One Everest in One Month

The first day of the year and month (of January) started out like most other months – just me wanting to enjoy my bike riding, but still challenging myself to do better. But from the 2nd day, things got much more intense right from there right through the month. I blame the weather – the second day of the year / month was forecast to be hot, and because of that I had the idea of doing an alpine ride to a place where the temperature would be cooler than the lower altitudes. In other words, an Alpine Resort. We are very fortunate to have 3 alpine resorts, and Victoria’s highest mountain within 2 hours drive from where we live. And so I decided the 2nd day of the year would be spent riding the mountain bike from Mt Beauty to Falls Creek alpine resort and back. The completion of that ride set a series of events in motion. After that ride I decided to join the Strava January Climbing Challenge, and trying to do the 7Peaks Challenge before the 2017 season for that challenge finishes. The goal of the Strava Climbing Challenge was to climb 7500 meters in a month, a not insignifacant amount of climbing, especially for someone like me who rarely does any cycling with decent altitude gains. The goal of the 7Peaks Challenge was to ride the 7 nominated rides between mid-October 2016 and the end of March 2017 —

  • Dinner Plains
  • Mt Hotham
  • Falls Creek
  • Mt Buffalo
  • Mt Buller
  • Mt Baw Baw
  • Lake Mountain.

Falls Creek was the first of those rides that I did, and apparently 100 or so other riders had the same idea to ride to Falls Creek on that particular day.

I very quickly got into a routine – do an alpine ride on Sunday, with more sedate rides Monday to Friday before work (the coolest / most pleasant part of the day). The second Sunday I tackled the Mt Hotham climb, which the 7Peaks website described as being “the most epic of all the climbs with the greatest views”, and then stated that many people fear the Mt Hotham climb and that even the fittest will be challenged by it. That sounded a bit ominous, and I found myself questioning whether the Hotham ride was really such a good idea. But in the end I decided to try it anyway. One particular part of that ride concerned me – the Diamantina Spur ascent. At around 20% gradient, it sounded like a real motiviation killer. And it was tough, no doubt about it, but I made it to Mt Hotham village with a little energy left in the tank. One thing about the 7Peaks rides (or any other mountain climbing ride, for that matter) is the wonderfully stated physics law : “What goes up must come down”. So after the hard slog up the hills, it’s especially wonderful to be able to roll back to the starting location of the ride. The Mt Hotham ride, at 32 1/2 km one way, provided plenty of rolling on the way back!

The next ride to complete was the Mt Buller climb. Much less “epic” than the Mt Hotham climb, it was nonetheless still a tough ride, especially the last km or so to the village. It was along this ascent to the village portion of this ride that I found my second “Gnome Home”, a quirky statement about Pygmy Possum habitat and protection of said possums. Rather than going back along the asphalt, I decided I would do something different for the return leg: do part of the Australian Epic Trail across to Howqua Gap Hut, then follow the Circuit road through Telephone Box Junction back to Mirimbah where I had camped for the night. After all, I was riding a Mountain Bike, so some mountain biking would be a good option to return to camp. That ride took just under 4 hours to do the 50km loop, the average speed being around 14kph. Because it was nearly always under the shade of tall trees the heat wasn’t very obvious at all. And then it was time to pack up camp, and drive home in the heat. That was definitely the worst part of the day, although I drove home through Tolmie and Whitlands which is almost alpine in altitute which provided some respite from the heat of the plains and valleys.

The next Sunday I didn’t do a 7Peaks ride, as I had the bike in the shop getting the drive train replaced. And I’m glad I did because the next 7Peaks ride on the following Sunday was the most daunting of all – the Mt Baw Baw ascent. This ride is described as the most feared and hardest ride in Victoria. At only 6.5km long, and what appears to be a moderate amount of climbing (741 metres) it almost sounds easy, until you look at the gradients – the average grade is 11%, and the steepest grades were greater than 20%. Mt Baw Baw was the closest alpine resort to where I lived up until I was about 30 years old. And in my younger years I used to go there nearly every Sunday to go downhill skiing. And I remembered the climb to the Baw Baw village being hard even for a car. I knew that if any of the 7 peaks rides would break me, it would be this one! I remember saying to myself a few times on that ride “it’s only 6.5km”, as if that was somehow reassuring while I pedalled ever so slowly towards the hioghest point of the ride. Funny thing is, I remembered the grades being somewhat steeper in the car, and some of the sections my memory told me were really steep actrually weren’t as bad as I remembered them.Well, I made it to the village. I conqured the hardest of the 7Peaks rides. Now I felt like a climbing cyclist! And then the same physics law (“what goes up must come down”) that brought so much joy on the other 7Peaks rides kicked in, and with more than a little trepidation I carefully, slowly made my way back down to the start of the ride – carefully and slowly because it was so steep in sections, and I didn’t want the bike to get out of control or the brakes to fail or fade.

The Mt Baw Baw ride was on Australia Day, and I managed to get the Friday off as Annual Leave, so that meant I had a 4 day weekend. So I had set up camp in Yarra Junction, and planned to do Mt Donna Buang (not on the 7Peaks list, but still worth doing) on the Friday and Lake Mountain on the way home on Sunday. The Mt Donna Buang ride was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, although I don’t think I had any illusions about it being an easy ride. But it was beautifully cool at the time I did the climb to the summit, and the gradient was probably one of the easier alpine rides I had done up to that time – I actually spent a fair bit of time in the second front sprocket – all the other alpine rides I spent most of my time in the smallest front sprocket. The last few kms to the summit seemed to go on forever! On this ride, like on the Mt Buller ride, I decided to ride a loop, and from the summit I hearded along the dirt ride that passed by Ben Cairn and joined up with the Healesville – Launching Place Road, which passed through Don Valley. Between Mt Donna Buang summit and the the Healesville – Launching Place Road, the scenery was breath-taking, and the road somewhat narrow and rough and I stopped at a few places to enjoy the views. And I even saw a couple of other cyclists on this section (I only saw a few cyclists between the start of the climb out of Warburton and Don Valley), going the opposite way, on road bikes (or maybe CX bikes). The gentle descent along this section was really quite beautiful with lots of shade and some amazing vistas across the Yarra Valley.

