Bikepacking the Australian Alpine Epic Trail

I’ve been talking about going to Mt Buller to ride the Australian Alpine Epic Trail since it opened and I moved to Melbourne around the same time two years ago. The trail is a 40km cross-country mountain bike trail through the alpine region of Mt Buller, across to Mt Stirling and then descending all the way down to the Delatite River. What better way to make a trail named Epic even more epic? Bikepack it.

Day One:

After a busy Friday pedalling around town making deliveries, having already chalked up 80km for the day at work, I strapped some gear to my bike and jumped on a train to Tallarook. For this adventure I chose to ride my Jamis Dragon mountain bike. I knew it wouldn’t be as fast or nimble as the Moth Attack for the commute stage, but once up on Mt Buller I appreciated the trail oriented geometry and the suspension for riding the Epic Trail.

From Tallarook my route would take me 120km along the Great Victorian Rail Trail into Mansfield before the final push along the road to Mirimbah, at the base of Mt Buller.

I disembarked the train around 7:30pm and wanting to make the most of the remaining daylight, got straight to pedalling. The rail trail itself was pretty mundane, but the gravel was smooth and the going was fast. The sky did a good job at keeping me entertained. I raced black storm clouds over the first 40km into Yea. Then, the setting sun filled the sky with an eerie blood red haze as it diffused through the thick cloud, eventually the moon, low and large in the sky ahead of me started fighting it’s way through the cloud cover as it began to break apart, finally giving way to a clear, star filled night sky. It was a bright night and for a time I was able to turn off all my lights and ride solely by the moon light.

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Cheviot Tunnel
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Great Victorian Rail Trail by moonlight

Shortly after 1am I pulled up near the old Woodfield Station site and threw out my bivy. I’d notched up another 100km which I was pretty happy with. It would make my next day a lot easier, only having 60 odd kilometres left to get me to Mirimbah where I would meet up with Lachie and Chris.

Day Two:

Next morning I was up early. Crossing the bridge over Lake Eildon and covering the 30km into Mansfield for breakfast before the final push on the road to Mirimbah, a gradual undulating climb following the Delatite River to the base of Mt Buller.

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The bridge over Lake Eildon
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Serenity at Lake Eildon

Chris and Lachie were waiting at the cafe when I rolled into town. I’d been considering doing the road climb to the summit before starting the Epic, but the others were pretty set on taking the shuttle. Considering that by this stage I’d ridden 240km in the preceding 24 hours I figured it wouldn’t be the worst idea to shuttle up too. I’d conserve a bit of energy that would probably allow me to enjoy the Epic Trail a bit more, which was really what we were here for after all.

The Epic lived up to everything I’d heard about it. Starting with some flowy undulating singletrack along Gang Gangs and a steep rocky firetrail descent mixed with some singletrack on Woolybutt delivered us to Howqua Gap and the hut of the same name. The famous Stonefly trail starts from Howqua Gap; a technical singletrack ascent switching its way back up towards Mt Stirling. Strewn with rocks and slippery roots it was hard to get in to any kind of rhythm, but the ferns, snow gums and spectacular views across the range were more than enough to make it worth while.

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From the top of the climb at Bluff Spur Hut we took a slight detour from the official Epic route, opting to take the Stonefly descent, twisting and turning our way back down to Howqua Gap in a fraction of the time it took us to climb. From here we followed the Sterling Circuit Rd around the lower slopes of Mt Stirling to the north side of the mountain and lunch at Telephone Box Junction.

After a quick bite and a coke we rejoined the Epic route starting with a steep fire road climb up the Razorback Spur to near the summit of Mt Winstanley. Some great, fun, flowy single track wound its way across towards the The Pinacle, treating us to spectacular views over the Delatite River and back across to Mt Buller and the ski village where we started, before the final brutal slog up a loose, rocky climb to the top. It was one of those climbs that’s steep and loose enough that you’re walking a bit of a tightrope between power and grip, but I managed to find the sweet spot and punch my way up.

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The entire ride had led up to this point. It was what we had all heard so much about and what every mile pedalled was delivering us to. The final descent. 9km of some of the sweetest, smoothest, most fun single track I’ve ever ridden. Filled with berms, kickers and little step downs the whole way, with barely a moment to pedal, I tried to stay off the brakes as much as possible carrying as much speed as I could for the entirety. I didn’t stop grinning til long after I reached the bottom.

The final stretch of the Epic continued descending, this time down a steep fire road littered with water bars to launch off on your way down, before the last couple of kilometres of singletrack wound their way through the densely wooded banks above the raging Delatite River, the sound of rushing water filling my ears as I spurred on to the finish, pedalling as hard as I could just to enjoy those final moments of exhilaration.

After rolling back into Mirimbah I rolled back over to the general store who had kindly agreed to mind our bikepacking gear while we rode the mountain. I collected my gear and parked up on one of the benches out the front to wait for Chris and Lachie to finish their own runs down.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun on the banks of the Delatite, venturing into the icy water only as long as we could bare before the pain of the cold set in and we’d lie back down in the sun to warm up before repeating the process.

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In the morning on the way in to Mirimbah we had spotted a few quiet spots by the river further down stream that we thought would make a good place to set up camp for the night. A short pedal back towards Sawmill Settlement so Chris and Lachie could grab some food and then we found ourselves a nice spot down below the road. I had ridden 110km for the day including ~50km of hard mountain biking. We were all pretty beat and after dinner, we were all in bed shortly after the sun had disappeared.

 

Day 3:

We woke to a frigid morning and made quick work of breaking camp hoping to get on the bikes and pedal some warmth into ourselves.

Unfortunately the road back to Mansfield was mostly downhill and the wind whipped at our hands as we rode. The sun was slowly coming up over the mountain behind us and we could see the warm rays down in the valley below us. We raced down until the sun finally hit our backs and started to warm us.

We stopped to strip some layers and Chris noticed that the sidewall of his rear tyre had ripped from the bead and the tube was bulging out ready to explode. We booted it with a $5 note and hoped it would be enough to at least get us in to Mansfield.

Luckily it held, but was bulging pretty bad by the time we got to town, so after breakfast and restocking supplies for the rest of the ride we attempted another repair, this time with the aid of some heavy duty cloth tape.

It was another 80km back to Lachie’s car that had been parked in Yea. The rail trail was pretty tedious during the day, riding it at night on the way out had made it somewhat interesting, but now at least I had company. We cracked a bunch of “The Castle” quotes on the way back through Bonnie Doon, made a pitstop in at the Yarck Hotel so Lachie could pick up a “Where the farck is Yarck?!” bumper sticker and stopped to take some photos at the old Cheviot railway tunnel but that was about all the excitement we got on the return journey.

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All told it was a great weekend of riding. 327km all up. Buller was obviously the highlight but I always knew it would be and that was the whole point of the trip. I’m already planning to go back I could easily spend days and days riding the trails and venturing around to all the huts, but next time I will definitely drive so I can spend more time on the mountain and have more energy for the trails.

GPX File of the route is available here.
View on Strava Day 1, Day 2, the Epic, Day 3.

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