16 December 2019
I’ve been wanting to do something crazy like this for years. This time – except for the weather – the planets aligned.
The initial plan was this: park the car at Cope Hut, ride back to Falls Creek, start run at 4:30 next morning, do the original Alpine Challenge course (with the Mt Bogong loop), fuel up, change into night gear when at Cope Hut (about 80 kms in), continue to Pole 333, then Harrietville, have a shower and a good breakfast there, then head back via the original course. Ride to Cope Hut next morning to pick up the car.
There were still fires near Bogong a week before, so I decided to go with the route we did (actually others did) at AC. On the day I drove up I checked again, the website said the tracks are opened, but the map showed otherwise, so I contacted Parks Vic and they confirmed that a part of the track falls into the fire danger area and it’s closed.
1. Do the 160 kms
2. Thread effortlessly to conserve energy for as long as possible
3. Take my time – it’s not a race – check out those things/places that are along the course
4. Enjoy the food in Harrietville
1. 108 kms
2. It’s easy to thread effortlessly with no pack… when you add the pack into the equation it only works (well, kinda) if you slow down. For me effortless means no funny feeling in the stomach, like floating
3. I did take my time. Took lots of pics, tried to cool down my body at every opportunity (creek, stream), looked at the views, checked out creatures that moved in the bush
4. Well… there is nothing open on a Monday afternoon in Harrietville, except for the pubs and they only serve beer
Drove up on Sunday afternoon. Dropped off two bags at Harrietville Caravan Park for resupplies and a set of change clothes for next morning. I also had an 18 A charger thinking while I eat and have a shower I can charge my phone and watch.
Butch was extremely helpful and so excited for me. He let me stash my stuff in the staff area, even use the fridge for the perishables.
Checked into Falls Creek Country Club Hotel (Jude was very nice) and then I got my things ready.
Started just after 4:30; I thought it would be freezing out there but it was OK, didn’t need long sleeves. I managed to get a tad lost before getting onto the track below the dam wall. I always followed the crowd at the start in the dark (I didn’t have these issues in daylight) and there were no pink flags, either 😃 I had to check the Avenza map!!
The sunrise was just spectacular, it always is there. I have also noticed the beauty of Heathy Spur as I wasn’t looking at someone else’s feet in front of me. After I turned onto Big River Spur I saw brumbies on the slope, beautiful creatures. Marum Pt track was beautiful, I enjoyed it.
Both the sun and the moon were visible… the shot I took at the little dam (?) before Langfords Gap has the moon reflected in the water. It was just a beautiful sight with some amazing colours. The mist sitting in the valley was another spectacular view.
After the Bogong Rover Chalet I saw a wild cat run across the road and into the bush. It was dark grey with light stripes in the front of its neck, the size of a young tiger. Stunning sight. It happened too fast for me to take a shot, but it got me thinking… what else is out there?!
I left with 500 ml of sugary water in one flask and another with plain water + the BeFree flask with the filter. I was planning my water resupply points as I was going. There were streams and also the aqueduct at Cope Saddle Hut – I really had to get water there, because the sure next point is Cobungra River. After I filled up the flask I headed up towards Pole 333. There was a little breeze, but the heat was already cooking and the flies started to approach. I managed to fall, straight on my right knee – the one I’ve injured in February. Stood up, dusted off my pants, checked the damage, nothing serious.
As I was getting closer to Pole 333, I’ve noticed a brumby maybe 15 m from the track. I pulled the phone out to take photos, when the horse did a sound trying to scare me off, then made a move like he wanted to charge. Well, that was scary!! I started to yell “go away!!” and stumped my foot to the ground, then slowly moved away. I kept looking back because the horse started to move around and tried to figure out what I would do if it was coming for me. My only option would be to stand behind a pole, since there was nothing else to move behind on the High Plains.
At Pole 333 I took a few shots of the sign, then turned left and followed the pole line, noticing that I must have done -970 m. The sign at the intersection says 5 km to Cobungra Gap and the one a bit further says 6 km. Go figure.
