The world has spun, nights and days have come and gone, the clock hands turned, the passage of time is no longer, the wait is over; today we trek to Mount Dingo. This mountainous canine lies in wait, camouflaged and crouching behind her three defences – Mouin, Merrimerrigal and Warrigal. To conquer the Dingo, we must go deep.The Trek
It is 17 August 2013 circa 0500, the crew rise from their slumber and head to Katoomba. We meet at ‘base-camp’ cafe, The Savoy, consume a hearty breakfast and indulge in civilised toilet use one last time.
Drive to ‘start point’, park, group photo, commence walk.
With the wind behind our backs, we follow the meandering path along Narrow Neck Plateau. Our pace is brisk, energy levels are high, and we are unaware of our 7km mistake. At an elevation of 1100m we take in the views – the meadows of the Megalong, the Jamison’s dense greenery, sandstone escarpments and the windswept arid land beneath our feet.
Blue skies, crisp clean air, some distant clouds threatening – but luckily all talk and no action.
The fire tower emerges. It’s the marker for Bushwalker’s Hill, our intended starting point. Check Garmin – 7km deep already! No turning back now – the wind carries the dingoes’ howls, tempting us to go deeper. We can handle an extra 14km.
Step, step. Step, step. Step, step…
Arrive at Tarro’s Ladder – a series of spikes and rungs along a mostly vertical descent off the Plateau. Lee unties his rope and starts lowering backpacks. Tal descends first and gives guidance from below. Bloom brings his own unique style and climbs down back-to-the-wall, exhilaration pulsing through his veins. Goldie watches from below holding yoga pose and emitting Zen-rays. Ezra positions himself on a ledge and provides a helping hand in lowering the backpacks. Fran has raised a good son according to Bloom – house captain in his youth, rag trader and responsible trekker as an adult.
Dash along the undulating Mt Debert, lose 350m in vertical and cruise into Medlow Gap for a brief lunch stop. Trail mix, sandwiches and a subway foot-long are the key suppliers of energy necessary to face the dingo. This pit stop replenishes, rejuvenates, reinvigorates, refreshes and reignites resilience and resolve. The dingo will be mounted in 10km from this point.
Continue. Advance. Pace line. Pace on. Don’t stop. Footsteps of 11 crew pound the faint track. Bos leads at a solid pace, sticks in both hands for added speed and stability. He knows time is against us. Pace: 10mins/km. Tal navigates using his internal GPS. Frankie’s alternative internal brand of GPS is in sync. Onwards and upwards. The bush is thick, the path narrow, trees and branches and grass brush against us. The group is one. We are in a rhythm. Ease up! Stop! Simmy needs to brown-mark his territory (again). Wait. Simmy returns. The walk continues. Mouin is behind us. Merrimerrigal is being rounded. Warrigal Pass offers some navigational challenges but we persist and locate the path toward the snarling dingo. We are deep now. 20km in. Water break. The crew sits, single file on the pathway, Bloom entertains – the laughing might be harder than the walking.
The track veers sharply and steepens. We start the ascent. The sun is 1 hour shy of setting, so the light is perfect, rich yellow and streaming onto the path and warming our backs. The ascent is challenging after 20km with packs of 17kgs and it reveals the mountain goats amongst us – Sebi sets an impossible pace and Goldie is not far behind. Salty-burn-your-eyes sweat, screaming quads, calves and hammies will not stop anyone. Sublime suffering. Solace in pain. We push on, climb and scramble over sandstone rocks and boulders and pass through rocky tunnels. Step up, step up, step up… turn around and look out to Jenolan and Kanangra where the setting sun casts long shadows on the valley below and illuminates the sandstone cliffs in a warm hue. The view is spectacular, well-deserved.
We come face-to-face with the dingo. She is tame. Her howls were mistaken for taunts. She is embracing and offers a place to stay for the night, a safe-harbour protecting us from 60km/h winds.
Pitch tents. Inflate mattresses. Lee conjures up a fire in a jiffy. As the sun drops below the horizon it takes with it the intensity of the day. Calm ensues. We cook – boil and brew, roast and toast, smoke and sandwich – basic lightweight food that tonight triggers tastebud delight. The tented-trio pulls out sausages, salami and marshmallows!
The fire is our focal point this evening. We stretch out weary bodies by the hearth and sip scotch. Red hot embers and flickering flames fight off four degrees of cold for us. Frankie and bonfire feed one another, their hunger insatiable.
Looking up, high, stars are countless, the moon a gibbous. Music plays. It’s chilled and then Disclosure arrives – to the dismay of some, the pleasure of others – pervading the night air. Daft Punk saves the day. Good memories now tied to their new album.
Sleep comes easily after covering 22.05km, gaining 740m in vertical and descending 853m all in a moving time of 4:45 hours or 12:56mins/km with weighty packs.
Wake. Sleep. Wake again. Windstorm. Gale gusting and growling. It roars and rips through the valley and over mountains. Brace position!? Surely trees are being uprooted?
A new day has begun. The adventure continues. The crew savours the remnants of the fire, whilst Richie struggles to shed the shackles of sleep and remains housed in tent. Silver and Simmy share a nourishing porridge by the fire.
Bos, Simmy and Sebi explore the remainder of the campsite and take in the panoramic views from Bushwalkers Memorial, whilst signing the logbook and singing the Australian anthem as a sign of respect to fallen soldiers in World War II.
Farewell dingo. We traverse the mountain range – Dingo, Warrigal, Merrimerrigal and descend just before Mouin. The higher altitude brings with it fresh scenery, distinct from yesterday. We follow a line hugging the sedimentary mountain walls, cross boulders carpeted in moss and step over fallen trees. It is wild and untainted.
Navigate down a narrow cleft, reach Blackhorse Ridge. Look right and see the fire tower marking Bushwalker’s Hill. It is a distant speck and seems far even as the crow flies. Descend 417m at an average gradient of 51.2 degrees into the valley below. Watch the landscape change – greener, grassier and lusher. The romantics – Goldie and Silver – both pick wattles and other plants to take home as keepsakes or gifts.
Emerge Carlon creek – crystal clear. It beckons. Richie cannot resist, he plunges his head in, quenches his thirst. Goldie and Tal do likewise. At a cool eight degrees no one dares fully submerge. Eat lunch and rest the legs.
Resume. Through waist-high stinging nettles and wombat dung we go. Climb and climb. The path becomes obscure, our location uncertain. A wrong turn costs us 40 minutes and our intended route home remains elusive. What to do? Soldier on, proceed along the fire trail until we locate the turn off. But it is not to be. Dunphy’s Pass remains hidden. The only way out is back from whence we came – a return to Medlow Gap and along Narrow Neck, adding 15km to an already long day. We arrive at Medlow Gap and twilight stares us down. The group votes, vacillates – at six-to-five the majority wants to proceed, but then Bloom wisely crosses the floor and we set up camp for a second time. Lee clicks his fingers and fire appears.
Day 2 concludes after 21.55km at an average moving pace of 13:53mins/km, an elevation gain of 794m and loss of 926m. Bloom, Bos, Frankie and Richie add 4.0km for the water-collecting night walk.
Back the way we came, up Mount Debert, up Tarro’s Ladder and then the very long slog over Narrow Neck. Count every single burning step. Legs beg for mercy, plead for pause. Hope for the end beyond every bend, no rest, this is a test, the end is in sight, one last fight, conquer the climb, victory is sublime.
Day 3 adds 13.29km and 826m in vertical ascent for a total of 56.89km and 2360m in elevation gain.