Riding The Lower Thredbo Valley Track: The MTB Missing Link
“I have busted her!” I think to myself as I glance to where my riding buddy Lauren lies covered in dust on the ground, but staring up at the sky with a big grin on her face. Maybe I should have read the fine print, or checked the gradient map of the trail, or better yet, believed the experienced looking mountain biker in the car park who wasn’t yet ready to tackle the challenge of the Lower Thredbo Valley Track (TVT), the latest MTB extravaganza that runs through parts of Kosciuszko National Park. A quick glance at the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) website might have offered a hint; “recommended for physically fit, self-sufficient and experienced riders only.”
Maybe I should have spent last night researching. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent a night immersed in the luxury of NPWS-managed Creel Bay Cottages. From the air-conditioned comfort of a spacious living room, I watched eastern grey kangaroos and Bennett’s wallabies bound in front of a deep blue Lake Jindabyne. Such a retreat is a place for relaxing, or cooking up a storm on a weekend escape, or sitting fireside and sinking a Kiandra Golden Ale with a group of mates post ride. It’s certainly not a place to stare at a screen doing ‘research’.
I reassured Loz that her sole singletrack experience, coupled with a few firetrail rides and her regular workout regime, would more than suffice for our MTB excursion into the wilds of Kosciuszko NP (for our expert guide to starting mountain biking, see here). The bonus being the 18.4km Lower TVT finishes less than a 10-minute drive from Creel Bay Cottages so getting home would be a breeze. How hard could it be?
To ensure more stoke than sweat, I forewent my original plan of a one-day 55km epic and split our fun into two more enjoyable days. Day one involved meeting with ‘Turns’ a trail-building mate of mine, to explore Thredbo’s iconic gravity trails and the Upper TVT, while day two would launch us into the wilds of the Lower TVT.
With Loz on work duties for day one, I took to the mountain with Turns, and we had a blast. Thredbo’s gravity trails offer plenty of high speed, fast flowy action coupled with technical riding, and we linked the All-Mountain trails to the Upper TVT for a more relaxed afternoon cruise. We even wrapped with plenty of time for a beer and burger at ‘The Local’ post-ride, and to discuss how the Lower TVT has linked two riding destinations into one.
The missing MTB link
For more than two decades, Thredbo and the infamous Cannonball downhill run has been home to lift-accessed downhill mountain biking in Australia, but things are changing, and changing for the better. Full face helmets and body armour are no longer a prerequisite for getting on a chairlift; all you need are two wheels, an open mind, with an open-faced lid.
The continuing expansion of Thredbo’s trail network has broadened the resort’s appeal to a new style of rider: the all-mountain crew. And this new lineup varies from experts and intermediates all the way to novices and families.
Thirty-five kilometres away, the lakeside townships of Jindabyne, East Jindabyne and Tyrolean Village have their own trail network, a crew of avid riders and a plethora of riding, from lakeside cycle paths to suicidal downhill trails… and everything in between. But for decades there has been a missing link between the two hubs.
Fortunately, in 2015, progressive minds at NPWS secured nearly 9.8 million dollars to fill the void and employed expert trail-building company Dirt Art to complete the missing link: the Lower Thredbo Valley Track.
Local trail expert, and now Dirt Art operations manager, Mark Eccleston was employed as project manager to sculpt near 20 kilometres of mountain bike nirvana in the remote montane forest to the north of the Thredbo River. The terrain was rugged and inaccessible, the weather fickle and access abominable.
“One day we would bush-bash for eight hours and the next day lower 120 bags of gravel through the tree canopy via helicopter,” Mark divulges.
The track crew commuted more than two hours each day on mountain bikes, riding in from the trailhead, or midway point where they ferried bikes, gear and bodies across the Thredbo River, tethered to a rope in a flat bottom boat. Flying foxes were set up in the trees to move rock for retaining walls; and all this had to be done on time and within budget.
It was a numbers game, as Mark reveals.
“The excavator could build six and a half metres of track for every litre of fuel and each person would drink six to seven litres of water on a hot day. We could tell who didn’t drink enough water as they would suffer and lag on the way out. But this is my legacy trail. Every track builder has a legacy trail, one that stands out above the rest. I overhear people at the pub, or in the supermarket who are excited about the trail and it’s a good feeling. That’s what I do it for. Oh, and I get paid to ride my bike.”
