Walkers: Bruce (leading), Matthias, Nathalie, Ansura, Fadi, Sui, Adam, Daniel, Nicola, Cathie, Shafieq.
Date: 25/3/2018

Before I start on this trip report, I remind members that if you go to the Royal Easter Show at Olympic Park, you can buy woollen socks at retail outlets in the Sheep Pavilion. Last year they were $8 a pair. They are much more useful than cotton socks, which you shouldn’t wear on walks in wet or snow conditions anyway. They will not make your feet hot in summer. The Sheep (or Wool) pavilion is near the Chook pavilion.

As you can see, a smaller number than on the 1st new member walk. This was caused by the original number of 23 being whittled down to 16 by Friday, due to illnesses, assignments to be done, and other clashes. Probably not a surprise given the need for a postponement from 18th March due to excessive heat. Then another 2 dropped out on Friday and I offered 2 people on wait list a place, but by then they had already made other arrangements. I also decided not to replace everyone who dropped out, given that the first group of 24 proved difficult to manage on the popular tourist tracks of Leura. By Sunday morning though, I had one drop out sick, and another who says she forgot to set her alarm. There was however one outright “no show”, who is yet to send me any message about why she didn’t show up (it’s not you, E.L.P).

Anyway, with Nathalie, Matthias and Fadi driving up, and Nicola, Ansura and Shafieq getting on elsewhere, I expected only 7 at the station. Yet only 4 appeared. Sui who had earlier confirmed by text that she was at Central, was not there, so I assumed that this brand new overseas student had got lost. She was surprised then to get a message from me asking where she was, as she had got on the train with another walking group, thinking it was us! Also there were the two others missing, including the complete “no show” and also the person who messaged me at 10am saying she had slept in.

Anyway, we all caught up with each other at Katoomba Station, and I advised the car people to take advantage of having cars, and drive straight to the kiosk at the top of Furber Track. The rest of us, noting the queue for the Scenic World bus, gave it a miss and walked there from the station. Along the way we noticed that the air was as cool as it was in Sydney 2 hours earlier, and wondering if the forecast 26 degrees C would happen.

Assembled at the top of Furber Track (also confusingly called the “Round Walk” there), we set off down the track which initially is not too steeply graded. We passed “Witch’s Leap” and then arrived at the T junction where Furber’s Track proper starts. This goes downhill and reaches Furber Steps which are both narrow and steep. We passed a few tourists coming back up so they must have had an early start.

Eventually we reached the bottom of Furber Steps and it’s junction with Federal Pass. Turning right we found ourselves 200 metres later mixing with the hordes of tourists in Scenic World, coming down off the Scenic Railway and looking at the old coal mine adits (now blocked off) and various tourist kitsch including old mine skips laden with coal obviously by its quality from the Hunter Valley, not Katoomba (which has poor quality coal).

While there I asked a tourist about the cost of a ride on the Scenic Railway ans she confirmed that one has to buy a “discovery pass” covering all attractions at Scenic World (even if you only want to use one) at $43! (Or $39 concession – bargain!).

Just past the mine adits is where Federal Pass resumes for the next section to The Landslide and Ruined Castle (and Mt Solitary if you are going there). It is not well marked and can be easily missed. It undulates for a while in a damp area which is also leech territory. Daniel and Adam stopped to examine some vine leaves, but I advised them not to stop as it made it easier for leeches to get on them. Indeed, to prove the point, Sui panicked when she saw her first leech crawling on her shoe, and she desperately tried to remove it by stamping her foot (that never works). Cathie removed it by simply picking it off. (Sui at that stage didn’t realise that leeches suck blood; that was to come later). We reached the Landslide section, where the track turns rough as it negotiates its way over the debris from the 1931 landslip of the cliffs above. At least it’s dry and no likelihood of leeches. We encountered the first strong winds blowing from the North west which fortunately were neither cold nor hot, but dry enough to relieve us of the sweat built up by our walk. It was also an opportune time for a morning tea break where Nathalie brought out delicious Apple and Pecan cake to share around.

After leaving the Landslide section, the track becomes more level, as from here it follows the old formation of the 19th Century oil shale horse tramway. It stays fairly level from there all the way to the Ruined Castle apart from some places where the formation has had rock falls or washaways.

