Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Grand Canyon Circuit, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spectacular walk showing off the contrasting habitats, magnificent geology, and spectacular scenery of Grose Valley. This walk contains many stairs, potentially slippery surfaces and a short tunnel. Check conditions at the Blackheath NSW Parks Information Centre if there has been recent heavy rain and, as always, be aware the day’s fire danger rating.

Afternoon sunlight streams into the secluded canyon as the sound of the waterfalls fills the air

 

Start/Finish: Grand Canyon Loop Car Park, Evans Lookout Road, Blackheath

Distance: Approx 7.4km (Officially 5km, but I’m not sure if that includes the distance between Evans Lookout and Neates Glen Car Park. Also, satellite signal for our GPS’s was extremely patchy in the canyon)

Time: Approx 3hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Elevation profile graph and map for Grand Canyon Circuit bushwalk - Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Following our successful early morning walk to Leura Forest (by successful I mean we started and finished before noon!) we were primed for an afternoon walk to pack in as much as possible on our last full day in the Blue Mountains.

Even though there were still walks around Katoomba where we were staying (eg Wentworth Falls), if it meant a drive in the car we thought we may as well see a different valley altogether.

The Grose Valley is a very large, long valley to the north of Katoomba. There are many walks dotted on our SV map near the town of Blackheath, situated at the western end of the valley. The Grand Canyon is briefly described on that map, but we also bought a much more detailed Walking Track and Visitor Guide solely on the Grand Canyon walk from the Echo Point NPWS Information Centre (and at $3.00 you can’t quibble at the price).

Our information sources - NSW NPSW Grand Canyon booklet and SV Map of Blue Mountains North

Blackheath is an easy 10min drive up the road (west of Katoomba). The turnoff to this walk is before you get to the actual township, if you’re coming from Katoomba like us. There are signs, but keep your eyes open all the same as you get close to the town.

Following the instructions in the NPWS booklet, we parked in the Grand Canyon Loop Car Park (the second of three car parks) near the end of Evans Lookout Road. Somewhat surprisingly, there was another car in the first (Neates Glen) carpark, but no one else in the second. Judging from the number of car spaces available, this area can be pretty popular sometimes. Once again I found myself thankful it was a weekday, and not during school holidays.

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large...and we had it all to ourselves

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large…and we had it all to ourselves

Just like over at Jamison Valley, the vegetation atop the ridges here is tough and dry, full of prickly acacias and rough-barked banksias, scrubby grasses and brakenfern. There’s no hint here of the Grand Canyon just a stone’s throw away, nor what it contains…

On the other hand, it’s no stretch to imagine how an uncontrolled bushfire could race through and decimate communities living here – human, plant and animal. With our climate changing leading to the frequency and intensity of fires increasing, even communities that are fire tolerant will come under pressure.

The path leading back up to the first carpark (Neates Glen) was easy to find. There’s a very gentle incline on the path between the two car parks to the start of the proper Grand Canyon track. But pretty much as soon as you turn into the bush you’re walking downhill, increasingly steeply.

It was only early afternoon, but the shadows on the western side of the ridge felt cool and welcoming as we dropped below the ridge line. The undergrowth becomes softer, and it’s not too long before we came to the first set of doors across the path.

The first portal (flood door) of many along the track - Grand Canyon Walking Track, Grose Valley, Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Doors? What on earth are these for?

To keep walkers out of areas affected by flooding, apparently. A good idea, but I wonder if the Rangers are sent to close the doors before or after the rain ?

Stepping through the first black door was like passing through a portal to a parallel universe. Almost immediately the vegetation becomes lush – not just beside the path – completely surrounding you, as you carefully make your way down the rock and concrete steps.

There is water trickling over the path, down the boulders next to you, off every piece of moss and fern frond, after having been filtered through and slowly released by the hanging swamps above. Looking down to check my next step, I was amazed at the volume of plant life growing on the vertical rise of the step – in fact, there are ferns and mosses growing on every millimetre of surface that’s not regularly trodden, by the look of it.

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Too soon the narrow gully widens and we found ourselves in a small valley. I thought at the time that these cliffs towering up to 100m above formed the ‘Grand Canyon’ referred to in the title of the walk… but this is just the start.

