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Nelse-Bogong Loop

Bogong High Plains near Mount Nelse.

In December 2011, I decided to stop off for a few days on the Bogong High Plains on my way back from Melbourne to Copa after visiting relatives.  I booked a small apartment for my stay with the intention of getting in a few long runs at altitude on the High Plains as part of my preparation for the Bogong to Hotham 64km the following month.  I was coming back from injury and felt some long runs would build my stamina and confidence.

For the biggest long run, I mapped out a 50+ kilometre loop that incorporated part of the course of the upcoming race and set out at 7:00am on a cool sunny morning from near the Rocky Valley Storage Dam.  The half-way point was to be the summit of Mount Bogong (1986m), and although the last half of the course was along familiar trail, the first half of the loop wasn't, and I was excited about running some new trail.  I headed north towards the barren Mount Nelse for the first 8km which climbed gradually away from the Dam on easy running fire-trail.

Mount Bogong from Grey Hills.

I expected the run would take me seven to eight hours and I was wearing a Camelbak containing a couple of Snickers Bars, a map, my phone, a rain-jacket and a cup for getting water out of streams to drink.  Before leaving my apartment I had a slice of toast and jam and figured that the Snickers Bars would be sufficient nutrition for the time I would be out.

At Warby Corner, near Mount Nelse, I turned left onto the Spion Kopje track which followed a high spur westwards with expansive views north and south of fog-shrouded valleys in very still conditions.  I was fresh, the running was easy, and not a soul was in sight.  I felt privileged to have the place to myself, and lucky to be fit enough to do the run.

Quartz Ridge from Mount Bogong.

Things started to change after 5km when I turned north along the much harder to follow Grey Hills Track which followed a scrub covered spur over a series of knolls.  In many places the wiry scratching scrub obscured the track and the going was slow with the occasional short climbs sapping my energy in the thinner air.  The views were still good, but a lot of my time was devoted to watching where my feet were going, especially near the end of the track which descended steeply to Bogong Creek Saddle.  After a brief section of firetrail, I began the steady ascent of the Quartz Ridge Trail towards the summit of Bogong and the half-way point.

Around this time, the sky clouded over and the weather began to look more ominous, a common pattern in the high country.  It was also around this time that my lack of fitness and the harder work along the Grey Hills Track began to kick in, and I found myself walking the steeper sections.  As the trail approached the Hooker Plateau, near Bogong, it passed along an exposed ridge near Quartz Knob with sheer drops to the west.  It was quite runnable but the trail wasn't always obvious and a few times I just headed cross-country in what I surmised to be the correct direction until I again picked up the trail.

At the summit of Mount Bogong (1986m).

At the summit of Mount Bogong, rain seemed imminent and the wind was picking up, so I didn't stay long before heading south-east along the bare ridge to Cleve Cole Hut and some more sheltered trail.  It soon began to rain steadily and I donned my rain-jacket, starting to feel a little cold.  The rain continued on the long technical descent to Big River through the mountain forest.  This is a beautiful section of trail and the rain just made it more atmospheric.  There's nothing quite like running or hiking through rain in an Australian eucalypt forest.  Despite now being way behind schedule, I was still enjoying myself and stopped to get a drink from a small stream just after crossing the raging Big River, hanging onto the wire safety cable.

Roper Hut.

I knew the long climb up Duane Spur would be tough - it always is in the Bogong to Hotham race - and it did not disappoint.  I was soon walking and starting to feel very hollow.  My Snickers Bars were long gone and I had had nothing else to eat for eight hours.  Half way up the climb I began to feel light-headed and could feel myself bonking.  Fantasising about Mars Bars is always a sure sign I have exhausted my glycogen energy supplies and am starting to slowly burn fats, and I was ravenous for a Mars Bar.  I started to doubt my ability to finish inside of twelve hours, thinking I would have to walk all the way back to the car, when the trail passed near Roper Hut.

From experience, I knew that hikers sometimes left unused food in mountain huts and I wasn't disappointed, though the choice was limited.  There was a glass container containing a small amount of sultanas and nuts of uncertain age, and several small sealed sachets of dried apple, something I had never previously tried.  I started eating the sultanas and nuts, which definitely tasted very old, wondering what kinds of unseen fungus they might contain and what would be the health consequences.  After a few more, I decided I would be safer with the dried apple and left with the sachets.  They weren't very big and didn't last long, but I could feel my energy levels lifting and resumed running the level sections of trail with about 10km to go.  Before long, I was wishing I had taken all of the sultanas and nuts to eat, but was saved by the gradual downhill run after Mount Nelse and finished back at my car eleven hours after I had started.  I'm sure I could run this course a lot faster if fully fit and maybe a bit more nutrition en route, but it was satisfying nevertheless, and the completion of such runs often gives my training program a kick start.

I only managed a 4km walk this morning because of time constraints, but did it comfortably.