Bogong to Hotham 2012
Hammer and I were at our third Bogong to Hotham race this year. In 2010, conditions were hot with temperature around 35 degrees recorded at Mt Beauty, 2011 was cooler and perfect racing weather and this year the forecast was for wind and rain and temperature of 12-14 degrees. The race organisers surprisingly did not require runners to carry the cold weather kit so I guessed that they had better information about the forecast throughout the day. We arrived at Mt Beauty on Thursday evening and on a perfect day on Friday ran/walked to the Mt Bogong summit from Mountain Creek Campground. Stunning views from the top with the mountain range stretching like a mirage to the north towards the NSW snowfields.
As I was not fit enough to race this year I had decided to run the second half of the Bogong to Hotham course after dropping Hammer and our friend Alan off at the start. The start of the race was pretty low key with runners setting off at first light from Mountain Creek campground.
I knew from experience that the high country is highly unpredictable and that conditions can change quickly. Rain was falling steadily but I expected that it would ease through the day hence the race organisers’ decision regarding the safety equipment the runners needed to carry. After watching the start I drove around to Langfords Gap, just past Falls Creek.
The roads were deserted and a heavy fog clung close to the ground. Rain and wind intensified as I got higher towards the plateau. Thoughts of pulling the pin and going back to the house had crossed my mind but since I was on my way I thought just get to Langfords Gap and then decide. There was one other car in the windswept desolate carpark when I arrived at Langfords Gap around 7.30am. I guessed this to be the radio operator arrived to set up. Strong gusts of wind rocked the car. I sat in the car for 15 minutes debating he wisdom of going out on my own in these conditions. Before I could talk myself out of it I took a swig from my can of courage and got out, reasoning that I can run to Omeo Rd, about 5kms ahead, and if it is still bad then I can turn around. The Alpine trail to Omeo Road is a 4WD track and as I realised later relatively protected from the wind.
I got to Omeo Rd and thought it was not too bad despite the rain, fog and not being able to see beyond 2 poles ahead. As long as I can see the poles and I could keep moving it would be OK. And besides I had expected runners to be coming past me long before I reached Mt Hotham. As I got further along the high plain the wind got stronger and gustier and it was coming head-on. At one stage I thought I may have to hold onto the pole or I would be blown away.
It was impossible to run as my legs were being swept from under me and I was constantly being blown sideways off the path. The rain cut across my face like little razor blades which made my already damaged lips sting like crazy. I knew that just had to outrun the high plain and that conditions would change after I reached pole 333 where the alpine trail veers to the south. While still exposed to the wind, at least it would be coming from a different direction providing some respite. Reaching pole 333 was such a relief and I knew that the route eventfully drops down to Cobungra Gap. At no stage did I have thoughts of turning back by now I was committed to getting to Mt Hotham. Once I got amongst the tress it was almost ‘pleasant’ as long as I did not focus on the wind whipping through the trees above me. Reaching Dibbin Hut was boost and what a beautiful spot this would be on a good day.
I crossed the valley and followed the signs towards Mt Hotham the route up along Swindlers Spur. About 500m into the climb I realised that I had not seen any poles since leaving the valley floor. Concerned I may have taken a wrong turn I went back down and sure enough there was pole 184 – not sure how I could have missed it. This climb is longer than the course profile suggests.
Swindlers is a gradual undulating climb and reaching Derricks Hut was another great boost – yippeee, I have almost made it , 4km to the road ad another km to Mt Hotham and I am home. The fact that no runners were coming past me was not surprising as I figured the winner would need to run 7hrs to reach Mt Hotham before I expected to be there. Derricks Hut was another picture postcard setting event in the horrible conditions.
It would be great to see the location on a day with better visibility. I continued to jog along the open trail. In the distance Mt Hotham ski lifts stood as shadowy ghosts only becoming apparent as I got very close.
Pole # 8 and soon I was over the water reclamation pond weir and emerged into the Mt Loch carpark only to find one car there. I had initially thought I was in the wrong place but could not work out how that was possible since the poles were obvious towards this point. I had expected to meet friends here who were picking me up and spectating the finish of the race. I got to the road in just under 5 hours and could barely see across the road. I saw some poles going up the mountain and started to follow them only to reach another ski lift. Now I was really confused. The wind and the rain did not allow me to pull out the map and I could not see beyond 2 poles, so concerned that I may be lost I went back to the road. I knew that my priority was to find shelter or else I was in deep trouble. I recall comments about there being nothing near the top of Mt Hotham. Once back on the road I ran about a 1km in one direction still no cars visible. It was so eerie there was not another soul anywhere near.
I ran back along the road to the car-park and a further km into the other direction reaching a tunnel and beyond that a building emerged from the shadows – sweet lord – relief, I found shelter. It turned out to be a chalet with a coffee shop that was only open because the race was on today. Once inside, I peeled off my rainjacket and stood in the foyer dripping, I was soaked to the skin in my running shorts and T-shirt. I stood shivering but I needed to urgently make contact with friends who were supposed to be meeting me at Mt Hotham. I soon discovered that the race had been abandoned at Langfords Gap, strangely that never occurred to me as a possibility.
I ended up getting a lift back to Mt Beauty – what providence. I later learnt that wind gust of up to 120km/hr were recorded at Langford Gap during the day and 140km/hr at Mt Hotham. The next day brilliant sunshine and 2 days later snow fell at Mt Hotham – crazy season.
In hindsight like all near misses lots of lessons emerged from this experience. Would I do it again under similar conditions – you bet. Would I be better prepared – you bet.