Katoomba was originally explored by John Brity North as he looked for useable mineral deposits. The presence of Kerosine shale began our early mining history and indeed, the opening up of Katoomba itself. The unique situation of Katoomba in low mountains with spectacular scenery and cool climate vegetation, also heralded the begining of what was to become a Tourist Industry. Kerosine shale was discovered on both sides of a long 'peninsular' of land between the Megalong Valley on the western side and the Jamison valley on the eastern side. This strip of land was called Narrow Neck and a tunnel was soon dug through this strip of land in order to access the shale addits on the western side of Narrow Neck. Now the shale trolleys, pulled by pit ponys, could bring the skips of shale around the cliff face to a point where they could be pulled up the cliff face and further transported on to meet up with the railway line which came over the mountains in the early 1860s.
I have lived in Katoomba 50 years this year and had heard of this tunnel occasionally, but never met anyone who knew anything about it. Then, just over two years ago, Ross an aquaintence, spent some time and actually scouted out the western entrance of this long abandoned tunnel.He in turn took me through and some months later, I took Lida, Dylan, kathy and Ross through.
The entrance and exit, had been closed off when the shale mining stopped by 'blowing' large rocks across the portals and the tunnel was soon forgotten. Entry to the Megalong Valley on the western side of Narrow Neck, was accessed via the Devils Hole where we gathered for the only photograph of the walk which included myself.
From the left, we are Rod, Kathy, Lida and Dylan. Ross took this photo and you can see the Nikon Coolpix 7 which I used to photograph the walk. I wouldnt even consider taking an SLR into the murky depths of this long abandoned tunnel. The decision proved a good one as the tunnel depth decreased and the water level increased throughout the journey through the tunnel. Second photo shows Ross on the left followed by Kathy,Lida and Dylan.
Finally getting to the western entrance we paused to eat, put on headlamps and eventually work our way through the tiny entrance space behind us in this photo...
the next photo shows us just inside the entrance which turned out to be the highest and driest spot on the walk through. It only took about 40 minutes or so to work our way through but as we went forward, the tunnel height decreased while the water level increased.
This old sleeper
which had once supported the rails used for the shale skips, was a reminder of how hard life down here had been, all those years ago.
After pausing (with our backs bent over), we worked our way forward. The accompanying photographs show clearly, the difficulty both Pit Ponies and the original miners had had. For us, it was simply hard. For me, personally, with my right lung missing, (removed nearly 7 years ago), the going was extremly difficult. As I doubled over due to the tunnel height, my available lung space was 'squashed' and my oxygen intake reduced. So, with dirty wet feet, a sore back from the reduced height and experiencing some degree of difficulty breathing, I found it a 'difficult' little exercise.
The above photo shows Ross, Lida and Dylan working their way forward at about half the way through the tunnel. Interestingly, this last photo also shows the photographic 'noise' (I presume that is what the round circles are!!!) which occured in many of the complete series of photographs I took. For this trip I took a Nikon Coolpix S7 Point and Shoot with a wee flash. This camera hung around my neck and, as the tunnel got lower towards the end,and the water level got higher, I even had my backpack under my belly (allowing me more room to expand my lung!!), I hugged the tiny camera to my gut between the backpack and tummy. All this with the water level now at knee height. I think, for the first time ever, I voiced the words "I'm too old for this".
This is my wife Lida sitting resting at one point. I am sure you can see why I didn't dare take my precious D200 with me on this trip.
Whilst I didn't think of trying to photograph myself, I did get an image of my feet, totally soaked, thinking it would remind me to never do this walk again!
This last section was the most difficult and following images were taken as soon as I got out. I was always last!
The above photo shows both the water level/tunnel height as well as the round circles which I felt were related to ISO settings at the time. Mind you, I was happy just to get images, regardless of the quality. Once again in my life, I have 'missed' the best photographs due to the extreme nature of the situation. Through 35 odd years of bicycle touring, always working hard to capture everything, I long ago realised, the best shots, occured at the worst times, usually making photography impossible. Hence, my relaxed attitude towards the quality of the accampanying photographs. This next shot clearly shows the exit portal hidden by rocks with Ironstone coloured water/mud running out. Yuck, yuck, yuck. We had all brought clean socks, and hand towels as well as sandwiches and apples, so once out, we cleaned up ready for the half hour trek to the bottom of the ascent up the Golden Stairs.
These last two images show us as we ascend the Golden Stairs. So called by the early Cornish miners who actually lived in the valley close to the shale addits during the week then, on Friday afternoons they all walked up out of the valley singing 'Them Golden Stairs', an old spiritual.
The mist in the photo above made for a relaxed, cool day as we finally came up out of the Jamison valley. This walk was indeed difficult but not outside most peoples capabilities although I suspect I wont do it a third time.