Here is an account of a sub-48 hour three peaks walk I did in January 2011. It is the Blue Mountains three peaks, not the organised race of the same name.
Over the weekend January 8 – 10, I decided to have a go at walking the Three Peaks in under 48hours. It is a long, very challenging loop starting from Katoomba, heading south to the area south of the Cox’s River and north of Kanangra walls, traversing the three highest peaks in the area: Cloudmaker, Paralyser and Guougang. It is about 90km and involves about 5000m vertical climbing (and the same down).
If you’re not familiar with the walk there are excellent descriptions here: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~aburke/3Peaks/index.htm and here: http://www.david-noble.net/BlueMts/Coxs/The_Three_Peaks.html.
Anyway, I went ahead and did it over Sunday and Monday. It was hard, I was slow, but did it in just under 47.5 hours, so made it. Here is my “one less fit person’s guide to three peaks”. It is long, but might be handy for anyone interested in this walk.
I left Katoomba, near the top of Narrow neck, at 7:05 on Saturday evening, walked the neck in about 2 hours, just over an hour to Medlow gap, and then reached the Coxs at 2am. 7 hours, and I felt I was pushing pretty hard. I did stop briefly at Medlow Gap, Mobbs and Yellow Dog. I think I was also carrying a heavier pack than other people might. But mainly I am just not super fast and not so sure footed or confident in the dark.
I rested for 1.75 hours at the Coxs, mainly because I felt like it not throught any real plan. I couldn’t sleep, but the rest was nice. The weather was fine and warm.
At just before 4am I set off over the river which was swollen – quite a bit wider and a touch deeper than I have seen before. It was slow getting across – it was dark and the water was cloudy, so it was a matter of feeling the way gingerly and a bit painfully.
At this point I had to decide once and for all which way around I would try to go -I hadn’t up until then, and had been debating pros and cons. I decided to go clockwise because
a)most of the route descriptions I’d read went this way so there was a touch less thinking involved
b)I knew there is a faint trail along Strongleg ridge to Cloudmaker, and thought that it is actually slower to try following such a track by night than by day. In darkness, it is quicker to walk off track than follow a hard-to-see track. So, I’d go that way in the morning and do the return in darkness. As it turned out, the return was in daylight too.
c)After reaching Stormbreaker on the first day, the whole walk would be heading back home, giving a psychological lift of sorts.
Just after 4am, having topped up on a bit of water from Kanangra Ck, I headed up Strongleg. It was fast going, much quicker than I’ve ever managed before. It took me just over an hour. I paused briefly at Dex Ck for more water and made Cloudmaker by about 9:00. It was now raining, and would continue to rain for most of the rest of the walk.
I went down the ridge off Stormbreaker, because I’d been that way before and thought it would be quicker without having to worry about navigation. I now think that the other way, off Marooba Karoo ridge would be faster. I also lost the track a bit over one of the rip rack rumble etc. knolls and was slowed by having to scramble a bit and climb more than I needed too.
I am slow going downhill, and it took me just over 2 hours to get down to Kanangra Ck from Stormbreaker. Then it took me about 3 hours to get up Paralyser. It has lots of false summits and gets depressing as you go up. At least the cool wet weather was keeping the flies down. But it was paradise for leeches, as were my feet and legs.
I forget exactly when I got up Paralyser, but it was maybe about 4pm. Then it was close to three hours to get down to Whalania Ck. Last time I went there, I climbed up to Guougang via the ridge up to Bullagowar. This time I wanted to do the Nooroo Buttress. I thought it looked more direct and so a bit faster. (I was wrong).
I got off a very steep and slow descent right at the junction of Jenolan Ck and Whalania Ck, and started straight up Nooroo Buttress. A couple of hundred metres up it was getting towards dark (about 8:30pm), and I was tired. So, I stopped for a rest. I planned to leave at 1am. It was fairly dry as I stopped, but then started raining again almost straight away. Then my thermarest got punctured so the ground was pretty uncomfortable. Then I found that the groundsheet plus garbage bag I had provided imperfect shelter, and my sleeping bag was damp to start with. Then the mozzies came out in force. And the leeches were going ballistic. And there was even a tiny scorpion sharing my “pillow”. Anyway…no sleep, but at least some rest.
