Our second day on the trail, although not terribly scenic in and of itself, proves to be our most eventful day yet as we travel 24km between Black Range and Cox River before being caught in a torrential downpour mid tent set-up. It’s unpredictable (and somewhat tragic) moments like these that make the absolute best hiking stories, and thankfully with the help of several glasses of wine, we are able to laugh about it before the day is through.
Trail stats: Black Range to Cox River
Trail time: 5.5hrs
Highlights: trail opens up to sprawling views of the surrounding valleys; Alum Creek crossing; beautiful scenery at Cox River; crossing the Bowtells Swing Bridge; kangaroo goulash and shiraz at the Six Foot Track Eco Lodge
Campsite: Six Foot Track Eco Lodge
After being asleep for quite nearly 11hrs, Barbara wakes me up at 7 to let me know she’s made breakfast; surprisingly, about half of the campground has already packed up and rolled out while I’ve been peacefully sleeping away in my tent. It got pretty chilly last night, so I’m pleased to have brought my winter sleeping bag, even with the added bulk— it was worth it for the prolonged and very cozy sleep that I just enjoyed.
After a hot breakfast and a quick pack-up of my dewy tent, Barbara and I hit the trail at 830. We have 21km to cover today, but a vast majority of it is downhill and really won’t be that physically demanding, which means that we should be able to move pretty quickly. It’s 14.5km from Black Range to Alum Creek, another campground along the trail, so we set our sights on this spot for lunch.
The morning passes easily, but unfortunately without much visual interest— a majority of the walk is on wide gravel fire trails or dirt vehicle tracks and is sheltered by gums on all sides. As we approach Alum Creek, the trail descends even more steeply and begins to wreak havoc on my granny knees, but thankfully the views open up here to the expansive blue gum valleys all around us, providing a very welcome distraction.
Exactly 3hrs after our departure (and after crossing a few beautiful little creeks), we arrive at Alum Creek campground and gleefully chuck our packs off on a large, shaded picnic table. We decide to treat ourselves to a hot lunch (something I literally never do on an overnight hike) and then take a brief siesta. As I am writing this post, I can hear Barbara gently snoring on the bench immediately across from me..
From this point, we have only 6.5km to camp at Cox’s River and, seeing as it’s not even midday yet, we are in no particular hurry. We have a steep but very short climb over Mini Mini Saddle, about 1.5km to the top, and then the rest of the walk to camp is straight downhill. Amazingly, the climb, which looks somewhat intimidating on the elevation profile, flies by and we transition to the remaining downhill before we even really know what’s happened.
The rest of our walk is on a wide vehicle track covered with large ruts, and is alarmingly steep. On several occasions, 4WDs come whizzing by, either from behind or towards us, disrupting our peaceful walk and scattering dust over the entire track. The only thing worse than these enormous vehicles are the dirt bikes that occasionally fly by, far quicker and with seemingly much less concern for the fact that this is a popular walking track. Even though Callum is not out riding his dirt bike this weekend, I still feel that he is personally responsible for all these disturbances, just by association. I make a mental note to let him know that I am not impressed.
By 240, just 90min from Alum Creek, we’ve arrived at Cox River camp, a large grassy meadow right on the water. Beginning to think about our return civilisation tomorrow and the killer Easter traffic we’re sure to face on the way back to Sydney, we quickly decide to continue walking to the next camp at Megalong Cemetery, which is a further 7.5km up the track. We allow ourselves to rest for about 15min and then hit the road, struggling to find the way due to a jumble of signage, but eventually following what seems to be a One Foot Track through the forest, past the Eco Lodge, and onwards to the eagerly-anticipated Bowtells Swing Bridge, which spans the entire width of the Cox River.
Once on the other side of the river, we are faced with an unsigned fork, the result of which proves to be either disastrous or fortuitous, depending on our outlook. As thunder rumbles nearby and the dark blue sky becomes increasingly ominous, we pick up our pace on the trail, eager to arrive to camp before dark and beat the impending storm. After several kilometres, though, we pass a sign that indicates we’ve walked just 500m from Cox River Camp, which should have been the first indication that things were not going to plan. When we arrive back at Cox River only moments later, on the opposite bank from camp, I bring up the photo of the track map on my camera and quickly deduce that we’ve walked a 3km loop rather than travelling any closer to the camp in Megalong.