While nowhere near as large as the ‘real’ Grand Canyon in the USA (not even a speck compared to that) it is still impressive as you cross Greaves Creek for the first time and follow the canyon (aka gorge) down to the valley floor.

It’s not far before you reach the end of this upper, open section of the canyon, where a flight of stairs takes you down a level to a place known as the “beach”, I guess due to sand deposited here over time by the creek. It used to be known as the “Rotunda”, and was quite a popular spot. It’s not hard to see why. The afternoon sun was just at the right angle for a ray of light to pierce through the canyon onto the stream and yellow sand of the creek bed, illuminating the canyon wall with a dancing, golden light.

Tearing myself away from this fascinating area, we came upon the tunnel. In my brief scan of the NPWS notes over lunch I hadn’t noticed anything about a tunnel!

Fortunately Stephen had come prepared! Fishing the small torch out of his backpack we ventured in…

So it turns out it’s only about 5 metres long – but not knowing that I was happy for the torch. No, we didn’t get out and re-read the notes (also in Stephen’s backpack), but in case you’re wondering, it’s simply described as ‘a short tunnel having been formed by a rock fall’ and walkers are warned to “watch your step (and your head) as the floor of the tunnel is rough”. I didn’t notice it was particularly rough, but then – Stephen had brought a torch!

Looking back up at the tunnel's exit

Looking back up at the tunnel’s exit

Before you, after you exit the tunnel and walk down the steep stairs, is a… bowl? basin? a gigantic pothole ground out by a million seething swirl pools of debris after eons of flooding? I’m not sure how to properly describe the large round space. The middle of the floor is filled with large boulders and a few trees, while ferns and other plants grow down the sides of the canyon walls. The path continues to hug the canyon wall on the right and, by so doing, leads you under a waterfall that feeds Greaves Creek.

The path leads behind a waterfall - not flowing too strongly today

The path leads behind a waterfall – not flowing too strongly today

It wasn’t flowing very strongly that day, so the only reason I got just a little wet on the shoulder was because I had to wait for Stephen to be satisfied with the photographs he was taking. But fair’s fair – it was his turn next!

Entering the canyon proper I was awed by the rocks, shaped by the passage of water over millennia. The NPWS booklet explains the canyon is formed from what’s known as Burra-Moko sandstone. Not only does it look different to the Banks Wall sandstone that is widely recognised from photos of cliffs (most notably the Three Sisters) in the Blue Mountains, but it’s a softer sandstone, too.

The creek disappears from view down into the narrow, dark depths of the canyon. Ferns line the sides of the canyon walls, using any crevice, crack or ledge for support as they unfurl their fronds to catch the limited daylight – and the constant drip of water from the hanging swamps above – entering the confined space.

Walking across the scalloped side of the canyon, and through the cuts gouged into the walls made by the creek (some places deeper than others) I marvelled at the power and beauty of nature. For someone who loves rocks (in a forest setting), this was a place I could have only dreamed of prior to now… In short, it was fantastic.

Just before you descend to the valley floor, the canyon widens and the path transects some scrubbier forest on the hillside. The opposite side (much more of which is now visible) is topped with tall and straight eucalypts, silvery in the fading afternoon light.

Although it’s still only mid-afternoon, when you’re down this low in the protected canyon it feels a lot later. The light is fading quickly so we’re trying to hurry, yet at the same time at almost every turn there is a new sight to take our breath away.

Turning a corner and entering the gully that would reunite us with Greaves Creek, my immediate impression was that this would be just the sort of place to find elves (the benevolent kind); mossy and green, and perfectly arranged.

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek

As mentioned, there hadn’t been all that much rain lately; while there are a few small sources of water feeding into Greaves Creek along the way, it’s just enough to keep it flowing. The deep, dark pools of water are calm and cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are leeches in the water though, and drinking from the creek is definitely unsafe without sterilisation. There was no chance of getting our feet wet as we crossed the creek a couple of times on perfectly spaced stepping-stones as we followed the track down to the intersection with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track. The NPWS notes warn that you may have to look carefully in places to follow the track; this might be the case when the water level is higher, though we didn’t have any problems following it.

