The Ensign Barrallier Walk - by Sandra Kelley
Katoomba to Mittagong
July 7-15, 1998
Walkers: Sandra Kelley (leader), Alwyn Martin, Denise Davies, Fiona Wilmot, Jennifer Himmelreich
Ensign Barrallier - an aide de camp to Governor King - took twenty two days to go through the Burragorang Valley to the Kowmung River in 1802. This area was also visited by bushrangers, convicts, early settlers and miners. Early bushwalkers frequently visited the Blue Mountains and Kanangra-Boyd area, but it was not until 1988 that a group of twenty seven walkers linked the two areas, taking seven days to complete the journey from Katoomba to Mittagong.
This is a hard walk. You need to be fit, accustomed to road walking, and have good navigational skills to complete this interesting but challenging walk. It also helps to have the 'Katoomba to Mittagong Track' book by Robert Sloss.
Day 1: A very cool start at Cliff Drive, Katoomba, with spectacular views of the mist rising out of the valley. We walked across Corral Swamp, Clear Hill, descending via a metal ladder (ten metres) and the Tarros Ladder (twenty metres). This consisted of metal spikes about one metre apart. We lowered the packs first before clambering down - very scary if you do not like heights. We pushed onto Medlow Gap and decided to continue onto the Cox's River via White Pup Spur. This was an extremely steep descent with a loose, pebbly surface. A long day of eighteen kilometres.
Day 2: The day started with a freezing Cox's River crossing (undies height) then a very slow and difficult climb up Mount Cookem. Lots of loose rocks and rubble but rewarding lookout and lunch at the top. It took two hours to climb. We met Ed and Bart from Katherinefield halfway up the mountain. They were cycling this track to Jenolan Caves. It took them seven hours to do the climb as they had to carry their bikes as well as their hiking gear - insane! We crossed Scott's Main Range to New Yards where the Catholic Bushwalkers have a camp site and hut - even a toilet that flushed! Strong winds overnight and some rain. Thirteen kilometres for the day.
Day 3: Very cool. We were accompanied by bellbirds down to the Kowmung River and Cedar Crossing, and then had a lovely stroll along the fast flowing river. Some rock hopping was necessary and we had sleet at lunchtime and again at night. We camped near Ferny Creek after a day of eighteen and a half kilometres.
Day 4: Cool morning. We walked two kilometres along the river then climbed four hundred metres up Brumby Spur. This area is starting to regenerate following recent bushfires. We were back on Scott's Main Range for a long, undulating hike to Byrne's Gap, Twin Peaks and Yerranderie, covering nineteen and a half kilometres for the day. Stuart Davies had arrived with our next four days supply of food. After a beautiful shower we had a surprise. Stuart had prepared a meal of braised beef and tomatoes with potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli and carrots, followed by hot apple pie, cream and strawberries. The mood was set by a candelabra and the evening finished with a game of 'Oh Hell!' Stuart, you are a marvel! Many, many thanks.
Day 5: We had frost this morning which cleared to a sunny day. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, we left Yerranderie for an easy walk through open country, encountering a group of wild pigs and several mobs of kangaroos along the way. A large section of this track has recently been cleared, making it easy to follow, and we had excellent views of Bonnum Pic and Beloon Pass. We made our way onto Sheepwalk Road then down to Jooriland River where we camped upstream, out of Waterboard property, after a day of fourteen kilometres. We had time for a game of cards before sunset.
Day 6: Ice on the tents this morning. We followed the Sheepwalk Road to the Wollondilly River. Here we met a chaplain from Chevalier who was cycling to New Yards. We carefully picked our way across the freezing eighty metre Wollondilly crossing, then hiked along a fire-trail to Beloon Pass. If we thought that Mount Cookem was bad, it had nothing on what we now faced. As we started up the four hundred metre, fifty degree incline (only slightly exaggerated) we were greeted by howls from wild dogs. The surface of the slope was covered in loose rocks, making it difficult to get a foot-hold. We included the following comments in the book at the apex - "Stairway to Hell", "Vertical Incline" and "Stuffed!" We all felt we had truly achieved something. We then followed the South Travers Creek down, along a track that sometimes disappeared, to the Nattai River, where we camped at Colley's Flat after a fourteen kilometre day.
Day 7: Ice on the tents again this morning. Pleasant walking following fire trails across grassy meadows - which would be very snaky in summer - along the edge of the Nattai with several river crossings causing a few wet boots and socks. The trail was hard to follow at times as many of the markers have disappeared. We camped near Surveyors campsite, short of our target due to back-tracking because of an impassable river bluff, and a lost coat. An eleven kilometre day.
Day 8: Early rise - 5am. Navigation was again difficult as we followed along the Nattai across ferny banks and river crossings. The Nattai narrows considerably in places but has some long, deep pools. We finally found the elusive markers and a well-worn track along which we met a group of scouts and their leaders. This took us through Emmett's Flat, across Troy Creek and onto McArthur's Flat where we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon and camped for the night after a day of only eight kilometres.
Day 9: A sunny day. Starlight's Trail took us up for three hundred metres along a gradual winding track and onto Wattle Ridge Road where we contacted Henry - the first time the mobile phone worked. Five more kilometres saw us nearing Hilltop and Henry was a welcome sight at the end of eight kilometres of walking for the day. After a wonderful lunch of greasy chips and hamburgers, we drove home dreaming of a hot shower and a soft bed.