Hiking the Six Foot Track

In some email correspondence with a friend I mentioned that I intended to walk the Six Foot Track.  He did his research, then responded that I must be “seriously fit”.

Seriously fit?  Me?  Never, don’t think I have ever attained that status in my life.  Seriously daft, yes; seriously tenacious, yes.  Feeling the need for some soul-searching, I decided to walk the track solo, and did it over three days and two nights: Tuesday 19-Thursday 21 April.

Despite my inherent lack of fitness, and an over-heavy pack (all camping supplies were required), I completed the track with a smile on my face.  It took 47km of pure hardship and gruel (I had started in Katoomba, rather than at the Explorers Tree).  Luckily the sun shone, the moon glowed, the shooting star shot, the snake snuck away, the fellow track walkers were fine folk and I ended it all with an overstay at Jenolan Caves House and a venture into two of the many amazing caves there.  I bused it back to Katoomba and drove down the mountains as the skyscape turned beautiful reds, then headed due east on the M4 straight into the rise of the full moon …  a wonderful adventure!

The track starts with a steep descent into Nellies Glen, a damp and downward section through dripping rainforest between the sandstone cliffs of the escarpment.  Continuing along dirt roads, this is not a get-away-from-it-all type of walk.  I passed the occasional car, day trippers, horse trekkers, a vineyard and a number of privately owned properties with open paddocks.  The dampness was quickly left behind and, with dry weather, I walked along dusty trails and tracks.  The rainforest becomes dry gum forests, with sections of granite boulders.

Crossing the Coxs River via the Bowtells swing bridge, I held tightly to my focus, listening to my breathing, not wishing to risk an overbalance against the sides of the bridge.  Reaching the campsite at the end of Day One was a joy.  Toilets, picnic tables, a water tank, metal bench for unpacking my backpack and the river for reviving my weary feet.

Despite walking alone, I never felt scared or concerned.  I knew there were other groups along the track, I was never far from civilisation, the track is highly accessible and I carried suitable safety gear (whistle, phone, first aid kit, locator beacon).  The three other groups and I became campsite buddies, wandering around to each other’s areas, chatting over cups of tea about the experiences of the day.

Day Two is notorious: 20km with much of it up and up and up along dirt road, very little let-up in the up-ness of the track.  I took it one step at a time, lied to Harry in a phone message (“All going well”), had plenty of breaks (though getting the pack onto my back after each stop became harder and harder), swore profusely at the up sections, and thanked the track marker effusively and at great length when only 5km was left for the day.  I was last into the campsite that afternoon.

Day Three was 10km, a lot of it downhill but with one steep up-hill that must have had the steepest gradient of the track.  The scenery was lovely: open forest, tall trees and a steep-sided valley down into the Jenolan Caves area.  I earned cheers from my trackmates when I joined them at the bistro – Six Foot Track finished!

My intent to soul-search was lost in the effort of taking each step forward; my focus turned to sole-searching as I gazed at the footprints left in the dust.  Spotting a spider imprint on one, I later found out that I was following the footsteps of a fellow hiker; it cheered me no end to realise I had literally been walking in his footsteps; a warm, open and friendly man, his trail had pulled me onwards to the day’s end.

TRACK NOTES: there was water in both the Coxs River and Black Range campsite water tanks.  A new toilet has been installed at the Alum Creek campsite.  Mobile phone coverage is very patchy along with track.

 

STATISTICS

DAY ONE: Bathurst Street, Katoomba to Coxs River Campsite

  • 17.7km (6 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Ascent 430m
  • Descent 1210m

DAY TWO: Coxs River Campsite to Black Range Campsite

  • 20km (8 hours)
  • Ascent 1310m
  • Descent 400m

DAY THREE: Black Range Campsite to Jenolan Caves

  • 10km (3 hours, 20 minutes)
  • Ascent 330m
  • Descent 720m

TOTALS

  • 47km
  • Ascent 2,070m
  • Descent 2,330m
  • 17 hours, 50 minutes
  • Highest point 1212m
  • Lowest point 273m
  • Quote

Inside a Lava Lamp

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How surreal is international travel?

