Monday, February 13, 2006

Australia ~ More on Katoomba

Leaving Sydney we took the train up to Katoomba, a small mountain town with lots of outdoor activities. Our Couch Surfing host Tom, picked us up in town and drove us out to his place. His home has been converted into a guest house allowing him to rent rooms to travellers. But special guest like us get private accomodations: a pretty rustic trailer, with a million dollar view.

Although a short walk to town, Tom's place is just across the road from the areas major attractions, adjacent to the Blue Mountains National Park.

Our first day in Katoomba was intended to be an "easy" day, so we visited Scenic World. We took the Scenic Railway down, walked some trails and the boardwalk through the forest, then took the Cableway back up. After a little lunch in the revolving restaurant, we took the Skyway across the canyon to Echo Point, where we had a great view of the rock formation called "Three Sisters". From Echo Point we were a reasonably short walk to town, where we chatted up all the local guide businesses that provide abseiling adventures. We decided to sit on it for the evening, and make a decision the following day. And we spent the evening chatting with Tom, and tuning up a couple of his bikes to borrow the next day.

So, next day (I lost track of days after about day 2) we started the day by going for a very short mountain bike ride toward Narrow Neck Plateau. Then we rode our bikes to town, made reservations with the Australian School of Mountaineering (ASM), did a little laundry and grocery shopping. After returning from running errands, we bicycled the Cliff Drive to nearby Leura. It was a very warm day, and we were both pretty sweaty and tired well before it was over. So the "iced" coffee we had in Leura was exceptional! (And around here, Iced Coffee means Ice Cream, rather than Ice Cubes. Yum!).

After talking with the ASM people we had decided to sign up for a canyoning adventure at Empress Falls, instead of just the abseiling alone. (The linked photo is an unrelated person, but photo is of "our" falls). I just can't begin to tell you how much fun we had. The first half of the day was learning to abseil. Our guides, Cameron and Dave, were absolutely fantastic. Cameron is something of a comedian, and they both made it a super enjoyable, and totally non-threatening endeavor. Between the three Germans, one Polish guy, the Brittish girl, and us, we had absolutely no experience abseiling. They start by taking you on a weeny abseil, maybe 6 or 7 feet. Then on to a big old 18 to 20' rock. And finally on to a 35 or 40' practice wall. After a drive to the Empress Falls location, and a big lunch, we packed up our drybags and packs and hiked down to the stream that eventually becomes the falls. When we got to the stream we pulled on our wetsuits, repacked our packs, and started hiking down the stream. Almost immediately we had to jump from a rock into a pool of cold water a few feet below. We did this ... walking over and around rocks, hiking in the water, and leaping into pools ... for about half an hour before coming to the top of the falls. After all that training in the morning, they weren't about to let us set up our own equipment. So Cameron went below to man the end of the rope, and Dave stayed up top hooking up our descenders and carabiners. It's absolutely terrifying to look down a 100' waterfall and know that you're headed straight down. At least that's how I felt. I think Gregg was just purely excited. So, Dave hooked me up and told me to go, and I went. And then the rock face gets more complicated, and my feet are beginning to slide around, and I'm not sure where to go next (and I'm still about 60' above the water) ... and suddenly I realize that all that whistling and yelling coming from Cameron (down below) is meant for me. So I follow his instructions and go far to the left before heading down again. And then, about 10' above the water, there's a huge cutout in the rock below, and I'm not sure what to do again ... and Cameron yells "Jump ... Just let go of the rope!" And once again I have water in my ears and my nose, and I'm completely submerged for a moment. Huge, huge amounts of fun. And I highly recommend it to any able bodied, somewhat adventurous person. I believe they do the same thing in the Utah, and probably in other areas of the U.S., so you don't have to come to Australia to do it. But if you do come to the Sydney area of Australia, you absolutely must come to the Blue Mountains, and go canyoning with the ASM guides.

A couple of days have passed since Katoomba, but no time to get you all caught up just yet. We'll tell you all about Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula another time.

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