Sunday, October 23, 2011

Running the north side - a Blue Mountains adventure

The Blue Mountains has long been a haven for crazy climbers, wild canyoneers, and trail runners with mountain goat willpower. The distinctive plateaus that drop off into alluring canyons and gorges make for a playground tempting to any adventure seeker. I had run the trails to the south of Leura and Katoomba many times in preparation for The North Face 100km trail race, but knew little of what lay in the wilderness of the north side. Luckily, what are friends for, if not to take you on grand adventures that involve stunning views, good weather, and in my case, running rugged single track trails through the northern Blue Mountains? Thanks to my guide, local mountains resident Mick (and gun trail runner), I had an amazing 2 days of running and adventuring!

Day 1: 
Trail: Lockley Pylon Track and down into the Grose Valley to Blue Gum Forest
(Wild walks has awesome information on trail access here)
We ran this 8km trail as an out-and-back, starting from Mt Hay Rd and turning around in the Blue Gum Forest. It was challenging and offered great training on rolling terrain the transitioned into some steeper, steady climbs up out to Du Faur head and again out of the Grose Valley. Carrying sufficient water is a must, as the trail is open and exposed most of the way down into the valley.

Beautiful rolling terrain running across open plains with views across to the northern cliffs:

In the Grose Valley, Mick attempting to cross a small stream on a fallen Blue Gum:

Running through Blue Gum Forest:

Looking up to Du Faur Head (776m) where we will eventually climb to:

Day 2:
Trail: The Grand Canyon via the Cliff Top trail.
This is just an awesome circuit that left me feeling so inspired to keep running and exploring! The views are grand as you run on the Cliff Top Trail that follows the contours of the plateau, before you drop down and enter the Grand Canyon. Repairs have been done to the stairs winding down into lush rainforest, making for a fast, heart-stopping descent into a green paradise. Running through the canyon takes you up onto a winding trail that runs along the side of the cliffs, sometimes taking you through small waterfalls. The trail out of the canyon again challenges the legs and heart and makes for some solid training.

The views from the Cliff Top trail into the Grose Valley:

Running in the Grand Canyon:

Crossing a stream running through the canyon:

Looking up from the canyon at a crack of sky:

The trail running along the side of the canyon:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sunrise on Barn Bluff (Cradle Mt National Park, TAS)

A 4am wake up, a freezing cold morning, a bright headlamp, a pristine wilderness awaiting.

Pre-dawn in the Cradle Mountain National Park may as well be pre-historic. It is a time when you forget where you came from and become completely immersed in the moment. Nothing exists outside of the timewarp created by the perfect roundness of the headlamp.
I am hiking with a group of crazy Tasmanians, and we are freestyling through the bush in an attempt to take the most direct route and to beat the sun to the summit. In the darkness, our hike to the base of Barn Bluff is instinctual and sensory. We skirt around the spikes of the Scoparia bushes that claw at my lower legs and arms and maneuver over, under and around the fallen branches of the ghostly Snow Gums.
When we reach the base of Barn Bluff we hike counter clockwise over strewn boulders, broken off from the mountain due to the lethal forces of water and freezing temperatures. The path leading up the side of the mountain is marked by cairns (piles of stones). It is relatively non-technical and requires only the occasional use of both hands to assist in scrambling between the rocks. The higher we climb, the louder the crunch of frost, ice and snow becomes underfoot.
We arrive on the summit (1559 m) with 15 minutes to spare. The crescent moon is glowing, lit from beneath by the approaching sun. Trail mix (called scroggin by the locals), muesli bars and chocolate is passed around. I am wearing a down jacket and my hands are tucked in my armpits, trying to stave off the approaching pain of frozen digits.
Then the sun rises.

Lake Will:

The solitary peak of Cradle Mountain:

Sunrise touching the frosted summit of Barn Bluff:

A hurried descent to warmer grounds below, Cradle Mt in the distance:

The dolerite columns of Barn Bluff facing into the sun:

A forest of Eucalypts:

Barn Bluff as seen from the Overland Track:
The summit of Barn Bluff would make for a wonderful out and back trail run with all personality of an epic course: lovely single track trail, occasional well-developed board walks, technical sections to test footing and agility, some alp-like ascending and descending and of course a mountain summit! For more information see the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trail running in the Glenrock State Conservation Area

As a trail trail runner having had the good fortune to live in a town surrounded by world-class mountain bike trails, I know that where there are MTB trails, there will be single-track heaven!

Having recently moved back to Australia, I have been itching for some technical, rolling, mind-engaging single-track trails close to Sydney. Of course many people already know the Blue Mountains as a haven for the trail-inclined runner, but I was searching for other pockets that would offer something new.

I discovered the Glenrock State Conservation Area by accident, but the trails that have been developed there by the Glenrock Trail Alliance (an awesome group creating a real community in the sport of MTBing) provide trail runners with a great area for running and training. The variety of trails vary from technical, muddy, rocky, graded, rolling, to steep, and interconnect to give runners the opportunity to create different runs that vary in time, distance and difficulty. This pocket of bushland sits right next to the coast, just south of Mereweather, Newcastle (about 1.5 hours from Sydney) and would be a fantastic weekend day trip for running and post-adventure swimming.

My friend Mick Donges helping to test run the trails:

Views from the Yuelarbah Trail (part of the GNW) that links up with the rest of the trails:

(Yes ladies, I am wearing a Lululemon Skort and damn proud of it! Thanks to the Bondi store I had a real mud-flap for my bum through some of those muddy sections).

Trail running on the GNW (Girrakool - Patonga)

When I found out that a certain crazy Canadian lady, Leslie Gerein, was heading south to Australia to visit, I had to take her out on a trail run! I had been resting and recovering post-UTMB, and was looking forward to getting out for a 25km stretch of the legs.

Leslie hails from Banff and is known by all the locals as "that crazy mountain runner woman." This title is no exageration - photos abound of Leslie trail running in pink underpants on the snow-covered trails of the Canadian Rockies! What a woman!

I decided that we would explore a section of the Great North Walk (GNW), a 160mi trail that runs from Sydney to Newcastle. We started at the Girrakool trailhead, about 10km from Gosford (the trailhead starts behind the Girrakool picnic area, marked with a sign for the "Piles Creek Loop Track"). The beauty about this run is that you immediately feel like you are in the middle of Aussie wilderness. For most of the run you are on open sandstone platforms that give unobstructed views out across the Brisbane Waters National Park. The trail also takes you through lovely Eucalypt forests, across fresh streams, past a must-swim-in waterhole complete with it's own waterfall and gives plenty of opportunities for "bonus trips": little side trips that add extra mileage but take you to amazing places, like the top of Mt Wondabyne.

Hopping across a lovely little stream (great opportunity to have a drink on a hot day):

Awesome sandstone cave along the track:

Dried-up river crossing:

Running across one of the open sandstone platforms:

Leslie: "I'm going in."
Me: "In your running clothes? What about your shoes."
Leslie: "I'm going in like this. I'm Canadian, my feet are used to getting wet from rain and snow."

This run is awesome if you want a great run in the bush on a mixture of technical single track, open stretches on rocky platforms and wide fire trail. The scenery shows the magic that happens when bush meets ocean, and leaves you as a runner sweaty but so happy to be out on trails and not mid-city road. In the words of Leslie: "I'm in Australia, I'm in Australia!"

There is plenty of information about this trail on the Wild Walks website, found here.

On the top of Mt. Wondabyne:

Leslie descending the mountain:

Reaching the coast, behind is the Hawksbury River is meeting the Tasman Sea:

Patonga Beach - the end of the trail: