I can't quite remember how this all got started, I think I suggested to Anton that he might be able to organise his own DoE walk and soon enough Jason asked Anton if I could organise a Six Foot Track walk. After I had a look at the Six Foot Track walk, I decided that it looked pretty boring as the bulk of it is along firetrail which I generally dislike. It's OK in small doses, but I much prefer less travelled routes in wilderness areas.
After a bit of research and checking with various people and websites such as Tom Brennan's Ozultimate, David Noble and Barker College that runs some DoE hikes in the Cox's River region, I decided on this three day walk which combined a mix of walking along well established trails as well as unmarked and negotiable tracks which would provide the boys with a reasonable challenge (both physically and navigationally) as well as prepare them for the planned October hike from Kanangra to Dunphys. The other key aspect of this walk is the number of escape options in terms of easier tracks to take in the case of party members having difficulty.
The topo map shows the recorded track taken by my trusty Garmin eTrex 30 - Day 1 is red, Day 2 is Blue and Day 3 Green.
Overall the bushwalk was 31km in length which is only 5km short of our planned Kanangra to Dunphys bushwalk in October - as it turns out, this walk is probably more difficult than K to D as it featured quite a few km of unmarked tracks resulting in slow progress. K to D is a well travelled route, so we should be able to move a lot faster plus we'll have more daylight hours.
Day 1: Dunphy's to Splendour Rock via Blackhorse Ridge (10.5km)
Here we are, all fired and ready to go! The 13 of us set off from Dunphy's at 10:10 and promptly headed down the wrong track which you can see on the GPX track recorded on the topo above - it's the red squiggly loop at the top of the topo!!! We soon realised the error of our ways so looped around, did a bit of bush bashing and dropped into Carlon Creek and it's infamous Stinging Nettle.
In case anyone is wondering this BIG and unmistakable sign shows the way. You head to head a hundred metres or so south back down the hill of the main Dunphy's Camping area to get to this trail head.
Despite my warnings that long pants were needed, Jason decided that shorts would be best but we soon convinced him to borrow Brandon's thermals to provide a bit of protection. As you can see the Stinging Nettle is only chest deep.
We reached the junction of Breakfast Creek at 11:30, had a bit of a snack and refilled our water bottles as this is the last water hole for the day, then headed up Blackhorse Ridge 15 mins later. Like many of the ridges around the Wild Dog mountains, this is an unmarked track but navigation was fairly easy.
Some of the boys found the walk up the hill rather tough - I later discovered that this may have something to do with the fact that my interpretation of lightweight hiking is somewhat different to the boys'. It would seem that litre containers of UHT milk, electric toothbrushes and multiple changes of clothes count as lightweight. Then again some of the backpacks were larger than the boy carrying them.
Anyway at 13:30, after an hour and 3/4 pleasant walk or desperate struggle - depending on your lightweight hiking style - we arrived at the top of Blackhorse ridge at the track junction below Blackhorse Gap and took a good 20 min breather and lunch. At this junction there was also a track heading South, which obviously headed up to Blackhorse Gap, so we took this route, rather than the one suggested by the maps. This was a reminder not to trust what is drawn on maps and to keep your eyes open and have an awareness of the terrain around you.
Soon after Jason got leg cramps but recovered reasonably well after glugging down a litre of water. We got to the top of the gap at 14:05 and then spent the next 40 minutes slowly making our way around the back of Mount Warrigal along Wombat Parade. This particular section of the walk narrowly hugs the cliffline, with a steep drop off only a few metres from the cliffline. If you look carefully you can find fossilised oil shale with leaves and vegetable matter in the shale band that runs along the length of cliff here.
We finally got to the end of Wombat Parade at 14:45 and had a short downclimb to reach the end of Mt Warrigal and Warrigal Gap. There is a cairn here signalling the descent route to Mobbs Swamp but we continued on to the top of Mt Merrimerrigal to walk along the Playground of the Dingoes. This part of the walk is pretty speccy as it follows a narrow 5-10m ridgeline for a hundred metres or so before crossing Dingo Gap to Mt Dingo and our final destination of Splendour Rock at 16:00.
There were a couple of parties already camped at Splendour Rock, including one party that got the prime camping spot at the very tip. As it turns turns out two of the party were ex-NSB and were quite pleased that NSB has a good DoE program.
We soon started to setup our tents and it wasn't long before Brendan and Saroop discovered a minor problem with the tent they borrowed from Mr Havyatt - It had a nice fly, poles and pegs even, but no actual tenty bit! Doh!!! Anyway, no biggy, as Saroop squeezed into a three man tent with the other boys and Brendan squeezed in with dad.
A nice fire with plenty of firewood finished the day off nicely.
Overall we walked 10.5km in 6 hours (including rests), with a 660m ascent and 420m descent.
Day 2: Splendour Rock to junction of Jenolan and Cox's Rivers via Blue Dog Ridge (12.5km)
Steve woke up at the crack of dawn. Earlier actually. I joined him at about 06:45 to watch the sunrise, or tried to at least. Unfortunately nature had conspired against us and so the sunrise lasted all of 5 mins as the sun briefly glinted through the cloud layer. Even so the view from Splendour Rock is stunning. The name is apt. I've not seen a better view in the Bluies - you can see all the way to Kanangra Walls and get great views of a number of iconic peaks such as Mt Cloudmaker, Mt Paralyser, Mt Guouogang and of course Warragamba Dam hidden underneath a layer of cloud. From here we were able to view the route for our planned DoE hike in October - Kanagra to Dunphys.
