Walking the Other Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains of NSW is certainly less grand than its famous name sake, but the hike is a rewarding walk through beautiful bush land which ends with a stunning view.

The walk snakes its way along the base of the canyon after descending from either of the two starting points near the mountain town of Blackheath.

Beautiful native vegetation, ancient trees, waterfalls and the river are on display throughout the walk, and native wildlife is slowly returning after the destruction of the most recent bush fires. Lush green plants juxtapose with sandstone cliffs. Slim, pale eucalyptus trees are dotted along the trail and the cliff tops and water falls dance in the sunlight.

Walkers can start from Evans Lookout and complete the walk at the Neates Glen car park, or walk in the opposite direction. Starting at Neates Glen car park rewards hikers with the stunning vista from Evans Lookout at the end of the hike – a great spot for a drink and a well-earned snack.

Whichever direction hikers take, they will start the hike with a staired descent and finish with a hike up some stairs. The steep stairs which bookend the hike explain the advisory on the official NPWS website which recommends 3 – 4 hours to complete the journey. Hikers with a reasonable level of fitness can finish the walk in about 1 hour at a steady pace, even after stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.

Photographers are rewarded on this trail and its worth taking a snack and stopping at the bottom of the trail in one of the rest areas to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife, as well as the peace and quiet on a weekday.

Early in the morning or late afternoon are the best times to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Early mornings in winter can be very cold, but can treat the hiker to mountain mist or sharp, blue skies. Mornings and late afternoons are also the best times to watch the sun bounce off the stunning yellow sandstone cliffs for which the Blue Mountains are famous.

At present, the hike is restricted to the Grand Canyon walk. The cliff top walk from Evans Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout is unfortunately closed due to bush fires, as are the longer and more challenging hikes which branch off the main track. Most long hikes in the region will apparently be closed for the rest of 2020.

The Grand Canyon walk is reachable by train. From Blackheath station it is about a one hour walk to the trail head, either walking back along the highway and turning left at the big brown sign to Evans Lookout, or by walking though suburban streets to Braeside fire trail, then towards the starting point.

Cycling the Narrow Neck Trail.

Narrow Neck Trail is a scenic and challenging cycling trail in the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba which offers off-road cyclists a solid workout with some spectacular views.

The trail itself is a shared hiking and cycling fire trail which snakes its way along the Narrow Neck ridge for about 10 kilometres in either direction, and finishes at a lookout point which promises views of the national park, farm land to the west and even to Sydney on a clear day.

Cyclists weave their way in and out of bush land and exposed sections with beautiful views, and share the bush with birds and other native animals, which are slowly returning after the severe 2019/2020 bush fires which ripped through the Blue Mountains.

Evidence of the fires follows riders along the trails and the charred remains of trees contrast starkly with the bright blue sky and the striking green shoots of new growth.

Narrow Neck presents a solid workout. Short sharp climbs are scattered throughout the trail, and flat sections are interspersed with long, slow climbs. The halfway point features a few very steep climbs whose ‘whoa boys’, (water drainage humps), add an extra challenge to an ascent. They’re guaranteed to burn the legs – but they’re great fun on the way down.

Furthermore, Narrow Neck trail lies at about 1000 metres altitude. On some of the tougher climbs you can definitely feel the difference in the lungs.

Winter can be cold in the mountains – very cold. Its not uncommon to start the ride with the temperature hovering around 0, and the exposed sections get very chilly on a windy day. Don’t be surprised if you ride through patches of ice early in the morning.

An advantage of riding the trail in winter is the chance to see the valley covered in mist and to ride through clouds.

The trail head sits about 2 kilometres along the access road, which begins in the suburbs of Katoomba. It’s possible to drive right to the trail head, and the advantage of driving is that it cuts out a steep hill just before the trail head – a hill so steep it has been concreted to avoid erosion. This steep and nasty hill is quite a warm up.

For those who are not afraid of a little climbing, it’s possible to reach the trail from Katoomba town centre and from the train station. It lies a few kilometres from the station and can be easily found. Just head to Cliff Drive then keep an eye out for the sign to Narrow Neck trail and the dirt road.

A cycling trail also exists between Katoomba and Leura, and Katoomba and Blackheath and is a mixture of dirt, bitumen and suburban streets. At Blackheath, riders are rewarded with some genuine single trail.

Cycling to and from the trail also forces riders to climb back out to Katoomba, along the dirt access road. After a hilly 20km ride at 1000m, you’ll feel like a sprinter in a Tour de France mountain stage – just tap out a tempo.

Most cyclists tackle the trail on a mountain bike, but it would be achievable with a gravel bike and some decent bike handling skills.

Most importantly, the trail lies close enough to Katoomba for cyclists to finish their ride with a coffee.

How to clean your hiking shoes

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Hiking shoes get dirty, very dirty.

They slosh through mud and trudge through dirt. They scrape and scratch and scorch in the sun. They sink into snow and slide down slopes, collecting dirt, mud, stones and blood.

 

But cleanliness is the last thing on your mind when you’re hiking. You’re too busy admiring the view or anticipating the next climb. You’re distracted by the sound of rushing water over cliffs and watching the sunlight tickle the drops of water as they fall from above.

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You’re charging through puddles once into the hike, because your shoes and socks are already soaked after you braved the mini waterfall charging down the stairs. You were too busy trying to stay upright to worry about cleanliness or staying dry.

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The state of your shoes matters little while you count the scars on your shins as you bash through yet more bush, and remind yourself that a sprained ankle halfway through the hike would make the climb out even harder. Onwards you hike, over tree roots and rocks and boulders until something captures your attention – the sound of gushing water, and soon the roar of rushing water, such that this hike has never produced before. Onwards you hike, drawn to the sound of the thundering water and thankful for the grip on your hiking shoes as you cling to the slippery rocks further into the canyon. Then you see it; the origin of the roar, and what a sight.

Your mind is never on your shoes as you catch a glimpse, yes just a glimpse, of that beautiful bird before it flies away coquettishly. I’ll capture it for posterity next time. That’s what you said last time.

You push on up the steep and slippery stairs, sodden but satisfied and hoping that you packed the chocolate as well as the scroggin.

The encroaching clouds cause you to ponder whether you’ll make it home before the rain arrives, and whether the Scots would be bothered by a ‘wee spot of rain’ on the moors.

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As you turn for home, your’e forced to confront the condition of your squelching shoes.

There are various methods for cleaning your shoes. You can scrape them, soak them and scrub them. It’s always a good idea to remove the laces, for a thorough clean. Hold them up and squeeze the water from them – it’s amazing how much dirt they collect.

The trusty old toothbrush comes in handy when cleaning off all manner of debris, especially from the sole. The toothbrush helps to dislodge tiny stones and decidedly less savoury items. Be sure to return the dirty toothbrush to the laundry and not the bathroom – that would be highly unsavoury.

A scrunched up ball of newspaper inserted into the soggy shoes helps soak up the dampness, before you subject your footwear to yet another beating.

But in the end, what’s the best way to clean hiking shoes?