Alpine Challenge - Reports

Steve Hanley

A big adventure in the Victorian alps? Who could say no? OK so I guess this was looking to be quite a big effort and is indeed hard to complete. The Alpine Challenge in November most recent years is a 60km, 100km or 160km (100 Mile) foot event through the Victorian Alps. Alex and I were both keen to do this event, we had enjoyed the Razorback Ultra (also by Running Wild Victoria) a lot, Alex had also come down for one of the shorter distances in 2015. We both wanted to see if we could make it through our longest runs yet, 160km non stop (or what the Americans call a 100 due to their old school measuring system (miles)).

As Tom said when he and Paul won the event together in 2014, this was a run with 6 big descents, 6 big climbs and 2 flatter sections. I was chatting with both Tom and Paul over dinner on Wednesday prior to doing this event, they had just come off doing XPD but both were reminding me how beautiful the race was and sounding wishful to be out there again (next year maybe?). Thinking about it and using Tom's times and my rough plan of around 28 to 30 hours for myself to finish I was estimating my times to each region of the course and still wondering what I was about to start this weekend.

I know coming into this I had not really trained or focused on the event enough, earlier in the year I put a lot of focus and big km weeks in before UTA100 which worked well. Coming in to this I was a bit too relaxed thinking of it as a big adventure in the mountains or like a huge Adventure Race foot leg (fortunately not surrounded with a mountain bike or kayak leg) which I simply had to get through, possibly largely on mental toughness if my body decided it did not want to keep working. Thus with no weeks over 100km since doing Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker in August and not really thinking heaps about my prep for this day out I knew it was going to get tough somewhere.

Rocco Smit

It was hard! I finished

For the rest of you, here we go:

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take part in the Alpine Challenge (AC), Australia’s toughest/hilliest 100 miler (according to Ultra 168), and it was, as it says on the label, a challenge! I would go as far as to say, for me, it was harder than C2K (I know, this is a big statement but I’ll explain later).

What a race! Breathtaking views, hills that went on for hours and getting most of my water from streams around the course, were only some of the aspects of this race that made AC something different to all the other races I’ve done. The memories of this race will stay with me for a very long time.

COURSE DESCRIPTION

The course is 100 miles in length (there is also a 60km and 100km option) and starts/finishes at Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. The course consists of 6 climbs, 6 descents (how hard can 6 hills over a 100 miles be?) and 2 flatter sections and the terrain is primarily unmarked hiking trails. There are some junctions that could cause directional issues but the course notes provided by the race director helped to overcome these directional hurdles. The total elevation for the course according to Strava is 6840m. (As a comparison, GNW has 5500m elevation)

Here is a breakdown of the climbs, descents and flatter sections that we would encounter during the race:

  • 1st descent to Rocky Valley Creek - Elevation: -671m, Distance: 10km, Elevation/km: -67m
  • 1st climb up Spion Kopje - Elevation: 967m, Distance: 8km, Elevation/km: 121m
  • 2nd descent to Big River via Roper’s Hut - Elevation: -807m, Distance: 6km, Klevation/km: -135m
  • 2nd climb up Mt Bogong via T Spur - Elevation: 921m, Distance: 8km, Elevation/km: 115m
  • 3rd descent down Quartz Ridge - Elevation: -743m, Distance: 6km, Elevation/km: -124m
  • 3rd climb up to Warby Corner - Elevation: 582m, Distance: 7km, Elevation/km: 83m
  • 1st flatter section through Langford’s Gap via Cope Hut to Pole 333
  • 4th descent to Cobungra Gap - Elevation: -432m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: -144m
  • 4th climb up Swindler’s Spur to Mt Hotham - Elevation: 336m, Distance: 2km, Elevation/km: 168m
  • 5th descent down Bon Accord track to Harrietville - Elevation: -1243m, Distance: 10km, Elevation/km: -124m
  • 5th climb up Bungalow Spur to Mt Feathertop - Elevation: 1402m, Distance: 11km, Elevation/km: 128m
  • 6th descent down Diamantina Spur to Kiewa River - Elevation: -683m, Distance: 4km, Elevation/km: - 171m
  • 6th climb up towards Pole 333 via Blair’s Hut - Elevation: 639m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 128m
  • 2nd flatter section through the Fainters via Mt McKay to the finish

To put these climbs and descents into perspective I put together a short list of climbs you will come across in some of the more popular races in the Blue Mountains in NSW.

