Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Audax Alpine Classic

Sums it up pretty well;

Thredbo to Khancobin

...and back again.

 The last time I drove the Alpine Way beyond the Dead Horse was probably 10 years ago.  I remembered a relentlessly winding undulating road, where vehicle and concentration are tested with little respite.

Bumping into Zlatko a few weeks back, he suggested that Thredbo-Khancobin return was as hard as 3peaks.  The same altitude gain compressed into 150 km.  Sounded like a great adventure through beautiful country.

The opportunity presented itself.  We were there, and we had road bikes instead of the usual mounties.  We rolled out of Dugbo at 7 sharp.  Crystal clear morning, maybe 15 degrees.  As we slowly cranked up to Dead Horse Gap, pockets of distinctly warm air flagged what the day was likely to become.  Some terrific views through the trees betray the looming drop; 1600 m to 500 m in 18 km.  The top of the descent is a delight, cruising down moderate grades through sub alpine tall timber.  The road steepens before easing very briefly, approx half way, at the Leather Barrel Creek picnic area.  The final 8 km are technical, steep and narrow.  Unfamiliar with what might present round the next corner, we play it safe. Not super value in that regard - a theme for the day.  We bottom out, kissing the Murray River (and Victorian border) at Tom Groggin.  100 m later we are climbing again.  

Dead chip seal, steep pinches and slow drags become the order of the morning.  We've only covered 25 km in the first hour, despite losing a km of altitude.  It becomes apparent that this is going to be a longer day than I'd envisaged.  Looking at the Thredbo to Khancoban profile (1400 m start and 300 m finish) I thought we'd cruise the 76 km easily in under 3 hours.  Think again.  We finally get some pay dirt in the fast run into Geehi (which the Mudge and I yell with gusto in the stye of YeeeHaa!).  We almost get an entirely flat km before the road tilts upwards and the next 8 % sector slows progress.

The pinch out of Geehi was just an aperitif for the main climb of the morning, taking us from 500 m back up to 1000 m over 8 km.  The road is unlike any I've ridden before, threading through a dozen steep walled cuttings, with chicken wire holding everything in place.  Steep, narrow, dead track.  At least it was largely shaded, with almost zero traffic.  We eventually top out at Scammel's Spur and get some pretty amazing views along the ridge-top before the plummet past the power station all the way into town.  Thankfully the grade for most of the descent is mild.  Good value (GeeeHai!) and not so nasty for the return run. 

We roll into Khancoban with exactly 76 km and 3 hours 26 min on the clock.  The cafe does excellent fried egg sandwiches and perhaps the most magnificent milkshake in my memory.  Tall tin cup, filled to the brim and sweating with condensation. The surface was so cold we cradled it in our hands, much the way cold hands savour a warm mug. Ice cream headache cold!

Conditions were warm and muggy.  With 31 C forecast it was now 11 am and time to get moving.  We sweat buckets as we grind from 300m, back up the exposed road past the Murray 1 Power Station.  The upper climb is more shaded.  We pause to watch a brown snake make its way lazily across the tarmac, avoiding the fate of a dozen of less fortunates.  The plummet down through the cuttings is punctuated by breathtaking views of the main range.  GeeeHai!  Bottoming out we are climbing immediately before dropping once again into Geehi.  Now with added gusto; GeeeHai!  We both agree that, aside from the impending big climb at the end, the rest of the course is easier in return mode; shallower climbs, and pay dirt down all those nasty pinches we suffered on the way out.

Another shallow grind is followed by yet another fast run to Tom Groggin.  The calm before the storm.  Anita is starting to suffer from hot-foot, so we sooth feet in Snowy Creek and fill bottles before facing the first half of the big one; 8 km at 8-10%.  It was tough.  Lots of snail-pace chugging before the brief respite at Leather Barrel.  We press on and up the last few steep Kms.  The gradient eventually eases off in the trees.  Just shy of Dead Horse we hear the once elusive Crescent Honeyeaters everywhere.  So this is where they hang out.  A final GeeeHai!, as the top is gained before dropping back to village just shy of 4 pm, and, more crucially, before the closing of the bakery.

