Dan Lewis reports on the amazing cliff-face ladders that help make The North Face 100 in Australia’s Blue Mountains such a special trail running race.
What would Walter “Taro” Tarr think of what becomes of his usually lonely bush ladder near Katoomba at this time each year?
Popular trail running events like The North Face 100 were still many decades away when the pioneering Blue Mountains bushwalker (1879-1969) first installed a primitive ladder of saplings and fencing wire down a 17m cliff at the end of Narrow Neck in 1933 “for the convenience of weaklings”.
That original ladder was destroyed by a bushfire in 1939 and replaced by basic metal spikes and rungs now known as Tarros Ladder.
And it is just too dangerous when about a thousand runners racing 100km through the Blue Mountains bush are rushing to descend from the top of Narrow Neck, a towering sandstone ridge that splits the mighty Jamison and Megalong valleys.
So last week, a small team of roping specialists made their annual visit to the cliffs below Clear Hill, at the end of the Narrow Neck fire trail, to install more substantial temporary ladders surrounded by a rope safety cage for May 16’s TNF100. It is a job requiring about a kilometre of rope.
The ladders sit at the 21km mark of the 100km epic that attracts elite runners from around the world and forms part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. The race director, Tom Landon-Smith, said nearly 5,000 TNF100 runners had tackled the ladders over the years and “it is one of those items that adds to the event being iconic”.
A metal plaque on the cliff remembers Tarr as “The Duke of Clear Hill”, but these days Lucas Trihey could well be described as the hill’s baron. The Blue Mountains-based adventurer is also an event safety expert who has overseen the installation of the temporary ladders each year since TNF100 began in 2008.
Trihey says, “I can see how it looks a bit radical”, but there has never been an incident at the ladders.
“Certainly some of the runners freak out a bit when standing at the top for the first time, but with advice from our safety crew and the knowledge that they have to do it they all manage okay.”
Trail running is booming and Trihey is also hosting the first Australian National Trail Running Conference in the Blue Mountains in the week leading up to TNF100. He reckons old timers like Tarr would also embrace the sport.
“I think he would love anything that got people out enjoying the bush,” Trihey said.
Wolter Peeters from The Sydney Morning Herald also inspected the construction of the temporary ladders last week and here’s a link to the cool video he made: