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Bogong-Hotham 2003 Run Report
Report by Sean GreenhillHeld 5th January 2003
"You know, Bogong was the one time I questioned my sanity..."
You won't see any Bogong-Hotham T-shirts. This is a genuinely niche event, usually attracting no more than 20 competitors looking to face the most gruelling course, mile for mile, in Australia. Competitors start by climbing the highest peak in Victoria, Mt Bogong (1986 metres) via the 8km long Staircase Spur, then following the snow poles of the Australian Alps Walking Track to descend T Spur and cross the Mitta Mitta River; then ascending Duane Spur to Mt Nelse, a sub peak of which is the third highest in Victoria at 1891m. The halfway point at Langford Gap is then accessed over undulating vehicle tracks and walking path. The cutoff time here of 5 hours 30 is considered quite aggressive; and is the main cause of attrition amongst the race field. Typically fewer than half the starters complete the full trek.
The second half of the race still follows the Australian Alps Walking Track across the Bogong High Plains, above the treeline, before dropping into Cobungra Gap and then ascending Swindlers Spur to the Hotham Ski fields, and on to the summit of Mt Hotham (1860m) and the finish.
I travelled down from Sydney on the Saturday with my mother Gayl and with Jonathan Worswick, who has won this race twice as well as having the course record at the Glasshouse 100 Miler. We stayed in Tawonga and had dinner in Mount Beauty that night with Ian Wright. I was pretty confident about making the cutoff- I had been doing a lot of double days in the previous six weeks, doing speedwork on Tuesday nights with the Lane Cove Striders, and quality weekends consisting of a fast and hilly 28K on Saturdays with Stephen Jackson, backing up with another fast 25-30K with the Striders on Sundays, with second sessions on either one or both days. The weekend before the race, Stephen and I ran 2.17 for our Bridges 28K loop, which was a great confidence builder. A 25 minute run through the streets of Tawonga and Mt Beauty on Saturday night confirmed this impression- I had to hold myself back, I was pumped up and ready to let fly, full of energy. I had only experienced that feeling before one or two other races.
Mountain Creek campground was cool and smelling richly of the thick Eucalypts standing on all sides. A river was gushing over the background noise of runners murmuring to each other. A beautiful place to be. RD Mike Grayling's voice cut through the air... "Fifteen minutes to go!"
I placed my halfway bag in the bus and talked to Adam Johnson, who was driving the bus this year. A fine runner himself, he had finishes here and at Cradle Mountain to his credit but wasn't competing today due to a bout of flu.
"Five minutes to go!"
I spoke to John and Olga Lindsay and also to Tim Turner, one of our Sydney Fat Ass crowd. Nice to see some more NSW representation down here.
"Time, gentlemen, please!"
We lined up. Behind me was Nigel Aylott, to the left Andrew Kromar. Quality field this, not counting Jonathan on my right and Ian on my left. Mike delivered his pre race talk, issued last minute instructions. And at 6.27 we were OFF.
We ascended a gently sloping 4WD track that forded several creeks at wooden bridges; I was running with Jonathan, Rudi Kinshofer and a few others. Ian Wright was with us briefly, then he suddenly dropped back. Andrew and Nigel were sprinting, really SPRINTING, into the distance at speed.
We reached the bottom of Staircase Spur after 11 minutes of 4WD track (which crossed water several times) and started the real climb. The guns (Jonathan etc) took off and I was left to my own devices, zigzagging up and up and up through dense forest.
I was checking the heights indicated on the altimeter against my anticipated schedule; when I passed 1300m elevation in not much short of an hour I knew I'd reach Bivouac Hut at 1400m on my 60 minute schedule, and so it was. Ian appeared briefly behind me, complaining of breathing troubles, then I was off again, pushing through thick shrubbery (the forest had metamorphosed and started to thin out) and over a distinctly rocky surface. For a moment I was in the clear, with sweeping views to the north east. Magnificent stuff.
Above the treeline is my favourite type of running; not common in Australia, so under normal circumstances I'd be soaking it up; but I was pushing too hard to really take too much notice once I got out of the trees and ascending the grassy knolls leading to Bogong summit. I'd fallen off the pace a bit; I'd projected reaching the summit in 1.40 but it wasn't going to happen. I could see no runners above me; when I passed the skiiers monument I looked back down the snow pole line to see Ian not too far below; and behind him a figure in a green shirt making up the gap.
Ian caught me up and we reached the summit together in 1.45. Hmm, that cutoff loomed very close now. I pushed as hard as possible- almost a sprint- over some deeply rutted tracks parallelling the snow poles, and scattered with loose rocks. Not good terrain for fast running. I descended to Hell Gap, climbed up over Lendenfeld Point and descended towards Cleve Cole Hut. Hearing footsteps behind me, I risked a quick glance over my shoulder and saw Green Shirt behind me. He asked if I was Sean Greenhill, I confirmed I was and asked how he knew. He recognised my face and my gear from the photos from the net. Funny how notoriety spreads. He was Andrew Hewat, from Geelong.
