B2H Jan 6, 2008
People used to whisper about Bogong to Hotham in hushed tones. It was the ultimate trail ultra, deemed unattainable by all but a few. B2H has now moved into the mainstream but it is no less intimidating. It is no less daunting. It is no less an achievement. It is still the toughest trail ultra, mile for mile in the country. There are still over 3000 metres of elevation gain. There are still huge climbs up Staircase, Duane and Swindlers Spurs. There are still miles of rutted singletrack, too narrow and deep for running across the high plains. There are still miles of ankle twisting technical trail. There are still breath-taking panoramic vistas across the Australian Alps. Those who have finished it don't necessarily use hushed tones anymore, but they do talk of it with the reverence and respect that it deserves. They talk of it with a sense of achievement, like a passing of rites. This run has it all: climbing, descending, technical trail, open plains, thick, impenetrable bush, river crossings, and spectacular views. This run is still the ultimate trail run. This run is the Rooftop Run, across the top of Australia.
So what has changed? The early start options, which effectively extend the cut-off times, allowing more runners to get through. For good or for bad, I took the earliest start at 5am with a huge contingent making the most of the extra time. Tim, Spud and I had planned to run together given we were all just 4 weeks out from finishing Coast to Kosciusko, and clearly none of us would be recovered. We settled in at the back of the pack as it shuffled along the fire trail and then fed, conga-line style onto the first little footbridge across a creek. Bang, down went a bloke at the front of the line and his yell clearly belied a badly rolled ankle. He furtively waved everybody past, refusing offers of help. I was last and would not pass until he was up. I helped him to his feet and it was obvious he couldn't go on so I offered to help him back to the start, less than 1 km away. He reluctantly accepted, concerned for my race, but not able to weight bear he had little choice. Leaning heavily on me we started hobbling back to the start. Tim came back to see where I had gone. He started to help as well but this was too much for the bloke and he decided he could make it on his own and sent us on our way. I found out later that he bad broken his ankle and I felt pangs of guilt for not persisting to help him all the way back.
We had lost some time but were soon pushing hard up the Staircase. Despite the sun not even being up, it was already getting hot. I took a swig of water and spat it out. Oh god, my carbo solution had gone bad. (It had taken me 12 hours to get to Mountain Creek the previous day with no less than 5 breakdowns during which the fridge in my Kombi would have been off for hours and heating up. I had been concentrating on just getting there and overlooked a lot of other things.) I couldn't drink it. Worse, I was clearly already dehydrated from the long hot day driving up and now I was sweating profusely. We got to Bivouac Hut after an hour and a half and I found the water tank. I dumped my bad mix and had a huge guzzle of the tank water and refilled my bottle. Refreshed, I took off to catch up with Tim.
My favourite point on the course is where you clear the trees for the first time and you can see all the way to Mt Kosciusko. The endless line of mountain peaks steals my breath. Out in the open above the tree line there were runners everywhere. We were already being passed by 5:30 am starters, and catching some from our start. Spud was waiting for us at the summit. Just over 2 hours. We took off on the rolling singletrack through the low alpine grass towards Cleve Cole Hut. I passed Sean here like on several other occasions, the first of which we went on to run the whole way together, beating the old 5:30 cut-off. Not today. This was the last I saw of the big man.
I made good time to Cleve Cole, glad to be able to run after all the climbing. I refilled my other bottle as Spud came through. We skipped on down to the creek at Madison Hut site. I drank again from the creek, trying to catch up on lost fluids. We waited for Tim. A few other runners came through and we started to worry. And still we waited. I could tell Spud was already thinking of the cut. Then Tim arrived to a barrage of abuse, friendly of course, and we were off. He muttered something about only having one speed.
We wound back into the bush and climbed a little before the real descent to Big River started. This was my fifth time down T-Spur and I have never seen it so overgrown. The bushfire regrowth had created a car wash effect as you plummeted down the trail blindly. I passed a few runners including Dave, who I knew would be trying to stay in front of me. Then I went for a spectacular fall. Got up took off and went over again. After the third fall I decided I would back off a little and settled in behind another runner until we hit the river. About 3 1/2 hours.