  • Mini Mini (6ft track) - Elevation: 433m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 87m
  • Pluviometer (6ft track) - Elevation: 410m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: 136m
  • Nellies Glen (UTA) - Elevation: 401m, Distance: 5km, Elevation/km: 80m
  • Kedumba (Kedumba half) - Elevation: 685m, Distance: 9km, Elevation/km: 76m
  • Bumble Hill (GNW) - Elevation: 297m, Distance: 6km, Elevation/km: 50m
  • CP2 Signal Tower (GNW) - Elevation: 344m, Distance: 4km, Elevation/km: 86m
  • Mt Solitary (Mt Solitary) - Elevation: 655m, Distance: 3km, Elevation/km: 218m

So, if you aren’t a fan of numbers and you’re thinking “give me something a bit more tangible!”, imagine stacking 2 and a bit Pluviometers one on top of the other and traversing them 6+ times with some all round trail sections thrown in to get you to the next set of Pluvies. SO much “fun” :)

Alistair Allen

The following is a consolidated overview of my race day, which was broken into three (3) phases and 22 stages, with supplementary notes and conclusions at the end.

Phase I: Start (00) to Warby Corner (08)

The race started at fast pace, moving at 4:30-5:00 m/km, in a smooth, winding single trail on packed earth descending 300 m over the first 5 k into Howman’s Gap (02) under shade. This pace was a little hot – so in a considered move, I backed off to 5:00 m/km in the descent to the creek (04) at 11 k in

The descent to the creek had moved from slick single track, the recently graded fire trail with fist sized lose quartz rock, debris with negative cambers and multiple small sections of steep drops (20%+) that required concentration & patience on form and maintaining quality lines.

I opted to cross the Creek (knee deep, across football sized rocks) sans shoes. This was because:

  • The course was dry;
  • There was 50+k left and had planned to stop at the crossing and focus on Summit; and,
  • I used this point to refresh the pressure in the calves.

The ascent of Spion (˜1100 m in 7 k) requires some diligence and respect. It is broken into two distinct parts.

The first, is the ascent to the Spion ridge (05) – which is modest gradient (˜15%), with a heavily rutted/graded track swept free of trees. It requires concentration over footfalls, but is moderately technical at best and can be completed with moderate effort (power hiked), in preparation for the severe second section.

Ascending to the summit, the track moves into far steeper gradients with larger, sheet stones, hidden rocks, shrubs and saplings on the trail. Patience must be exercised as climbing becomes more difficult (>20%)

Summiting, the smaller Spion and onto the ridge line – the trail opens up into oft seen exposed vehicle trail. With stunning views on either side (Mt Beauty/Falls Creek) – the ridge running is enjoyable, but moderately technical in sections before becoming fully runnable into Warby Corner. I was patient, allowing my legs to return whilst approaching the Aid Station.

Race Update [˜12th back of Mid-pack], Feel good, nutrition/water on point, no physical issues]

Roy Willetts

It’s 03.45 on Sunday morning and I can’t work out which way to go. I’m ignoring my map and following the red flags as instructed at the race briefing for this section. I think that’s what they said, but can’t remember correctly now after 23 hours on the trail. They dead-end at a tree on the riverbank. There is a track heading up the hill and my map says to follow the track, however there are no red flags on it. I go up the track for a 100 m or so. No red flags. I descend back to the river and look again upstream for red flags. None-seen and I retrace my steps over, down the river and back to where I had descended off the mountain. I take a few deep breaths as I can tell I am getting distressed and anxious. I seem to have been stuck in the middle of nowhere for 45 minutes not able to make a decision. After 110 km of tough terrain in the Victorian Alps and with only two hours sleep the night before the race start, I’m not thinking straight and I know it. No other runners had shown up either that may help me make a decision. Where is everyone? So after one last walk up the riverbed to double-check I didn’t miss something, I make the decision to follow the track by the tree and to hell with it all. I will run into oblivion and never be found again, or at least pop out on the wrong road in the wrong place and have to DNF. I know I’m sulking about loosing so much time but I can’t help feeling sorry for myself. At least I have plenty of water in my bottles after so long in the River, that’s a plus I tell myself.

Paul Ashton

The 2015 Alpine Challenge was one of the luckiest we have experienced weather wise—benign conditions and mildish temperatures allowed a record field of 120 runners to take to the hills and savour the high country. We were lucky because on the Tuesday before the run it was a day of total fire ban, on Wednesday we had winds all day over 100kmph, then on the following Tuesday there was a bushfire on Mt Feathertop and on the Wednesday a couple of inches of snow fell—just goes to show how c hangeable the weather is and how runners have to be prepared for all conditions.