The size of the tree trunks lying discarded in, or propped up against the walls of the canyon are evidence of the power of past flood events. It looks like it’s been a while since the last big flood. Or maybe they’ve fallen down from above… either way, I’m glad everything was quiet as we walked through. The logs there have a reasonable covering of moss, and there are plenty of young trees and ferns growing the canyon floor.

Near the track junction the creek forms a very small waterfall as it enters the roof of a little cavern and fills a pool with a sloping edge of fine gravel (almost sand) by the path that looks absolutely perfect for a quick dip. Lucky it wasn’t a particularly hot day or I might have been tempted to stick a toe in. Or simply walk in, boots and all!

Rodriguez Pass Walking Track will take you into the middle of Grose Valley before exiting at Govett’s Lookout. Had we started this walk at 8am then this may well have been the route we would have taken. It would mean an extra 6-7km (at a guess – I haven’t got a map that tells me exactly) which I expect would take about 3hrs (definitely allowing time for photo opportunities!) plus a lunch break.

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

After the intersection it’s pretty much all uphill back to the car park. As Stephen is known to sagely remark, “What goes down, must come up.”. Take heart in knowing the climb out is not as steep as any of the ‘Staircases’ we’d climbed in the last couple of days, because (for once) the track leads up a sloping gully to the cliff top instead of trying to scale the cliff itself! After climbing Giant Staircase that morning the climb out did seem to go on and on… and on some more, but on the other hand, it had been a lovely, long stroll to the bottom.

The air was already beginning to take on its evening chill; very pleasant in summer, but I imagine it can get really cold in winter! To begin with you’re still surrounded by lush forest, down on the valley floor where streamlets feed into Greaves Creek. Further up the gully the undergrowth thins out allowing a better view of the moss-covered trees and rocks along the path and the huge boulders and cliffs behind the reaching skyward.

With every step (and there are a lot of steps!) the mossy forest gets a little drier until there are just a few trees below two very large boulders. Climbing the stairs between them (here it was steep enough to put in a hand rail and, yes, I gratefully accepted) we emerged back into a eucalypt dominated forest – Blue Mountain Ash. Goodbye to the lush fern and moss adorned rainforests below, and surely, just at the top of this rise – hello Evans Lookout?!

But we weren’t there yet. Not until we’d climbed the dirt track up the hill, through the last gate and passed the information plaque (for people walking the circuit clockwise) could we breathe a sigh of relief. And then gasped in amazement, since this was our first look across Grose Valley! Magnificent! However, Evans Lookout is a still bit further on – another ~500m, but fortunately it’s just a gentle incline along the ridge to get there.

Anxious about being too late for a good sight (and photo opportunity), we didn’t dally but hurried along to the proper lookout and – thankfully – managed to arrive in time to snap a few photos in which the opposite cliffs were simply glowing in the late afternoon light. Mission accomplished!

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Panorama of Grose Valley from Evans Lookout - Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Grose Valley, whatever time of day, really is much more impressive than Jamison Valley. The cliffs on the opposite side of the valley are closer, and positioned so even amateur photographers can catch their evening glow. There are many interesting geological formations, walks, and even an impressive waterfall (Govetts Leap) that can be appreciated from a lookout adjacent to a car park – for free! It’s so big it’s hard to capture properly in its entirety, and possibly relief at finally being at the Lookout enhanced my experience, but there’s no doubt that it’s a magnificent location.

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Photos taken it was time to set ourselves for the last few hundred metres (which felt more like a kilometre) back to the car to complete the circuit.

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

Done! And what a walk that was!

I think most amazing aspect of this walk is discovering a completely different and marvellous world so very well hidden and remarkably close to town. In a relatively short walk you journey from dry, grey bushland to wet, fern-filled gullies, through a deep canyon carved out over hundreds of thousands of years, beneath the canopy of a sub-tropical rainforest, and finally by a small forest of beautiful Blue Mountain Ash. Walking under and past waterfalls, over the creek more times than I can remember, reinforces that it’s water – that most precious of commodities on our dry continent – that created and continues to shape this environment. Even the drops of water falling down from hanging swamps above giving the impression that it’s raining contribute to shaping tomorrow’s Grand Canyon.

Of course, this route wouldn’t be accessible without the enormous amount of work done by NSW NPSW to map out and create the route, install the small bridge, a few kilometres of handrails and fencing in places, and even more than a couple concrete steps which would have been made on site. An unbelievable amount of work has made it possible for the public to come and appreciate this jewel in the Grose Valley, and I, for one, heartily thank everyone (past and present) who has been involved in setting up and maintaining these walking tracks.

