Bushwalking / Pass finding

Nattai: Russells Needle via the Slott Way

Party: Christian Wilson, Michael Kennedy, Michael Arrell and Tim Vollmer — Christian’s photos | T2’s photos

– Trip report by Christian Wilson:

Russells Needle. Google it and you don’t find too much info: a Sydney University Bushwalkers page from a trip there in 2001 (they didn’t actually climb the Needle on that trip), a few entries from bushwalking clubs, and mentions of it in Dave Noble’s blog. But not much else.

It is a spectacular tower of sandstone that sits in the Nattai Valley and has caught my interest ever since I saw it way down the valley on a walk near Mittagong.

Looking up the Nattai just before the Slott Way track drops into the valley

Looking up the Nattai just before the Slott Way track drops into the valley (photo Christian Wilson)

Recently I led a trip to explore a fairly new route that makes it possible to visit Russells Needle on a long day trip, named the Slott Way. This gave our party of four a good time advantage to do the 18km round trip in a day.

The trail leads off the more popular Starlights Trail near Hilltop. Slott Way runs off the trail out to Ahearn Head which Tim suggested might be fun to do on the way out. Well it seemed like a good idea at 9.30am… The day proved to be so long however, that we had no chance of doing that as well, after our 10 hour return trip!


First glimpse of the impressive rock pinnacle (photo Christian Wilson)

Although the whole route is vague and virtually non existent in places, we found navigation to be fairly straightforward.

The thick scrub sometimes produced a few curses, but since the area is wild and quite spectacular, everyone was in good spirits for the day.

The trail followed a small gully that opens out to a superb lookout over the valley. It then dropped about 300m down to the valley floor and crossed the Nattai River, which was very pretty with birdsong and tall trees.

The track joins the Nattai River at a very pretty section

The track joins the Nattai River at a very pretty section (photo Christian Wilson)

The trail became very confusing after that, with sporadic markers pretty much anywhere, trails that petered out and then prickly scrub to test our resolve.

A few kilometres later and we could see the ridge line leading to the Needle.


The steep slog up the ridge towards Russells Needle (photo Christian Wilson)

A very steep ascent up the 450m Needle soon brought us to the base of the cliffs, some cairns indicating the way. We found a good spot about 50 m under the summit for a late lunch break with commanding views all around.

As it was about 2.30pm, I was worried that it might be too late to find a way up to the tricky looking summit. Tim and Michael Arrell thought otherwise and proved me wrong. 15 minutes later they were waving from the top.

T2 on a rocky outcrop as we climbed up the ridge

T2 on a rocky outcrop as we climbed up the ridge (photo Christian Wilson)

This fired me up to have a go, and Michael (a seasoned climber) helped show me the route they had found. It was far from easy, with a few very exposed and scary sections.

A false move here would either hurt a lot or could be fatal… in my opinion anyway. Nothing like a bit of fear to give you focus!


Chris and Mike on the trickiest part of the scramble up

The view from the top and feeling of achieving the summit were well worth it.

Getting down was even scarier than going up though, the drop off looked very daunting.


The view from the summit! (photo Christian Wilson)

After reaching the river again, we found it simpler walking close to the river where it was clearer, maybe because of the flooding that happens there.

By 4.30pm we were back at the Nattai River crossing and started up the steep exit climb. Michael Kennedy surprised us all by sprinting up the steep track at one point, perhaps he had eaten one too many jelly snakes?

The sun set on us as we gained the firetrails on the tops, and were back at the cars by 7pm after a pleasant hour of starlight walking (on Starlights Trail!).


Mike and Chris on top of the world

I think we were all feeling pretty tired by then!

Thanks Tim, Michael A and Michael K, for a great day out and another summit in the bag.

There is plenty of scope for walking in the Nattai, you just have to do some homework first. Even on Google…


T2 helping mini-Mike up onto the summit


Mike on the slightly lower half of the pinnacle


And the very summit of Russells Needle


Looking south along the rocky spine that also allows access to the pinnacle


T2 standing near where we’d almost given up on our ascent


Scrambling close to the top of Russells Needle (photo Christian Wilson)


The ridge drops steeply away on both sides


There’s no way up the north face (without ropes!)


