Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blue Mountain National Park: Australia Day Three

Three Sisters at Blue Mountain National Park

5:20 in the morning is early. I don't understand how my TV friends can do the morning shift. When I hear that alarm clock go off when it's pitch black, I get angrier than Lewis Black at the RNC. The Blue Mountain National Park is a two-hour train ride northwest of Sydney. For all intents and purposes, the view in this mountain range is nothing spectacular. It pales in comparison to the Rockies or even the Appalachians. The tallest part of the mountain is just short of 4,000-feet. In comparison, Jackson Hole, WY, is around 10,450-feet. Even some of the locals downplay the significance or impressiveness of the Blues.

Someone call John Lithgow

Its signature spot is the Three Sisters, a group of three pointy formations right next to one another. It looks like a poor man's version of Bryce Canyon. It's a fantastic sight to see, but nothing quite as grand as the mountains we have in the U.S. Speaking of grand, there's a Grand Canyon in the park, but to compare the Aussie version to Arizona would be like comparing Joseph Conrad's writing to mine. Honestly, did Col. Kurtz's creator have a blog? That big-word-using bastard. What a tool.

This will never get old.
Oh yeah. So I hate mornings. Took an early train out, it was relaxing to see some of the Australian countryside via locomotive/subway. Got to this adventure outfitter called High N Wild in the Katoomba area of the park. Depending on the weather, we were going to rappel, or abseil, down several cliff faces, then head into the Empress Canyon, jumping and navigating through narrow canyon walls, sliding down rocks, and abseiling down a waterfall. This is what I had fully intended to do, but it had been raining, and the canyon quickly fills with water making it too dangerous for excursions. While making my reservation the day before, I asked the manager the likelihood of canyoning, otherwise I might try skydiving one of the beaches. Homey told me we looked about 90% a go, then added skydiving is awesome, but you can do that anywhere and there's only a handful of places in the world where you can go canyoning. I doubt this is true, but it was persuasive enough for me.

I'm getting rope burn here.
The weather started off great, and we began our rappels with a dinky "cliff" the size of a McDonald's jungle gym. This was mainly to develop the proper technique. Then we moved onto a real cliff that involved about a 10-foot ledge, followed by a 30-50-foot drop-off. These heights are not precise and merely TV reporter estimations ("...looks like the length of half a basketball court. Bob, back to you."). On this rappel, I didn't hold the rope far enough below my butt and ended up getting rope burn right below my waist. Since my adrenaline was pumping, I didn't even notice the several-inch burn until we were walking to the next cliff.

Mid-air post-battery fiasco
The last rappel, which was anywhere from 120-200 feet, was legit. I tried to take a picture on the way down, but my stupid camera battery lid popped open! So as I dangled in the air, I tried to put the battery back into the camera with my free hand. I'm sure the guide was wondering what the heck was going on down there. Amazingly, nothing plummeted to its doom. After this mishap, I tried to shoot some video, but apparently did the rookie double tap. Didn't record anything. That's why if you checked out that video I cut, all you see is rope (attached again below).

After a quick lunch of ham and Australian avocado sandwiches (their avocados spread more easily than our Cali ones), we trekked to the bottom of the Empress Canyon and changed into wetsuits and helmets. The wetsuits smelled like Sex Panther, more on this later. The river water was cold yet refreshing. We walked along a creek through the canyons, riding down several natural water slides, and jumping down multiple rocks into shallow pools of fresh water. It was an incredible sensation, and I recommend it to anyone who gets the chance.

Can you smell the wetsuit?
Camera appears to have water damage

Seriously, can you smell those suits?

As we maneuvered our way through the canyon, we ultimately reached our 99-foot waterfall. I started abseiling down the right of the waterfall, which was super slippery, and lost my footing a couple times. At the halfway point, there's a small ledge to reset yourself, then you abseil down the face of the waterfall. It's blinding, rearranged my contact, and just pummeled me. It's a little unnerving because you can't see anything but suddenly feel the cliff right next to you. You're absolutely clueless as to where you are. The key is to keep your butt nice and low and have you legs practically even with your waist, but it's tough when the waterfall is slapping you in the face like a random French guy challenging you to a duel. When you reach the bottom of the falls, you pull yourself along another rope Sly Stallone "Cliffhanger" rescue-style. Ultimately, this waterfall abseil was one of the most invigorating and memorable moments of my entire trip.

View from top of waterfall

This is not me
Nor this

Afterwards, there was a nice 10-foot rock jump, which I did about four times. When I see rocks and water, I feel like I'm 12 and just have the insatiable urge to jump. The climb back out of the canyon was more strenuous than I would've liked. The path and stairs are practically 90 degrees.

I'm doing Shooter McGavin here
When we got back to the outfitter headquarters, there was a nice cooler of Tooheys waiting for us. A flavorful light beer that was one of my favorite Aussie beers. When I returned the wetsuit, the guide just told me to hang it on a clothesline. I don't know if any of those have been washed in the last year. My board shorts, which I wore underneath the suit, smelled like death, and I had to wrap it up in like three hotel laundry bags. It was actually a scent I was unable to remove until I returned to California and one that would frequently perturb my sister's senses as it hung in the hotel bathrooms. Smelly suits were the only negatives of the excursion. The rest was exquisitely high and wild.

After the canyoning, I walked with an English backpacker to the Three Sisters and grabbed a meat pie and pint of Magners Light at an Irish pub called Harp & Fiddle. This English chap was a fine gentleman, recently laid off so he decided to travel, and I kept asking him to give me some UK slang. The only thing I remember is "pucker," which means "great." The problem is "pucker" in other slang means "anus." Sadly, this is a term I doubt I will use.

Does that chalk pint taste pucker... or like pucker?

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