Katoomba to Mittagong (131km)

Published on Sunday, January 3, 2021

Where: Katoomba to Mittagong (via Hill Top for reasons below)

When: 2020/12/27 18:00 to 2020/12/30 morning

Distance: 131km, with maybe 30 km of buckwhacking (details below).

Conditions: Day 2 was pretty weird, as it started quite hot, probably around 27C, and then it just opened up and poured. Forecasted to unload 20mm, and I think that felt about right.

Useful Pre-Trip Information or Overview: I found a few GPX tracks and added a several backup tracks in Gaia GPS, but opted to follow the boring “quicker” route. I think the GPX I used was not one that had been recorded, but just one that had been created. This was one of the planning mishaps for my adventure: I overestimated possible pace. The GPX had 5km/hr average. I read previous trip reviews of people saying they could jog the track. It quickly became apparent there was no way anybody would be able to do parts of the track that quickly, so either I went a different way, the track got more difficult, or I haven’t mastered bushwhacking.

A few other prerequisites: I checked that the parks I needed to cross weren’t closed, checked the Cox’s River water gauge at Kelpie Point (0.29m), as well as potential water sources. The most challenging water situation would be on Scotts Main Range, and sure enough, I had to use the water pits, which were pretty dirty. David Noble’s site quoted the walk in the Nattai Valley as “mostly this is easy walking on the riverflats”… more on that later.

My goal was to do it in about 2 1/2 days, but with a backup plan to stay one more night, and/or bail via Hill Top.

The Report: I will try to be concise, but include information if anybody else wishes to do this hike. Considering I think some of the parks only opened quite recently, it doesn't look like anybody has done this track in quite some time. The conditions I encountered were vastly different from the trip reports I have read previously.

Day 0 (21km)

At 17:30 I got off the train and took a cab to Narrowneck Carpark & Gate ($20), and started that long boring walk along Narrowneck. Tarros Ladder has some metal holds, so is pretty easy if you have a light pack and have done some rock climbing, but probably need to be careful if you have a heavy pack. Then over Tarros Ladder Medlow Gap Walking Track, which is now pretty overgrown, and I think next time I would just continue taking the road, but maybe that’s because I was night hiking. Finally, Medlow gap down through White Dog Ridge Firetrail to Kelpie Point Trail, then camped just before Cox’s River.




Looking Fresh

View from Narrowneck

More Narrowneck



View back towards Katoomba


Tarros Ladder easy peasy



Pretty easy climb



Day 1 (42km)

The day started off on the wrong foot, as I decided to walk the Cox’s River before heading up to Mount Cookem. I contemplate in hindsight if I should have gone back up Kelpie Point Trail and come down and crossed Cox’s River a bit downstream, but the walk along the river only took 40 minutes. The problem is that this type of bushwhacking - waist height to above my head - is pretty draining. Additionally, I’m not certain if I could have crossed downstream after the Cox merged with the Kowmung River, as when I tried, the water was quickly above my waist. Eventually, I first crossed the Cox then crossed the Kowmung, then started up to Mount Cookem. I think I came up the the wrong hill, as I had to do a few pretty gnarly rock climbs. Eventually I popped out and hit Scotts Main Range.

Then a long long fireroad walk. The water wells had water, but they quickly clogged my BeFree. Overall just hot and sort of boring, but the most annoying thing was these big flies that would bite me whenever I stopped. They even managed to bite though my clothing.

I started to just wish for something different, and then a downpour started. Probably 3-4 hours of rain, and everything started flooding. No longer was it a problem finding water, as there were now streams forming in the road. The slightly scary part was that there was lightning hitting pretty close, which I didn’t like.
Eventually I managed to come down through Byrnes Gap, and camped between there and Yerranderie, which was my goal for the day. I probably could have gone further, but the rain was starting to get tiring, and I had a big blister forming (more details in the gear review below).

