Average gradient: 4.2%
Elevation gain: 980m
With its brutal opening kilometres and frequent steep pinches, the ‘Back of Falls’ is one of the most challenging climbs in Victoria. The road was sealed for the first time in 2009 and since then it has become a crucial ingredient in two of the state’s hardest challenge rides — the 3 Peaks Challenge and the Audax Alpine Classic Extreme.
The Back of Falls climb starts at the intersection of the Omeo Highway (C543) and the Bogong High Plains Road.
The Back of Falls climb ends at a crest in the road, roughly 13km before the Falls Creek ski resort.
At a glance
- A very challenging climb with a long, steep opening section.
- The first 400m of the climb rises at 10%+, the first corner being particular steep.
- The first 9.1km of the climb provide very little respite, with an average gradient of 8-9%.
- The climbing becomes considerably easier after Trapyard Gap at the 12.9km mark.
A warning to recreational riders: the first 9km of this climb are very steep. Make sure you can comfortably complete a climb such as Lake Mountain before attempting this climb.
When you come face-to-face with the Back of Falls climb for the first time, you’ll instantly understand why the first pinch has come to be known as ‘WTF Corner’. The road climbs away from the intersection at a gradient well in excess of 10%, and when it bends right roughly 100 metres later, the gradient doesn’t let up.
It’s roughly 400 metres of climbing in excess of 10% before you reach the briefest of false-flat sections after which the climbing resumes at a more modest gradient (~8%).
There’s another (brief) false-flat to aim for at the 1.3km mark but straight after that, the road takes a sweeping right-hand bend and the gradient increases to beyond 10% once more. Some 300 metres later the road takes on a more manageable incline of around 7%.
At the 2.2km mark the road flattens off completely, albeit briefly, before the climbing resumes. Roughly 200 metres later the road kicks up again, touching gradients of around 9-10%. While there are some terrific views to enjoy off to the right of the road at this point, you’ll probably be too busy keeping the pedals turning over to notice.
As the road winds gently from left to right over the next few kilometres, the gradient hardly drops below 7%. There’s a couple of nasty pinches to contend with too, one after 3.9km (~10%) and one after 4.1km (~12%).
The climbing continues unabated until the 5.3km mark. At this time you’ll pass a sign reading ‘Alpine National Park’ as the road flattens of completely. In fact, the road stays flat for the next 500 metres and even goes slightly downhill. Take this opportunity to catch your breath — you’re going to need it.
Some 5.8km from the start of the climb the road heads skyward once more and within a couple hundred metres you’re back in 8%-gradient territory. At the 6.1km mark the road bends into a very sharp, very steep left-hander, with the gradient nudging 10% once more. After a slight false-flat 500 metres later the climbing continues at roughly 7%.
Over the next few kilometres the gradient stays relatively constant, apart from a brief 10% pinch at the 7.2km mark and a brief false-flat 200 metres later. There’s another false-flat 7.9km into the climb but 500 metres later you’ll come to a very sharp right-hand bend out of which the gradient increases to roughly 13%. The gradient stays in excess of 10% for a couple hundred metres before the road flattens off once more.
When you get to the 9.1km mark you’ll notice that the road flattens off completely. This is a good opportunity to sit up and take a deep breath and if you can manage it without falling off the bike, give yourself a high-five — the hardest part of the climb is now behind you.
For the next 800 metres you’ll find yourself heading downhill — a welcome relief — before the climbing resumes at around 6%. At the 10.2km mark you’ll forget all about the nice rest you just had thanks to a nasty pinch of about 10% gradient. The road stays at this gradient for 500 metres before reaching a brief false-flat and then heading skyward once more.
After 11.2km you’ll come to another brief downhill section and for the next few kilometres the road oscillates between being flat, slightly uphill and slightly downhill. After a brief stint at around 6% gradient, the road flattens off completely and at the 12.9km mark, you’ll reach one of the climb’s important milestones: Trapyard Gap.
Once you get to this point, you’ve ridden over half the climb and done more than half of the climbing. While the second half of the climb certainly isn’t flat, it’s far easier going than the first half. For every sustained pinch in the second half of the climb, there seems to be a false-flat immediately afterwards — a welcome reward for some great climbing.
From the Trapyard Gap to the 14.5km mark the climb is largely flat with a few gentle uphill sections and a few short descents as well. After 14.5km the climbing continues at around 6% as the road winds its way toward the Falls Creek plateau. The road bends around to the left after 16.2km with the gradient touching 10% for a brief moment before dropping back into the single digits.
After 17.5km the road flattens off again, before climbing gradually and then heading into a slight downhill after 17.9km. Over the next few kilometres you’ll find yourself climbing for several hundred metres at a time before being rewarded with a short false-flat for your efforts. With the gradient rarely going above 7% you’ll have time in this section of the climb to appreciate the wonderful scenery.
