Party: Jonno, Sophie
This morning my girlfriend (Sophie) and I did a hike below the cliff lines of Radiata Plateau (just West of Katoomba, near the start of the 6 Foot Track). A couple of others had indicated interest, but in the end it was just the two of us. I had previously gone in & out each of Esgate Pass (the chains) and Blacks Ladder, but this was my first time doing the full traverse.
It was cool and overcast – no rain, but there was a slight chance of showers later in the day, and I didn’t want to risk having to ascend the chains at Esgate Pass in the rain, so we decided to go down the chains, and up the ladder. Descending the chains is certainly a bit more nerve wracking than climbing them, but we had both done it before.
The point to leave the main firetrail for Esgate Pass is marked by a cairn, in fact there are cairns all the way down to the top of the chains. I did get a few second thoughts when I got another look at the rusty chains disappearing down over the rock face, but Sophie was down them in a flash which meant I had no choice but to follow.
When we got into the gap between the main plateau and the detached Megalong Head, I saw a bit of a chimney that looked like it could be ascended to get on top of Megalong Head, Sophie climbed it to prove it was so, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and shouted encouragement from below.
We then did a circle of the head, looking for how to descend, when we got back to the gap where we started, I spotted the cairn at the top of the obvious track down a gully to the East. We followed that down to some rainforest, then followed some faint tracks that looped back under Megalong head and eventually we crossed a creek and ascended to the pass up the main cliff line just a little to the NNW of where the chains would be.
From there we stayed as high as we could, along the base of the cliff which turned into shale ledge after a while. We had to back track a few times and drop down to a lower level. We did see the occasional cairn, and footpads, but I would be nervous about relying on either of those for anything more than a bit of reassurance that other humans have passed here once before. There were a couple of times when there was a very distinct track along a ledge which then bluffed out – I guess these ‘dead ends’ get twice as much traffic as other sections.
Eventually we reached the final ledge, and the waterfall near the base of Blacks Ladders. There was quite a lot of water coming down the fall, and in the creek, so the easiest way was to go behind the back of the waterfall.
When we got to the old wooden ladder, I discovered a flaw in my plan – I had been thinking that this pass would be fine to do in the wet, but had considered only the spikes, not the amphitheatre just below it (i.e. where the wooden ladder is). Previously I had avoided the wooden ladder and used the carved footholds just next to them, but today this part of the rock was very wet, slimy and slippery. The area with the wooden ladder was under an overhang though and completely dry – we could have scrambled up there but in the end we just went up the ladder, which held my weight (110Kg) OK.
By this stage we were pretty tired, so didn’t stop for any photos, just trudged up the steep and well-worn foot pad till it breaks through the cliff line. There are freshly painted arrows pointing the way from the top of the old footpad to the gumtrees that mark the junction with the old fire trail. According to Allan Wells page (http://www.pnc.com.au/~wells/RadiataPlateau.html) the ‘old’ route through the firetrail.
network is too overgrown to use and he suggests a new way with a bit of a bush bash, but we went took the firetrails all the way from the gum trees today and it was fine.
Round trip took 5:30h including a reasonable lunch break and some pfaffing around at Megalong head. An excellent adventure, which certainly tests your appetite for exposure.
I put some photos on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151255167491366.443923.709626365&type=1