Friday, December 30, 2011

Orphan Rock, NSW, Australia

2011 December: Climb Orphan Rock in the Blue Mountains - NSW, Australia

Climbing route:

The trail to Orphan Rock is closed to the general public as the rock is deemed unstable and dangerous to climb. And so, I won't be revealing how to get there.

Orphan Rock:

Orphan Rock is located in the Blue Mountains near Scenic World tourist area in Katoomba. It is a pillar of rock separated from the main cliff and standing solitarily like a sentinel on duty.

You can just see the tip of the Rock from Scenic World. Otherwise, the entire Rock is obscured by trees, hence no tourist there would realize the tip is the top of the Rock. But if you take a short walk to the nearby Rieds Plateau, or take a ride in the Scenic Skyway, you will get a magnificent view of the Rock. No wonder prior to 1900 it was the main icon of the Blue Mountains.

By comparison, The Three Sisters received little attention then, and an air of puzzlement for those who saw them. "A cathedral with three spires" or "weird monument of Egyptian architecture" were how they were described.

Then after 1900, The Three Sisters gradually gained prominence in promotional literature. In 1912 they were on the cover of the Katoomba Municipal Council's "Official tourist Guide" and the photographer Harry Phillips raised them in his work to almost mystical status.

But Orphan Rock, while overtaken in the beauty contest, still retained some popularity. A walking track to the top was opened in 1934. But it was closed in the 1950s due to fear the Rock may collapse if a large group of people were to climb it. This track must have made the record as the shortest lived walking track in the history of Australia !

With the demise of the track, Orphan Rock gradually slides into obscurity. It was the logo of the Paragon Cafe in Katoomba in the 1920s with the motto "Stands Alone". And now it lies deserted and stands alone again - a mere curiosity for those who see it.  Ah, but not to me! Once I saw it, I wanted to climbing it.

In 2010, I made an attempt to reach the Rock but was unable to find the land bridge connecting it to the main cliff.  This Christmas, it so happened that Grayson was driving from Melbourne to Cairns and passing Sydney. So we teamed up for an adventure. It took us a while to find the way to the Rock. In the end, like everything in life, perseverance paid off !


1, 2.)  Orphan Rock taken from Rieds Plateau

3.)  We bush-bashed our way to the Rock as the old trail (now closed) is overgrown with vegetation. In this photo, you can just make out the old trail. Don't bothered to find the trail on any of the maps. You won't find it.

4.)  When we reached the base of the rock, there was a gate with the sign "DANGER, AREA CLOSED". Ah, love it !!! Whenever there is such a sign, there is always goodies inside!

5.) On the Rock now, and looking down and across at the main cliff on the opposite side

6.) An old photo taken in 1938 showing the stairs up Orphan Rock

7.) This is what the trail looks like now. It has not been maintained for 60 years. Some steps have rotted away from the stairs.

8.) Trail & stairs up Orphan Rock - Don't touch the hand rails, they are rickety and rotting, liable to give way at the slightest touch.

9.) Again, you can see the missing steps in the wooden stairs. You need to be careful when stepping on the steps as they can easily break into pieces. The trail has not been maintained for 60 years.

10.) A big hole in the rock. We will be climbing to the top of this rock formation. The reason the Rock is closed to the public is because the whole structure is unstable and may collapse at any time.

11.) We made it !!! This is the top of the Rock. We had this eerie feeling when up here all alone and knowing hardly anyone else has been here for the past 60 years!

12.) View from the top of the Rock is superb. The mountain range in the middle of this pic is called Mt Solitary. I haven't climbed it yet. One day, I will ... watch this blog.  ( PS: Made it to Mt Solitary in October 2012.  Photos and write up of the walk is in )

13.) Of course we just have to take a photo at the top of the Rock for memory. The Three Sisters formation is at the right side of this pic.

14.) Zooming onto The Three Sisters ... Nowadays, this is the main icon of the Blue Mountains.

15.) Katoomba Falls and the cable car (called Scenic Skyway) - We waved to the people in the cable car and they waved back at us! I bet they would ask their tour guides on how to get onto the Rock and the tour guides would have no clue ! ... because you won't find how to climb the Rock anywhere on the Internet !!! By the way, the brown colour of the trees on the right half of this pic was not due to a fault in the camera. They were burnt in a recent bush fire.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I liked your commentary. I googled orphan rock after visiting the Blue Mtns and being told by a guide there that it was a very popular picnic spot for people before it was closed. I have discovered I have a fear of heights and cannot for the life of me understand why no-one has fallen off that rock! Or any of those rocks for that matter. Anyway, it seems awfully high and steep for a picnic spot.

    1. it is a very dangerous spot to go these days and it is a known fact that people have commited suicide from orphan rock the last person was a gentleman who took all his cloths off, folded them and left them on top. it wasnt until bush walkers found the cloths that it was relised what had happened. very nice spot to check out from one of the marked lookouts, but as i work close by i do occasionaly see people disobeying the signs and climbing up on top of orphan rock

  3. Orphan Rock was closed to the public in 1974 when they deemed it unstable, not 1950 and of course you climbed it disregarding the signs saying not too!

  4. Good on you, even though it is breaking the law it is a once in a life time activity
    P.S YOLO

  5. There is no law banning you from climbing the Rock. It is just that, potentially it may not be safe. Hence the authorities have obliterated the trail going there.

  6. actually the tour guides know just how to get up there, i know because i am one, we are just not dumb enough to tell anyone because its just plain unsafe, i know, i to have climbed it. don't be to high and mighty, plenty of people go up there.

  7. You'd be surprised how many people go up onto the rock. In my advancing years, I still do, although my legs are not the best. Incidentally, the flat area 50m NNW of the gate (overlooking the railway where it emerges from the cutting) still has the footings of a pylon which supported a section of the "flying fox" which went from the winding-house to the base of the saddle between the Ruined Castle and Mount Solitary. Similar footings still remain in a flat, cleared area about 200m E of the Ruined Castle - in the valley.
    Bob Y.

  8. A flying fox that went from Orphan Rock to between Ruined Castle and Mount Solitary?! That's wild. Are there any photos of it anywhere?!

    1. I didn't notice the flying fox :-(

    2. It fell down in the 1880's about 6 month after it was built - it was for ferrying coal for J B North

    3. no it was for ferrying shale oil from the shale oil mines at ruined castle

  9. Thanks - great write-up. Fascinating to find this historic lookout - especially since I would have walked right past the old access track countless times!


Donations are welcome to support the creation of more interesting articles in this blog  :-)