Starting at Hat Hill Rd, follow Hat Hill Ridge to the small cairn after 2km. Head North and descend to Brownes Path, cross it easily and return to contour West around into the gully. Descend the gully passing three obstacles, a round boulder, an 8m waterfall bypassed very steeply to the East and finally a crumbling rock shelf above a coal seam to reach the talus.
Then follow the base of the cliff West (avoiding dead end ledges) to reach the base of Hat Hill Falls. Cross with only a little difficulty, and ascend to the ledge leading to Lews Pass. Use tree roots to negotiate the pass easily and head upstream to the ‘dry’ exit 50m past the first creek on the East side. After a 20m contour around towards the side creek to visit an amazing cave, hairpin away and up the cliff to reach the plateau. Finally follow the ridge South until it joins Hat Hill Ridge to return to the start.
Aerial view of the whole route shows the circumnavigation of Bald Head
And detail of the three passes - the trip was anticlockwise. Brownes Path the short out and back ledge at the right, Unnamed Gully next all the way to the talus of Bald Head, and lastly Lews Pass and Hat Hill Canyon.
After parking 800m past the National Park gate head easily up the track to Hat Hill Ridge and follow the pleasant trail Northwards for a couple of km to a small cairn on the right. From here head North to a gully very close to the cliffline that heads North West. There are excellent views East from the low rocks between the gully and the Grose Valley. Follow the faint track easily down the gully and tend right towards orange cliffs and the Mount York Claystone.
Brownes Path is a very pleasant horizontal track that connects the easy gully to the talus over the claystone. Following the ledge for a further 100m past the end of Brownes Path gives easy access to the talus where it’s possible to descend to the Grose or contour West below the cliffline to the base of the Unnamed Gully.
However, the alternative is to return back across the Path and descend the Unnamed Gully. Staying mostly level with Brownes Path follow the base of the top cliffline West and contour above the main cliffline to reach the slopes above the Unnamed Gully. When possible descend into the steep and apparently impassable Gully.
This gully is steep and has three obstacles to overcome - a smooth boulder, an 8m waterfall that can be bypassed very steeply on the Eastern side and finally a 4m crumbling rock shelf above a coal seam.
Looking back up at the boulder obstacle. Descending only requires a small slither down the side of it, however, ascending is trickier - a double knee jam helps a little as there are no handholds on the smooth rock above.
The second obstacle is a 8m waterfall - it looks impossible from both above and back up from below.
However, it can be bypassed by ascending a few meters on the Eastern side, contouring over very steep loose dirt with few options for handholds, and then descending down an ever steepening equally loose and handholdless slope into the gully. This is the most difficult and exposed part of the trip, much of it is above a significant drop.
Every part of the 70 degree slope is either loose rock or loose dirt - there’s danger of anything touched dislodging. Prior to the fires there were a few small shrubs and grass tussocks for support - they will return in time. A 40m rope anchored high up may be of assistance to the less surefooted.
Continuing steeply down large boulders but without much difficulty soon finds the final obstacle - a crumbly shale rock shelf above a coal seam. Although there are a few options, none of them have reliable footholds. Work on the assumption that anything you put weight on will fail, so always keep a couple of Plan B’s handy.
The coal seam marks the talus and some welcome vegetation. Following the top of the talus initially along a climbers track to the West gives panoramic views of the nose of Hanging Rock, and much of the Upper Grose Valley.
Continuing along the talus eventually leads to Hat Hill Creek and the cliff faces of Burra Korain.
Taken previously from a vantage point on Burra Korain, the route across the base of the Bald Head cliffs has some ledges to nowhere that are only avoidable with hindsight, as well as some steepness below.
After descending through scattered lawyer vines the base of the falls is reached. Crossing immediately below the falls entails wet legs, a little further downstream it’s possible to avoid the large smooth boulders and ensure a dry crossing.
And ascend the opposite bank up boulders, then loose dirt, then through lawyer vines hidden by ferns, tending right to avoid the lowest cliffline. The cliffline soon disappears to reach the narrow ledge that is level with the top of the falls.
Lews Pass is right next to the falls. The short ascent scramble is up tree roots topping out over the smooth boulder that is currently obstructed by a log.
Hat Hill Creek/Canyon is very green and mossy with a pleasant rainforest feel. Follow it exclusively on the Western bank for 400m up to where a significant creek enters from the left.
After following Hat Hill Creek easily upstream keeping dry feet all the way to the ‘dry’ exit just 50m past the creek on the East side. The start is a steep 2m steep dirt bank facing downstream. The track is easily followed up a few meters before it contours around towards the side creek. The alternative heads North at this point to some treeroots that can be climbed. However, the South alternative soon leads to an amazing cave with double eroded holes.
This cave can also be reached by following the side creek for 50m then once the cave is in view ascending up slippery steep ledges with few handholds.
Then hairpin away from the cave over a thinnish ledge and very soon ascend a minor scramble, then a couple more. The final steps up are directly above the side creek to a low lunch cave. A short distance around to the South and up an easy 5m bluff soon reachs the more gentle slopes of the plateau. And finally follow the ridge South until it joins Hat Hill Ridge and return to the start.
A short day -
500m of ascent
Elapsed 4:00 hours
Note that these timings are for small experienced parties who are familiar with all the passes.
Brownes Pass is easier than Orang-Utan, or Lews Pass, Mackenzie’s Pass or the Unnamed Pass. It has almost no exposure, its’ fairly easy to find being a short walk from existing walking tracks.
The descent (or ascent) to the Unnamed Gully is difficult and exposed. It requires route finding skills, judgement of steep loose slopes, surefootedness, the ability to not dislodge debris onto anyone below and confidence with exposure.
The face of Bald Head is steep and loose. The aftermath of the fires left it fairly clear of vegetation, but that will change. A faint climbers track for the first 200m is useful.
The ascent of Lews Pass requires some confidence with easy climbing, as does the exit from the canyon.
This trip can be shortened by not descending the Unnamed Gully, however, the remainder of the route is totally committing unless a long talus descent to the Grose River and subsequent walk back out is preferable.