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Bogong to Hotham

Some fellow runners at the summit of Mount Bogong
early in the 2005 Bogong to Hotham race.

The Bogong to Hotham trail race has a history dating back to 1984, and in relative terms, I am a newcomer, having run it for the first time in 2005.  However, as discussed in other posts, I have run numerous times on the Bogong High Plains and feel a special affinity for the race, especially now the Race Director is Andy Hewat, an ultrarunner and friend for whom I have great respect.  He stepped in to revive the iconic race when it was in some trouble a few years ago and it has prospered with him at the helm.

Mount Bogong (1986m) is the highest mountain in Victoria and Mount Hotham (1864m) lies at the opposite (southern) end of the Bogong High Plains making it an attractive challenge to run, or ski, between them.  An early skier, Charles Derrick, died of exposure in 1965 while trying to ski between the two when caught in a blizzard, adding to the legend of the course.

Most of the finishers of the 2005 Bogong to Hotham race.

There are several aspects of the race which I find hard to resist.  The first, as mentioned, is the history I have with the area, having hiked and run there since the early 1970s.  Many of the trails and mountains are evocative of past trips, runs and friends, dating from the times when we were young, fit and carefree.

The course is challenging in terms of both topography and meteorology.  You can get very tired very quickly on the precipitous climbs and endless tussocky plains, and the weather can be intimidating and debilitating.  However, the snow gum forests, alpine grasslands and the roaring Big River, have a remote wilderness feel to them, with brumbies plentiful and the views spectacular.

Nowadays, perhaps the most appealing aspect to me that it is a race for serious runners.  There is a cut-off point at Langfords Gap, 35km into the 64km race, of six hours.  This may seem easy, but it is not unless you are a good trail runner.  It has always been a challenge for me and I have just made it on two occasions and would have missed it on a third but for the race being cancelled because of diabolical weather.  No runners were allowed to proceed beyond Langford Gap and I was saved embarrassment.  There are other cut-offs, but this is the one that counts.

During the weather-shortened 2012
Bogong to Hotham race.

The run actually starts at the base of Mount Bogong, so it must initially be climbed along the almost completely runnable Staircase Spur before setting out for Hotham.  Being someone who fancies himself as a hill runner, I have usually gone out too hard and run as much of the climb as I can.  Thereafter comes a technical run along an exposed ridge before a steep descent through forest to the Big River Crossing which must be waded, sometimes necessarily hanging onto a wire cable for safety.  The steep switch-backing climb from Big River up Duane Spur to the treeline has often been my nemesis.  On several occasions I have reached the top too tired to pick up the pace along the relatively easy firetrail across the open High Plains and nearly missed the Langfords cut-off.

There is a different challenge after Langfords when you encounter a narrow tussocky trail for many kilometres, marked every forty metres by numbered snow poles.  It is barely a shoe-width wide and exhausting to try and land on the path with every step.  When you stray off, as you must, the risk of sprained ankles and strained muscles on the rough tussocks increases exponentially, exacerbating fatigue.  Compounding your misery can be the snow pole numbers, decreasing ever so slowly (No. 1 is near the Hotham summit), and reminding you of how far you still have to go.

During the weather-shortened 2912
Bogong to Hotham race.

There is a final helter skelter technical descent to cross the Cobungra River, this time on a footbridge, before a crushing ascent up Swindlers Spur, little of which I have ever run.  From the top of this climb, Mount Hotham seems tantalisingly close, but it's very deceptive and must be reached via a semi-circular route before a last climb to the summit cairn and the finish.  Usually it's very cold there and the joy of finishing is quickly replaced by the need to find warm clothing and shelter.

A final challenge can be the bus ride down the long switch-backed road from Mount Hotham during which the gastrointestinal fortitude of many runners, including myself, have been tested.

Today, I just ran a very easy 10km, recovering from yesterday's harder run and resting up for a trail run tomorrow.