Pantoneys Crown is an isolated, flat-topped mesa rising from the floor of the Capertee Valley – the world’s second-largest canyon. That’s right: less than three hours from Sydney you’ll find a canyon that’s actually 1km wider than the Grand Canyon, although it’s not quite as deep. Melissa’s climbed it, and she’s got the lowdown so you can too.
- Views of Pantoneys Crown and the world’s second biggest canyon
- Visit Gardens of Stone National Park
- Enjoy beautiful bushland and incredible natural stone sculptures
Climbing Patoney’s Crown
The best view of Pantoneys Crown, for my money, is ten minutes further along the Castlereagh Highway from the hiking turn off, at Pearson’s lookout, just before the town of Capertee. On a clear day you can easily see right across the valley: the green-grey bushland of the Gardens of Stone National Park is fringed by patches of open farmland and encased by the red-gold cliff edges of the canyon. Pantoneys Crown is about six kilometres away, close to the far edge of the canyon. It rises majestically from the valley floor to about the height of those far cliffs.
Enjoying the view of Pantoneys Crown is one thing – actually getting up there is another.
I’ve done the walk twice now, both times in winter. There isn’t any reliable water up there and even in the cooler months there are moments that are just one long, hot slog. It’s an overnight hike and, aside from the effort of carrying a pack weighed down with two days worth of water, there are also exposed drop-offs and climbs, steep ascents and descents, isolated camping and an infinity of stars. I can’t wait to do it a third time.
A 4WD To Baal Bone Gap
The adventure starts before we even get to the start point at Baal Bone Gap. The track deteriorates from the turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway, and then it keeps deteriorating. Luckily we had a proper high clearance 4WD and a reasonably experienced driver, a cute around-town SUV would get very stuck very quickly.
We park at Baal Bone Gap and venture north, following the cliff line through the trees. As the faint track meanders NNW there are glimpses and occasional open views of the valley and out to our destination. Along the cliff top we come across the first of wind and rain carved sandstone that gives the Gardens of Stone their name. A boot-shaped pagoda makes an excellent morning tea break spot – and invites photos of hikers ‘floating’ above the valley.
Lunch is at the far point on the cliff line, before it turns abruptly south. The wind wuthers around the rocky point but a cave-like stone sculpture provides a bit of shelter. The view is incredible – 340 degrees of canyon views as you perch on the top of the world. It’s beautiful on a sunny day; blue sky above you and bright bush dancing out away below you. With a cloudy stormy sky it’s even better – wild, romantic and exhilarating (well, as romantic as a cheese sandwich lunch can be).
Refreshed by a perhaps prosaic feast, it’s a tricky pack-off-and-wriggle climb down the point. Bringing a light rope for lowering packs is a great idea. The cliff here isn’t lower than elsewhere, it’s more that the valley has crept much further up the cliff. The descent would be hard to find without a guide – scout around and if it looks impossible, you’re looking at the wrong descent!
The walk down to the floor of the valley and then up the skirt of Pantoneys Crown is unmarked but is reasonably easy to navigate – you’re heading towards the big mountain! The first time I took this hike I was suffering from a combination of morning sickness and the flu (suffering being the operative word!) and the scenery was just a miserable blur. The second time I was enjoying my first baby-free weekend – grateful for the quietude of the tall smooth-barked gums, the call of the occasional bird and the peace of the steady drum of my feet on rock, grass, rock.
Reaching The Base Of The Crown
We continued towards the apparently sheer sandstone cliff of Pantoneys Crown. Standing at the base though, there is an obvious cleft in the cream, red and grey stone. Fortunately there were a series of short and fairly easy climbs with ledges in between to get us up the 70 vertical metres. Unfortunately, we all had nice heavy packs that wanted to pull us off balance and stop us squeezing comfortably onto the ledges. Passing or hauling packs is a very good idea – it was absolutely essential on my first trip. I probably would have plummeted to an inglorious end if I’d tried to climb with my pack on. The final push of the climb is a short chimney, which looks intimidating but is fairly straightforward if you take a deep breath and focus on your foot placement. On my second trip though, we discovered a much simpler walk around to the right – you can stroll the final few metres and greet those who have shimmied their way up the chimney.
There are a few campsites along the top of Pantoneys but both times we camped on the western lip, among the swirl of natural stone sculptures and with a satisfying view back towards where we’d come from that morning. The sunset colours on the pagodas, spires and beehives of rock are incredible. A golden glow suffuses the stone and it stands out even more prominently from the darkening bush. After a kaleidoscope colour show, the last sweep of pink and silver melts away from the sky and we’re left with a sparkling milky way.
After a well-deserved night’s rest we explored along the length of the hilltop. The beehive shapes dominate the landscape at the far end of the Crown; the flora retreating into crevices. There’s a logbook at the summit cairn, which is a beautiful (if windy) place for an early break.
Descending To Reality
The descent off the back of Pantoneys Crown is a climb down a rocky slot and then a long steep walk down and then across the skirts of the hill – circling east towards the Crown Creek access track. Our navigator cleverly led us to join the track at the same place both times – just as it meets the creek. It’s a pleasant green spot for lunch and a rest but don’t rely on finding water there.
The tail end of the walk is a slog up the fire trail – not the prettiest end to a glorious couple of days in the bush but there’s definitely a feeling of achievement as you come around the final curve and find your faithful 4WD waiting for you.
- At least 6 litres of water for a winter trip – minimum 8 in summer
- 4 meals plus snacks (an extra ‘safety’ meal is recommended)
- Camping gear
- Warm and wet weather clothing (the weather changes quickly!)
- Hiking shoes
- Sunscreen and hat
- Topographic map, compass and a competent navigator
- Torch or headlamp
- First aid kit
- Walking poles (optional)
- Pack lowering rope (optional but recommended)
How To Get There
From Sydney drive towards and then past Lithgow on the Castlereagh highway. Take the Baal Bone Gap turn off to your right before Ben Bullen and drive to the car park at the Gap.
Intermediate – Advanced – This walk should only be attempted by fit walkers with recent overnight hiking experience and a good head for heights/exposure. There are steep descents and ascents, exposed rock scrambles/climbs, no marked trails and changeable weather conditions. It’s not recommended to take this walk alone. Groups should have at least one competent navigator (preferably everyone should have basic navigation skills). Groups should be equipped with a PLB and have first aid skills and a first aid kit.
Feature photo by Alejandro Co.
Check out the Western Slopes of the Blue Mountains