Best Birthday Ever! Spring 2021
Three days hiking with kids in the Wild Dog Mountains, Blue Mountains National Park NSW - Dharug and Gundungurra Country
After a long monotonous winter of lockdown, we are free to roam anywhere in greater Sydney. Fortunately this includes the magnificent Blue Mountains. More specifically the Megalong Valley and even more specifically the Wild Dog Mountains. We decide my birthday weekend is appropriate to squeeze in a two night adventure. The plan? Walk down to the Cox’s river and back up via Iron Pot ridge. This means starting late on a Friday afternoon and requires a short and easy first day’s walk. So we are heading to Dunphy’s campground aiming to reach Frying Pan flat before dark. It looks like an easy 4-5km downhill stroll on the map…
In reality it’s something else.
The Crazy Danger Crew from left: Damian, Chris, Mary, Ava, Rory & Daisy
It’s the Crazy Danger Crew again, Chris, myself and our kids, Ava (14) Rory & Daisy (both 12) and Mary (9) and we haven’t seen each other since our Winter adventure in Eden. Ava, Rory and Daisy are carrying full sized rucksacks and Mary is hefting a large daypack – we are fully loaded.
Day One - Dunphy's Campground to Frying Pan Flat
We start the walk at Dunphy’s after 5pm, it’s straight forward and easy going at first. We take the firetrail into the valley and after a km or so it intercepts with a steep single track that follows Carlon’s creek. We’ve been warned about stinging nettles in the lower section of Carlon’s and pretty soon the first cry of pain comes from Mary. She’s been stung on the hand. We tell the kids to keep their hands up to avoid the nettles but the remainder of Carlon’s Creek is punctuated by cries of “nettles!” and the odd curse from the kids.
The dreaded nettles of Carlon's Creek
At about 6.30pm we hit the end of Carlon’s Creek and the beginning of Breakfast Creek. The scenery changes from weeds to multi-coloured boulders surrounded by low Casuarina trees, we criss-cross the wide creek following the lower contours over spurs and back down to the creek. The scenery is lovely but we are conscious of the time and the kids are exhausted. After a total of 6.1km we stagger into Frying Pan Flat just after 7.30pm.
In the fading light we waste no time gathering firewood and setting up the tents. Rory and Ava help Chris get their gear together, but my kids are a bit less enthusiastic. We are all tired and cranky and my head torch batteries die at a critical moment, I lose my temper at Mary for walking around in her clean socks and instantly regret it. It wasn’t the easy first day we were hoping for, but we’ve made a huge head start on tomorrow’s walk, meaning we can have a lazy morning in camp. And Chris and I demolish our whisky supplies by the fire late into the night.
Day Two - Frying Pan flat to Cox's River
Frying Pan Flat Campground. The creek is down on the right
We wake to a glorious sunny morning and take in our surrounds. Frying Pan Flat is a spacious open grassy clearing with room for around half a dozen tents. There’s an established fire area, but no pit-toilets or other facilities. The clearing is surrounded by wooded hills and breakfast creek, which bends around one of the spurs. The shallow creek is crystal clear and looks like a giant aquarium with schools of fish hovering over river stones and darting between boulders.
After breakfast we enjoy a dip in the cool water and dry off in the sun like a bunch of lazy goannas. We slowly pack up the campsite and hit the track just before 1pm – with an easy 4km between us and the Cox's River.
The walk along Breakfast Creek is a delight after the previous night’s challenge. Criss-crossing the creek and hopping over boulders and logs we see birds, monitor lizards and a small whip snake that everyone agreed was the cutest snake ever.
Yellow Faced Whip Snake - venomous but cute
Breakfast creek widens like a cobblestoned avenue lined with Casuarinas and we eventually see sky and glimpses the Krungle Bungle Range up ahead. By 2.20pm we hear the gentle flow of the Cox’s River and emerge at its shady bank. We drop our packs and Chris and I inspect the area for a suitable campsite. Eventually we settle for a nice spot under the trees close to the junction with Breakfast Creek, there’s room for two tents, a good fire area and lovely views of the river and the ranges.
Approaching the Cox's River
It’s a warm afternoon and the river beckons. The crystal clear water flows gently over round stones and we wade to the deeper pools to dive in. It’s cold but feels wonderfully refreshing. We spend the afternoon setting up camp and attempting to fish with a couple of hand reels. There is a small school of carp in the deep holes on the far bank and some trout darting through the shallows. None of the fish are interested in our lacklustre fishing attempts so we return to the campfire for a cup of tea.