We reached Cleve Cole Hut in 2.08. My splits had said 2.05, so we'd made up 2 minutes on the deficit at Bogong Summit. At Cleve Cole there was a table set up with Gatorade, and several types of food. Excellent, anything more than just water is a bonus in this type of lowkey race. A guy in black t shirt and sunglasses filled my bottles with Gatorade. "What's your name?" he asked. I told him. "ahh.... Mister G," he drawled. "I'm Pastyboy." This was a reference to our identities on the Coolrunning Australia bulletin board. Andrew and I didn't have time to chat, alas, as that cutoff was still looming.
Another descent through thickening stands of trees before we emerged into an alpine plain bisected by creeks- Maddisons Hut Site. We were back on schedule. From here it was a hard right up and over a climb, then starting a gradual descent. I did a faceplant out here, cutting my right shin but was otherwise unscathed.
The descent was steep but not too difficult- the likes of Mike Ward and Kevin Tiller told me about running down T Spur and constantly looking for the route. This was not an issue for Andrew and I- we reached Big River (also called the Mitta Mitta River) right on 3 hours with Ian directly behind us after a snake scare near the bottom. Normally this is at least waist deep but due to current drought conditions we were able to cross without getting our feet wet.
The climb up and out is 700m ascent in 3k. It was getting warm; I was sweating heavily under my coolmax t shirt. It's a steeper grade than Staircase Spur but this one troubled me less- I think because the switchbacks were longer, I was able to get a better walking rhythm going and pulled away from Ian and Andrew. At a col, the trail continued to the right; in front of me some massive spurs ran down from Mt Nelse into the Mitta Mitta valley. I smiled at the memory from when I ran here with Jim Screen a few years back. At this same location I had joked "this is good training for Pluviometer, Jim." Jim had waved a weary arm at the same mighty spurs and declared with finality, "Pluviometer was in nappies when these were old men!"
The trail dropped briefly, flattened out (I was able to run for a bit!), then resumed climbing to Ropers Hut, where I was checked in and filled my bottles at 4.03. All right! I was seven minutes ahead of schedule. Ian and Andrew materialised from the bush and pressed on without pausing for water. I caught them up and Ian remarked on how strong I looked. Sure I felt strong walking up the hills, but now we'd have to run. Ian said he was still feeling ill and would drop at halfway, then he ran away from Andrew and I. Kind of shows what a quality athlete Ian Wright is.
Mixing running and walking when buggered, Andrew and I hauled into Langford Gap and the halfway in 5.17, thirteen minutes before the cutoff, with Ian a minute back. It had been mostly rolling, rutted 4WD track after Ropers, with a fine scattering of loose rocks; and then rough foot track followed by excellent running along the Aqueduct. Mike Grayling and Adam were amongst the crowd waiting for us, surrounded by a remarkably thick swarm of flies. Geoff Hook turned up also. Mike asked me how I was feeling. Between gasps for breath. I managed "I'm utterly fucked!" but then waved a finger at he and Adam and added "but I'm going to keep going!"
Amongst those who had stopped at halfway were Nigel Aylott, who had incurred a niggling injury and didn't want to exacerbate it before the Australian Rogaine Championship a fortnight hence; and Andrew Kromar. Jonathan had been first man to Langfords. I sat down and started to eat; Andrew got organised and shuffled out. After putting away a few cans of creamed rice, a few swigs of Ian's coke and half a pack of chips, I too shuffled out of Langfords and along the access trail next to the Aqueduct. I managed about 90 seconds of running before being reduced to a walk, I was still stuffed from pushing it to halfway.
A few glances at the crystal clear water of the Aqueduct revealed fish were living contentedly in there; it was warm in the sun and I considered jumping in for a few minutes to cool off. I probably wouldn't climb out again I rationalised, and started to alternate running and walking; I'd run three snow poles and walk one, run three, walk one. The snow poles from Bogong Summit to Hotham Summit are 40 metres apart and numbered; once you start counting snow pole numbers and doing the maths on how far to go, one's sanity can start to slip alarmingly. I caught Andrew up not long after passing the Rovers Hut, and we death marched up the hill to Cope Hut and the Omeo Road crossing and the next aid station. Apparently Rudi Kinshofer was only a few minutes in front and walking, which excited us through our lethargy; Rudi came second here a few years ago and has some killer results in 24 hour races, so it'd be nice to reel him in.
