Words and images by Scott Rettino and Simon 'Esjay' James.
Last you saw us, we were philosophically searching for Bogong Jack’s gold, over biltong. What we didn’t tell you was, after the whole Bogong Jack/biltong episode, things got weird.
The clouds rolled in quickly and, biltong depleted, we made tracks. Only to stumble across a foreboding skull.
In isolation, this was merely a reminder of the harsh Australian climate. But then we found another. Then we found many more. Accompanied by a lot of bones. A cattle massacre? That, or one hell of a cook-out. Ghost in the tree?
A little further in we found another standout feature of Bogong Jack’s saddle that was sure to give you the heebie-jeebies. A twisted, ghostly, likely-haunted tree. The whispers started – was this the final resting place of Jack’s tormented soul?
In an unfortunate final act of indignity, we urinated on it and left. The call of nature, apparently, surpasses that of superstition. Given what was to follow, we’ll think twice before doing that again.
Gnarled & rocky
The clouds cover kept intensifying - we were starting to feel most unwelcome on this mountain.
Now at over 1300m, we were surrounded by dead or dying trees. At this altitude, Snow Gums (Eucalyptus Pauciflora) seem to grow a little, then die, then just hang around.
We were still on the Fainter Firetrail, however it felt decidedly different. What was previously a challenging, but manageable trail, was now a rock garden covered in ground-hugging shrubbery. Steep and unrideable for significant stretches, we found ourselves on and off the bike. Riding, then walking, then pushing, then riding again...
Oh, right, snow…
Riding. Walking. Pushing. Riding. Walking. Pushing. Snow.
Lot’s of it. As far as the eye could see. Curling up continuously, into the fog. The trail was completely covered.
We had discussed our snow strategy when we first found patches of it on the lower slopes. We had estimated that, if it got too heavy, we would be able to head back down, retracing our steps. However, by this point we had travelled too far, or, more accurately, too long into the day, to safely turn around.
We also half expected the snow to disappear again - it had been on and off for miles now. We decided to press on, chancing our luck, hoping it would clear once the trail wrapped back around onto the sunnier northern side.
It didn’t. We settled into what would become almost 25km of pushing, carrying, dragging, dropping and cursing our bikes through the snow.
As our progress slowed to a near-halt, the light began to fade. The chances of making our lodging by nightfall diminished as the snow grew deeper.
The fog rolled over us, obscuring any view of what lay ahead, leaving us to trudge on indefinitely, alone, through the heavy snow.
Fear and loathing
Well, not quite alone. We had footsteps for company. A hiker had been through that day, their footprints still relatively fresh. Beside them a dog had been having the time of its life, darting from side to side, and then round in circles, perhaps hoping for a treat. At least we knew we weren’t lost.
Finishing the day now became a mental game. The route was being chopped shorter and shorter as we lost more and more time. We now wouldn’t make it to Omeo before dark, instead opting to, hopefully, stay in Falls Creek. But first we had to get there.
Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Tawonga Huts. Spirits were low - we knew Falls Creek was still a long way off on foot while chained to a heavy, slow bike. Still, we knew stopping at the huts was pointless. We’d get to Falls Creek. We knew we were going to get there. We also knew it was going to be awfully slow and physically strenuous - a horrible slog through the snow in the dark.
We layered up with all the clothing we had. The snow, by this point, was varying between ankle, knee and, in sections, almost full-body deep, so we were constantly wet and cold.
One of us led with the GPS, carving foot prints and a wheel rut for the others to follow. It turned out this ‘slipstream’ was quite effective, allowing those behind the leader to conserve precious energy, especially handling their bike. Still, there was little rotation at the front. Esjay had planned the route, and the general consensus was one of ‘you got us in this mess - now get us out of it’.
We trudged on for hours more, slowly inching along the firetrail, stumbling over hidden rocks and shivering with cold.
Finally, we reached the end of the Fainter Firetrail, meeting up with Pretty Valley Road. Pretty Valley Road was littered in footprints. Civilisation couldn’t be far away.
Soon we were able to ride again, the snow patchy on the graded gravel. We rolled across the dormant snowfields and down towards the village, hoping somewhere would still be open.