I’d like to acknowledge the Gunai-Kurnai as the traditional owners of the land through which this ride took place.
It’d been a while since I’d got away and I was itching to get out of the city properly. However, coming up to Christmas I wasn’t able to wrangle anyone else into coming with me on this ride.
So as it was, I found myself and my bike, once again alone in Gippsland rolling north into the mountains.
On this occasion I was departing from Sale; northbound on the quietest farm roads I could find. This opening stage proved to be dead flat as I passed through the pasture-land, but I knew that wouldn’t last very long.
As soon as I hit Marathon Rd it pointed upwards in a hurry. The first few kilometres were sealed, I guess to ease you into it, because it started to get nasty steep even before it turned to gravel. On and on it climbed, regularly peppered with short downhills, that didn’t offer you a reprieve from climbing as much as it hindered your efforts to actually gain any elevation.
In the effort of the climb and the heat of the day, I was going through water pretty quick. I’d crossed a couple of streams earlier in the climb, but still being in farmland I didn’t want to mess with that water. Despite carrying water purification tabs, I worry about the chemicals leeching into the water. I noticed up ahead the elevation dropped sharply, to a point and kicked back up. There was no river or creek marked on the map, but I knew that geography was a pretty good sign of water. I wasn’t disappointed. About 5 minutes after taking my last swig of water I was rewarded with a trickling, but clear stream.
After about 3 hours of slogging away up the climb I passed through the gates to the Alpine National Park and marked a severe deterioration in road condition at the exact moment the grade kicked up again. So there I was hunched over my bars, pushing my bike while trying to find solid ground to place my feet between all the rubble.
It went on like this for about a kilometre before I was able to remount and continue riding. Checking my Garmin I’d climbed 2000m, despite only gaining 1000m elevation. It was literally 2 steps forward, one step back. At least I was nearly atop the ridge line now.
Just before the top I realised I hadn’t seen another person in the now nearly 4 hours of my climb. As if right on cue I heard the rumble of a car coming up behind me. I pulled to the left and a seriously old Land Rover came rolling by with the driver hanging out the window yelling “you’re mad!” in the nicest way possible.
After cresting the ridge I started the ripping descent down to Moroka Rd. I was low on water again but knew a place to fill up from when I rode the Hunt 1000 last year.
On the way down I caught up to the Land Rover. He took his turn to pull to the left to let me past, knowing I’d be a lot faster to the bottom. He stuck his hand out the window: “Jerry” he said as we performed a rolling handshake. We both pulled on the brakes and got to chatting for a bit.
Jerry’s car was his dad’s. Bought in 1949, his father had first brought Jerry up to the Pinnacles in it 50 years ago, and now, before moving to New Zealand next year he wanted to take it on one last drive up.
We parted ways and I finished the descent well before Jerry. By the time he caught back up I was already clambering down to the little stream that was the early stages of the Moroka River. I waved to Jerry as he went by and then got down to the water. I noticed a little further upstream there was a little rock pool covered by a thick canopy of low-hanging trees. I filled my bottles before peeling of my shoes and socks and wading up to refresh myself in the pool.
Back on the bike I was headed west along Moroka Rd to pay a visit to a curtain spot for a little bit of catharsis. Before long I was climbing again, up and up, until I saw the wooden sign that pointed to Billy Goats Bluff Track. From the turnoff the track kicked up steeply. It was rough but still ridable.
I’d pushed my bike for 3 hours in the pitch black of night up the other side of the track from the Wonnangatta River last year on the Hunt 1000 and it got the better of me. Not least because I wasn’t rewarded with the views for all that hard work. Ever since I’d sworn that I would come back to see it. After seeing the crest of the track, snapping a photo and taking in the view across to Dingo Knob and Mt Kent, I scrambled up the grassy slope to the summit proper. A grassy summit littered with rocky outcrops, with a few snow gums and the odd wild flower. A stark contrast from the harsh, dry scar cut up the side of the mountain that bears the same name. I’d made my peace.
Onwards to the Pinnacles. It was now nearing 7 and I was hoping to catch a sunset at the rocky crag before figuring out when to hunker down for the night. It’s not far from Billy Goat’s, a short descent and a punchy, but quick climb and I was almost there when the fog started setting in around me.
Arriving at the gate before the track that lead the final few hundred meters to the summit I stopped to chat to an older couple that were building a fire in the picnic ground. They’d just been up the top and reported that unfortunately the cloud had already hidden much of the view. Bill and Diane revealed they had quite and interest in the old high country huts and after offering me a ginger beer and some biscuits we poured over their map and exchanged notes, tips and stories about the different huts we had visited in the region.
I took off by my self to see the crag and while the fog had certainly come in thick I couldn’t be disappointed at the moody atmosphere it created in conjunction with the ghostly snow gums and the bright yellow wildflowers forcing their way up out of the rock.
