It’s not the best day for a bushwalk – over 30 degrees when I set out and limited visibility due to smoke from bushfires to the north of Sydney. But I’ve been meaning to undertake the relatively short walk to Fortress Ridge for a while. The walk starts on Mount Hay Road, which joins the Great Western Highway in Leura – most of it’s an unsealed road and should be fine for any vehicle. Last time I was here a few years ago to do the Lockleys Pylon track the road was in pretty poor condition and a 4WD/SUV would have been recommended. The road must have been graded in the last few years, and was in much better condition. There’s a small parking area (but not much signage) at the start of the firetrail, which continues past a locked gate up the hill.
After 600m there’s a junction, with a firetrail to the left going to Fortress Rock. I continue straight ahead, with the firetrail becoming more overgrown and eventually turning into a narrow walking track. There’s some views from here over the Grose Valley – but due to the smoke visibility is very limited.
A bit further on, the trail splits into two (they soon re-join), with the right-hand track going up to a small sandstone outcrop that has a nice view back over the trail towards the start of the walk.
The trail undulates over a few hills as it follows the wide ridge… wear long pants or gaiters – it’s the first time in years I’ve bushwalked in shorts, and my legs looked like I’d shaved them with a cheese grater by the time I finished the hike! Along this section there are two faint tracks that descend down to Fortress Creek, which are used by canyoners to access Fortress Canyon (this requires at least one abseil, so I don’t attempt this route – but I do explore the creek on the way back).
The reward for having my legs scratched to shreds is the view from the end of Fortress Ridge: stunning on a clear day, and still pretty good in today’s hazy conditions. From the exposed rock platform there’s a panorama over Lockleys Pylon, and down the Grose Valley, with Docker Head (Perrys Lookdown) on one side and Mount Banks on the other.
Immediately in front of Fortress Ridge looms Lockleys Pylon, and in the distance Mount Banks.
I’d planned to continue down the end of the ridge to meet the end of Fortress Creek, just before it plunges over the cliff into Govett Gorge. Although it looks possible (and would be easy with a short length of rope), I don’t want to to risk a fall. I can see a track only 10m or so below me that looks like it does go to Fortress Creek, so it’s a bit frustrating to give up. After a short break, I turn back go the same way along the Fortress Ridge track. You mostly don’t really notice you’re on a ridge, although every so often you can see both sides of the wide ridge.
Having failed to reach the end of Fortress Creek from the end of Fortress Ridge, instead I take one of the access tracks that is used by canyoners to access the start of the Fortress Creek/Canyon route (about 1km one-way). It’s a fairly distinct trail that’s easy to follow down to the creek. Despite a prolonged dry spell, the creek was still flowing – but it was very overgrown. I thought I might follow the creek a short distance upstream and take the other access track back. But it was just too much effort to get through the thick scrub that filled the narrow gully.
In the other direction (downstream) it was a bit easier going, with a nice overhang surrounded by ferns that made a nice spot for a break, before heading back up to the main track. (It is possible to continue down Fortress Creek and return via the Fortress Ridge track, but at least one abseil is required.)
It’s definitely a walk I’ll do again, on a clear day… and with a bit of rope so I can explore Fortress Creek from the bottom. I’m also keen to compare the views from Fortress Rock, which would be a shorter walk.
0.0km Fortress Ridge carpark 0.6km Junction with firetrail to Fortress Rock; continue straight 1.4km First access track to Fortress Creek (seems less used) 1.9km Second access track to Fortress Creek 3.8km End of Fortress Ridge 6.3km Take (second) access track down to Fortress Creek 9.4km Return to Fortress Ridge track 11.4km Return to Fortress Ridge carpark