A trail weekend with a lot of (running) ups and downs
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At the risk of sounding like someone’s father (which I definitely am not), we’ve got it easy these days. Our lives have been engineered to be comfortable, pain free, and efficient. We live in a world where there’s little joy to be found in the ‘doing’ of tasks, when we can skip so easily ahead to the outcome or product instead. I’m not complaining, but there’s little debate that the shortcuts provided by the digital age have inadvertently robbed us of some of life’s simple joys.
There are however, some itches that can only be scratched the old fashioned way. One of those such itches is the need to escape from the city and feel the crisp mountain air in your lungs, and the crush of dirt and gravel under your feet. The roadtrip: a fantasy to some, a vital part of the equilibrium for others.
In the first of our 4-part series on escaping the grind with MINI, we headed to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days of trail running and unwinding. Best of all, we’ve laid out all the details here so you can do the same - a prescription of sorts.
Tim, Stu, Michaela, and myself leave the Sydney suburb of Rozelle and head west for Leura, a cracking little town in the heart of the action in the Blue Mountains. Depending on what time you manage to get in the car (i.e. how late your mates are, who forgot what, etc), it's about a 1.5 - 2 hour trip. If you don't have a car, the area is also accessible by train.
We chose to stay in Leura because the trails we wanted to run were all pretty central, and there's also a supermarket and a number of dining options in the town, but more on this later.
If you can swing it, get yourself a place with views overlooking the mountains - but if you can't, don't sweat it - there will be plenty of opportunities to soak in some views on your trip.
After an evening spent soaking up the balcony views and eating far too much pasta, we wake to a fresh and clear morning in Leura, the autumn sun providing just enough warmth while we enjoy coffee and Tim shows us the routes we’ll be taking today.
There are dozens of different trail options in the Blue Mountains and even more if you link different trails together. Most options are going to involve some climbing in and out of the valleys below, but there are several ridgeline options that are flatter, if that’s your thing.
After coffee, we hit the local supermarket for some trail essentials before going to our first trailhead.
GRAND CANYON LOOP (5.9KM)
The first trail on our list is the Grand Canyon Loop. It's an accurate representation of what running is like out here - you're either going down or up. The landscape goes from dense rainforest with very little natural light, to classic Australiana vibes, and back again in the space of a few steps. Either way, it's a stunning introduction to the area - you're basically hugging a creek for a lot of the run, with some serious canyon views, as well as waterfalls and even a couple of tunnels to run through.
"From rainforest to waterfalls, huge sandstone walls and rock overhangs, the Grand Canyon track has a little bit of everything."
This route ends with a spicy little climb to Evans Lookout - well over 1km of hiking, but on the whole this is a very runnable trail. As I gather my breath, which seems to take a while, I look over at Tim who is grinning ear to ear as he tells me why he likes this trail so much.
"Grand Canyon has it all. It's everything I love about the Blue Mountains condensed into 6km."
From here, it's a short drive back into town to grab some food - we chose the local chip shop, but there are plenty of other options.
CLIFF TOP TRACK (3KM)
Cliff Top is the perfect add-on from Grand Canyon; it's short at 3km, and relatively flat (well, maybe that's not entirely true, but it does have some great flat sections in it), and provides a huge contrast to Grand Canyon. While we admittedly went and got food in between, you could comfortably roll straight from one trail into the other (or you could get chips - both great options).
Cliff Top begins with a fast downhill section of Aussie bush, which is a lot drier than the damp forest floors, and provides a nice opportunity to stretch the legs following the hike up out of Grand Canyon.
As the name would suggest, the views from Cliff Top are spectacular, so while on paper this is a 3km run, allow plenty of time to soak up the views, particularly at Barrow Lookout.
"The beauty of the Blue Mountains is how quickly the landscape changes between native Australian bush to a thriving rainforest, and back again."
The best way back to the car is to run back the way you came, which will turn your day into 12 or 13 trail km's, which everyone knows are worth at least 1.5x road km's.
From here, you don't need to be a roadtrip veteran to know how to play the rest of the day. A hot shower, a refreshing ale, and swapping stories about what went right and who cooked it the most. There's also a fun game in guessing which muscles might be the most sore when you wake up tomorrow.
If you are staying in Leura there are a heap of good dinner options - we drove 5 minutes up the road to Leura Garage, where we ordered some take away pizza, and sat at the bar for a couple of beers while we waited. 11/10, would do again - the pizza was great and the restaurant/bar has a vibe, with local beers on tap.
We're all moving a little slower on the second morning, our tight calves the cause of endless laughter over breakfast. It's a touch warmer, with none of yesterday's drizzle or high winds, so the mood is good heading into a day with a lot of hiking.
"I was shocked to discover that my calves were no longer functioning when I went to get out of bed the next morning. Unfortunately for my calves, we still had the toughest day of running ahead of us." - Michaela McDonald.
GOVETTS LEAP TO PERRYS LOOKDOWN (10KM)
After yesterday, I probably shouldn't have been surprised at all the climbing in our route for today.
After a flat first km, you cop around 2.5km of stairs - a lot of it wet and not runnable, hiking being your only option. That's not to say it's not incredible, because it is.
After you finally make it onto the valley floor, you get to enjoy some beautiful rolling terrain in dense bush. At the end of this section we took a minor detour to Govetts Creek. It's as tranquil as anything you'll find in the Blue Mountains and definitely worth spending some time here. Instead of taking a hard left off Blue Gum Track onto Perrys, go right for about 100m, enjoy some creek vibes, and then get back on course.
The final 3km are brutal. There's no getting around it. The majority of it are steep stairs, with the occasional runnable terrain mixed in. There are some rewarding views to be had though - to hike with your head down and eyes only on your next step would be to miss out on some of the best the mountains has to offer (to be honest though, you'll need a break at some point on the way up - don't say I didn't warn you).
We finally make it to Perrys Lookdown and are rewarded with a pretty special spot to gather our breath and our thoughts. The final ascent takes a solid 45 minutes and has us all wishing we carried some water.
From here, it's back in the MINI and on the road to Sydney. Before that though, we stop in the town of Glenbrook for lunch at Cafe 2773. We spend the rest of the ride home talking about upcoming races (UTA is 2 weeks after this trip), favourite parts of the trails, and making loose plans for our next getaway.
TEMPO acknowledges the Darug and Gundungurra peoples as the Traditional Owners of the Blue Mountains lands, and pays its respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.