The next day was Sabbath, and time for a well earned rest. So I headed over to my old church on Sabbath morning, and spent some time with my mum and dad and one of my brothers in the afternoon. I think that restday¬† must have helped prepare me somewhat for the last of the 7Peaks rides I would do for January – the Lake Mountain ride. This ride, the following day, started off tough with a climb of 4.5km at about 10% steepness. But after that, it was really quite a pleasant ride, through beautiful temperate forests (some of them burnt out because of bush fires). Like the Donna Buang ride, I found I was not in the lowest gears all the time, especially after the initial 4.5km was behind me, and found the ride to be “almost” relaxing. And the ride back to Marysville was also faster because I spent less time riding the brakes due to the steepness of the descents. Mostly I could just coast down instead of having to worry too much about using the brakes. By the time I had done this ride, I had ridden around 240km for the week (Strava starts the week on Monday), and had climbed more that the height above sea-level of Mt Everest (8848m metres) for the month. That produced a pretty satisfying feeling. So January 2017 will be one of those months I can look back on with fondness as the month I rode “virtually” to the top of Mt Everest.

Here are the links to the Strava data for the rides:

And that was it, for now

Note: photos will be added in a  later post…

Last Friday I left home early in the morning and found the James Reserve near Swanpool in Victoria where Rebecca, Eliana and I would be camping for the weekend, got camp set up, put a new mountain bike tyre on the back rim of my bike, took it for a test ride, then waited for the girls to arrive, which eventually they did.

Sabbath morning we went for a bit of a walk after breakfast and I tried to explain to Eliana what it meant to have a sense of ‘wow’. Later we went for a drive around the area and were greeted with rain, rain, and more rain. Wow! But it was good to have a Sabbath out in nature without any artificial stimuli. After the rain stopped Eliana decided that it would be fun to climb up and down the earth embankment on the other side of the creek with the girls camped next to us. If the level of mud she collected on her clothes was any indication then she really enjoyed herself.

Sunday we woke early, had breakfast, packed up the girl’s camping equipment, and while they headed home I headed to Yea to ride to Alexandra with 2 Strava friends on the Great Victorian Railtrail. By 8am we had started the ride, and we passed through the Cheviot tunnel, then down to Molesworth. From there to Cathkin proved interesting as the recent rains had made the trail somewhat boggy. From Cathkin the trail was better, AND uphill to within a few km of Alexandra.

We stopped there for a while, had some sustenance, and then started to head towards Yea. For the first few kms back I went ok. But then I seemed to run out of energy which didn’t matter too much until the climb out of Molesworth. But by then the lack of energy really took it’s toll as I ever so slowly slowly pedalled up the 10km or so to the Cheviot tunnel. By the tunnel I was exhausted, thankfully there was some downhill most of the way to Yea from there.

At Yea we discussed the ride, and it was suggested that I might have been dehydrated or not properly fuelled for the ride, both of which I had the opportunity to test later on my holiday.

From Yea I travelled back to camp and made myself some soup / noodle / veggie concoction which tasted great. The next day I packed up camp and travelled to Mountain Creek Campground near Mount Beauty and set up camp.

From there the 4×4 track beckoned so I took the bike for a spin towards the Eskdale Spur. As there were a number of creek crossings I chose to use the bridges on the parallel walking track for the creek crossings where they existed. Even still, I had to traverse at least one creek where there was no walking bridge. About 5km into the ride I decided enough was enough – those hills just seemed to be getting steeper! And so turned and headed towards camp. At one point a stick jammed itself into the rear derailer which caused a failure of one of the many vital components. Not to worry, it was mostly downhill back to camp.

The next day, Tuesday, my plan was to ride along the Trappers Gap Road from the campsite until it stopped going up hill, which was about 8km, and then return back to camp. But first I had to make the vital component that failed the previous day not-so-vital.

Wednesday, and this was to be a real challenge. The plan: ride the ascent of Mt Buffalo. I decided to have a high protein breakfast to start the day – 2 x Nutolene sandwiches, an Up-n-Go, and a banana. And before the ride I had 600ml of water. So dosed up on carbs, protein and water I started the ride from Eurobin Creek Picnic Area. This ride should have been harder than the railtrail ride, but overall my energy levels were better than the railtrail ride and more consistent over the 20+ kms of climbing probably helped by the more regular sips of water along the ascent and the banana and Up-n-Go I had at the Mt Buffalo Chalet. And I guess the promise of 20km of downhill roll on the way back spurred me on somewhat too. I suspect I need to pack some low-GI snacks and plenty of water on long or hard rides in future and not be reluctant to actually partake of them enroute.

After completing the Mt Buffalo ride, I headed back to camp and as I had heard that there was going to be rain I decided that it would be better to break camp while everything was still dry, and so packed up and travelled to my parents-in-laws for a few days to see if there was likely to be any more fine days before the weekend.

Doritos at high altitude

Here is a one of the stranger sights I have seen in a while. While travelling in the Dargo High Plains in the Australian Alps near Mt Hotham we noticed that the two packets of Doritos we had in the car were getting bigger and bigger the higher we got in altitude.

Doritos_at_high_altitude_4798_550The reason why they got so big is perfectly logical – the air pressure is lower the higher in altitude one gets, so the air in the packet expands. But even still, we weren’t expecting it!