Jamison, Cedar Valleys, from Katoomba.  By Isabella

South From Katoombas' Echo Point

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Mt Solitary Circuit from Katoomba. (11th to 14th September 2011)

Map:-

Jamison and Katoomba 1:25000

Party:-

Bella, Dug

Sunday.

I hadn't noticed when I boarded the scenic railway carriage that the cage sloped down the other side of the carriage. Scrunched up fore and back is difficult, but scrunched down too, it is damn right hard to slip out of your overnight pack. The Indiana Jones music started and we tilted down for the steepest railway ride in the world (or so the advertising blurb said). I guess it was kinda steep going down but sure would have been a panting pain coming up, walking. I couldn't help remember a Darby Munro story from the 1960s, in the 60th year compilation of the NBC magazine. He and a friend were walking up the rail track, because they believed the railway had stopped running, when they saw it coming down towards them. He lay in a gutter beside the track, his mate lay between the tracks and his hat as taken as it scraped over him. That happened on the old railway, no room at all on this railway. All too soon we were getting out at the lower station. We could see the older disused track from the bottom, not much space on that either.

Pub sign, No Gang Related Insignia.  Pic by Isabella.

Isabella my granddaughter was in Sydney doing a training course for her work as an intensive care nurse in Bundaberg. She felt it the perfect opportunity to get out and see something of the surrounds. I picked her up at her motel full of people dressed in all black, with a sign on the door "No Gang Related Insignia to be worn in Hotel". Good place to be leaving - alive perhaps. Pleasant drive up to the Mountains but the weather a little threatening looking. The forecast not to good either, showers, strong winds and cold. Still the unfolding scenery always great to view as we drive along.

At Echo Point Isa took the opportunity to do the touristy thing and get her first glimpse of the Jamison and Cedar Valleys with all those cliffs and miles and miles of trees blending into the distance. Dark clouds racing overhead, cold wind trying to cut through you as you seek the views out of the wind. I sorted the pack and made sure we had everything need for three days away from houses and rooms. Then the car was park near Scenic world. Buy tickets for the railway ride, $11.50 each, ouch. The view from the top of the railway platform great, and the white cockatoos came to entertain us on the fence railings. All too soon we were getting out at the lower station. The scenic railway ride the right way to get the round walk from Katoomba across Mt Solitary started?

Showing the place names.  Pic by Isabella and Dug.

We went, along the ridge with the Ruined Castle, up steep spur to top of Mt Solitary.

From the bottom platform we wandered west round the tourist representation of the old coal workings. Holographic pictures telling of the time when people tried to eke a living down here. Mine adits reopened to show where, sundry bits of junk left by the miners in there day. Present day miners have a good example to follow from those days, you may think. Legislators a difficult task to get them to clean up the mess they leave, until Australia is the junk heap the rest of the world wants to make of us. Isn't it ironic that people from countries who buy our mining products and metal say that we in Australia are the world's worst polluters per head of population? Shouldn't they have to buy carbon and other pollutant credits for the value of the products they buy? Aluminium would be high on the list and most European countries produce their aluminium here, leaving the pollutants behind!

The walk around the base of the cliff line is always fulfilling. Tall eucalypt forest, green damp rain forest, open scree and clay slope at the "land slip". As we pass Malaita point, Bell is entertained to see an abseiler on a big open drop. She reminisces about the time we did the abseils at Blackbutt and later at Monkey Face. At the turn off to the "Golden Stairs" we are treated to sunshine, pleasant place to sit on a log for a drink and a nibble for morning tea. The beautifully coloured forest parrots fly about us, in other places the lovely tinkle of bell birds, we watch them flitting from tree to branch, maintaining their territory. We are constantly spotting the tree hoppers, flipping from here to there or there.

Track past Golden Stairs, lovely scene.  Pic by Isabella.

Lovely walking track past the Golden Stairs.

This part of the walk was originally set up by the old miners. Most of their leavings are being taken over by the bush, so they blend into the natural landscape, except for those who care to look more closely. We missed the turn off, to the Tunnel under the "Narrow Neck" to the Megalong Valley. Oh well still lots to see and do. Up to the "Ruined Castle" for a geek and lunch! On the way we passed the first Waratah Buds of the year and first time Isy has seen a waratah. Absolutely lovely ball of crimson petals tightly bunched, standing out against the scrubs olive, blue, grey, colour. As we walk on we pass many more waratahs as shown in the other photos below. We picked a place on the southeast side of the Ruined Castle rocks mostly out of the gale force winds. The resident currawongs entertain Bella doing their tricks of catching food morsels thrown in the air. They are probably good at it, else they would go hungry, if the titbits hit the ground, way below in all that scrub.