I set off once again just before 1am. It was raining, foggy, windy and dark. Apparently the views are spectacular by day. That night, as I went up,all I could see were just occasional awful black gulfs of nothingness to either side of a narrow ridge. The beautiful rocky outcrops, spoken of so fondly by Ashley Burke, were greasy and sharp. It was steep and long. Lots of it is hand over hand scrambling. The “easy scramble” near the top that David Noble mentions, is quite easy, but goes on for ever. I think the route from Whalania Ck up to Bullagowar is quicker, though probably less scenic by day. If one were going the other way, down, that would certainly be the easier way to go.
It was 5:30 am before I got to the logbook on top. At least it was now light.
My exit lay back over Bullagowar towards Konangaroo Clearing.
I got over Bullagowar and made pretty good progress along Guougang ridge and Mt Konangaroo. Actually a faint trail is forming that way in lots of places, but it is all good ridge walking anyway. In a moment of tired confusion, I thought that enough was enough. I was being attacked by two types of giant biting fly, in a massive cloud around my head and wanted to get down. So I decided to head down to Kanangra Ck early. A mistake, I should have gone right to the end and then down. I had to cross the creek several times before I reached the clearing. By this stage I couldn’t be bothered taking off my shoes either, my feet were wet anyway. Then, somehow, I took ages to get around Konanagaroo clearing and back to the Coxs. It was 11:30 before I made the foot of the track up Yellow Pup. I know that Yellow Dog ridge may be faster for some, but not for me. My feet were craving the relative comfort of a track.
Both Kanangra Ck and the Coxs were even wider and stronger than before.
I now had 7.5 hours to get back to Katoomba. I had never done that in less than about 10. I decided to rush it and see what happened. So, I set a new personal best for Yellow pup, 1 hour 24 minutes. I left Yellow dog at 12:58pm. I then walked fast, even jogging down the hills, along the horse track.
I was at Mobbs Soak at 1:58. Then I got to Medlow Gap at 2:58. Mt Debert was a bit slow, but seems like a joke after the other big climbs. I had to pause just before Tarro’s ladder to take off the long waterproof pants I’d been wearing. They protect against rain and scrub and nettles, but aren’t flexible enough to climb in.
As I took them off, I noticed a mass of leeches on my shoes and legs. I wasted a few precious minutes removing them. These ones were particularly tenacious.
I reached the top of Clear Hill at about 4:30pm. Now, 2.5 hours to do the Neck bash. If I went hard, I might actually make it!
I walked fast (for me) and even shuffle-jogged down the hills. I didn’t stop, just pressed on. Half an hour to the fire tower -ok. Half way cave by 5:45 – still fine! Passed a couple of walkers just setting out, don’t know who or where, there was no way I was going to lose time by talking to them. One of them was wearing an army cadet uniform. I remember thinking it would get pretty cold in the rain.
The locked gate whizzed by and I finally made it back to the car at about 6:45pm. I’d done it, the three peaks in under 48 hours!
I am not unfit, but serious bushwalkers seem to cover massive distances in a flash. I can’t. They do Katoomba to Coxs in 5 hours, I can only do that in an absolutely mad rush. But, regardless, a sub 48 hour three peaks is doable for someone like me. The effort involved was a bit like a sub 24 hr one for a normal hard core walker, I guess. I didn’t rest that much, but I did rest and I wasted a fair bit of time in places.
I wouldn’t advise just going out and doing it if you haven’t done a number of really long walks before. As part of a plan for getting fit and losing weight, I set myself a series of increasingly ambitious challenges over about a year. These included the Six Foot Track return in 48 hours; Katoomba to Kanangra return in 48 hours (twice: I failed embarrassingly the second time), traverse of Mt Solitary and circuit of Jamison Valley in a day, and so on. I did get fit and lost a lot of weight (35kg). I didn’t just jump into three peaks without any preparation.
I had also walked around the route before, so didn’t have to worry too much about figuring out navigation on the fast walk. As well as the topo maps and compass, I take a GPS which is very helpful in the dark and fog. It worked perfectly everywhere along the route. I know some people frown on GPS, but hey…I use electric lights at home too and drive a car. I also always take a PLB if I am walking alone anywhere remote.