UPDATE: Matt McCullough and the team at Steamfish Creative Media have put together a fantastic video that really captures the mood of the day. The video can be found at the bottom of this post.
Few hills in Victoria inspire fear quite like Mt. Baw Baw. Sure, reports of it being the hardest sealed road climb in Australia might be overblown — this is supposedly harder — but it’s still a climb that will make you suffer for almost every metre.
So when Andy van Bergen and I plotted out the dates for our 7 Peaks Domestique Series and put Mt. Baw Baw so close to the start, we probably weren’t expecting more than 20 people to turn up. We needn’t have worried.
The trip to Mt. Baw Baw started on Saturday afternoon when my partner Sharon and I, my brother Brendan and his partner Anneka, and my dad Ron all headed out to Toorongo Falls to camp the night. It was a great night away and it meant that the 7.30am start in Noojee the next morning was far more manageable than it would otherwise have been.
Brendan and I drove into the carpark at Noojee at 7.05am expecting to see one or two riders kitting up. Instead, the carpark was full and riders were already out on the road, warming up, ready to go. Awesome.
The hardest part about the ride from Noojee to the start of the Mt. Baw Baw climb is the nasty Vesper Hill which starts 5km from Noojee. The climb starts gently enough but the second half seems to spend an uncomfortable amount of time at 10% or greater which, when you’re still warming up, tends to hurt a little.
It didn’t help that the pace was well and truly on for that first climb. Chris Mason put in the first attack of the day and it wasn’t long until the ~20-strong bunch was strung right out. I was burning a bunch of matches to stay a respectable distance from the front but part of me was wary of spending too much energy before the mountain was even in sight.
Our second meeting point of the day, Icy Creek, wasn’t far from the end of the Vesper Hill descent and there we were joined by another 15 riders or so. After a few minutes to allow the rest of the bunch to catch up we pushed on, and into one of the most picturesque sections of road I’ve ever ridden.
Most of the way to the base of the climb we were surrounded by lush native foliage and with only a handful of cars passing us by — most of which were part of our entourage — it was a great start to the day.
The pace through to Tanjil Bren wasn’t as hot as it had been up Vesper Hill but we certainly weren’t dawdling. The front group arrived right on 9am and the rest of the bunch flowed in over the next few minutes.
After roughly 10 minutes to regroup and after a quick briefing about what to expect of the Mt. Baw Baw climb, the now-even-bigger bunch rolled into the downhill stretch that would deliver us to the start of the climb.
As we hit Big Tree Creek and the road tilted upwards I could see plenty of riders trying to settle into a rhythm before the really hard stuff hit. I pushed my way forward through the groups, chatting with riders as I went, before stopping and waiting at The Gantry for the last rider.
When the last riders hit that first steep ramp after the Gantry I took off as well, much as I’d done at Lake Mountain, using riders up the road as carrots. My plan wasn’t to set a new PB on the climb but rather to ride at a comfortable tempo — if that’s even possible on Mt. Baw Baw.
Even with a 34×28 and without trying to push myself, I spent the entirety of that final ~6.5km to the summit at or close to my threshold, just in an attempt to keep moving forward. There are just so many steep sections to contend with, including the always-painful Neulynes Hill, the long, straight section before Winch Corner, and, of course, Winch Corner itself.
With Andy’s wife Tammy taking photos at Winch Corner — which has a maximum grade in excess of 20% — I set myself the challenge of getting through it without getting out of the saddle. You know, put on a brave face for the camera and all that. With every muscle and tendon in my legs screaming obscenities at me, I managed to push through the chicane, coming out the other side where the road flattens off to a comparatively comfortable 13%.
There really are only a couple of flat spots on the Mt. Baw Baw climb and on each of them I found the brief reprieve to be most welcome. Probably the most satisfying part of the climb was getting into that final kilometre, where the road flattens off, knowing I was almost there, that the hardest work was well and truly over.
I flicked up through the gears and powered to the summit, spurred on by the encouragement being yelled by Chris Mason and others. Looking at the Strava file from the ride I can see that if I’d pushed straight through to the gate rather than stopping at the carpark, I might well have claimed a new PB on the climb. To be honest, I’m really not that concerned.
The whole point of the ride was to provide a welcoming and safe environment for riders and to help everyone get through the climb in one piece. So after getting my 7 Peaks passport stamped I headed down the hill in search of the last rider on the road.
Roughly 2km from the summit I found Andy riding alongside Brian Beardon. I turned around and together the three of us worked our way towards the summit. Before long Andy headed on up the road and Thomas Price joined Brian and I for the final push to the top.
It was a slow grind for those final kilometres to the summit but we got there in one piece and full credit to Brian for that. He’s been on the receiving end of a handful of nasty medical issues of late, not least stomach cancer — ‘If I throw up here it’s straight to hospital’.
The biggest challenge for Brian though was being able to suck in enough oxygen. A recently collapsed lung means Brian’s only able to breathe in a fraction of the air he would otherwise be able to. To drag himself through the hellishly steep climb of Mt. Baw Baw under those conditions must have been a real ordeal. Well done Brian — inspiring stuff!
When Brian, Thomas and I reached the top it was to see that the rest of the riders had arranged a guard of honour for Brian at the entrance to the alpine resort. At least, that’s what I thought.
Turns out Andy and Tammy had organised a small celebration for my birthday (which was on Sunday, the day of the ride) and the rows of riders blowing party whistles were for me. It was a really touching moment and I’m very grateful (and a little embarrassed) that Andy and Tam went to the trouble of organising that mini-party.