When we return, we’ll definitely be re-visiting the Grose Valley. There’s a lot more to discover here.

: )


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Leura Forest, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spell-binding short to half-day walk for bird lovers, nature photographers, or people seeking Shinrinyoku*. Moderate fitness and an ability to cope with lots of steep stairs required for the walk as described below, however less strenuous options may be available from Leura.

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest - a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest – a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

*Thanks and credit to Jane for the word ‘Shinrinyoku’ that best describes my Leura Forest experience, and the link borrowed from her Mildly Extreme blog post.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 6.5km

Time: Approx 3hr 20min (Note: our ‘moving time’ was 2hr 40min)

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Leura Forest Circuit from Echo Point - map and elevation profile - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Once again, this didn’t turn out to be a fast walk. Not just because I had a camera in my hand (which is my usual excuse, true though it is), but because of (a) the birds and (b) the magic of Leura Forest itself.

I shall explain. (You saw that coming?)

Feeling positive after yesterday’s walk to Ruined Castle, we wanted to do a really awesome walk on out last full day here. But with so many walks to choose from it was hard to know which would tick all the right boxes. Stephen wanted to walk to the township of Leura, so we set off once more for Echo Point.

It was an early start – for us. We were walking by 8:10am which is very nearly unheard of on any holiday where we set our own schedule. Starting out along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk towards the Giant Stairway we spotted a White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) and a couple of Rock Warblers (Origma solitaira) hunting for insects in the leaf and bark litter by the side of the path. A good start to the walk.

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

For much better photos, see here for Rockwarblers (sometimes spelt as one word) and here for White-browed Scrubwrens.

Another windy day meant Northface jackets on while we were on the ridges. Out of the wind and climbing down the Giant Stairway we definitely warmed up enough to warrant taking that layer off.

Reaching Dardanelles Pass Walking Track we turned left this time, heading towards Leura.

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

The beautiful forest, thick in parts with bird calls, just got more and more beautiful the further we walked. Right beneath the cliffs my Garmin was constantly letting me know it was having trouble finding satellites (so I’m surprised that there’s anything remotely sensible on the map above, even though that’s Stephen’s data again) but I didn’t really care at that point. The cliffs, so close and towering above are magnificent. The boulders you pass are a reminder that things larger than pebbles occasionally fall from the heights – although, by the extent of moss covering the rocks, there haven’t been any recent falls.

Walking along here I experienced feelings of utter bliss, awe, tranquility and harmony – that was probably aided a great deal by the fact that there was no one else around. I didn’t even know how far ahead Stephen was. I wanted to hurry to catch up – yet at the same time I wanted to slow down and savour this almost spiritual experience, too. The forest was so green! Slow down and watch the small birds on the forest floor hop over the logs and flit over rocks to hunt out insects. See the fungi helping to break down the dead wood and return nutrients back into the earth. There are plenty of lyrebirds too, who turnover the forest floor, like a gardener with a hoe, as they dig for invertebrates. It’s an amazing place, and we are privileged to be able to share it, as it’s part of a National Park. To be able to walk through it in peace and quiet was really something special.

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

There’s a picnic area – tables and bench seats – just before the path crosses Banksia Streamlet and starts heading up out of the valley towards Leura township. We crossed and walked on to the first set of stairs at the lower end of the Marguerite Cascades, where we stopped to watch another lyrebird before she moved on, and question whether we wanted to continue up to Leura or back via Federal Pass. I don’t remember exactly why now, but we decided to go back.

Federal Pass Walking Track drops almost immediately quite a bit lower down the hillside than the Dardanelles Track. It’s a very different walking experience; a more undulating track through a completely different habitat. Once again it was interesting to observe how different the forest can be just by moving a short distance away.

It was decision time again when we re-met the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. I confess it was more Stephen’s decision than mine to climb back up the Giant Stairway, but the alternative choice of walking around to Furber Steps or Scenic World was something we’d already done, so up we went!

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway - but what choice did I have?

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway – but what choice did I have?