Narrow rocky ridge just north of the summit


Late afternoon sun on Russells Needle as we were walking out (photo Christian Wilson)


8 thoughts on “Nattai: Russells Needle via the Slott Way

  1. Even back in 1988, access was not allowed along the ‘direct’ fire trail to the Needle from Wombyan Caves Rd, so the late Ken Hogben sussed out an alternative way in from the south for his Suthwerland BWC walk on 17/7/88, on which I participated.
    I don’t have a Mittagong toppo, but I’m fairly sure we turned off the Caves road at Spring Hill Rd which turned into a fire trail which ran all the way out to Hilltop 1st Ed 6035,953 ie. above the Jellore Ck / Nattai junction. Stopped a km or two from the end, but as it was a round trip it didn’t matter. Ordinary cars took a bit of a pounding, but as they were company owned the drivers didn’t care.
    Straight forward down to the junction, and fairly easy going down the Nattai to about 603,972, then due west up onto the ridge. Not technically difficult, but there were a lot of loose rocks. I don’t remember the 500m or so north to end, while being spectacular, as being much of a problem either.
    We then headed back south along the ‘direct’ fire trail to about 587,9505 and turned sw down an unmapped trail. At the end of this there was a small house being built form local bush rock. With a bit of mucking about we broke through the cliffline and down to Jellore Ck at 595,944. Initially followed the minor creek opposite, and then the spur south then east up to the entry road.
    25 years on, I don’t have a clue whether there is still public access along Spring Hill Rd or what is the condition of the fire trail. Probably should take the Prado out for a spin.
    One interesting thing I’ve been told is that Russells Needle used to be more needle-like (hence the name) , and a lot harder to get on top of, back in the 1960s. Apparently the top “several” metres fell off!

    • Thanks for that Graeme. Amazing info as always. I’d be interested to hear what that access is like when someone gets a chance to try it. From what I hear there are still some access issues with local landholders on that side, so you’re route may still be the best one (presuming the roads are still passable).
      And I’m not surprised about the story about the top falling off. There’s plenty of precariously balanced rock out on that ridge!

    • Wow thanks for the info! I have been to mt jellore from those fire trails but not all the way to the ridge line near the river. The top has a big crack in it so perhaps more is due to collapse!

  2. Ah, memories. I remember hauling ass straight up from the Nattai on its northern side, through the lawyer vine, then 2 steps up, 1 slide back to eventually scramble to the top. Amazing spot. Tell me, is there still a bull ants nest at the top?

    • We went up slightly on south of the main ridge, which was a really nice route. Coming back down we followed the ridge and it was definitely scrubbier and spikier.
      As for the bull ants up top, we didn’t see or feel them, so maybe they’ve moved on. Or we were just too busy looking at the views to notice (and somehow escaped any bites). It is a stunning spot. I’m surprised it doesn’t get visited more often!

  3. I’ve spoken to FJB who has been there a few times and placed a visitors book there on 4/10/71. This has also helped jog my memory a bit. Russells Needle seems very much a ‘Work In Progress’. My best guess of the sequence of events is:-

    In the 60s and at least up to 17/7/72 it was higher, but reasonably easy and safe to get right on top. The top and a large slice then came off making access to a smaller highest point difficult. I now remember that when I was there in 1988 we stopped short of the absolute top because it would have involved a short verticle climb up very unstable rock. Any attempt to get up would likely have brought it down on top of us.

    It would appear that there was a further collapse sometime between then and ????, (when were you up there Caro?) which took more off the top and removed the loose rock. Your photo taken from the north and a similar one on Flickr from 2006 did not ring a bell, something I previously put down to poor memory. I suspect that the relatively recent comment made to me about it previously being more difficult may have actually referred to the ‘intermediate’ configuration.

    FJB also suggested that the area was more prone to earthquakes than Sydney, which prompted a bit more research. Records of the twelve major quakes in NSW since 1930 show a 5.5 centred on Picton at 5:09am on 10/3/73. (This one actually woke me up in Sydney – I went outside and saw the water still sloshing around in our pool.) Wouldn’t surprise me at all if this had done some sculpturing.

    • Very interesting. It’d be great to track down some photos of the peak in those two previous configurations.
      The western side is incredibly shear, and even now part of the summit is overhung and cracked, so perhaps another fall will happen.
      You’re also spot on about the seismic stuff. I know the Yerranderie area is a bit of a hotspot for earthquakes. I think there have been at least two quakes over 5 in that area in the last 50 or 60 years.

      • I can vouch for earthquakes around there. I was with the UTS Caving Club (UTSSS) deep in Mammoth Cave at Jenolan around 2006? ..when the whole cave rumbled. Bits of rock fell down around us. We were OK but later looked up a Geo web site and saw a 3.8 tremor recorded at Mittagong…

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