A hors categorie (or “above category”) climb is the highest ranking a climb can be given in races like the Tour de France. On Strava, a HC climb is defined as one for which multiplying the length of the climb (in metres) by its average gradient yields a product of 80,000 or more.
For example, a 20km climb at an average of 4% gives us 80,000 (20,000 x 4) so that would be a HC climb. If that 20km climb instead had an average gradient of 3% it wouldn’t be a HC climb (20,000 x 3.5 = 70,000).
In Australia, we have around 40 to 50 climbs on sealed roads that you could assign HC status to according to Strava, many of which are simply too gentle a climb to consider them a challenge worthy of HC status.
The list here is a collection of the top 30 HC climbs in Australia. Please note that there are many Cat 1 and below climbs that are arguably harder than some of the climbs listed here.
First, a few honourable mentions:
- Mt. Darragh (NSW): 47km @ 1.9% — A terrific climb up the Snowy Mountains on a wonderful stretch of road. A few downhill sections make this a much tougher climb than it appears on paper.
- O’Reillys Lookout (Queensland): 34.4km @ 2.4% — An amazing climb in the Lamington National Park. Superb scenic roads. A gentle start followed by a consistent 12km section at just over 4% complete with some amazing switchbacks, followed by a bit of flat, then rising again to the lookout location.
- Coorumba to Tumoulin Rd (Queensland): 61km @ 1.7% — The ride up to the highest sealed road in Queensland is a lumpy affair, but too low an average gradient to consider for this list.
- Cethana to Cradle Mountain (Tasmania): 37km @ 2.2% — Most of the climbing is done in the first few kilometres out of Cethana (see image below); the remaining climb to Cradle Mountain is a gentle ascent.
Here then, are climbs 30 to 21 in our list of the top 30 HC climbs in Australia:
30. Hawksbury Heights to Katoomba (NSW)
Predominantly on the main road up the Blue Mountains. The early 5km steeper section out of Hawksbury Heights has some very tight hairpin bends and is steeper than the rest of the climb. A generally consistent gradient then eases its way up to Katoomba. Other start points include Penrith or Leony, but I believe this is the best way to experience this climb.
29. Mt Tomah (NSW)
The Bells Line of Road is the other way up the Blue Mountains and for many it is the better way up the mountain with a quieter road, better views and sweeping vistas. Again the early going is harder up the Kurrajong Hills section and the final climb up to Mt Tomah is steeper than the kilometres before it.
28. Thredbo River to Charlotte Pass (NSW)
The road to Mt. Kosciuszko has this major climb just out of Jindabyne. It is a gentle accumulator of vertical goodness, complete with smooth roads, yellow line markings and wide sweeping plains. You can read more about this climb here.
27. Pailing Yards to Mt Canobolas (NSW)
This approach maximises the climbing up to Mt. Canobolas. The climbing tends to roll a bit between steeper sections and flats. The last 5.6km are at 7% average. Click here to read about the great mountain biking available in the area.
26. Tooma to Nurenmerenmong (NSW)
The climb along Tooma Rd to Elliot Rd heading toward the Talbingo Reservoir is a superb climb in an area well worth exploring. The climb can also be done out of Tumbarumba, but isn’t as long or as steep.
25. Lake Mountain, Reefton side (Victoria)
The Reefton spur is a magical experience and the lengthy climb up the back way to Lake Mountain is a gem. There aren’t too many punishing sections of road, but the consistent climbing and great road surface make this climb all the more enjoyable. Click here to read more about this climb.
24: Head Rd – Spring Creek Rd (Carneys Creek side) (Queensland)
This climb which includes a few cattle grids is really a Cat 2 climb, followed by 7km of slight downhill then a Cat 3 climb to the highest road point. I still believe this to be a worthy HC climb owing to the combined steepness of the climbing sections.
23: Mt Spec Rd – Paluma (Queensland)
Located 80km north of Townsville, this climb through the Paluma range on a tight twisty and densely forested road leading up to the township of Paluma is a highlight of the region. The views from up top are spectacular overlooking the forest, farmland and the ocean.
22: Best of All lookout (Robina side) (Queensland)
The Gold Coast hinterland has some amazing climbs. This climb leading up to the appropriately named Best of All Lookout from the heart of the Gold Coast is the best of all climbs in the area. The Pine Creek Side is also worth considering too: 17.7km @ 5%. I just believe that it had too much road in common with this climb to give its own place in the list.
21: Poatina Rd (Tasmania)
This road is regularly used in the Tour of Tasmania and featured in the second last stage of the fictional Tour of Australia in 2014. It provides access to the central plateau and the lakes that were used in the Tasmania Hydro Scheme. It is a sharp climb with many tight corners and steep ramps. The other side of this climb through the highland lakes rises for 62.2km @ 1.4%.