At the time, and even now, my first thoughts are thank goodness for the handrails! Yes, I was definitely using my arms to help pull myself up. But what if the lovely stairs and beautifully smooth metal handrails (that would have taken an enormous effort and cost a lot to put in) weren’t there? Well, I’m not sure it’d be open to the public. I’d like to think I’d give it a go if there was a chain or similar, as there are in sections of walks around Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, but since the stairs and rails are there, this is purely speculation…

The benefits of walking on a weekday and not during school holidays is the decreased likelihood of encountering other people – I was glad there wasn’t anyone coming down while we were walking up the 883 (per Stephen’s count) stairs. The first people we saw were at the bridge to the first Sister. There are plenty of people willing to walk the couple of hundred metres there from the Visitor Centre and get just a taste of the stairs.

It was good to be back at the top, even though it meant being blown by the wind again. We took a short detour to Spooners Lookout, just for completeness.

When we started that morning we were the only tourists at Echo Point; now the place was its usual bustling self. Do those people milling around the lookout have any clue about the wonders I’ve just seen and heard?

Given we had finished this walk so early (it was still morning!) we had time to fit in another walk that afternoon. It would turn out to be the most stunning of our walks in the Blue Mountains yet!

: )


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Ruined Castle, Blue Mountains – 9 September 2014

A half-day walk for anyone of moderate fitness wanting to escape the crowds, get a different view of the Three Sisters, and who isn’t afraid of stairs. The walk can be extended to a full day walk depending on your starting point, or to include over-night hike options for experienced hikers.

Start/Finish: Glenraphael Drive, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 9km (+0.5km each way to where we left our car)

Time: Approx 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Ruined Castle hiking map & elevation graph - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

The geological feature in Jamison Valley known as ‘Ruined Castle’ (circled in red below) is visible from Echo Point Lookout as a little rise between Mt Solitary (which rises up directly in from of you from the middle of the valley), and the Narrowneck Plateau which has a ridge extending into the valley from the right.

Ruined Castle from Echo Point Lookout - it's the small rise circled in mid-distance - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

After yesterday’s (slightly disappointing) walk, we were looking for something a little more challenging – and one that would ideally also take us away from other people! We were on holidays, after all!

Our New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) Walking Track Guide suggested the walk would take 6 hours, and rated it medium/hard. This didn’t faze us; along with the description of walk it sounded just what we were after. The SV Map had a slightly more conservative estimate of 5 hours to complete the walk. You’ll note from the graph above that we weren’t exactly racing along (camera-in-hand syndrome) and we did it in 4hrs, so… mind you, we didn’t really stop as we climbed back up the steps. Just one or two photos on the way. Yep, have a cruisey walk then race up the cliff at the end (with, ahem, the aid of the handrails). Makes perfect sense.

Glenraphael Drive was very easy to find; it was once we got there that the fun started. Yes, we have asked the MINI to pretend it’s a 4wd before and it’s done admirably well to date, but the further we went along this unsealed road, the larger the ruts and holes got! Fortunately there was a spot we could park on the side of the road which turned out to be only about 500m from the start of the Golden Stairs, so it wasn’t too bad.

We were looking forward to getting down into the valley – it was incredibly windy on the ridge tops. It had blown in overnight; a cold wind too, for all that it was a bright, sunny day.

The Golden Stairs are steep, though on average possibly slightly less so than those of the Giant Stairway, but more than the Furber Steps. The signs advise to allow half an hour to walk the 800m to the bottom where the steps meet the Federal Pass Walking Track, that more or less follows the old tramway put in when coal was being mined in the area by pick and shovel.

As on the other stairs in the area there is a handrail for a lot of the way down. I shudder to imagine what it would have been like to climb up and down, in all types of weather, for people back when the area was being explored and mined (late 1800’s I think). Apparently the stairs got their name from a Salvation Army Officer who was known to sing a hymn on the way back up, after holding services for the miners below.

Federal Pass Walking Tack is wide and flat at the bottom of the steps, perfectly matching what we expected to find from an old mining tramway given our experience around Walhalla in Victoria (see here and here). It doesn’t remain like this the whole 3.4km to Ruined Castle, so you will need to watch where you put your feet, but does remain reasonably level, as it follows the base of the cliffs. As you follow the path out along the base of the cliff and into the valley, the forest changes from a dark rainforest with a high canopy and moss-covered rocks littering the forest floor, to a much more open eucalypt forest with ferns and then grasses as the dominant ground cover.