We had an amazing spread of runners from across the country as well as 10% of the field coming from overseas with runners from China, Japan, Singapore, Myanmar, Sweden, Germany and the UK. Records crashed in all distances with Chris Wight slashing over two hours off the 100 mile course record. Check out the full results here.

In addition to a great run the event said farewell to Bogong Village which has hosted the start and finish for the last 3 years. From 2016 the event will move to Falls Creek which means some changes to the course—watch out for details on this.

Clare Weatherly

I’m hobbling a little and I’m asked why as I scrub some dishes at work. “I ran a bit too far on the weekend,” I reply. “Oh yeah, where did you run?” asks the Chef aka Franko aka Boss. “Around Mt Bogong/Hotham area,” I reply. “Holy shit!” is Chef’s reply. “I hate even driving up there. So how far did you run?” “160kms,” I mumble, feeling uncomfortable as I’m just here to work.

Down goes his pot and his jaw. Everyone in the kitchen is now staring at me. There’s a lot of whats and bullshit type talk as I continue my work, feeling the attention burning into me. “How long did that take you?” “36hrs” I reply trying to deflect the conversation. But then I realise this is my first lie because realistically the answer is four years and as the swelling in my legs and the bags under my eyes attest to, it’s not quite over yet.

In hindsight, it all began with a car crash which, over a long period, taught me the inner workings of rehab - re-learning to properly walk and run. My ticket to positivity was the art of goal setting. It began with things like wiggling toes, wobbly walking, wobbly running, then the Salomon trail series. Each goal was unrealistic at the time but I wanted it enough to dedicate three hours each day to achieving it.

After the Salomon short course series I needed a new goal. While reading Aura races online I found one that was raising money for road trauma; and it was on my birthday. It seemed like it was meant to be. In the fine print were a few minor details. The challenge was about nine months away, the distance was 160 kilometres and at that stage my longest run was about eight wonky kilometres.

Jono Stiberc

A couple of people have asked me for a race report, so here it is. It’s fairly detailed so settle in for 15 - 20min if you’re interested. Feel free to share it if you think it would help anyone.

Introduction

The 2015 Alpine Challenge was my first 100 miler. It was a bucket list run for me with my aim purely to finish. With a DNF rate of around 40% based on previous years, I thought that was going to be tough enough! At the same time in just wanting to finish, I wanted to take it seriously and enlisted assistance from Andy at Mile 27. He needs to take a lot of credit for how it all panned out.

Training

I won’t lie – I trained hard for a 4 to 5 month lead in with 80 to 120km weeks for around 8 weeks. I had a peak 3 day weekend of 110km on the track 4 weeks out from the run. I then had a 4 week taper. My training weeks were typically body weight exercises Mon/Thu, speed Tue, recovery runs Wed/Sun, hills Fri, and a long run Sat.

The Race

My run tactics were pretty much non-existent. All I knew was that I was going to walk all the ups, jogs the downs, and depending on how I was feeling walk or jog the flats. I was going to spend minimal time at checkpoints and I was also going to have a sip of a perpetuem mix and 3 sips of water every 20 mins. Other than this, I was going to block out every one around me and do my own thing for the next day and a half.

Babi Szolosi

Picked up Otto at the airport on Friday afternoon and we headed straight to the Alpine World. I drove to Glenrowan while he had a little nap (he was sleeping like a kid), then we swapped. He didn’t say much and I saw this look on his face. Asked him what whas wrong and he said he was worried… then came the “what ifs?!” Told him nothing will go wrong. I will be okay and back before dark. Me?! I was excited, couldn’t wait for my 60 km adventure next day.

We passed Bogong Village, noticing the Running Wild flag, then we stopped at Howman’s Gap for registration and gear check. Said hello to Paul and met Matthew (from Howman’s Gap YMCA). The air was electric in the room. I walked by Gabor Jakus, he said hello, I said hello back, but didn’t recognise him (again!!!). Picked up my registration pack, jacket and PLB, then kneeled down in front of a man who introduced himself as Neil Kinder. Then dead seriously asked me for nail polish. When he saw my confused face, went on to ask for hand cream (he must have really enjoyed this) and finally for lipstick! I’ve spread out all the gear in front of him, while he ticked off the boxes, then shoved everything back into a MM bag while thinking “How on earth am I going to stuff all this in my pack?!”.