As we are frustratedly discussing our next move, I feel a few drops, which prompts us to just set up camp now. We are still on the far side of the river from the official site, but we are situated under some trees and figure they might offer us a bit of protection from the storm (spoiler: they do not). In the 30 seconds that it takes to get the tent out of my bag and unrolled from its little stuff sack, the rain has begun to bucket down and we are literally saturated faster than it’s even possible to put a rain jacket on.
We put up the tent probably quicker than I’ve ever put up a tent in my life, but before we can get the rain fly on, our tent has become a shallow swimming pool, filling visibly by the moment with rainwater, and the rain fly has completely soaked through on both sides. We get everything hooked together, but then just stare at the tent in disbelief, wondering how on earth we’ve gotten this wet this quickly and how we can possibly sleep on 5cm (and counting) of muddy rainwater.
It’s clear to me that my down sleeping back will absolutely not be going anywhere near this water if I want to sleep tonight, so thankfully Barbara suggests that we go to the nearby Eco Lodge, the proprietors of which are Czech (as is Barbara). We disassemble the tent and spend several minutes trying to wring out all the water before just bundling it all under my arm and setting off. We could walk several kilometres back to the Lodge via the swing bridge exactly as we came but, considering how wet we already are, the quickest way to dry land is directly across the rising Cox River. Boots, backpacks, and all, Barbara and I wade straight into the river and are soon hip-deep (belly-deep in little Barbara’s case) in the murky water. The whole situation is either terribly funny or completely tragic, but either way, we dissolve into hysterical laughter as we wade across the river. There’s nothing left to do but enjoy the chaos.
After only a few minutes, we arrive at the Eco Lodge and trudge up the stairs, absolutely dripping with defeat (but also relief at finally being under cover). A large family that we passed as they were coming the opposite way across the bridge is sitting comfortably under an awning, completely dry and passing around snacks, while we slosh our way across the decking to ask for a bed. Thankfully, Barbara is able to work her Czech charms on the owner, who offers us beds in one of the rooms for a discounted rate and even promises to light a fire for us so we can try to dry some of our soaking clothing.
Moments later, our wet clothes and the saturated tent are hung on the line, our boots are propped up near the fire, and all of our valuables have been carefully assessed for damage (the only casualty is my phone, which got quite a soaking in the hip belt of my pack and appears to have suffered some unfortunate water damage). We set up on one of the outdoor tables to watch the storm come to a close while sipping on some cup of soup and cackling at our own misfortune. Still, unintentional detour and all, we both feel as if this must have been fated— if we hadn’t taken the wrong path at the fork and come back to the river, we’d be stuck in the rain halfway to Megalong with no possible shelter and no hope of staying in a dry bed.
Barb gets us a few glasses of wine to enjoy with our hot soup, and suddenly the whole situation is starting to look a lot more delightful than disastrous. Not long after, we are joined by several other girls— Phoebe, who hiked down to the Eco Lodge today, and Georgia and Sophie, who also trudged up the stairs after a forgotten rain fly forced them to hastily abandon camp at Cox River— and it quickly becomes an impromptu party. We spend the next several hours swapping stories of mountain adventures, nudist retreats, and future travel plans, intermittently shaking our heads at the circumstances that brought us to this table (our submerged tent and their porous one), but also feeling rather pleased with the outcome.
The lodge owner, Pavel, kindly brings me and Barbara some of the left over kangaroo goulash that they prepared for the pre-booked guests— perks of speaking Czech, I think— and joins us for a few amusing stories of his own. In between tales of bikie gangs and local politicians causing a ruckus at the lodge, he tells us that his wife is back in Czech, about to give birth to a set of twins that will make them the (exhausted) parents of 4 under 3. That being said, we are all a bit starry eyed at the thought of growing up in the stunning Blue Mountains, a true paradise away from all the bustle and stress of the city. Lucky children.
For more than an hour, various parties try to peel away from the table to go to bed, but a natural break in the conversation seems never to come, so it is well after 9 by the time we finally head off to our bunks (an early night by normal standards, but practically an all-nighter compared to last night’s 7pm granny sleep). Rugged up under a thankfully dry sleeping bag, atop a cushy mattress, still slightly water logged from the afternoons tribulations but also full of goulash and entirely content with life, I can’t remember the last time I slept so well.