Whatever you do, do not stop at Whitegum lookout on your way in to the Warrumbungle National Park to take part in World Expeditions' six-day Warrumbungle Summits trip.
The views of Mount Exmouth, Bluff Mountain, Lugh's Throne and the rest are spectacular, but at the lookout, you really want to be thinking a smug "I climbed all those" rather than a despairing "Oh no, I've got to climb all those?"
Brian, a retired dentist from Sydney, did just that and, experienced hiker that he is, thought "I've bitten off more than I can chew here".
He hadn't, of course, because here we are at Whitegum lookout, mission accomplished and snacking on cold meats and cheese and toasting ourselves with the bottle of Scotch he brought along for the occasion.
We're not alone. There are eight of us on the trip ranging in age from 63-72, plus our two guides, Rachael Corlett and Damon (Damo) Angelopulo. We're happy, more than a little proud of ourselves and … exhausted.
Over the past four days we have walked, slid, trudged, climbed, stumbled, clambered and scrambled up to the summits of Belougery Split Rock, Lugh's Throne, Febar Tor, Breadknife Gap, Bluff Mountain and, last but not least, Mount Exmouth, the highest peak in the park at 1206 metres.
We have walked for even to eight hours each day – mostly, it seemed at the time, upwards – and collapsed into our tents no later than 9pm, tired, happy, and supremely well-fed thanks to Rachael and Damo, whose talents in the camp kitchen cannot be over-estimated.
One other guest and I choose to take the option of transferring in with the World Expeditions bus from Katoomba while the others are driving in from places such as Grafton and Queensland.
Our site at Camp Blackman, deep in the park, is simply set up. There are two-person tents (furnished with a camp bed, pillow and warm blanket), a circle of camp chairs around a firepit, a cooking station, a table awash with drink options (tea, coffee, cordial etc), and a separate station where we wash our own plates and cutlery.
In the late afternoon of the first day we take a stroll along the Wambelong Nature Track, an easy circuit from the camp and back. It's a warm-up stroll through a gentle gorge and up over a hillside with views back over the camp and the surrounding valley.
Before dinner that night, sitting around the campfire while kangaroos graze around us, cockatoos carouse in the trees and the setting sun paints the lip of the nearby escarpment liquid gold, Damo and Rachael give us a briefing on the coming days and how the camp works.
We are all in bed by 8pm.
The next day dawns cold and clear and bright and I am thankful for the thermal T-shirt and long-johns I brought along. I was especially thankful when I got up at 2am and gawped at the galaxy of stars overhead.
Six years ago the International Dark-Sky Association declared this to be Australia's first and only Dark Sky Park – a place where the lack of light pollution makes it perfect for night-time stargazing.
And you can – quite literally – see why. I have camped in this area a few times over the years and that bejewelled night sky with its milky clouds of stars – like an infinite number of tiny diamonds scattered on a bed of the blackest velvet – never gets old.
As we ease into the day – porridge, left-over apple crumble from the night before, cereals, plunger coffee and more types of teabags than I have ever seen gathered in one place – I notice a group of beautifully coloured birds engaging in dogfights nearby.
They look like someone has ripped the head off a crimson rosella and shoved it onto a budgie's body. Eastern Rosellas, says Damo, who I am beginning to suspect is part-eagle.
After breakfast, our packs loaded up with water (you will need 2-3 litres or more, trust me), energy drinks, trail snacks and fruit, we clamber into the bus to head to the start of today's walk to the top of Belougery Split Rock.
Ninety thigh-punishing minutes later we reach the top to discover that we're not actually at the top. That distinction lies nearby but is a vertiginous climb best done without packs because it entails pulling oneself up by occasional metal railings driven into almost vertical bedrock.
It's hard yakka but the resulting view from the summit is worth it. Little do we know that this is the least of it. Over the coming days the walks will get harder but the views will get commensurately more impressive.
On the way back down we stop at a clearing where a small creek positively demands we dip our feet in it and where Rachael and Damo prepare a serve-yourself lunchtime feast. The clearing is awash now with discarded boots, jackets and other hiking paraphernalia.
Day three's itinerary — in what sounds like a rundown of locations from the Game of Thrones TV series — includes Febar Tor, Breadknife Gap, Balor's Hut and Lugh's Throne.
The day begins overcast and we head to the trail head at Pincham car park under louring skies. Our first stop is Febar Tor (714 metres), which we reach via a loop off the main track. At the summit, when we stop for snacks and a well-earned breather, the tops of many of the park's crags are obscured by pale grey, low-lying clouds, like places that dinosaurs might live.
The end of the loop drops us back on the main paved track, which itself ends at the base of a sharp staircase leading to the pointy end of the Breadknife and the stony, rugged path up to Lugh's Throne, a vantage point which looks majestically back down from whence we've come.
By the time we get there the early morning mist and clouds have burned away to reveal blue skies, and we lunch while admiring the vista and gulping at the great blunt mass of Bluff Mountain. It seems hard to believe we're hiking up that tomorrow. Mount Exmouth, being further off, seems less of a challenge.
The next day, on the top of Bluff, we look back down on Lugh's Throne – a panorama which puts things into perspective, and underlines what we've already achieved. Breadknife? Pah! More like a Penknife, says someone cockily (me).
It's the same when we reach the top of Mount Exmouth a day later – a 17-kilometre round trip, first on fire trails and then up the mountain. Despite the previous days' exertions – or perhaps because of them – we're all pumped up for this, the summit of summits.
It's here we meet our first snake (an innocent young thing that looks more like a big worm), some alarming looking yellow-backed ants, a host of small lizards, a few Lewin's honeyeaters, feral goats, and a couple of soaring eagles.
One highlight is a section of the path which snakes through a massive grass tree (Xanthorrhoea Australis) forest. As common as they are in Australia, it's the first time any of us have seen quite so many of them in one place, cascading down the slopes in their thousands. It's quite a sight.
The final stretch to the summit isn't easy but the 360-degree view is worth every stumble and every aching muscle. Look back and down and there's Bluff Mountain and the rest – miniatures of themselves – and out the other way there is the great flat sprawl of the Western Plains leaking out to the horizon.
It's huge, expansive, glorious. Up here where everything else is down, it feels like we're on top of the world. It hasn't been easy but it has been a challenge – and one that we've met head on and tackled.
Now, how do we get down from here?
World Expeditions' six-day Warrumbungle Summits trip costs from $2495 per person and runs from April to October. The final day includes a morning drive to Pilliga National Park and the Sandstone Caves walking track. The price includes two professional wilderness guides, five nights camping, five breakfasts, four lunches, five dinners, all drinks (no alcohol), group camping equipment and optional transfer from Katoomba to the campsite. The last trip this year starts on October 1. See worldexpeditions.com/Australia
Keith Austin was a guest of World Expeditions.