I’m not sure how I stumbled upon “Orphan Rock”, but after finding a few references to this historic lookout, it seemed only logical to try and locate the secret and long-abandoned trail. Viewed from the Reids Plateau lookout (off the Prince Henry Cliff Walk) the rocky pinnacle does stand out quite distinctively.
Orphan Rock is also very distinctive when viewed from the Skyway, where it does look very orphaned. From above, you can just make out the railings on top of the rock.
But, a bit of history first, as this is what makes Orphan Rock so fascinating. Standing not far from Scenic World in Katoomba, the pillar has been referred to as “Orphan Rock” or “Orphan Tower” since the 1880s (when it eclipsed the Three Sisters in popularity). A walking track to the summit was built in 1934, providing access to the summit via a combination of ladders and steps hewn into the rock.
Time was when the rock was regarded as quite inaccessible, but by means of rope and hook and stout heart, one of the Council’s rangers reached the top; as a result of that perilous climb, safely guarded steps have been hewn from the rock, and built of hardwood in places, whereby the top may be reached in safety. Once at the apex the climb will be found more than worth while; lookouts have been constructed, giving a clear view of the Falls on one side, while on the south the undulating valleys run away for illimitable miles in shades now blue, now mauve, now pink. (“The Land”, Friday 22nd 1937).
Access to the Rock was stopped in 1974 when a mudslide obliterated the access track. Due to fears the pillar was unstable and might collapse if a large group of people were to climb it, all signage was removed and the access track was obliterated. It doesn’t take long to find what is now a faint trail; I discover that I’ve have walked past it many times without realising it existed.
An initial warning sign indicates that the faint foot-pad I’m on is the right route, followed by a fence and another warning sign at the base of Orphan Rock.
Once past the final warning signs, the track is in pretty good condition as it follows the base of the the pillar.
Two old ladders provide access up to the top of the rock… both are missing a few rungs and are not in great shape. But it’s amazing after more than 30 years of neglect that the ladders are still usable, with care, and the fences are still standing.
Between the two ladders there’s a big “window” in the pillar, with views through the rock to the Scenic Skyway station on the opposite side of the Jamison Valley.
There’s a couple of lookout points at the top of Orphan Rock: a narrow path leads to the northern end of the rock pillar.
From here you can almost touch the cable-car which passes above Orphan Rock, and there’s great views of Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters.
From the slightly lower lookout at the southern end, there are even more impressive views over the Jamison Valley, framed by the Three Sisters and Narrow Neck Plateau.
I’m looking almost straight down to the bottom station of the Scenic Cableway (originally called the Sceniscender). Directly ahead is Mount Solitary and the comparatively tiny bump that is Ruined Castle.
I go back the same way (there are reportedly three access routes), and in less than 15 minutes I’m back at Scenic World. It’s almost too short to be called a hike, although you could combine Orphan Rock with a longer circuit down to the bottom of the Jamison Valley and back via the Scenic Railway, Golden Stairs or Giant Stairway.
More information on Orphan Rock
The trail to Orphan Rock is officially closed, and part of the steps and ladders are in a very poor state. Take extreme care if undertaking this route.
- Mountain Views blog – Orphan Rock
- John’s Blue Mountains Blog – The Orphan Rock
- David Noble (blog) – The Mermaids Cave and Orphan Rock