Six Foot Under: Hiking in the rain.

Six Foot Track12Since moving to Sydney, I have been told by many people that it inevitably rains most Easter long weekends. This one was no exception.  I had been thinking about doing the Six Foot Track for some time. I was at the Walk21 conference in October last year and met a guy and a girl who had developed a website detailing the Six Foot Track providing tips, suggestions and footage of the entire 45km trail. I hadn’t heard of the track before (although there is a marathon there every March) but it looked like a good local multi-day hike to discover the Blue Mountains and, given that it typically took three days to complete, Easter was a perfect time to check it out.

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Setting off: wet weather but prepared!

It’s interesting that in all my years of hiking, I have never really been caught in the rain. I have been hiking throughout the world during threats of downpours and storms but have always come back fairly unscathed. This time was a little different. In fairness, I knew the weather was looking ominous on Good Friday morning when I set out and after arriving into Katoomba, I put on my Gore-Tex Jacket as the rain start to lightly fall.  I wasn’t too worried though. I was prepared. Aside from my Gore-Tex jacket, I had a waterproof pack cover. My spare clothing (which was not much) and camera were in waterproof bags and I had brought along waterproof pants and gaiters. I was sorted.

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Day 1: Bowtell’s swing bridge

No, no I wasn’t.  While the first day delivered a consistent light shower, it wasn’t too bad. At points, the trees provided a protective canopy for the rain but at other points there was nowhere to seek shelter. Thankfully, when I reached Coxs River Camp after a 15.7km walk, the rain had lightened up just in time for me to pitch my tent. It was after this happened that I realised that I was a bit screwed. Taking off my Gore-Tex jacket revealed two layers of tops that were much damper that I could have possibly sweated. Rain had most definitely got through. My pants and socks were also quite wet. Luckily I had brought along a pair of compression pants, two extra pairs of socks and a down vest to wear that night as I tried to dry the clothes that I needed to wear for the next couple of days. At least it wasn’t incredibly cold that night. After drying myself with a sports towel and slipping into my dry clothes and into my down sleeping bag I drifted off into a quite warm and consistent sleep that evening.

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My little cave

The  next day was different. I woke up at about 3:30am to the sounds of rain on my tent. There were still a few hours before I would get up so, I was quite confident that it would subside and be fine for the next day. I drifted in and out of sleep until about 6:30am and it hadn’t changed. I slipped on my hiking clothes for the day. They were all still very damp and cold but I wanted to save my dry clothes (and one of the damp tops) for that night. After packing up my tent (and wiping it down with the sports towel) I made breakfast under the communal shelter and hoped that the rain would die down. It didn’t. With a 12km slog uphill to the top of Black Range, I was already hampered by the extra weight that I had to carry from doing the hike alone. The rain was relentless. I had to stop a few times to take the 16-18kg weight off my back but because there wasn’t any respite, I had to sit in the rain to have a rest or a snack. The reward of getting to the top of Black Range and receiving some great views back to Katoomba were unmet. Instead, I was greeted with misty fog (I was now at the level of the clouds) and mocked by a few four-wheel drives that drove past me, no doubt with the promise of heated comfort inside. Despite this, I arrived at Black Range camping area at 2:30pm, much earlier than expected. I was met by a man, his son and his son’s friend (we had been passing each other throughout the day), three Germans (who were also walking in the same direction) and two Australian guys walking from Jenolan Caves. The two Australian guys said that it would only be 1 ½ hours to Jenolan Caves. They had come uphill in the opposite direction in 2 ¼ hours and thought that it would take less time in the downhill route.  The three Germans and another couple who had arrived just after me decided to leave in hope of a warm hotel room at the end.  I didn’t think about it, I stayed. I knew in the weather and my mental state that I couldn’t possible walk another 10km in two hours. I was saturated and cold.