After Omeo Rd there is no trail, merely a snow pole line across rocky alpine moorland. We started "pole hopping" once more, running three to five poles (as best as we could run on this rough terrain) and walking one. Cattle graze on the high plains in summer; we passed several herds of cows gazing at us with a detached "and what the hell are you guys up to?" expression on their faces. I conversed with them through my delirium, much to Andrew's amusement. We reached the SEC Hut at Aqueduct Junction on roughly 10.20 finishing pace. I'd projected a 10 hour finish after a 5.25 halfway, which shows you what a sorry state we were in. But a finish was accomplishment enough in this race; we'd take any time we could get. We were already producing lists of reasons as to why we'd never do this bloody race ever again.
After Aqueduct Junction the terrain got worse; more rocks, less discernible trail, and endless snow poles vanishing away over the moorlands to the horizon. Andrew and I no longer ran but power walked over the rough as best we could; the demoralising effect of seeing the snow pole line heading away and out of sight had taken all fight out of us. We reached pole 333 aid station just as Rudi had left; we saw him walking in the direction of pole 267 and Cobungra Gap. The aid station guy gave us fruit and lollies and let us borrow his Rid spray to combat the swarms of flies that plagued the high plains. Then we walked off again, Andrew starting to slow as a dodgy IT Band started to get worse. We reached pole 267 and I changed socks; my feet were saturated with sweat in the heat and I could feel a few hot spots coming on. I lathered on some more hydropel and we got some running going, dropping into the trees and down a good dirt path towards the Cobungra River. Across from us, the high summit of Mt Loch loomed direct ahead, to the left, the slightly lower summit of Mt Hotham and its buildings and antennas, our final destination, still a couple of hours away.
We hit the bottom at the Cobungra River and Dibbins Hut with Andrew's IT Band in bad shape. Here were two more aid people wearing full body nets to ward off the flies. A bottle refill, some more sweets and the hot, debilitating climb up Swindlers Spur began. I pulled away from Andrew; he urged me on but I replied we'd been a good team so far and it made sense to complete it together. It was hot on this climb; the sweat was pouring off me, but what was worse was that the damn climb to Derrick Hut just went on and on and on. We came out of the trees and onto a long flat spur; not far to Derrick Hut now I told Andrew. Then we dropped down again, and commenced another climb. I'm sure it wasn't a major drop or climb but in our state it felt like K2. More reasons for never doing this race again were produced, and we were reduced to counting down more numbers on the snow poles and doing more maths.
Finally we were at Derrick Hut, last aid station on the course. Adam had told us the second half was easy as "you can smell the finish" but Andrew and I were in serious demoralisation instead. This was not helped after we left the hut and climbed across the Hotham ski runs; the Derrick Hut guy hiked past us with his backpack lightened after he dumped his remaining water. However after the snow pole line left the ski runs and reached a dirt road we got some running happening again and passed the Derrick Hut guy. We reached Derrick Col and saw the rest of the course; a descent, then another long climb along Loch Spur to the Loch Car Park; then a haul up the Alpine Road and a final climb to the summit tower of Hotham. It looked so far away, so high...
A mixture of jogging and walking got us to the road and we started powerwalking to the Hotham Summit walking trail. Andrew's car was parked at the foot of this trail and we could see two people standing on the slope above. I told Andrew we should dump our packs to lighten the final approach to the summit; so we left them at his car and walked up the path.
The two people standing and watching were Jonathan and my mum Gayl. Jonathan said "it's considered cheating to drop your packs below the summit" to which I gave him the finger in mock anger. "I hear congratulations are in order, Jonathan," I replied; the Derrick Hut guy had told us Mr Worswick had been well in front at that point ("the only guy who was still running at this point" had been the quote) so it was obvious he'd won. "I'm NEVER doing this race again!" I declared to Gayl and Jonathan with utter finality; Jonathan's response was just to laugh as we headed over towards the summit tower.
"Want to run the last few metres?"
Andrew and I ran the last twenty metres to the summit with arms round each others shoulders to find Mike, Adam, some other aid people, Andrew's wife. and the other finishers all there. Other finishers? Only six men from the 17 who had started at Mountain Creek had gotten to Hotham.
Mike handed over backpacks to the finishers and a bottle of champagne to Jonathan; then we wearily collapsed into Gayl's station wagon and headed back to Mt Beauty, stopping en route at Bright to pick up some beers.
That night it was a weary four ultra runners- Jonathan, Ian, Rudi and myself- who worked through pizza and beer in Mt Beauty. In the back of my head I was reflecting over where I could improve my time next year; no other race in Australia has such challenging terrain as this one. Jonathan was emphatic; "it's the best race in Australia."
POSTSCRIPT - a fortnight later fires started by lightning strike burned out pretty much the entire course (including the grassy moors above the treeline) from Mt Bogong through Falls Creek to Cobungra Gap. Mt Hotham is still threatened by fires from several directions. The course next year is going to look very different.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
Back to CoolRunning Bogong-Hotham HomePage
(includes links to other Bogong to Hotham articles)