Start: Furber Steps (or you can drive and park at the top of Golden Stairs)
End: Mount Solitary summit (return the next day)
Time taken: 6 hours each day
USP: Remoteness, views, great wild camping.
Distance: 15km each day. 30km in total
Talk to most people about the Blue Mountains and chances are they will have heard of Katoomba and the Three Sisters. It’s an easy walk from the train station, has well paved paths running around it and a car park large enough to accommodate dozens of coaches. There’s even a gift shop selling ‘I heart Australia’ T-shirts and mugs sporting witty quotes.
But Katoomba is also the start and finish of some amazing, long distance hikes. Walks that take you deep into the folds of the Blue Mountains, along wild rivers to hidden camp grounds. Keen for a taste of the remote, we put together an over night hike with a few good friends, from Katoomba to Mount Solitary. Camping on Mount Solitary and heading back the way we’d come the next day. Along the way we’d also take in Ruined Castle, a rock promontory sitting at the start of the final climb.
Research running up to the chosen weekend was vital in planning what to take. We had to travel as light as possible in order to carry all of our water. A dry month meant we couldn’t rely on the ephemeral creeks along the way, so everyone carried a 24 hour supply… 4.5kg each, before we’d even started to pack gear and food!
We entered the trail at Furber Steps. A selection of stairs and ladders that wind down the cliff from Scenic World. This is one of the popular tourist attractions with easy access down and a cable car back up. Our group looked slightly out of place next to the well dressed tourists and families. We marched by in boots and heavy packs; wild adventurers heading out into the unknown!
It didn’t take long for the crowds to start thinning out. We reached the bottom of the steps and picked up the Federal Pass Walking Track that would lead us to Ruined Castle. Although the forest was thick, we had occasional glimpses of the Three Sisters rock formation high above us now and the odd peak at Mount Solitary, our camp for the night, still an unnerving distance away. We kept plodding, deeper into the wilderness.
The Federal Pass Walking Track to Ruined Castle is fairly easy going. There are a few sections that had us scrambling over rocks and along the edge of sloping drops. You certainly can’t switch off and lose your concentration. At other points the path widened out enough for us to walk two abreast and over the din of hundreds of chirping Cicada, catch up with one another, chatting about the night ahead and what lay in store on the final climb.
We reached the fork in the track that signalled the Ruined Castle turn off and having made good time, decided to head up and check it out. It’s a jumble of large granite rocks that protrude out of the softer sandstone surrounding them, forming tall towers and turrets that do resemble a castle. Stashing our packs at the bottom, we scrambled up to the top and gawked at the incredible 360 views. Away to the south we could see Cox’s River. One of the few true wild rivers in NSW, untouched by humans, and the source of Lake Burragorang, which supplies Sydney with all of it’s water. Beyond that lies Kanangra Boyd and some breathtaking wilderness that’s firmly on the ‘to do’ list.
From Ruined Castle we dropped down into Cedar Gap, where one of our group saw our first snake of the walk, a Spotted Black Snake, lying right across the path. Luckily it made itself scarce and we started up the Korrowall Knife Edge. The final climb for the day… and it’s a big one.
At some points it felt as though ropes and anchors wouldn’t have been overkill. With 10kg packs and with a good 12km already in the legs, there were some tricky but fun sections to figure out. The group in the lead often peering back down the pitch, offering advice on what foot to put where. The route up also lulled us into a false sense of hope several times, appearing to flatten out as though we’d reached the summit before turning skyward again as we hauled ourselves up on tree branches and protruding roots.
Once we did reach the top the forest thinned out and there was a number of clear areas to pitch our camp. Old fire pits dotted the forest floor from previous parties and a few groups were already up there, nodding ‘hello’ and exchanging grins. The sun was starting to set and the lights of Katoomba, where we’d started 6 hours before’ started to twinkle in the descending gloom. As the air cooled, the Cicada fell silent and an eerie stillness fell across the mountain top. This definitely felt more remote!
Before the last light faded we pitched our tents, changed into warm clothes, gathered wood and got a small fire going. Although no one said anything that night, we all admitted the next day that we were feeling nervous about the climb back down the next morning. Going up some sections was hard enough, surely going down would be worse? As the temperature dropped further a gusty wind picked up, thrashing the canopy of the skinny trees around us, throwing creepy shadows across the camp. We took it as our cue to get some sleep and climbed into sleeping bags, zipping our rain flies tight.
Day two dawned without a breath of wind. A family of Currawong chased each other in the trees around us and the sun was doing it’s best to burn off the high cloud. The first job of the day was coffee. We fired up the camping stoves just as the sun broke free and knifed through the trees, helping to warm aching legs and shoulders.
After the second coffee and a few pre boiled eggs we broke down the tents and prepared for the climb down. Although there were a few sketchy sections, it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought. Just as we reached the bottom of the Korrowall Knife Edge and started to relax the guys up front spotted an Eastern Brown Snake basking in the sun to the edge of the path. A stark reminder that we were still a long way from help if something went wrong. On high ‘snake alert’ we picked up a good pace, keen to reach Katoomba in time for some food and well deserved beers.
In all it was the perfect first over nighter in the Bluies. The popularity of this route meant the track was fairly easy to Ruined Castle. Our research was also right and there was little flowing water to refill from. There’ s a camp site at Ruined Castle that has rain butts, but again, we couldn’t rely on these and be caught short on a two day hike.
The NSW National Parks authority strongly recommend tackling over night hikes with an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Response Beacon), which you can hire for free from Katoomba Police Station. It might seem like overkill, but fail to spot an Eastern Brown Snake or take a tumble on one of the climbs and you’ll feel a very long way from help. Go here for more information.