A long weekend in the Victorian Mountains

A couple of months ago we noticed a new race was being held in Victoria on the June long weekend and we thought this would be a great opportunity to experience some solid climbs in race conditions. So we signed up, me for the 14km (1,150m) and Roger for the 27km (2,250m).

We both managed to get Friday off work too which meant we could drive down on Thursday afternoon, and we arrived in Tawonga South (near Mount Beauty) close to midnight. Roger accidentally missed the driveway, and as we did a u-turn we were faced with a large deer that has previously camouflaged into the surrounding trees. It was beautiful.

Eventually we made it up the long, steep driveway and into our cosy, shed-looking Air BnB. It had a fireplace and plenty of room for us with all our running and hiking gear. I wondered what views it might have when we awoke the next morning…..

Friday morning was cold and I got the air conditioner firing as soon as I stumbled out of bed. I opened the curtains to a misty view of Mount Bogong and its surrounds, this was going to be a great weekend!

Today I was going to do a short hike and Roger would do a few repeats of Mount Bogong. He is in training for the 100 mile Hardrock Endurance run in the USA in July and he planned to do a lot of running with elevation over the next 3 days. We geared up and drove to the Mountain Creek Camping and Picnic Area which was about 20mins away. We parked the car and headed about 2km up the trail towards the staircase that heads to Mount Bogong.

I waved goodbye to Roger as he headed up the staircase and I kept going on the flat(ter) trail for a light hike.

Ever since being given the all clear to start training again a few months back, I have been cautiously easing back into running. I’ve also still been recovering from the flu and throat infection that saw me DNS (did not start) at the UTA22 a few weeks earlier, so I was conscious to wear a few more warm layers than usual, and I was thankful because it was foggy and cold with sprinkles of rain every now and then.

The sound of Black Cockatoos could be heard overhead so I stopped to take in their beautiful melody. I walked along a few more km’s along and came to a creek which covered the trail. If I walked through the creek it would mean getting my feet soaked, so I searched for another way to cross and found a thin log that had been put over the creek. I cautiously put one foot on the log and it wobbled under my feet, I tried to gain balance on one foot but the log was also slippery and impossible.

So I made the decision to stay warm and dry and turned around to head back down the hill to the car. There was nobody around, not one single person or car at the campground and I worried a little that Roger would be up on that mountain in the cold (snow?) by himself. What if something happened? I know he is very experienced in harsh conditions and he had packed very sensibly for the cold, but you cannot help worrying sometimes. I assured myself he would be fine and the regular text messages that he later kept sending helped to ease my nerves.

When I got back at the Air BnB I had a (long) hot shower and settled in to read my book with a cup of hot chocolate. Tough life. I picked up Roger from the campground at 6pm as planned and later headed to Flour + Water for a hard earned feast. After dinner we readied our gear for Saturday’s Wandi Cross race and got an early night. Check out the sunset below with Mount Bogong peeking through the clouds on the left.

Wandi Cross 14km – Race Report

We were up early to get organised and the drive over to Wandiligong would take at least 45 minutes unless we got stuck behind a slow truck/bus/camper on the mountain towards Bright. It was foggy and the temperature got down to about 4 degrees on the drive over. We arrived, parked and walked over to the Alpine Park to register and use the toilets. We collected our race bibs and headed back to the car to get our gear.

Unlike most of the past trail races I had done I knew nobody and that was largely due to the fact that we were in a different state. Still, it felt weird. We readied ourselves at the start line for a quick briefing and then we were off, the 14km and 27km runners all started together.

The first section of the course was along a hilly road section for about 2km before we ducked into a trail and started to climb the first hill. Most of the road section had been quite hilly but we had pushed ourselves to run it because everyone around us had been running too. I figured they were probably locals and knew the course well, turns out most of them were.

Our first climb was up Goldmine Spur and if there had not been runners ahead of me and pink tape to mark the way, then I’m pretty sure I would not have been able to make out the trail. It had clearly rained for quite a few days leading up the race and the ground was very wet and slippery underfoot, but thankfully my trusty new Speedgoats were up to the challenge.

I overtook a few people going up this mountain and got into a rhythm with my steps even though the terrain was quite steep and uneven. There was no clear trail aside from where the runners had pinned down the long grass,  and made way over the fallen branches and rocks. I think if I had been here outside of race conditions it would be easy to lose the trail.

