Ultra-Trail Australia’s calm before the storm

In nasty conditions it is one of the toughest jobs in the Blue Mountains, but under perfect autumn skies the team of roping experts started the annual ritual of constructing the ladder at the end of Narrow Neck today for Saturday’s Ultra-Trail Australia  (UTA) 100km race.

The legendary Tarros Ladder is normally just a series of primitive metal spikes and rungs in a cliff face to help bushwalkers climb safely between the Narrow Neck plateau and the Megalong Valley below, but to help keep about 1500 runners safe, a much more substantial temporary ladder is installed by the UTA team.

And even in the most beautiful weather it’s hard work lugging Sherpa-like the vast amount of gear needed (including a kilometre of rope) down the rough track at the end of the Narrow Neck fire trail and then assembling it on the cliff-face.

The work is done each year by employees of Blue Mountains company Event Safety Services, owned by renowned local adventurer Lucas Trihey. ESS also provides UTA’s vital first aid services.

There is still smoke haze in the Jamison Valley today as a result of the Mount Solitary bushfire hazard reduction burn that was started so spectacularly last week.

Given the dry and calm weather, it is possible the smoke haze could continue throughout the weekend and pose an additional challenge for runners.

Some tracks used in UTA such as Narrow Neck were still closed to bushwalkers today due to the ongoing hazard reduction associated with the Mount Solitary fire.

Most cliff-top tracks around the Jamison, however, have reopened and some runners were out and about today [May 17] training on sections of the UTA courses for the 22km, 50km and 100km races.

The UTA22 starts tomorrow [May 18] near the old Queen Victoria Hospital in Wentworth Falls at 10am, with elite runners expected at the Scenic World finish line in Katoomba about 11.40am. The UTA951 time trial up the Furber Steps also starts tomorrow afternoon.

The 50km and 100km races both start early Saturday morning at Scenic World and the last runners in the 100km race won’t finish at Scenic World until Sunday morning.

There are some road closures as part of the event and bushwalkers are warned there will be a lot of traffic on tracks such as the Prince Henry Clifftop Walk, the Six Foot Track, Narrow Neck, the Furber Steps, Federal Pass and Golden Stairs.

What would Walter “Tarro” Tarr (1879-1969) think of what becomes of his usually lonely bush ladder near Katoomba at this time each year?

Popular trail running events like UTA were still many decades away when the pioneering Blue Mountains bushwalker 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 the basic metal spikes and rungs now known as Tarros Ladder.

As Trihey told The Sydney Morning Herald a few years ago: “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 reckoned old timers like Tarr would also embrace the sport. “I think he would love anything that got people out enjoying the bush.”