All in all a top day out, covering 155 km and 4150 meters through some amazing country.  Not quite as tough as 3 peaks, but then again we weren't trying to post a blistering time.  Sometimes pacing makes all the difference.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Cascade to Pinch

And now for a dash of something horsey.  Last year Paul, from Rolling Ground, mentioned an epic mtb adventure that takes riders deep into the southern section of Kosciuszko, but is rather difficult to complete in a day unless you've got the reserves for a 170 km sitting (complete loop from Jindabyne), or unless you can organise a car shuffle.  The off-road section of the loop starts just below Dead Horse Gap, following the Cascade Trail, over a ridge, then drops to a plateau called the Tin Mine area, mostly at elevation 1200-1300 m, which was originally frequented by graziers in the 1800s.  45 km from the Cascade trail head, and after passing several huts en route, the trail plunges down a ridge, from 1200 m to 300 m in 6 km, joining the Pinch River just before it joins the Snowy River

Having had her fill of excitement the day prior, Gillian kindly offered to pick us up mid afternoon at the Pinch River exit.  We drove to Thredbo, coffee'd at the Bakery, then Anita, GK and I rolled out with the clock at approx 10 am.  The ease of climbing asphalt from Thredbo (1400 m) was soon replaced by the rumble of tread searching for traction up the stepped water bars which punctuate the little used vehicular track of the Cascade Trail.  The first, and fortunately only, snake of the day slithered off the track about a km from the high point of Bob's Ridge (1800 m) from which great views were afforded into the Victorian high country to the south west.

From here the track descends immediately, mirroring that of the ascent; gravelly runs punctuated by water bars trying to kick you off.  A couple of walkers warned us of snakes ahead.  We dropped down to the Tin Mine plateau, and soon came across Cascade Hut for a brief stop.  This is as far as GK and I got the previous year.  We pushed on.

The vehicular track increasingly became double track, with water bars competing with mounds of horse dung as primary obstacles.  Either horses pass extraordinary amounts of manure in a sitting, or defecation is a communal ritual, as some of the piles were over a foot high. Obstacles in their own right.  We passed through ghostly forests of 100 ft silver matchsticks; the remnant trunks from the massive fire that obliterated the area back in 2003.  The new growth is only meters high, and will likely take generations to get back to its former splendour.  

Eventually more enclosed forest is gained and the trail flattens out a bit.  Smooth runs punctuated by water bars and dung mounds which afford aerial fun.  The Tin Mine huts are located about half way in.  Time for a picnic lunch on some well manicured lawns.  It takes us about 10 min to realise that 70 m to the east 4 brumbies are lazily grazing.

The next 10 km are some of the most enjoyable of the day.  Lovely flowing double track through alpine wilderness.  Coming round a corner we encounter another mob of brumbies.  One of them holds ground in the middle of the track before leading off the others as we rumble through.  A little later the shrill squeal of piglets fill our ears as they run for cover.  Very cute.  We spot the sow (distinctly less cute), and hope the boar is not too close.  

It had all been a bit too easy.  With track running out we finally get some pinch climbs we can't clean, and the thought of how we might descend close to 10 km of the stuff starts to become a little daunting.  We cross the Ingeegoodbee River for the last time, then gain altitude along the 9 mile pinch road, until we nervously sidle round a final hilltop.  The uncomfortable feeling of approaching the edge of the world was building.  And finally here it was.  Wow.  I've seen some impressive things climbing, but this view rates right up there. 

We gingerly head down the first ramp of a few hundred meters, which is all we can see, rear wheel sketching here and there, before it kicks 90 degrees to the left.  The next ramp is  steeper and longer, punctuated, ironically, by not enough water bars. This really was man from snowy river stuff.  I wasn't sure if I could pilot such a long loose sector.  After 10 m I surfed to the side and managed to drop anchor, advising Anita to try to walk it.  This wasn't walkable in the normal sense.  But one could manage controlled glissading steps if you used one hand to lock the rear wheel and kept the other other hand on the saddle for support.  