I sit on a Finnair flight overflying Greenland, the sounds of Gurrumul in my ears, the plane’s “Down Camera” displays an unfolding landscape of ice, mountain tops, scarred rock, water, bergs, glaciers. Meantime Harry sits beside, watching an American movie drama unfold, and chews Finnish lollies filched from his dad’s secret stash.

Greenland anyone?20130704-142014.jpg 20130704-142105.jpg20130704-142211.jpg20130704-142338.jpg

Finding my feet in Finland

I’ve been here for one week now, and slowly this country is sinking into me. There are trees everywhere, or at least where I have been. Granite outcrops too. As this is summer, the fields are full of ripening crops. The strawberries have ripened early, the visiting foreign workers who usually pick the crop are not yet here so much of this year’s crop could go to waste. Roadside stalls sell these fragrant berries by the litre, along with peas. We have popped many peas from their pods and enjoyed the sweetness.

Though it is summer, with long nights, in fact nights that never get dark, the reminders of the Finnish winters are everywhere. Windows are at least double-glazed, most homes have triple-glazed panes. Doors are heavy too, to keep out the winter cold. Buildings have a neat arrangement by the mats, three brushheads for cleaning off the snow.

Public toilets here have fascinated me, not many have noisy air blowers for hand drying. Instead a much more civilised arrangement with old-fashioned rolls of towel that wind and reset to clean linen for the next user. The unisex toilet booth in the photo – well, I’ll let you identify the urinal, the pulldown seat, the water tap and the air hand drier.

Staying with Harry’s family I am surrounded by talk in Finnish. I let the words flow around me, while attempting to look engaged. I am now tempted to throw in some nods, and gestures, or light laughs, guessing where the conversation flows, or were I clever enough, some made-up Finnish-sounding utterances, but I think I would scare everyone. They all speak English too, and all talk to me as well in my language. It does feel odd, they may all chat without my comprehension in their secret language, but all understand anything and everything I say.

No signage here is in English (except at tourist spots), all words are in Finnish, with Swedish in some areas. Swedish seems to be more decipherable to me, Finnish is completely in code. Harry manages all our negotiations in shops and cafes, however once people realise I can only speak English, they are very helpful and try out their English on me. I have learned just a few Finnish words… kiitos (thank you), vanha (old), tie (road) and kahvi (coffee). A useful selection! None of which I can pronounce.

The weather is mostly warm and sunny. The darkless nights are incredible. Like in Scotland, it is difficult to settle to bed with such light. I use my airline eye shades to sleep.

Staying with Finns, I am lucky to taste the “Finnish Summer House” experience. Usually a timber cottage hidden in the woods, close to the water’s edge, a lake or the sea. The summer house of Harry’s parents is just a short drive from their home in the outer suburbs of Helsinki, however it feels a world away. Like many summer houses it has no electricity. There is a sauna of course, many surrounding trees and some picturesque granite boulders. The ground is covered by ripening blueberries. The lake water is warmed by the sun.

We have also visited the summer house of two friends which is by the sea. Although the sea seems more lakelike to me – with so many islands in view, no tides to speak of and no waves. Theirs is more upmarket having electricity and water piped to the kitchen from a deep bore. However their toilet is separate, a dry long-drop affair, like most. They have a sauna cottage with guest quarters where we stayed for two nights. Jaako and Teija were wonderful hosts, feeding us royally and providing a range of wines from many parts of Europe.

Interestingly all bottle shops here are government run. A few pokie machines are located at the edge of the supermarkets. The facilities for cycling are excellent, with cycle ways kept separate to roads. The MAMIL species is very much in evidence here, zooming by on their speedy roadsters. The motorways have signage showing current air temperature as well as current road surface temps.

Visiting some friends and family in the city of Turku, we happened on a marathon and a medieval festival, both events provided much entertainment.

[Photos to follow]

The Never-Ever Trip

Choosing Tony Hammock of Seafreedom Kayak was a great move. Although originally English, he’s lived with a view to the Falls of Lora for the past nine years, and does literally know this area like the back of his hand. He’s also a 5 star BCU kayak coach with a great love and knowledge of his wide backyard.