In many ways, it was the perfect end to an awesome ride. The weather was exceptional all day, there was very little traffic to contend with, I was riding with an awesome bunch of guys and girls and, to cap it off, I was climbing one of my favourite climbs, on my birthday.
But even better than all of that was the fact every single rider that attempted the Mt. Baw Baw climb with us got through it! That’s 80+ riders who were crazy enough to take on the great mountain and got through it in one piece. Well done everyone!
At this point I need to say a bunch of quick ‘thank-you’s to the people that helped make Sunday possible. To my dad Ron and to Maria Baranj, thanks for coming out and taking some awesome photos. To my partner Sharon and Brendan’s partner Anneka, thanks for coming along and handing out juice and for being a friendly and encouraging presence at the top of the climb.
And a huge thank you to Tammy van Bergen for her awesome work in taking (amazing!) photos all day, handing out energy bars and gels, for taking people’s names for the honour roll and for organising a lovely birthday surprise.
Thanks to Matt and Wes from Steamfish Creative Media/Cycling-Secrets.com for coming along to film the ride. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s really looking forward to watching the video you guys put together!
Thanks to Winners Cycling for providing plenty of energy bars and gels for the riders on the day. I know it was greatly appreciated by the riders. Thanks too to Emma & Tom’s for the delicious and refreshing juice at the top of the climb. And thanks to Cycling Express for their ongoing support.
Cycling Express has been good enough to provide the major prize for the 7 Peaks Domestique Series — a Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset. To go in the draw for that major prize, simply come along and complete a 7 Peaks climb with us. Complete 1 climb and you’ll get one entry, complete 7 climbs and you’ll get 7 entries. Simple as that.
Cycling Express have also provided us with 5 x $20 vouchers to hand out after each ride. After much back-and-forth between Andy and myself, we’ve decided to award the vouchers for Sunday’s ride as follows:
- Fastest Bloke: Steve Lightfoot (who beat Evan Henley by 1 second according to Strava!)
- Fastest Chick: Jennifer Brown
- Most Courageous: Brian Beardon
- Most Gentlemanly: Shane Stiles (for helping to fix 4 flats, push riders uphill and more)
- Best Pain Face: Adam Gruer (see photo at the top of the page)
If that’s you, let us know!
An honourable mention should go to Evan Henley who, according to Strava, only just missed out on the fastest time on the day. More impressive than that though was the fact he completed the steepest part of the climb (the final ~6.5km) twice. As Evan himself apparently said:
The best warm-up for Mt. Baw Baw is Mt. Baw Baw.
And finally, a plug for the next ride in the series: Mt. Buller. We’re actually riding the mountain twice on Saturday December 15 — at 10am and at 4pm — to give people a greater chance of getting there at a time that suits them. It really is an amazing climb and you won’t want to miss it.
We’ve also been lucky enough to get a great deal on accommodation at Mt. Buller. For a total of $68 you get two nights’ accommodation — Friday December 14 and Saturday December 15 — at Neringa Ski Lodge. If you’re interested, get in a quick — we’ve only got a handful of places left! Just send me an email and let me know you’re keen.
Until next time, thanks very much for reading and be sure to check out the terrific photos below, courtesy of Ron de Neef, Tammy van Bergen and Maria Baranj.[gallery_caption_900]
There are many more photos from the ride on the Hells 500 Facebook page.
These names were taken (more or less) in the order that riders completed the climb. But because we didn’t all start the climb at the same time, the list doesn’t reflect who finished the climb fastest.
If we haven’t got you on the list, let us know! If we’ve spelled your name wrong, you should have written it more clearly in the notebook … but let us know and we’ll fix it up! If you’d like your climb time listed, email me me with the details (and a Strava link or similar to prove it!)
- Evan Henley
- Joel Nicholson
- Chris Mason
- Shane van Seters
- Stephen Lightfoot
- Nick Montgomery
- Jordan Di Luzio
- Brian McRobbie
- Will Halpin
- Geoff Foreman
- Shane Stiles
- Glenn Hocking
- Tony Stuyt
- Matt McLennan
- Matt de Neef
- Kris Dieber
- Cyril Dixon
- Mark Chapman
- Dave McLean
- Don Sirikhant
- Ben McKechnie
- Brendan de Neef
- Matt Whiting
- Tom Lucas
- Gary Lucas
- David Weiss
- Greg Foster
- Peter Turewicz
- Gordon Oakley
- Daniel Foster
- John Gogis
- Michael Frith
- Ric Falconer
- Henry Harte
- Adam Gruer
- Michael Yates
- Paul Parpevlier
- Robert Rusev
- Richard Mathison
- Victor Essers
- Jennifer Brown
- Matthew Bowen
- Darren Partington
- Daniel Robertson
- Gary Beazley
- Warren Howe
- Andrew North
- Julie Jackson
- Craig Beeching
- Paul Jamieson
- Adam Forcucci
- Chris Dunn
- Simon Cornish
- Phil Aarons
- Simon Atkinson
- Jack Walsh
- Adrian Tritschler
- Tim Pittaway
- Pip Grinblat
- Jon Thornton
- Brad Clark
- Stephen Tippett
- Stephen Chan
- Vlad Tsyrlin
- James Singleton
- David Ablatz
- Tony Lane
- Tim Ling
- Blair Calvert
- Peter Brann
- Brad Lyell (1 hour 11 minutes)
- Andrew Lay
- Shari Aubrey
- George Voros
- Robert Rozycki
- Ant Makin
- Thomas Price
- Brian Beardon
- Andy van Bergen
- Gareth Pellas
- Ron Nott
- Mark Dunt
- Jason Shell
Previous rides in the series