Episode 18: The high country double-header

Route: Myrtleford to Dingo Dell, return
Distance: 109.5km
Duration: 5 hours 4 minutes

Brendan climbing Mt. Buffalo
Brendan climbing Mt. Buffalo

Part of me wishes that the Victorian Alps were a little closer to Melbourne. That way, you wouldn’t have to spend 3.5 hours to get to the region’s epic climbs but I guess the travel time only adds to the excitement and the sense of adventure.

Time wasn’t really on my side last weekend but with a bit of dedication I managed to get two full days of cycling in the alps. After finishing work on Friday afternoon I took the train home, packed the car and then I was off. At 11pm I arrived at the quaint township of Stanley, 10km from Beechworth, where my mother and her partner have just purchased a new property. Brendan had arrived earlier in the evening and the plan was to stay with mum for two nights and get a couple of solid rides in over the weekend.

The Gorge-ous, Mt. Buffalo
The Gorge-ous, Mt. Buffalo

After a bit of a sleep in on Saturday Brendan and I got our bikes together and drove the 40-odd km to Myrtleford where we unpacked and got on the road. Our destination? Mt. Buffalo.

For anyone that’s ridden along the Great Alpine Road between Myrtleford and Porepunkah you’ll know that it’s not the most challenging of rides but it did give us a good warm-up for the climb ahead and with several mountains visible ahead of us, it was a pretty inspiring start to the weekend.

Brendan climbing Mt. Buffalo
Brendan climbing Mt. Buffalo

We hit the base of the Mt. Buffalo climb feeling pretty good and tried to settle in to a rhythm which we could maintain for the next hour and half. As with Donna Buang the previous week, we were keen to ride at a comfortable pace, rather than attempting to set any best times.

After a little more than an hour we reached the plateau where the road splits, noting water under the bridge for the first time that we could remember. Normally when we climb Mt. Buffalo we turn left and stop at the old chalet but this time we were keen to go a bit further. We took the right fork and pushed past Lake Catani and up to Dingo Dell. Disappointingly, the cafe was closed – not surprising given how few people were around – and after a quick stop we turned around and came back down the hill.

Descending Mt. Buffalo
Descending Mt. Buffalo

Next time I climb Mt. Buffalo I’m determined to climb as far as possible before the road runs out. From what I gather, the road becomes unsealed at some point before The Horn but is it still passable on a road bike? If anyone has any info I’d be interested to hear it.

I’ve probably said it before but the descent of Mt. Buffalo is definitely one of the best in Victoria. In fact, of the descents I’ve done in Victoria (and elsewhere for that matter) I think the Buffalo descent is the best going around. The last 12km or so are particularly amazing, with long sweeping bends, great views into the valleys below and a fairly decent road surface.

Descending Mt. Buffalo
Descending Mt. Buffalo - lovely sweeping corners

After getting to the bottom of the mountain we stopped at the Porepunkah general store for a quick drink and an energy hit before pushing through a frustrating headwind back to Myrtleford.

After relaxing at mum’s place for a few hours we headed down the road to the Stanley Pub where we were enjoyed a lovely dinner and some even lovelier hospitality thanks to owner Shane and waiter Simon. If you’re ever in the area and in need of a refreshing beverage, a meal or somewhere to stay the Stanley gets my vote and no, they aren’t paying me to write this.

Route: Germantown to Hotham Heights
Distance: 100.5km
Duration: 4 hours 32 minutes

Last 10km of Mt. Hotham
Last 10km of Mt. Hotham

The next morning Brendan and I had planned a joint assault on Mt. Hotham but it wasn’t to be. Brendan had to head back to Melbourne to get ready to move house the next day but I wasn’t about to let a day in the Alps go to waste. After driving into Beechworth to check out my mum’s new shop – Coach House Vintage on Ford Street, right next to the Beechworth Brewery – I drove through Myrtleford and out to Bright to begin my approach to the great mountain.

Having been a little slow in getting moving that morning and needing to pick my dad up from Tullamarine Airport at 11.30pm that night I found myself with less time than I would have liked – enough, I reckoned, to ride from Germantown to Hotham and back before hitting the road. I set off at a fair clip toward Harrietville, thinking back to my last two encounters with the epic climb.

'Cyclists - Share the Road'
First time I've seen these signs in Australia. Great idea.

Both times had been tough but last time had been particularly difficult, thanks to a bout of tendonitis in my knee. Luckily, I’ve had no pains of any sort as my 3 Peaks training has continued (touch wood) and it meant one less hassle as I started on the 31km climb to the top this time around.

For anyone that hasn’t climbed Mt. Hotham yet, I’d definitely recommend it. Make no mistake, it’s a long, tough and challenging climb but it’s well worth the effort when you emerge from the Alpine National Park at Mt. St. Bernard and you feel like the world is laid out before you. An amazing feeling.

