“Wanna go for a walk?” my friend asked me.
“Sure!” I put on my runners for a casual walk around the park…
“We’re alive!” my friend and I both cheered. We sat quietly on the bus, still trying to wrap our heads around what had just happened during our Blue Gum Walk in Hornsby.
It was supposed to be an easy walk on a Saturday afternoon, but because my friend and I were rookie hikers, we weren’t prepared for the Blue Gum Walk. We underestimated nature and now have a wilderness survival tale to tell.
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The Blue Gum Walk Trail
The Blue Gum Walk (Hornsby Sydney, Australia) is a 4.2km circuit trail in Berowra Valley National Park circling Joey’s Mountain.
It takes about 2.5 hours to complete this hiking circuit with an elevation of about 230m. The difficulty level of the Blue Gum Walk is classified as moderate to hard or grade 3-4.
There is no signal or mobile reception at the time of our visit. You can find a guided PDF hiking map from Hornsby Council here.
Our Hiking Story of the Blue Gum Walk Hornsby
Our hiking adventure started a little rocky…
My friend and I took the bus to the closest bus stop near the starting point of the Blue Gum Walk in Hornsby. Somehow, we got lost looking for the entrance, yup a great start.
Luckily, an elderly lady who seemed to be a local to the area pointed us in the right direction. After hearing our plan to hike the Blue Gum Walk, she kindly warned us about the leeches and told us a survival story of her daughter’s encounter with a snake. “But otherwise, the Blue Gum Walk is a really enjoyable walk,” she said.
We shrugged and laughed politely, and took her words as another bedtime story from an over-protective Nan. But in hindsight, my friend and I looked at each other as we both remembered spotting giant bull ants and water dragons running along the sidewalks just a moment ago. We were both positive people and didn’t think we were going to be the lucky ones today.
We started trekking casually following the Blue Gum Walk signpost, taking pictures of the rugged sandstone ridgetops, and appreciating the sound of the creek. This was an easy walk across Waitara Creek, or so we thought…
Hiking Basics: 8 Things to Know Before You Go
1. No matter how casual or easy the hike seems to be, always do your homework, research the area, read about the trails and hiking difficulties beforehand.
2. Prepare for loss of signal, download an offline map.
3. Wear appropriate clothing and hiking boots, bring warm clothes.
4. Bring water, and pack some high energy and nutritious snacks, even if it’s just a short hike.
5. Tell someone about your hiking trip and the expected time of return.
6. Check the weather and how it may affect your hike.
7. Have a basic first-aid kit and learn the basic life-saving survival skills.
8. Don’t hike alone. Go with a group or at least a friend.
Hiking Gone Wrong
The first part of the Blue Gum Walk was pretty cruisy, but as we hiked deeper into the woods, we found ourselves on a damp and narrow path covered in fallen leaves.
Even to this day, we weren’t sure whether we went off-course or it was just a part of the trail. The ferns on either side of the pathway gradually became overgrown and extended out onto us, overhanging above our heads. We had less visual of the trail ahead, and it was getting eerily quiet.
We picked up our pace while brushing spider webs off of our faces. The warning voices of the elderly woman slowly crept in as we were spooked by our own imaginations. Soon, we started running, dashing for the ‘exit’… or the only way forward.
Suddenly, I heard a scream behind me.
I stopped running and turned around. My friend was freaking out, shaking her leg vigorously at the sight of a leech digging its way into her leg. She panicked, jumping on one foot, trying to get rid of the leech.
I had never encountered a leech before. The only time my father had told me about leeches was when I was little, he told me just smack their heads, and they would back out. So I screamed, “Smack its head!” That didn’t work, of course…
She lost her balance for a fraction of a second smacking the darn thing, and almost fell over the side of a steep hill. I shrieked in fear, not because of the leeches, but at the thought of her rolling downhill as I had zero clues on rescuing someone in a situation like this. I didn’t do my homework on the Blue Gum Walk, had no idea what it looked like on the map and had no sense of directions whatsoever.
Trying to stay calm, we both took a deep breath and tried to deal with the leech that was determined to feed. We hit it with a water bottle, poked it with a fallen branch, smacked its head and tail. We tried everything desperately, but it just wriggled deeper into her skin. Oh dear God, could this get any worse?
When we were frantically battling with the first leech, a second shriek validated more leeches were making their ways into our shoes!
Eeeek, I looked down, and there were 3 of them buried well into my runners, and they weren’t alone!
Bull ants were running around joining the party, mosquitoes were catching up to us, and there were no rails or pest-free trees within reach.
I knocked my shoe on the ground as hard as I could, carefully hopping on one foot. I managed to get the leeches off one by one without falling over. Luckily, none of them went into my socks.