Loved the perfume of the wild flowers the slight breeze brought towards me all along to pole 267. It was fun going down to Cobungra Gap. Took it slower – last time I fell twice and couldn’t afford that today. I could see Mt Hotham and thought how easy would be just to jump over.
I managed to eat so far and was looking forward to the cold creek water at Cobungra River.
When I got there, I thought it’s time to get the triangle bandages out, they will be handy on the way up Swindlers Spur. Drank some water, soaked the bandages, poured some water on my neck and cooled down my arms, then headed towards Swindlers Spur.
This, and Westons Spur are the two hardest hikes for me, the ones I struggle the most. These are the uphills I always get to in the heat of the day, making it even more painful. At AC I pretty much powered up and then paid for it dearly, now I just wanted to go up slow and steady. About 50 m in I realised the food I had wasn’t enough, so I pulled out the ginger beer and had it, then continued.
It was getting warmer and warmer, the flies wilder with their relentless attacks on my face. I wish I brought a fly screen. Gosh, how many times I repeated this sentence over the two days!
I eventually got to the flatter part, with some runnable sections, then reached Derricks Hut. I’ve never been in there, so I thought it’s time to check it out. It was nice and clean with some useful posters on the wall, although most of them reminded the visitors to stick to the etiquette. I took some pictures, then closed the door behind me and left. It was getting close to noon and quite hot.
At pole 60 I turned left towards Mt Loch car park. Machinery Spur is not that fun, it’s a gravel road all in the open, going up, then down, then up again. In the down bit I saw two hikers. Gee, I thought, these are the first humans I’ve seen along the 40 kms!! Had a little chat with the two ladies, they were going to Derricks Hut, then to Spargos. They had big packs and were totally covered.
When I was close to Mt Loch car park, I thought I’ll check out the big chair. Never came this close to it even though I passed it several times before. I climbed up, took a few selfies and dangled my legs like a kid – it was fun! Short one, but it was. Because what followed a bit later, wasn’t.
The building the ASAR checkpoint was in was now empty. It says “Toilets” above the door, but when I went to open it, it was closed. You can clearly see the toilet doors with the signs on them through the window. It’s like showing a kid a candy, then not letting them have it! Shrugged my shoulders, said “That’s not funny!” and kept going.
I’m dreading the hike up to Mt Hotham!! Those bushes always scratch my legs and there’s no proper track to follow. Couldn’t wait to get to the top. There were a few guys working on the poles and another two cleaning some metal, with the music banging from their ute. They didn’t care about me, I said hello, they half heartedly said something back.
I felt that I really need some calories, so I got one of the Spring gels out and ripped the top off. The top came off, but the lining inside didn’t follow, so it was like pushing on a bubble that doesn’t want to burst. Eventually I bit it off, but didn’t need this extra struggle. With a gel!!
I saw there is someone in the tower, but by the time I got there, the person disappeared. It was a bit spooky, as the door was banging against something in an eerie way. I took a few shots, then headed down towards Diamantina Hut. The sign says Diamantina Springs, so I thought I’ll check out the back of the hut, maybe there is a spring there. Haven’t found any, so I crossed the road and headed along the Razorback. Saw a pink tape and smiled – last year I was collecting them on my way down at 4 Peaks.
Bon Accord was a struggle in the heat, with temperatures over 30°C, reaching 35° for some time. The overgrown, scratchy bushes, the dry dust, rocks, branches so slippery and I couldn’t afford to fall, damage any ligaments or tendons today. Kept saying “Careful with that ACL!! Can’t get injured!”. I also couldn’t afford to get bitten by a snake, so I was extra attentive the whole day. I just wished it was raining… I can do rain any time, even enjoy it!
This constantly scanning the ground for snakes is quite tiring, just like when running at night – I’ll end up with HFP (Head Forward Posture) soon.
I could hear the sound of the water below and just couldn’t wait to get there. I already imagined taking off my shoes and soaking my feet in the cold water while cooling down my arms, face and neck. This cooling down arms, face and neck became one of my favourites on this trip, I did it at nearly every opportunity.
I loved that the water doesn’t taste plasticky from that BeFree flask, and it’s a luxury and privilege to have COLD water on such a hot day in the middle of nowhere.