Daisy wanders off to use the bush toilet and suddenly calls from the river bank, “snake! snake!” She excitedly shows us a large red-bellied black snake warming itself in the last of the afternoon sun. I’m stoked to be reminded that the kids have a curious but cautious attitude towards snakes instead of an irrational fear – they know red-bellies are poisonous, but also know they aren’t aggressive and I get a kick out the confidence with which they identify the snake.
We relax into the evening by the fire and retire to our tents early, falling asleep to the gentle sounds of the river.
Day Three - It's my party and I'll climb if I want to
Sunday morning I wake up to little Mary cheerfully wishing me a happy birthday. And it is a very happy birthday, I’ve had a great sleep in a tent with my kids next to a pristine river, miles away from civilisation. I can’t think of a better way to start my 45th year. Chris brews up some gourmet Turkish coffee, while the kids play around the river. Mary discovers another large black snake slithering through the long grass right next to our camp.
Chris with his gourmet Turkish coffee
Today we combine the distance we covered over the last two days. And in the first two kilometres we will climb over 600 vertical metres up Ironmonger Spur. We pack up our camp and psych ourselves up… expecting it to be a challenge for us oldies and a nightmare for the kids. But hey, it’s my birthday and I want to walk up Ironmonger Spur.
At around 10.30, we scramble up a steep goat track, directly up the northern side of the junction with Breakfast creek. 50 metres in the kids are already complaining. The climb ahead looks endless and it feels like it too. Both Mary and Rory have blisters on their feet and the seemingly eternal climb is crushing for their morale.
One of the many false summits approaching Ironmonger Hill
We stop multiple times for sweets and change Mary from her boots to her runners. I also take Daisy’s pack so she can carry Mary’s smaller pack. The kids and Chris soldier on through every false summit and I plod along behind. As we approach the high point of Ironmonger Hill we’re on hands and knees, slipping on the loose soil. When we reach the top of the hill we are shattered but proud and Mary reaches out her hand for a high five.
The top of Ironmonger Hill - Elevation 780m
Daisy let me wear her pack on my front to help me balance
After a quick rest, we start the gentle traverse to Ironpot Ridge; a narrow, rocky ridge with amazing views on both sides. Daisy discovers some ancient sharpening grooves, possibly from the Gundungurra or Dharug people. We imagine them looking down on these views centuries before the Crazy Danger crew bumbled through. It’s a reminder that we are walking an ancient path through ancient country.
Aboriginal grinding grooves in the foreground
Resting on the ridge
The climb down Ironpot Mountain is steep and slippery, but compared to the climb up it’s a breeze. At the bottom of the hill we join a firetrail and follow it back towards Dunphys campground. We make it back to the main road at around 2.30pm, where the kids collapse in a heap, exhausted but satisfied.
We enjoy a burger and a cold drink at Mountain Culture Brewery in Katoomba and birthday messages flood in on my phone from friends and family. Tomorrow is a Monday and with it everything that Monday brings, but today is my birthday and it’s been a good day… The best birthday ever.
The Wrap Up
The Loop - traveling clockwise, each coloured line represents a day of walking
In the end this was a really rewarding and enjoyable loop. The map above shows the route we took. The blue line is day one, the yellow line is day 2 and the red line is the return climb on day 3. You could absolutely do this walk over one night if you started early enough on day 1. I think a good alternative would be to start further East and take the track down Bellbird Ridge. This way you would avoid the nettles and Carlon's Creek which is the least enjoyable part of the walk.
Bushwalking NSW has a great trip report that we used for our reference. They say the walk is 13km return, however my recording of the walk was a lot longer, totalling 18.7km. I think this is because we are constantly criss-crossing the creeks to follow the route.
The hardest part of the walk was the climb up Ironmonger Hill and I would only recommend this for experienced kids. We were literally on hands and knees at times and the climb is relentless. You could always return via the creek but reaching Ironpot Ridge is the most rewarding part of the walk.
Once again the kids have proven their resilience and endurance in a beautiful part of the world and I'm hoping it's the gains that endure - not of the pains.
The Wild Dog Mountains are in a primitive wilderness area and there are no toilets or other facilities available. So bring toilet paper and some way of digging. Be responsible with your fires and bring a stove or two. There are steep rock scrambles, abundant snakes and the tracks aren't marked so make sure you have the correct topographic maps and bring a PLB in case of emergency. Water was abundant in Breakfast Creek and the Cox's River but should be treated before drinking. In drought or dry summers there may be a lot less water so always check in with the Ranger while planning your trip.
To access the walk, park at Dunphy's campground about 30 mins drive from Blackheath along Megalong Road.
For info on the Wild Dog Mountains contact the Blue Mountains National Parks office.
Follow this link to download a PDF of the Jenolan 8930-3N map
And for more information about the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the Blue Mountains visit the ARCC website