National Pass - Blue Mountains - Australia

Building the National Pass

The National Pass hiking track was built with picks, shovels, crowbars and dynamite between 1906 and 1907 for about £430.

Much of the track was fairly easy to create as it runs along a claystone ledge separating massive sandstone cliffs above and below.

Access to the mid level of Wentworth Falls was the greatest challenge – solved by cutting a zig-zag staircase into the sheer cliff face from the bottom up, then quarrying into a corner of the cliff to create a pathway to the stairs.

The Grand Stairway, as it came to be called, is the tallest outdoor staircase in Australia.

Construction details are sketchy, but it's said that the project involved its workers being suspended in a Bosun's Chair.

At the western end, the claystone ledge fades out several hundred metres before the Valley the Waters. This section required 142 stepping stones and a zig-zag stone staircase partly supported by drystone walling and partly cut into bedrock.

The opening ceremony was performed at the Valley of the Waters end after "a great flourish of trumpets" in 1908.

No longer was Prince Regents Glen a "lost world" that visitors could only gaze down upon from above. The trackbuilders - known as "the Irish Brigade" - had made the inaccessible, accessible.

Conservation policies today would prevent the Giant Stairway being built as it involved blasting away some of the cliff face. However this iconic walking track is now regarded as a national treasure.

Tracks into History - Jim Smith, David Beaver and Chris Betteridge for Dept of Environment and Conservation 2006

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