When I got there, I found a spot with a little shade on the other side and I did exactly how I imagined, it felt great! Now I started to look forward to a proper meal and something cold… I bet they have non-alcoholic beer (yeah, I know that’s not like me, but I wanted to play it safe) at the pub…
There was a group of school girls bathing in the river, they made quite a noise. They said hello when they saw me, which I thought was really nice.
I first walked into the pub and had a beer (non-alcoholic), it felt sooo good! I had another one and had a chat to the bar tender (Matt) while another person walked in. He looked like a regular.
Then I headed down to the caravan park to get my charger. When I came back I asked where is the best place to have some food now in Harrietville. Both Matt and the other guy were looking at me strangely. When this person said that the Bakery is closed, the Ice Creamery might have something, if I hurry I might get there before they close… he saw the guy putting the chairs up. Well… that didn’t sound promising, but I headed that way anyway. The Bakery was closed, and so was the Ice Creamery. I thought I’ll check out the other pub – they usually have pizza or something. The sign in front does say that, but when I walked in the lady told me that they don’t have food, they just bought the place yesterday and will be making changes. I could see they are making changes, but to the stone work outside, which wasn’t much help for me.
I walked back, hoping the Snowline pub might have something (anything!!). Matt said the kitchen opens only on Wednesday, but I can have some beef jerky… in retrospective I should’ve had the beef jerky, but I was looking forward to something substantial. Something that will give me enough energy to get up to Mt Feathertop and through the night with some top ups from the stuff I packed. That alone (the stuff) wasn’t enough, I’ve already used up too much by that time and frankly, I didn’t feel like eating that anymore.
I had another beer while charging my phone and watch, and spoke to Robbie (the regular, who happened to come from WA, is a stone mason and is helping his friend out at the other pub). Matt asked me if I get spooked out by animals. Told him that deer sometimes do that, especially in the dark. Forgot to mention that a duck did that to me along the aqueduct in the morning. Then he went on to say that there are dingos in the mountains and they attack in a pack. I asked what do you do when you get attacked by dingos? Robbie said that just pick up a stick a whack around. I tried to imagine that and thought the walking poles now would be handy.
I went back to the caravan park to drop off the power bank and re-stash my pack, then headed towards Bungalow Spur. As I was walking across the little bridge, I thought I should just get some fresh water from the river, it’s cooler than the tap water I filled the BeFree flask with (as it turned out it even tasted like chlorine). I didn’t do it and I paid for it later.
It was hot, very hot, even though I left later compared to three weeks ago. The fact that I was energy depleted, didn’t help, either. I set myself a goal – at Tobias Gap sit down and eat a protein wafer. NO MATTER HOW!! So when I got there, I sat down on the Tobias Gap sign (just like I did 3 weeks ago) and bit into the wafer. It felt like and tasted like saw dust, so I poured a bit of water into my mouth to try to actually chew it. It didn’t feel good, but eventually finished it, then stood up and went on.
I’ve noticed it’s hard to breathe and tried to figure out why. I pulled away the top above the xiphoid process and was able to breathe easier, it made a huge difference. I decided to take the crop off and put the thermal on instead when I get to the hut. I also folded down the seam of my pants so it won’t press on my abdomen.
The colours of the trees and the sun setting were just spectacular! Saw a bird so beautiful. It let me take a shot, which made me forget about the hard part for a bit.
The tap water was simply yuck, couldn’t wait to get to the spring. I was hoping that the one closer, on the left will have some water flowing but that wasn’t the case, so my last chance was the one before the hut. Gosh, that water felt amazing!!! It was icy cold and tasted like water (if water can taste anything). I also wetted one of the triangle bandages, thinking it’s getting cold soon, no need for this much wet stuff.
The rays of the setting sun painted the trees pink, just stunning!!
I could hear voices when I was getting closer to Federation Hut. There was a group of youngsters camping there, ready to prepare dinner. We had a chat, then I went into the hut to take off the top and change into the thermal. I also got the torch out as it was getting dark. Before I left I asked if they had a walking pole. They didn’t, but one of them had a good walking stick, which he gave to me. They asked me if I was OK, which I think was very thoughtful of the. I thanked them, said good bye and headed up to Mt Feathertop.
