Trip leader: Bruce Stafford
Party: April, Burton, Dara, Daria, Elodie, Erik, Gaia, Hannah, Honghao, Julia, Julian, Justine, Maria, Matilda, Wing Chun
Ruined castle in The Blue Mountains Nationa Park, 20/2/2022..
We all met up at Central (except April who got on at Glenbrook) for the 2 hour train trip to Katoomba. The plan then was to catch the bus to the top of Furber’s Steps track which left 6 minutes after the train arrived. This was to reduce the amount of walking on this fairly long walk.
Problem was that the train was still standing at Central 10 minutes after scheduled departure time, and arrived at Katoomba 7 minutes after the bus connection left. As there was 23 minutes until the next bus there was time for everyone to use the toilets (not “bathrooms”) on Katoomba Station while waiting for the next bus.
After arriving at the kiosk near the start of the Furber’s Steps track we did a group photo and then proceeded along the track down to do a brief stop at Witches Leap falls.The track was fairly muddy underfoot but nothing like what we would find on Federal Pass later on. Further along was a photostop at Queen Victoria Lookout where the group – most of whom had never been to the Blue Mountains – took in the iconic views of the Three Sisters and Jamison Valley. Straight after that was the steep descent down the actual Furber’s Steps, cut into the rock face (the photos don’t do justice to the steepness of this section). At the bottom of the steps we turned right to pass by the tourist section of the Scenic Railway and the old coal mines there. There weren’t anywhere as many tourists there this day as there are normally.
Shortly after the tourist section, Federal Pass branches off, and here I advised the group not to stop unless absolutely necessary as this is the section where they will most likely get leeches; and also advice that the best way to get leeches is to stop to check for them. We encountered quite a few muddy sections along this part and a couple of obstacles that have been there for a long time, with stepping notches cut into fallen tree trunks. At one point the track crosses a coal seam about a metre thick.
At last the track comes to the start of The Landslide Section, which is dry and also leech-free, a good place for a morning tea break. I passed around Lamingtons, a novelty to our overseas students, who enjoyed this Australian treat. The Landslide section is a quite rough section of Federal Pass, crossing where a landslide took off the cliff face in 1931 (it can be seen in the last two photos). After the drought and bushfires of 2019/20 heavy rains caused a second smaller landslide further along the track as well as bringing down several large trees across the track, which slowed progress.
From the Landslide section the track more or less follows the formation of an old horse tramway connecting mines further along towards Mount Solitary. Actually “less” now as small washaways and landslips are causing nature to reclaim the old formation making it undulating. Also along this section there are very muddy and slippery sections, with the mud being the consistency of porridge, and as sticky. Walking boots and Volleys had no grip on these sections but we were lucky that no one actually slipped over into the mud. This part is always damp underfoot but this was the worst I have ever seen it.
By that time I was at the tail end of the group and I pointed out to the others the entrance to the Mount Rennie Tunnel which is an old coal wagon tunnel going for 400 metres to the other side of Narrow Neck, in whose lee we were now walking. Too deep in water to crawl through, and not high enough to stand upright in, it is quite an adventure and one must accept that all the clothing and shoes you wear while traversing it will be permanently stained with the yellow oxide in the water. A hot day is also needed to dry out at the other end. Erik had a look at the entrance (see photo).
The track continues on for quite a while passing stands of tree ferns and eucalypts. Eventually it comes to the Junction with Golden Stairs track, which I told walkers we would be coming back to. From there it is another 50 minutes walking on fairly level (and thankfully mostly mud-free) track to the spot where the track up to Ruined Castle branches off. There is also a National Parks pit toilet there, and I advised the group that it can be called a “dunny‘ but definitely not a “bathroom”. (I also taught them another Australian word: “chook”).
We ascended the steep but relatively short track to Ruined Castle, advising the group to stop at the first really big rock (as people were doing the gradient at different speeds some would get ahead of the others). When the leading people reached the big rock where I intended to stop for lunch and a climb up it to see the view, they unfortunately asked some passers-by where Ruined Castle was. The passers-by told them it was another 5 minutes along the track, so off they went. When the tail end of seven including myself arrived at the big rock,we discovered that the other nine had continued on. We phoned them but as they had started to sit down for lunch they decided to stop there.
