Catholic bushwalking: step by uplifting step

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Sydney’s Catholic Bushwalking Club has evolved across more than 70 years from just four members to a flourishing band of walkers who have tackled peaks around the world, including Everest.

The club was established in February 1943 in response to a need for mid-week bushwalks for Catholics who were unable to participate in Sunday events due to Mass commitments.

The group arrives at Kowmung River.
The group arrives at Kowmung River.

That month, four bushwalkers set out on a trek from Mt Kuring-gai to Berowra. The group, led by Dot Clayton, a former member of an English Catholic rambling club, and Paul Barnes, endured a heat stroke, encounters with snakes, a lack of reliable maps, and war-era transport restrictions and blackouts.

They arrived home at midnight, setting what Dot would describe as “a perfectly good precedent for all subsequent overdue parties”.

By August, membership had grown and the club had completed 17 walks. Eleven foundation members were formally admitted two months later.

The creation of maps and improvements in transport led to a boost in membership in the 1950s, as bushwalkers explored the Budawangs, near Batemans Bay, and the Cox and Kowmung Rivers.

Each August, members gather for the CBC Marathon at Kiaramba, on Scotts Main Range in the Blue Mountains.

Shaun, the youngest member of the Catholic Bushwalking Club
Shaun, the youngest member of the Catholic Bushwalking Club.

Members have honed their rock climbing, caving and canyoning skills to venture further afield, to Koscuiszko, Tasmania, and New Zealand’s Mt Cook.

Many have also travelled across Europe and South America, and in 2013 member Margaret St Hill took on Mt Everest, climbing within 500 metres of the summit.

Under the guidance of chaplain Fr Peter Blayney and president Pauline Goymour, the club’s program now comprises a mix of weekend camps, and exploratory and wilderness walks, along with special programs for younger members in conjunction with the Frassati Group, and regular walks for older members.