Jon Harris Photography | Mt Solitary hike - Blue Mountains, Australia

Mt Solitary hike - Blue Mountains, Australia

April 15, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve never really experienced the Blue Mountains before. Despite living relatively close to this iconic Australian wilderness just west of Sydney at different points in my life, I just never found the time to get out there and explore the area, but it’s always drawn me. Solo overnight hiking was another thing sitting on my to-do list, but not anymore – I ticked both of these items off the list recently with a fairly epic weekend trip.

Jamison valleyJamison valleyMe taking in the view over the Jamison Valley.<br/>See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Looking back towards Katoomba

The Golden Stairs to Mt Solitary, via the Ruined Castle, is actually doable in a day – out and back from Katoomba. However I thought I would take it easy, do it over two days, and take the time to get some great photos if I was lucky with the weather (and I was very lucky!)

The walk starts at the top of the Golden Stairs (a rather glamorous name for a steep, slippery rapid descent down the escarpment) on the Narrow Neck plateau, a short drive from Katoomba town centre. Once you drop down you meet up with a path, which traverses along the bottom of the escarpment, and you have entered another world!

Mossy bouldersMossy bouldersThe lush rainforest at the base of the Golden Stairs is like a fairyland, with ferns and moss-covered boulders littering the forest floor. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Lush rainforest filled with ferns and moss-covered boulders echoes with the calls of lyrebirds. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of one, but you can identify them by their mimicry – I heard one particular bird work through a repertoire of currawong, parrot, black-cockatoo, bowerbird, whipbird and other bird calls… mesmerising to listen to! This landscape is reminiscent of other walks I’ve done, including the Overland Track in Tasmania, and the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.

Ruined CastleRuined CastleThe Ruined Castle is a rocky outcrop partway between the main escarpment where Katoomba sits, and Mt Solitary. You get a decent view back to Castle Head from up here. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Ruined Castle

You can detour up a little spur called the Ruined Castle if you like – probably not worth the effort given the better views you will receive a bit further along. However there were lots of banksias and mountain devils (an indigenous bushfood) to be found up there in the drier climate. If you continue along the bottom track instead, you have the opportunity to use a real toilet if required, and have a rest under a recently constructed shelter in the event of bad weather.

Baby, Papa & Grandpapa banksiaBaby, Papa & Grandpapa banksiaThree different stages of the banksia flowers. The symmetry of the young flower is astounding! See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy


Mountain devilMountain devilI learnt about these striking little plants from the indigenous traditional owners at Booderee National Park. They are an aboriginal bushfood - you can nip the bottom off the flower and suck the sweet nectar out. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Mountain devil - tasty!

A little further along the real challenge begins – the ascent up the Korrowal Knife Edge. You’d better be fairly comfortable with some rock-scrambling and basic rock-climbing for this part, and it’s easier getting up than down! The views are well worth the effort though – a panoramic view back across to Katoomba overlooking the Ruined Castle. This is a good turn around point if you are doing a day walk.

Korrowall Knife Edge viewKorrowall Knife Edge viewA panoramic view from the top of the Korrowall Knife Edge, back across the Jamison Valley towards Katoomba on the right hand side of the escarpment. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

HoneycombHoneycombEons of wind and water have eroded the rocks into almost a honeycomb effect at the top of the Korrowal Knife Edge See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

The route from here up to the top of Mt Solitary is indistinct at times, and quite technical with more rock-climbs involved. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve abseiled down gentler sections than these climbs, so climbing up and down them with 15-20kg in your pack is a challenge, and it definitely took it’s toll on my legs!!!

Solitary mushroomSolitary mushroomA perfect specimen sitting proudly on top of Mt Solitary. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

I chose to camp at Chinaman’s gully – a little depression running across the narrow ridgeline that caps Mt Solitary. There is a good range of campsites to choose from, especially if you are the only one up there (which I was). Rock overhangs providing plenty of shelter, with convenient flat rocks for cooking on. I was fortunate enough as well to find the creek actually flowing, although it is common for there to be no water up here – so make sure you bring enough, and also sterilise any water you do find.

Waragamba catchmentWaragamba catchmentThe escarpment of Mt Solitary lights up. This lookout is at the southern end of Chinaman's gully. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

View off the southern lookout at Chinaman's gully

There are fantastic lookouts at the north and south end of Chinaman’s gully just 5 mins walk apart. South looks out over the Waragamba Dam catchment area, and north looks over the Jamison valley to Katoomba. From here you get those iconic Blue Mountains views (although I was struck by how similar these dramatic cliffs look to the Stone Country escarpments in Kakadu). Despite the cloudy weather the stars aligned and I was blessed with a fantastic sunset and a clear, starry night.

God beam!God beam!My jaw dropped when I saw this God beam slice through between the clouds and the cliffs and illuminate the opposite end of the valley. It reminded me of something out of an Indiana Jones movie, with a shaft of light indicating the location of the treasure… Seen from the northern end of Chinaman's gully. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Starry treeStarry treeDespite the nearly full moon, the Milky Way was still just visible. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Enjoying the views, setting up camp, cooking dinner and just enjoying the solitude lived up to my expectations and desires to venture out alone… although I recommend not thinking about movies like The Blair Witch Project or Wolf Creek while you are out in the bush alone at night!!!

After watching the magical sunrise, greeted by a chorus from the resident lyrebirds, I had a leisurely brekky and packed up camp. Gave the sore legs a quick massage and a stretch, then hefted up the pack to return to civilisation.

Mt Solitary sunriseMt Solitary sunriseYou can see why this stunning range of mountains was named 'Blue'. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

Despite being a little apprehensive about the technical rocky descents, I took it very carefully and made it down unscathed. Once down the Knife edge, you can settle into a good rhythm back towards the escarpment (I skipped the Ruined Castle climb). At the base of the Golden Stairs, my screaming thighs begged me not to do anymore climbing! So I chose the alternate route – continue along the base of the cliffs, through more lyrebird filled rainforest, skirting around towards the easy option uphill – the scenic railway. It is another ~1.5hrs walking, with some minor scrambling across the exposed historic landslide section, but probably the easier route.

Lush waterfallLush waterfallThis trickling waterfall sat between the base of the Golden Stairs and the Landslide. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

One downside to returning this way is that you do get a bit of a jolt when you rejoin civilisation at Scenic World, where the world’s steepest train takes you to the top. Hordes of tourists flocking to see the Three Sisters inundate you as you make your way to the train station – quite a shock after a night alone on top of Mt Solitary, with nothing but the lyrebird’s call to keep you company.

Waterfall streamWaterfall streamDue to large amounts of rain recently, these temporary waterfalls were streaming down the cliffs. See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

I thoroughly enjoyed my first adventure in the Blue Mountains. I’ve done some pretty challenging hikes in my time – the Inca Trail in Peru, Torres del Paine in Chile, and part of the Kungsleden in Sweden – but this was by far the toughest hike I have done. I think doing it solo added a certain mental challenge I haven’t previously experienced.

AbseilerAbseilerNot sure what these guys were doing - think they might have been setting up the face for a rock climb attempt?<br/>See more at www.jonharris.phootgraphy

It is important to make sure you put your safety first when attempting a walk like this. Katoomba Police Station (and other locations in the Blue Mountains) loan out Personal Locator Beacons free of charge. Make sure you get one. Also, carry enough water for your journey – don’t rely on finding any on the trail. This particular route is recommended for experienced bushwalkers with good navigation skills. Detailed track notes can be found for free at Wild Walks, which should accompany your topographic map and compass.


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