On 4 January, 1981, I ran to the summit of Mt Bogong.
Having got to the top once, it took almost 38 years to the day to do it again, this time walking, on 30 December, 2018. Back to Mt Bogong, certainly; but certainly not back-to-back Mt Bogongs.
The drive from Melbourne to Falls Creek, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years longer than the gap between ascents, takes you right past Mt Bogong. At Tawonga, high up in the Kiewa Valley, a sign points to the summit of Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, 1986 metres above sea level. Like Bogong, Mt Feathertop, Victoria’s only other peak above 1900 metres, stands a little separated from the Bogong High Plains. The two peaks dominate their surroundings; pretty well all the other 1800-plus “peaks” are dotted around the High Plains.
Going back to my 1981 diary unearthed other interesting comparisons between the two climbs. This year it took us almost exactly four hours to walk up Bogong via the Staircase Spur. All those years ago, we did a one-way climb, going up Bogong as the first leg of a run which took us all the way to Falls Creek. I recorded the time for that run at three hours 42 minutes which, I presume, was the running time.
Making rough allowances for our breaks this year, that means I ran from the foot of Bogong to Falls Creek in around the same time it took me to walk up the mountain 38 years later. If one ascent was an exhilarating illustration of aerobic fitness, the other was a sobering reminder of how it has ebbed away.
A few other ‘stats’ from 1981: from the elapsed time for the run – more like five and a half hours than 3:42 – and a subjective consensus as to its ‘toughness’, we estimated the length as “marathon distance”, i.e. 42kms.The Trailsplus, trail running website, gives a rightly equivalent version of the same trip as part of the Bogong to Hotham race as 32km. The only ‘split’ noted was the 87 minutes from the start in the Mountain Creek camping ground to the summit. Given that it’s 2km to the start of ‘the Staircase’, that’s somewhere around 75 minutes for the ascent, good, but nothing flash. Perhaps the reference to “fairly easy” for this part of the run indicates I was holding something back for the rest of the journey. A wise decision, it that was the case.
Looking at the rest of my diary entry for that day, I can’t argue with “superb run” as a fitting summation of the overall journey. The summit of Bogong offers panoramic 360-degree views of the Kiewa Valley, across the High Plains peaks of Mt McKay and the Fainters to Mts Hotham, Feathertop beyond, and north to Kosciuszko. There’s also the precipitous drop (approximately 400 metres in 3.5km, 600-plus from the Bogong summit) down the T-Spur to the swift-flowing Big River, and only slightly gentler climb (500 metres in 7km) back up Duane Spur to Ropers Hut and the relative flatness of the High Plains.
We took little food then, mainly fruit, nuts and some glucose lollies, and got most of our water from the tanks and streams along the way. This time we had day packs with water bottles and a few sandwiches, along with some all-weather clothing. Then it was clear and sunny most of the way; this time warm, but with cloud and overcast conditions – cold and windy at the Bogong summit, warm and humid below the treeline.
Each trip was tinged with a little bit of uncertainty, Bogong to Falls because it was the first time I had ever attempted a run of that nature (the subsequent years have not swelled the list much!), this time because we were doing the Staircase-summit-Eskdale Spur round trip, with a steep descent which saw me hit the ground once and had my toes screaming for mercy as they pounded into the front of my boots with each stride. I can’t say one trip was better than the other; each was different.
One thing I can say with reasonable certainty. It will not be another 38 years before I’m on Bogong – or someplace similar – once again. But my diary for 1981 also shows that on New Year’s Eve a group of us ran from Falls to Hotham, and back, a distance which we estimated, accurately as it turns out, at around 50km.
It could be a lot longer than 38 years before I both open and close a calendar year with a run of epic proportions.