The view from Spion Kopje Tk

Alpine Challenge 36 km course attempt

03 June 2017

Before selfie
Before selfie

Picked up Nelu just after 4 and with a few attempts to get onto the freeway (night works), we finally were under way towards Falls Creek. I was the driver to Glenrowan, from there it was Otto’s turn. Celesta warned us about black ice on the road, so Otto was nervous even before we got there. Few pit stops, fuel… we got there sometime around 9.30, lots of cars in the parking lot – very different to what it was in November last year. Nelu wanted to get to a birthday party after we got back to Melbourne. We calculated about 8 hours to do the run, then another 5 driving home.

Parking, toilet, food, gear up.

Started running at 9.50, we were supposed to be well on Junction Spur by this time. There was snow on the mountains and along the road. Otto was pissed that I didn’t tell him about the snow – I didn’t think there would be any in Falls Creek, either. There was lots of it on Packhorse Track, but it was sunny and beautiful so we soon got into the swing of it, found the rhythm and started to enjoy it. We got to Howmans Gap in no time, even with the picture stops.

Junction Spur was clear of snow, but full of dry leaves, pieces of branches and rocks. We had some food. On one of the downhills Nelu twisted his ankle, we walked a little then kept jogging. We decided to take our time, we’ve got the day to do the 36 kms. When he took a bad step again, he decided to bandage it. By this time I gave him my walking poles for better balance. Nelu told me he’s going to stay about 5 minutes in the creek, that’s going to be good for his ankle. I told him that even one minute is too much – the water is really cold.

On Packhorse Tk
On Packhorse Tk

Otto was struggling in his road running shoes – this terrain is not suited for those. He’s got a brand new pair of Sense Pro 2s at home, I really hope he’ll start to use them.

We had some more food once we got onto Spion Kopje Tk – the climb needed energy. Could hear the water in Rocky Valley Creek and as the sun’s rays were shining through the trees it was a beautiful sight. We took our shoes off for the creek crossing – it was freezing cold. The boys were using the poles, I stepped through without them. Slipped once and managed to get wet much higher than the water level. Couldn’t wait to get out of there, my toes were totally numb. Took a video of Nelu crossing, he couldn’t wait to get out of that freezing water, too.

Put our shoes back, took some photos, I filled up my flask and started the climb.

At first there was not much snow. We took it easy, the air was thin and cold. Otto asked how it is during a race – do you talk to the others? I told him that yes, we do – this is how many runners meet and get to know the others. I told them about the trick: if one is faster, just ask them a question.

At Rocky Valley Ck
At Rocky Valley Ck

The snow appeared again… Otto soon got in the front and I thought he is going too fast. I stayed with Nelu, but he kept sending me ahead. At one point, as I turned around, waited for him, I have noticed his face was grey. I think the altitude and pushing himself has led to this. I kept asking if he was okay. The snow started to be thicker, with ice on top. As you stepped on it, broke, scratching your leg along. Otto was really pissed with me by this time. Why didn’t I tell him there is snow here?! And this much?! I told him I saw a picture with a bit of snow on the top (Aaron’s – from Mount Beauty Park Run), but didn’t expect it to be this much, either. Besides, I’ve never run in these conditions before.

It was beautiful!! Could see the footprints of foxes (?) and another animal (maybe deer?), bushes sticking out from under the snow. The top of the surrounding peaks was covered with white, too. Took a few pictures, then took the lead, so the boys could use my foot prints. I didn’t mind the extra work, this time it was all about them doing the course. Nelu was really struggling and every time they needed something from the pack, we had to stop – they weren’t using running packs, but the normal backpacks.

On Spion Kopje
On Spion Kopje

Getting out of the tree line opened up the view and the brightness of the snow was really blinding. Nelu had sunglasses but Otto and I didn’t. Otto kept stressing about the route. I mean it was covered with snow, but you could still see where it was going. After the Grey Hills turnoff (pulled out the map to show them how far we were from Warby Corner) the track was going left, but we could see it going up on the hill just behind the one in front of us, so we pulled the map out again to ascertain we weren’t lost. Nelu checked the GPS, as well – yes, we were going in the right direction. Because Otto has never done this bit before, he was stressing. Then he was stressing even more when we checked the time… we were so much behind schedule!!!

