The tragic events of the past few months, and the loss of many of our treasured places and trails to the ruthless power of the fires have left many of us deeply affected. There is a great sadness in losing the majesty of that beautiful forest and the delicate ecosystems that thrive within them. Our only consolation is that, provided we take action caring for and restoring what we can, in 20 years’ time only a few remaining scorch marks on the biggest of the trees will remind us of these desperate times. In the meantime, while the bush is regenerating itself over the next few short years, hopefully with a little help from our hands, there will be a fascinating experience to be had by visiting these magical walks and seeing a side of them you would never have seen otherwise; watching them gradually recover over time, seeing Nature’s process of regeneration from devastation and the often violent explosion of life that occurs as a result of the first rains.
Twenty-five years ago, the area around Claustral Canyon, near Mount Tomah in the Blue Mountains, was incinerated by bushfire. Claustral is an amazing narrow fissure in the landscape cut by water over eons, effectively a drain for the surrounding catchment. To access the canyon proper requires three abseils down a waterfall into a cave-like labyrinth which is the beginning of a long and spectacular walk/swim down the creek, walls towering above you and only meters wide in places. As you travel along the bottom of the canyon the fern-covered walls soar nearly 100 meters to the schlerophyll forest above. An exit from the canyon is possible several hours downstream.
Being a canyon enthusiasts at the time, we ventured back into our favourite paradise shortly after the trail was declared safe again, and marveled at the views we had never seen before, the contours of the land, the black carpet beneath the trees, the hidden rocks and gullies, the fresh sprouts of green and the tidiness of what had been a very scrappy undergrowth in places. It was extraordinary to see the contrast, the lie of land, the gradient of the country and our location within the mountains and valleys we had never seen before, hemmed in by thick, green undergrowth. To venture through the beautiful coolness and wetness of the lush green canyon itself, untouched by flames that burnt right to the scorched edges we could see way above us, was truly magical. Piles of charcoal washed in by the following rains filled the highest points of the creek and showed perfectly the swirls and eddies of high water. The walk out over Camels Hump was like venturing across the surface of the moon.
We went through Claustral many times over the next few years and always measured the progress of restoration against that first trip just weeks after the fire, until before too long, the trip was as it has always been, but for us, a new appreciation for the foundational landscape that lay beneath the carpet of life.
And so, in the wake of the tragedy, our passion for the trail need not die. Do take care to make sure that the trails are open and safe – but once they are, get your hiking boots on and experience something truly unforgettable – the celebration of vibrant life rising triumphantly, as the Phoenix of old, from the ashes of the past losses.[/two_third_last]
Meet you on the trail!
About the author:
James Bruce Stevenson is an experienced hiker, bush-walker and climber, and a well-known identity in the Blue Mountains, NSW. He spent many years as an outdoor educator and conservationist in the area, and is well-regarded for his devotion to the environment and the local community.
Images courtesy David Noble david-noble.net
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