TMCC does 3 Peaks in 2013

Another year another 3 peaks! Our biggest bunch ever. The threat of locked gates keeping us from getting up Hotham, and a possible storm at 1800m elevation! Read on to see how it all unfolded!

Bright, Victoria, November 2013. 22 men, aged 29 to 50 something finish their dinner at the local pub, contemplating the 250km ride through high mountain passes they agreed to do all those months ago. Even for those who have conquered the route before, fear of the unknown and self doubt crowd their minds.

“Is it really going to be 5 degrees tomorrow morning? And even colder at the Hotham summit? What about black ice? It snowed up there only a few days ago. We don’t have to do the 3 peaks loop you know, there is plenty of other good riding around here!”. here we are again. Back in Bright, ready for another dose of 3 peaks! For weeks excitement has built, but once we actually arrive in Bright, the forecast; the threat of freezing conditions in the Alps has most of us not exactly fired up for the ride!

“We’re going to be much slower up Hotham than you guys… We’re going to leave earlier. Maybe we should put the trailer on the van? The van is almost full just from spare wheels and our bags with clothes and food. It could get very, very crowded if a few don’t make it all the way”

“Are you sure we’ll make it in time to get past the gate? Some of these guys don’t climb as well as others, maybe we should leave before 5 just to be sure” (more on the gates later)

The 4:45am alarm the next morning sets the tone, this is not going to be a comfortable day! By the time some of us have had our first mouthful of muesli, the sounds of shoes clipping into pedals signals the departure of the early group, leaving at 5am to give themselves a little head start up Mt Hotham, a handicap if you will.

5:30am rolls around and the crew assembling on the street seems smaller than it should be. With no real head count from the earlier group we assume everyone is here and head off. 20km of flat to Harrietville to wake us all up before taking on Mt Hotham, 30km of uphill, the longest climb in Australia.

The 5:30 crew arrives at Harrietville at the base of Hotham ready to hunt down the guys who left earlier somewhere along the 30km climb.

Earlier in the year large parts of the Mt Hotham region were devastated by bush fires. As a result a huge amount of trees that line the road to the summit were burnt to a crisp. The road was subjected to multiple land slides, with long sections of road requiring new tar. Because of all this Vic Roads had been carrying out maintenance work in the form of burnt tree removal for the last month. To do this they entirely shut the one road up Mt Hotham. One gate at the bottom, one at Dargo Plains Rd, two thirds of the way up the mountain. The gates would shut at 8am, and if we missed the cut off the ride would be over.

With the sun out Mt Hotham begins. 30km of uphill to go.
The late crew finds their climbing legs and settle into a nice rhythm. A lot of climbing to go! At this point it starts to feel a little warmer, good signs!
It was Alex’s first time up Hotham, and with an entry into the Tour of Bright in a couple of weeks time it was the perfect last minute preparation.
As the climb continued we slowly ate away at the early group’s lead, catching a couple of the guys as they battled away, Aaron in this case. You can also start to see some of the ice on the edges of the road & in the shadows. Climbing for this long we’re all a bit oblivious to the cold (for now)
The Hotham summit in the distance is pretty deceptive at this point! There are still a good 3-4 k’s to go, the last couple are amongst the steepest of the whole climb; not nice! You can also see the towers of the ski lifts and a few pockets of snow – yes it’s November and there is still snow!
This is the view Hotham is most famous for. A small descent before the final slog to the summit
In the zone: Ross aka Hosco and Phil aka Gilesy nut out the final km. The views at this altitude are incredible. You really have to see it in person to appreciate it
Climb done!! “Man this is going to be nuts in the race!”
Just as you crest the summit the road goes downhill and rewards you with a fantastic little descent into the Hotham Heights village.

With the first big climb over it was time to regroup in the Hotham car park, fuel up, sun cream up, and share some war stories about the climb. As is always the way, some didn’t fare as well up the climb as others. Accordingly there was some aggressive refuelling strategies in the works!

Any time is Coke time for Fish!

The view out into the alps seems almost infinite at times
Peak 1 done! The feeling was good; we all made it up before the gate was shut, it wasn’t snowing at the top, and we could even feel our fingers and toes!

Time to get on with it, a bit under 200km to go. After flying past Dinner Plain on our way down the other side of Hotham, the next stop is Omeo, around 70km away. We follow the Great Alpine all the way to Omeo.