Jacqui Carter

I am confident to say that I could travel the world far and wide, but the Victorian High Country will always be my favourite place. To me, this is the most beautiful place in the world. Peaceful, and beautiful beyond words. Powerful. Challenging. Rugged.

The 100km Alpine Challenge (AC100) is known by some people to be one of Australia’s “toughest” trail runs for a variety of reasons. The trail is almost completely unmarked and across extremely rugged technical terrain. The course covers over 3000m ascent, river crossings, some very exposed sections, and a very real threat of extreme weather at any time of the year (we went up first weekend of November and faced 100km gale-force winds, zero visibility and freezing temperatures on Bogong forcing us to evacuate).

I didn’t choose to enter AC100 because it was “tough”, I chose to be part of this event because I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with this place. Words can’t describe how special these mountains are. When I realized this event existed, found out my body was capable of endurance events, and my head was sufficiently stubborn and determined, I of course entered straightaway. Gulp.

Tom Brazier Report

Have been building up to this one for a while and was super excited for my first attempt at the 100 mile distance. With 7000m of ascent/descent mostly on rough single tracks, it’s a pretty challenging course – but my theory was that the variety of terrain would justify lots of walking, so while it would take longer, it would actually be more pleasant than 100 miles on flat-ish terrain. History/info/links on AURA.

The basic outline of the course can be broken into 6 climbs, 6 descents and 2 flat sections. It includes almost all of the Bogong2Hotham and Razorback 64km courses, added together, plus a couple more bits (see map on strava). The course is mostly unmarked, so you have to follow the appropriate walking tracks and pick the correct path at junctions, but it definitely helps to know how to use a map and compass! This area is incredibly amazing for training and racing, in terms of physical challenge as well as being a beautiful environment.

Read the full report https://tombrazier.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/alpine-challenge-100-miler-running-wildla-sportiva/ (It’s an awesome one, and see how tough the course is by seeing the winner’s way!)

From the winds off Mount Bogong, the Mountain of Misery—an epic is born

Paul Ashton—Race Director

I should have known that it was going to be a tough event when bushfires ravenged the last 60 km of the Alpine Challenge course from Harrietville to Mount Feathertop and Mount Hotham. It was February and the fire season was at its peak. With no sign of rain the fires could burn out of control for weeks if not months—free to wander across the high country. Once they had a hold we were at the mercy of Mother Nature.

I took the option of keeping runners fully informed of what the fire situation was and looking at options including cancelling the event altogether, relocating it to Wilsons Prom and running a 100 km event there, doing a double loop at Mount Buller to create a 90 km course or hoping and praying for a change in the weather. Matt Cooper said something that made me realign my thinking and I decided to cut off the Feathertop/Hotham loop and instead redirect the course so that runners would run over Mount Bogong 4 times—a masochist’s delight.

To their credit all but one stayed with the event—and only two had the perspicacity of vision to see what this change meant—4 ascents and descents of Mount Bogong, at 1986 m the highest Mountain in Victoria, adding nearly an extra 2000 m of ascent and descent and an extra 10 km to an already tough and demanding 100 mile run.

Official Trip Report

Race Director – Paul Ashton

2012 saw records crash in the Alpine Challenge, Australia’s toughest and most scenic 100 mile/100 km mountain run in the spectacular Australian Alps.

Starting with a record number of entries 75, up from 32 the previous year, the event was beset by record rains in the Alpine National Park with over 500 millimetres being experienced in the 2 weeks leading up to race day. With three major river crossings to be forded this provided significant issues for the event organisers and the need to review alternate routes. Luckily recce’s of the rivers at 1.30 A.M. on the morning of the run saw river heights back to a safe level and the run able to take its normal route.

Starting at Bogong Village, 65 runners fronted the start line for an 04:30 A.M. start with a 14 km dash up Spione Kopje. Due to the heavy rains and winds runners had to weave a way through a mass of downed and tangled undergrowth, in spite of that the first runners came through covering the 1200 m climb in just over 2 hours before heading off to climb Victoria’s highest mountain—Mount Bogong (1996m). Simon Morcom, Andrew Vize, Matt Cooper and Clarke McClymont set a cracking pace taking only two and a half hours to get from Warby Corner to the summit of Mt Bogong. They continued this pace returning to Warby corner by 11.36 A.M.—just 7 hours after the run started having run over 50 km and covered 3500 m of ascent and descent. The last runners reached Warby Corner at 6.30 P.M. that same day!

