Saturday morning started off to a crawling pace… I barely dragged myself out of bed at 6:20AM, after just having crashed 4 hours before, and it felt like forever before the hot water came around in the shower. I was already running 15 minutes late when I heard the bus speed past our courtyard – guess I missed my 7AM. Shit. 29 minutes until the next one.
I contemplated my decision of leaving the previous night’s drumming “session” at 1AM… it probably wasn’t the best idea before an early hike the next day. But I met some pretty chill people that were awesome guitar players and Congo drummers, and also got introduced to the busking Irishmen. It was a good time, and it was nice to be part of another different crowd. It was 12 of us sitting around a semi-circle in someone’s backyard. There were magnolia trees that sheltered half of us from the moonlit sky and the wind, while the rest of us took advantage of that ocean breeze. It smelled like Ylang-Ylang, smoke from the grill, and salt water… funny combination, but it smelled like a good summer night. And, at some point, someone started playing Ben Harper’s “Burn One Down”…
The bus came at exactly 7:29AM. I was meeting Moses at Central Station where we would have to transfer to another train heading towards the airport to pick up his car and drive about an hour to get to the Blue Mountains. Having neglected to look it up before leaving, I didn’t realize that the Blue Mountains was an entire region, with multiple areas separated by natural rock formations (like lots of caves and steep ledges) and valleys (…more like canyons, really). We stood at the lookout of Wentworth Falls and it reminded me so much of Kauai’s Waimea Canyon. It went on about as far as I could see until the rest of it disappeared in fog. You could tell there were a lot of valleys because there were so many mountains side-by-side, but you couldn’t really see to the bottom. I asked Moses how long it would take to hike the trail and he said, “Well, we’re going to the bottom of this lookout, but there are switchbacks during the descent.” He said we’d have to traverse the valley through a shortcut (around the mountain side) because going to the very bottom would result in an 8 or 9-hour commitment. We started the descent.
It felt like your usual hiking trail; none of it seemed natural because there were hand rails, wooden planks, and man-made steps. It was also a very gradual descent for the first 10 minutes and you pass by quite a few hikers at the start. About 20 minutes into it, you start to see the drop (about 450 feet?) and get a little vertigo when you lean forward and look over the edge of the path. Another 10 minutes into it and you get the first challenge… quite possibly some of the steepest stairways I’ve ever used – it was almost fully perpendicular to the ground where it sat; certainly not a stairway for kids (or those that are very scared of heights). There was a thin rope that served as the railing on the stairs and the steps were made of stone so I can only imagine how difficult it can be to climb if there was a torrential downpour. This part of the descent took about 10 minutes and you’re rewarded with the best view of Wentworth Falls – in the pool at the bottom. This was the easy part.
The ascent can easily take an hour and 45 minutes. And the switchbacks are much worse. At some point, the paved footpaths start to disappear, there’s no railings, no planks, and no easy man-made steps. You have to start using your hands to pull yourself up, lean against the wall so you don’t slip and fall off a ravine, and stop every 15 minutes because you’re climbing too fast and there isn’t enough water.
When we left the city, we checked the weather and found that there’s a 40% chance of rain in the Blue Mountains. We figured, that means it’s unlikely to rain.
The thunder rolled in about 2 hours into the trail and it only got worse as we rushed to climb to the top. It was so loud, it felt threatening, and I might have been a little scared. Neither of us were sure how much further up we had to go, but we knew that rain would really slow us down.
Damn it. I didn’t have a poncho and I was wearing regular sneakers. Then the rain came. Yes, it was a torrential downpour. We tried to wait it out under a shelter formed by a ledge, but it only got worse and then the wind started. We probably stayed there for half an hour until we could gather the courage to run the rest of the trail to the top and it wasn’t easy.
When Chris and I did the first 4 miles of the Kalalau Trail, it was raining pretty hard, but we were both wearing water shoes and ponchos. We were reasonably prepared for it. Running up the trail at the Blue Mountains without the right pair of shoes and a poncho meant getting completely soaked in 10 seconds. Good thing, I wore my old sneakers. And the thing that really scared the shit out of me was that there was lightning and we were surrounded by trees. It was like standing in the middle of a beach during a lightning storm and I’m holding up a golf club.
We eventually got to the top and found the Tea House, a café/ restaurant at the end of the long hike. And I had the best BLT I’ve ever had. The bread was smothered with butter and lemon garlic aioli. And I had it with sparkling apple juice =)
Afterwards, it was another 20 minute hike before getting back to the car, but the toughest part was over. We avoided the longer trail because we had no time… but perhaps, that 8 or 9-hour commitment might be a new adventure to tackle for my return.