It was getting late. Less than an hour to sunset and there was no way the fog was lifting to treat us to the light show we had hoped for. The wind had picked up and the temperature was quickly dropping up here about 1400m. I threw on a jacket, and bid Bill and Diane farewell, opting to head back along Moroka Rd towards Horse Yard Flat where, at lower elevation and less exposed I was hoping it would be a bit warmer, I’d have access to water from the river and would be close to the hut in case it rained.
I arrived at the Flats in the last of the day’s light. There was no one else around, so I threw out my bivy on a nice patch of grass, ate my cous cous dinner and quickly fell asleep.
I was rolling by 6 the next morning and the fog had rolled in here too while I was asleep.
Once on the bike I was quickly climbing again, looking for the turn off for the walking track down to Moroka Hut which I wanted to check out. I almost missed it, two wooden posts stood where they had once held a sign that was no longer there.
An amazing piece of windy single track lead me down to a rickety wooden bridge over the Moroka, twisting through arching snow gums to a stunningly green, grassy clearing and the Moroka Hut. I apparently interrupted a couple of sparrows who had made it home and they quickly darted out the fireplace and up the chimney upon my arrival. I definitely wished I had carried on to here to camp, and marked the spot in my memory bank for another time.
Back on Moroka Rd and back to climbing. As I cleared the back side of Trapyard Hill and came around to McFarlane Saddle the fog dissipated instantly giving way to clear blue skies on the west side of the ridge.
I poked around the campsite at the Saddle but could see no sign of Dunsmuir Hut. In retrospect I have a suspicion it’s location is marked incorrectly on the map.
I headed off hesitantly down the track through the Wellington Plains to Millers Hut. It was dense and overgrown singletrack and I couldn’t see myself getting through without a lot of difficulty so I consulted my map and decided to backtrack 5km back into the fog to get to Moroka Range Track and then onto Mt Wellington Track to get to the summit directly rather than looping around to come up it’s south face as I had originally planned.
Moroka Rang Track dropped me down to a river crossing. It was cold and foggy still down here so I decided to take of my shoes and socks to keep them dry. I plunged into the icy mountain water up to my knees and waded across to the other side.
From the turnoff of Mt Wellington Track I knew it was going to be a rough climb. It split off aggressively up from the junction and instant turned to a rocky, rubble strewn mess. I quickly cleared the fog again but the progress was slow. It was only just barely rideable. On that limit of pushing your lowest gear without spinning out your rear wheel as you fight for traction. Inch by inch I crawled up, the lactic acid burning in my legs, but looking around I was rewarded with spectacular views well before I reached the summit which alone stood proud of the cloud below, lapping like an ocean at the mountain top.
Spotted around you could see the very tips of a few other peaks trying to break through the clouds, but not quite there. The final kick up to the Wellington summit was even steeper than the track that preceded it and I had to admit defeat, dismounting to push the last little way to the top.
It was worth every drop of sweat – and their were litres of it – that it had taken my to get here over the last few days. Another rocky peak, sitting proud at over 1600m, Mt Wellington treated me to an incredible scene. Thick cloud blanketing the Avon Wilderness to it’s South. The Sentinals and Gable End poking up from the East, and then to the north, the Wellington Plains sprawled away across to Mt Tamboritha.
As I sat perched on a rocky outcrop by the summit cairn I saw a familiar car negotiating the difficult track on its way up to where I was. Bill and Diane rumbled up to the summit and we chatted some more while snapping photos of the view.
They topped up my water bottles before we parted ways and I shot of back down Mt Wellington Track. It was incredibly rough and my arms were well and truly pumped by the time I returned to the junction at Moroka Range Track. From here I turned right, following the ridge past the northern edge of the Avon Wilderness, continuing to drop elevation down the rough and rocky track.
A punchy climb back over the ridge brought me to the start of Old Moroka Rd and my final descent out of the mountains. It was an incredibly rough ride down, peppered with steep climbs to break up the descent, but my body was tiring from being bucked around so hard. Despite this it was a hell of a lot of fun picking lines, boosting off water bars and hopping over fallen tree limbs.
The descent seemed to go on for ever, but every now and then would open up on the west side of the spur and give way to breathtaking views down the valley to the Turton River and across to the Avon-Turton Divide ridge.
Eventually the track surface improved enough that I could just sit back and enjoy the ride, dropping down along the western banks of Valencia Ceek, we meandered along together for quite some way. Large rocky outcrops jutted our from the mountainside around me, overhanging the road in spots.
After crossing the creek at Paddy Lees Crossing, a short stint on Moroka Track delivered me to Gillios Rd. An amazing gravel surface and a very gradual downhill grade allowed me to open up for what felt like the first time all ride. I hit the pedals and tore on, still along side Valencia Creek, but now back in farmland, passing the occasional house or being greeted by a cow.
The grade finally petered out and the mountains fell flat around me, giving way to the long open plains of Gippsland once more. A roaring southerly blew strong in my face but that couldn’t dampen my mood. After a weekend of very tough riding it seemed about right that I would have to battle a headwind back to the train. A sly grin spread across my face as I hit the tarmac and headed for home.