Monday, 30 January 2017

Audax Alpine Classic 2017

With the festive season barely digested the big Victorian alpine circuit suddenly loomed.  I’m a huge fan this loop; its stunning climbs, descents and transitioning quiet valleys.  I also like the fact it's an all-in commitment (no shortcuts), even though it can be pretty tough in places.  The main issue with the January date is always the heat, and a hot one was, indeed, predicted.  But the 4 am start largely oblates much of the nastiness.  The last climb in the sun is always going to be ugly, but I’d choose Tawonga over the “Back of Falls” any day.

Fantastic pizza at Bastoni (Myrtleford) had us off to bed early for (in my case at least) a solid snooze, naturally waking just before the alarm at 2:50.  With the temp at 20 C it was clear that undershirts, arm warmers and rain capes could be left in the hotel; an antidote to bulging pockets. 

Ham, Anita and I were soon cruising under lights within a sizable group whose draft we surfed to the base of Harrietville, whence the 30 km climb up Mt Hotham began.  No full moon this year – pitch black but for the conga line of lights and tinkling of stars above, before the sky gradually lightened on the horseshoe, lending ethereal perspectives on a dramatic landscape below.  Is there any place you’d rather be as the sun pops over the horizon? 

Ham and I regrouped with Anita (and Wendy) at Dinner Plain, before a fast run in cool air towards Omeo, which we gained with the clock at 8:40.  Frosty Fruits and salad rolls were woofed down before a 9 am rollout, with the temperature still only 22 C.  Come the base of the Back of Falls the intensity of the sun was making itself known, although the temp had only managed to climb to 26 C. 

Come Trapyard Gap, with the worst of the climb dispensed with, the gain in altitude had whittled the mercury back to 22 C, with fierce crosswinds proving the main barrier between us and the lamingtons, watermelon, sandwiches and cans of coke awaiting at the Falls Creek feed.  In at 1 pm, out at 1:30.

It was only the experience of descending into a hairdryer that confirmed the meteorologists had got it right – a wilting 34 C at Mt Beauty – although at least a little breeze kept the Tawonga climb sane….just.  But nothing so unpleasant that couldn’t be quenched by ice blocks, beer, a dip in the river, and the carnival atmosphere that was in full swing upon our rolling home just before 4 pm.  So good.  Somehow I think I’ve a got a few more of these in me yet.  Thanks to Ham and Lisa for the big job of chauffeuring us on the long drive down and back.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Rumble in Jugungal

So began another year and we found ourselves, once again, escaping the bustle, crowds and humidity of a Sydney summer for the generally cooler and drier climes of the lovely Snowies.  Whilst our main base was Jindabyne, the trip was bookended by sleepovers in Thredbo; firstly with the Duggins, then the Dugans, to wit.

Each year we try to mix the riding up a bit, on top of our main Jindy staples; Kosi via Charlottes Pass, and outings to Thredbo and back, the latter including pastries and coffee, and a traverse of the TVT which, after quite a few passages now, has lost none of its magical charm.  Don't waste your bucks on the chairlift, the TVT is just as good and costs you nothing. 

This year’s dabble in adventure was a two day jaunt from Jindy over the main range to Khancoban, before returning via the sealed Alpine Way the following day.  This of course required more planning than usual, and some luck.  We had to cut our kit down and travel light, and also needed some good weather.  Not too hot, and not the deluge of last year.  The weather gods smiled, offering a blustery but otherwise perfect window. 

Day one had us rumbling out of Jindy and straight onto the new singletrack linking the village and the trout hatchery.  Once again, some terrific new trails and a taste of what is to come when they finally link up with the TVT, which should be completed later this year.  We swung onto the pavement briefly to cross the Thredbo river, before turning off towards the Jindabyne pump station.  

We'd been given a tip from a fellow working in one of the bike shops that Island Bend could be attained by following a 4wd track, owned by Snowy Hydro, all the way up the Snowy River from the lake itself.  In theory this would eliminate the otherwise heinous road slog from the river (900 m) up to Rennix pass (1600 m), only to descend back to Island Bend (1200 m) before continuing to Guthega.  He did mention he had an E-mtb at his disposal when exploring this, and the utility of this became apparent given some of the nasty pinches we had to tractor over.  But the diversion was nonetheless picturesque and worth a gander, if not a little bit naughty.