Right before the turn off to Ruined Castle we came upon a couple of NSW Parks rangers hard at work preparing foundations for public toilets. That was a double surprise! We don’t often see park rangers doing things in a park while we’re out on our walks (normally staff wearing Park uniforms are seen behind desks or cash registers at information centres) despite evidence that work has taken place (at some point in the past). For once we had a chance to talk to – and thank in person – the people doing the hard work!

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

The second surprise was that they were putting in loos. Maybe the overnight walk to Mt Solitary (an extension of this walk – advised for experienced walkers only. Someone required rescuing from there a day or two before we did our walk) is more popular than we realised.

A comment made in the NSW NPWS walking track guide book is there is some rock scrambling required on the path up Ruined Castle (see also here, about half way down the page). Now, either they’ve smoothed the path somewhat or we were supposed to bring our own rocks – I’m not sure which. I’ve done more rock scrambling around various beach heads. The path up is pretty obvious and not that tricky. If you stick to the path and don’t climb up the ‘castle’ there isn’t any ‘rock scrambling’ required.

I was rather disappointed to see building materials had been choppers in to build steps up the side of the hill. Are we causing that much erosion? Or are we intent on making everything boardwalk grade?

At the top of the short rise the track winds its way between the banksia trees and rough-barked eucalypts on top of the ridge leading to the ‘castle’. Most of the way along the ridge you can’t actually tell how far away you are from the formation. We followed the path through them and around the other side of the boulders making the formation known as ‘Ruined Castle’ before picking a spot to have lunch.

Picking your way down the other side is trickier than climbing up. The path is steeper and the loose dirt and litter (leaves, twigs, gum nuts, pebbles) between the rocks can make your footing less certain. It was good to make it down to Federal Pass without any slips.

On the return trip we found more new facilities for hikers – shelters in clearings below the main track, and completed toilets. Evidence that the two Park Rangers had been hard at work for a while.

In a case of being at the right place at the right time, we were privileged to witness a male lyrebird’s display, performed on a fallen tree not far from the path. I recorded most of it on my camera…I just don’t know what happened to it! Stephen got a couple of photos, but I wish I could share the performance with you.

Male lyrebird on a tree trunk - Federal Pass Walking Track, Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

When we reached the bottom of the steps again we didn’t go straight back up but decided to see what the Federal Pass track is like between this point and Scenic World. We just went a short way – going all the way to Scenic World and back would have added about 2hrs to the walk – enough to see that, as on the side of the steps, the track narrows and seems to become a more typical, undulating path through the rainforest, not one you can reliably push a pram along.

Federal Pass Walking Track from Golden Stairs back to Scenic World or Furber Steps

Federal Pass Walking Track from Golden Stairs back to Scenic World or Furber Steps

There wasn’t a hymn going through my head as we started back up the Golden Steps. I think I was just focusing on keeping up a steady pace. The sign at the bottom gave an indication of 45min for the climb (as opposed to 30min for the descent). We managed to shave 15min off that which was I reasonably pleased with, as we don’t live or regularly train anywhere hilly.

Then it was time to hold onto (or remove) hats again before they were blown back into the valley as we emerged from the forest onto the exposed ridge and walked back to the car. It was a really enjoyable walk.

: )


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Katoomba Falls Circuit from Echo Point, Blue Mountains – 8 September 2014

A short, to half-day walk for anyone of reasonable fitness and mobility who is visiting the Blue Mountains and wants to see some iconic sights.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Visitor Information Centre

Distance: Approx 7km

Time: 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Accuracy not guaranteed!  Please equip yourself with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

Accuracy not guaranteed! Ensure you are equipped with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

This was our first walk for our stay at Katoomba. Although armed with local knowledge, in the form of an SV Map and a Walking Track Guide for the Katoomba area produced by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (both purchased from the Echo Point Visitor Information Centre), I felt like a new employee feels heading off to work on their first day: you know how to do your job (in this case, pack a backpack, dress appropriately and walk), but you’re not really sure what you’re going to encounter on your expedition.

Our starting point was actually 3 Explorers Motel, approx 500m from Echo Point Lookout and Visitor Information Centre.

