Mountains farewell, and we'd talked about getting together for a climb. He suggested a day out at The Fortress to climb a long easy route called" Tom Thumb", which involves about an hour approach and three abseils of about 50 metres. Sounded like a great day out, so we duly met up at the Leura Mall, a trendy little town just east of Katoomba which just happens to be the jumping off point for The Fortress. After a 20 minute drive we found ourselves at the trailhead. A popular hike for bushwalkers, The Fortress Ridge Track has great views. Along the way Bruce introduced us to the Mountain Devil. Here it is  in bloom ...

... but it really gets its name from the cone it leaves behind:

Surely you can see the two horns and long, pointed beard of the devil?

As we neared the route down to our abseil station, Bruce pointed the direction we were headed:

 Forty minutes into what the guidebook says is a 75 minute hike (Bruce walks fast) we found ourselves at the top abseil. Here's a picture of Di and Bruce ready to rap into the abyss:

Bruce had climbed Tom Thumb a number of times before and was happy for Di and I to do all the leading on this ascent, which was very generous and a real treat for us. I led the first pitch and then Di got on the second pitch, which at about 40 metres long was a real beauty. Here she is negotiating the crux, which occurs early on the pitch:

I got the short but fun third pitch:

Bruce took this snap of us somewhere along the route:

There were six pitches in all, and I got to lead the last one. Here's Bruce coming up to the top ledge  from where we first abseiled:

It's a fair way down, isn't it?

And here we are all at the end of the route, happy and not even too tired:

We were on a mission to get a coffee before Bruce headed for home, 
so he set a cracking pace yet again:

Along the way we got some great views of a number of impressive cliffs. There is just so much rock here, and access can be a bit of an issue, so some of them have yet to be visited by climbers. Here is one such crag:

On the drive back to Leura, we were amused to see this very tame Galah, also known as the Rose-breasted Cockatoo strutting around as if it owned the place:

However, that was nothing compared to the gang of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos that seem to have taken over the coffee shop strip in Leura. We've never seen anything like it. One shop owner had to shoo a cockie away so she could take her sign down before closing up. While we were having coffee another bunch of them were strutting up and down on the window sill of the cafe, eyeballing the snacks of the patrons. Had there not been glass separating us, food would have had to be surrendered I am sure. And, when we emerged from the cafe, a couple of the cheeky beggars were ready to swoop had we had any hint of a snack in our hands. One bold fellow stretched towards me from his perch as if to say, "What? Have you nothing for me you miserly snob!" Amusing and a little disconcerting at the same time. Unfortunately we didn't have the camera handy to illustrate these antics.

During the course of the day, Bruce had suggested we do the Grand Canyon Walk while we were here in the Blue Mountains. As the next day was our scheduled "day off climbing" we decided it was an opportune time to do just that. And what a delightful discovery! We'd put it right up with the best short walks we've ever done, right along with the Dove Lake Circuit in Tasmania for example.

The Parks Service has done and continues to do lots of track maintenance and upgrading. I think I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves:

It's clear that a lot of money is being spent on making this walk more user-friendly, which we found very interesting in light of some of the track work being done on a select number of iconic walks in Tasmania. There is no doubt that our island state needs to keep investing in park infrastructure if it hopes to compete with other places in Australia to attract tourists interested in exploring natural environments. The Cape Hauy walk is one such attraction. We've heard some locals express incredulity at the investment parks has made here, but it sure makes a lot of sense to us.

Yesterday we went climbing at Cosmic County, yet another great Blue Mountains crag. We did three terrific routes and would love to get back there another time. Which leads me to the finale of this post. We've decided to continue our journey north tomorrow, as the weather is meant to take a turn for the wetter initially and then become quite cold after that.  We may stop and have a quick look at Warrumbungle National Park and Mount Kaputar before heading - via Girraween - to Boonah and Frog Buttress for a few days. Hopefully Di's iPad will be ready to pick up tomorrow, otherwise we'll have it sent on to Cairns.  We'll let you know how that all pans out in our next post.

We've really loved it here in the Blue Mountains and intend to come back before too long. We'll try to get here a little earlier in the autumn so the nights aren't quite so cold, and stay a little longer. I can't speak for Di, but to me the area seems such a great environment that I've said to a number of people it is maybe the only place in Australia outside of Tasmania I could seriously contemplate moving to. 

Finally, sorry we don't have a photo of a kangaroo for this post. We did see a couple boxing on our drive back from Cosmic County yesterday, but by the time we stopped the car, turned around and got the camera out, they decided to stop their fisticuffs. C'est la vie, eh? So that's about it for now.
See you next time ...

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