‘Do you sometimes wonder why we do this?’ asks my friend and walking partner David. We’re sheltering in a muddy cave as the rain tumbles down. I don’t even know why we’re sheltering; we’re already so wet we can’t get any wetter.
But for once I do know why I’m doing it; this is the start of my new hiking and writing project. Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but we do these things anyway.
Over the next month I intend to blog about short walks in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours outside Sydney. Too many people miss the best bits. They drive or take the tourist bus to the lookouts and photograph themselves and their partners against the admittedly spectacular background. At Echo Point, they humorously yell ‘Coo-ee’, eat an overpriced lunch and go home.
The best bits of the Blue Mountains are reached by walking down into the gullies, where waterfalls gush and whipbirds call as ferns drip into chattering creeks. And, as it turned out on this particular day, leeches lurk and rain rains.
David and I set off on the loop hike into Sassafras Gully, by the township of Springwood.
It was a logical place to start, since the walk begins and ends at the train station. David has sold his car and Mevrouw T has first call on the Tullochmobile these days.
Sassafras Gully Loop sounds like a comfortable 4 hr 15 min, 11 km loop along creeks, passing a couple of waterfalls, so I was surprised to see the track rated ‘hard’ by the excellent and detailed Wild Walks website. I didn’t notice the rating till David pointed it out to me.
The first couple of kms presented no problems, a gentle stroll through the streets of Springwood, broken by the sight of currawongs feeding large cuckoo chicks – koels, I think. After a false turn or two (it’s such a bore to take the map out of the backpack) we found a bush track leading off the road towards Sassafras Gully.
It’s a steep downhill path, rather slippery and overgrown in places and requiring some clambering over fallen tree trunks, as well as rock-hopping to criss-cross the creeks. It drops 500 vertical metres in a few kilometres.
As gullies go, Sassafras is a very nice one, and there can be few places in the world where just by a major city you can walk for hours in beautiful forest without seeing another living human being.
The rain set in. We found the cave. The rain eased off. We walked again. The rain started. Even when it eased off again, pushing through wet scrub left us completely sodden.
We found another cave and ate lunch. ‘Do you ever wonder why we do this?’ asks David, rolling down his socks and checking for leeches. Finding a couple too.
I don’t understand this yuck problem many people have with leeches. You don’t feel them attaching themselves, and you can do without the blood they draw out of you. The places they’ve been bleed for a while, which is messy for your socks, but they don’t even itch.
Leeches themselves are fascinating little critters, cute even, the way they bunch and stretch, looking for something to latch onto.
It was a educational walk too. I learned that rain and Kindle eReaders are a poor combination. ‘What did you take the Kindle for?’ Mevrouw T wanted to know later. I don’t know. Force of habit for a longish train ride, and what if we’d been stuck in a cave for days waiting to be rescued? I could have entertained David by reading aloud The Complete Works of Charles Dickens (free downloads are available to Kindle owners). However, I now know that a wet Kindle is a dead Kindle.
My camera also died this day. After a few hours my lens stopped talking to my camera body. Hence I missed getting a decent shot of Martin and Magdala Falls in their full gushy glory. They’re only a few metres high, but you’ll just have to take our word for it that they looked impressive.
Back in Springwood, David changed into the dry clothes he’d wisely brought along. I sat in the sun with a bottle of Gatorade and a flat white and let nature take its course. It was all quite idyllic. Until I noticed the leech. Oh yuck, get off me!
I learned that leeches are surprisingly hard to kill, even if you step on them with Vibram-soled boots.