There are people on the bridge to the first sister - Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

There are people on the bridge to the first sister – Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

After the obligatory photo of the Three Sisters from Echo Point Lookout, we headed back towards the Visitor Centre. To get to the Giant Stairway you follow the Prince Henry Cliff Walk for a short distance. Pick up the path at the stone arch between the Visitor Centre and the public facilities. The track leading off to the right almost immediately is just a short walk (maybe 50m) to another lookout.

Start of our walk - The Prince Henry Cliff Walk next to the Visitor Information Centre, Echo Point, Katoomab, Blue Mountains

The path is quite beautiful along the ridge next to the banksia trees. The only shame is that so many people have chosen to carve their initials or unreadable messages into the exposed sandstone rock and any smooth-barked tree unfortunate enough to be located beside the path. The rock is really so lovely – cream coloured with maroon ribbons of much harder layers running through, I felt so sad to see the sooth stone used like the back of a public toilet door. Stephen offered another view – maybe in a few decades time these carvings will be valued as a glimpse of this time in history. Well, that’s one view I suppose.

I still disapprove.

Roughly 400m from the Visitor Centre, the track to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway branches off to the right. Just before you pass under another stone archway, there’s a sign asking people to remember to “Please take your rubbish out with you“. This is a National Park, but even if it weren’t, if you can’t find a bin for your rubbish, that is what you’re supposed to do anyway, right? Right?

Path to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway - Katoomba, Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains

Pretty much as soon as you pass under the arch the steps start. There’s a plaque saying there are 900. Stephen counted on the way up a couple of days later and didn’t quite reach 900, but near enough. Many are natural stone that have been worn in the middle of the tread from countless footsteps. Despite being wet they weren’t slippery thank goodness, but I wasn’t taking any chances and kept one hand on the hand rail. Like when you’re a kid mastering a trick and call out to your mum to watch, and as soon as she does you stack it – I wasn’t going to let my guard down and use anything but my feet to descend, thank you.

 

Today was the best day we had weather-wise; sunny but not hot, and not windy. Walking across to the first sister was a breeze, so to speak, but the staff at the Visitor Centre had warned about crossing when it’s really blowing a gale.

The layers of rock are just fascinating.

If anyone’s up at the lookout you can wave and possibly be in someone’s photo! I don’t think I made it into anyone else’s album.

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

A good portion – half, if not more – of the steps are metal treads and look pretty new, although due to the steep gradient they’re often fairly narrow and one or two were a tad slippery. I can only imagine how much effort it took to put everything in – especially the railings, which seem jointless. I take my hat off to the NSW NPWS staff who worked on this!

In a couple of places falling trees have taken out part of the stairs or railings. It’s doesn’t make the path unnegotiable, just a little trickier if you’re relying on the handrail. (Hey – they put it in, why not use it?!)

Although you’re descending into the valley, the view is still good, so don’t forget to stop and look – and listen! The bird calls are fantastic! The dominant call we heard ringing up out of the forest below was the single chiming call of numerous Bell Miners (Manorina melanophrys), a medium-sized native bird, a little smaller than a Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) which many people living in the eastern states of Australia would be familiar with. (For overseas readers, they’re about the size of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris).

About half way down, as I was pointing out rubbish in illogical places to Stephen, we came across a huge bag of rubbish that looks like it’s to be ‘choppered out. Wow. Ok, so I don’t know how long it’s been there, but if they can fill a bag like this and there’s still enough plastic bottles and wrappings around to make me think a collection is most certainly due… that’s incredibly disgusting. So much for the sign at the top, hey? ‘Take your rubbish with you’? Yeah, sure, a lot may be blown in, but that says to me it wasn’t properly disposed of in the first place.

A bag of rubbish ready to be helicoptered out - Giant Stairway, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

At the base of the stairs you’re on the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. We turned right here and walked around the base of the cliffs that are the Three Sisters.

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

In about half a kilometre the track Dardanelles track joins the Federal Pass Walking Tack. This section of Federal Pass Walking Track seems to get a lot of traffic. It’s easily accessible via Scenic World’s railway or cable car if walking down (or back up) stairs isn’t your thing, it’s well maintained and easy to negotiate for almost everyone.

