Katoomba to Albion Park: A Dirty Long Weekend
Posted on October 08 2017
We've been running a Lithgow to Mittagong trip on the October long weekend for a couple of years now, but this year we realised there was trackwork from Katoomba to Lithgow. No worries, we thought, we'll just start at Katoomba and ride on down the highway, but then someone suggested we take the Six Foot Track instead...
The Six Foot Track is a popular 2-3 day hiking route, from Blackheath to Jenolan Caves. As a bushwalk it's fairly unimpressive, with long sections of broad fire trail. However, it turns out that on the right bike, it makes for a pretty great cycling route!
At the other end, we'd had problems with trying to fit bikes onto the two-carriage diesel trains that connect Mittagong to the city network. Well, we thought, why not extend the ride to Wollongong? Problem solved... right?
There were about 20 of us assembled at Katoomba Station, bright and early on Saturday morning. Our route took us along the gravel shared path (parallel to the highway) that runs from the Explorers Tree to Blackheath - sections are in pretty poor condition, and this gave those with skinny tyres an inkling of what lay ahead.
We turned down into the Megalong Valley and enjoyed the blissful descent through the rainforest, and then cruised along the flattish road for a while until turning off onto the Six Foot Track. Almost immediately we were lifting our bikes over stiles, and we had a couple of riders turn back when it became clear that pre-existing injuries would make the rest of the trip extremely painful. That's ok, they had their own adventure elsewhere!
As the trail became narrower and the open fields turned into bush, the people with fat tyres and mountain-biking skills had a ball riding down the track, while those on other bikes got off and pushed.
We forded the Coxs River and set off up the long, winding dirt hill - climbing over 1000 vertical metres to Jenolan Caves Road. This was a punishing climb but through some very beautiful countryside.
About half the group decided to camp at the Black Range Campground, at the top of the hill. The rest of us pushed on down into Jenolan Caves, stocked up at the kiosk, and continued up the brutal hill on the other side to camp on Kanangra Walls Road.
Day 2 saw us riding through pine plantations and then onto the Colong-Oberon stock route, which has to be one of the smoothest dirt roads around. We stopped for lunch at the Mt Werong hut, then enjoyed the frequent undulations of the Range Fire Trail (well, we enjoyed the downhills).
Half a dozen of us arrived at Wombeyan Caves just in time for the last cave tour of the day, through Wollondilly Cave. It's great to enjoy the beautiful places you visit on bike touring, and it gives you a good reason to ride that little bit faster so you have more time to explore.
The climb out of Wombeyan Caves was a nice warm-up for our last day of riding, followed by the spectacular descent down to the Wollondilly River. We chugged up the other side and then flew on the tarmac back to Mittagong. We indulged our urges with burgers, pide and soft drink, and caroused in the local park. A couple of riders decided to get on the trail from Mittagong, and the rest of us continued towards Wollongong. It was largely beautiful riding, with some unwelcome hills sprinkled in (as well as an unwelcome tubeless flat - next time we'll bring tubeless plugs and the right applicator).
We soared down Macquarie Pass at great speed, whooping and hollering through the hairpin bends - it seemed to never end! At the bottom of the hill we realised how soon the next train left from Albion Park (we'd planned to ride to Wollongong, but at the end of 3 days of riding, shaving off 10km was tempting). We'd need to make 8km in 17 minutes - was it possible? We put our heads down and time-trialled into a devilish headwind, counting down the kilometres and minutes as they passed. Chris missed a crucial turn-off and half the group madly pedalled across a park to regain the route.
It seemed all for naught when we reached the final traffic light across from the station - it was red, and a neverending stream of cars blocked our passage. We groaned as the train pulled into view, stopped, and then opened its doors - but wait, the lights were orange! We readied ourselves, and then sprinted across the intersection. "Wait for us!" yelled Chris as he cornered too quickly and slammed his front wheel into the side of the ramp, earning his second tubeless flat of the day. The guard must have heard us because we scampered onto the train and collapsed in a heap of bikes and bodies as the doors were closing.
Woah... what a ride. 3 days, 300km, 5500m of climbing, exhausting! But, as always, an excellent bunch of people and a beautiful ride.
Keen to do the ride yourself? Head on over to our Lithgow to Mittagong ride page and scroll to the bottom for the link to the GPX file.