Narrowneck Passes

Lake Burragorang from Clear Hill

Topo Maps: KATOOMBA, JAMISON, JENOLAN 1:25000 Second Edition

There are wonderful views to be had from various vantage points along the Narrowneck Peninsula, especially near the end at Clear Hill which makes for a lovely mountain bike ride. There are a number of interesting passes off the 'Neck used by aboriginals, miners, and, since the early 1900's, by bushwalkers and climbers. Most of these passes require reasonably experienced leaders and walkers.

From Clear Hill looking southeast to Lake Burragorang. Photo A.Wells.

A 20 metre tape or rope is worth taking as a safety backup for some of the passes. Gaiters or some other form of leg protection is strongly recommended as thick scrub is a feature of many of the passes. Most of the round trips involve a long day and an early start (no later than 8.30am) is recommended.

1. Glen Raphael Drive, Redledge Pass, Glen Shale Mine Ruins, Devils Hole. Medium, exposure.
Head along the Gt. Western Highway but do not turn left at the second set of lights to go over Yeaman Bridge into Katoomba. Instead go straight ahead through the lights and continue for about 1km before turning left into Valley Rd just as you approach a sharp right hand bend on the highway (K497667). Follow Valley Rd (which becomes Narrow Neck Rd and then Cliff Drive) for about 2.5 km till you see the signposted Glenraphael Drive on your right (K493644). This is a narrow dirt road which cuts back sharply and is easy to miss. It's the first turn to your right just after you pass Oak St on your left. Head along Glenraphael Drive slowly for about 1.5km ,keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic, till you see a NPWS information board on your left. This marks the beginning of the Golden Stairs (K481637). Park your car here or further back on one of the side trails. If you have two vehicles you could leave one on Cliff Drive and drive the second all the way out along Glenraphael Drive as far as the locked gate.Continue to walk out along Glenraphael Drive for about 1.2km past the locked gate, keeping an eye out for a narrow foot track on your right(Jamison 474620). Take this track, avoiding a couple of side tracks along the way to your right(these lead to Diamond Ck Falls), until you descend down a slot to cross Corral Swamp creek near Redledge Pass (K469624) which begins on the west side of the creek. The ledge itself is quite narrow and exposed to begin with and due care should be taken. After about 200 metres you drop to a jutting out nose section with great views of Megalong Valley. From here there is a steep, narrow and obvious descent gully immediately to your left which passes beneath a "hole" formed by a massive slab of rock. After going under the hole continue to make your way north down the steep, slippery, rocky scree-like slope to the old overgrown mine road indicated on the map, passing a few old shale mine addits on your way down. The old mine office building foundations can be inspected where the 'road' crosses Corral Creek at K465631. Continue to head NthEast along the old road track for 1.75km till you come onto the dirt road at approximately K476644. The good clear track (K477644) up to the Devils Hole is indicated at the side of the road with a large pile (cairn) of stones. It soon descends to cross Devils Hole Creek before steeply climbing to the base of the cliff. From here it heads around to your right (east) a short distance before ascending through the narrow ravine or Devils Hole indicated by a large chockstone bridging the high canyon roof. Be careful not to take the first obvious ascent at the base of the cliffs but continue around to your right till you see small yellow triangular track markers nailed on to trees with 'Devils Hole' scratched on them. You'll know you're on the correct ascent as you will soon see the 'hole' formed by the chockstone. The track takes you all the way up onto Cliff Drive. From here make your way back to the cars at the Golden Stairs. Redledge Pass was first used by Glen Shale miners in the 1880's.

Incidentally, opposite the narrow foot track mentioned above at Jamison 474620 is a short footpad which takes you to excellent views of Ruin Castle, Mt Solitary, Cedar Creek and Lake Burragorang.(see photo below).

Mt Solitary from Narrowneck

2.Black Billy Head (Jenolan 449602). Medium, exposure with a 6m abseil and potentially dangerous. Experienced leader.

Megalong from Black Billy Head Named after Billy Lynch (1830-1913), aboriginal leader and long time resident of Megalong Valley. It's stretching it a bit to call this a 'pass' as there is no track through over 2km of absolutely horrendous scrub to get to the NorthWest corner of the headland. From here there are superb views of Megalong, Shipley, Wild Dogs etc. At the end you'll notice a narrow gully just to your right (North). Go back from the clifftop a few metres and drop into the head of this gully and get well over to the right where you will see an easy descent to the floor of the gully. Continue down this very short gully which will open out to a red shale ledge to your right.