Remember to look out for dead branches before camping, especially after all the fires.
9hr 19min moving time, but 11hr elapsed time, and at 13:11/km pace (inc the bushwhack and hike up to Cookem).

Not looking quite as fresh

Too deep to cross, and need to climb up that mountain next

Much easier when out of the bush, but still pretty steep



Some climbing. I think I went up the wrong hill.

That's where I came from

I think that green area is where I camped






At least it isn't raining


Day 2 (47km)

And here is where things start to really deviate from previous trip reports. The walk from Yerranderie to Wollondilly River was as per spec, except for needing to continue down Sheepwalk Track instead of my planned Roses Track, as it was closed to walkers. My heart sunk a bit when reaching Murrphys Crossing and seeing how big the river was - I was pretty certain there was going to be a need to swim across it, and it was flowing quickly. I sent a message on my inReach, and walked downstream to see if there were any branches and logs that I could get trapped in if I did get swept off my feet. I then started across, and luckily the water never went above my waist. There was good footing the entire way. Looking up the river was beautiful.

Some more fireroad later and a sign pointed in to the bush reading “Mount Beloon”. There was a faint trail, and a pretty easy initial “off track” experience, at least compared to bashing bush that’s as tall as I am. Soon the waist height bushes returned, and this time on the steep hill. At some point the track intersects the cliffs around Mount Beloon, and I thought “faaaaa I could maybe climb this, but in the rain this is going to be sketchy”. Keep looking around and eventually there will be an easier section that requires NO CLIMBING.

Coming down the other side I was excited to be going downhill, but the bush was now quite thick. Soon it dipped in to a dried up creek, which was a little faster to walk through. Continue down the gully, but be ready for a lot of scrambling. I’m not certain if the gully has always been like this, but I think it might have had a few landslides last year: trees and boulders were everywhere. It took about 90 minutes to get to the Nattai River.

One source stated in 2015 that “it was really interesting to see the wheels of time grinding down on the Nattai ‘Road’. Once upon a time it would have been used by 4WD, but now it is completely overgrown and impassable to anything and everyone who isn’t hiking.” Well, I couldn’t even find the road, despite looking, and I had offline maps and GPS. Looking down the Nattai, with no track or easy walking ahead, it was at this point that I knew I likely wouldn’t make it back as per plan.
I reached for my inReach and sent the preset “All is well, but behind schedule”.

Previous reports seem to indicate that the river bed is easy to walk along, but it might be necessary to cross the river a few times. Well, let me tell you, there were usually only two options: bash some very thick bush, or just walk up above-knee deep water. And to make matters worse, a lot of the sand was very damp, so I frequently would take a step and posthole knee deep in the sand. This postholing would sometimes go on for over 50 metres, and was very slow going.

The sun set and I was now hiking by headlamp, but with absolutely no suitable campsites visible, I was getting a little worried. Finally a small patch appeared, and I pulled out my gear and went to bed.
11hr 41min of moving time, but 14hr 55min elapsed time


That's where I slept

That way!



Under maintenance

Yerranderie (Under maintenance this week)



Nope, not going to go that way





Spirits still high

Beautiful remote views. Lots of roos and emus

One of my favourite stretches of road

May be subject to flooding. You don't say.

Survived.

Easy off track



That's a problem



Made it



Only took 90 minutes to get down the gully, but a lot of effort

Nattai river

Bush whacking time



Day 3 (21km)

By 6am I was already packed and continuing down the Nattai, yet slowness persisted - maybe 18:00/km. Troys Creek Track was supposed to come out via Troys Creek, but I couldn’t find any sign of a track. Next I came across Emmetts Flat and started up the creek, but there was no evidence of human activity. And then I saw a cairn. Just two stones, but hard to miss. My spirits have never been lifted so much.

