After planning and training religiously for 12 months we were ready to embark on perhaps the most challenging campaign yet. Physical fitness before an expedition is a requirement to tackle the harsh Australian terrain, but so is knowledge of the area. This involves in general site surveying and studying topographic maps. Equipment such as compasses, GPS, EPIRB (and a satellite phone as we later discovered) are essential tools when taking on the wilderness. Not only does it make your job easier, but it can also save your life.

Just before dawn we left south-western Sydney for a 3-hour drive to the Kanangra Boyd National Park. When we arrived we saddled up our usual heavy packs and set off on a 50-kilometre hike through the roughest terrain we had so far encountered. Despite the ruggedness of the surrounding environment, its harsh beauty is overwhelming.

We came to a steep rocky fall where we had to lower our packs by rope. It was here where the first accident happened - one of our team members twisted his ankle in a crevice. By the time we got to the bottom, we were becoming concerned about his well being. We continued on the basis that we would get a regular condition report off him.

Even though his injury seemed to improve, he found it hard to keep pace with the rest of the team. In five hours we had only covered around six kilometres. Our first base camp at Mount Morrilla was not going to happen before dark so we had to compromise for a much closer venue - Mount Cloud Maker.

The trail was becoming worse and in some cases difficult to locate. We then came to the base of a large cliff wall where we continued on the top of a steep embankment. The foundation of the embankment was a verticle 30 plus metre drop. Suddenly the path gave way. One of our team members fell down hard and slid towards the cliff face. Luckily she found safety in a branch of an out rooted tree. A few more metres and we would have lost her. I scurried down and quickly removed her heavy pack. We managed to climb back up to the trail. She was still in shock and her ankle was twisted and swollen - we had to make alternative plans.

The sun was setting fast and there was no level ground to set up camp. We took a closer look at the cliff wall behind us and found that around 50 meters up the track there were a number of small caves in the rock face. Taking our condition into consideration the most accessible cave had an 40-degree slope to it. It had to do.

Deep down we knew that pressing on would be a futile exercise. Considering the amount of injuries the crew had sustained the only logical action was to head back to Kanangra Walls. Our pick up, however, was some four days away at the Water Board gates off Narrow Neck Plateau near Katoomba!

Night fell and we got very little rest. All night gale force winds pounded the highlands. To our advantage the cliff wall managed to shelter us from the extremities of nature. But we weren't bullet proof - a slab of sandstone from the rock wall dislodged and came crashing down in large fragment, smashing onto the rim of my tent.

Morning revealed the night's fury. Other than the rock fall we discovered that our tents had slid forward at least a meter. If it weren't for the barrier of trees and shrubs in front of our camp, we would have found ourselves hurdling down the steep embankment.

Our journey back to Kanangra Walls was a strenuous hike. Despite our dearth of sleep and injuries we had no alternative but to persevere. It was the combined team effort that carried us for six hours back to where we first began.

Kellie was going to contact her husband Frank to collect us from Kanangra Walls but no mobile phone signal was available. I realised that the most valuable asset in such an environment would be a satellite phone.

We were fortunate enough that the folks visiting the Walls were willing to assist. One gentleman even offered us the keys to his motor vehicle so that we could drive to Jenolan Caves to make a phone call. His generosity overwhelmed us, but we couldn't accept it. It is comforting to know that there still are people out there who are willing to help at any cost. Eventually it was a young couple from north Sydney who offered us a lift to Jenolan Caves where Kellie made that phone call. Frank arrived around 3 hours later - we were glad to see him.

Despite these unforeseen factors we had no regrets whatsoever. The journey was an education and more importantly, the team held together. To me that was a success within itself. It was a privilege to be in the company of such ambitious and courageous people such as Larraine, Kellie, Phil and Frank without whom we would have been stranded.

Giving up now was the last thing on our minds. We returned to the Blue Mountains for a night watch on the eastern side of Katoomba. A new expedition was being scheduled for April 2005. Frank and I were elected to embark on this new venture.

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