You can’t tell from the photo, but just over the back of Hotham with the descent started, was without doubt, the coldest part of the entire bloody ride! Absolutely freezing!
Climb over, no traffic, nice roads, loving it.

Half way to Omeo!
Part of the bunch coming down the hill in the distance. Even though the ride from Hotham to Omeo is sold as “flat” there are a few rolling hills that split the bunch a little. Everyone knows we’ll be at the Omeo Bakery for lunch and there’s only one road!
Eamonn, Alex, Richard, Owen, and some Johnson with unacceptable helmet position. Erase that from your memory, that didn’t happen in our bunch!
Omeo! Horses in the main street and friendly locals!
The bakery didn’t know what hit them! They were literally so dazed that for a while we didn’t think we’d ever get our sandwiches.
“One of everything thanks”. Support car drivers need to eat too!
Vanilla slice of the year!
Next to the bakery was the local servo that doubled as a hangout for some of Omeo’s finest locals. Without going into too much depth, it appears they really weren’t into the whole cycling thing, and quite clearly voiced their opinion on that. That aside it was great to get to Omeo, fuel up and fire up for the rest of the ride; Falls Creek! Ouch!
With our 11am-ish lunch done, yet again it was time to get on with it and push onto the bottom of the “Back of Falls” climb. From Omeo to that point is some of the nicest road you’ll ever ride on a bike. Gentle up and down hills, winding roads that seem to go on forever.
Fish and Mario follow the bunch through the winding roads leading to Angler’s Rest.
“The Sparrows” contingent; Aaron and Elliot rolling past an “English Broom Control Area”
The weary travellers head across the road to the support van. The back of Falls Climb is just off camera to the right. Time to fuel up, and dig deep! At this point we’ve got 150km under the belt, and started over 7hrs ago!

After Falls Creek there is still plenty of riding to do in the 3 peaks loop. Across the high country to the actual Falls Creek town, a few rolling hills to Tawonga Gap, then of course Tawonga Gap itself.

A lot of hard riding to go, but nothing at the same “survival mode” level of difficulty that the back of Falls Creek climb is known for. Get over this and you should get the 3 peaks loop done!

Staggering the start, slower guys first, faster last, we get things underway. The first 1km is insane! You can see people who have started ride the switchbacks through the trees, the height they gain in such a short period of time is always a bit intimidating.

By now things have really warmed up, but knowing we’re heading back to 1700 altidude it’s always a bit of a gamble to pack too light and not carry warm gear.
Danny gets things underway.
Ezio tackling the first steep switchback
A photo from Rapha’s 2014 summer catalogue – Owen doing what he does best, looking good on the bike & making others suffer!

Into the danger zone we go! It’s about 33km to the village at Falls Creek, and at least 20km of that is spent climbing. The hard part, known by many names; Raspberry Hill, Pain Lane etc, goes for around 5-6km and averages a nice 8%. The steeper sections feel more like 15% though!

The back of falls is hard for a number of reasons. If you’ve come from Bright, you already have 150km in your legs. Then there’s the road surface. It’s white, and rough and seems to go on forever. You can often see long steep ramps in front of you, with no end in sight. It gets mentally very tough at times.
Head down, get on with it.
“I think you’ve talked this up a bit much mate! It’s not too bad at all!” -Elliot
One of the first to start the climb, we found Ezio, aka Nibali, slogging it out towards the top of the climb, still with plenty of breath left to sing us a song as we crept past.
The big fella is starting to feel it. Keeping the pedals turning over until we stop for a refuel at Falls Creek is now the main focus.
With the hard part of the climb finally over, half of us regrouped and pushed onto Falls. Looking at the sky was making everyone increasingly nervous. The temperature was getting noticeably cooler too. Did we have warm clothes with us? Negative!
The landscape changes dramatically once you’re up at altitude. We’re now in the Vic Alps high country. Brumbies are common place up here.

As we finally arrived at Falls Creek, we realised two important things. It was now bloody cold, and it had just started to rain. Not ideal! What makes matters worse is that only half of us are at Falls Creek. The other half are still battling away on the climb, with the support car looking after them. Quite a few of us didn’t carry real warm gear with us up to Falls, instead putting it in the car so we could travel lighter up the steep climb! And pretty much none of us have any wet weather gear to put on!