Eventually we got to the top and I made my way downhill towards the first aid station. Here I said goodbye to Roger as the 27km course took off in a different direction, and headed down a fire trail which led to the first big descent. Talk about slippery! About 70% of this downhill section was slippery clay that meant you practically slid your way down the mountain. It was almost impossible to stay upright and I heard many streaks and groans from in front and behind me while going through that section. If you imagine the position you take while standing on a surfboard riding a wav, that was how I slid down the mountain for the best part. It’s a miracle that I didn’t land on my butt, as I noticed after the race most people came in with clay all over their legs and butt.

The course eventually looped back around towards the Alpine Park starting area where my race number was ticked off. I had carried all my own food and drink so I didn’t waste any time at the aid stations. Heading out of the park we took a right hand turn up a fire trail and then took a sharp left up into ‘The Goat’. The description on the race website said “hands in the dirt scrambling” and they were not wrong. There was actually a rope to pull yourself up the first section onto the trail because it was so steep. I had to really concentrate for this section as it was crucial to get your feet on the right surface/spot for every step up this mountain. One wrong foot and you would slide down and lose ground, banging your knees, ankles and elbows all over the place. This was really the toughest climb I have ever seen, and what made it harder was that so many other runners had come through here earlier today.

It got me thinking about the Tarawera Ultra Marathon in New Zealand that some of my friends and clients had raced in earlier this year, as they had completed 50-100 miles in conditions similar to (or worse than) this.

I passed a local going up ‘The Goat’ and he was starting to struggle big-time. We had a chat as I went past and I felt strong as I kept climbing further and further ahead. Surely it couldn’t be that much further to the top. It kept going, and going, and going. We would cross a fire trail and climb up the next section using ropes and whatever means possible. By the time I got to the top there was nobody around me, behind or in front and I kind of liked that. The view we had been promised was hidden by a curtain of mist and I could barely see 10 metres in front of me. There was a bell hanging from a tree at the top of Mystic Mountain so I gave it a ring and kept running towards the markers and the aid station. I rounded the cone, said hello to the volunteers, then smiled as I left because I knew it was all downhill from here.

This is the point where I got a bit excited and may not have been paying as much attention as I should have been. Somewhere as I pummelled down the steep first trail I missed a turn and ended up at the bottom of the mountain with not a pink trail marker to be seen. I walked back up the hill,, then down the hill, then up to another spot, then down. it was useless. I could not find a pink course marker anywhere. I was soo annoyed at myself and it upset me more than it should have. I looked at my watch and it said I had run 13.6km, my heart sank as I knew it was further than 400m to get to the finish now. I just hoped it wasn’t too much further as I had been pushing myself and wasn’t too sure how much was left in the tank.

Finally I got out my phone and worked out that the road below me should wind its way back to the Alpine Park and I hoped that it would link back up with the course. I ran along the road and thankfully it re-joined the course, however I had lost too many places to count and it made me disappointed with myself. I chatted to a guy who asked me where I had come from and I told him what had happened, I’d actually passed him going up the first hill and he had not seen me since then. There was another lady in front of me so I set my sights on trying to catch her, but it was useless as my legs didn’t have anymore speed to give. I felt like an idiot and had no-one to blame but myself for getting lost as I should have been paying more attention.

I tried to focus on the positives and snap myself out of the bad mood I’d fallen into. The trail followed the Horses Creek back which was trickling with water, a nice calming sound that helped improve my mood as it snaked its way towards Alpine Park. Once in the park we did a victory lap of the field and I crossed the finish line in 2hrs 55mins. My goal had been to finish in 2hrs 30mins, however my Garmin told me that I had run 16.5km so I’d say I would have been pretty close to that without the added kms. I’ll take it.

About 2 minutes after I crossed the finish line I saw Roger coming into the aid station at Alpine Park, great timing. He still had ‘The Goat’ to come and an another bonus trail that we did not travel on, so I wished him well and told him to be careful on the last downhill because I had missed the markers. He left in good spirits and I caught up with our good friend George Mihalakellis who had driven up from Melba to cheer us on and spend some time in the mountains. George and I then headed back to the car and off to get some brunch before heading back to wait for Roger’s race finish. Roger crossed the line in 5hrs 39minutes and we celebrated with a bacon & egg wrap and coffee.

The Wandi Cross organisers had advertised this as a ‘technology free run’ so I had decided not to take any photos while out on course, that is why I have not included any here in this blog. I did however wear my Garmin GPS watch during the run but I kept it hidden under a buff so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it, and the only time I looked at my watch was when I had gotten lost.

