January 9, 2012

Episode 9: backing up with the Back of Falls

Route: Falls Creek to Anglers Rest, return
Distance: 103km
Duration: 4 hours 32 minutes

The view from summit of the Back of Falls climb.

This is the second of three posts about my recent trip to the Victorian Alps. You can read the first post here. I stayed at Falls Creek courtesy of Quay West Resort & Spa Falls Creek. Thanks to Andy van Bergen and the folks at Quay West and Mirvac for making this trip possible.

On day two of our Victorian Alps training camp, Brendan, the Donvale Demon and I got up before 8am and headed down to the ALTA Restaurant at Quay West for breakfast. We’d been in the restaurant for a nice dinner the previous evening and breakfast, too, was nice — even if it did take a little longer to get to us than we might have hoped.

Our plan was to ride from Falls Creek down toward Omeo and then back up, replicating the final climb of the day for 3 Peaks. But it wasn’t just the three of us heading out on this particular ride.

Matt Fletcher — a guy I know from Twitter — and his mate Dougie, had driven up from Melbourne the night before to ride with us. Their drive up was slightly more eventful than ours — on the way from Bogong to Falls they hit a deer that jumped on to the road as they came around a corner. Luckily, Matt, Dougie and the deer were all OK but Dougie’s car was left with an unsightly dint.

From left to right: the Donvale Demon, Brendan, Matt and Dougie

The five of us met at Falls Creek at 9.30am and after some quick introductions we rode past the Rocky Valley Dam and in to the undulating 14km between the ski resort and the top of the Back of Falls climb.

If there’s one thing you can be certain of in the Victorian Alps, it’s the variability of the weather. Where the day before had been 40+ degrees and all kinds of dry, Wednesday was a mixture of wet, cold, windy and, later in the day, sunny and warm.

Our ride started off in beautiful sunshine but by the time we had crossed the Falls Creek plateau, the wind had whipped up, the rain was pouring down and some of us were regretting not bringing warmer gear with us.

Bad weather's on the way.

Riding in the rain is unpleasant enough, but descending a mountain in the wet (and a steep one at that!) is a pretty ordinary way to spend an hour. We were all over our brakes on the way down and in Brendan’s case, his brakes were all over him. He got to the bottom of the hill with his legs covered in black gunk — the remnants of old brakes that had disintegrated in the damp conditions.

Thankfully though, Brendan (and the rest of us) made it to the bottom of the climb in one piece and no sooner had we done so, than the weather started to clear up. We turned right at the bottom of the hill and headed toward Anglers Rest.

If you’ve never cycled the Omeo Highway between Omeo and the Bogong High Plains Road, you really should. It’s a stunningly remote bit of road that runs alongside Big River and is pretty quiet this time of year. You’ll see the odd car or caravan along there but for the most part it’s great, quiet cycling territory and you can use most of the lane (as the five of us did).

Great views from the start of the Back of Falls climb.

After passing through Anglers Rest we turned around and made our way back toward the Bogong High Plains Road and the Back of Falls climb. A few kilometres from the turn-off I noticed my back tyre was flat and so I changed the offending tube with WTF Corner looming ominously behind me.

After a quick break to steel ourselves, we got stuck in to the Back of Falls climb. The first couple-hundred metres of the climb are brutally steep and you actually get very little respite in the first 7km. But despite having heavy legs from the previous day’s ride, I was feeling strong and enjoying the now-pleasant weather.

The five of us agreed to meet at Trapyard Gap, roughly 11km into the climb, and so we all road at our own pace. Knowing that the first 7km of the climb were the toughest, I just focused on getting through that, before enjoying the next section to the Trapyard Gap.

Despite some early rain, we climbed the Back of Falls in perfect weather.

The climb is considerably easier after those initial 11km and after the five of us met and had a quick rest, I started to enjoy the climb even more. There are some terrific views to be had and the later stages of the climb are particularly rewarding — uphill for a bit, then flat; uphill for a bit, then flat.

The compact crankset (34×28) seemed to make a huge difference, and the climb felt considerably easier than it did during 3 Peaks last year (when I had a 39×26). Of course, not having 200km in the legs before starting the climb probably helped!

We all met up again at the summit, having ridden our own pace from Trapyard Gap. None of us had brought enough food with us and by the time we reached the summit of the climb, we were all out of water as well. Riding when you’re dehydrated and hunger-flat is bad at the best of times, but worse when you’re climbing a mountain as challenging as the Omeo side of Falls Creek.

Tired? Hungry? You'll feel better with a lie down at the side of the road. Right Dougie?

Slowly, we all made our way back across the Falls Creek plateau and back to the village. By the time the five of us were back at our hotels, we were all beyond hungry but glad to have completed the beast that is the Back of Falls climb.

It was particularly great to meet and ride with Matt and Dougie, and to have a bigger group to ride and chat with. For a couple of guys that have done very little climbing in recent months, they both performed admirably on one of the most challenging climbs in the region.

It was an epic day on the bike for all five of us and for those of us training for 3 Peaks, it was another step closer to being ready for the big day. I enjoyed the Back of Falls climb on this occasion, but will I be as keen on the day, having already ridden 200km?

To be continued …

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4 Comments

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  1. Sean Soh / Jan 9 2012

    That last photo looks scarily steep, what’s the average gradient like up the BOF?

    • Matt / Jan 23 2012

      That last photo is a bit misleading I reckon. That section is no more than about 6%. The whole climb would be about that for average gradient too I reckon. Stay posted. 😉

  2. Hamish / Jan 9 2012

    Went into ALTA after climbing Falls a couple of weeks back. Slow service, expensive coffee, and not much in the way of snacks.

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