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.


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: 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.


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


  • 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.


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.


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

Teaching Sight Words

Published on Saturday, July 25, 2020

There are a lot of books on parenting. Before my daughter was born I read a book on pregnancy, one of those 500 pages texts from a high class place - Mayo Clinic or Harvard or something like that. It was helpful, but given I can't even remember the name, clearly not something that I considered life changing.

However, after reading Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain I was all hyped up to drown my new kid in words. We travelled a lot when she was young, so didn't have a lot of books, but she sure had them read to her. When I took a year off as a stay-at-home-dad I kept having those 30 million words ticking in my mind. By the time she was 2 1/2 she was getting five books read to her a night. By the time she was around 3 1/2 she was listening to Amazon Story Time for an hour every evening.

Also around 3 she started playing Khan Kids, and could play it for ages if I let her. There was no doubt that she enjoyed learning, and it was lovely to see her take each new step.

She entered Kindy when she was about 4 1/2, so one of the younger kids. Her school was teaching them how to read by having them sound out words, look for clues, but also to just brute force a few 100 of the most frequently used words. These were called "sight words", and knowing them supposedly speeds up their comprehension for easier texts, which left more energy for the words they didn't know. Sounds good to me.

Without getting into too much detail, the first part of the year was quite challenging for us. At one point I realised I wasn't really helping her as much with her school work as I could have, and while she certainly wasn't falling behind, I also knew she had extra potential that wasn't being explored.

Given all this background, I started to take her sight words seriously. I bought a laminator and made her little flash cards, and put in place some low-fi spaced repetition, so she wouldn't need to go over 100s of easy words every day. This meant we could go over the "known" words on the weekend, and the less well known words over breakfast.

The system works like this: a new sheet gets made and we play a little game where a subset of the cards gets put on the table, and I shout out a word. She finds the word, and we put it in the "learn" bag. Sometimes she knows it, and sometimes needs to sound it out.

Learning New Words
Learning New Words

This is pretty easy for her, for example, if I say "give" then she knows only one word starts with a "g", so chooses that. After doing this a few times we then go through the "learn" bag like normal flash words: I show the word, and let her say it back to me. If she gets it right a few times and clearly has instant recall, then it goes in the "young" bag.

Getting Mastery

After she gets it right a few more times, then the card goes in the "mature" bag.

We do the "learn" bag every breakfast, and the "young" bag every few breakfasts. We do the "mature" bag usually on the weekend or on a Monday morning. If she gets a word wrong, then it goes the other way (e.g. from "mature" back in to "young" or directly to "learn" again).

I am really impressed with her school, as most of the kids in kindergarten seem like they can read. Although some of the kids know more sight words than her that's not the point; she has an easier time reading, and I sometimes hear her reading to herself in her room.

One thing to note is that she gets no rewards for doing her sight words, but there are almost never any complaints. However, we do have an agreement that when she can read a "level 5" book, which I think is about a grade 4 book, then I will buy her a copy of Harry Potter and we will each read a copy. I can't wait!