It was like Bourke St. Or Pitt St. Or whatever your busy street is called. There were runners all over the place. Some were taking off their shoes and socks, some on the other side were putting them back on. Some like Milov were shimmying very precariously across the narrow log on all fours. Dave and Spud arrived and ploughed straight through. We breed em tough in Mellum. I walked across the log, preferring the dry option. Tim caught up and we were soon climbing again. The track was overgrown but at least this offered some shade from the now baking sun. Dave and Spud pulled away and eventually I left Tim. I was feeling tired and my glutes ached but I wanted to get to the top.
Roper's Hut site was another checkpoint. They waved me through. Tim caught up and we ran out into the open high country. The bush opens onto an endless plain of alpine heath and rolling hills swathed in wildflowers. The wide track wound off to the horizon, peppered with the odd runner. Warby Corner is always a welcome respite. Fresh water, lugged in by race organiser, Mike Grayling. And oranges, the wonder food. How important are the volunteers and organisers for the success of this run?
We made good time around to the track junction where you hit the singletrack back through bush to Langford Gap. There was a gaggle of bushwalkers heading out and they stepped off the track and clapped us through. I made an enforced pit-stop and Tim ran ahead. The aqueduct track always seems to go on forever. I was feeling nauseous and very low on energy and was so relieved to see the aid station. Just over 6 1/2 hours, very close to the cut.
John welcomed me in and Olga sorted my bottles. Tim teased me with his raspberry icy-pole. Oh, where did you get that? Mel appeared with one for me as well. How good was that? Tim took off, worried about the Omeo Rd cut-off. I forced down some cold baked-beans and some ginger beer and grabbed my icy-pole and walked out. I walked while I digested but then just couldn't get running again. I was getting foggy about how much time I had and tried to get some running going. Past a sign that read: Cope Hut 1km. Oh crap, I'm going to miss the cut. I broke into a run, past the hut and there was the aid station with people watching on helplessly as my time was slipping away. It was up-hill but I was running hard, regardless. Through the gate and I was there. Tim, believing I had missed the cut, took off. After quickly consulting with the powers-to-be, Paul waved me on. I fairly sprinted up the track passing someone, running on adrenaline, until I caught Tim as well and ran right past him. I looked back. I could see the sweeps leaving the checkpoint. That was way too close.
We ran together, walked together and chatted our way across the plains. A huge herd of brumbies grazed nonchalantly as we jogged by. We could see other runners ahead of us and seemed to be catching them. Pole 333 checkpoint in the middle of nowhere marked a hard left turn. I could see Dave and Spud in profile in the distance but we just couldn't reach them. And Milov, characteristically all dressed in black. I don't know how when I could feel my neck getting sunburned. The crisp breeze kept the temperature down and the flies at bay. As we started the long descent into Cobungra Gap, we passed two blokes and a lady we had been following for an hour. We leapfrogged a couple of times until Tim and I sat down for a little rest. "Let me introduce you to my friend: the little sit-down," Tim had said. I welcomed his friend, wholeheartedly. In fact I didn't want to leave him.
Once we were up again I was slow to get moving and the nausea that had been plaguing me kept me to a shuffle. Tim pulled away, and I told him not to wait for me. At Dibbens Hut, I willingly took my ration of water. The trio were there but Tim had gone. I struggled with the heat climbing Swindler's. Take 10 steps then rest. Take another 5 and rest again. All the way to the top. Mal came up behind me, startling me. He had taken the 6:15 start and flirted with the cut-offs but was making good time overall. Towards the top I passed the 2 blokes minus the lady who had left them on the climb. We leapfrogged some more and passed a limping runner before Derrick Hut. I was beyond food now and the oranges were all gone so I just grabbed some water and kept going.
Winding through the ski runs of Mt Hotham I could see Tim up ahead. I had no desire or energy to try and catch him. I just wanted to finish. I just wanted it to end. It became a solemn slog along the blue-metal roads until the climb up to the car-park. In a cruel twist we then have to run further up the road and climb the final track to the real summit. I pulled my phone out and turned on the music: Bocelli's Con Te Partiro. It overwhelmed my raw senses. I remembered my first finish here with Sean and how much pain I had been in. I remembered the sheer exhilaration in conquering this iconic run. I let that feeling wash over me. As the classic operatic music filled my ears, the wind whipped across the landscape and the sun shone hard on my face. The small gathering of organisers, radio operators, helpers, families and runners all started clapping as I reached the summit. I was overwhelmed again and bowed to touch the rocky monument and join that growing list of ultra runners who will continue to talk of Bogong to Hotham in the revered tone that it deserves. I love this run.