In the Lower TVT, NPWS has envisaged, and then created, one of the most iconic MTB trails in Australia. The bonus is the trail can be split into multiple sections to allow for cruisy riverside family riding, adrenaline fuelled singletrack descents or lung-busting enduro MTB riding. The only exception to the rule is the Lower TVT. This remote part of the trail offers a start and a finish with no access in between.
Maybe, just maybe, I should have noted the trail grading for ‘day-two’ whilst sitting at the pub regaling tall-tales of going over the bars on the old ‘Snakes & Ladders’ section of the DH trail. Instead, I considered the pleasant cruise on the Upper TVT and prepped for a cruisy fun day out. Little did I realise the Lower TVT would be a different beast.
Alpine to Ales
If you are like me, then an epic ride begins with coffee. Launching an MTB adventure from Thredbo village is no different.
You might be a Cascades Café kind of girl, or a bakery kind of guy, or maybe you prefer the coffee at Central Road (I know I do… yum). There’s a solid handful of foody options to choose from, and if you’re the last-minute kind of crew then Avalanche Café is only metres from the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift.
From 9:30am the iconic Kosciuszko Express opens to mountain bikers. A relatively short fifteen-minute ride saves a 560m climb and offloads you and your steed at 1937m above sea level. If you are even more of a last-minute kind of posse, then Eagles Nest Restaurant is your final chance to fuel up before you descend, but be sure to book beforehand if the mountain is busy. Fifty metres from Eagles Nest is the trailhead.
Two wheeled adventurers are immediately launched into one of the most scenic MTB trails in Australia, the All Mountain Trail Upper. Weaving amongst house sized granite boulders, the flowy trail traverses a landscape of alpine herb fields, wildflower meadows, feldmark and bogs, often above the valley cloud. Bridges span cascading creeks and intermittent rock gardens or rollovers offer intermediate-friendly technical challenges amongst the endless snaking trail.
Only a few kilometres from the trailhead and cyclists descend into the ancient snow gum forest. It is here where you must choose to continue on the slightly longer All Mountain Trail Lower or cut back on Easy Street to link to the newest of Thredbo’s trails, Ricochet. Both trails offer flowy switchbacks and fun features and allow for riders to transition to the lower portion of the Friday Flat Loop to arrive at the Upper TVT.
Having descended ten kilometres and more than half a vertical kilometre of endorphin ecstasy, it’s time to let the braking fingers relax a little. It’s here where the Upper TVT offers a cruisy, flowy single-track alongside the Thredbo river. The green rated trail is perfect for novices and families and the faster you go, the more fun the meandering track becomes. After 9.3km of criss-crossing the Thredbo River on purpose built suspension bridges, riders arrive at Ngarigo campground. Ngarigo is a great place to cool feet in the river and relax for a power bar and a break. Beyond Ngarigo, and onto Thredbo Diggings campground, the trail gets more technical. Switchbacks and short climbs present amongst the tall montane forest. Both campsites offer easy vehicle access, camper-trailer and tent camping in open grassland by the river; a great option if you prefer to camp during your stay.
Beyond ‘the Diggings’ the TVT meanders two and a half kilometres to Bullocks Flat, where a short 1km detour to Alpine Larder at Lake Crackenback Resort offers an expansive menu and a second coffee if you are like me. Lake Crackenback Resort offers a more luxurious MTB accommodation experience if you aren’t the camping type and prefer to split your TVT experience into two. The resort offers a shuttle service to the start and end of the Upper and Lower sections, so it can be a perfect halfway hub for your MTB adventures.
The Lower Thredbo Valley Track – the MTB fun begins
Beyond Bullocks Flat is where the MTB fun begins. Leaving the resort grounds, the trail is relatively mellow and lulls riders into a false sense of security, however a few short sharp climbs offer a wake-up to the unprepared. Fortunately, for every switchback climb, riders are rewarded with high-speed eye watering descents. Short bridges deliver speedy creek crossings and high-G corners fling riders into their next climb… before the fun begins all over again. Somewhere along the line, alpine bogs threaten to curb the fun, but NPWS helicoptered in hundreds of metres of raised platform to save the day. Instead, riders roll smoothly above the grasses, trees, moss and wetlands.