Most of the boys managed to get up and watch the sunrise as well, which is pretty impressive considering they're all teenagers.
It was around about this stage that I made another discovery. Jason had decided to bring Japanese Safety Shoes on the hike and without a second to waste stubbed his toe on root and got a pretty impressive toe bleed. When I was young, well, much younger, I would judge the success of any outdoor adventure by the number of cuts, scrapes, bruises and bodily damage sustained - using this as a metric, Jason so far was having a highly successful adventure.
We finally departed Splendour Rock at 08:45. The maps suggested that the route off Mt Dingo started at the top, so of course everyone decided to ignore the big cairn and track junction south of the peak. We soon retraced our steps and headed off down the pass towards Mobbs Swamp, when half way along I bumped into Elayne, a rock climber who for whatever reason I seem to keep bumping into, but have never climbed with!
We arrived at Mobbs Swamp at 10:00 filled up from the tiny creek, some of us added water purification tablets even though the creek was clear and flowing nicely - so probably not needed. Mobbs Swamp is a fairly extensive and rather pleasant camping area but I'm not sure I'd like to camp there in peak season. After half an hour of lazing around we departed for Blue Dog Ridge and Knights Deck at 10:30 arriving at Knights Deck at midday. The walk along Blue Dog Ridge is very pleasant with a faint trail so that you get the sense that masses don't come this way. Of course this part of the walk is unmarked, which explains the faint trail.
Even so, two other parties arrived at Knights Deck as we had lunch absorbing the view of Breakfast Creek, Coxs River and back across to Ironmonger Hill.
A few Eagles also decided to join us as the Westerly breezes hitting Knights Deck created some nice updrafts for them.
After an hour's lunch we finally headed down Blue Dog Spur at 13:00 to the Coxs River and Breakfast Creek junction. What a knee breaker. It is a 500m descent in about 1500m. We almost reached the bottom when Brandon decided it was time for a number 2. 25 minutes of poo jokes later and Brandon had finally finished. Do teenage boys have a poo fixation? Nah!
14:15 and we finally get to the the Breakfast Creek junction were we can refill with some nice clean water and then head off up to the Jenolan River junction. After 500m we realise we need to cross the Cox's River. I give the boys a choice - cross the Cox's or camp here at Breakfast Creek. Anton already had his shoes off, so across the Cox's we go.
The water was cold. Freezing - as you can see from the facial expression. I'd forgotten how much pain cold water can cause. I headed off ahead of the group to find a good camping spot, but alas didn't really find anywhere nice. Breakfast Creek is better. But we got there at 15:20 - by this stage most of the boys had fallen into the Jenolan River so had wet shoes.
We soon got a semblance of a fire going to dry those shoes out, but again it wasn't great as most of the driftwood was quite damp. Still, it was good enough to melt the soles on some shoes.
Overall we walked 12.5km in 6.5 hours (including rests), with an 85m ascent and 750m descent.
Day 3: Junction of Jenolan and Cox's Rivers to Dunphy's via Ironmonger Hill (8km)
Originally I had planned on returning via Flaggi Clear then Tinpot Hill but over the course of the past two days decided that it would take a bit longer than I wanted so we went with my second option to head up Ironmonger Hill.
Breakfast started with the boys pulling out a one litre container of milk that had now been carried for 23km, ascended 750m and descended 1200m. I wish I was teenager again - I wouldn't need to carry powered milk to save my decrepit knees and ankles. If I could carry that much milk I'd seriously bring my espresso machine as well. Here's proof from breakfast the previous morning atop Splendour Rock.
We headed off at 08:45 and I promptly fell into the river. The boys had learned their lesson and took their shoes off before crossing.
The walking along this section of the Cox's is lovely. I'm thinking that it would be great to do summer bushwalk from Bowtell's Swing Bridge all the way down to Yellow Dog Spur. But soon, we reached the river crossing and having crossed the Cox's the day before plus at some stage almost all of us had fallen in so we cringed at the prospect of crossing it again. Since my shoes were already wet, I didn't bother removing them, which made the crossing so much more bearable - it's amazing how much insulation a pair of socks and boots can make.
09:35 and we're at the junction of Breakfast Creek we staring up at our nemesis, a 600m vertical climb up Ironmonger Spur to Ironmonger Hill and then Ironpot Mountain.
Just under two hours later after much sweat, grunting and moaning we arrive at the Ironpot Ridge Trail junction at 11:25.
I tried to find the Aboriginal Ironpots that the mountain is named after but only saw a poor example along the trail. Looks like a repeat trip is in order to find the real thing. Soon after it started drizzling, so I pulled out my Packa as it needed a test.
We reached our final destination, Dunphys at 12:35 just as the rain decided to start bucketing down.
On Day 3 we walked 8km in just under 4 hours (including rests), with a 600m ascent and 200m descent.
The overall hike distance was 31km with just under 1.4km of ascents (and descents!)
We dropped into the Megalong Valley cafe, had some coffee and hot choc then headed back to Sydney via Bells Line as the Great Western had already turned into a parking lot as far back as Mt Vic.