Signs of the climbs. Ascending, and descending, Mt Hotham

Above: The view from Mt St Bernard Snow Clearing Control Station on the way to Mt Hotham

One of the great things about the annual Audax Alpine Classic, run in the Victorian Alps around Australia Day, is the opportunity it gives to ride all the other roads in the area surrounding Bright. These fabulous, low-traffic riding options are an excellent reason to spend several days in the region to "train" before the big ride itself.

I am particularly fond of the ride up Mt Hotham. It has scenery, challenges of distance (about 60km return) and elevation gain (1300m) plus a coffee shop at each end -- atop the mountain and again back at Harrietville where you can park the car. (Of course, if you are a real cyclist, you will have ridden the 25km to Harrietville from Bright, where there are heaps of coffee shops. I have to confess I was not a real cyclist this year, instead driving to Harrietville. A little pressed for time  that day and didn't want to overdo the riding before the weekend's mountainous 200, were the excuses my wife and I used.) 

I think of Hotham as an Australian version of France's Mt Ventoux. It is a similar height (1861m vs Ventoux's 1909m), a road goes right over it, whether it needed to or not, and cyclists are attracted to it like bees to brightly coloured flowers (of which there are many on Hotham -- flowers, that is, and probably bees too, as well as lots of bitey march flies... but I digress).The ride down is also quite good, except that you have to concentrate a lot more to avoid crashing off the road at high speed on one of the bends. A further similarity is that the last 10km or so of the ascent are steep and exposed, being above the tree line, though Hotham lacks Ventoux's cap of white rocks.

I like the way there is so much information available to the climbing cyclist on Mt Hotham. For instance, not far out of Harrietville, you pass a really big sign announcing "The Meg" and advising on gear selection.

Clearly, "The Meg" is a b@st@rd of a steep bit of road, but I have no idea why it is called "The Meg" and there is nothing on the sign to explain it either. The good part is that just around the bend in the picture above, you can see the top of the really steep bit only a few hundred metres away.

Further on, there is a helpful little sign informing the rider that 24kms' worth of curves lie ahead.

The arrow pointing straight up gives a further clue as to what is in store. Oh joy! But you wouldn't be riding here if you didn't want a hill.

Somewhat later a couple of understated little markers convey useful distance readouts.

The green one gives you the good news that there is only 15km of climbing left to go (not quite 100% accurate, it turns out) while the little black one helpfully advises that you may have ridden 116km from Wangaratta, if you are a really real cyclist.

While Hotham lacks Ventoux's white rockcap, it nowadays features a grey stubble of dead snow gums and mountain ash trees which died in the 2003 bushfires, perhaps signs of climate change taking effect. Above the tree line the road also features a number of disheartening descents which lead to seemingly ever steeper climbs back, including the diabolical and romantically-named (not) CRB Hill. (CRB stands for Country Roads Board. How imaginative! And I am willing to bet no-one in the CRB responsible for the slope on that hill liked cycling, or cyclists.)

The picture above is taken on the descent and my wife is climbing after crossing a saddle towards Mt St Bernard, with its snow-clearing station, from Mt Hotham. Even when you are coming back down there are steep climbs! That the snow poles are so tall is also a clear sign that you wouldn't want to be on a bike here in the depths of winter. Though I am sure some cyclist has been...

A final sign on the Mt Hotham climb is visible in the picture above. It's an indication of just how far you have ridden and have to ride back to get to Harrietville or to Bright, each hidden deep in those folds of terrain. Or to climb Mt Buffalo which is the lumpy bit of horizon at the top left.

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Comment by Dabba on February 1, 2012 at 1:27pm

thanks for the memories Neil.  I'll be riding up Falls Creek, along to Omeo and eventually down to Harrietville next month.  Do the people in the Harrietville general store still use Fawlty Towers as their training manual?

Comment by Dan on February 1, 2012 at 8:50pm

Great article and pics.

However, I note that you kept having to stop to have a breather, undoubtedly disguised as an excuse to photograph Mrs Neil, who it seems was able to keep going...

Comment by PeterT on April 5, 2012 at 5:56pm

NA - this is part of Snowy Mountains ?

The pics look great, is this the best riding in that area?

Comment by Neil Alexander on April 5, 2012 at 7:24pm

Strictly the Victorian "Alps". The road is called The Great Alpine Road and runs from Wangaratta to Bairnsdale. Mt Hotham is between Bright and Omeo.

I guess whether anyone else thinks it is the best riding in the area depends on whether they like long, long hills on mostly forested roads with not much traffic.

Personally, I think it is pretty d@mn good!

Other options out of Bright include climbs of Mt Buffalo, Tawonga Gap and Falls Creek. You can do a loop via the GAR through Omeo and back to Bright via Falls Creek if you really love long, steep hills. Another nice, not so hilly option is a loop towards Myrtleford and over Rosewhite Gap to Dederang and on around back to Myrtleford and back to Bright on the rail trail. Check out some other pictures of the area here, and the next eight.

Comment by Dabba on April 6, 2012 at 9:57am

I did from Mt Hotham to Bruthen a few years ago, and it was just a magic ride.  The silence of the high country from Dinner Plain to Omeo was eerie. 

Unfortunately the variable weather last month meant that I had to re-route my planned Mt Beauty - Falls Creek - Omeo - Dinner Plain - Bright circuit.  However, on my March trip I did ride all of the climb over Tawonga Gap with 45kgs of bike and touring gear, and it was just a great climb in the light mist and cool 8 deg early morning temperature.  It took me about 1 1/4 hours to get to the top with all of my touring gear.  Apparently the regulars do it in about 45 minutes.

Comment by Neil Alexander on April 6, 2012 at 10:48am

In the Audax Alpine Classic, the lead riders start at Bright at 0620 and are descending on the other side of Tawonga Gap well before 0700. Not many of them are carrying the requisite 45kg.

Re Mt Beauty to Bright via Omeo, you should have just waited and done it the next day. ;-)

Comment by Neil Alexander on April 6, 2012 at 11:56am

D'Oh! Forgot the link mentioned above.

Check out some other pictures of the area here, and the next eight.

Comment by PeterT on April 6, 2012 at 6:49pm
45kg including bike? Trouble is, my 'touring gear' follows me off the bike too. Dabba.
Thanks for the pics of 'a cyclist' NA : )


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