We pull up at the main Falls Creek car park, quickly scrambling to see what is open, hoping to find some shelter, some food, some warmth, anything!

The rough plan is to wait up here for the support car and the rest of the crew to catch up. Hopefully then get our wet weather gear and head onward to Mt Beauty. We find a little Foodworks mini grocery store open, perfect! The guy in the store didn’t know what hit him!

For a moment the grim outlook outside drifted far from our minds, instead replaced by the incredible taste of Mars bars, Coke, and pretty much anything with sugar or carbs in it. No one wanted to go back outside, not without the van. Without the van we would continue to freeze, no one had the clothes they needed to head back out in what felt like 5 degrees, and rain! Between the shop and the uninviting outside world was a small foyer. We setup camp and waited it out!

Broken men. The sensor on the door opening and shutting letting in freezing gusts of air was not fun.

With little phone reception SOS calls to the van all failed. We started wondering what had happened behind us. Did everyone get up the back of Falls? Are they all getting soaked? Is everyone ok? Thankfully after 20 minutes or so the van finally arrived!

Time to find those warm clothes!
Does this look like a man who wants to leave that dry, warm foyer?

Everyone started digging into their bags from the van, putting on any extra layers they had, and hoping they packed their rain jacket. With every minute passed, the rain was getting heavier and heavier. It was looking bleak. We could only hope it was better down at Mt Beauty.

We started the descent. The rain seemed to get heavier the further we went down. Riding a bike in conditions like that typically isn’t a lot of fun. You can feel the water pooling in your shoes, your brakes barely work, you’re constantly looking to avoid anything slippery on the road, you just want it to end. Because of all that – no photos!

3/4 of the way down the Falls descent, the road became dry! The clouds were gone, and the air was warm. It was an amazing feeling. Spirits were high! No one went down!
After spending all that time getting the warm gear on, it was now time to get it back off again. There were bags of wet gear everywhere

Farmborough gents loving life. Getting down to Mt Beauty, you know you still have to climb Tawonga Gap, but in scheme of things, it isn’t that hard – the end feels like it’s in sight!
Brian, strong all day, finishes off Tawonga Gap.
The top of Tawonga – “Lets get this done! Some of the other guys hadn’t even left the van.. they know the way home!”
Phil and Elliot crest the top of Tawonga. Not interested in stopping, nor a shower or a nice meal – these two decided they’d rather head back towards Hotham instead of Bright to clock up 300km for the day!

A quick descent down the other side of Tawonga, then a right hand turn to Bright, not left to Hotham (again?!) was a relieving site. Easy cruise back into town and done.

Arriving in Bright from the Hotham side. Always beautiful.

With everyone knowing they were on the home straight, it was time to naturally, ramp up the speed, and maybe even have a little sprint!

Nice job mate. Time to clean up then hit the pub!

And with that, it was done, yet again. A huge thanks has to go to Gordon from Pioneer Cottages, this time we entirely booked the place out! His advice on getting past the gate, what to expect with the weather was invaluable. A massive thanks also needs to go to Jessica, our support driver for the second year running! It’s a bloody long day for her too, having to deal with increasingly exhausted geriatrics.

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

  1. Aaron says: February 1, 20146:30 pm

    Exceptional work on this write up. I got to relive the experience from a different angle. I will be reading this more than once.

    • Gilesy says: February 1, 20147:17 pm

      Love your work!! Absolutely awesome Eamonn! Fantastic photos and coverage. Makes me want to get down there tomorrow to do it all over again. Great times. Never forget it.

  2. Fishertechnic says: February 1, 20147:15 pm

    Eamon mate you are in a class of your own.Great write up can’t wait till next time.cheers Fish

  3. Mick Santalab says: February 1, 20149:57 pm

    Big kudos to tarracc and your report. Epitomizes what it hours all be about!! Well done all

  4. Elliot says: February 3, 201410:12 am

    Awesome work Eamonn! Great read and photos. Can’t wait for the next epic adventure with the TMCC..
    Also, any coments made about the “back of falls” climb were probably made whilst delirious after suffering from severe exhaustion!

  5. Gareth says: February 7, 20144:52 pm

    Nice job Eamonn, almost felt like I was there riding with the TMCC. Hopefully next year we’ll get our dates aligned. Hope the bumps, breaks and bruises have left the building…

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