Our group of seven stayed at the big rock for lunch, and a few climbed up it to get a grand view of The Oldies Ranges to the south (where the “Three Peaks” are, actually summits of three major Blue Mountains peaks, Cloudmaker, Paralyser and Guouogang; see Ashley Burke’s page about them here: http://www.ashleyeylenburg.com/3Peaks/index.htm
Eventually the other group of nine came back and several also climbed the big rock. It is quite safe as once past the first difficult bit at the base, the rest is fairly easy. This is also the reason why I choose this spot for lunch and not the actual “Ruined Castle” formation a bit further on. Not only are the rocks they’re slightly lower in altitude than this big rock, they also need proper climbing equipment to ascend them. I should mention too that it is unwise to ask casual passers-by where a certain location is; it might not be the exact destination of the Trip Leader. Text or call the trip leader if unsure.
After lunch a request was made by a couple of the group to continue the walk further south, as the Ruined Castle track is actually a loop which meets up with Federal pass further on towards Mount Solitary. I decided not to, as after Ruined Castle the track is actually rather vague, and the extra section of Federal Pass needed to walk along is the same as what we had already done. Also, I was mindful of the weather forecast which was for late afternoon showers and a possible thunder storm. You do not want to be caught on a ridge top like Narrow Neck in an electrical storm! It turned out to be a wise choice, as if that section had been walked, we would have not been back to Sydney until 8.45pm, an hour later then we did.
So back down to Federal Pass and the “dunny” we went, and then the 50 minute walk back to the base of Golden Stairs. The NPWS sign states “800 metres, 45 minutes”. That gives you an idea of how steep it is. We set off and I gave the group instructions to take a rest and water break when they reached the top at the road along Narrow Neck, and also take advantage of the couple of lookouts en route. I ended up doing it in 48 minutes, but others were faster. I think that everyone has gotten out of condition to some degree because of inactivity during the Pandemic; a couple of others commented that they thought they could do the Stairs faster than what they actually did.
Then we set off along the dirt road atop Narrow Neck to reach Cliff Drive. At this point some walkers in the past have made the mistake of turning right to follow Cliff Drive to Scenic World. This needlessly adds 1km to the walk along a narrow road with no footpath. Instead I led the group the 20 metres LEFT to “Short Street” which looks like a vacant block, then down to Violet Street and Scenic World. It was our luck that we arrived at Scenic World just as the bus back to Katoomba was pulling in, and we immediately got aboard for the ride back to Katoomba Station.
It was too late to get the 5.22pm train back, but the next one was 15 minutes later (and all stops to Penrith and that suited April). As usual in Katoomba, most cafes were closed but a kiosk next to the station entrance was still open and some of got snacks and drinks. Julia wasn’t fazed when I mentioned going to a gift shop; it seems that German-speaking students are a wake-up to that little joke (gift means “poison” in German, and in Swedish too, said Erik).
So we settled in for the return trip to Sydney, on time this trip, and got back two minutes early at 7.40pm! On the way I started getting cramps in both thighs and I took some more water and Erik kindly gave me some savory snacks to replenish my sodium. Elodie mentioned taking Magnesium to ward off cramps. On the way past the grounds of Western Sydney Uni at Kingswood we saw a large mob of Kangaroos, probably numbering 30. Julian had spotted a couple in the grounds on the way up and we were looking out for them on the way back.
It was a fairly long walk with difficult sections which gave the group, 11 of whom were overseas students, a good introduction of what to expect on some walks in the bush. The weather was almost perfect too.All seemed to like the experience and really loved the scenery. No one got leeches as far as I know, but a couple found them on their shoes. Speaking of leeches, they are unsightly and annoying but mostly harmless. If you get one on you just pull it off and drop about 2 metres away so it can’t find its way back to you. They inject an anaesthetic and anticoagulant into you as they bite which is why you don’t feel it, and why the wound can bleed for some time afterwards. Just rinse the bite site with clean water and put a band-aid on it. If you don’t detect a leech on you they will eventually drop off by themselves. They don’t drill into your brain as some walkers in the past thought!
One person reported sick on the morning, but there was one complete “no show” who still hasn’t contacted me about this. Remember what I wrote: you can get excluded from future walks if you are a “no show”. It was annoying also as there were two people on the wait list keen to come, and I could have offered them a place if I had known.
Looking forward to seeing you on future walks. I am going to open the Newcastle walk for signing up now, but please remember that at present I can’t give you the exact train times and meeting palce and time as it seems that the Transport bureaucrats haven’t sorted out that prat yet.