After 21.1km of climbing you’ll be presented with some wonderful views of the Falls Creek plateau on the right-hand side of the road. After another kilometre of manageable climbing and false-flats, you’ll come across the nastiest pinch you’ll have seen in a while. It starts at the 22.2km mark and as the road bends very sharply around to the left, the gradient increases to 10%. This gradient is maintained for several hundred metres before a more manageable pinch of 7-8% returns.
The road really opens up after 23.1km and you’ll find yourself quite exposed on the Falls Creek plateau. As you climb the remaining 1.3km to the top, be sure to enjoy the terrific views to the right-hand side of the road. The climb concludes at a significant crest in the road after 23.4km of climbing.
From here you can enjoy the 13km of mostly-downhill as the road winds its way around the Rocky Valley Dam and back to Falls Creek.
The Back of Falls climb starts roughly 40km north west of the small rural town of Omeo. It’s a solid five-hour drive from Melbourne to Omeo via Bairnsdale and even longer if you go via Wangaratta and the Great Alpine Road.
If you start your ride in Omeo, climb the Back of Falls and then return to Omeo, you’re looking at a very challenging 130km ride. This blows out to more than 150km if you turn around at Falls Creek instead.
Another option is to start riding from Falls Creek, ride down the Bogong High Plains Road and then head back up the climb for a ~70km day. This ride could be extended (in length and in vertical metres) by starting from Bogong (100km and plenty of climbing) or Mt. Beauty (130km and even more climbing).
As with all alpine climbs, the weather on the Back of Falls climb can turn nasty very quickly. Be prepared for bad weather, even in summer. There’s nowhere to buy food or drink between Anglers Rest and Falls Creek so be sure to take enough with you when you set out. Also be aware that mobile phone reception can be pretty sketchy along the Bogong High Plains Road.
If the challenge of summiting this great climb isn’t enough for you, you could always compare your effort against others within the cycling community. A Strava segment for this climb can be found here.
44 Replies to “Falls Creek (Omeo side)”
Flies to swallow on a hot day don’t make this ascent any easier during the Alpine Classic.
Get into lowest gear before turning the corner onto road.
If you find the “will to live” sitting there on the road on the second steep pinch, it will be because so many people have lost it around about there.
It helps if you promise yourself not to hop off until Trapyard gap! And to remember you have got the Alpine clasic pretty much done when you crest Cope saddle. Tawonga gap is just a wee hill before the fun ride to the finish.
I’m wondering how Back of Falls compares to Mt Baw Baw? I’ve ridden Back of Falls (2018 3 Peaks) but not Baw Baw.
Even if Baw Baw is steeper/longer/harder, the upside will be that at least I won’t be doing 200km and Mt Hotham beforehand 🙂
G’day Rob, probably a bit late responding to your question. Baw Baw is definitely the harder climb. Did is as preparation for peaks this year, it’s a great training indicator for back of falls though. Found baw baw with fresh legs to be roughly equivalent to back of falls having done 200km as per peaks.
i am very confused when trying to reconcile the climbing cyclist description of back of falls with the riding plan of bicycle networks three peaks riding plan which is attached. three peaks has WTF corner 36ks from falls creek. whereas climbing cyclist has WTF corner only 23ks from falls creek. https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/media/vanilla_content/files/3PeaksPlan2015v2.pdf
Hi Peter, the climb starts roughly 36km from Falls Creek as Bicycle Network says. From the top of the climb it’s about 13-14km mostly downhill to the Falls Creek resort, as noted in “The Finish” section of the climb guide. 🙂
Not sure if this is the point of difference between the 2 but, the climbing stops some kms from Falls Creek village and you actually descend to the village after a some flat cycling. It’s likely the 3 Peaks description is relative to the finish line whereas, The Climbing Cyclist measures to the end of the actual climb.
Road this climb a few years ago as part of a training camp, 45km out and back from Falls on my MTB with commuter tyres and gearing. Was practically track-standing between pedal strokes.
Did anyone else see the “No Witches” sign on a property’s gate out there?
Thought it was weird and funny so I stopped to take photos but I’ve never heard anyone else ever mention it…
I’ve recently completed this climb as part of an unsupported Alpine tour with my daughter. Being 90+kg and in my fifties I wasn’t expecting anything but a difficult time of it and wasn’t disappointed. The fact that we were each carrying about 10-15kg in panniers (not quite what the designers at Lapierre bikes had in mind I’m sure) added to an already significant climb.
My gearing was 36/28 and my daughter’s was 39/28. The 30 years and 30 kg difference definitely made a difference I think as she was able to get straight to falls creek without a break , whereas I padded out the distance a bit by judicious zig-zagging up the steeper sections (and there are a few of them!)