I found Starlights Trail, and was elated. I bounded up to Point Hill where I had the first mobile phone receptions since leaving Narrowneck, and out to Wattle Ridge. By now it was about 9:30am. The next challenge was how to get to Mittagong Station. I checked Uber (reported about $50), but no cars available. Then I checked 13cabs, but outside coverage. Because I arrived in the morning everybody in the carpark was coming in to the park, and not going out. I started to walk. I ended up walking almost the entire way to Hill Top, and not a single car passed me. Then one white SUV came, I tried to get a ride, but they carried on. Fair enough. A second car came, and they slowed down and picked me up! “Yea, I can drop you off at Mittagong, I’m going that way”. Thank you Jason - lifesaver!


That's not a real trail - wombat tracks.

CIVILISATION!!!!

MORE CIVILISATION!!!

No longer see through


Gear malfunction



Gear Notes: I didn’t do a lighterpack, but everything I had was in an 18L running vest. Basically just a sleeping bag, pad, shelter, food, and rain jacket. It was probably close to SUL, but I knew the weather was going to likely turn wicked and I was going to be in the middle of nowhere; I didn’t want to go stupid light.

Gear Experiments: There were two pieces of gear I wished to test on this adventure. The first was a Sunday Afternoons hat, as I figured the ridge walking in the sun wouldn’t be enjoyable with just a trucker hat. This was the right call. It worked great. The next test was a pair of white running tights. I’m trying better to use clothing as sun protection, and the tights worked well. I quickly started to wear just the tights, and they breathed fairly well, and had no chafing. They also proved decent protection from bushes. In fact, the only cuts I got where between my socks and the tights; my shins got quite torn up. No sunburns. They weren’t white when I finished.

Gear That Didn’t Work Well: I had several gear malfunctions. The first was my Altra Lone Peak shoes, as I started to get a pretty big blister on my right foot. I thought this was because the shoe was a little too loose, so I tightened it right up. Then I had the skin rub off on the top of my foot. A little leukotape and that problem was solved, but the blister persisted. I rarely got blisters in my Lone Peaks, but had been getting them in the same place for some reason recently, so I pre-taped my foot before heading out. Yes, that’s right, I was getting a blister under tape. Suddenly I realised what was causing the blister: the insole was sliding backwards, which was then putting pressure on my heel. I simply removed the insole, and no more rubbing! Then my right shoe developed a massive hole, which is maybe to be expected, as they have close to (at least) 700km. Finally, I developed life-ending holes in both my Drymax and Injinji socks; the heel of one, the toes of the other. (And I keep my toenails extremely filed down, as per “Fixing Your Feet”).

What would I do differently next time? I would like to avoid Scotts Main Range, and somehow cut up on a parallel track on the other side of the Kowmung River. And then obviously figure out how to get down the Nattai a bit more easily. Alternatively, if I could get my fitness up, and the weather would allow me to go a little bit lighter, I would enjoy being able to run more of the roads. Because of the forecasted weather I had to carry a little bit too much stuff, and the blister was pretty big, or maybe these are the excuses I was telling myself.

Please don't hesitate reaching out if you wish to do this track and have any questions. This track could be really fun with a group of people without any hard deadlines. This trip report was also cross-posted on r/UltralightAus here: https://www.reddit.com/r/UltralightAus/comments/kox0u9/trip_report_katoomba_to_mittagong_131km/

Cox’s River return via Narrowneck

Published on Monday, August 17, 2020

 Read below for a long list of warnings. After reading some of the comments below, e.g. from Des, it seems like the track can vary significantly depending on when you do it.

TL;DR - in winter, after bush fires and floods, this track is a 7/6. Left Katoomba Railway Station at about 10:00am on a Saturday in early August, so I guess technically still winter. I packed quite light and intended to do this in two days, and hopefully even get back to Sydney by 5pm. I had all the topological maps offline in Gaia GPS, and created a route based on the maps in Wildwalks; I couldn’t find a GPS trace. For the record: not a single time did I ever feel lost. It is very simple from a navigation perspective: keep Cox river to right. Walk in Breakfast Creek until it forks to Carlons Creek - go left. Now, go up. And up. Here are my notes and where things got slow. Six Foot Track - beautiful and very, very easy. First 11km (starting at Katoomba station) average pace was around ~10:15/km. The next 7km was a tad bit slower, maybe around 12:00/km.
Easy Six Foot Track. Beautiful weather.

