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Friday, 7 November 2014


Ranger McKay - first construction phase
This popular walking track leads from the cliff-top near the Three Sisters to the Dardanelles Pass at the base of the cliffs below. It was conceived by Ranger Jim McKay, an employee of the Katoomba Council, which approved the construction of the track in July 1916. By this time the Grand Stairway at Wentworth Falls, Furber Steps at Katoomba Falls and the descent to the bottom of Govett’s Leap at Blackheath had all been in use for a few years.
                   Moss Vale High Students 1972
McKay’s proposal to chip out flights of steps in the cliff face, linked by ladders where necessary, was thought by many to be ridiculous, if not impossible, though the construction of the other three descents showed that it probably could be done, given enough time and effort. McKay and his assistants made good progress, but the middle of the First World War was not the best of times and Council called a halt in August 1918.
It was not until early in 1932 that work resumed, again under the direction of Ranger McKay. They had done such a good job in the earlier construction period that the Stairway was completed in time for the official opening by the Premier of NSW (the Hon. BSB Stevens) in October of that year. See my Blog on Echo Point and the Three Sisters here for information about that event.
Since that day, the stairway has gone through the usual stages of disrepair and renovation common to all Blue Mountains tracks. At present (November 2014) it is in excellent condition but it will always be a challenge to keep it that way.
There is a lot of information in print and on line about this great tourist attraction. Keith Painter’s booklet “The Giant Stairway” (Mountain Mist Books, 2005) may be ordered here. The Blue Mountains Local Studies series is an excellent on line publication. You will find an article on the Giant Stairway here. Of videos, there is no end. I’ll confine myself to just two – my own (here) and an unusual one of a running descent, which makes me glad that I am not that sort of fanatic (here).
McKay's Lookout Leura 2013

It seems as if the workers who constructed these Blue Mountains masterpieces have had scant recognition. Underpaid and overworked, they were clearly people who loved what they did. Their monuments are the sculptured cliffs and outcrops they left for our benefit. Jim McKay’s name is remembered in two places today. The first is the line at the bottom of the plaque at the top of the Giant Stairway, which looks like an afterthought. The second is the neglected lookout between Leura Cascades and the old Kiosk, just off Cliff Drive. I think he deserves more than that.
 The photograph opposite is from the Northern Star (Lismore), 28th September 1932. The associated text reads: "A party of  aldermen and officials making an inspection of the stairway while in the course of construction.The successful completion of this work has provided a connecting line with the famous Federal Pass midway between Katoomba Falls and Leura Falls.This stairway should prove the most popular attraction on the Blue Mountains. It will be officially opened by the Premier of N.S.W., Mr Stevens, on October 1, 1932."
Leura Forest picnic area

It has indeed become one of the most popular attractions on the Blue Mountains. What would the writer think of Scenic World, I wonder?
My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand.

All New England and other Geology blogs and videos


  1. Hi John, thanks for the information. One thing I've never been able to determine is if there is a difference between the "Giant Stairway" and the "Grand Stairway" or whether they are the same thing. Are you able to clarify?

    1. Thanks for your comment. The Giant Stairway is at Katoomba and descends into the valley at the Three Sisters.The Grand Stairway is at Wentworth Falls and descends into the valley next to the waterfall.