Once we were all back at the Air BnB showered and warm, I opened up a 13 yr old bottle of Sullivans Cove whisky that Roger had given me for my birthday. I had been saving it to celebrate my return to trail running/racing, and we even convinced George to have a glass too.

We went to Roi’s Restaurant for dinner on Saturday night and as always the food and service were top notch. We also found the Mt Beauty Taxi Service (a one man band) to be most helpful and friendly.

Sunday Hike – Mount Feathertop

On Sunday George and Roger were heading to Bogong for some more repeats and after looking up the local hiking trails I had decided to hike Bungalow Spur to Mount Feathertop. I drove about 45mins to get to the trailhead and the car told me that it was 2 degrees at the spot where I was starting my hike. I had worn a few layers of warm clothing and had some extras plus wet weather gear in my pack in case I needed it.

The first section of the trail was nice and flat and it followed along next to a small running creek, but the ‘flat’ would not last for long. The trail crossed the creek and started to wind up and up around the mountains before me. It was not too long before I had to remove my wind & water proof jacket because I was getting too hot. I stuffed the jacket into my pack and twisted my cap around so I could see the trail ahead and above me. About 2km up the trail I realised that my sunglasses had been on top of my hat and that when I had twisted the cap around I had dropped them. There was no way I was going back for them, or should I? I decided that I didn’t want to have to back-track and kept moving up the trail.

There was a large section of the trail that was overgrown with shrubs and I noticed as I pushed through them that it was soaking my clothes and making me feel a little cooler than I anticipated. I kept going and tried to steer clear of the branches but it was almost impossible. I decided I would just have to speed up and hike fast so my clothes would stay dry from the heat of my body. There was a small break in the shrubs and I stopped to look up….

It was about this point that it dawned on me I was actually hiking to the 2nd highest peak (1,899 metres) in Victoria, and that the entire trail to the summit would probably not have any flat or downhill sections. Great. My quads and calves had felt very stiff that morning when I had awoken and they were now reminding me that I probably wasn’t in as good shape as I could have been to attempt this, especially the day after my first trail race in 18 months. My coach had written ‘Easy Hike’ on my training program and I’m afraid this was nowhere close to being an easy hike. Sorry Andy!

Then I began to notice the ice had begun covering the leaves and the branches around me, and the trees were no longer green and flourishing. It was eerie and magical all at once.

The higher I got the more ice and snow I could see, and the temperature had dropped so much that I put my jacket and gloves on to keep warm.

My legs were burning by the time I reached the Federation Hut and thankfully it had only been about 8.6km to this point, not 10.5km as per the trail markers. I stopped at the Hut to chat to some campers so I could have a rest and take in the view while I also threw in some more food.

It was only about 2km from here to the summit so I put on all my warm clothes and wet weather gear and headed up the trail.

I passed a few walkers coming down the mountain and they commented on how lucky we were to be here on such a clear day. They were locals and had hiked this many times before but said this was the best weather they had ever seen. I felt lucky and sped up to reach the top.

I felt on top of the world. The couple at the top took my photo and then left me alone to enjoy the summit all by myself. It was magical. I felt like I was flying.

I must have taken a thousand photos at the top and I could have kept taking them all afternoon, but I started to get cold and knew I had already taken a lot longer than I had expected. I was not sure how long it would take me to get back down to the car so I took a final video and then made my way back down the slopes.

The trip down was painful. I felt like a robot as my quads and calves just didn’t want to budge, it was not pleasant. I tried running instead of walking and that seemed to feel better, for a little while anyway. I alternated between slow running and fast hiking back down the mountain and got back to the car about 5 hours after I had started. I was so relieved to get there.

Driving home was easy and I took in the views of the beautiful place I was in as I knew it was my last day before we headed home. I stopped halfway home to get a photo of Mt Feathertop from the road too. Today had been tough but it has been worth it. It reminded of the famous quote “The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow”.

I slumped into the door at the Air BnB and spent what felt like a lifetime under the hot stream of the shower, then spent the next few hours with my feet in the ‘Air pants’ by Air Relax Australia. They help circulation to help speed up recovery, kind of like a massage for your legs. At some point I fell asleep and I woke when the guys returned. We had dinner at Roi’s Restaurant again which was another delicious meal, and we all crashed into a slumber exhausted from the day’s work.

I felt so good to be free and alive.

On Monday morning we said our goodbyes to George and packed the car heading for home. What a top weekend in the mountains! All I could think about was the next time that I would be in mountains, and that would be in July as we were heading to Colorado, USA.

See you on the trails…

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