By this time it was getting dark, I realized I forgot to eat at the hut, my energy levels were below functional, started tripping (more) and thought I need to come up with a plan. Got up to the first peak and turned around thinking I’ll go back to the hut, rest for a bit, hopefully I’ll be able to eat and then continue. I am glad Otto called me while I was up there, otherwise there is no reception in the hut. I told him what I will do and promised I’d only continue if it was safe.
When I was getting closer to the hut I could hear voices, but couldn’t see anyone until the torch found the youngsters. Few of them were sitting on a log, the rest standing around and gazing at the stars. I couldn’t help but let a “Wowww!” out, it was truly spectacular. Told them I’d stay until I get better. They asked if I needed anything… a pillow?! I said I’ll be OK, thanked them and went inside the hut.
It felt very cold in there, but since I wasn’t staying for long I didn’t light the fire. Took my shoes and socks off, pulled out whatever clothes I had from the pack, put the WP pants on, pulled the WP gloves over my feet and laid down on the hard bench to get some rest. It felt good and I think I dosed off for a short time. I couldn’t stay in the same position for long on the hard surface. When my body temperature fell I pulled out the space blanket. Kept the long johns and the beanie as pillow.
I looked at my watch, it was 22:31. If I get out and continue, I might get into trouble on the way down on Diamantina Spur. I will also have to go through the whole shebang as today – the heat, getting to Harrietville in the afternoon, no food, no energy. And those bloody dingoes!!! I couldn’t get them out of my mind!! The space blanket kept my body heat in and every time I wasn’t covered I could feel the freezing cold. I also thought that it must be very cold out there and the gear I am wearing is just simply not enough on upper body (the legs were ok).
I also contemplated getting out and getting along the Razorback and arriving to Harrietville in the morning… but then again, the cold could’ve been an issue. I decided to play it safe (not so much for my own sake, but for my loved ones) and stay until morning. Put my phone on charge and tried to get some sleep. The space blanket wasn’t helping, I should’ve just bought that Escape Bivvy that works like a sleeping bag but it’s very light and packable.
At some point I sat up and tried to eat – wasn’t happening, bit more rest required… then the morning came. I could hear some noises outside, thought an animal or one of the youngster went to the toilet. I managed to eat a protein wafer, so the prospects of going on for a while looked good.
When I looked outside, the youngsters were sitting on the log, having their coffees. How cool is that?! I thought it’s time to face the music and get out of the hut, expecting freezing cold. Big surprise! Outside it was much warmer than inside. Had a quick chat with them and headed up to Mt Feathertop.
The sunrise was spectacular! I always wanted to experience this on that mountain. It took a weird twist of tale to actually end up here at this time, but I wanted to make the most of it. Took a few shots and stopped every now and then to really enjoy the view. As I looked back, I saw the youngsters heading up the mountain. They were going quite fast, which I admired, but then I thought how much easier is without a 4-5 kg pack. I was trying to avoid the same mistake I made at AC (powering up after just having recovered), I just took it slow, thinking of which point did I really reached the previous night.
I took a few shots on the top of the mountain, then took the WP pants off, packed them and headed down. I was a bit embarrassed taking the WP jacket as well, as all I had underneath was the thin ioMerino thermal (a tad transparent). Said hello and bye to the group as I saw them on my way down, then after the cross I stopped to take the jacket off – it was getting warm and I didn’t expect to see anyone for a while. Contemplated on rinsing, then putting the crop back on at Kiewa, but the thought of it restricting my breathing on the way up Westons made me dismiss the idea.
Diamantina Spur was as scratchy on the legs and arms and hard as always, with the bewildered flies as an added anguish. I was looking forward to getting some cold water from the Kiewa river, then take my shoes off and cool down at Blairs Hut before the Westons hike. Based on my calculations it would be about noon by the time I get to the top with a water top up at the Westons Hut stream.
The water was refreshing in both places. Standing in the icy cold water after Blairs Hut was pure bliss!!
