Climbing Camp wrapup
The real writeup of the 7th aboc Climbing Camp
We've had, in the past, snow, rain, baking heat and constant drizzle, but rarely have we had two days of nearly perfect weather for the camp at the Marouka ski lodge at Mt Hotham. It wasn't quite perfect, but the brief rainstorm as the full-distance riders climbed the last 10km of the hill was a blessing, it may have been wet, but it wasn't cold and the rain meant less need for water at the crucial last pitches up CRB hill and Diamantina. There was patches of snow on the side of the road and on some of the shaded ridges leftover from a snowstorm a week ago, just enough to remind everyone that we're in the mountains.
We had a great bunch of cyclists at this camp, a diverse bunch, many had never climbed Hotham (or anything else of this scale) but some were old timers who knew The Meg and the soul-crushing kilometer of CRB all too well. All up 23 brave riders came to stay, including Hari Gopu who drove all the way from Sydney to come to his second camp, and Vanders (Craig van der Valk) who came all the way only to drive down the mountain at 6am on the Saturday and race a 12 hour enduro mountainbike event. Such was the lure of the famous aboc bolla that he came all the way back for dinner afterwards, albeit after midnight.
So what did we really do? Everyone was up safely on Friday night and most were in bed and tucked in by midnight, although a few who got away from Melbourne later didn't arrive 'til around 1. Saturday's briefing was at 8am, and we covered safety, personal responsibility for riding, and pacing up the mountain. Hotham is climbed in three stages, the first, including a nasty pinch at around 5km past Harrietville called The Meg is 10km long and it winds its way up the first ridgeline at around an average of 6-7%, then the next 10km is a gentle 1-2% for around 10km, before the final crunch, from the toll booth to the top, including CRB hill, where in the past Neil Robinson set the camp speed record (claimed 108km/h in Feb 2007 at CC#6) descending. CRB hill is ~1km at 10%. The final 10km varies between grinding climbs and short, very sharp drops, before the last grovel up past Diamantina hut and the Razorback walk to Mt Feathertop to the summit. Then a 2km roll to the lodge, downhill all the way. The key is pacing - go too hard early and the last few kilometers will see you blown to bits, throwing every scrap of excess weight off your bike, body and breathing out to make yourself lighter. The last 10km has been likened to 10 minutes of having your head held under water, 30 seconds of breathing time, repeated three times. Or, as Richard says, "it's <deleted> hard".
The bunch rolled out at 9am, and rode up(!) to the summit from the lodge, then hooted down to the toll booth for the first regroup. After establishing the fastest speed, 89km/h (Jase Ellis), with no-one able to crack 90km/h due to a light headwind and a sense of self preservation, the bunch then descended to Harrietville. No incidents on the descent, it was dry, clean and safe.
Roughly half of the bunch decided to climb up from Harrietville, the rest took on the extra 50km return trip to Bright (one HAF rider bagged Mt Buffalo as well, solo!). Most of us were together, with the traditional sprints at Smoko, Freeburg and Bright won by your author, your author and then Robin Brown, very closely followed by Bec Domage. It's fair to say that by Bright, your author was a marked man and no games or dummy sprints would work anymore. Lunch at Bright, where as luck would have it there was a hotrod convention. Main street Bright was choked solid with (mostly well behaved) hot rods doing laps and causing a jam worthy of Punt Road on a Friday afternoon. A quick bite, some decided to go directly back to Harrietville for lunch rather than stay at Bright, the rest of us had the usual carbo-feast at the Bright bakery before riding back up the valley to Harrietville.
I can't write much about other's rides back up, as after the sprints had taken their toll I was doomed to be the lantern rouge, kept company by Jase Ellis, as we played tortoise and hare for 30km from Harrietville to the top (Jase being the hare) and 'Liv Ellis kept us company with drinks and a seeming never ending supply of salt tablets for Jase (who must have some bizzare salt addiction!). Thankyou 'Liv!
Back at the lodge and the war stories were told, Nick telling of his first exposure to hail on a bike, Richard making it up in fine form, Bev completing the climb under her own steam for the first time etc. Dinner was prepared, the usual aboc spag boll that riders who come to our spin class know so well. Thankyou to Bev and Claire for the garlic bread with teeth and chopping the veggies etc. The troops heartily fed and then a presentation, Robin winning the 'race to bright' and a superman cape, Bec taking the QOM, Brett the KOM (and HAF award, for riding to Mt Buffalo and back!), Bev the 'special achievement', Merv the Dummy for bringing a 47 tooth 'small' chainring(!) and almost making it up the hill on that crazy big gear! A movie, desert (fruitcake and custard) and then everyone was asleep. Except Vanders. Vanders' story is here. He rode the 12 hour in a team of two, then drove back up the hill, arriving at ~1am. HAF!
Sunday saw most up at 6ish, a quick briefing at 7 and then most riders decided to drop down to Dinner Plain for breakfast, some choosing to go all the way down to Cobungra Station (go Claire, go Hari!). Merv and Karen came back telling stories of a great breakfast at a pub in Dinner Plain, so Richard, Vanders and I decided lunch cooked by someone else (and the cleaning!) was the order. A missile-like descent to Dinner Plain saw Vanders pip your author at the sign by half a wheel after an 80km/h downhill leadout and sprint. Doh! A good lunch was shared with the local flies before we ambled the 10km back up to Marouka.
In the afternoon, everyone pitched in to clean up, a very special thankyou to Bev and Rob Monteath who did the work of 5 each to see the lodge spotless and meaning I had little to do save for emptying the fridges and turning everything off.
I'd like to thank everyone that came, it was one of the most successful camps we've run so far, according to the (anonymous!) feedback forms 90% of the people that came said "don't change a thing", with one wag suggesting leveling the hill. Where was Dino when we needed his stoic grace? Hopefully next time Shane 'The Llama' will be able to make it up as well to give everyone a spanking up the hill, and Byron as well. We missed you. We missed Neil too. Next time ...