He got our measure during our first day paddling with him on the Falls, coaching us in the art of breaking in and out of moving waters, checking that we were comfortable with rescues while we settled into the Northshore Atlantic (Harry) and Atlantic LV (me) kayaks.

The town of Oban appealed to us both, a scenic spot with Cal Mac ferries, fishing boats and sail boats coming and going In the busy harbour. The local Tesco supermarket was handy for our trip food shopping.

Day One started with a smooth crossing from Crinan to the island of Jura, all leisurely and relaxed, until the famed Gulf of Corryvreckan lived up to its name as a wild and challenging place. For some unknown reason the flow was faster than would be usual for the tidal range for the day. What should have been a quick sprint round a headland against the tidal stream became an Epic. Our first two attempts to break free of the 6-7 knot current ended with us resting in the eddy behind a little island for the second time, a curious seal wondering what the hell we were doing. Perhaps Tony and Harry would have made it, but not me; so the plan was changed and we turned to head back to our lunch spot, a quiet bay protected from the currents. I made a novice’s error and quickly paid the price – swimming the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

Tony and Harry were with me in a flash, I hooked back into the flooded cockpit (so glad I’d practiced this move over and over with Peter), and tightly rafted we rode the wild waters. Once I got my breath back, I pumped out the cockpit and sticking right on Tony’s tail, copying his every turn and edge, we eddy-hopped and ferry-glided our way back to calm and reassuring waters.

I can laugh at it all now, but right then, it was dramatic and I was totally engaged in every moment and paddle stroke.

From there we progressed; a night on Jura, a meander along the stunning northern section of the west Jura coast, a lunchtime stop on a beach, with a raised beach, and a choice to have an adventure. With a good forecast, we left the shoreline and paddled the twenty kilometres out to the island of Colonsay.

Tony’s way of running our trip was excellent. We’d started with an outline of a trip, and as we went, and as we got the weather forecasts, Tony would throw some suggestions our way. He included us in all the decision-making, offering ideas of what would work given the weather, tides and potential campsites.

With two long days under our belts, Day Four was a leisurely meander among the picturesque Garvellachs. We’d camped on Eileen an Naoimh with its ancient dwellings, a holy place since the times of St Brendan and St Columba. From this island group we moved to the Black Isles for lunch on yet another hidden away and stunning beach. Our next move was a real eye-opener for Harry and I. If you could imagine the capital letter D, we wanted to start at the base of the straight line and end up at the top. But rather than kayaking along that straight line, we followed the curve of the D, moving through and across the tidal flow, again under Tony’s careful coaching, turning at exactly the correct spots while finally landing right on the narrow beach at the top of that D. Too far left or right and we’d have been swept past the island. The use of transits was so important here, the need to judge how the water was moving our kayaks relative to the land.

And Tony’s navigation wasn’t the only magic part of this short section. Two dolphins came to accompany us, swimming under and between our kayaks, moving above the water solo and as a coordinated pair.

So our Never-Ever trip: the weather had never-ever been this good in twenty years, the currents had never-ever run this fast at this tidal range, the low tide had never-ever been this low (for this tidal range), Tony had never-ever taken clients to Colonsay and the Garvellachs like he did us, had to end. Day Five we left our windy, and midge-free, campsite on the island of Luing going to Puffers Cafe on the island of Easdale for morning tea (actually some great coffee), wending our way up the eastern side of the Firth of Lorne, and completing our journey on the slipway at Oban.

[Photos to follow]

A Journey

Qantas A380, bound for Dubai

Qantas A380, bound for Dubai

Glittering Dubai Airport

Glittering Dubai Airport

Traveling across the world puts me in a zone apart from normal time, the hours of airport and airplane air seem to suspend regular existence.

Flying Sydney to Melbourne, where we boarded an Airbus A380 to Dubai, was the start of forty hours of travel.

The shine and sparkle of Dubai’s airport added to the surrealness of our journey. The early morning call to prayer echoed hauntingly through the huge halls. By early evening we walking along the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow, ready for bed.

[More photos to follow]