As I was hiking relatively steadily, I remembered the time I was here with Tay (similar circumstances: heat, flies, ants… being tired), then at night time at AC, where I met the group I ended up travelling with for pretty much the rest of the course. How much better the darkness and cool was?! But today I also noticed the horse poo and footprint… which meant brumbies must have been on this track. Tried to work out where I’d jump if a heard came down towards me. I’m sure they’d be spooked to see this bright thing.
Eventually got to Westons Hut; saw a bench near the fire place and thought it would be nice just to lie down for a few minutes, so I took the pack off and did just that – lied down and stretched my back a little. Then I heard the hut’s door moving – sat up, looked and listened. It was the wind causing a draft, but I thought I should go anyway.
At the stream I dipped the bandages into the little waterhole, then cooled down my arms, neck and face. There is a bucket a bit further up, where I thought there’d be better flow, but it seemed too cumbersome to get up there, so I aborted the thought.
Did about 50 m (?) when I dropped one of the bandages, straight into dust. Went back and this time I climbed up and tried to wash it, as it was full of dirt and pieces of chips or something… wasn’t perfect, but I put that one around my neck and used the cleaner one on my head and face to fend off the wild flies. They were just maddening!
As I was reaching the High Plains, I could pick up the pace a little. Couldn’t really run, but walking faster was possible. I passed a few streams and did the arms, neck and face thing as often as I could (well, compared to how fast my sleeves were drying). The sun was getting stronger and the heat hotter – could feel it on my calves and forearms.
When I was getting closer to Pole 333, I saw a group of hikers sitting down to the right just next to the AWT. Waved them (they waved back), then I turned left, heading towards the Fainters turnoff. This part would’ve been fun if it wasn’t for the flies. It’s mostly downhill, even though the terrain is uneven and unpredictable (sloshy grass, moving rocks that splash mud on you). Then came the abrupt turn to the right onto Fainters with the rocky/grassy 4WD uphill… I thought it never ends. It even seemed longer than in the cold, mist and dark at AC. Probably the flies and the heat had something to do with it.
When I saw Pretty Valley Pondage, I had a wow moment – never seen it from this point in the daylight and it was beautiful! I soon bumped into a couple, the lady had such a fair skin, I thought she’d be burning very fast. They were heading just out to the hut. I was so over everything, that I forgot to ask which one. We wished each other the best, then I went on, crossing the wall (not sure if that’s it, though) and trying to distract myself with the view.
Saw cars in the parking lot, a guy unpacking his bicycle. I waved, but he didn’t bother waving back, even though I saw he was looking at me.
Then I saw this 4WD approaching. “Here we go, they won’t slow down, leaving me in the dust” – I thought, but to my surprise the Parks Vic car slowed and the window went down as well, revealing two ladies. The one at the wheel was older, maybe my age, the other one probably in her twenties. They were really nice; asked me if I was OK, if I needed a ride, or something. She offered cashews, which I couldn’t accept because I couldn’t eat anything. They asked me what I was doing. When I told them they were very excited about it, clearly liking the idea. The lady at the wheel told me that they will be coming back, I can still make up my mind about taking a ride back with them.
Two more cars came, none of them was this careful with slowing down. In fact one (obviously a cyclist, because he had a bicycle in the back) didn’t slow down at all, leaving me in the biggest dust. “What a dickhead!!” – I thought. What’s wrong with cyclists?! Aren’t they human?!
There were a few streams along the road and as soon as I felt that the bandage is drying, I stopped to get it wet, it seemed that there were fewer flies than as when it was dry. Besides, the water was icy cold and felt really good. At one of these streams I slipped and scratched my right little finger, which started to bleed and attract more flies… can’t win.
“Not much more to go” I thought. I decided long ago that I’ll give Mt McKay a miss – didn’t feel the urge to go up on this occasion and I was sure as hell to not take the scenic route (Ruined Castle track across The Desert) as we do at AC. I saw one more car after the Mt McKay turnoff, then another one just before Falls Creek. Those few kms felt like eternity in the heat and with the constant fly attacks.