On down the path south that will rejoin the Mt Solitary track steep at first but then gradually levelling out. We stroll on, relatively level but gaining a little height on the Koorowall Knife-Edge ridge, till it becomes, the steep spur, getting steeper and steeper towards the top of Mt Solitary. Isabella loves the scrambley bits and races ahead to take photos. I didn't realise until I got home that these photos went straight onto face book. My the wonders of technology. I have seen others do the same before - a running commentary on the travels. Now the full realisation has hit me. Get into strife - put the picks straight on FB and wait till the helicopter arrives! Has potential to save lives. There have been fatalities on this walk only a few years ago before the technology is as good as it is now. The 000 operator may think it is a hoax but mum on FB sure won't.

Dug scramble up towards Mt Solitary.  Pic by Isabella.

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The upper part of the track leads us on narrow paths along the side of the cliffs, magnificent views protected by the scrub beside us. The first area on top of the Mt is casuarinas forest, lots of nice camp spots here but you would need to take all your water with you. Onwards over the forested tops then down into Chinamans Gulley, another popular camping spot. I thought I could hear water falling off on the southern gulley but investigating, didn't find any. Was it the wind we could hear? We looked at an overhang as a possible camp but it is a bit breezy right here. Further round Bella finds a better overhang with no wind and a little fire wood to cook with. I have been told that there is reliable water a long way down Chinamans Gully so follow a path beside the dry erosion gully north. At the second side creek I found a well set up camp site and water in pools in the side creek, beauty only a 100m or so back to the cave.

We had plenty of time to settle in and collect firewood, to ward off the expected cold tonight. This was the first priority, now we have a water supply. No problem really finding suitable wood despite the obvious heavy use of the area for camping on a regular basis (often such places are bare of firewood for a km or so all around). As mentioned there were tracks all over the place most leading to or from other camp sites. As dusk drew in a resident lyre bird began its call display, enchanting. The roaring wind sound from the south western cliff faces told us of a blustery night out there, but here amongst the trees and cliffs still calm and interestingly not as cold as I had expected. Isabella took on the task of lighting the cooking fire and did a very thorough job of preparation, so one flick of the lighter and away it went. I might add friends were viewing the fire on FB less than 15 minutes later (so much for wilderness experience :-). Well done on both fronts Bell. I demonstrated my small stove to quickly brew a cuppa while the fire burnt to produce the coals needed to satisfactorily cook our dinner. Temperature dropping with dark, but nowhere near as cold as Katoomba this morning. One of the advantages of camping amongst the trees they give you warmth too.

Bella lit first camp cook fire.  Pic by Isabella.

Our sleeping arrangements were simple, lay a space blanket on a smooth level patch of cave floor, roll out the sleeping mat, then the sleeping bag, ready for the night. My turn to cook tea tonight. Lentils, rice, dried peas, simmer till tender and ready then add the fresh already cut up vegetable to steam on top and add their flavour. Onion, garlic, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, zucchini, bok choy, broccoli, only take a few minutes to steam. Tastily, Mmmm complements to the chef. Marvellous what one can do in a small titanium billy over an open fire, provided you know what you intend. At the end of the cooking the billy base and sides haven't even blacked, because we used the coals not the flame.

A finishing night cap of milo made with boiling water and condensed milk. The sky still mostly cloudy and once or twice the faint spray of drizzle, but we often see a patch of sky with stars. There is a moon so we can see the nearby trees by its light. Luckily these trees are still, not like the thrashing mass that we can hear not far away. We retire and I am half expecting a barrage of questions and uncertainty, after all this is Bellas' first time sleeping rough under the stars. No such thing, just into bed and into slumber land. Next morning I was told that the neck of the bag was done up tight to keep the spiders and insects creepy crawlies out. I've never been aware of insects visiting all the time I have slept out - one of the many reasons I like to use the space blanket as a ground sheet. Critters don't like to walk over it.

