My friend Mun and I did some bushwalking when we were in the Blue Mountains (because you can’t go to the outdoors in Australia and not go bushwalking!) So we looked up the cliffside trails in Katoomba, reviewing the tremendously well-organised information.
We chose an easy trail, just to be sure we could hack it. I believe it was the Prince Henry Cliff Walk.
Two Asian girls go bushwalking
The Prince Henry Cliff Walk was actually quite easy. I was a little worried when I read the information, noting the difficulty classifications and going through the safety warnings. I had fleeting visions of the hard trails potentially leaving us stranded if we dawdled until past dark, or perhaps wasting away from dehydration. After all, Australians seem intimidatingly athletic, and even if I had not been through a difficult time that took its toll on my frame, I was not entirely sure when I last did anything that qualified as real exercise.
But it turned out that compared to hiking in my home country Malaysia, it was quite manageable.
There was not the punishing humid heat, for one thing. It makes such an incredible difference to your endurance. On top of that, the railings, steps, and paths are uniformly maintained.
Nonetheless after the easy hike, my friend felt that the day had grown too hot. But I wanted to wander some more.
As is typical of the cautious Asian, she expressed her misgivings over my reckless ambitions of going on hikes all alone, particularly as cell reception was unreliable down along the cliffside. Nor had I any water with me (that point was probably valid).
Still, I only wanted another short and easy walk, so I assured her that all will be well. After all, the trail would still keep me fairly close to Katoomba.
It was the beginning of my rebellion against myself.
One Asian girl continues bushwalking solo
I can’t exactly remember which trail I took. After all, at the time it wasn’t as if I intended to write about it, nor did I know anyone else who would be remotely interested in such things. But it had something to do with Leura.
The second cliffside trail was easy, even for my indifferent fitness level then. It was reasonably – but not overly – maintained. What I mean is that paths are left natural when it did not need to be assisted, but where there were constructed aids such as steps and railings, they seem to be in consistent good condition.
For me the day was fairly cool, even at midday. In fact, for convenience I kept my WoW hoodie sweat jacket on most of the time, so clearly the heat was well within my tolerance.
I did not hurry along the path too much. It was a mostly lonely path, though occasionally other hikers would pass by, so it was not completely isolated. Along the way you would either be flanked by vegetation, or the trail emerges out of it to hug the ravine, which is when you would get the incredible views.
There were a lot of gum trees along this path. The bark was peeling away, dressing them in a kind of raggedy fringe. At some stretches, ferns stretch into the path, reminding me of the rugged rainforest trails back home, where the botany is constantly trying to re-colonise the forest trails.
The trail views along the cliffside of the sandstone ridges are incredible. Far in the distance, its green forest skirt fanning out beneath and tinged with blue, the flat rock horizons were striking.
Cliffside trail REALLY means cliffside…
You can tell from the vegetation that this is not a water-scarce region. Many of the trails make reference to some kind of waterfall or cascade, and so you know that water flowing through the rocks comes out of the cliff face all over these mountains.
I remember at one point the trail was just a narrow ridge jutting from the cliff face, and the rock overhang was fairly dripping water on me. It would have been handy if I had a waterproof jacket on me at the time.
That said, it’s when the groundwater seeps through all together, and cascades down the sheer cliffs, that it becomes the sight we tend to be drawn to. Bridal Veil, Leura Cascades – we always give names to water falling out of rock, for it is life itself.
The fledgling bushwalker gets ambitious
I finished this trail in short order, and began to get confident. Opening up the trail guides, I thought “Fern Bower” sounded fairylike and interesting. But it was marked ‘hard’. This Katoomba trail would take me further down the cliff into the forest proper.
I still had no water. My phone battery was also running low.
Eh, why not.
I checked the time. I figured there probably was not enough for me to make the whole circuit and come back.
So I picked out a place where the trail seemed to emerge alongside the road above, and while I still had cell reception, I arranged for my friend to come pick me up there. There was a restaurant where we could have dinner, and hopefully not get kicked out for (me) looking disheveled.
And my budding intrepid self set off again.
Bushwalking solo down to Fern Bower
There were a lot of steps on this trail. I suppose that’s why it’s marked “hard”. The way is often steep, and sometimes the sloping trail changed to actual metal stairs.
Still, at least there were always steps. I’ve been on rainforest trails where you’re expected to manage these inclines by footwork and earth trapped between tree roots, so… I’d say a “hard” bushwalking trail was doable.
Girl vs Fauna
One thing that irks me whenever I go to the outdoors, is that I NEVER see all the special fauna that the information boards talk about. Except creepy ones like lizards and snakes.
Well ok, not never, but very rarely.
It may be partly due to my poor observational skills, because I have gone hiking with others and they constantly see more animal life than I do. Maybe my attention just disproportionately primes to notice the icky things. Maybe it’s a self-preservation evolution thing.
Anyway I was supposed to see these supposedly abundant ground birds (I forget their name now). Huffing and puffing down the path, I did not see any and got a bit cross.
But then, I saw one!
I was worried it would run away, which would be just. typical. But oddly, this bird just stayed put, moodily gazing out into the forest and ignored me in a kind of avian ennui.
Yeah, I know the feeling, bird dude. I was feelin’ it too.
2018 update: I have serendipitously learned that it’s an Australian bush turkey, aka Alectura lathami.
She gets sensible and hikes back up the cliffside
The day wore on. I came to a fork of sorts where I could choose to go deeper down into the forest, or head back up the cliffside. There were metal stairs leading down to further dampness.
I felt torn.
I started down the stairs, my heart seeking to explore. But my legs burned, and I looked at the time. I thought of my friend, perhaps worrying and waiting for my call to signal pickup. (And dinner.)
Indecision strikes me like this sometimes, making me go halfway one route and then back.
In the end I turned back, constrained by the demands of time and daylight.
It was probably a good decision, since by the time I got anywhere near the road, my muscles felt like jelly. Going down the cliff was obviously less effort than hiking back up. Beyond a certain emergency budget, muscle strength doesn’t magically appear by willpower alone, in the absence of prior training.
Nonetheless, I had gone much further than I believed I could. And further than my peer would.
I did not realise at the time the true import of this change, but it was going to be the call of the next two years.
Carbon offset information to Australia
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Sydney produces carbon emissions of approximately 5,289 lbs CO2e. It costs about $26 to offset this.