Trig station on Hassan’s Walls Lookout, Lithgow
The first thing about Lithgow; there are a LOT of rocks. The place is even called Lithgow. Before Hamilton Hume decided a good alternate to the ubiquitous Cox’s Road would pass through what he dubbed Lithgow Valley, in fact a very long time before that, the Lithgow region was entirely sandstone. At some point in the past there must have been rainforest, peatbog or other dense bio matter, as there are also six prominent coal veins amongst the sandstone. Then Lithgow got its volcano on, and capped the sandstone in basalt. Most of the basalt is now gone, but still some remains to strengthen the sandstone and give better topsoil, leaving behind these remarkable, intensely eroded formations.
After calling into Lithgow’s Tourist Information Centre, asking for explicit directions to Hassan’s Walls Lookout and the evasive Bracey’s Lookout, and Eskbank Track, Ryan and I headed out to our destination. The information centre agents were very helpful, although cautious; there are many walking tracks around Hassan’s Walls and Bracey’s, however many cross onto private land or are unmarked. As we were to learn, however, Eskbank Track is the most direct route to the town’s main lookout, Bracey’s; and Hassan’s Walls is on Hassan’s Walls Reserve. No private land or unmarked tracks are involved. Why this information eludes the usual bushwalking and recreational websites and instead only appears on hand-marked maps of Lithgow given out exclusively in the town itself, I can’t tell you. But it doesn’t matter! We got there! It was beautiful! We were ready to hike.
We parked at Hassan’s Walls Lookout and for a while just climbed over the basalt-capped formations. The sandstone is medium grained and quite soft, so where the basalt isn’t present it is highly effected by erosion. The structures this has left behind as the mountain quickly erodes and the sandstone erodes somewhat slower after it are just fantastic. Columns of sandstone streaked with yellow clay and red iron oxide built up like stacks of pancakes over farmland and bush, or spilling from the sides of mountains. And the view! I counted thirteen lines of mountains and hills to the horizon. It’s easy to imagine the land as a turbulent volcanic region – but covered by a sea? There seemed to be no flat land whatsoever. Blue hills like a stormy sea, the highway heading east through the mountains to Sydney in miniature from our height. Basalt under our feet as uneven as the cliff faces. And plenty of signs the local teenagers consider the place their territory. The eagle’s nest!
Content the often perilously stacked cliffs would remain standing while we had our hike, we cut back around the parking lot and took the adventurous route to the trail head. Well, what Ryan assured me was the trail head. Turned out to be a downhill mountain bike trail. A very extreme, very steep, very death-defying mountain bike trail. A smaller spectator’s track kept close to the bike trail, but at times it crossed such difficult and steep terrain that we were forced onto the bike trail.
Down and down and down it went. This was much better than the walking track we should have taken, we both agreed. Luckily for our frequent delves onto the bike trail, we saw no riders. Although if there had been riders, the first we would have seen of them was the second they hit us. ^_^
Finally the trail reached the valley floor, swept around in a couple of hard turns and finished with this rather intimidating jump:
Skulls, what what? The adjacent hill was another gravel slope, with death in between them. You may be able to see in some of the pictures black and orange netting. While the orange netting is present to mark the trail, the black netting was set up between trees on particularly hard turns higher up the mountain, with particularly steep drops on the side of the turn. I don’t know how many people the black nets would have caught, but if you happened to come off one of those turns, I bet you’d be glad as hell the nets were there!
Bikes aside, our wrong turn left us at the bottom of the mountain with no easy way back up. We consulted the map and decided that rather than climb back up to Hassan’s Walls, we would hook through town to Eskbank Track, go straight up to Bracey’s Lookout, and return to Hassan’s Walls from there. So off we went. Through a forest and then a pony club, down a long road lined with coal and finally into Lithgow itself. We saw a very striking purple and brown house, passed the main shopping centre, trekked through more streets gaining ourselves some very odd looks, and finally climbed Eskbank Street. Yep. Eskbank was one of those streets. A hike up and a hike down. By this stage we had been walking for ninety minutes solid, so we sat in a park near the top of the street and took a break.
Serious as always. Seeing some street youths on their way to heckle us, we soon got going again. To the top of Eskbank Street, which Ryan theorised would contain a road and a steep trail to the top, closely following the power lines, an almost vertical climb over short sandstone cliffs.
He was wrong. There was no road.
Just Eskbank Track, following the power lines in an almost vertical climb to the summit. And you know how I’ve been complaining about Lithgow’s reluctance to give tourists information on their local tracks just in case, I dunno, tourists may actually want to walk the tracks? How they positively hide the information? Not only was Eskbank Street free of any street signs (we counted the street it had to be using a marked map), but the sign for Eskbank Track was behind a tree.
Just putting that out there.
View of the sandstone cliffs we were very soon to climb, and Eskbank Street from a short way up the mountain. In what was the hardest climb of the day, we made Eskbank Street to Bracey’s Lookout in a heartening fifteen minutes. After a quite rest in which we tried without much luck to pick out our housemate, Richelle’s, family house, we braced ourselves for the 4.1km return journey to Hassan’s Wall.
While I won’t say the return trip was by any means level, it was on a dirt road and certainly less strenuous than the downhill course or Eskbank’s Track. Climbing Eskbank’s, I got the feeling that Hamilton Hume wasn’t so much an avid explorer and founder of towns as a really big fitness freak. And a bit of a jerk. Ryan and I cursed his name for a while, but were soon distracted by the stunning views over Lithgow and the farmland and mountains, the huge sandstone boulders just lazing in the scrub, and the random acts of bogantry (such as a 4WD full of people reversing past us at speed) and young teens headed for a birthday (?) party (?) for one of their young friends (?). Meanwhile, storm clouds built over us, and the wind picked up fiercely.
All the way back to the parking lot! The rain kicked in just as we drove from Hassan’s Walls Road into Lithgow, and with the wind it chased us to Bathurst. Get out, get out! Lithgow has had enough of you tourists with your damn walking around all over the place! XD
This was our first walk in the Blue Mountains, hopefully one of many in the coming year. It’s a beautiful area with a lot to offer. We may even return to Lithgow to check out Clywdd Vale and the Zigzag Track, which overlooks the rail line.
Stay tuned this evening for our first foray into exotic (and affordable) cooking – tonight we’re having Indonesian. Can we cook? Can we fail? Only in the Iron Chef Arena will we truly know.