From Island bend we were back on sealed road briefly, following the Snowy River to Guthega power station, where the real climb over the main range begins.  Whilst the first km was a bit nasty, the rest of the climb up to Schlink Pass and our high point for the day (smack on 1800 m) was actually quite pleasant, although the horse flies that hang out at altitude prevented us enjoying being stationary for too long.  With a few snaps under the belt we were soon cruising at 40 km/hr down to the first of a few alpine huts we'd visit.  Lunch was enjoyed inside the fly-free zone aptly named the Schlink Hilton.  Shortly after, more high speed cruising came to a shuddering halt at the Valentine's Trail turnoff.  Smooth gravel was replaced by a lumpy tussocked grass course that was barely double track, and in many spots barely rideable, especially now that the legs were getting a little rubbery. 

In the end, what was more of a walkers’ trail had to be endured for approx 20 km.  We'd roll what we could, but with every uphill pinch, or even up hills that weren't so pinchy, we'd invariably stall and resort to pushing, encouraged forward by fond attention of the flies, which would be shed once we got on a roll, but there'd always be a new batch to replace them.  We found respite in the lovely Valentine's hut half way along this stretch, but the relief was short lived and it was back to grovelling and fly management.

We eventually descended out of the ghostly limbs onto an expansive grassy bowl, and merged with the Grey Mare and Round Mountain trails, where finally we were able to enjoy more of a pleasant roll, with Mt Jugungal coming into spectacular view on our right hand side.  This was of considerable relief, as if the trails had continued in the style of Valentine's, we might well have had to bunker down in one of the bush huts for the night with nought but fruit cake to sustain us.  You can imagine how thrilled Anita was about that prospect.

With the clock reading approx 5 pm, and 95 km on the dial, we finally gained sealed road again at the Round Mountain car park, turned left, and proceeded in the knowledge that the day was winding down but we still had 40 km to travel with energy and water levels near empty.  In our favour, we were still at 1500 m, with Khancoban at 300m.  This could have meant we had a lovely even descent to look forward to but, in true mountains style, it unfolded as a series of steep plummets through cuttings, separated by pinchy ups which we'd really had enough of by this stage of proceedings.  Nonetheless we slipped down into warm air and rural open paddocks, making a B-line for Shano's milk bar and the promise of a milkshake or three, which we'd been fantasizing about for hours.

Predictably, Shano's had already closed for the day, as had the nearby servo, so we settled for soft drinks and ice blocks at the caravan park instead, before checking into palatial cabin digs, having a quick shower, and hitting the pub for an all you can eat and drink extravaganza as the sun dipped.  It was a nice way to finish a hard but satisfying day, of 135 km, 11 hrs and 2800 m of vert. Birds of the day were the grey currawongs we disturbed early on the Snowy River.

Needless to say we were early to bed and slept like logs, before getting up with the knowledge that another tough day lay ahead.  But the positives were numerous;  breakfast at Shano's, fantastic morning birdsong whilst climbing Scammel's spur, and a road we'd ridden before.  Despite the fact we were on sealed roads, we were on mtbs, so knew the climb to Dead Horse Gap would be tough.  It was, with a combined elevation gain of approx 2500 m for the first 70 km of the day.  But the climb was made more bearable with the knowledge that all manner of pies and milkshakes awaited at Thredbo village. 

Somewhat refreshed, the lure of the TVT was too much, and we had fun surfing shaded lines down to Crackenback Resort, whence commenced the last major obstacle for the day before dropping down to the village to close out a 115 km, 10 hour and 3000 m vertical jaunt.  Given that the hour was late, we made the rare decision to skip the bakery altogether and headed directly to digs at the Jindy Inn, where cold beer, snacks, as well as GK and Gillian awaited. 

More dreamy days of riding, swimming and walking followed, to the extent that I feel I've had about three holidays packed into one, which is just as well as these solid memories will have to, in part, sustain me till next time I manage to escape the inanity of a life mostly governed by labour expectations. 

Holiday Dave, dialling out...