08/08/2009 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, James Yorston, Rachel Grindlay
I'd been eyeing off Blacks Ladders and Ben Esgate Pass as a walk for some time, so when James said he was interested in a day walk on Saturday it seemed a good opportunity. Leaving the car at the locked gate at the end of Pulpit Hill Road, we all had frozen fingers within minutes, despite the sun shining strongly and minimal wind about. Immediately we were lost, the maze of tracks on the top of Radiata Plateau making a mockery of the notes we had. Eventually we just headed towards the top of the small hill before finding another old trail that seemed to be heading in the right direction. After crossing a scrubby creek, we spotted a cairn and the two old trees that marked the turn off, and headed down towards the creek.
A steepish descent led to the spikes in the rock of Blacks Ladders. The 2m drop could probably be descended without the spikes but they do make it a bit easier. Passing the waterfall we headed out on to the shale ledge. Like many other ones in this part of the mountains, we were able to follow it for quite some way. It was continuous for about 500m to the point, and then another 500m to a creek where we had to drop down via a short scramble.
The next kilometre or so was a bit up and down. Sometimes we could stick to the higher ledge, and the going was quick. Other times we had to drop down and this tended to be a bit slower. At the minor point before Megalong Head the ledge petered out well above the valley below. We could see the detached block on Megalong Head from the very end of the ledge. We had to backtrack a bit and descend to lower ledges, which brought us around to the gully below the head.
On this section we stayed high, and James led us up on narrowing ledges towards the point. At one spot we came across a sketchy section and dropped down a few metres to the next ledge, which brought us right around to the point of Megalong Head. Looking around the corner did not look promising. A narrow grassy slope only a couple of feet wide dropping 30-40m to the slopes below. The shadows made it look worse than it was - it was just narrow, grassy, and a little slopey. James set off and Rachel and I followed, and while it got even narrower, it did continue all the way around to below the slot on the south side.
Up we climbed into the gap, and I expected to find the chains of Esgate Pass at the highest point of the gap. I probably should have read the notes a bit more carefully. The route climbed around on more narrow ledges, but with good handholds, to a slot, and up the slot on to another wider ledge with the log book and chains. There had been six other parties since early 2008 that had signed the log book, the first two all with names I recognised.
I climbed up the chains trailing a rope, which in the end we only used to haul the packs. Rachel and James climbed up too and soon we were at the top having lunch in the sun with excellent views.
After a leisurely lunch we set off back up the ridge to where we hit a much more distinct track. James and I followed this out to Megalong Trig for more views, before heading back along the main fire trail to the car.
We finished off with caramel milkshakes in Katoomba. An excellent day around the cliffs.