Friday, July 3, 2015

Bleichert Ropeway, NSW Blue Mts, Australia

2015 July: Day trip to explore collapsed cable of Bleichert Ropeway in Pitts Amphitheatre near Katoomba, NSW Blue Mountains, Australia

Bleichert Ropeway

Bleichert Ropeway was an aerial cable used to haul oil shale from the Ruined Castle mine to Katoomba.

Oil shale, or torbanite, is a black stony rock (Photo #15). It was used initially for heating. By 1850, techniques were developed to distil a new kind of oil from torbanite that rivalled whale and tallow oils for lamp lighting. With imports of American kerosene oil fetching a high price, large-scale mining of oil shale, which was in abundance in the Blue Mountains region, commenced.

In March 1889, the Bleichert Ropeway was officially opened, hauling an average of 80 tons of oil shale per day. However in June 1889, the main ropeway had given way, delaying the hauling operation for a day or so. It was an ominous foreshadowing of the subsequent events ... in August 1889, faults in the cable carrying loaded skips had developed. And by January 1890, the inbound track rope to the mine broke, causing the aerial ropeway to collapse; and it was abandoned forever. In total, the ropeway was in operation for only 9 months !

The ruins of the the Bleichert Ropeway now lie in a straight line in a valley called the Pitts Amphitheatre - between Katoomba and Ruined Castle. Many of the metal and timber parts remain as they were fallen due to the fact that they are large and heavy, and therefore not readily movable nor easily souvenired.

A 2014 survey report on the relics lying in the Pitts Amphitheatre, as well as an account on the history of the Bleichert Ropeway can be downloaded from:


•  1:100,000 scaled 8930 Katoomba
•  1:50,000 scaled Blue Mountains South by Spatial Visions Innovation, 1st edition
•  1:25,000 scaled 8930-1S Katoomba  and  8930-2N Jamison

The below map is 1:25,000 scaled. Oue route, the brown circuit, is superimposed on it.

Today's trip - Explore along fallen cable of Bleichert Ropeway

Refer to the brown circuit route of the above map:
Four of us (Nick, Freda, Mei Ha and me)
- Start near Scenic World, at carpark opposite kiosk at Cliff Drive, Katoomba (top right hand corner).
- Go down Furber Steps to the Scenic Railway bottom station.
- 550 meters from the bottom station, on the track towards Ruined Castle, we come to a fallen cable of the Bleichert Ropeway ... see Photo #9.
- Follow the fallen cable into Pitts Amphitheatre.
- Return trip is via the Ruined Castle Track.

GPS tracklog file

Our GPX tracklog file can be downloaded from:

Timeline & Distance

09:26   0.0 km  Start near Scenic World, at carpark opposite kiosk at Cliff Drive, Katoomba
09:48   0.9 km  At the bottom of Furber Steps
09:51   1.0 km  At Scenic Railway bottom station
10:05   1.6 km  At fallen cable of Bleichert Ropeway

10:11   1.7 km  Leave track and start bushbashing down slope
11:56   3.0 km  Cross Causeway Creek
12:41   3.7 km  Stop for lunch


13:06   3.7 km  Resume walking
13:49   4.7 km  At Ruined Castle Track

Explore around

14:01   4.8 km  Resume walking
14:50   8.2 km  At Rennies Tunnel

We are not sure we are at Rennies Tunnel, so we explore around up and down the track.

15:32   9.8 km  At Rennies Tunnel

15:35   9.8 km  Leave Rennies Tunnel
16:14  11.2 km  At fallen cable of Bleichert Ropeway
16:25  11.7 km  At Scenic Railway bottom station

16.28  11.7 km  Leave Scenic Railway bottom station
16:30  11.9 km  At the bottom of Furber Steps
16:52  12.9 km  Finish


Total:  7 hrs 26 mins  at leisurely pace
           12.9 km  Distance is from Google Earth
           15.0 km  Distance is from Garmin GPS


1)  A small waterfall - less than 200 meters into our walk ~~~
We are heading to the Furber Steps.

2)  Katoomba Falls from Queen Victoria Lookout (along Furber Steps)

3)  The 4 of us: Freda, Nick, Mei Ha and me at Queen Victoria Lookout (along Furber Steps) ~~~
The Three Sisters formation is in the background.

