As we pulled over on the rocky and increasingly potholed road, I was careful to wedge the handbrake as high as possible. Delilah (our home for the weekend) had a tendency to roll forward unannounced and as we were parked at the edge of the blue mountains national park it was likely if that handbrake failed now, there wouldn’t be much left of her upon our return.
This was my second visit to Katoomba. The first, just days after arriving in Sydney, a very jetlagged and much chillier 18km loop to Ruined Castle, a hilltop that sits right in the middle of the blue mountains basin. It was only when sat, windswept taking in the views I noticed how much higher Mount Solitary sat, making a mental note to return in the future and see if the views could get any better.
Having spent the night before drinking beer, building firepits and playing guitar in a remote campsite off the aptly named ‘megalong road’ we washed down a coffee with breakfast, blasted through a quick game of chess ( I won) and pulled on our run gear for a brisk 16km out and back to the summit.
Dried dates, walnuts and water were the winning combination in the food pack. warm clothing also incase the weather turned. After a minute of running though it looked set to be a toasty one immediately stripping down to vest and shorts.
To get to Mount Solitary you have to traverse the base of the mountains. The golden stairway marked the start of the trail, a 200m descent which is fun to attack however I was very conscious we would have the climb it again in just a few hours time. The stunning views from Bottings Lookout showing the summit off in the distance.
As we reached the base we followed the old horse drawn coal tram route which was wide, flat and fast. Stretching our legs and upping the cadence, I completely forgot we needed to take caution as it was snake season (you’re not in England anymore…) This reality coming sooner than anticipated as we just missed a red bellied black snake slithering off into the bushes.
Taking a much more cautious approach, we met the foot of the climb in good time, passing day walkers heading off to Ruined Castle. After 2km of climbing windy trails the path became rockier and increasingly un-runnable. climbing up the rock faces, stretching limbs in to unnatural positions and leavering over boulders on Koorowall Knife Edge to reach Chinamans Gulley. The second highest point, with flat rock faces, colourful wildflowers and spring sunshine.
Seeing we were near the end we continued higher, soon becoming caked in soot as we scrambled past charcoal roots & trees, recently burnt to control bush fires. Reaching the summit was a small anticlimax in an otherwise breathtaking trail as the views are hidden by dense trees, a forest sat upon the ridge, but making for a fun trail to run along.
Feeling accomplished though we clambered back down to Chinaman’s Gulley to soak up more of the sunshine, taking wrong turns on every occasion and meeting sheer drops before deciding to retrace our steps and find safer alternatives
When you’re running along the trails you can easily forget to look up and appreciate the views (especially when looking out for unwanted wildlife) but what hits you is the depth of colour on the mountains. The clouds above casting different shades of blue over the vast sea of eucalyptus trees (supposedly the oil from these trees gives off the navy hue you see all around you) Also the sounds, or lack thereof. It’s a vast space and apart from the handful of walkers hundreds of metres below, you are very much alone in a vast wilderness stretching out over 100’s of kms.
Retracing the trail to the car and back up the golden steps, I felt totally satisfied with this mini adventure. I’m so used to running with a watch, getting sometimes too wrapped up with how quickly or how far I go. Running a trail like that completely removes you from all of that. It’s pure. Some km’s you knock out in 5mins, others take 20mins. It’s not about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey as a whole.
Luckily Delilah’s handbrake held strong and she was still in one piece as we made it back to the starting point. The desire to climb in the back and take a nap far greater than the 2 hour drive back to Sydney. In my opinion theres nothing more satisfying for the mind than a physically tired body. The drive home felt fleeting, singing along to 70s pop hits with the windows down as the sun set on another awesome weekend.
Mount Solitary is definitely achievable in a day. It’s not a run that would be easy for a novice. Steep steps, undulating underfoot with some pretty hairy rockfaces to descend. There is also a longer 34km loop for those that fancy going a little further on the feet that takes in the Kedumba river (to do next time…)
The great thing is it was totally free, including the campsite we stayed at the night before. (found here https://www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au) You can’t say that too much these days. Do remember to pack plenty of water though, you won’t find any drinking water along the way.
Geeky run stuff found here