For whatever reason I crossed the bridge. Too enticing, maybe. The river at the bridge was raging. 1km or so later tried to cross the river and almost immediately was at waist level. Flipped around and back to bridge. My first thought was “this is going to make the two river crossings later a bit interesting”.


I should have known better
The track disappeared almost immediately and it was bushwhacking time. What I learned later is that it should be easier to walk this section, as the river is actually like… crossable. My pace slowed to 20:00/km for a few km, then up to 14:00 for a few km. Right where the track crossed the river things got tough. I slowed to 17:00/km, then further up to almost 25:00/km. More than once I was on all fours pushing my bag through whatever track was made by wombats, or having to rock climb across the near vertical boulders a few meters above the river. The thought of crossing the river would be insane. I made it to Breakfast Creek well after dark after 7pm. Moving time was 8:27m, but I don’t remember stopping besides filtering water and crawling on the ground…

Water all the way up to slippery rocks

Yep, just head on in to the bushes

And you end up with pricklies like this

Then you can climb down this little cliff

Or scoot across this one.
If you slip off, then you'll float downstream in the river...
The next morning I set off after the sun came up, so starting at about 6:45am. I guess because of the big floods earlier in the year the track had washed away, as probably 75% of the time I was just rock skipping. Not a big deal, and a little hard on the ankles, but waaaay easier than the day before. Eventually hit Dunphry’s campground, and thought things would be all done. Wrong.
Sometimes there was a trail, and it was awesome

But 75% of the time this is what the "trail" looked like

Or this

I knew from the topo maps the climb up to Carlon’s Head would be steep, and it was. And no track. Walked too far to the left and missed the little chain going up. Eventually found it, and went up one. Then another. Then another. The old historic bolts seems to have been partially replaced by newer ones. I climbed a fair bit over the last few years, so it wasn’t too big of a deal, but know that if you’ve never done rock climbing, and you have a heavy pack, this would be terrifying. And it is high enough to potentially be deadly if you fall.
Go up here. This was the easiest of the climbs.


Progress

On top of the ridge, sweet! Now everything is all flat and I’m golden! Not quite. The forest fires from December took out every trace of the track. More bushwhacking, this time in burnt out forest, for two more km. Average pace was 15:30/km.

Just walk through it. No trail. Careful to not kill any new plants growing up.
Finally back out of the burnt woods and on to 10km of fire road. Easy. Average pace probably 10:30/km. I made it back to the train station by 13:15, with just enough time to get a coffee and catch the train home. Total distance: about 65km. Total elapsed time: ~15.5hr. Total moving time: 14hr This track would have been much easier had the river not been overflowing, or had the creeks not flooded in Jan, or had the fires not raged in December. If you are thinking about doing this, then I would absolutely recommend a few things: * Have as light of a pack as you can take. I wouldn’t have been able to climb Carlon’s Head with a 15kg pack * If trying in winter, of course bring a headlamp * Create the route and make sure to have topo maps. Again, I never felt lost * I hike in shorts almost always. If doing this again with the same challenges, I’d probably wear pants. * Bring a PLB or InReach, as there’s no apparent service from Six Foot all the way until you hit Dunphyrs. This would have been beautiful if the track existed. If you want to have a look at my maps, then check out these activities on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/3918994803 https://www.strava.com/activities/3919253337 Hike on!