As the track descends, adrenaline ascends… flowy single-track offers a taste of everything. Small rock gardens occasionally test tech skills while glimpses of the Thredbo River call you for a refreshing dip. Looking closely, benches built from natural timbers or tree stumps appear along the way, as do massive rocky retaining walls. There is no doubt, the trail builders were master craftsmen. But don’t get too cushy, for just as your legs begin to burn, and you realise you haven’t eaten enough, or hydrated enough, the trail demands payment.
If, like me, you’ve realised halfway that it’s time to hustle so as not to miss your shuttle, then you are in for a treat. The dual-switchback climbs, become triple-switchbacks. Then they grow steeper and longer and then you begin to lose count as your heart thumps in your temples and your legs burn.
I certainly began to wonder whether the hurt was worth the reward and as if to raise further doubt, an exhausted Loz clips a tree root, flips over the bars and gets wedged upside down between two rocks. We both laugh as she extricates herself from her landing place, then has a small chuckle before jumping back on her bike.
Only minutes later we’re both back hooting and hollering on the next fast descent and the trail crew are once again forgiven. What follows are short and sharp leg-burning climbs followed by tight switchback descents; it’s a mountain bikers nirvana, assuming you are fit. If, like me, you have a few extra Covid kilograms to deal with, then it’s nirvana, turned hell, turned nirvana, turned pain, turned nirvana. You get the gist.
Eventually the Lower TVT spits riders out into wide open meadows of grassland dotted with mobs of kangaroos. If you’ve timed your ride to perfection, the late sun offers a golden glow as the trail meanders the final few kilometres to Gaden Trout Hatchery.
Exhausted but stoked
Having plummeted from the roof of Oz to the bubbling brooks of Gaden Trout Hatchery we find ourselves exhausted but very content. Loz looks shattered and is covered in trail dust, but she soon rolls over and chuckles to herself. “Is everything OK?” I ask.
“Well, I can’t feel my left leg… my fingers are tingly from braking, and I’ve eaten more dirt in last four hours than in my entire life. But, other than that, I think everything is okay.” She laughs.
“Great,” I reply. “Should we keep going to the brewery?”
It’s only a further ten kilometres, via Jindabyne’s scenic lakeside trails, to the door of Jindabyne Brewery, where a traditional German mountain ale in the form of a Hefe Weiss Bier awaits. Maybe the aptly named Alpine Red is more to your taste, or even an Island Bend Pilsner.
Whatever your taste, you’ll certainly have earned a pint or two of the good stuff and be able to kick back and enjoy the accomplishment of having experienced one of the best long distance one-day MTB trails Australia has to offer, or what I prefer to call the ‘Alpine to Ales’.
The Lower Thredbo Valley Track
Starts: at 1,148m
Finishes: at 928m
Total Fall: 219m (Overall)
Includes: 120m Climbing
Includes: 331m Descent
Average time: 2-4 hours
Track open: November-May
Check conditions and alerts on the NPWS website before setting out: nswparks.info/tvtadventure
Creel Bay Cottages & Lodge – Great option for groups, with 3 or 4 bed properties available. Situated overlooking Lake Jindabyne, it’s a handy base for riding the TVT with Gaden Trout Hatchery only a 10min drive. To book: nswparks.info/creelbay
Thredbo Diggings Campground & Ngarigo Campground – both are situated by the Thredbo River and are suitable for tents, camper trailers as well as caravans. Great budget option in a good location with plenty of mountain biking, hiking and fishing on your doorstep.
FOOD & DRINK
Central Road 2625 – Coffee, breakfast, lunch.
The Local Pub – A top spot for a post-ride beer and burger.
Crackenback Farm – Relaxed restaurant offering an interesting menu using seasonal produce incorporating home grown herbs and garden vegetables.
Alpine Larder – Pre-ride coffee and brekkie, lunch or post-ride dinner and beer
The Market – Coffee shop plus bulk wholefoods to stock up with.
Birchwood Café – Coffee and great brekkie options plus burgers and tacos.
Red Door – Good coffee.