It’s a challenging climb up The Castle, south of Sydney in the Budawang Ranges. Negotiating the path of tortured mallee roots and clambering over tricky boulders, I hold on to the thought that once I reach the summit I can sing out loud and proud “I’m the King of The Castle, you’re the dirty rascal”. Unfortunately, the mountain parapets defeat me on this particular expedition, and I don’t get to sing. But it is such a spectacular walk that I know I’ll be back to try again.
We set off Friday afternoon for the 4-5 hour drive south on the Prince’s Highway from Sydney to Milton, before turning off towards the rustic Long Gully campsite.
Long Gully is a free campsite with basic facilities (long drop toilet, picnic tables) alongside the Yadboro River, and the start of the walk to The Castle. Sites are unmarked, bring your own wood and drinking water (or boil the river water), and take away all your rubbish.
We set up camp for the next two nights in high spirits, enjoying the company of good friends and the nice hiking weather conditions. We are up early next morning, as it’s a challenging ten hour day walk to conquer The Castle.
The way up The Castle
The path up The Castle leads out of the campsite. We set out walking in our river shoes until we cross the Yadboro River when the crocs get stowed under a tree and boots go on. We climb initially, through riverine vegetation thick with palms and vines, until we reach the ridge and the vegetation changes to dry forest. It’s a pleasant walk along Kilianna Ridge, we’ll be grateful for this gentle stretch when we return with tired legs later in the afternoon.
Eventually, we reach the first roped conglomerate slope, with glimpses through the tall eucalypts of the buttresses of The Castle towering ominously above. In the distance, we can see the iconic shape of Pigeon House Mountain, out destination for the next day.
We follow the track around the base of the cliff line, encountering the twisted mallee tree roots, scrambles around rock obstacles and under waterfalls, until we eventually reach a cool overhang which makes a great spot for morning tea. We have a 65th birthday in our group, out comes a birthday feast purchased at the Milton Heritage Bakery the day before and carried up by Lisa on the back of her pack.
Cake devoured, it’s back on the track to enjoy the views of the cliff lines below Mt Owen and Nibelung and a steep climb up to the entrance to the Tunnel. The tunnel is a narrow squeeze through what’s known as the tadpole tail of The Castle before we drop down on the east side. On the return, we plan to bypass the tunnel and take the quicker and easier Meakins Pass through the saddle.
The east side of The Castle is cooler, with tall trees. We follow the arrows and make use of some fixed ropes, until we find ourselves in a perilous position high up on the cliffs.
None of us have done this route before, but we’re well prepared with the Corang 1:25000 topographic map, rope and a PLB. We’ve read various trip reports on the web, including BushwalkingNSW and TreksandClimbs, as well as the more comprehensive notes in Ron Doughton’s book “Bushwalking in the Budawangs“. Still, some of us don’t like the exposure and we’re not sure we have the right route. We weigh up our tolerance for risk and make a call to turn around.
Back in camp
We know it’s the right decision, but the unfinished business hangs heavy in the air on the walk back to the campsite. There are a couple of pools in the Yadboro River at the campsite for a swim to wash the sweat and tears off, and to ease the muscles after a stunning but hard day’s walk in a magnificent environment. We make a campfire and celebrate the birthday with champagne.
I know I’ll be back with someone who knows the way, like my favourite bushwalking club who often lead walks in this area. I’d like not only achieve the elusive Castle summit but also to camp at Cooyoyo Creek and explore Monolith Valley.
I dip my grimy bushwalker’s hat to Meakins and his merry band, the Kings of the Castle, who found the route for the first ascent of the Castle. Their journey is written up in an article by Ron Doughton in the Summer 2012 issue of the Bushwalker Magazine (p11-13) and well worth the read. I can only imagine how elated and scratched they would have been.