Bellas sleeping place in the Cave.  Pic by Isabella.

Saturday

A Pleasant night, not as cold as the forecaster had predicted (at this place but I bet it was cold in Katoomba out of the trees). We awoke to the call of the lyrebird call display and a visiting currawongs, which perched on the stick leaning against the cliff near Isys bedroll (probably put there to support a fly in the past). Bella claims the currawong is following us from yesterday. I claim the damn think is just trying to rat the food and was proved right later, when I left the tucker on our rock table and walked away for a few seconds.

This overhang is formed from sandstones eroding back at the base and the rock gradually extends out above our heads, it is probably 8m deep from rain drip line into cliff base. The floor is flat, level, fairly smooth sand (somewhat mixed with fire ash here after a century or so of not so smart whiteman/chinaman use. We have the use of a level flat rock for a table and smaller flat-topped stones for seats. I expect set up by the same whiteman/chinaman.

The fire is easy to re-light simply rake the ash of last night's fire and toss on a handful of dry leaves, grass and small twigs. Then walk away to do the other things need in the morning. After 15 - 20 minutes or so the tinder smokes for a while then bursts into flame and we can boil the water. The wind and cloud of yesterday has cleared and we are in for a warmer clear day. We are away about 7:20, enjoying the rock formations, trees, shrubs, flowers, orchids, birds and insects, a passing parade. Every now and then we spy the magnificent views all around our Solitary perch. A thoroughly nice place, we constantly pass well established camping spots, from the look of it some groups come to the same place time after time. I was aware of the Casuarina Camp place, Chinamans Gully camp Place and Singajingawell camp area on the eastern end. But now realise the whole of Mt Solitary is used to camp. I have camped at Singajingawell area a few years ago during a prolonged drought, there was reliable water up stream in small pools in a short canyon section. Not all that often you find water going upstream (- :

We took nearly two hours to reach the steep descent on the eastern end of Mt Solitary. I had noticed Bella was not walking as well as she did yesterday so, we didn't push it. The descent down the spur is quite lovely but hell it is steep. Bella was having some difficulty but soldiering on taking small steps to ease the stress on her feet and legs. After a while I noticed my right big toes was aching from pressure on the toe of the boot, cased by the constant steep downhill. About hour later we stopped for a nibble and I checked my toe - should have done it hours before :-) - have a big worn away blister - gone through a few layers of skin. Damn it didn't hurt like a blister before. Elastoplast band aids work wonders and we continue on. A currawong joins us for smoko but won't catch the food on the wing, simply walking over the flat clear ground to pick up the morsel. Bella said it is the same one from yesterday and this morning - it is following us :-) scary music.

This long, narrow, steep ridge called Solitary Pass is big open forest. Tall straight trees, little ground cover, easy walking except for the very steep places. The steep sides of the spur ridge look down on beds of fern where what little water there is collects for a short time after rain. As my words try and convey, lovely to see, uncomfortable to walk down, but criss-crossed with remanent untidy foot pads from thousands upon thousands of feet over the past 100 or so years. Prior to whiteman the path we followed all the way from the cliffs of Katoomba, along Castle Ridge, up over and along Koorongwall Knife edge, across Mt Solitary and down this path would have been part of the aboriginal ceremonial trail, but bare feet tend not to make tracks, but boots do.

After about two hours we reached the Kedumba River. As mentioned before part of the Leura Sewage Works, taking water down to Lake Burragorang, Sydney's main water supply, (Before they started syphoning water from Newcastle's Supply that is). Still a beautiful location with casuarinas trees along the river and tall eucalypt forest further back. A great place to sit and reflect, or lunch (if not to drink from its stream). Very pleasantly warm in the sun out of any wind, lying back against the giant fallen logs - ideal seats. The tinkle of the waters and pleasant call of local birds. Bella insists, that is the same currawong that has come to join us again. For those not sure the currawong is a black bird about the size of a crow but it has white patches across its tail and underwing, tends to be somewhat cheeky around people. This one only walked for food too, none of that fancy catching the morsel as it falls through the sky!

From here we cast about to find the start of the foot track up the spur to the road, 2km away up there some place. Nice easy grade walking, not too much huff and puff, in very pleasant forest. Bell was walking more easily here but I could see she was stiff. My big toe throbbed each time I kicked an obstruction on the ground. At the road I decided to walk out up Kedumba pass, and along the road past the now abandoned Queen Victoria Hospital and on up to Wentworth Falls. This way we could catch a train to Katoomba and stay at the YHA out of the cold wind.

