Bushwalking the Cliffside Trails of Katoomba
Two Asian girls go bushwalking
My friend and I did some cliffside 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 that started from Katoomba, and reviewed 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.
It was actually quite easy. I was a little worried after 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 of dehydration. After all, these Australians are intimidatingly athletic, and… even if I had not been through a difficult time that took its toll on my frame, I’m 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 in Malaysia, it was quite manageable. There was not the punishing humid heat, for one thing. It makes such an incredible difference to one’s endurance. The railings, steps, and paths are uniformly maintained, for another.
Nonetheless after the hike, my friend felt that the day had grown too hot. But I wanted to wander some more.
She expressed her misgivings over my ambitions of going on more 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. It was the beginning of my rebellion against myself.
One Asian girl continues bushwalking
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 really know anyone else at the time who would be remotely interested in these things. But it had something to do with Leura.
The trail was easy, even for my indifferent fitness level at the time. It was reasonably but not overly maintained – what I mean is that paths are left as natural paths when it did not need to be assisted, but constructed aids such as steps and railings 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 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 all peeling away, dressing them in a kind of raggedy fringe. At some stretches, ferns stretch towards the path, which reminded me of the rugged rainforest trails back home, where the botany is constantly trying to re-colonise the forest trails.
The cliffside views 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.
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. But it’s when the groundwater seeps all together and cascades down 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.
She 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. It was marked ‘hard’. The 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.
The time didn’t seem to allow me to make the circuit and come back, so I picked out a place where it seemed to emerge by the road above, and 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 rumply.
So my budding intrepid self set off again.
There were a LOT of steps on this trail – which gives an indication why it’s marked “hard”. The way is often steep, and sometimes they changed to actual metal stairs. Still, at least there were steps – I’ve been on rainforest trails where you’re expected to manage these inclines by footwork and maybe tree roots, so… “hard” was doable.
Girl vs Fauna
The thing that irks me whenever I go out to the outdoors, is that I NEVER see all the special fauna that the information boards talk about. Except the creepy ones like lizards and snakes.
Well ok, not NEVER, but 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 disproportionately primes to icky things.
Anyway I was supposed to see these supposedly abundant ground birds (I forget their name now). Huffing and puffing, 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 edit: I have serendipitously learned that it’s an Australian bush turkey, aka Alectura lathami].
She gets sensible
The day wore on. If I remember correctly, 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 did start down the stairs, my heart seeking to explore. But my legs burned, and I looked at the time and 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. Wasting time.
In the end I turned back, constrained by the demands of time and daylight.
It was probably a good thing, 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, and 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. Further than my peer would.
I still did not realise at the time the true import of this, but it was going to be the message of the next two years.