Megalong Valley from Black Billy Head. Photo A.Wells.

Scramble down a couple of metres to the base of the ledge and veer to the right as you carefully descend the loose-surfaced slope. Look out for a small cairn of rocks near the cliff edge as this marks the top of the 6 metre abseil. There's a decent sized casuarina tree here for an anchor. From the base of the abseil scramble down to your right(north, facing out) using your rope or a length of tape as a safety line. A couple of more easy scrambles through the rocks and you're walking down the nose towards the very steep talus slope covered in loose scree. At the bottom of the talus slope make your way over to the left to the Medlow Gap firetrail (Jenolan 446607). From here the closest ascent back onto Narrowneck is via Carlons Head. Otherwise, if you have two vehicles, you could leave one at Carlons old helipad, renamed "Dunphy Car Park" (Jenolan 434575) by the NPWS. Beside the firetrail, at Jenolan446604, you will see a sign saying "Black Billy Head Mine 500m'. Follow the old overgrown road which ascends the slope to see the old workings ie rusty metal skip and coal chute etc. The adits are higher up the slope, indicated by a small stone wall and benched area, but have been blown in for safety reasons. I think this coal mine was operated by Keith Duncan's family. Keith still lives in Megalong opposite the tea rooms and used to operate the sawmill just behind the Megalong Rural Fire Service shed.

3. Carlon Head (Jenolan 451577) Medium. Very exposed. Potentially dangerous.
Named after Norbert Carlon of Green Gully in the Megalong Valley. His descendants, who still live in Megalong, owned and operated the famous "Packsaddlers" property for many years until quite recently. Their friendly service and countless rescues of injured and lost bushwalkers is legendary and will be sorely missed.
Carlon Head is not a pass for the faint hearted! A Coast and Mountain walker had a bad fall descending the exposed section around 1971-72 and for a while it was feared he'd broken his back. He had to be airlifted out with an Iroquois helicopter. Although there are chains and spikes/loops on the exposed sections it is imperative that you employ a tape or rope to set up a safety backup. Attach it to a harness or use a bowline knot to place a body loop in the end and place under the armpits. Wrap the other end around one of the bolts or through the large eyebolt to use as a belay friction device. Walk to the fire tower (Jamison 462578) and look for the foot track behind the old wooden toilet. Follow the track out to Carlon Head. The views are fantastic. The descent leads to the dirt road which goes to Medlow Gap and beyond. Return is via one of the other passes, Green Gully or Nelly's Glen (if you planned a car shuffle) or Devils Hole. Taro's Ladders would probably be my choice of return.

4.Duncan's Pass & Taro's Ladders (Jamison 467551). Medium.
This is the most used pass off Narrowneck as it provides easy access to the Wild Dog Mountains and beyond. It was discovered in June 1928 by Frank Duncan, Jack Debert and Ern Austen of the Sydney Bush Walkers (SBW). In the early 1930's Walter Tarr placed a bush ladder made of wire and sticks down the 'chimney' crack found by Duncan. Taro's ladder was replaced with iron spikes in 1940 after being destroyed by bushfire in 1939*.
Park your car at the locked gate on Glenraphael Drive and walk to the end of the firetrail near Clear Hill. The walking track is just off to your right and descends through a narrow rock cleft and around to the left before passing a camp cave and eventually brings you to a rock platform on the nose. Taro's ladder (spikes) is to your right and is not a difficult descent of about 6-7 metres although I'd use a handline to lower weekend packs and/or provide a safety belay for those who require it. From the base of Taro's follow the track around to the nose and on down to Little Cedar Gap , over Mt Debert and on to Medlow Gap. Return the same way or via one of the other passes eg Carlons Head. From the rock shelf just before you begin to descend Taro's there is a foot pad around to the left (eastern side) of the nose which eventually enables you to descend the ledge and back track around to the base of Taro's ladders. Called The Wallaby Track (and mistakenly as Duncan's Pass) it's rarely used these days but is handy to know about if one of the walking party balks at descending Taro's.