Ultralight Backpacking - Food & Electrolytes

Published on Friday, August 7, 2020

In about 2001 or 2002 I read a book called "Beyond Backpacking - Ray Jardine's Guide to Lightweight Hiking", which set me on a path to being as light as possible. It came in very handy when I did my first section hike of the PCT, about 7 days, and I vaguely remember a total pack weight of about 25 lbs - with 4 litres of water. I was a broke college student then, so I guess clipping toothbrushes and straps really paid off. I also used a weird mesh hammock thing and I think a tarp of some kind. I have been "ultralight" ever since, even when renting equipment in Patagonia.

Anyways, the mindset has stuck 20 years later. I now am fortunate enough to have more funds to purchase better equipment, but always keen to read about recommendations on how to have a better experience and maybe even save a little weight.

Recently a series of videos was pasted on YouTube that touched on food, and they were terrific. I had always been pretty good about choosing which food to take. Here in Australia, my general rule of thumb was to try and get something as close to 2000kJ per 100g as possible, and then 4 or 5 stars. This insured I was getting calorie dense food, but with the videos mentioned above, I think I can now get the right calories.

I am pasting my notes below as reference purely for myself, although I might come back around and paste suitable options from Woolies or Coles that are suitable. If you have an hour or two, and like backpacking, then I really encourage you to have a watch.

Breakfast


Mixture of simple (high GI) and complex (low GI) carbs. Simple carbs hand off to complex carbs hand off to fats.


Ideal ratio for breakfast:


65% calories from fat

28% from carbs, ideally split complex/simple, maybe leaning to simple

7% from protein


Trail Food


Probably want something in the 5% - 15% calories from sugar range, unless eating smaller portions more often, and then 15% - 25%.


Ideal ratio for the trail:


65% calories from fat

28% from carbs, ideally split complex/simple, maybe leaning to complex

7% from protein


Recovery


  • Drink mix consumed within 15 minutes of finishing for the day.
  • Ideally a carb/protein ratio between 3:1 and 4:1. 
  • Avoid fat. 
  • Glucose and fructose around 3:1. 
  • Frog fuel (collagen) or hydrolysed whey isolate.


Dinner


Between 20 - 30g of high quality protein, the rest of calories rich in fat, and as close to bed time as possible for thermogenic effect.


Electrolytes


A few key bullet points on usage of electrolytes:


  • Three states of dehydration:
    • hypertonic: water loss is greater in comparison to sodium loss, so serum sodium concentration increases
    • hypotonic: water loss is accompanied by excessive sodium loss, so serum sodium concentration decreases
    • isotonic: water and sodium are lost at the same rate
  • Hypernatremia is a result of dehydration.
  • Hyponatremia is not a result of dehydration, but a result of treatment of dehydration with fluids that do not contain enough sodium.
  • Hiking for 8.5 hours @ 435mg Na/hr = 3600mg lost sodium
  • Expected losl per hour:
    • Na 300 - 500
    • K 100 - 160
    • Mg 40 - 60
    • Ca 20 - 30
  • Reminder that to monitor water intake, urine frequency and colour is the way to go.
  • Condition most likely to encounter on the trail is "exercise-associated hyponatremia", aka drinking plenty of fluids, but not enough electrolytes. One symptom of hyponatremia is swelling, in particular in hands and feet. Ring is a sensitive instrument... "snug fit, time to start taking on electrolytes with water. Loosey goosey? No need to supplement beyond what already get from trail snacks."
Lots of sodium - 4,500mg would be for long days hiking in the heat



In Practice


Here is a follow-up comment on what that might look like in practice:

Breakfast - a 2-serving Backpacker's Pantry Granola, 1240 Cal, 34g protein

Trail Snacks - your average Kind bar ranks as Light or Very Light, runs close to a 4:1 ratio and has an average 5g protein per 200 Cal, extrapolate for 1000 Cal of same or similar to get another 25g protein

Recovery Shake - Gatorade Recover packet and a Starbucks Via, gives the right ratio for 370 Cal and 21g protein

Dinner - Mountain House Chicken & Dumplings 2-serving pouch, 600 Cal and 33g protein