Polenta…you better make me warm…

I boiled water in my gas burner for a tea and talked to the dad who said it was his sixth time doing the hike and that he had never seen such bad weather. He thought that I should come back to experience the great views another time when it was dry. His son and friend were in reasonably good spirits however they had the same problem as me, they had limited dry clothes to change into. I pitched my tent underneath the communal shelter and transferred it to the wet camping ground and submerged into my cave to try to get dry. Everything was thoroughly wet: my clothes, my socks, my underwear, my backpack and, a lot of my sleeping bag. I attempted to change into my dry clothes which had held off a lot of moisture. Trying to dry my feet was tough. My towel was almost soaked so I to use some toilet paper to try to get my prune-like feet ready for two layer of socks. I was cold. I didn’t have any dry clothes with sleeves so I had to shiver in my wet sleeping bag to get warm. I heard the noises of other hikers arrive but was too cold to emerge. I cooked my creamy polenta (you can find the recipe here) and pan-fried vegetables just outside my tent, hoping it’s heat would transfer to the inside.  Then I lay down to read my book and try to fall asleep:  it was about 7:00pm. Sleep wasn’t coming, I was uncomfortable, wet and cold. I stayed awake listening to a family that just arrived arguing about pitching their tent and the ten-year old son talking about how there was “wet shit everywhere” and that he was going to “bloody strangle” his dad. Ahh, the serenity.

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Hang on, is that the sun?

I did get a few broken hours of sleep in the early morning and woke up a bit warmer. I cooked my cinnamon and apple porridge (click for the recipe here) just near the entrance of the tent, bracing myself for the morning. It was strange, the sky was blue. The sun was just peeking out and the rain had stopped. I was so relieved. My clothes were all still wet so I left on my compression tights and wore my waterproof pants over the top. My Goretex jacket was still soaking so I wore my wet long sleeve top and wore my vest over it. I kept on one pair of dried sock and slipped my feet into my wet boots. Although a bit wet, I was reasonably comfortable- the sun was shining and I was hopeful. The third day of hiking was enjoyable. Upon leaving the campsite I spoke to a group of five guys who commented that I must have come in really late. On the contrary, I said, I had come in really early and was too cold to socialise. They had some delicious food with them, coffee (which I hadn’t had for a couple of days) and I heard of their salami and cheese board the previous night. I needed to get to Jenolan Caves to get some food. I said goodbye and walked to Jenolan Caves stopping to take photos on the way (I hadn’t taken my camera out at all on Day 2). The descent to the caves was hard on the thighs but the sun was out, I had removed my vest and my top had almost dried completely.

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Cruising through the bush with blue skies

Arriving in Jenolan Caves that morning was a relief. I was greeted by the father and two teenage boys who had left earlier that morning. After saying our congratulations I made a beeline for a sunny position on the verandah of the bistro and hung up my Gore-Tex  and went to get a coffee. The sun was so warm and amazing. I bumped into the couple and the three Germans who had hiked the extra ten kilometres the day before and they said they had luckily got the last rooms at the hotel. The Germans said that they took three hours to get there (not the promised two) and were thoroughly exhausted.

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Looking down in the township of Jenolan Caves.

With the bus leaving at 3:30pm, I didn’t want to move. I had thought about doing a cave tour while I was there but I wanted to stay out in the sun. I ordered a vegie burger and large chips and sat down and started eating it. I was so ravenous when I arrived but I could barely finished the burger so when the group of five guys arrived, they thankfully helped me with my food and we enjoyed beers on the verandah until the bus was ready to leave. The bus ride back to Katoomba was reunion of many of the hikers on the track. There were the two overseas students which the group of five called “Bill and Ted” because they were carrying about 30kg a piece and had walked waist deep through a river past them only to realise they were going in the wrong direction.  I sat next to an English guy who had been hiking with two girls that he had recently met and I listened in awe as he told me about all his adventures to other countries and all the outdoor pursuits that he did in his spare time. Despite the bad weather the hike was good in other ways. It was challenging and I hadn’t done a solo multi-day hike before, so to carry all my things for three days through rain was an achievement. As always the camaraderie and celebration at the end was great. Sure, we smelled of dampness, we hadn’t had a shower in three days and some of us were blistered or had battle wounds from leeches… but we did it! Wet, cold and challenging: I’m glad I have the Six Foot under my belt.

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Me, the sun and smiles, arriving at Jenolan Caves

To find out more about the Six Foot Track click here

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