GK showed us what pussies we were by performing an impressive controlled slide down the entire length of the run.  It was frightening to watch as he fish tailed from one line to another.  Once committed, stopping becomes impossible until the grade slackens.  Round the next corner things actually flattened out for a bit.  Be careful what you'd wished for.  I decided I'd encourage Anita to ride all the segments I was reasonably sure wouldn't involve the front wheel locking up.  The aim at this stage was simply to gain the bottom, no matter how long it took.  Anita and I probably walked half a dozen segments.  GK rode the entire thing.  It wasn't till the bottom he revealed that the two-wheeled outlaw had got away from him on one of the final sectors, losing him a little bark.  We whooped with delight once the bottom had finally been attained, with the Pinch River gurgling on our left hand side.  It was hot, we were parched, and hoped that we'd see Gillian soon.  

We didn't have to wait long.  The Subaru soon appeared, complete with Gillian and some ice cold Stella longnecks.  Truly magic stuff, and a great way to cap a wild day out the back of nowhere.  

The following day we moved from Jindy to Perisher to catch up with family, where I read some history of the Tin Mine area.  Apparently the 9 miles pinch was just as epic back in the 1800s.  Stockmen used to herd cattle and wagons up this same diabolical ridge to enable summer grazing on the plateau.  If I hadn’t read it I wouldn’t have believed that anything, constructed of flesh or hoof or steel, could grind up such a road.  Words can't quite convey the terror or the thrill.  You have to see it for yourselves.

Jindy Escape

For the third year running, with NYE approaching, the business of Sydney was swapped for the relative quiet of Jindabyne. On the 30th, with the forecast a little on the windy side, we hopped aboard mounties and ploughed up the valley to Thredbo.  Only two nasty climbs in the offing, but after the second one, given the strengthening headwind, we descended a little further to Crackenback Village to hide in the trees, then gradually climbed the 17 km along the Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT) to Thredbo village, for coffee, pastries and pies at the bakery.  Last year the trail was incomplete, but this year the missing bits were all in place.  National Parks have spent $6 million on bridges, including 3 suspension and two arched spans over the Thredbo river.  It's terrific, even more so on the way down.  The circuit round Crackenback Village is extremely buff and well worth a look as well.  85 km for the day.  

Little wind was forecast for day 2 (NYE), so we chugged our way from Jindy (900 m) up the Perisher valley, on to Charlotte's Pass, and then the final 8 km of gravel to Rawson's Pass at 2100 m (3 and a half hours).  Hoofed it to the top of Kosciuszko for a picnic before the tailwind assisted run back to Jindy.  6 hr 18 min for the 100 km round trip back to Nuggets for refreshments.  Topping out on Kozzi book-ended a year which started with the identical ride.  Austrian Pizza for dinner and asleep by 10.  Perfect NYE.

January 1 st, 2015, was a day for walking and birding.  We started at Thredbo and worked the valley track up to Dead Horse Gap.  Anita ticked Olive Whister here last year and i was keen to add it to my list.  However, we were a bit late in getting going, and all seemed a little quiet, to the extent that we concluded we'd have to get lucky some other time.  Moments later, the characteristic call caught our ears, and I got a good look at a new bird.  We got another one half way up the ridge towards the top of the Crackenback Chair, and after a few more days of riding realised that the place was crawling with them.  It was just a matter of spending a little time in the area and knowing what to listen for.  Beers at the Eagles Nest were followed by a descent of the Merritt's trail, where we got Crescent Honeyeater, which we'd only ever seen before in Tassie.  Not a bad day although the 16 km walk ensured sore legs stayed sore.  

Jan 2nd.  Time to open the riding account for 2015.  GK and Gillian arrived from Sydney the previous eve, and Anita and I met them at the Thredbo Bakery prior to escorting Gillian, who is new to the thrills of fat tyres, down the TVT back to Crackenback Village.  At times, Gillian was in obvious terror.  To her great credit, however, she emptied several suitcases of courage and eventually got to the end, even confessing that, for short sections at least, she actually enjoyed the experience.  Whilst GK dealt with the car shuffle, the mudge and I trundled back to Jindy to complete a 75 km outing.