Fortress Ridge in the Blue Mountains has a number of interesting features: one trail leads to a lookout at the end of the ridge and the stunning Fortress Creek Falls, while another branches off to the Fortress Rock lookout and Dr Darks Cave. Both trails start on Mount Hays Road with the Fortress Ridge Trail, which reaches a junction after 0.7km.
Bear left, along the slightly wider trail, and look for a bushwalking track on the right after another 0.3km, which goes to Dr Darkes Cave.
Down to Dr Darks Cave
The bushwalking track descends very steeply into the valley, with a rope helping on one particularly slippery section.
Once at the bottom of the valley, the trail is not as obvious, as it follows an unnamed creek downstream, before following the base of a steep cliff.
The trail ascends a small outcrop at the base of the cliffs, requiring one easy scramble up.
An impressively large rock overhang soon comes into view, framing a view of the cliffs in the distance.
There’s a tight squeeze between a large boulder and the cliff wall.
The overhang continues a long way, and would make a nice shelter on a wet day.
As you turn the corner, Dr Darkes Caves suddently comes into a view – an enormous overhang, both in height and depth.
Dr Darks Cave is named after Dr Eric Payten Dark (1889-1987) who discovered the cave in 1937, and used it as a retreat with his family (wife Eleanor and sons Brian and Michael). A medical practitioner who served in WWI before purchasing a medical practice in Katoomba, Dark was a keen bushwalker and climber. Dr Dark’s cave was fitted out as his “private retreat”, with shelves and fireplaces in the rock walls and many relics from their time remain in the cave: pots and pans, bedding and even a game of backgammon. Next to the cave is a small waterfall and pool, providing a source of fresh water.
Out to Fortress Rock
It’s back the same way from Dr Darks Cave to the Fortress Ridge Trail; turn right and continue down the firetrail to get to Fortress Rock.
The wide firetrail stops just before the end of the ridge, and a narrow bushwalk track winds down to the edge of the cliff.
Fortress Rock Lookout is a small, unfenced platform at the very end of the ridge, above a sheer drop.
Two enormous cliff walls frame a view of the Grose Valley and Govett’s Creek. (Early morning would be the best light for photography.)
It’s a fairly quick walk back to the car from here; the trail out to Fortress Rock is very easy, but the track down to Dr Darks Cave is quite steep and rough, so allow about two hours for this bushwalk. You can also combine this bushwalk with the Fortress Ridge lookout and Fortress Creek Falls, which is a 13km walk that takes 4-5 hours.
Getting to Dr Darks Cave and Fortress Rock
The Fortress Ridge trailhead is about 8.7km along Mount Hay Road (from the Great Western Highway at Leura), and 1.3km before the Lockleys Pylon trailhead. Most of Mount Hay Road is unsealed but it’s usually suitable for any vehicle – if there’s been a big storm the road can get in pretty bad condition and a 4WD/SUV is recommended. There’s a small parking area (but not much signage) at the start of the firetrail, which can get full especially on weekends (in which case park on the shoulder of the road). It’s about a 25min drive from Katoomba and 1:45min from Sydney.
- Blue Mountains Local Studies – Dr. Eric Payton DARK