Getting away for a mid week training run when everyone else is stuck in the office always makes for an enjoyable adventure. What made this adventure all the more exciting was the fact that we chose to do the infamous Mount Solitary loop in the Blue Mountains. Joining the usual suspects were a couple of first timers who were yet to experience the great fire trail, spectacular views, brutal climbs, creek crossings and great technical running. This run has it all squeezed into 45kms of trail running heaven.
The forecast all week had been building to a severe weather warning hitting us just as we were to depart and getting worse throughout the day. Well the weather gods didn’t disappoint with heavy rain and cold strong winds greeting us as we arrived at the old disused Queen Victoria Hospital. 6 of us departed with the first 5 km a solid downhill warm up on open fire trail and then a sharp left turn off the trail onto some great single track which requires a decent amount of concentration as tree roots and loose rocks are waiting to catch you out. This descent was perfect for those wearing more gnarly treads and I decided that today was the perfect day for my Inov8 x-Talon 190’s to get a dusting off.
Concerns that the river crossing at the bottom of the first drop might be difficult to navigate due to the heavy overnight rains were soon put to bed as it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Wet feet and a couple of toilet breaks then led us to the start of the first major climb of the day. Here the track is a single easy going footpad for the first 1km at 170m above sea-level before it starts to wind up to the top of the East Col of Mount Solitary getting steeper and more rugged with every metre ascended to a final height of 987m ASL. This climb is often used by members of Ultra168 and our training buddies to get a good gauge of where our fitness is at and I was keen to get up as quickly as possible. I had Ewan Horsburgh up front setting the pace and asked him to shout out a cooee upon reaching the log book at the summit so I could get a split off him. Well he made it in 1 hour and 20 minutes with me following 2 minutes and 45 seconds later. The rest of the group took a further 10-15 minutes to be rewarded with one of the finest views to be found anywhere in the state. Unfortunately the weather had continued to be cruel and so the views were interspersed with low cloud, driving rain and a building wind.
A quick signing of the book and a check in on Facebook and Ewan and I took off to make the traverse of Solitary as swift as possible to avoid the rough weather. The progress across the top is a series of 4 up and down humps over a distance of 4km with the trail being difficult to navigate and move quickly due to foliage encroaching on the path and a series of routes to choose. The great thing about this mountain are the views back across the Jamison Valley towards Leura, Katoomba and the 3 Sisters.
We made light work of the descent off the West Front of Solitary and then entered what is often considered some of the finest trail conditions to be found anywhere. The trail is soft underfoot with a great build up of leaf matter and tree life to resemble a scene from Jurassic Park. The next 5km was soon knocked over before we entered the technically challenging and shin bone shattering Landslide. This is where Ewan was left with a pretty nasty reminder of how rock is harder than bone. A brief flirt with civilisation at the Scenic Railway station and then it was the tough staircase climb up the Furber steps to Katoomba Oval for our first ad hoc aid station (Ewan had left us some Coke and lollies). This climb is a mixture of metal stairs, wooden steps and stone cut staircases with amazing waterfalls and huge trees. Ewan set the challenge to run the whole climb and with 2 hrs 45 minutes of healthy running in the legs was always going to result in blown quads and high heart rates. The climb didn’t disappoint and we made the summit in 3 hours for a well deserved swig of coke and snakes. Ewan departed at this point after his pacemaking duties to go sit at his desk happy to have bagged Solitary one more time.
Whilst we waited for the others to catch up we had small drama as the high winds brought a tree down onto the power lines resulting in a series of very dramatic explosions as tree and electricity played together. A triple 0 call and 11 minute response time by the fire brigade saw the fire brought under control and live powelines made safe. After a further 20 minute wait the rest of the group hit the top, refuelled and we returned down the staircase to run under the iconic 3 sisters and the massive descent into the Jamison Valley. This running is so much fun as the trail is cruisy with plenty of waterfalls and creek crossings to keep us amused.
Hitting the old water board fire trail saw the sun come out for the first time and the pace quickened as we wiped off a further 700m of elevation to the bottom of Kedumba. A couple of us decided to open up a bit here and we were hitting 3.50mim/km’s for the next 4 kms. A brief hailstorm and some refuelling after crossing the river saw us make the tough climb up the Kedumba walls. This climb, whilst not as steep or technical as the Solitary ascent, still has enough to keep you honest, especially after 5 hours of running and 40kms in the legs. Again this climb out of the valley is another favourite of the Ultra168 boys with numerous down and backs completed over the last few years when building up to runs such add WS100 and Northburn 100. A couple of stops for a few final views of Mt Solitary and a review of the days efforts saw us put the hammer down for the last 2km undulating fire trail back to the car.
All up, everyone completed the 45km loop intact, happy with the days efforts, a few minor scrapes, 3400m of climbing, some awesome memories and the pleasure of trail running mid week with mates.
We look forward to returning to this run again soon and will definitely have a few Ultra168 boys returning to compete in the Running Wild Solitary Ultra race in 2012.