The ice was even worse in the open. There were steps that I could make on top of it, then suddenly my leg would go straight into it up to my knees, scratching the skin along (left a bit of blood on the white snow). I fell a few times, and so did Nelu. I was using the poles, going in front. The boys were stepping into my footsteps. I could see Timms Spur on the left. Otto decided to get Nelu in the middle, helping him along with encouragement. Nelu stopped quite often, bended forward, you could tell he’s not well, but we had to keep going. Being stuck here wasn’t an option. We ate quite often, didn’t feel like drinking much water.

On the ice
On the ice

There was a point that looked like the little dammed crossing, but there was no visible track – we checked the maps and GPS again. Otto can’t handle these too well. He’s an engineer – he needs to know the schedule and it better be by the minute, which wasn’t the case now. We finally got to the dammed crossing, then headed uphill. Warby Corner shouldn’t have been too far now. I went a bit faster to see it. Once I spotted the pole line coming up on the left, the pole at the junction, he calmed a bit down, but the sun started to go down and it got really cold. I knew we had to put on more layers, but Otto said let’s not stop until we reach Warby Corner. That 100 m felt like a lifetime. Just before Warby Corner there are some rocks, we stopped there, and started putting on the thermals, the extra pants and everything we carried with us.

My fingers were numb way before we got there – I took my gloves off to check the distances and the time – undoing and then re-doing the shoe laces was a real struggle. I also realised we’ve spent 7 hours to get here – so behind schedule!!… We hoped the track from Warby Corner would be a bit better in terms of sinking legs. It wasn’t, but wearing the long pants brought a relief for the legs. It started to get darker and darker, the sun was setting. It was a stunning view, but also scary, Otto was really worried by now. I was going in front waiting to spot the Heathy Spur turnoff. Asked “so I guess Big Foot Snow Marathon is out of question, isn’t it?!” – I believe Otto was close to explosion.

The boys
The Boys

We decided not to go down Heathy Spur, but continue on to Watchbed Creek and take the road from there. It got dark and foggy/misty, couldn’t see far. Glad we took the head torches – all of us. Nelu was feeling better, after Warby Corner I gave him the poles again. Then after the Mt Nelse turnoff we were happy to follow the tracks of a bobcat. There were stacks of some red poles in places, waiting to be spread along the tracks. We could also see a bright light ahead. At a point the bobcat track was split, with one going to the right and the other going straight. We had a look at the GPS map and decided to go right. I told them I might have missed the Heathy Spur turnoff (had a sandwich earlier and might have not looked for a few seconds while unwrapping it)… but then we should’ve seen the AWT turnoff to the left. My rationale was this: the bobcat would end up on the road, it wouldn’t be left in the middle of nowhere, so if we follow its tracks, sooner or later we’ll hit the road, too.  So we turned right, Big River Tk veers to the right, too thinking we were on it.

Otto was really nervous. He started yelling “Hello??!!!” hoping wherever that light was, there are some people and they’d hear us. He has also suggested I call SAR (“you should have the number in your phone from Alpine Challenge”). Drove me nuts! Told him no point calling out, only Nelu and I can hear him and just makes me nervous, too. Nelu’s phone died, he forgot to close the map earlier, so we pulled out mine, but Google Maps was showing the finger – no reception there. Ani called, asked if we were okay. Told her that we are still in the snow and will let her know once we are back in Falls Creek.

The track was not going the way we (Otto and I) remembered, he was even more worried. I’ve been thinking… how could I miss the Heathy Spur turnoff. It’s not that small and it’s not that far off the track. Then I realised what might have happened: the bobcat turned a few meters before the turnoff, thus missing the sign in the fog. I have also thought about checking if the Avenza map works. It has to!! Fair enough, we were on a track close to Heathy Spur. The bobcat couldn’t possibly drive on that – it is a single track. I remembered it from when I was there with Tash last year in November on a lovely sunny day.

Once we could see where we were on the map, and that we were getting closer to the road, Otto loosened up a bit. He told me, he just needs a hug and can’t wait to be on the road, then back to the car safely. We were tossing the idea of staying in Falls Creek over night. The dam was supposed to be on our left, but we couldn’t see it in the fog, our lamps wouldn’t be strong enough anyway. There was water running across the track every now and then, and couldn’t see under the snow, so we had to watch that, too. At some point the bobcat track ended – we could see it turned back from there, but there were human footprints heading down, so we followed them and soon enough we were on the road.

