2P's Reconnaissance Report
I wasn't exactly bored with running on Six Foot Track but I wanted something that would get me onto roads less travelled and also something that would challenge me a bit both physically and navigationally. Last January I did the 12 hour - this year I wanted something a bit different.
Answer - a 45k (approx) recce for what I hope will become a fatass that I've been scheming over for a while now - it takes in part of the Six Foot Track from the Deviation to Jenolan Caves - then a bush bash up to the ridge to Oaky Camp that has a fire trail leading to the Kanangra Road at Mt Whiteley. From there it follows the Kanangra Road East for a couple of clicks and then fangs a left at Mt Lakeman to eventually join up with the Moorara Boss fire trail which ultimately joins back up with Black Range after crossing the Jenolan Gorge again.
The route would be fairly remote in parts (ie very unlikely to see anyone for a while) and much of it would be above 1,000 meters - combine that with me going solo and the risk factors were adding up - so I decided to travel heavy - rain jacket, triangular bandage, roller bandage, space bag, pain killers, beanie, map, compass, Garmy, and a mobile phone (wishful thinking) and headlamp in case I had a drama - and then there was the food and water!
I might be toting some weight but at least I was going to get a chance to road test my new 35L capacity pack (and no I didn't fill it up) and hopefully not get an opportunity to try out the new Princeton Tec 1W headlamp - but it was coming for the ride just in case.
Initially I had just planned to doss down in the bivy bag at the campground but the constant weather reports citing impending showers (though hard to believe with crystal clear skies) had me woosing out and stringing up the hootchie - I love the humble hootchie and I was well pleased with my handywork :-)
The good thing about this route is that whilst it is remote in parts, other parts can be accessed by car - so a set of water and Gatorade drops was in order.
So having the accommodation squared away I set out to do the drops - 2L of water at the junction of Black Range and the Moorara Boss fire trail - this is only about 6.5k from the end but I had heaps of H20 so what the heck.
Next was 2 x 600ml bottles of Gatorade at Kiaora Hill - Six Footers will know that is where the Jenolan Cabins are. Again this is not far from the start but it would save me having to lug another 1.2kgs up the cliff on the Deviation so well worth it - also I was far too stingy to pay the $4.50 to park my car at the Caves whilst I found a suitable hiding spot.
The final drop was at Mt Lakeman at the junction of the Blood Filly fire trail and Kanangra Road - another 2 x 600mls of Gatorade.
The drops meant I could get away with just 2L in the Camelbak (to be topped up at Jenolan Caves) - I was expecting to be out about around 8 hours NB I could have put out more water as well - but I'm a stickler for taking my rubbish with me and so despite the size of my pack space would become a problem re: the empties - and I just knew I wouldn't be arsed driving back to collect them after I finished.
Driving through the Jenolan Gorge I started to wonder WTF I had got myself into - the scale of things here is XXL - funny how time dulls the memory - "I am going to cross the Jenolan Gorge (I was looking at it while I was thinking this) TWICE on trails steeper than Pluvio on my own - I am going to do farking what"?!?
I was also a bit apprehensive about finding the right ridge to take up to Oaky Camp (the bush-bash bit) so I pulled up at the campground turnoff and again at Inspiration Lookout on the way back to do a bit of a map study.
Legend has it that there was once a road up the Oaky Camp ridge but from my distant perch I couldn't detect it - but at least I could confirm that the ridge looked navigable - I'd just have to be able to find the bugger from the bottom now :-) I programmed the waypoint into Garmy for the nose of the ridge so that should get me within 80m or so of the right spot.
It was getting on toward 6.00pm by the time I got back to camp - time to get the billy fired up, strap on the nose bag and settle the nerves a bit. And whilst the campground on the West side of the Jenolan Rd is choccas it's only me and a herd of about 30 kanagroos in residence at the Deviation. The kanga's are quite cute - they are just munching away on grass from between 5 to 50 meters away - if I get up they watch me but don't hop off and I don't try to go near them - live and let live I say.
Well it's just after 8.00pm as I tap out this sentance on the cackleberry and I'm feeling very at peace and content - all my preparation is good - now it is just a matter of doing it. It has clouded over and is quite cool so it might be time to turn back the bed covers and see if housekeeping has left a chocolate under my pillow.