* Jim Barrett, 'Place Names of the Blue Mountains and Burragorang Valley', 1994.

5. Dunphy's Pass (Jamison 461566). Medium/Rough.
The trick to finding the pass is to get into the huge gully at Jamison 464565. Walk for a kilometre or so past Narrowneck Firetower and descend to your right to cross Glenraphael Ck and head for the above mentioned gully. Descend the gully and stay over to your right (west) side, keeping an eye out for the wide ledge which will take you right around to the very head of the gully at Jamison 461566. It is an easy scramble from here into the steep but very beautiful fern filled gully. On previous trips I have descended the gully for 500m or so and traversed west to the road but the traverse is pretty awful with lots of scrub and dead fallen timber to negotiate. Instead of descending the gully work your way around to the base of Glenraphael Head and descend the open ridge west to join up with the dirt road (Black Dog track). This descent was recommended to me by Col Halpin, stalwart of the Coast and Mountain Walkers. From the road you could head north and ascend Carlon Head or south and ascend Taro's Ladder or, if you arranged a car shuffle, head for Carlons (Packsaddlers) at Green Gully. Dunphy's Pass was discovered by the "Father" of Australian bushwalking, Myles Dunphy, and his friend Raphael Doyle (Glenraphael Drive,Glenraphael Head, Swamp etc) in 1914.

6. Wall's Pass. Medium/Hard. Very exposed. Named after Mr Wall, a mine surveyor who supposedly used this 'pass', it was relocated around 1966 by that well known bushwalker and yarn spinner Wilf Hilder. The chains were installed at Wilf's request by The Search and Rescue arm of the NSW Bushwalkers Confederation. Across the road from the fire tower head east for 600m then follow the ridge NE and NNE to the small steep gully at Jamison 475585. Descend into the gully and look for a rock platform with a chain dropping over the edge. There are no spikes on this vertical drop but plenty of small footholds. The last two metre section of the drop is rather awkward as the rock face curves inwards and the chain does a bit of a pendulum swing to the left. A number of walkers have balked at this 'pass'. On one trip I was on a member of the party 'froze' on this ascent. Fortunately the leader had packed a 20m tape and we were able to belay him for the rest of the climb using a body bowline and much gentle persuasion ("Shift ya ------- carcass. We're not staying here for the night!). Use a tape or rope for a safety belay as described for Carlon Head above. From the bottom of the chain a rough track initially descends and then winds its way north along the ledge to Cedar Head . Do not attempt to directly traverse along the nose of Cedar Head as it is very exposed and dangerous in my opinion. Instead descend the gully on the immediate south side of the head. Work your way around to the nose and descend the ridge to Cedar Creek at approximately J489595. As a matter of interest a large camping 'cave' (rock overhang) is just a few minutes downstream from here on the right bank. Otherwise climb north out of the creek and head for Cedar Gap and the Federal Pass track north below the Ruined Castle and head back to the Golden Stairs.

7. Mitchell's Creek Pass. Medium/Rough. (Jamison463605 3rd(new) Edition) This walk is rough and scrubby and is not really worth doing. However if you are determined to do it leave a car at the locked gate on Narrowneck and drive down into Megalong Valley. Turn left into Nelly's Glen Road (Hampton 2nd Edition 435645). Continue for a couple of kilometers till you come to a locked gate at approx. K458642 and park your car nearby. Take the Mitchells Ck Firetrail heading south to approx.Jenolan 447610 and then head east to traverse the slopes under Black Billy Head and into Mitchells Creek, climbing at the same time. Make your way up Mitchells Creek past a few waterfalls till you come to a large waterfall (18-20metres in height) with no obvious way to get up a smaller drop (3 metres) immediately in front of the larger fall. Traverse around to your right (west) keeping your eye out for a tree with iron spikes driven into it which will enable you to get up onto the ledge well above the creek.(Geoff McIntosh, Henry Roda and I didn't find this spiked tree but managed to shimmy up a large dead coachwood leaning against the first ledge). From here it is a matter of scrambling/zig-zagging up a couple of ledges till you get back above the large waterfall and continue upstream, exiting up and out on the south side of a small waterfall at Jamison 463602 which is fed by a tributary creek. Make your way out onto the dirt road at approx.J465595 and then walk back to the locked gate on Narrowneck.