Not too far along we came to the entrance of the Mt Rennie tunnel, part of the old cable tramway which (like the tunnel) ran all the way to the other side of Narrow Neck. Standing at the tunnel entrance the air flow from the other side of Narrow Neck could be felt. Also at the entrance there is a sort of grille (not noticeable until I illuminated it with my camera flash). It is not to hard to get past it. Some SUBW trips have gone through this tunnel, on days warmer than this. Transit of it requires walking stooped over in thigh-deep water stained with Iron Oxides which will stain almost permanently any clothes or shoes you wear. It also colours your legs orange for a week or two (despite numerous baths!). The tunnel is not high enough to stand upright, and odd metal objects on the ceiling mean you must wear a helmet to avoid hitting them. A trip through Rennie’s tunnel was not on the itinerary today, so we continued along Federal Pass (and again into Leech territory as it is in the shade of Narrow Neck for much of the day). The track goes for quite a while until reaching the side track to Ruined Castle. There is a fairly new composting dunny there now (not there on my last walk here in early 2015). Also the track up to Ruined Castle has been improved, with wooden steps where once was a rough and uneven track. It is still steep though until levelling out at the top.

On reaching the top of Ruined Castle and the unusual rock formations, we stopped for lunch. We found shelter from the strong NW wind behind the massive rocks. Ominously some dark-looking clouds were starting to form further west over the Oberon area, but a check of the rain radar showed no rain – yet.

After lunch we retraced our steps back along Federal Pass until reaching the foot of Golden Stairs. Along the way I spotted an old tramway sleeper, probably one of the few remaining from the 19th century track that was once there. Bits of oil shale also litter the path.

Golden Stairs itself has been undergoing gradual repairs, noticeably in the lower section where there are new wooden steps, but it is still much rougher than either Furber Steps or the Giant Stairway. At one place there is a “step” of 1.5 metres! Even so it is shorter and not as steep as the other two. We knew we were near the top when the brisk NW wind started again (for most of the way it is sheltered from NW or west winds). I was pleased we made it up Golden Stairs in 30 minutes, 15 minutes faster than the stated time on the NPWS direction board. This was even so despite some of us were slower than others going up.

At the top we took a water break – much needed after the climb. Sui took the opportunity to translate “leech” into Chinese, and only then discovered that they suck blood! By then she had attracted 3 leeches, more than all the others in our group combined. Why the leeches were especially attracted to Sui is not known.

Then it was the road bash back along Narrow Neck road which is not too bad as it does give views over both the Jamison and Megalong Valleys along the way. There is also a view of the rock formation called “Boar’s Head” because it looks like one from a distance.

On reaching Cliff Drive, our next destination was Scenic World and the bus to Katoomba. I turned left instead of right to the initial puzzlement of some of the group (as Scenic World is further right along Cliff Drive). Almost directly opposite but a bit left of the junction of the road from Narrow Neck (Glenraphael Drive)  and Cliff Drive, is Short Street. Well, it is a street in name only and actually looks like a vacant block. It is not even signposted. Down Short “Street” we went, avoiding the Blackberry vines, and in just 70 metres reached Violet Street, and straight along that to Scenic World. This short cut takes 1 km off the walk from the end of Narrow Neck to Scenic World.

We arrived at Scenic World just 2 minutes before the next bus back to Katoomba, but as luck would have it, a couple of our group needed to use the toilet (“bathroom”??). So having missed that bus, (and thus the 4.22pm train) I decided we may as well get a coffee at Scenic World’s cafe, which, unlike their scenic railway ride, costs only $4.50 not $43. A check of the rain radar though showed a rain band crossing the Oberon and Kanangra Falls area and approaching Katoomba, and any doubt was dispelled by going to the lookout at the cafe (entry free) and seeing the rain gradually approaching us from the Colong area.

Thus, we decided we had better get going home. So, given that there were 11 people but only 2 cars (which could take 10 legally), a plan was made to send two people back to Katoomba on the next bus and then the train home, and the rest dropped at Katoomba Station in the cars. Then the car groups decided to simply stay in the cars until Parramatta Station and get trains from there. So Nicola (who gets off at Glenbrook anyway) and Shafieq got on the bus and then the train at Katoomba, and the rest to Parramatta. On arrival at Parramatta the first thing I noticed was how much hotter it was there than at Katoomba over an hour earlier. Obviously the forecast of 35 degrees C at Parramatta had been correct.

Also the first drops of rain were felt at Parramatta, and by the time the train reached Strathfield the rain was heavy.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and Sui had her first Australian leech experience. The expected weather forecast of 26 degrees at Katoomba never happened, and stayed at around 22 along the walk, despite the NW wind. The forecast late rain did happen but we were lucky enough to beat it.

The next day I noticed an interesting phenomenon: the plastic water bottle I had emptied at the Top of Golden Stairs (elevation about 1020 metres) was partly collapsed by the higher atmospheric pressure at home, nearly at sea level. On opening the top, the bottle bounced back to its normal shape with a slight hiss. (For the Physics experts, it was about the same air temperature at home as at Narrow neck, so temperature was not a confounder). See photos.

A note to people who do a “no show”: be aware that some walk leaders will not let you on subsequent walks if you fail to show up and don’t give an explanation.

Link to my photos of this walk: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brstafford/albums/72157694904050645

Bruce Stafford.