Three Peaks

28-29 Oct 2006


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.


Trip Report

TRIP: Three Peaks, 28-29 Oct 2006


Jo Boyd
Ashley Burke


For some crazy reason we had the idea of trying for a sub 30 hour Three Peaks this year. To complete this classic walk in such a time would require us to do the entire trip in one hit, with no sleep at all. And by starting late on Friday evening, we would be accruing sleep deficit right from the start. This lack of sleep would prove to be our biggest challenge on this walk.

Before leaving, we advanced our clocks by one hour so as not to be confused by the daylight saving change that would happen during our walk.

So according to our watches it was 10:40pm when we clocked on at the climbers car park at the start of the Narrow Neck near Katoomba. The stars were out and a fresh wind was blowing. Ahead to the south the ominous glow of the Nattai bushfire could be seen against the dark night sky.

We walked through the night, reaching the Coxs River at 4:10am. The moon had set and it had been a long dark torchlit walk through the dry Wild Dog Mountains. The Coxs River had been reduced to a mere trickle due to the extended dry weather and we could easily cross without getting our feet wet.

Then began the long climb up Strongleg Ridge towards the first of the Three Peaks, Mt Cloudmaker. We reached the top of Mt Strongleg just as it was starting to get light and from there we pressed on to the dry Dex Creek camp site for a quick breakfast. We reached Cloudmaker at 7:35am and paused to sign the logbook. We had been on the move for 9 hours.

All the height gain we had achieved had to be lost now, as our next peak, Mt Paralyser, stood on the opposite side of Kanangra Gorge. So with a sigh we began the long descent into Kanangra Gorge. The point where you cross Kanangra Creek is one of the most idyllic locations on the entire Three Peaks route. The clear waters of Kanangra Creek trickled by and sunlight filtered through the boughs of Casuarina trees to the comfortable ground on which we reclined. It was so tempting to linger here and drift off to sleep.
But our task had been set and there was nothing for it but to fill water bottles and head up Paralyser.

We felled Paralyser with a single blow, climbing well, helped by the fact we were only carrying daypacks, and the clear, cool weather. We reached the summit at 11:10am and rested for a while to eat something vaguely resembling lunch and peruse the logbook. We had been going 12.5 hours.

Then all our height gain had to be lost again, as we plummeted steeply down to Whalania Creek. Our route took us down the steep side of a ridge that had been ravaged by bushfire, rendering the slope very loose, and great care had to be taken not to dislodge rocks.

Whalania Creek would have been another idyllic resting place were it not for the knowledge that the massive climb of the third and highest peak, Guouogang, awaited us. We filled our water bottles and began the climb of Nooroo Ridge. Snaking its way up the southern side of Guouogang, Nooroo Ridge is the most spectacular climb of the Three Peaks. It is also the most sapping. Outcrops of quartzite stud the steep ridge at various vantage points, providing imposing views and great vertigo. With our energy waning from all the climbing and descending, we toiled up. As we climbed, views into the maw of Davies Canyon were beheld. At last, after a couple of hours and more than 1000 vertical metres of climbing, the ridge levelled out and there was only a few hundred metres of scrub between us and the summit cairn. A large brown snake slithered out of the way as we made the last few paces and slumped worn out beside the logbook tin.

It was time to eat something to regain strength. It was now 4pm, we had been walking for more than 17 hours. We had climbed all three peaks, but the end of the walk and the comfort of our sleeping bags were still way back at Katoomba, a horizon away. From all the exertion we had little appetite but we knew we had to eat. Our food seemed bland and tasteless, purely functional, just a taking in of fuel for the walk ahead. We signed the logbook and pressed on.

It was a huge descent to the Coxs River and by the time we got there the shadows were long. Jo spotted an echidna on the way down and a tortoise at the bottom of a still pool in the Coxs river. Our aim was to keep walking as far as we could while it was still light, to minimize the amount of off-track walking that we would have to do by night. We still had to climb all the way up Yellow Dog Ridge before we would reach the familiar track leading back to the Narrow Neck.

So after enjoying a brief rest on the Coxs River we filled our water bottles one last time and started the long climb up Yellow Dog Ridge. Just before dark, the ridge levelled out and it was here that we decided to permit ourselves a decent rest and a hot meal before the final pitch into Katoomba.
We had long planned for this stop and had been looking forward to it for many hours. We quickly had a fire going and soon had a billy of 2-minute noodles ready to eat. This was purest decadence and luxury in the extreme. Though rather than being tempted to nod off to sleep after this culinary indulgence, we packed up and headed off.

Thus began the hardest leg of the trip. It was now completely dark and there was still some off-track walking to go before we reached the Wild Dogs track. It seemed like an eternity of picking our way along a ridge with an infuriating number of false summits, and it was impossible to gauge our progress in the dark. At last we reached Mt Yellow Dog and the track. We pressed on. Walking became a mindless mechanical drill, our minds shutdown, the world was the few metres of track that were lit by our head torches. We fought sleep and waning energy. The night was growing cold. At last came Medlow Gap. We had been going for 24.5 hours. It was approaching midnight on our second night of no sleep. Ahead lay the dreaded Mt Derbert and the steep climb onto the Narrow Neck.

Stupefied by lack of sleep we dragged ourselves over Mt Derbert and up the spikes onto the Narrow Neck. Midnight passed. The long Narrow Neck trail was now all that separated ourselves from our sleeping bags. It was a struggle. First it was Jo's turn to succumb. Stumbling erratically, unable to keep her eyes open, she faltered, but after a splash of colour she recovered and we were back on our way. Then it was my turn. Waves of sleep overcame me. I found myself walking with my eyes closed, dreaming about road, rocks and scrub that weren't there. Kept barely conscious only by tripping, lurching and stumbling, I kept moving. Reality and the unconscious melded into one.
The night was dark, the entire Narrow Neck was a dream. Jo came to the rescue by making conversation. This woke me up a bit. We kept going. It was freezing cold, and we only had light clothes. 27 hours. The second sleepless night grew old. At last the gate. Down the big hill. 28 hours. We would make it. 28 hours 10 minutes. We had done it.

But the car was still in suburban Katoomba. Jo waited at the climbers' car park while I grabbed car keys and rushed up the last few hills into suburban Katoomba. The waves of sleep had receded so driving the car back down to the Narrow Neck was feasible. It must have been 3:30am by the time I had retrieved the car and we could collapse into the back and let the sleep claim us at last.

We woke about 4 hours later with sun streaming into the car and a party of climbers faffing about outside. We felt so much better after those few hours sleep. So it was off to Jo's place for a shower followed by a mission to plunder the Wentworth Falls bakery for its abundance of carbohydrates, fats and sugars. Only then could we reflect on our trip and begin to feel good about what we had done.

We had slashed more than 8 hours of our previous best 3 peaks time. And food tasted good again. And we could keep our eyes open. It was a good feeling.

28 hours 10 minutes.

Jo adds the following thoughts about her Three Peaks experience:

My Three Peaks Experience

~ Its a long way
~ There are a few ups and downs (I don't like up hills!!) ~ Being able to survive without sleep is the real challenge ~ Being able to keep food down is a talent I have not mastered. Can anyone tell me how they manage it?
~ If you think you survived once, try to do it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke the first time, then try it a third time to remind yourself how stupid you were the first time you did it.
~ Reading the log books are fascinating and a good procrastination technique from getting up.
~ I walked more in the dark than in daylight (especially when I walk with my eyes closed during the day) ~ Doing hard walks every so often makes you really appreciate how much more you can take in and enjoy when on slower walks.

Ashley Burke


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All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.