OK so I read for a while - turned the lamp out about 10PM and got 2 hours of good sleep till it started raining at midnight. From then on it was that fitful crappy dozing you get when it is raining and your nose is only inches from the roof - the big drops from the trees above beating down on the hootchie like a drum.
It stopped raining right on dawn (thankfully) so I broke camp - brewed up and got ready to head off.
Started out very conservatively and had an uneventful trot down to the Caves - though I did need to make use of the conveniences at Kiaora Hill - I was obviously a little too diligent with my carb loading as I had to go again at the Caves as well.
I topped up the Camelbak and sauntered through the Grand Arch - first time I've ever seen it empty - kewl :-)
The map shows the trail hugging the South-Western side of the river for the first part but in reality it criss-crosses several times which was initially a bit confusing.
As I came through the locked gate I glanced down at the Garmin which said still 875m to go till the nose of the ridge - that's odd - I thought it would be closer... and I blindly travelled on..... dingbat head 2P! - what Garmy was trying to tell me was that I'd passed the point and that the NEXT point was 875m away on TOP of the ridge! Pay attention for goodness sake - and to think I pride myself on being a good navigator....
I eventually worked it all out after staring dumbly at the map for a while and then had to backtrack about 400m to the locked gate - which is exactly on the nose of the ridge - der Fred - what a time waster - though I did learn that the campground has taps which would be a better place to top up the Camelbak in future as there is one just 20m past the locked gate.
Well legend is right (ta Mr G for the intel - your book is on the money) there is evidence of an old road up the ridge - not much evidence - but evidence - though I don't think anything other than the bulldozer that cut it could have traversed it - bloody thing goes straight up and is so steep as to be barely walkable - took me forty minutes to do my 13th k split - dinkum!!! - Though that did include a bit of stuffing around at the bottom.
Once you get up a bit and the ridge broadens out it is a dogs breakfast
of fallen trees, stripped bark and leaf litter - the views back to the Grand Arch are spectacular though. You need to push over and cast about on the far (Eastern) side of the ridge to pick up the trail again.
From here the track undulates steeply but trends upwards towards the Kanangra Road - I just trotted the downs and walked the ups - I probably could have run some of the ups and run the downs harder but I was being conservative given what was still in store for me. Also - the mist had burned off and I was starting to feel the bite of the sun. In any event today wasn't about racing or pushing - it was about exploration, time on feet and having a good time :-)
The couple of clicks along the Kanangra Road are a necessary reminder that some kind of civilisation isn't that far away - well if you can call four wheel drive drivers and trail bike riders civilised that is :-) - and whilst there wasn't much traffic the bits that went by had me choking on dust - the view off to the right is pretty specie though.
Arriving at the Blood Filly fire trail I had to take the pack off anyway to load up the Gatorade and as it is almost halfway - I might as well have lunch. Not having had breaky (couldn't face it) I hoovered down a Bakers Delight wholewheat roll, a couple of mini Babybel cheeses and a handful of salted peanuts. Yet another loo break (damn freeze-dries), a re-application of some vaseline and sunscreen and it was back onto the trail.
Blood Filly fire trail is a complete delight - shaded, great surface and gorgeous light timber with green (yes green) grass and mostly downhill - it just doesn't get any better - I was in trail running heaven - well until it started going back up that is :-)
NB there is a track junction about a k before the Maroora Boss junction that appears on the right that is not a marked trail on the map - sorry about that folks just a note to self for future reference. Though it does prove the value of programming in waypoints as I knew it had to be the wrong junction from the Garmin - all day Garmy helped me out and was never more than 120m off the mark (once) - more often than not the error was between a few meters and 80m - not bad considering the crude method of lifting them off a map and then doing the conversions.
You can't miss the Moorara Boss fire trail - it is obviously the Alpha Trail hereabouts and fair enough too - the views alternating from right to left are simply stunning. Taking the time to look up the hills pays too as there are some awesome rock formations and gianormous boulders.
Climbing Moorara Boss I came across an echidna with yellowish quills - he was a cute little fella but not in the mood to chat - he just buried his snout and bared his quills when I stopped to say "g'day" - maybe my reputation preceeds me?
