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Log with GOLDEN STAIRS carved in it.

Log with GOLDEN STAIRS carved in it.

Tree ferns near Mt Rennie Tunnel.

Tree ferns near Mt Rennie Tunnel.

Red painted

Red painted "sign": Mt Solitary Ruined Castle Track New Federal Pass

Losing the track!

Tuesday 25 February 2014

A couple of friends and I set out to investigate a possible chert deposit near the Mt Rennie Tunnel at Narrow Neck. We parked one car near the Katoomba Falls Kiosk and drove my car to the top of the Golden Stairs out on the Narrow Neck road (Glenraphael Drive). I have never seen the road so rough!

We headed off down the Golden Stairs which originally was a miners track for access to and from the Ruined Castle shale mines in the late 1800s. The story goes that Salvation Army people used to visit the miners and as they returned would sing “Climbing up the Golden Stairs to glory”. I find it hard to get enough breath to walk up the stairs, let alone sing as well.

We paused at Bottings Lookout not far from the top. Walter Botting was a council track worker. He worked with Jim Mackay on the Giant Stairway in 1932. There’s a photo of Walter and Jim on the cover of my Giant Stairway Pocket Pal.

Partway down at a zig in the track we spotted a log angling down a few metres from the left of the track. Carved in the log is GOLDEN STAIRS. I can’t remember seeing this before so got a few photos.

At the Federal Pass we turned left and headed towards the Landslide. Last year I had walked along here and thought I had seen chert. But when I found the site, although the rock was blocky like chert, it was found to be a grey shale when broken. Other chert like rocks in a dry stream bed near the tunnel turned out to be a crumbly white rock. 

The Mt Rennie tunnel was excavated for a 4-rail tramway to pass under Narrow Neck. The Glen shale mine was on the Megalong Valley side. Skips of shale from the Ruined Castle mines were pulled by horses along a tramway to this point where they were attached to an endless cable. The loaded skips then traveled through the tunnel, all the way out to the Glen Shale mine, turned round and came back on the other track through the tunnel and two further small tunnels and across several timber trestle bridges, through the Daylight Tunnel and up the incline that is now the Scenic Railway.

We made our way through the Landslide which obliterated the tramway etc in 1931. There were further slips about 1960 and 1990 and a rock fall at the western end about 2002. The path winds its way through the rocks and is marked by yellow poles.

After the 1960 landslide a council ranger, Mel Williams, constructed a deviation track across the valley. It zigzagged down to Causeway Creek, then headed west to finish at the foot of the Golden Stairs ---- Well, it used to do that!

We decided to have a look at the track. A short distance from the top we spotted red painted writing on a rock beside the path. It called the track “New Federal Pass”. I have the track mapped and described in my Federal Pass Pocket Pal.

We found our way down the track almost to the creek but then I lost the track and crossed the creek in the wrong place. After about 10 minutes of the three of us scouring the area near the creek we found the two marked trees and the old fire circle of stones. But within a short time we lost the track again. We just found one of the ribbons mentioned in my description. We headed west, yes we had compass and topo map as well as Pocket Pal. It wasn’t good to stand still as the leeches were active! The other two guys had worn shorts and got repeatedly scratched by the lawyer vines as we fought our way through the bush struggling uphill.

At one area I had a feeling we had regained the “track” and sure enough there was a steel spike in the ground that used to secure a timber step. A few metres further and we were in a flat area where was a pile of bricks and pavers. Apparently some guy was living here over 10 years ago. A bit more than 100 metres further and we emerged on the track at the foot of the Golden Stairs! Good navigation!

We then returned up the Golden Stairs – was I really 10 minutes later than the other guys getting to the top?

The moral of the story: Don’t try this track, ooops should I say route, unless you are protected against the Ls – leeches and lawyer vines. Compass and topo map are essential.

It needs a few tags to mark the track.


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