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Pulpit Rock

Blue Mountains National Park, Australia

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October 27th, 2000

4.0 miles
905 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:06

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

After soaking up the incredible views at Govett's Leap Lookout, Jean and I headed north along the trail to Pulpit Rock. The entire trail sits on the edge of the cliff above the green valley floor. Steep sandstone cliffs rim the valley.

Valley as seen from Govett's Leap Lookout

Valley as seen from Govett's Leap Lookout

There are lots of fenced-in lookouts along the way, many of which we stopped at to soak in some of the views. Shortly into the hike we descended a series of rock steps -- steps made big enough for the Jolly Green Giant. Our trekking poles definitely helped at this point, keeping us from slipping.

Originally I had wanted to start at Pierces Pass and descend to the valley floor to visit the Blue Gum Forest. That's another term for eucalyptus trees, many of which we saw on this hike. The leaves were the same, but the trees generally looked different than what I'm used to seeing in the Bay Area. The trees in the Bay Area are taller, straighter, and wider. The ones here are thinner and slanted in varying directions. That could be partly due to gusting winds in the area.

It was mostly sunny during the hike, though the sun would hide behind the occasional cloud. Rain was expected that night, but it never came. We crossed a few muddy patches on the trail -- probably not due directly to rain, but to water seeping down the hillside.

The trail flattened out and we came upon a display sign describing the Popes Glen trail. That wasn't what we wanted, so we backed up a few feet and crossed Popes Glen Creek to continue along the path to Pulpit Rock. It turns out we had completely missed a trail intersection sign (like a street sign) labeling the trails; lucky for us we saw the display sign.

Falls tumbling down from the plateau

After we crossed the creek, we climbed some steps on the other side until we were back up along the rim. We now had a view of two waterfalls leaping off the face of the cliff we'd started the hike on. The cliffs in the area are all almost completely vertical. I've never seen so many sheer cliffs before. I wondered if they were formed by glaciers or simple erosion from wind and water. I didn't see any evidence of glaciers, as the valleys were V-shaped, not U-shaped. We paused at one point to examine small rocks embedded in a narrow band in the rocks above us. It looked like it used to be a sea floor at one point in time before being covered with more layers of dirt. Total speculation on our part, of course. It would be nice to find a book describing the geological history of the Blue Mountains.

Jean taking a break

The forest below us

The trail winds and winds seemingly forever. At one point we were so close to Pulpit Rock I probably could have picked up a rock and thrown it there. But it would be another half hour or so before we got there, because the trail snaked its way, following the edge of the cliff, which undulated back and forth like a ribbon in the wind. Along the way we stopped and saw a huge lizard slithering underneath a log. Well, huge for us anyway -- it must have been as thick as my arm, and about 2 to 3 feet long. No Komodo Dragon, but probably the biggest lizard I've ever seen on a hike. We pointed it out to two other hikers, but they didn't seem as impressed as we were. I guess it's not "Australian for lizard".

Pulpit Rock from afar

When we finally reached Pulpit Rock, we didn't stay long. Like one of the Three Sisters, Pulpit Rock stands naked, baring itself to the wind. I didn't think to check out my Brunton Sherpa at this time, but I'm pretty sure the gusts must have reached close to 50 miles per hour. We descended the metal stairs with caution, hanging onto the railings for dear life. At times I felt like I was going to be blown off into oblivion. Besides the wind, there's the matter of the gut-wrenching views. Looking over the edge, there's nothing between you and the trees far far below.

The staircase above Pulpit Rock

Jean above the treetops

We were very hungry by this point, but this was no place to have lunch. We started the return hike. We passed hikers going in both directions (there's a parking lot near Pulpit Rock), many of them looking ill-prepared for the hike. Perhaps some of them were going one-way with a shuttle. We didn't have that luxury. We found a small cave next to the trail and stopped to eat.

Clouds casting shadows on the valley

The wind continued unabated. It wasn't nearly as windy as it had been at Pulpit Rock, but my Sherpa still measured wind gusts of up to 24 miles per hour. On the return journey, it wasn't much different, other than that the trees were now on the right and the cliffs on the left, rather than the other way around. As for the vegetation, we passed one or two bright red flowers which I'd later learn are waratahs. It was so windy, however, that I couldn't get any good pictures of them.

Pulpit Rock from afar

We also saw graffiti everywhere on the hike. People love to leave their mark on nature. On rocks, on trees. We hiked on through the wind, making it back to the parking lot in good time. There were more tour buses. Jean and I still marveled at how relatively few people hit the trail, however. Their loss, our gain.

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