I felt a relief when I saw the Last Hoot turnoff; headed down the grassy slope, when I saw a ute and 2 guys working on the right. One of them waved. “Wow! That’s a new one!!” I thought. I waved back then spoke to them as I passed them, mentioning a cold beer when finished.
I took a turn and ended up on one of the back streets of the village… I thought “Good one, that’s all what I need right now – a detour!!” Looked at the tiny village map when I got to the cul de sac and figured out how to get down to Slalom Plaza. Within a few minutes I was there, stopped my watch walked to my accommodation and was ready for that beer, toothbrush, food, beer and sleep.
What I took away from this experience
1. Don’t count on food in a small town – have a backup plan
2. Take a fly screen on a hot day – it will save the energy spent on waving the flies away or holding the bandage
3. Increase distance incrementally (10-15 km at a time for this distance) – it worked in the past, why reinvent the wheel?!
4. Take Otto out on each of the miler loops (one by one), so he knows what they are like and stops freaking out every time I head up to the mountains
5. Take the poles with me/get the lightweight ones eventually
6. Get the Escape Bivvy – it’s a tad bigger than the space blanket, but I think it’s a better option, especially on a solo outing
7. Carry extra clothing
• Vegemite and butter toast bites – with lots of vegemite
• Peanut butter and homemade cumquat jam – wasn’t that sweet, just perfect
• Non-alcoholic beer
• Cold creek water
• Water with dextrose monohydrate although the tap water made it taste a bit like Cl
• Spring gel – even though I had to really push it down, it tasted like real food. Might have made a difference if I had it earlier (not last minute)
• Mashed potato – the tastiest food I had. Pity I forgot the pickled cucumbers to go with it 😃
• Ginger beer – still works, wish I took more with me
• Coke – wish I took more
• Love the Salomon WP pants – they are so comfy and they don’t feel baggy as my previous overpants
• Triangle bandages – will never go on a long run without them
• The new Salomon Advance Skin 12 l pack – it’s super light (when empty), but the new pocket arrangement and front hooks need a bit of getting used to. I will need to remove the small pocket that’s dangling inside the right front pocket – it gets caught when reaching in/out of the pocket
• Saucony Peregrine – very comfy, although they won’t last long. Why aren’t these shoes made for ultras?! Two long runs is all they can handle???
• DexShell WP socks – they ARE waterproof, but they collect a ton of dust and by the end chafed my legs a little (not complaining, though)
• 10 A power bank – I only had a 6 A at AC and ran out of juice, had to borrow one to charge my phone. The 10 A Belkin Pocket Power is 234 g (I know, nearly like the pack itself), but can charge the phone 3 x
• Stashing my resupply at the caravan park – true it’s a trip down the lane but when doing things solo it’s one of the best options, because I could’ve had a shower in the morning and started the last stretch fresh
• Going “effortless” – helped me hold on to the energy for a bit longer
What didn’t work
• Cherries when I got to a point when not feeling well. I mean they tasted great, but they felt too acidic once I had them. True they weren’t the super sweet ones to start with
• The Lululemon top I chose – need to go for an older one, the not-that-tight kind
Reflecting back to the whole experience
I might have slightly underestimated the magnitude of this undertaking and how it impacts my family. Truth is, I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. Encouragements were welcome (thank you), but I didn’t want the negativity that comes with worry. Of course there are “What if?!”s with a trip like this and let’s face it, things could go pear-shaped, but unless I give it a go I won’t know. I value experiences. Good or bad, they are experiences that shape me into who I am. The reason I put this all in writing is to share it with everyone who takes the time to read it and is interested in getting into the mountains or going these distances. So they learn and don’t make the same mistakes as I did.
After each big trip I take a look at my body – scratches, bruises, cuts, damaged toenails… I pretty much know where I got which, so next time I’m back in the same spot it doesn’t happen again (except for the damn bushes that scratch my legs, unless I wear something long I’ll have to put up with them).
I’d like to thank those who have messaged me, called me and supported me – you know who you are.
Max elevation: 1831 m
Min elevation: 498 m
Total climbing: 4952 m
Total descent: -5038 m
Total time: 09:10:12