Blue Mountains mtb rides
St Helena - Re-opened after bulldozing, Christmas 2009
This track is now fast, narrow firetrail with some singletrack extensions. As usual, bulldozing has increased the number and size of the sandtraps, but in August 2010 the track's mostly in very good condition (YouTube video - 6:23), and quite suitable for hardtails. Confident beginners would probably enjoy a ride to the lookouts and back, but should still avoid the Glenbrook extension. I find I have to walk a few of the hills, mainly on my way back from the lookouts to Woodford.
These days I do this ride as an out and back - Woodford to both lookouts and back. This gives a good 30 km of trail to enjoy. You can still get through to Glenbrook, but as NPWS advise we shouldn't ride the section from the big chute to creek, I treat this as an occasional extension.
The track was bulldozed so NPWS could work in St Helena Crater - there's still weed spraying happening, and there's recent evidence of maintenance vehicles on the firetrail. Most of the singletrack is gone, and is now narrow firetrail, although the downhills have plenty of waterbars inviting airtime. So, there are plusses and minuses to the work.
Plus - the track is open and you can hoot down the downhills, enjoying the waterbars, and the singletracks to Glenbrook and the lookouts remain. No more stopping to remove fallen trees.
Minus - almost all of that sweet singletrack has been lost, and it will be many years without grading before it returns. Some sections that used to be nice hardpack are now sandy and loose. The new track is nowhere near as technical - but beginners would see that as a plus. Beginners will get a shock when they go from firetrail to overgrown singletrack on their way to the lookout...
Turning off the main Oaks track about six kms from the station, the track heads to St Helena Crater, Bunyan Lookout and Lost World Lookout. The Glenbrook extension returns to civilisation near Glenbrook railway station. On your ride you'll find some good lookouts, some singletrack, some fast firetrail, deep sand traps, steep downhills, some slow, heavily overgrown singletrack, and, if you do the extension, some walking for all. Yep, all - because we're not allowed to ride between the chute and the Duckhole. And then there's the climb/carry out.
Eye protection is strongly recommended - the singletrack is very overgrown and there are lots of dead sticks poking out at eye level.
Here's a kml file of the round trip from Woodford to Bunyan and Lost World lookouts. You'll need Google Earth to view. Here's my trace on Garmin's site.
Catch the train to Woodford station and go to the high side carpark - not the highway side. Head back towards Sydney along Railway Parade, until it ends in a "T" intersection (about 300 metres from the station). Turn right here into the Appian Way, then left into Parker Street after about 100 metres, and left into Taylor Road at the "T" intersection (after about 80 metres). After another 50 metres, you'll see a dirt road off to the right, with a locked gate. There are signs here to identify the National Park. This firetrail is The Oaks, a very popular route to Glenbrook. Follow The Oaks firetrail.
Don't forget to look for the aboriginal carving of concentric circles (circles.jpg) at the top of the first really big hill on The Oaks track. The Circles are visible without leaving the track. National Parks have pushed boulders between the rock shelf and track to keep people off. KEEP OFF!! sheesh... Shortly after passing The Circles, and about six kms from the station, you'll see an obvious, signposted firetrail off to the left. This is the start of the St Helena track.
Over a few small waterbars, round the deep sandy corner and down you go, down the first of many downhill stretches, and it's not long till the biggest uphill on the way to the lookouts. Once at the top, you can breathe easy, knowing that most of the track from here to the lookouts is flat or downhill. Just look at that elevation chart... Of course, that means it's flat or uphill all the way back. That said, and although I find it hard work and walk a bit, the return trip isn't that bad. More of a slow grind than a killer.
After around 11 kilometres of downhills with waterbars, fast flats, and occasional sand traps, you'll come to a bit of a clearing where the track heads hard left. You might notice a singletrack heading straight ahead, and some rocks for sitting on to your right. This is the old fork, an ideal place to wait for friends and to decide if you want to do the lookouts or not. The left hand fork (main firetrail) goes to Bunyan and Lost World Lookouts, as well as St Helena itself. The right hand fork (singletrack, slightly veers right) leads to Glenbrook via the Duckhole. This track looks insignificant compared to the main firetrail.
NOTE: NPWS have advised that the legally rideable area of the track to the Duckhole ends at the chute marking the descent to the creek. Walking only allowed. If you want to keep riding, turn around here and return the way you came to the main firetrail - turn left for Glenbrook, or right to go back to Woodford.
