Back in April, Tim and a few mates attempted the infamous K2K walk in a single day. No one expected 45 kilometres of Blue Mountains wilderness to go down without a fight, but the crew, and Tim in particular, got a bit more than they bargained for…
Lightning splits the sky, followed immediately by thunder that rumbles across the plateau and punches me in the chest. I’m hunched over the screen of my GPS, limping through a heavy downpour while attempting to check my progress in the fading light.
10 hours, 18 minutes. 31.78 kilometres down. We’ve been hiking since dawn but there are at least 14 big ones to go, probably more. I place my left foot on a fallen branch and swing my right leg over without bending it. With a grimace I fling back my hood and turn my face to the sky. I let the icy rain pound me from temple to chin for a fleeting moment, set my shoulders and walk on.
Kanangra to Katoomba
The K2K walk runs from Echo Head in Kanangra-Boyd National Park to the locked gate and carpark at Narrowneck. From Kanangra to Katoomba it’s 45-50km depending on who you ask (and how lost you get). It’s usually done as a two or three day hike and with incredible ridgeline and riverside campsites, you’ll be spoilt for locations to pull in for the night.
But “screw that” we thought. Let’s do it in a day.
Well, originally that was just Mitch. His infectious enthusiasm and penchant for bonkers adventures first took hold of me while we were having a chat about the Dusky Track, the hardest hike in New Zealand.
Enticed by the siren-song of ruthless endeavour, and helped along by a dollop of machismo, we set a plan.
Welcome to Kanangra-Boyd
With the pre-dawn brekkie and coffee smashed, we flung the overnight gear in the back of Mitch’s Forrester and shouldered our daypacks. His girlfriend Greer had driven us down from their place in Blackheath the night before allowing us to a) sink courage beers and b) avoid a 4-hour post-hike car shuffle.
Kanangra-Boyd National Park doesn’t mess around with foreplay. Within minutes we were powering along the plateau; massive cliffs were everywhere we looked as the sun shook off its hangover in the distance. With roughly a kilometre of elevation, it was incredible to see the true distance of the horizon. We stopped briefly to admire the sunlight reddening Kanangra Walls, but we couldn’t stay for long. I was starting to learn my first lesson of the trip…
No Time To Smell The Roses
Covering big distances is all about keeping moving. One of the best things you can do is take your breaks together to minimise the down time. I knew this, yet couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret as we marched away from the walls at sunrise, charged across the picturesque Cox’s river or blew past summit views on the Gangerang Range.
Time pressure can also lead to skipping essentials such as stretching up before starting walking, or rushing tricky sections like a gully descent. Guess which two things I wish I’d done differently?
Powering along the ridgeline we were in high spirits.
Crisp, clear weather was defying the forecast and we were making a cracking pace on a well-formed track. My knee was starting to ache but I hadn’t mentioned it to the others, it was probably just warming up.
Summiting Mount Cloudmaker (the mountains on this ridge have some truly excellent names) we took a right at a cairn down a clear track and within a few minutes were deep into uncharted scrub. Totally lost. How had it been so easy? We navigated back up to the top and started again, but it wouldn’t be the last time.
It’s Frightfully Easy To Get Off Track
On K2K we didn’t see a sign for roughly 39 kilometres; it’s proper wilderness and it had been a while since I’d hiked through something so raw. I was reminded that navigating a walk has nothing in common with the hiking-on-rails experience of easier walks.
Descending Mount Strongleg, a 1000m drop made tastefully ironic by the pain in my knee reaching a screaming crescendo, my brother Mike and I became lost. I couldn’t even tell you how it happened, one second I’m stumbling down a ridge, biting my finger so nearby hikers don’t think someone’s being murdered, and the next we’re surrounded by indistinguishable bushes, it was the Blair Witch Project with less shaky cam.
A few degrees off course can add up to hundreds of metres over a few kilometres – basically, don’t underestimate just how easy it is to get lost.
Mitch and Alex, the other two in our party, had powered ahead whilst I struggled down the mountain. But after waiting at the bottom for 25 minutes, they decided to head up to find us.
Mike and I were lost by this point, and just like that, our groups had lost each other.
A tense hour followed as both groups attempted to locate each other and I shared this sense of dread with the crew as we regrouped by the river.
I can’t remember who said it, but someone suggested that we were never in any danger, as both pairs had a PLB on them. This didn’t sit well with me.
PLBs Don’t Replace Safe Practice
Personal locator beacons are the bomb. Any adventurer heading out of range should rent, buy or borrow one of these bad boys in case things get a bit Lord of the Flies. But packing a helicopter button shouldn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. There’s never a guarantee that a rescue will be possible, or timely enough, in an emergency.
Basic hiking safety, like sticking together, bringing a first-aid kit, warm gear for an unexpected overnighter and packing a map should never be ignored. You’ll quite possibly die without them and at the very least, you’re sure to have a better time.