The walk up the road to the top of Kedumba Wall is quite pleasant. Walking through tall forest with interesting globs of rock formations and always that glimpse of cliff through the trees or alternately vista of forest rolling into the hazy distance. Because it is a road it isn't as steep as some of the foot tracks (Damn steep to drive up and down as I know from the searches). Of course as you climb you get more and more views of the wooded distance and the tall sandstone cliffs. Interesting bit of road where the builders have hollowed out under the cliff to get by :). There is a fence and gate to "Keep out the Pigs" and wouldn't you know it just beside the end of the fence a very steep track straight down, oh well they did try (a little). The sign on the road is a little off putting "Sydney Water Catchment NO TRESPASSING $11,400 fine for Each Person". During a search we drove around down there in a vehicle with 6 people in it :~).

The Queen Victoria Hospital was an old people's home in later years before being closed down due to fear of wild fires. Still looks an imposing structure, I would have thought it would have been pleasant for old folk to wander around in the grounds, rather than be cooped up indoors as some are. We both found the 5 or so km slog along the flat road to Wentworth Falls a bit of a chore in the cold wind and dwindling light. At the great Western Highway a very kind man driving out of the road construction camp offered us a lift for the last 1.5 km to the station, wow what a blessing.

The train wasn't long in coming and we caught a taxi to YHA where Bella went in to book while I continued on to pick up the car. I don't often like to finish a walk with a lift, and train and taxi, but this time we both did. Booked into a 6 bunk dormitory, is not exactly luxury but it was nice to be out of the now very strong wind. Tea at the Three Sisters Chinese cafe was good but they have been better on other trips. Next morning we did a quick tour round Katoomba cliff sights and both Bell and I walked stiff legged to the lookouts and then puffed our way back up the steep ones. We drove onto Jenolan Caves of an easy day. Was impressed by the extent of work that has been done and somehow I approved this time. Back for the night into YHA and then drive to the airport to see Isis back of home.

A really wonderful walk with brilliant company Thank You Isabella, I hope you forgive the stiff muscles and keep on remote bushwalking. Please put your new compass to good use finding your way to wonderful places and adventures. Copyright Dug Floyd September 2011.

The Mt Solitary Circuit from Katoomba is one of the iconic Blue Mountains Walks, which takes in the magnificent scenery presented by the tall sandstone cliffs up to 400 vertical. You start your walking at the base of some of these cliffs in tall eucalypt forest with trees up to 50m high. You pass through patches of rainforest, over large areas of land slip, along easy level tracks, steep sharp sided ridges, over tight rock scrambles, past strange, beautiful, interesting, eerie rock formations and stand on airy scenic rock lookouts admiring the world. There are any number of beautiful and interesting places to camp and spend the night in the great outdoors alone with the trees, stars and sky.

This rout has been popular for many 10 of thousands of years as part of a "walkabout" probably of ceremonial significance. I am not aware of any paintings, carvings, or work sites but that is not surprising as the original population was decimated by the epidemics of the late 1700s, early 1800s. Much of the secrete lore was lost then in this early in interaction with European culture. This area has been extensively used by miners and walkers from an early time so I imagine that any such sites would have been obliterated, carelessly, heedlessly or deliberately. We know this happened when missionaries and Clergy removed what they regarded as "Devil Worship" sites. It seems, many of us don't or won't see.

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Bella on a comfortable vine.  Pic by Isabella. Isabella just lit this fire, someone viewed it on face book 15min later.  Pic by Isabella.
Cockies at the Scenic Railway.  Pic by Isabella. Scenic railway.  Pic by Isabella
Malata point from below.  Pic by Isabella Ruined Castle. Pic by Isabella
Scramble to Mt Solitary.  Pic by Isabella Scramble up to Mt Solitary. Pic by Isabella
Waratah.  Pic by Isabella. Watatahs. pic by Dug
The rout.  Pic by Isabella. Currawon waiting!.  Pic by Isabella
Katoomba from Mt Solitary.  Pic by Isabella
Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella.
Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella. Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella
Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella
Jenolan Caves.  Pic by Isabella