Victorian Alps Day 2 – Towonga, Falls Creek, Mount Buffalo

Day 2 of our trip to Bright would take us to the high plains of Falls Creek, up and over Tawonga Gap twice, and for those crazy enough, back past our perfectly good hotel in Bright, with 130km in the legs only to go up Mt Buffalo for more punishment. The Vic. alps did not dissapoint, beautiful scenery, great weather, perfect riding.

It’s not every morning you get up having done a 1600m climb the day before. Regardless of how pumped you are for days riding in spectacular scenery, there’s typically a dull sort of heavy feeling in your legs that serves as a constant reminder of what you put your body through the day before.

The planned route took us from Bright, up Towonga Gap, down into Mt Beauty, up to Falls Creek, back down, up the other side of Towonga Gap and back to Bright. It stopped there for the sane members of the group. For the few of us who wanted more, we continued past Bright off west up Mount Buffalo, then finally back to Bright. The entire ride, including the addition of Buffalo is commonly known as the Audax Alpine Classic. As they put it “The Mother of all Rides. Difficult yes, but very rewarding.” I’m not sure it tops the 3 peaks ride, but its most definitely in the same ball park of stupidity and epicness! You can check out the entire ride here on Strava.

From Bright, tired legs head out of town, up over Tawonga Gap for the 1st time. It was a nice reminder that while Tawonga Gap isn’t close to as long as Hotham or Falls, its still 6km worth of climbing!
Quick stop at the top of Tawonga. The view looks down towards the Tawonga area, with the peaks around the epic Mount Bogong in the distance.
A quick descent down Tawonga and we’re on the flat heading towards Mt Beauty. The sun is out, and it’s beginning to warm up. Still got a long, long way to go!
Mt Beauty is a nice little town, but it feel like just as you’ve entered it, you’re leaving it, and you’re going up! up! up! into the mountains.
And we thought we were mad! Having just left Mount Beauty, the Falls Creek climb starts. Only a few K’s into the climb we come across two nutters also heading up to Falls, but on roller skis training for cross country skiing!
The Falls Creek gate, of course while it might seem like it, this isn’t the top.

As we grind on, with perhaps only a 1/4 of the climb to go, we pass a group of what seemed like younger guys all spread out, also riding the mountain and suffering along. I later find out almost every one of us said “hey” as we went past, and not one of us got a reply! Just like one of the sprinters in the Chasing Legends DVD said on one of the big climbs in the Tour, “please guys, enough talking, have some respect, people are suffering here”.

Finally some signs of civilization! Coming into Falls you’re greeted by typical alpine accommodation, huge empty carparks, and a general ghost town feel.
The very top! The lake at the top is popular with fisherman and is used for the swim leg of perhaps the highest altitude triathlon in Australia, “everyone who finishes Falls is a WINNER!”. More tri info here.
Chris & Gareth enjoy one of the few relaxing moments of the day.
The huge retaining wall on the other side of the lake. Ezio climbs up the final part of the climb just before reaching the lake at the top.

Regrouping at the top, the mood was positive, but not quite the same as the jubilation of getting to the top of Hotham. This time the legs were much more tired, and everyone knew there was still a decent amount of climbing to go depending on what we decided later. To Buffalo or not to Buffalo? We’d have time to think about it for sure.

Just like the day before, we yet again had the luxury of support car. Aside from the usual boot full of water, food and warmer clothes, the support car would today be used to covertly take one of us from part way up Falls Creek to the top of Falls Creek! There were most definitely a few confused faces at the top, no one had actually seen anything, but knew that something didn’t make sense “what, did Fish get past me? What the hell? Must be delirious from all the climbing…”

The descent down Falls Creek is fantastic. Easily one of the best in the country. No blown out front tyres this time either!

Regrouping at Mt Beauty for lunch at a local cafe we nervously counted heads. On the way down an ambulance, sirens blazing, was rushing up the climb. Logically it couldn’t have been for any of our group. It would have been up there too early (if something had happened), but it still doesn’t help the sick feeling in your stomach thinking about it. With everyone accounted for it was time lunch time. Rolls, pies, cakes, muffins, coke, coffee, it was all happening!

Heading back to Tawonga, again… Climbing it from the Mt Beauty side is shorter but certainly a bit sharper, ouch. By now the temperature was really warming up.
Half way up Tawonga, looking back towards Mt Beauty.

Getting to the top of Tawonga for the second time, the group was shot to pieces. A couple of us, the stupider ones, had always planned to finish this ride with a quick spin up Mount Buffalo. The problem was, well the problems were many actually. First we’d have to ride back through Bright, essentially past where we were staying: a shower, rest and food. Second, we were pretty stuffed already. Everyone was going through water at a rapid rate, and reapplying chamois cream was starting to have less of an effect!

Two of us refueled, put our heads down, and got on with it. We guessed when we’d be done, 6pm? Later? We’d started a little before 8am.

Having never done Buffalo before, it looks daunting from a distance. Water running down its sheer rock faces glistened in the afternoon sun. Finally arriving at the base of the climb there was no longer any hesitation, there was only one way to get this done!

Things started to get interesting half way up the climb. Having gotten 2 full bottles at the top of Tawonga, we thought we’d be right until the end of the ride – wrong! A combination of the afternoon heat and general exhaustion had meant those 2 bottles had dwindled away to a mere half a bottle, perfect for a 20km climb! And the support car, well, lets just say poor communication meant it wasn’t coming for the final part of this epic ride.

Just as the Mount Buffalo climb started, a small sign sat on the road saying “Dingo Dell Cafe 10am-5pm”. With barely any water the cafe would be our only hope of refueling. One problem, it was now almost 4pm, maybe on a good day the climb would be doable in that sort of time, but today, now, having been on the bike since 8am – this was going to hurt. From this point on it was survival. With minimal phone reception an SOS message went to the support car begging for water, but seconds after it was sent all signal was lost.

Ironically water was plentiful as the climb went on. Natural waterfalls were around every corner, they weren’t a bad plan B if nothing else was available.
Doing a climb for the first time, when you’re not in any rush, especially in this part of the world is typically a nice experience. Yes you’ll suffer, it wont be easy, but its enjoyable discovering new roads and refreshing looking at views you’ve never seen before. That’s all true unless you’re empty with no water, and racing to get to a cafe that shuts in about 10 minutes, not knowing when the damn climb ends!
And there we are. Bury yourself up a 20km climb with only minutes until the cafe at the top shuts and what do you get? You get to have a Coke with Dad! Having left Chris behind on the climb I thought I was buying for 2, so 2 muffins, 2 waters and 2 cokes it was! Amazingly coming down from the Cafe to the flat section at the top of Buffalo, someone who I did not at all expect to see, Ezio! He’d decided 150km for the day wasn’t enough, and had ridden solo from Tawonga to attempt to catch us up Buffalo! Nuts! Almost as amazing, the support car rolls in. Turns out they were coming all along – shit I wish we’d known that.
The descent down Mount Buffalo felt amazing, job done, easy roll back into Bright and it’s over. The view wasn’t half bad either.

To those who don’t ride, hearing about rides like these without doubt seems stupid, pointless and insane. Riding up huge mountains all day until its almost dark isn’t a logical choice to make. But for those of us who love getting out on quiet roads, chatting with mates, taking in the view and challenging ourselves physically and mentally – rides like this one are what its all about. It’s not everyday you get to clock up 200ks either. If it wasn’t clear already, Victorian Alps, and Bright, highly recommended.

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