Rambling 'round Radiata Plateau

Topo Maps: KATOOMBA 1:25000 Second Edition

Note: This site is still under construction.

Formerly known as Pulpit Plateau this is an interesting stretch of land near the famous 'Marked Tree' between Katoomba and Medlow Bath. In the 1960's someone had the hare-brained idea of clearing the plateau of it's natural vegetation for a plantation of Radiata Pine, hence the name. Like the plan to put a road down nearby Nelly's Glen it was a costly mistake as well as an environmental disaster. If you live in the Blue Mountains long enough you come realise this is often 'par for the course'.

To get to Radiata Plateau follow the highway past Katoomba and turn left into Nellies Glen Rd, just before the 'Marked Tree'(K489673). After about 500metres turn left into Pulpit Hill Rd and drive 500m to the locked gate. Park your vehicle nearby. There is a maze of old vehicle and foot tracks to explore around here. Use the topo map as a rough guide.

View from the top of Esgate Pass

Esgate Pass. The chains are just discernible in the bottom left corner of this photo. © A. Wells

1. Black's Ladders(K472676), Esgate Pass(K465661). Medium/Exposure. Experienced walkers only. Full day.
Go through the locked gate and after 80metres or so you will see a track to your right. Ignore this (it used to be the old route to Black's Ladders but it's become very overgrown with tea-tree in a gully swamp further on. and keep going along the main firetrail. for approx. 450m till you come to another track (K475671) on your right heading in a NW direction. Take this track heading downhill for another 700m till you get to the big bend at K472673. From here leave the track and bushbash in a NW direction for about 25-30metres till you hit another overgrown firetrail/track and turn right following this track in a NorEast direction and looking for an old but short(5metre ?) power pole on your left.The pole still has it's insulators attached but no cables. If you miss the pole don't worry, just keep going till you see two or three small stone cairns on the left (downhill) side of the track. Leave the track here and head down between two big old scribbly gum-trees following a rough foot pad in a NW direction, keeping your eyes out for small stone cairn markers and white painted arrows on open rock clearings. These will take you down through a low cliff and on to a footpad which shortly leads down and around to your left, under the low cliff and just above the creek on your right. You should soon come to a 2.5metre drop with three steel spikes driven into the rock to assist your descent. Someone has placed an old, short ladder here for a short descent below the spikes but I wouldn't use it. It looks as if it's ready to fall apart. Just scramble/slide down the rock or look for some shallow step like holds to the right. The spikes were placed into the rock many years ago (50+) by old Ben Esgate, a former resident of Katoomba and member of the Sydney Bushwalkers. Apparently this natural pass was used by the local aboriginals and was shown on the Butler and Davidson Map of 1832 as well as the December 1879 map of the County of Cook [Ref.'Upper Blue Mountains Geographical Encyclopaedia'. Brian Fox]. After descending the spikes area keep to the left until you come to a delightful shallow pool and small waterfall on your left. Keep to the left and continue out to the shale ledge. Personally this is as far as I'd go before returning the same way. Otherwise follow the ledge(s) round to your left, taking care not to go too high or risk too narrow a ledge, which could be very dangerous. On the two occassions that I've done this walk I've had to backtrack a bit from a narrow ledge or two and drop to a safer, easier level. It takes a fair while to get to the large detached section of rock on the southwest corner of Megalong Head (K465661). You have to get into the gap between the main cliff face and the detached section by walking around and beneath the detached section and climbing up into the gap from the south side. Once in the highest point of the gap look for a nearby narrow ledge on the main cliff face and traverse it a short way to the north side where you will come upon a narrow but easily climbed slot/crevice containing a few small trees which provide hand/foot holds. Once up on the next ledge you should be able to see on your right the steel spikes and chain of Esgate Pass which is a short vertical climb of 4 metres or so. This climb is not for the feint-hearted and a fall here could prove fatal. The first person to the top should set up a safety belay for the rest of the party using a tape or rope. From the top excellent views can be had of Narrowneck, Megalong Valley and beyond. From the chain anchor keep scrambling up and you will soon pick up a vague foot track marked every now and then with rock cairns. The track keeps climbing, becoming very distinct and eventually brings you out onto the dirt road on a bend at approx. K467663. Follow the road to your right and all the way back to your car.
If you take a drive into Megalong Valley you can obtain an excellent view of both Blacks Ladders (left side of photo) and Esgate Pass (small gap in cliff line, right side of photo) by pulling over to the left hand side of the road a few hundred metres after you come out of the forest and into the clearing on the left side of the road. Look directly south at the cliffs and you will see the detached section of rock which marks the location of Esgate Pass. From there you can look back along the cliffs till you see what appears to be a wide vegetated break through the cliffline indicating the location of Blacks Ladders.

The cliffs of Radiata Plateau from Megalong Valley. © A. Wells

2. Bottleneck Pass(K479670), Medium/Rough. Short day.25-30metre rope or tape required.
Drive to the carpark at the start of the Six-Foot Track (GR486672). Head down the start of the Six-Foot track and keep an eye out for a vague foot track to your right. This will take you past the back fence of some private properties before you pick up another footrack on your left which head SthWest and is very vague. Keep an eye out for the occasional stone cairn. The track takes you to a rocky outcrop(photo below left) with lovely views of the surrounding cliffs, Narrowneck, Megalong and gully you are about to descend via the pass which is almost immediately to your right and involves a two-metre downclimb/scramble. The pass quickly descends into the deep rainforested canyon-like gully with a couple of short waterfalls to negotiate at creek level. Geoff Fox had brought a 25m tape which was only just long enough to get us into the upper reaches of the creek beside a waterfall. The creek is full of dead timber and slippery rocks so the tendency is to stay up on the right-hand bank until you clear the main cliffline into a very pretty rainforest. Just keep heading south then southeast to cross Megalong Creek and climb up onto the Six-Foot track. Once on the track walk up through Nellie's Glen up to the carpark at the start of the Six-Foot Track. On the way take five minutes to take a short diversion on your right (where the track crosses Megalong Creek) to view the spectacular Ethel Falls;GR486664 (photo below right) which has the rare Dwarf Mountain Pine(microstrobus fitzgeraldii) growing beside it's bottom drop.