Having completed it, I’m now motivated to do this (and a few of our other climbs) without the burden of panniers. The only concern I have is that I won’t find it significantly easier 😉
I’m 71 and 80 kgs, ftp = 239, and I’ve ridden this climb 3 times as part of the ACE250, would have been 4 but for the fires one year. First year was on my cyclocross bike with 34 x 28, next was a carbon road bike with 34 x 28, then I bought my ‘back of Falls’ 11/32 cassette. Never walked, but this last is the right gearing for me.
Did this last year a couple of times, prior to 3 peaks. 1 x from falls creek down and back up easy, 1 x with 160km in the legs felt good still and the final was 3 peaks with 200km in the legs.
A word of caution, it’s all good thinking you can do it, but doing it with 200km in the legs, needs mental strength as well as fitness and conditioning. I enjoyed it, but did see men cry, yes “CRY”
Be prepared, trained, conditioned and a good head space and you will enjoy every bit pain and hurt you only get from doing these type of climbs
In one word ” CLASSIC”
I climbed the back of Falls for the first time on Sunday as part of the ACE250. I expected the first 9km to be hard. The whole 23km turned out to be hard.
Even though the climb was tough, the overall experience was incredibly enjoyable. The landscape felt remote and wild. The scenery was quite breathtaking.
The flat, snaking section from the start of the national park through Anglers Rest to WTF corner is my new favorite stretch of road.
I completed this climb a couple of days ago – here are my thoughts on gearing:
I did this ‘beast’ running a 39/25 setup. In order to quantify what it takes to get up this climb its best to look at power output: in the tougher sections I sat on a cadence between 40-55, producing between 200-270 watts (I averaged 221 for the first 9km – I was far from fresh!). I weigh 60kgs which puts the average power to weight ratio at 3.68 watts per kil0. Climbing the first 9km (perhaps more so just the steeper sections) of this mountain with a cadence of > 60 running 39/25 would require me to put out around 280-320 watts or roughly 5 watts/kg. That value is probably pretty close to what most NRS riders would be capable of generating for an hour. (Im not sure if the logic is right here, but it sounds reasonable – after all my cadence was being estimated by my powertap so its probably out by at least 10%…)
I was extremely uncomfortable with this gearing. My opinion is that climbing with a cadence below 60 just feels terrible – I genuinely felt as though I was not able to be as powerful because my cadence was so low. (It is noteworthy that I felt pretty terrible on the bike that day and wasnt able to turn the pedals as well as I normally can)
My suggestion is to put a gear on thats going to allow you to spin faster than 60rpm. Another way of putting it: your only going to be comfortable attempting this climb with a standard 39/25 setup if you are at least a successful C grader (generally able to hold about 4 watts a kilo for at least 30-40mins) if not B grade with a set of relatively fresh legs.
Woops, I contradicted myself/presently some silly numbers… obviously C graders are not nearly as strong as NRS riders… let me rephrase: your not going to be able to get up this climb with relative ease (spinning at a cadence higher than 60) with that gear ratio unless your A grade and up (I imagine most A graders – among whom are NRS riders – are able to produce somewhere around 5 watts a kilo for an hour). You should be able to get away with that gear ratio spinning at 55-60 and be a bit uncomfortable if your a solid C grader (4 watts/kg +) and have the strength to ride at or slightly above threshold for 30-40mins (therefore if you have 200km in your legs immediately prior this climb, your probably not going to be able to ride at threshold!)
I currently race D and suffered!
I did this climb as part of the 2010 ACE 250. I was 66kg and rode a 39×27 but was riding with a couple of heavier guys and found it enjoyable. The secret is to ride with people who can’t climb as fast as you :). I remember waiting at the bottom for a straggler, almost everyone who arrived at the corner said “oh f#$%” or WTF as they saw it for the first time. The best comment I heard was one guy seeing the “FC 30” sign and saying “great! I’ve only got 5 hours to go”
I trained by doing triple repeats of Kinglake from Olive St to frank thompson reserve (3x10km) and pedalling the entire descent hard. I’d say doing that is good prep and nice and local to melbourne.
BTW loved the article which brought back fond memories..hope to do it in ’13
I have also just completed the 2012 3 Peaks. Back of Falls is an unbelievably tough climb amidst incredible scenery. Riding through the stunning countryside between Omeo and Anglers Rest, it is hard to imagine the pain that lies ahead but once you hit WTF corner with 200kms in your legs, you find out soon enough. I knew this was going to be tough, but I didn’t expect it to resemble a battlefield! There were people walking, being sick, stretching the cramp out of their legs; it really was carnage. Even with a compact crank and a 28 cassette I still found I was continually searching for that non-existent extra cog (a new pair of legs and a bigger set of lungs would have been more apt). The best advice I could give anyone contemplating this climb is before you give it a try first of all make sure you have the right gearing on your machine and that you can comfortably ride up a climb like Donna Buang without too many problems. Otherwise you’ll have a tough day at the office! How Nick Mitchell did it in 1 hour 30 mins last year I’ll never know!
