It is with great reluctance and shame that I, a Sydneysider for 27 years (that is, my entire life), admit I have never really explored the Blue Mountains in detail beyond the Federal Pass and that lookout tourists go to to take a pretty picture of the Three Sisters. That’s why I decided to walk the Ruined Castle Walking Track.
Don’t get me wrong; I love working out as much as the next HIIT enthusiast, I’ve been a distance runner for most of my life, and have recently taken up cycling. But due to my highly developed sense of self preservation, I would never have considered myself as much of an explorer. I don’t even own any hiking shoes and my only Kathmandu accessory is my backpack which I only use because the waist straps help with carrying my laptop (insert Asian joke). I prefer to take my risks in a controlled environment (such as climbing artificial rocks while securely attached to a harness, thereby preventing both rock falls and actual falls). However, I finally ventured beyond my beloved Federal Pass a couple of weeks ago, and gathered the following gems for any other mildly adventurous people desiring to follow in my sport-shoe shod footsteps.
#1 A westerly wind is a good thing
So I’m not a meteorologist or a weather girl, and half the time I’m not even exactly sure where west is. But according to the nice lady I called in a panic the Thursday before our scheduled walk, a westerly wind is a good thing for blowing hazard reduction smoke out of the Blue Mountains, therefore preventing watery eyes and acrid throat burn while negotiating 800m of steep stairs. Also, just a FYI, it is hazard reduction burns, not backburning, which is what I’ve been calling that haze-fest that occurs around this time every year. Apparently backburning is something else.
#2 Don’t be scared of a little drizzle fo’ shizzle
The weather forecast also predicted showers for our walk. Showers is a funny word. It’s hard to tell if they mean a little sprinkle haha just a sunshower or a great drenching of rain that ends quicker than a celebrity marriage but somehow still succeeds in soaking you through to the bone. But my friends and I came armed for either with waterproof rain jackets, care of Kathmandu and Mountain Designs. Or in my case, a poncho.
#3 Aeroguard prevents leeches, or, Autumn is too cold
I have a deep, evolutionary fear of leeches. Something about their squirmy worm-like bodies swelling up and growing fat on my precious blood. Plus, the last time I did a walk, it was raining and my companions and I ended up with anklets of the disgusting creatures. So in preparation, I googled hastily and sprayed my ankles and shoes with copious amounts of Aeroguard. And not a single leech was sighted. Which means that either Aeroguard prevents leeches, or the ten degree day was too cold for the blood-sucking demons. But I won’t be taking any chances for future endeavours.
#4 If you are too cheap for actual hiking gear, layers are your best friend
I am too cheap for actual hiking gear, so my puffy jacket, which I bought for $10 from Rivers in 2012, is either too warm or not warm enough. Subsequently, I wore three layers underneath and spent some time stripping/unstripping. I have a feeling if you invest in a proper jacket, you may not have that problem.
#5 Bring toilet paper
There is a toilet on the track for those that enjoyed a coffee at Leura before the walk. It is one of those nature toilets though, so make sure you bring toilet paper and breathe through your mouth.
#6 The first big rock is not the Ruined Castle
After making it up the stairs at the end of the track, you come to this ridge, which seems to go on forever. And there is a large monument about 400m along, which you might be tempted to believe is the Ruined Castle. It’s not; it’s just a rock. Keep walking.
#7 The Ruined Castle actually looks like a ruined castle
There are so few things in life that live up to their name- the 12 apostles (there are only 8), Dr. Dre (he isn’t a real doctor), Mountain Dew (it isn’t actually bottled dew from mountains). But the Ruined Castle actually looks like a ruined castle- or more like, somebody tried building a castle and then all the bricks fell down and they were too tired to try again. Something like that. It’s cool.
#8 If the way to the top looks like almost certain death, then that is not the way
We tried to climb to the top, but rather than exploring further, did some awkward spontaneous rock climbing/canyoning minus any sort of safety devices. That was not the right way. If you keep following the path, you will come to a series of tumbled rocks, and if you shimmy your way through those, then you will get to an opening which will lead to the top.
#9 Try standing at least once
When you reach the top of the tumbled rocks, stand. Or be like me, and sit while clinging to the edge with your hands for dear life. I did manage to fight my instinct for self preservation and stood for about a microsecond. For a moment, I was silenced in awe at the amazing view, kilometres of gentle undulating mountains in a haze of blue, with the river a ribbon of silver meandering into the horizon. A moment where I was reminded of the small place we hold in this vast wilderness, a savage landscape that is indifferent to the plight of the human condition. That continues to exists in raw beauty whether or not we are present to admire or conquer. And then the wind blew and I was off that platform faster than an accidental Tinder swipe to the left (noooo, potential soulmate!).
#10 Bring a gas stove
Like the group of clever clogs we met at the top. Or, more accurately, the group I awkwardly scrambled around after shimmying through the rocks to the top. I literally landed in the middle of their picnic. Anyway, they were drinking tea like Englishmen, which was a fantastic idea on that blustery, wintry day. Well, until nature inevitably calls, but luckily there’s that nature toilet to look forward to…
#11 Don’t let old men who walk to stop voices in their head into your car
There is a nice old man walking the Blue Mountains by himself to stop the voices in his head. Don’t let him into your car.
#12 Come back for Mt. Solitary
If you keep going on the track after the steps to the Ruined Castle, you will meet a campsite, and in the distance will be the glorious Mt. Solitary. It’s only 3km away, but according to the old man, it’s a steep 3km away. So come back prepared to camp for the night, and spend the next day taking your time traversing. That’s what I’ll be doing next.