A tough overnight walk from Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains, down to the wild Kowmung River.
The plan was to tackle the Katoomba to Kanangra walk, a “classic” route I’ve been wanting to do for many years. A group of intrepid Venturer Scouts are doing this walk starting at Kanangra, so by starting at the opposite end we could avoid a lengthy car shuffle by swapping vehicles. We would drive the car they left at Kanangra back to Katoomba, once we’d done the walk in the opposite direction. (The “we” on this hike being Andy, father of one of the Venturers, and myself). A most excellent plan, we thought. Until the weather forecast indicated that most of our hike would be in 35+ degree temperatures.
The Venturers, being more fit and/or foolhardy than us, proceeded with their planned walk. Our Plan B, since we needed to collect their car from Kanangra Walls, was a slightly more “leisurely” hike down to the Kowmung River. Armed with a bottle of wine and gourmet sausages from Blackheath purchased on the way, we started our hike at 2:15pm with the temperature around 34 degrees.
The first part of the walk is along the well-marked Plateau Track: it’s pretty warm (actually, it’s bloody hot and we are questioning why we’re not at the nearest pub). There’s no-one else** stupid enough to be out walking (** except of course the Venturers, but they are nowhere near us).
There’s some nice views of Kanangra Walls extending out into the distance, as the path drops down between Mount Kanangra and the Kanangra Wall plateau.
In this gap lies Dance Floor Cave, a short detour off the Plateau Track. Located on the old cattle route from the Burragorang Valley to Oberon, the cave became such a popular meeting place in the 18th century that a wooden dance floor was erected. Now it’s just used as occasional shelter for hikers.
The Plateau Track, not surprisingly, follows the heath-covered Kanangra Tops plateau in an easterly direction. It’s easy to follow and fairly flat, occasionally crossing some rock platforms where some care is needed not to lose the track.
There’s also some fantastic views from the edge of the cliffs, and into Kanangra Gorge.
Across the other side of Kanagra Gorge are the Thurat Walls and Thurat Spires, rising 600m above the valley floor.
After about 1.9km along the Plateau Track we veer right onto an unnamed track that heads towards Maxwell Top (Kanangra 8930-3S GR342358 or -33.98511, 150.12235). According to Google Maps, it’s called the Coal Seam Walking Track, but it’s not named on the topographical map. (The original Kanangra to Katoomba plan would have had us continuing straight ahead, along the plateau.)
This track is also well-defined and fairly flat, as it follows the very wide Murrarang plateau in a southerly direction. We follow this track for just over a kilometre before nearing Murrarang Top at the end of the plateau, where the track forks (Yerranderie 8929-4N GR344340 or -34.00172, 150.12445). Here it’s a bit confusing, as one of our maps shows a single trail and the other shows two ways of getting down the small cliffs. We take the left trail; in hindsight I suspect either track would have worked. There’s a short and easy scramble down a cleft in the rocks, and we’re at the base of Murrarang Head where we follow the base of the small cliff.
At the end of the cliffs is the impressive Coal Seam Cave, although it’s not named on any of our maps. While not a particularly deep cave, it’s very long and the sandstone above the coal seam has been eroded in a way that makes it seem (no pun intended!) as if it’s been very precisely cut. There’s a barrel here collecting water that drips from the sandstone, and even on a hot day when most creeks were dry, it was 3/4 full. There would be plenty of space for a few tents, too.
So far, so good… At the end of the long cave, the track drops quick steeply down to a saddle. We’re now on the Gingra Trail, which follows the Gingra Range and eventually reaches the Kowmung River. From this trail, there are multiple trails that go down to the Kowmung. The track is easy to follow and it’s fairly easy walk along the shaded ridge-top, although the temperature is still in the 30s.
We pass Cottage Rock, just visible from the main track (there’s no obvious trail up to here, and it’s too hot to entertain sightseeing detours!). As we ascend about 50m (although it feels like a lot more) up to First Top Mountain, we see what looks like a side-track down Brumby Ridge. This was our intended route, being the shortest track to the Kowmung. But the faint trail quickly peters out and we decide to try Roots Ridge, which is marked on our topographical map. Another kilometre along the Gingra Trail and we reach the Roots Ridge Track. This will, hopefully, take us from the Gingra Range at around 800m down to the Kowmung River at 220m. We set off down Roots Ridge: the track is very faint but the route is easy to follow, as it descends the top of the ridge.
As we near the bottom of Roots Ridge, we get our first and very welcome sight of the Kowmung River below us.
Just a (steep) kilometre to go until we reach the bottom… the 800m descent from the Gingra Trail is about 4km in length, but starts of gradually and gets steeper towards the end. The track is not very distinct, but the route is fairly obvious.
We enjoy a well-earned swim before setting up camp. According to my watch, the average temperature since we started around 2pm has been 33.6 degrees, and it’s still about this temperature at 7:30pm (it’s taken us about 5:30min to cover about 13km). We’ve got the river to ourselves, and there’s a nice, flat and grassy area close to the river. It is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with a deep enough pool for a swim and clean, flowing water (we filtered the water just to be safe, but the Kowmung is generally considered safe to drink).
Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter, so we try and get some sleep despite the heat, with alarms set for 5am the next morning.
It’s the same way back tomorrow, and while it’s cool when we set-off around 5:30am the temperature has reached about 30 degrees by the time we reach the Gingra Trail.
On the way back, I make the short off-track detour up the steep slope to Cottage Rock from the Gingra Trail. Someone’s helpfully made a rock step to help get onto the outcrop.
The view from the top isn’t spectacular, but you can see the Gingra Range that we’ve been following and the surrounding peaks of the Kanangra-Boyd National Park.
One more steep section from Cottage Rock up to Coal Seam Cave, and then it’s fairly easy walking back to the car. It has taken us 5:30min to get back; about the same time as the descent. It feels very hot up on the plateau, and we discover later that today is the hottest temperature on record for Sydney’s west.
||Start at Kanangra Walls car park (end of Kanangra Walls Road).
210km (3:30hr) from Sydney / 110km (2hr) from Katoomba
||26km return (approx)
||Moderate/Hard. Total 1,100m ascent. Some off-track walking.
- Kanangra 8930-3S 1:25K
- Yerranderie 8929-4N 1:25K
||Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
- Part of the walk covered by Buswalking NSW Web site
- National Parks – Kanangra-Boyd Web site
- If travelling to Kanangra Walls via Jenolan, please note that the road is closed to traffic leaving Jenolan in the direction of Katoomba every day from 11.45am to 1.15pm (ie. for 90 minutes the road becomes ‘one way’).
- There are toilets at the Kanangra Walls car park, but don’t rely on water being available here.