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Wentworth Falls

Blue Mountains National Park, Australia

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October 26th, 2000

5.5 miles
1455 vertical feet
Total Time: 6:23

Rating: 9/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


It was a completely overcast sky as we started the hike at 11:30am. We crossed the grass next to the tennis court and came to a large sign denoting Darwin's Walk. It's named as such because Charles Darwin himself did this walk back in 1836.

He probably saw something very different from what we saw at the beginning of the hike. The trail follows Jamison Creek. On either side were ferns, stumps, and chopped down trees. Apparently they are trying to restore the area to its natural state, and that involves cutting down foreign species of trees. It looks ugly now, but I suppose it's good in the long run.

There are also the remnants of a road crossing the trail, concrete slabs with graffiti still standing. There are also quite a few houses very close to the trail on either side. Some have use trails leading right to the creek.

Thankfully, the trail soon becomes more wild. The houses start to disappear and the vegetation looks normal. The trail turns from dirt to wooden planks, much like those on our rainforest walk near Daintree. Jean spotted wild onion growing near the banks of the creek. The birds started chirping, and the sun even started to show signs of coming out from behind the clouds.

Weeping Rock

We crossed the creek, the water soothingly rushing over the rocks at a gentle angle. Soon we came to what we think is Weeping Rock -- a rock formation where the water drips over the sides, not in a torrent, but like gentle rainfall. Steps and railings lead us over and past the formation.

Top of Wentworth Falls

On the other side, we came to a trail intersection. To the right is a picnic area at the end of Falls Road. We took the left fork, down the stairs. Suddenly, after a pleasant walk along the creek, we came out into the open and witnessed a dramatic view. Before us lay the lush green Kedumba Valley, dropping down far below, steep rock walls on either side, and mountains far away on the opposite side. The views would just get better.

Jean behind the railings at the top of the falls

The cascade above the main falls

Steep canyon walls. You can't tell from this image, but there's a trail etched in the side of the wall.

We crossed the creek over concrete stepping stones and hand rails. To our left was a cascading waterfall. A dozen feet to our right, a sheer drop. We walked slowly now, soaking in the views, but also being careful because of the nature of the trail. The trail is blasted out of the side of the cliff, with very steep and high steps and hand railings to keep us from falling.

Precarious trail

One of the great views from the trail

On the left is a spur trail to Rocket Point, but we were getting all the views we needed on the main trail. At times it's almost single file along the trail as it descends toward the base of the falls. Soon enough we could see the falls themselves. Jamison Creek actually falls in two steps; in the middle is a large flat area which we were descending to. We'd reach the lower level much later in the day.

Our first look at a waterfall

Mist from the main falls

There were a few other people on the trail, most coming from the opposite direction. Perhaps they had a car shuttle arranged and were hiking the length of the National Pass in one direction. In any case, after descending the steps for about 400-500 feet, we reached the flat area where we would cross the creek. We stopped for lunch here, enjoying the view of the falls splashing down 20 or 30 feet in front of us, and continuing its journey past our lunch spot only to continue its descent.

Lots of little falls near our lunch spot

Two stages of Wentworth Falls

Even within the major falls there are sub-falls which added to its character. It's not one big drop. The biggest drop was dominated by a giant cloud of mist which formed as the individual drops separated on the long drop down. After lunch we finished crossing the creek and continued along the Wentworth Pass trail. At one point, we had to walk bent over for a hundred feet as the trail was only carved 3 or 4 feet high into the rock, with a steep drop on the left side. To top it off, it was muddy. And Jean was doing this hike in Tevas.

Bird in the trees below the trail above the valley

I spied two large white birds soaring over the valley near us. We watched them climb higher and higher until they finally flew above the rim of the valley. At times it felt like it was raining because water would drip over the cliffs above us. Not in some majestic fall, but just a small mist, enough to get us a little wet. We passed the intersection for Slacks Stairs on our left. We'd eventually come back up that way. Instead, for now, we continued along the National Pass.

Trail next to the steep walls

Eventually we rounded a corner and were out of sight of the falls. To our left we found an unmarked intersection leading down into the valley. I knew the path we wanted to take was on our left, but it was supposed to be signed Wentworth Pass. I suspected that was the path anyway. My suspicion was confirmed when a couple minutes later we came upon Empress Falls. These falls are much smaller than Wentworth Falls. It's dark and cold and the water snakes its way through the rocks, stopping briefly on a flat rocky section before continuing its descent. We crossed this flat rocky section and took a break here.

An older couple also stopped here to take a break. They would continue on up the stairs to the top of the falls (and presumably on to their car). We, on the other hand, would turn around at this point. But first, we ate a little, chasing off the crows who eyed us. As soon as we packed up and left, they descended and picked the ground for any crumbs they might find. They'd repeat this behavior whenever we stopped after this.

Empress Falls

We doubled back and shortly took the unsigned fork (now on our right). The trail here, if you can call it that, is steep and overgrown. We practically slid down the hillside, crossing the creek and working our way down cautiously until we finally saw a reassuring trail sign. If we continued down, we'd reach Vera Falls; instead we turned left, crossing the creek again and continuing on Wentworth Pass.

Wentworth Pass is completely different from National Pass. The whole time we were on National Pass, we had the cliff face on one side, gorgeous views on the other. On the Wentworth Pass, we were deep in the middle of the rain forest. No views, no cliffs. The other contrast is that we didn't see anyone else on the trail after we saw that couple at Empress Falls. In fact, we wouldn't see anyone on the trail the entire way back to the beginning of Darwin's Walk.

We passed tree ferns and listened to the birds. We didn't see mammals of any kind, however. The vegetation was thick, though -- so thick that at one point a vine snagged my tripod and ripped it right out of my backpack! First time that's ever happened to me.

Jean in the rain forest

After our trip through the rain forest, we broke out into the open, reaching a beautiful pool beneath the second leg of Wentworth Falls. High above us now, straight up, was the spot where we'd had lunch. This spot was even better, perhaps because it seemed more remote.

Bottom of the second plunge of Wentworth Falls

After enjoying the pool and falls, we had work to do. We began our ascent of Slacks Stairs. The stairs are metal stairs with railings. It reminded me of the ones at the top of Sierra Buttes. These stairs, however, are much steeper -- they should be renamed Slacks Ladders. They're so steep that a couple of them actually have a cage around them to prevent people from falling over backwards. It's like climbing up a Jeffries tube on Star Trek. Only narrower. My backpack got snagged on the cage several times.

Slack's Stairs (a more appropriate name would be ladder)

After much huffing and puffing, we made it to the top of the stairs and rejoined the National Pass, turning right to head back to our lunch spot. Somehow we got off the main trail and came upon the river at a point higher than we'd crossed before. We saw the blue railings we'd used, however, and walked along the bank until we reached them and crossed safely. Then it was up, up, up those steep steps blasted into the side of the cliff. Many of the steps were over a foot high, some perhaps two feet high. Stairmaster is nothing compared to this. The steps are probably higher than those at the top of Vernal Falls in Yosemite, if you can believe that.

Eventually we made it to the top. Now all that lay ahead of us was the gentle Darwin's Walk. It was actually quite nice to have that as a sort of cool-down at the end of the hike. The creek seemed nicer, the birds happier now, than when we'd done the trail in reverse in the morning. And we were on our way to the nearest ice cream store for our just rewards.


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