Anyhoo not long after this I realised the timer on Garmy was stopped - no idea for how long as I was stopping the timer whenever I pulled up eg for lunch, to look at the view or say - an echidna etc that way I could have a total time and a total moving time so I would know how I would go if racing - bugger - obviously I'd forgotten to turn it back on after one stop - a comparison of elapsed time against time of day meant it must have been at least 3k at a minimum given I knew what the difference between the 2 was at lunch.
Lots of ups and downs on Moorara Boss but eventually you get to a point where it is all down and I mean all down - none of this 'flatten out and a sneaky up bit' that you get on other trail descents - just relentless switchbacks down, down and down.
The last 4k or so of this descent is without doubt THE WORST surface I have ever run on - it's a kind of sandy, gritty, quartzy conglomerate - sometimes it holds underfoot and other times it crumbles away and your foot sinks a couple of inches. Where I had been all sparked up to fang it I had to hold back - pulling 8 minute downhill k's playing a game of Russian Roulette on where I put my foot down - you gotta be kiddin me - downhill is supposed to be my strong suit!
It is also terribly exposed to the sun and the glare from the sand in general and the glitter from the little bits of quartz crystal that bedazzle your eyes like so many sparkling diamonds all add to the general discomfort.
Just when you think it can't get worse you get the same surface with side-plate sized rocks layered over the top - I was starting to stumble and slide bigtime - fortunately this section doesn't last long and just before you reach the bottom the world turns back to clay and basalt - happy, happy, joy, joy.
The crossing at the Jenolan River is picture perfect (pity I didn't have a camera) and I would have loved to spend more time here (to see if there was any water in Sassafrass Creek) - but having lost so much time on the descent I didn't dare - I'd also used more Gatorade and water down the exposed section than I bargained on so reckoning that a bird in the hand... I just paused to empty half a kilo of sand and crap out of each shoe - walk through the water and splash my face and neck (trying hard not to think that the Jenolan Sewerage Works empties into the river a few k upstream). A quick 'ooo and ahhh' at the big grey kanga's on the flat and up we go.
The only person I know who has traversed the Northern side of Moorara Boss (no one I know had done the Southern side) is CR Fats and in an email he warned me what an unrelenting and steep climb it is - well you weren't pulling my chain Fats - bloody hell - there was no running or even power walking for me here - it was just one foot trudging after the other - plod, plod - bloody plod - the only good news was there was none of that sandy crap that was on the other side so could be worse :-)
Wasn't long before all the Gatorade was gone and I fished out another handful of salted peanuts before switching to PB's - quietly wondering how long the water would last..... Well I ran out with a kilometre to go to my next drop but fortunately the last 800m is relatively flat to only mildly uphill - I could of run but as the old adage goes 'conserve sweat, not water' and I guess if there is no water then there is an even greater imperative to conserve sweat! - I walked.
Maybe I was getting a bit dehydrated and tired but I had the odd spot of bother finding my water drop - I could have sworn I left it near that big gum tree, or was it that one? No wait a minute....... bugger, bugger, bugger - only 6.5k to go but I aint budging till I have juice. So stop flapping about like a headless chook and get logical - search pattern time - start at the road - 5m wide sweeps over 30m front - second sweep - bingo - LOL it wasn't anywhere near a big gum tree - it was behind a fallen log :-)
That only left the 6.5k dash for cash up Black Range - so wotcha got left 2P? Not much - but at least I could muster a shuffle which bodes well for Six Foot - if I can shuffle up Black Range after 8 and a bit hours today then there is no excuse not to run it after 3 and a half on March 10 :-)
Arrived back at the car precisely 9 hours and 3 minutes after I left it - about an hour longer than I predicted - total moving time would have been in the vicinity of 8 and a bit hours.
What a thoroughly fantastic experience - I rate it as a tougher course than Six Foot - but then I wasn't racing and there is no aid stations - so it's not a direct comparison - but I don't reckon I'd go much under 7 1/2 hours even if I was fanging it.
Oh yeah - for the trail runners out there - this is definitely one for the enthusiast!
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