Monday, 19 January 2015

Mount Bogong 2015

(or "Running with the Bear")

(from the Bogong to Hotham (B2H) website)

History of the Bogong to Hotham Event

In the days when technology didn't count for very much, a lone skier, Charles Derrick, attempted a marathon ski trek from Mountain Creek to Mt. Hotham.  An arduous journey at the best of times.  An impossible one in a blizzard.

In September 1965, Charles Derrick set out in a late winter burst of foul weather using equipment that lacks the sophistication of modern day technology.  His endurance and tenacity were supreme as he kept skiing through horrendous gales, fighting fatigue.

Graeme Wheeler, in his book "Walk The Timeless Land", poignantly writes, "He had pushed almost thirty miles of terrain beneath his skis, had gained and dropped over 9000 feet.  Within a mile and a half of his objective the weather had pounded him to a halt, frozen, exhausted".

A cairn now marks the spot close to Mt. Hotham where Charles Derrick perished.

Cheery stuff.  Who wouldn't want to give it a crack !

I had seen photos and reports about this run, and had been keen to give it a try for a few years.  I was very aware that this race has quite a recent history of cancellations due to either bush fire concerns or poor weather, but decided to enter and hope for the best.  It was cancelled mid race in 2012 (blizzard conditions) and again in 2013 (bush fires). Eric and I had both entered the 2015 running of the 64km B2H run and were hoping for the best.  However, with accommodation booked and an eight hour drive down with the wife, immediately upon arrival at Tawonga on the Friday afternoon I was greeted by Eric who informed me that sadly it was cancelled yet again.  Oh well.

Of course as Saturday progressed, the weather began to look quite mild, and by Saturday evening Mt Bogong was being bathed in a warm summer glow.  My wife and I had discussed doing the climb Saturday, but opted for a drive to Mt Hotham instead.  Eric and I decided to make tentative plans for a run up to the summit on Sunday morning.  Of course it then began hammering down rain during the night, but by morning it had slowed to less than a drizzle.  By the time we began our ascent, it was a lovely warm morning.  The first section is rainforest like, and was actually quite muggy and humid.

If we had been officially running, we would have been racing a 6 hour cut off time to the 35km (sort of half way) mark.  I had been reliably informed that to do this, we should be aiming to reach the summit of Bogong in under two hours (2km of fire trail, then 6km with about 1380m of elevation), so that was a rough goal for our morning.

Of course the 2 hour goal was influenced by a few factors.  We weren't following a bunch of other crazies, so we slowed a few times to make sure we were on the right track.  We also stopped to take photos and just gawk around at the amazing views.  At one point I came across a wallaby hiding away, that didn't seem to want to move, and I didn't want it to as I slowly walked closer to take pictures.  I should also mention that Eric had managed to sneak in a 28km run through the mountains the day before, and I suspect was feeling it a little.  Of course with the run cancelled I had stayed up late drinking beers which didn't help much either.

As we climbed, the expression "above the tree line" began to take on meaning.  It was amazing to see how the vegetation changed so dramatically.  It was also about here that the wind began sounding like a jet engine, and we began to get hit by huge blasts.  I guess the wind affects what is able to grow, and without trees the wind seems stronger.  After running up a mountain and getting all wet and sweaty, you do notice the wind chill factor a bit.

I had been wondering if at some point we should stop and put on jackets, when suddenly we emerged into an exposed section and it was very clearly time to cover up, especially since we were now soaking with sweat.  We had passed another runner coming down, and he had told us he had turned back before the top.  I had wondered about this, but no longer.  I have to admit that had Eric not been with me, I would have seriously considered turning back at this point. I also knew that if I had tried this yesterday with the lovely wife, when the weather was worse, we would have turned back long ago.

Towards the top there were points were I was toppling over from the gusts, as I tried to rig up my hood to cover my cheeks which were slowly turning into ice blocks from the drizzle, mist, and wind chill.  I had imagined climbing the cairn at the summit for a photo, but by the time we got there, I had given up that foolish notion.  I didn't think Eric would be too keen to search for me after I was blown off the top and deposited somewhere in the distance.  Despite all our fluffing about, we had reached the summit in just a tick over 2 hours.

After taking some quick photos and chomping down on whatever was handy in our packs, it was time for a quick descent.  No use hanging around for a chat because we couldn't really hear each other speak.  Dropping away from the summit, more sun was breaking through.  I kept trying to snap photos, but by the time I had got the camera out, and steadied myself against the wind, another big roll of mist usually covered everything back up again.  It was far more spectacular than my photos could possibly capture.  

Off the summit, we began encountering a multitude of runners heading up.  Some seemed confused when we said it was hectic up there, as it had seemed so nice so far.  That's OK.  We had thought the same way ourselves not so long ago.

We stopped at Bivouac Hut to remove layers of clothing.  Back in the trees, it was suddenly much warmer and drier.  A quick drink and a quick toilet break, and it was time for the final race to the bottom.  Eric took the lead and I tried to keep up (my legs are still recovering).  We passed a steady stream of runners as we descended, all out for a consolation run like us no doubt.  Along the way we heard a massive "CRASH" as a tree fell down almost next to us, probably reinforcing the choice to cancel the race was the right one.  Of course, this also makes me think what the hell we were all doing out here.

Now this is a multiple choice section.

The last 2km were fire trail.  This bit is cut by many creeks, with little side detours to bridges that cross the creeks.  These detours are all rather over grown.  As Eric ploughed on ahead through the overgrowth, I heard the sound that only a grown man can make when he has just leaped over a snake.  I slowed down, and found Eric; 

A) doing a Bear Grylls impersonation, laying face down over the snake, pinning it down with his body, and telling me to walk across his back to safety, or

B) pointing nervously at some bushes saying "it's still there"

(hint - it's definitely B, and to be fair it was a good size snake)

We eventually managed to reach the car safely.

Afterwards I did hear discussions about whether the event should have been held.  Possibly it could have, given how the conditions held up, and possibly improved.  However, if the weather events predicted had arrived, well it could have been ugly.  Maybe the elites would have powered through, but for mid and back of the pack athletes (like me), some with minimal outdoor experience, it could all have ended badly.  There were also a shit load of trees down, and I have no idea what it might have been like along the length of the course.  Later in the day, standing at the bottom looking up at the summit from a safe distance, it was still shrouded with cloud up there.  Several days later, the weather did manage to arrive and there was indeed all kinds of havoc across Victoria.  Who knows.  Maybe I could have had an awesome tale to tell, or maybe folks would be talking about how they never found my body.  In any case, I did get to get to the top of Bogong (on foot) and Hotham (in a car) so I did sort of get to do the event, but with lots of eating and drinking, and a movie and a warm bed in between.  Maybe I'll do it officially at a later date.

alright, I stole this photo from the web because I forgot to do it myself

somewhere in there is a wallaby

yep, he's still there

alright, here's a clue
after a while the dense growth begins to open out

lots of trees down
the vegetation changes very quickly as you climb

suddenly you hit exposed sections

somewhere up there is the summit

Eric running

see Eric run

see Eric run against the wind

a bit cold and wet and windy

seconds before it was a glorious view

Eric still running

the tree line

where fires have raced through in previous years

Bivouac Hut

one of several little bridges over a creek
look at all that lovely long snakey grass

Safely back.  Me and Bear

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