4)  At Furber Lookout (along Furber Steps) ~~~
- The Three Sisters formation is on the left.
- Mt Solitary, the long mountain range, is on the right.
- In the middle is Jamison Valley through which Kedumba River flows.

5)  Mei Ha walking down Furber Steps

6)  At the bottom of Furber Steps is the Scenic Railway bottom station.
The Scenic Railway is the steepest cable-driven railway in the world. The steepest part of the incline is 52 degrees. It was originally constructed to carry coal and oil shale. The mine operation was closed in 1945 after which it was turned into a tourist attraction.

7)  View from the Scenic Railway bottom station ~~~
- The Three Sisters formation is on the left.
- Mt Solitary, the long mountain range, is on the right.
- In the middle is Jamison Valley through which Kedumba River flows.
- Scenic Railway station is at the bottom right hand corner.

8)  We are now on the Federal Pass Walking Track, pass the Scenic Railway bottom station and heading towards Ruined Castle ~~~ encountering this Lyrebird.

9)  550 meters from the Scenic Railway bottom station, we leave the track and follow the fallen aerial cable down the valley called Pitts Amphitheatre.

10)  There is no track, bushbashing all the way in the Pitts Amphitheatre, and steep - just ask Mei Ha  :-)

11)  Freda - she is fleet-footed  :-)

12)  A fern tree. I think it is Cyathea australis (Rough Tree Fern) - correct me if I'm wrong.

13)  The fallen buckets ~~~
They are numerous, one every few meters. And it is amazing the company responsible for the operation of the Bleichert Ropeway didn't clean up all these fallen rubbish. But it does make our trip interesting ... the reason we are here today is to see what was rubbish years ago is now called historical relics!

14)  Mei Ha having fun  :-)

15)  Freda lifting an oil shale rock ... Freda is just showing off as oil shale is quite light.   :-)

16)  Bucket and bucket carrier

17)  Bucket carriers

18)  Head plate with dislodged angle bracket

19)  Haul rope wheel

20)  Bleichert Ropeway artefacts strewn across the ground

21)  Near Causeway Creek, the cable had fallen on top of a rock.

22)  At the top of the rock (previous photo), the cable had etched a groove ... but how did it managed to etched such a groove??? At the time it fell or afterwards, and how???

23)  The tree trunk engulfed the cable !

24)  Close up view of the cable (Photograph courtesy of Nick)

25)  Love the bracken covered ground !

26)  Twisted vine

27)  A tree trunk had fallen across a little stream, and we are making a half-hearted attempt to walk across it. (Photograph courtesy of Meiha)

28)  Still at the same scene as the previous photo ~~~
Freda ... nah, she didn't walk across it  :-)
Actually, none of us dare to cross it this way  :-)

We follow the fallen cable to the Ruined Castle Track, then walk on the track back to the car.

29)  The track passes the entrance of Rennies Tunnel.

30)  Just inside Rennies Tunnel is a gate. The gate is not shut. But it has a sign - "Danger, Do Not Enter". Well, this the green light for Freda to announce she'll organize a trip to crawl through it. Geeze, I didn't know she is such a dare-devil. Oh well, I guess I'll be going, though not really looking forward to it  :-) You can see the height of the tunnel when compared to Nick's body (previous photo) ... we will be crawling on hands and knees all the way !
Freda also said the tunnel will emerge on the other side at a place called Devils Hole ... sounds like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire !

PS: True to her words, Freda organized a trip to Rennies Tunnel two months late. Photos and a write up of that trip are in my blog:

31)  Now on Federal Pass Walking Track passing through a land slide area ~~~ magnificent cliffs !

32)  On Federal Pass Walking Track looking at cliffs along the Narrow Neck Plateau ~~~
We came from there not too long ago ... we had walked along the base of those cliffs.

33)  Almost at the Scenic Railway bottom station, Freda & Mei Ha having a photographic session ~~~

Afterwards, it is slogging up the steep Furber Steps back to the car. Though Mei Ha wishes the horse can take her up instead ... but, nah, the horse is not interested, so she hops on the Scenic Railway (Photo #6) ... smart woman  :-)

Post Script

This is an interesting trip. And thanks for the company of Nick, Freda and Mei Ha.

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