I'd do the lookouts. It's a rare St Helena ride when I choose not to ride to the lookouts - I think they're well worth the eight km out and back. The main track now goes goes steeply down into St Helena crater, an eroded volcanic vent and site of a former farm, after heading left at the fork.
The track to the lookouts, which used to be the main track, now appears as an insignificant sidetrack to the right, starting at the top of the descent into St Helena, and about 12 kilometres from the station.
This section is very overgrown, with lots of face slapping and scratching branches. A posted track to the left goes to Lost World Lookout, while the main track leads to Bunyan Lookout. I usually arrive at the lookouts itchy and covered in small scratches (and a bit of blood). Both lookouts have great views across Glenbrook Creek to the backs of Springwood and Valley Heights, and to the city in the distance.
While it's possible to walk out to Springwood from Bunyan Lookout via Martin's Lookout, don't. It's an absolute shocker of a climb down, and a mongrel going back up with your bike on your shoulder. Definitely not recommended - we were overtaken by walkers going down - we were too slow carrying the bikes...
I normally turn around at the lookouts and backtrack my way to Woodford.
|That's Glenbrook Creek down there - it's a long way down - and back up!||Although the photo is too small to tell, on a clear day you can see Sydney easily from the lookouts - the Harbour Bridge and Centrepoint Tower are clearly identifiable, as are other landmarks|
The right fork to the Duckhole is more of the same - fun and often overgrown singletrack, until the final descent to Glenbrook Creek, marked by a steep chute. From here on, it's walking only. As stated above, riding is not allowed after the chute.
|When you reach the creek, turn left and head towards a large sandy beach - watch out for where dickheads have smashed bottles - and cross over the shallow end of the Duckhole. Alternatively, if you turn right when you reach the creek, it's only 50 metres till you can scramble over some rocks and trees for a dry crossing. Head left (upstream) when you are across and you'll end up back at the wet crossing. You win some you lose some, because this side of the creek is much more overgrown.|
Water from the Duckhole used to be pumped out to Glenbrook to provide water for the railways and in droughts. A pumping station used to exist on the eastern bank of the creek, and the track out follows the path of the old coal chute and coal supply track. Some remains of this system can still be seen, and there's still the odd lump of coal lying by the track.
The climb out heads basically straight up from the Duckhole, and starts out unrideable. Soon the track zigs and zags with some short rideable sections until finally reaching the top and more singletrack. Expect to push most of the way. Take this track to the railway line.
CityRail have increased the fencing on the creek side of the railway line, so it's a bit trickier to get out these days. Now, turn right just before the railway crossing, and descend steeply back into a gully (not back the way you've gone, the turn veers right just before the drop to the old rail crossing). Watch out for the logs across the track at the bottom of the hill. Then it's a short, steep, very overgrown climb until you meet a cross track. Here, I go right, until I come up almost in someone's back yard. I think you can go straight up without getting into their yard, but I prefer to follow a track to the right about 50 m, then turn left, and left again, which takes me back to the road outside the original house, and keeps me well out of their yard. Follow this road until you can turn left over the railway line bridge, then turn right to head to the station.
By now you should be tired, but with a big grin on your face!
Elevation chart - Woodford station to Bunyan and Lost Word Lookouts (one way)
Recommended - this
four Fat Hippies, despite the grading
All rides are now rated in Fat Hippies - one means grab a slice of pizza and stay on the beanbag, two means not bad, three means well worth a ride, four is a great ride and five means stop looking at your computer, go ride it!
|Distance||~30 km Woodford to lookouts and back, ~28 km Woodford station to Glenbrook station, including lookouts, ~20 without going to lookouts, but that's just silly|
|Type||Narrow firetrail and singletrack|
|Difficulty||Medium/Hard - some walking, some very overgrown. Not suited to new riders. Helmet and protective glasses strongly recommended - lots of low branches and overgrowth on the singletrack to the lookouts. Surface often loose. Quite a bit of deep sand. Some very technical sections in the Glenbrook extension.|
|Time||Varies - from a couple of hours to all day|
|Trains||Woodford, Blaxland, Glenbrook - timetable|
|Interest||History of Blue Labyrinth area, views|
|See also...||Anderson's fire trail, Murphy's Glen, Ingar, The Oaks|
CMA Penrith 9030-3-N - 1:25000
(most of ride)
another fAt hIpPy production