Pantoney’s Crown is an imposing mesa that rises out of the world’s widest canyon – the Capertree Valley near Lithgow. It rests on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, a flat topped hill of about 400 metres rising from the surrounding flat. I had viewed it from afar on a recent hike up Mt Dawson and immediately decided that it needed walking up.
The access and route finding is a little tricky but luckily for me the Hike Out group planned a trip that I was able to join. I headed out to Lithgow by train the night before and stayed in a little Airbnb place before meeting up with the gang at a café in town in the morning. Unfortunately, the timing that seemed so good a few weeks in advance was a bit shakier for me by the time the weekend had rolled around. I was about six weeks pregnant (yay!), feeling nauseous (boo!) and had an incredibly bad head cold complete with disgusting cough and whole body aches (double boo!).
My god I felt awful, but I was there and it seemed a bit silly to just turn around and head back to Sydney without doing any hiking. In retrospect, it may have been even sillier to take on a fairly robust hike while unable to breathe. So, consider this a guide of how not to hike Pantoney’s Crown, rather than how to.
We loaded up the 4WD and drove past Ben Bullen and up onto Moffat’s Trail – a proper country 4WD track – absolutely impassable with a 2WD. We reached Baal Bone Gap and shouldered our rather heavy packs. There isn’t any reliable water on the usual route so it’s necessary to carry two days worth of water. It’s worth noting that early November is probably the latest you’d want to do this hike – in summer it would be blazingly hot, making heat exhaustion/dehydration a real risk.
The walk starts with a bit of a climb to the Baal Bone Plateau and we walked along the edge of that for some time, with great views of Pantoney’s Crown, into the valley and across to the far cliffs. The plateau itself has amazing rock formations whipped from wind and rain into fantastic shapes. This fairly easy going and pleasant walk takes about an hour or two and ends at Baal Bone Point – a high point of rock that juts out from the plateau.
We scrambled down the cliff at the Point (fun!). From there it was a fairly short walk to the base of Pantoney’s Crown…but it felt like a never ending torture-fest. The second part is uphill through what I am sure is quite beautiful bushland but I didn’t pay much attention at the time as I could only take about three steps before needing to pant, hack up some more lung, almost pass out and then regroup to stumble a few more steps. Ugh. Not recommended.
We (finally) reached the base of the cliff line. There is an obvious cleft in the rock wall – the push to the top is straight up a series of rock scrambles/climbs. As I lay splayed feebly on my pack at the base of the climb I think my walking companions were starting to worry that they’d never make it to the top with me. Luckily, climbing is a lot easier than hiking uphill when you’re sick (maybe because all your limbs are helping?) and we pack hauled through the harder bits which made the climb very do-able. Nevertheless, I was very pleased when we reached the summit!
We stopped for a rest just to the right of where we popped out onto the flat top of Pantoney’s Crown. We found cosy nooks in the incredible stone sculptures and admired the views across the Capertree valley and back to Baal Bone Gap.
A short walk along the summit brought us to the comfortable camp site – nice smooth sandy tent pads and friendly trees overhead. I put up my tent and flopped exhaustedly onto my bedroll. The others enjoyed an apparently gorgeous afternoon lazing and exploring the rock formations of the Crown and the incredible changes the afternoon light brings to the colours of the rock and the scenery below. I was prodded out of bed to look at the sunset and it was really beautiful – the green below took on subtle blues and purples as the light faded.
That evening we lazed around the friendly little campfire – I snuggled up in bed with the tent flap open, feeling companionable. Not a bad way to end a challenging but rewarding day.
The next morning saw us begin by walking to the far end of the flat top of the Crown. There were more of the incredible natural rock carvings jutting out like fairy turrets and far vistas of valleys and trees. The descent is via a series of scrambles, with a pack haul or two until the cliff bends to a steep but walkable descent.
I’ll confess to not being an avid lover of steep slippery downhill at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. As I hacked and spluttered my way down the seemingly endless hill I alternated between fiery internal rage at the stupid slippery gumleaf covered hillside (ok maybe not entirely internal, a snarl of “f^&k this stupid mother&*king hill” may have be audible) and hopeless but surprisingly soothing mewing to myself. So I’m unfortunately unable to provide much of a report on the scenery other than that there were trees and rocks and dirt.
On the other hand, I can provide an excellent description of our lunch rest stop as I spent quite a bit of time there.
Oh lush green fire trail intersection of fire trail intersections! How kindly thou receivest this tired child into your soft green bosom! How sweetly you were banked by a cool and babbling stream of clear and refreshing water!** How perfectly you shaded this weary traveller, sleeping gratefully on your springy, mossy grass! Ah! Noble and wondrous fire trail intersection, how you revived my slumped and fallen body and how you lifted my heart in joy and thankfulness. Ah! Beauteous fire trail intersection, thou oasis of oases.
It really was bloody great.
After a reviving nap and bite to eat we turned our faces to the walk back up to Baal Bone Gap. Sadly the green laneway (complete with nodding wildflowers) only lasted about 50 meters before resuming the usual appearance of Australian fire trails – that is, a rough and dusty track – and this one quickly turned sharply uphill.
It wasn’t a particularly interesting walk but it was made more interesting by pondering the question “shit, I wonder if I can actually get to the top of this?”. It turns out that, even if you put one foot in front of the other with the speed of a stoned sloth, sooner or later your feet will get you to where you need to be. Feet are great, as are picnic tables at the top of Baal Bone Gap with friendly faces and bottles of spare water.
While I would strongly advise against taking this particular stroll while experiencing the first delightful stirrings of morning sickness and/or while unable to breathe and/or while one’s body is shaking with non-specific aches I would otherwise heartily recommend it. The scrambles were a lot of fun (even with said ailments), the sculptures of the Gardens of Stone were incredible and the views from Pantoney’s Crown were really gorgeous. Definitely a hike to put on the list.
* original photo here.
** note this was not a marked or reliable water source.