Narrowneck has a dozen or so named passes - Black Billy Head is one of the more adventurous ones. It is also one end of the the little travelled Rice Terrace. Rice Terrace is a long halfway ledge that is accessible from both ends - Black Billy Head in the West and Mitchells Creek/Coachwood Pass in the East. This pass was likely first traversed by Don Rice and Graeme Holbeach in 1988 and Graeme named it after him.
This trip avoided the unfriendly scrub of Fools Paradise, however, it didn’t avoid 300m of talus descent and subsequent ascent. Instead it descended Diamond Head Pass to approach Black Billy Head from below.
Alternatives to the Diamond Head descent are Redledge Pass and Rock Pile Pass - do what works for you. Or even consider starting from the Green Gully area.
The route synopsis -
- park at Narrowneck gate, backtrack 50m and find the climbers track to West
- descend steeply to climbers ledge and follow it South to Diamond Head
- descend Diamond Head
- descend talus to Medlow Gap Managment firetrail
- follow it for ~3km to sign to mine
- ascend talus to foot of Black Billy Head
- ascend three scramble/climbs
- optionally ascend & then descend last scramble/climb to reach plateau
- head West on chocolate ledge along Rice Terrace for 2km to Mitchells Creek
- cross Creek and follow gentle ridge to fitetrail and carpark
Aerial view of the whole route. Note that the GPS tends to bounce around when close to cliffs, so some of this route needs to be treated with caution. It’s often impossible to tell which ledge the route is actually on.
After parking at Narrowneck gate, backtrack 50m and find the sandy climbers track on the Western side. Descend steeply to the climbers ledge and follow it easily South, over Diamond Creek and then West to Diamond Head. This shows Diamond Head - the halfway ledge is the one closest to the top with the long shadow with the descent at the far right at the nose.
There are pleasant sections of ledge after crossing Diamond Creek…
…some are even runnable
The descent starts right at the visible nose where the ledge stops abruptly - the only option is down.
The descent of Diamond Head is only a little tricky. Rope/tape is never required (although recommended), there is only light exposure. It is steep, but any adventurous bushwalker will find it interesting. As it faces West, a windy or wet day will certainly increase the degree of difficulty.
Then a 2.5m easy climbdown (with no exposure) onto a wide scrubby ledge, followed a short distance North by a horizontal Banksia Serrata over a flared crack gets a further 3-4m lower.
And then a 15m traverse South finds a fairly steep, but reasonable descent that loses fifeteen or so meters. There’s only a little exposure, but the ledges are all good, with occasional bushes for cling to. The final step may be slightly reachy for some.
And looking back up , it doesn’t seem especially onerous.
This descent gets to the talus, with only one further low cliffline to negotiate. Traversing 150m North finds an easy sloping 3m crevice. And then the looong steep talus was followed all the way to the old tramline and then to the Medlow Gap Management Fire Trail.
The fire trail is mostly level, except for the crossing of Mitchell Creek, and eventually leads to the NPWS sign pointing to Black Billy Head Mine.
Following the wide trail uphill finds a few relics.
And continuing steeply up probably the some of the steepest talus around Narrowneck ends with the first of four obstacles on the Head.
This first cliffline is the easiest part.
Followed by a slightly trickier climb above a 2m drop.
Then it gets a little more exposed with a narrow ledge to the South that doesn’t appear to go anywhere above a 8m drop.
The step down onto the small ledge (with the vegetation and flat rock), is followed by a step up to the 50cm narrow flat ledge. There’s only 3-4 meters of good ledge above the significant drop, but feels fairly safe…
..although an abundance of caution is essential. Probably best not attempted in wet or windy conditions.
The ledge leads to a small level area. And at the far end is the slightly trickier again climb with reasonable footholds and few handholds. It’s still above the big drop, but a couple of trees give a modicum of comfort. The halfway tree is a good anchor point for seconders, as is the next tree. The lack of big juggy handholds can be a bit off-putting for some.
Looking back down towards the halfway tree - it’s hard to see the ledge. There’s nothing but a big vertical drop.
This is the level where the Rice Terrace starts. However, as Black Billy Head was so close we decided to head easily up to the plateau for the excellent views of much of Megalong Valley.
It was an easy albeit scrubby traverse South West and then South East that leads to an easy but steep ramp up a narrow gully.
Views North East towards the Rice Terrace from the Black Billy Head ascent.
As the plan was to complete the Rice Terrace, we descended this alternative (more Northerly) slot back to the half way ledge.
The hard (read exposed or slightly more than a scramble) bits of getting to the Terrace are closer to the talus. Getting to it from above is a walk in the park, only attempted by those wishing to brave the Fools Paradise.
The traverse of the ledge begins…
Mostly pleasant Mount York claystone at the beginning.
The first exposed, loose, narrow and precipitous part, with zero options for a safe anchor. These are probably the most dangerous and risky few steps of the whole ledge.
More pleasant walking. It’s incongruous that walking along the middle of the cliff face is far easier and infinitely more civilised than bushwalking 100m higher or 150m lower in the real bush.
These are only found in the dry cracks of the cliff face.
Some of the earlier ledges are wide and fairly level.
There are a few small unnamed creeks flowing from plateau. This one appears to be permanent. There’s a fairly large pool beneath it and a further string of pools downstream.
Getting steeper and looser. The less steep option is closer to the downside.
From here there are good views back to the ascent of Black Billy Head that we just completed.
The ledge becomes much wider, but also much looser and with no second chances. A hundred meters of nothingness at the bottom end of that slope.
… also steeper. Soft foot placement will prevent much of the inevitable erosion.
And then the next narrow and exposed few meters can into view. There are good anchors at both side for this one. At trickier sections such as this, a walking pole can be useful to test the next footing before making committing moves.
Another cascade at a low point in the cliff above. The Easterly half of the Terrace is much scrubbier and more bush bashy that the open ledges closer to Black Billy.
Suddenly the ledge ends and Mitchells Creek gully appears around the corner. Looking back from the Mitchells Creek gully is this unremarkable grey cliff that hides the longest continuous ledge on Narrowneck.
A 15m tape is handy for the Black Billy Head climbs and the exposed section of the Terrace that has an anchor. However, there are several non-trivial sections without any anchor points that many would much prefer some protection.
There is one potential early exit from the ledge in a small canyon. Branches propped against the canyon side may allow a climb of around 5m up towards the plateau. It’s less than 400m from the Head.
900m of ascent
This is a route that has few route-finding and navigational challenges. The ledge is committing. There are no fallback alternatives except to reverse.
All of the party should be comfortable with exposure and be especially sure footed, particularly when traversing the multitude of steep, narrow and loose ledges. Also confidence with non-trivial scrambing above potentially fatal drops is preferred.
A single pole or stout stick is particularly handy to provide a modicum of extra stability on the ledges to test footings.
And finally, both of these Passes would be considered a lot trickier on a wet or windy day.