Great comments Matt. I suffered like nobody’s business on the climb too.
Just finished 3 Peaks 2012. Despite lots of hills training under my belt, nothing prepared me for this beast. Get used to pedalling out of the saddle.
Goonie. is Dargo in NSW? dont know this climb. Got any further detail on gradient, length etc? what gears did you use?
Months later, but for any other readers, the Dargo climb is located just to the north of the remote East Gippsland township of Dargo. There’s a profile here. It’s nominally about 12 km at about 8%, but like Baw Baw and Back-of-Falls the average gradient hides how ridiculously tough the climb is.
I’ve never completed the climb all the way to Grant’s junction as on that profile, as the two times I’ve done the climb have been in the Stratford-Dargo race; it finishes at the Hibernia Track just after the short 17.2% section marked on the profile. Google Stratford-Dargo Classic and you’ll find some ride reports.
OK, did this monster yesterday when a group of us rode the 3 Peaks route.
It is an absolute brute – and by my reckoning it’s about 200 km to the bottom, rather than 190 🙂
That said, I reckon it’s the third-hardest sealed climb in Victoria if considered as an individual climb. Baw Baw and Dargo are tougher still, though I’m still not sure in which order.
as per my Donna Buang comments -guys please start referring to your gear selection to help those who have never riden these climbs, to work out what they broadly will require to climb these mountains. Also be honest about your capabilities when talking about gears. Apart from that, its a great article.
That’s a tricky proposition, Damian. Cyclists vary wildly in their capabilities and preferences. Even the decision between high-rev spinning vs low-rev grinding is very personal.
As a born sprinter, weighing over 90kg, I tend to climb at high-torque, low-RPM. On a 7% grade I’ll be on the 21 cog at 50rpm pushing almost 300W, whilst my svelte climbing friend will be spinning on the 28 cog at 80rpm, generating just under 250W.
(And I will require almost twice the pedal downforce that he does, to go slower! Needless to say I have worked extensively on my knee tracking and stabilisation musculature)
How things change: back in the 50s a grand tour winner might’ve been grinding up in 42×22. Now Contador is spinning up the mountains of the Giro in 34×32.
I’ve really got to echo Matt’s comments – though maybe he should write a companion article on gearing for this site seeing he gets so many questions on it (Matt, if you’re interested I could probably knock something together if you’re not in a hurry).
Only you can figure out what kind of gearing you “need” by doing some climbs. If you live in Melbourne, you can get a pretty fair idea of required gearing by climbing Mount Dandenong by the various routes.
Furthermore, what you “need” and what you might want to climb a particular slope varies considerably. I can climb the Devil’s Elbow (it’s here on the site if you don’t know it) on a 34/19 (and do, deliberately, for training purposes) and if I was trying to prove a point I might even be able to do it on a higher gear, but were I tackling it as a time trial I’d do most of it on a 34/23 or 34/25. Were I trying to preserve my legs to face Terrys Avenue later, I might even cruise up it on a 34/28 if I had that cassette on.
Great write up on one of the most rewarding climbs in Australia, especially on 3Peaks when you hit WTF corner with 190kms in the legs. MtBawBaw probably has tougher pinches but IMO the back of Falls is a harder climb. (It’s the only road I have seen Dura-ace and Super Record 11 bikes walked up a hill!!) Invest in a compact crank and at least a 27 on the rear to enjoy/complete this climb.
Of note is that the ride from Omeo to WTF corner is probably the most enjoyable stretch of road I have ever ridden. (and the next 45kms from WTF to Falls is the hardest I’ve ever ridden)
Great comments Glenn. You’re right about the road from Omeo to WTF Corner – stunning part of the world!
For those who’ve done it, does it’s extra length make it a tougher climb than Baw Baw?
I have ridden both several times. I rate the Back O’Falls as slightly easier than Mt Baw Baw.
However, if you’re at the end of the Three Peaks Challenge and already have 200km of solid Alpine work in your legs then it may feel tougher.
Riding Noojee to Mt Baw Baw is good final prep to check both legs and equipment before attempting any loop incorporating this climb.
Great points Kosh. And I reckon you’re right about the Baw Baw comparison. So much depends on how many kays you’ve done before starting the climb.
After doing the 3 peaks in 2010, i thought no words could do this climb justice… You’ve summed it up well Matt. Great article.
Great write-up Matt on this hellish climb. Word of caution for anyone wanting to descend this clb from Falls Creek though. The road is quite corrugated in sections and it’s white granite surface makes it really difficult to read. Descend with caution!
Thanks Anth, and great point. The descent is very sketchy, particularly in the wet.