We looked up, and the trail was infested with leeches. They were popping up from underground, twisting their sluggish tails and marching toward us like the zombies in Walking Dead. We started running fast, this time we were running for our lives, literally!
Out of all this mess, we probably went off the hiking trail. We ran so fast following the path downhill that it led us to an intersection.
My friend discovered more leeches in her shoes when we stopped to catch our breaths. Her shoes were infested with leeches, there were so many that we lost count. It was impossible for us to get rid of all the leeches before catching on more.
So she made a brave decision to change into her flip flops while balancing one foot on top of a tiny rock. She dumped her infested runners into a plastic bag… “Souvenirs,” she laughed with tears. We both exchanged a chuckle.
Now at the intersection of this Blue Gum Walk, we were facing an important decision. To the left, it was the same damp hiking trail filled with leeches waiting to feed on us. This time, the chance of survival seemed grim with a pair of flip flops.
To the right, the ground seemed a little drier, and we couldn’t see leeches at a glance. At that moment, there was nothing else on our minds. We turned right.
Wear hiking boots, not casual runners
It didn’t take long for us to realise we were circling the same trail in the valley, lost in the woods. We were unsure whether to continue on the unknown path ahead with no signs of civilization, or to explore what seemed like a trail leading us downhill to… somewhere.
We decided to check the trails on both sides. On the count of three, my friend and I dashed in opposite directions in search of a way out of the Blue Gum Walk… but no luck!
Google map didn’t help as there was no signal in Berowra Valley. Vaguely, we saw glimpses of houses up the hills through the gum trees in the distance, but there were no hiking trails or paths to get across.
In the hopes of getting the attention of a resident, we shouted in despair, “Hellooooo…” not a single soul around. “Ok, calm down and think,” I whispered. Perhaps we could call the rescue team, but there were no signals.
I suddenly remembered downloading an offline map of Sydney a while ago. I whipped out my phone and zoomed in on our location. Yes! The offline map still worked. We found a residential street over on the other side of the hill, which was the closest street we could see on the offline map.
Only if we could find a way to that street… we started looking for any possible ways to climb over the side of the hill in the direction of that residential street.
Hiking Tips: What To Do If You’re Lost In The Woods
1. Stop and stay calm.
2. Think about where you got lost.
3. Pinpoint your location on your offline map.
4. Note landmarks around you or make your own marks.
5. Stay on the trail unless you know where you’re going for sure.
6. Come up with a plan and a plan B.
7. Keep yourself hydrated.
8. Stay on dry grounds and away from insects.
How we found our way out of the Blue Gum Walk
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.My boss used to say.
Indeed, attitude played a major role in getting out of the Blue Gum Walk, and luck will always be on the side of the optimists.
Out of nowhere, we spotted a house up the hill. It had an old wooden ladder that connected the bushland to its backyard. The ladder was covered in fallen leaves and spider webs, tangled with plants and looked rotten and abandoned.
Never mind that, we climbed up that ladder like it was our lifeline. We prayed that no one was home as sneaking into the garage of someone’s private land wasn’t exactly on the good behaviour’s list.
Nonetheless, it was our only hope of getting out onto the open road, and we made it to that residential street. “Hooray!” we brushed off the spider webs and cried in triumph.
We felt like we were in the woods for days, and it was so good to see houses and civilization. We cheered and hugged, celebrated the fact that we came out alive and no one broke a bone! It was such a relief that both of us just stood there and laughed like two idiots.
In hindsight, our hiking story was probably nothing compared to the wilderness survival shows we see on TV. At least we didn’t injure ourselves, nor did we had to spend the night in the woods. But when you’re living it, under-prepared, lost and actually surviving it, the story became a terrifying reality.
Hiking Lessons from the Blue Gum Walk
We came across the same elderly lady on our way back to the bus station. She listened to our survival story, and she smiled, “Oh dearies, it has been raining for the past few days. I forgot to tell you, bring a bottle of table salt next time. The leeches will fall right off!” (Does this work? Let us know in the comments below.)
As horrific as we made the Blue Gum Walk sound, it’s actually one of the most enjoyable hikes in Sydney. If you’re well-prepared, that is. I came across Walk My World blog, and they seemed to have nailed the Blue Gum Walk. So did the Hills District Mums, who managed this hiking circuit with kids.
As for us, we were lucky this time. It was a day to remember and quite a few hiking lessons to carry with us. We couldn’t stop talking about it on the bus home. And only from that moment on, this day became a laughable hiking tale to tell.
Be adventurous, but be safe.
Don’t Be A Stranger!
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In the meantime…
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