Each time I planned a hike to this sandstone rock formation cluster in NSW’s Blue Mountains, the gods of bushwalking looked unkindly on me and it had to be postponed.
I didn’t just want to know what you could see five hours hike deep into Australia’s bush. I needed to know.
North Nomad and I committed to doing the hike the week before our wedding. Some of our family were anxious about bruises, scrapes, and broken limbs, but I reassured them I was as nimble-footed as a
mountain goat toddler. We caught the Scenic Railway 310 metres down through a cliff tunnel to the Jamison Valley floor.
Built in the 1880s for Katoomba’s coal mine and carrying passengers since 1945, the Scenic Railway is the steepest incline railway in the world. It’s received several facelifts in modern times. There’s three levels of “extremeness” for your seat incline. I set mine on “Cliffhanger” for MAXIMUM INCLINE. I don’t exactly feel the rush of a base jumper, but it is steep!
Canopies of tall sassafrass and coachwood trees shade us from the harsh Australian sun. Lyrebirds scuttle across our path, eager to get out of our way.
As the hike takes an incline, we ascend into scrubby, rocky outcrops, sprouting the occasional Warratah. Sheer sandstone rockfaces drop off into the valley on our right hand side. The sandstone cliffs look like honeycomb with their blonde colouring and missing chunks where time and weather have eroded them.
The panaroma of the Jamison Valley lies to our left, a sea of blue-green Eucalypts bunched together. The silence is only broken by the occasional cry of bell birds or small reptiles slithering next to our path.
“We’re nearly there. I reckon it’s just up that little path!”
This response always kills him a little. This time I have sympathy. The tourist sign describes the hike as experienced. Bushwalker websites call it hard. It’s not for the unfit. It’s suited to experienced hikers or people used to regular intense cardio workouts. There are also sections that are tricky to negotiate if you’re not flexible. Whilst you don’t need rock climbing gear or shoes, there are some large rocks to haul yourself over, particularly when you reach Ruined Castle. And the track is rough in parts. There are fallen tree trunks which look like Titans have thrown them into place. And there are few railings or guards on rocks or sheer drops. The final leg of the hike is a steep and windy incline. It’s uneven and dusty. Roots jut out and rocks spring out of nowhere to trip you up. I can hear North Nomad cursing under his breath at my “we’re nearly there!”
After 20 minutes of this intense cardio causing the backs of our throats to burn and our hearts to almost explode, Ruined Castle appears.
It sits at the very peak of the mountain’s incline – a large cluster of car sized rocks balancing precariously in the middle of this isolated bush. It towers over everything, only matched by the neighbouring Mount Solitary. The structure does resemble a medieval castle torn apart by war.
These natural formations always impress me. How do they get here? What natural process caused this? What dreamtime story did the Gundungurra people tell about it? My initial jubilation at reaching the formation bursts when we realise I might be too short to climb it without equipment. A group of experienced looking climbers are working their way up to the top of the formation, with difficulty. One of the climbers has wedged himself between two boulders with just his toes and fingertips, yelling out instructions to the group below him.
North Nomad goes for a wander. He runs back with a smile. There is a much easier side that even short limbed me can manage. The group overhears and sounds exasperated that they didn’t investigate alternative routes. Wedging myself into crevices and throwing my back pack over rocks, we make it to the top.
From the top of Ruined Castle, the view is endless. The rugged bushland of the Jamison and Cedar Valleys sprawls as far as the eye can see. This view is broken only by the sandstone cliff-faces and Mount Solitary to our right. We find a flat spot of rock and eat our lunch on top of Ruined Castle.
Sunning myself with my sandwich, I contemplate my white whale from its back.
* Pack water. Two 500 ml bottles per person is a good idea.
* Pack food. We brought a snack and lunch, which was the perfect amount for a return trip.
* Even if it’s a hot day, wear layers and pack a hoodie/jumper.
* Wear sneakers or hiking boots. There is some rock climbing involved.
* Leave in the morning, unless you’re prepared to camp overnight.
Time: From Echo Point, 5-6 hours with breaks (14hm walk). From Scenic World, 4-5 hours with breaks. (12km walk)
Getting there: Driving, take the Great Western Highway from Sydney to Katoomba. You can park either at Echo Point, or at Scenic World.
Cost: Free if you walk down the staircase from Echo Point. Scenic Railway costs: Unlimited rides on the Railway, Skyway, Cableway and Walkway – Adult $35.00, child (4-13 years) $18.00, family $88.00, and concession $32.00 One-way tickets out of the Jamison Valley are available for bushwalkers – Adult $14.00, child (4-13 years) $8.00, family $36.00. No mention of a one-way concession ticket on the website.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica over at Google.