The downside of this accessibility is every smooth-barked tree is scarred with nonsense, and there’s rubbish where there shouldn’t be. Was I glad to see a Brown Antechinus feeding on the path? Well, had it been eating an insect or lizard it had caught – yes, I’d have been stoked! As it was attracted by broken biscuit pieces someone had carelessly dropped (along with the packaging) I was less than thrilled. We aren’t walking lightly through our national parks, we’re stomping! Intentionally or not, we are changing the habitats and habits of our remaining wild paces and the species that live there.

A shopping trolley, an umbrella, random pieces of large and small plastic junk, treated wood posts… it’s amazing what a small landslide can introduce into an environment like this.

Garbage that turns up in a landslip - Federal Pass Walking Track, Jamison Valley, Blue Moutains

Soon enough we arrived at Scenic World. I was amazed to see they provided a rubbish bin at the entrance – which just proves my theory that most people will take the lazy option whenever they think no one’s watching them. We disposed to the bits of rubbish we’d picked up off the path along the way – not everything we came across – we didn’t come equipped with giant garbage bags after all.

ScenicWorld provides bins (trashcans) at the boundary between their property and the National Park - no excuses - Federal Pass, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Not to give you the impression that the walk isn’t worth doing, here are some photos of what was beautiful:

Now we were at Scenic World’s ‘scenic walkway’ it was time to make a call on whether or not to catch the railway back up. Everyone I know who’s been on it raves about it. Yes it looks steep and a fun ride, but at $14 per adult for a one-way trip… we watched the ‘train’ arrive and set off again, had a short look at the old coal mine entrances as you venture along the boardwalk, but quickly lost interest since there’s not much information there and there aren’t tours going in. After watching a second exchange of passengers on the railway, we retraced our steps to where the Furber Steps join Prince Henry Cliff Walk above with Federal Pass Walking Track below. We’d decided to walk up.

A good call, if I may say so myself. The Furber Steps aren’t nearly as numerous (~700) or as steep as the Giant Staircase, and you get to enjoy views of Katoomba Falls (for free!), Vera’s Grotto and Witches Leap (‘leap’ being a Scottish word for ‘waterfall’). Oh, and other tourists seem to quickly vanish from view. Strange that.

Rejoining the Prince Henry Cliff Walk at the top, I was struck by how distinct the boundaries between the different ecosystems are in the area. Approaching Katoomba Cascades is different to the cliff tops, which seem in complete contrast to the lush valleys with their heath scrub growing out of grainy yellow soils.

Because there had been rain recently there were puddles on the track. Some were large puddles. And when puddles form on dirt tracks, you get mud. Unfortunately for the many tourists who arrive by coach and decide to take a stroll along the cliff (no doubt having been told it’s an easy walk – which it is), they usually come unprepared for mud. Call me heartless if you wish as I freely stride past in my hiking boots, but we see examples of woefully unprepared tourists almost every time we go for a walk.

I don’t know why I felt the return cliff top walk seemed to go for ages. Maybe it was the people. Maybe it was just me. The graph at the very top stops short of the end as Stephen’s garmin ran flat…and I haven’t uploaded my data yet. I wasn’t sure we’d get any usable walk info actually because on all the walks we did they kept beeping to say they’d lost satellite connection. Well, that’s what you get when you’re walking in forest at the base of tall cliffs!

You might also have noticed that we weren’t exactly breaking any speed records. That’s never the case when my camera’s in hand! It’s a bit of a trade-off between burning more calories and really seeing more of what’s around me. I find that when I have a camera in my hand I look at the world slightly differently, like I’m looking through an imaginary lens. I’m not the only one, I hope? I know some people say they can only take in and appreciate a moment without being distracted by cameras and the like. I’m the opposite. If I haven’t photographed it – or imagined photographing it – chances are I won’t remember it.

All up this wasn’t a bad walk, but if you appreciate untouched wilderness and being alone on the track, this not the walk for you. (Things do improve on our following walks – posts coming!)

If you’ve got no time for anything else, then why not do this one! If you don’t stop to take as many photos as we did, or watch the railway come and go, you can cut down the time by a fair bit and take a wee bit off the length, too.

A Pied Currawong, indignant at having its photo taken - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Pied Currawong at Echo Point Lookout

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