Climbing Mt. Hotham
Climbing Mt. Hotham

Of course, I had 20-odd km of climbing to go before I got to that point and while the Mt. Buffalo ride of the previous day was made difficult by the heat, this ride felt considerably more uncomfortable. I was sweating like the proverbial farm yard animal as I got stuck into the first 10km and before I knew it I was running out of water. In fact, I spent most of the climb looking desperately to the side of the road for a tap or clean-looking stream to refill the old water bottles but to no avail.

Eventually, when I reached the summit after about 2 hours and 15 minutes, I stopped and looked around for a tap but again, no luck. But then I heard something, a gentle trickling by the side of the road. With my mouth parched and the sun still beating down I wandered over to an old pipe coming out from under a driveway. The water felt warm and didn’t look clean in the slightest and I decided not to risk it.

'Steep climb - engage low gear'
Yes it is, and yes I will.

Reaching the top of Hotham is such a great feeling, not least of all due to its formidable length. But when you remember that the ‘descent’ has three painful uphill stretches, it’s always a bit of a downer. Or upper. Whatever. Silliness aside, here’s a couple of things I learnt from climbing Hotham this weekend:

  1. While the steepest parts of the climb are in the last 10km, I reckon the first 10km is the hardest. The gradient isn’t all that tough but it can be hard to find a rhythm early and the steep start and The Meg certainly don’t help.
  2. CRB Hill is often touted as the hardest part of this climb but I reckon the Diamantina is harder. That’s the last steep pinch before the descent into Hotham Heights. It’s a longer, more sustained section than CRB and it comes closer to the end so you are more fatigued.
  3. Mt. Hotham deserves respect and should not be taken lightly! Just because you’ve finished a climb before doesn’t mean climbing it again will be easy.

By the time I started descending I was right on schedule to get down the hill and back to the car by 7.15pm. I flew down to Harrietville, filled up my bottles and muttered a silent prayer to the cycling gods as I noticed that I had a tailwind for the last section back to Germantown. And that’s when I got a flat.

Nearing the summit
Nearing the summit

It felt like the bike was rattling even more than normal and when I looked down I was practically riding on the rim of my front wheel. Silently cursing the cycling gods I got off and in a ditch on the side of the road, I did the fastest tube change I’ve ever done. I was back on the road within about 10 minutes and in the end I rolled into Germantown at 7.15pm on the dot. Perfect!

From there it was a solid 3.5 hour drive back to Melbourne, out to the airport to pick up dad and then, eventually, I got back home. It had been a long weekend – I had left for the high country straight after work on Friday night and I got to bed at 1.30am on Monday morning, just 5 hours before I had to get up.

Strangely though, I pulled up fine on Monday. Given that it was the first time I’d ever ridden 100km on consecutive days, and the fact that I had little sleep, I was expecting to feel like death but all I got for my troubles was a bit of a cold. Fingers crossed I don’t get any sicker.

Hotham Heights
Made it!

I’ve written more than enough for one evening, as usual, but before I close this chapter just a quick reminder that you can join your fellow climbers in conversation at our Facebook page, complete with a snazzy new url – http://www.facebook.com/theclimbingcyclist. We’re also on Twitter as well under the handle @climbingcyclist so get on board that train as well.

Thanks to everyone that’s been commenting on the blog, the climbs, chatting with me on Facebook, commenting on Twitter, sending in stories and sending me emails. It’s really great to hear that people have been enjoying the site and its various social media presences and it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

And finally, a brief teaser – I have a whole host of great climbs to add to the site but I haven’t yet had time to do so. I’m hoping to get one out really soon and I’ve also got another cool story that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all soon. There’s plenty to look forward to so stay tuned!

26 days to go…

5 Replies to “Episode 18: The high country double-header”

  1. Hey Matt,
    I drove to the end of the road when I was in Bright in January.
    The road is unsealed for a fair bit (3k maybe) and pretty rough and stoney – rough enough that we were crawling in the car. Yes, it’s passable on a road bike – but personally I wouldn’t want to put my poor little Cervelo through it. However it’s still fairly new and I tend to be a bit over protective:)

    >Next time I climb Mt. Buffalo I’m determined to climb as far as possible before the road runs out. From what I gather, the road becomes unsealed at some point before The Horn but is it still passable on a road bike? If anyone has any info I’d be interested to hear it.

    1. That’s great Sean, thanks. It’s a shame that the road is so rough – it would be great to be able to climb right to the summit without worrying about punctures etc.

  2. Matt – great to see you do this last weekend ride – I reckon its a really positive step forward. At the end of the day – its your mental fitness that youll need to conquer – so the more you can convince it that youll make it the more likely you will!

    There are a couple of guys from the Adeliade Cyclists site also doing the odd blogg about the lead up to this ride – their last few have centred on food intake – FYI.



  3. awesome post!!
    Can’t agree more on CRB being over-rated. The last climb to the summit is definately harder!
    Btw, i’m entered for 3 peaks with my little brother also. Should be an epic day. Already preying for good weather. I’m staying in mt beauty? are you at the bottom or top of the hill?

    1. Hey Jason. Thanks for that! You and Trevor will smash 3 Peaks. I’m not convinced I’ll be able to finish but I guess we’ll see. Brendan and I are staying at the Bogong Village. 🙂

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