It wasn’t Heathy Spur, but being on the road – even if it was icy, slippery – it was a big relief, we were about 3 kms from Falls Creek. First thing we did was, to have a sip of palinka. That warmed us up. Nelu called Ani and told her that we’ll be staying overnight, then we’ve walked along the road, discussing the day and what we are going to do once we get back to the car. Told Otto if he drives us to Bright, I can drive home from there (I knew he wouldn’t let me drive on that winding road). I was going to go to Falls Creek Country Club Hotel and see if they can accommodate us, Nelu came with me then went to the car, telling Otto not to even think of driving up there – there was ice on the driveway. There were cars parked along the road, you could tell the resort is getting alive with the snow season opening next weekend.

There was no one at the reception at the hotel, so I called the number, but it went to message bank. Also tried the number on their website – no luck, either. Walked down to the car, I started to get really cold. Grabbed my clothes and headed to the toilet to change, while Otto went to check out if the other resort had any rooms available. Nelu and I drove back to the lower car park – he has left his shoes there – then he got some Solo from the wending machine. Nelu craved Solo, while I was having the ginger beer Ani packed for us. Otto called to let us know, that the guy has arrived, he’s got a 3 bedroom apartment for $600/night. Otto asked what we are going to do? Take it or sleep in the car? Nelu said – car it is, then.

While we went to pick Otto up, he chatted with the guy, who was very decent, told Otto he knows it’s very expensive, but they are a 5 star hotel and unfortunately he can’t give any discounts. He said he wouldn’t worry about the drive, Falls Creek is higher and it’s not that cold, it should be OK to drive down to Mount Beauty, accommodation prices are more acceptable there. He even looked up a few places on his phone.  We agreed that if we can get to Bright, we can also drive home. So there came the very slow drive to Mount Beauty – doing max 30-40 km/hr all the way (a police car honked us, then passed us after we pulled over to let them go). Otto said he’d let me drive from Bright if he drives from Glenrowan. Told him to take us to Glenrowan, then I’ll drive the rest. I knew his legs would hurt when driving, I’ve done that many times and it’s not easy.

Heated seats are best!!! I had lots of layers on me, still shivering. Nelu had a sleep in the back, I was on/off in the front, every now and then talking to Otto so he wouldn’t fall asleep. We agreed we’ll have some McDonalds at Glenrowan (haven’t had any for ages!!) and coffee. We fuelled up, then walked into the empty Mackas – it was already nearly 2 in the morning, only the manager working. She took our order, then waited. I only wanted chips. Otto and Nelu had coffee, Nelu also had a chicken wrap – he must have been very  hungry.

It was a very thick fog on the way to Melbourne. Otto was really freaking out on the passenger seat, his face glued to the windscreen. Had to slow down a bit to calm him. The plan was that we drop Otto off first, so he can light the fire and have a shower while I drop Nelu off. Then we’ll have some palinka!

It was strange how many cars were on the road at 3 A.M. – road works on the Tulla meant we had to follow the detour, driving around in places we’ve never been. Ani called after we were out of the tunnel, checking if we were okay. Told her we are not that far from getting home. It was around 4.20 when we dropped Nelu off, more than 24 hrs since we picked him up yesterday morning. It was also their wedding anniversary, I guess it ended up an interesting one…

It was freezing when we got home. Otto made the fire, while I’ve prepared some finger food, it was nearly 5, should’ve had scrambled eggs or something…

All up it was a great day. If I read a report like this the day before, things would’ve turned out different – less stress, for sure. Hats off to both Otto and Nelu for completing these 39 kms – none of them has trained for it.

Food: we had all 3 quarter sandwiches (one with salmon, goats cheese, capers and gherkins, one with butter and cheese and one with butter, cheese and Csabai sausage – all toasted, crusts cut) with 4 cherry tomatoes each, 2 dates, 1 mandarine, 4 pieces of chocolate and crystallized ginger and 1 Knoppers. Nelu and I have packed 3 gels each (didn’t used them), Otto and Nelu packed extra bars and snakes. We’ve shared the latter and I gave my mandarine to Nelu. I took 500 ml of water and two more soft flasks with the intention to fill them all up at Rocky Valley Creek. Didn’t have much water, so I only filled one, which Otto ended up having.

Gear: all the Alpine Challenge mandatory safety gear, except the PLB and hand warmers.

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