Of all the alpine resorts in Victorian you’d have to say it’s Mt. Buller that has best embraced the “green season”. The facilities for mountain bikers are arguably the best in the country and, more than ever, the resort is doing its best to welcome road cyclists.
But with our Domestique 7 Peaks Series ride up to Mt. Buller complete last Saturday (a report on that is coming soon), I was keen to trade the thin tyres for something fatter and get off the beaten track.
I’ve been wanting to do some mountain biking at Mt. Buller for years now but never really had the opportunity. But on Sunday the weather was perfect and I had a whole day up my sleeve to explore the famous trails around the resort.
I was joined by Domestique/Hells 500 regular Rohan Wills and my brother Brendan and together the three of us set off in the late morning in search of some easy trails to get us warmed up.
Heading out of the Mt. Buller resort along Stirling Road we quickly reached the end of the sealed stuff and it was on to a rutted 4WD track. Just around the corner we were presented with our first choice of the day: should we go right and follow the road down, or left and head up the hill. We went right … and promptly got ourselves lost, just 500m from the start of the ride.
We backtracked up the steep track and found our way out to the Gang Gangs trail, a trail of intermediate difficulty that connects with a bunch of other trails further out from the village.
Down the singletrack we went, Brendan leading at the front, showing Rohan and I how it’s done. Brendan’s MTB experience came to the fore and Rohan and I struggled to keep up, both on the technical descents and on the rocky climbs.
It wasn’t long before we were presented with another choice and taking a right-hand turn we found ourselves climbing up a series of steep switchbacks which, unbeknownst to us, was taking us right back to the resort.
Even though all three of us had a map on us, and we’d seen a map at the end of Stirling Road, we more or less had no idea where we were for those opening kilometres. With trails overlapping each other all over the place it was hard to work out where we were on the map and where we needed to go.
After a ridiculously steep gravel climb that took us back into the village we decided to repeat the loop we’d just done, but take the left turn away from the village. This would take us east in the direction of a bunch of other trails, where we could decide how adventurous we were feeling.
We rode down Gang Gangs again, took the left on to the Picnic Trail and found our way out to Corn Hill Road where the Picnic Trail intersects the Silk Lane trail and the Delatite River Trail.
There’s also some kind of skills track near that intersection, including a narrow wooden see-saw bridge which was on the path ahead of us as we turned a corner. In a moment of confidence I rode straight at the see-saw but halfway up it my confidence disappeared and I decided to bail.
My front wheel dropped off the side of the 50cm-high bridge and I followed it, falling over the handlebars into an ungraceful heap on the ground. No damage done. I dusted myself off, laughing, and rejoined the others.
At the intersection of the three trails we considered our options. We could continue east, knowing that there was likely to be some challenging grades and long climbs ahead, or we could head north-ish, down the Delatite River Trail to Mirimbah and get the shuttle bus back up to the village.
After some deliberation we went for the second option, and started the long but amazing descent off the mountain.
The Delatite River Trail is rated as an intermediate track but some of the early sections made me wonder just how hard the more challenging trails are. We were descending steep rocky inclines at close to 20% sometimes, and you more or less had to hold the brakes the whole way down to control your speed. At least I did anyway.
It sounds obvious but I’m always surprised by just how much you need to concentrate when you’re mountain biking. You’re making so many decisions and corrections every second, just to make sure you avoid that rock, that overhanging tree branch, or that dirty big pothole that would almost certainly unseat you.
A few kilometres down the trail I lost concentration for one brief moment and that was all I needed to lose control of the bike and find myself soaring over the handlebars. I guess I must have grabbed a little too much of the front break in a moment of panic which saw me forcibly ejected from the bike, landing on my face and the left-side of my torso.
I reckon I was probably travelling at somewhere around 30km/h at the time of the incident and thankfully the track was considerably less steep at that point than it had been earlier. But I still hit the ground hard and slid for a brief moment.
They say the world goes into slow motion in a moment like that. It didn’t really for me, although I distinctly remember thinking “oh shit, this is going to hurt” as I sailed through the air. And it did.
Lying there on the ground, face down, I found myself doing a brief diagnostic check. “I can feel my arms and legs; that’s a good sign. My neck and back don’t hurt; that’s good too. My face and jaw hurt, and so do my ribs. But I think I’m OK.”
I sat up as Brendan, who was directly in front of me, turned around and asked if I was ok. I tried to say “I think so” but I was winded and I could barely squeeze the words out. I got back on the bike as quickly as I could, knowing that adrenaline was likely masking the worst of the pain. I was keen to get going and enjoy as much of the ride as I could before things got more painful.
It’s fair to say that it’s not hard to enjoy riding the Delatite River Trail. Even with a chunk of skin off and increasingly sore ribs and shoulder I was having a blast descending into the valley, riding alongside the river, across the river and through the river.
The raised log bridges and river crossings are a real highlight, as is the way the track just winds its way gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) towards Mirimbah.
Eventually we popped out near the tollbooth in Mirimbah, all three of us having had a great time on the way down. We headed to the general store to book ourselves a spot on the shuttle back to the village, grabbed something to eat and drink and went for a brief spin back up the trail we’d just descended as we waited for the shuttle to come back down the hill and pick us up.
Back in the Mt. Buller village Rohan and Brendan said their goodbyes and made their way back to Melbourne but with a little bit more time up my sleeve I decided to head back out for a bit more of a spin. I was in a bit of pain, but not enough to stop me from riding, plus I figured I don’t get that many chances to go mountain biking at Mt. Buller so I wanted to make the most of it.
I followed the summit road beyond the Arlberg Hotel, where the road turns to gravel and where I always stop when riding my road bike. I followed the gravel road up a few steep ramps and across the plateau where many of Buller’s chairlifts top out.
The final push to the very summit of Mt. Buller included a ride up a super-steep ski slope (200m at 21% apparently) and a walk up a bunch of steps. The views were worth it though, of course, and having never been to the summit before it gave me a completely different perspective on the mountain and its surrounds.
From the summit I made my way to the start of the Copperhead downhill trail, just a couple kilometres back down Summit Road. It was marked on the map as a beginner trail but again I was near the limit of my technical skills just getting down it in once piece.
Because I was riding alone I found myself being extra cautious – if I came off and injured myself badly there’d be no-one around to find me. Riding more cautiously made me feel far less confident which, in turn, made me feel less safe. It was a bit of a vicious cycle but the end result was that I didn’t enjoy that that trail as much as I had the earlier stuff with Brendan and Rohan.
At the end of the trail I found my way back to the main road and climbed the steep final 1.5km to the summit before calling it a day. It had been a ride of real ups and downs, but overall I’d really enjoyed myself. I’ll certainly be back.