Official Race Report

Paul Ashton—Event Director

Under a full moon 32 dedicated runners and walkers set off into the gloom at 04.30 in the morning to test themselves in a feat of determination, endurance and courage on the 5th running of the Alpine Challenge. Set in Australia’s spectacular Alpine National Park this run pits runner’s bodies and minds against 6 climbs totalling over 7,000m of ascent and descent, 4 river crossings, poisonous snakes and fickle weather which can go from 25C to below freeing overnight. Supported by their crews these warriors charged into the night setting a cracking pace up Spione Kopje and then Mt Bogong.

Matt Cooper and Phillip Whitten set new records in covering ground all the way to Harrietville before Phil succumbed to a cold and had to slow down, leaving Matt to navigate a grossly over grown and treacherous descent of the dastardly Diamintina Spur and then up to Pole 333 where he met his support crew who had been on a 5 hour night adventure to find him!!! Matt then powered down past the Fainters to victory in 27.23.

After the horror weather of previous weeks and dire warnings from the RD to participants, everyone fronted up prepared for the worst of weather and instead encountered a mini heat wave with 2 runners having to be treated for dehydration and others battling the heat on the descent down the Fainter Fire Trail. Ankle sprains and blisters seemed the most common injuries with Stephen Meehan enduring massive blistering but soldiering on to the finish through gritted teeth.

Mind Alpine Challenge 100 miles, 20-21 March, 2010

Andy Hewat

There is something rather spiritual about spending hours alone in the mountains. It is an atmosphere perfectly suited for distilling your thoughts. After struggling up a steep, rocky trail for hours your breath can literally be stolen by the view of the endless rolling mountains that unfold before you. Painted pale purple in the heat haze of the midday sun, layer upon layer of velour like ranges extend to the horizon. The Australian Alps is truly one of the most spectacular places on the planet. The Mind Alpine Challenge winds through some of the steepest and most scenic parts of the Alps. It is a course chosen to be as tough and challenging as conceivably possible. I took on the long course, the one hundred mile solo option.

We left en masse from the starting line in Bogong Village at 4:30am. The track quickly began climbing steadily up to the Bogong High Plains. Just as quickly, the headlamps of the front-runners disappeared into the predawn darkness. The first checkpoint of Warby Corner was reached in about 3 hours. My crew, Mal, had hiked in with some supplies for the return trip when I would come back through here some 42km and 8 hours later.

From Warby Corner the trail dropped quickly below the treeline as I began the never-ending descent into Big River down the infamous Duane’s Spur. I had climbed up this trail many times in the reverse direction but was unprepared for just how long it went, down, down, down. It was almost with relief that I plunged straight into the icy waters of the fast flowing Big River, cooling my legs at the bottom of the descent. Then began the equally long and steep climb up T-Spur towards Mt Bogong. Unrelenting doesn’t seem like an adequate description. I was lugging close to 3 litres of water on top of the food and emergency gear. My shoulders ached where the pack dug in.

Mind Alpine Challenge - records shattered

Paul Ashton

Records tumbled in brilliant running conditions in the third Mind Alpine Challenge held over 2 days in the Alpine National Park in North East Victoria over 20 - 22 March.

This event, organised by Mind Australia, to raise funds for people recovering from series mental health challenges, is quickly establishing a reputation as Australia’s toughest trail run, surpassing the famed Western States Ultra marathon in North America, in terms of testing participants to the limit. With two distances 100 miles (160km and over 7,000m of ascent and descent) and 100km available participants could choose from Solo Endurance, Team Endurance and Team Relay participation as they tested themselves over some of the toughest, highest and most exposed country in Australia.

This year 68 runners fronted the start line (record number 1), up from 18 runners in 2008. The quality field included 49 men and 19 women (record number 2), up from one female runner in 2008. Participants came from Singapore, Queensland, NSW and Victoria and were supported by a team of 25 volunteers manning first aid, radio, transport, sweeps and a plethora of other roles as, well as participants individual support crews.

A pre run briefing attended by over 100 runners, walkers and supporters saw pictures of the course from 2008, learnt about great places to get lost, which rivers to fall in to, and where the snakes were likely to be - needless to say everyone listened with rapt attention before turning in for a few hours sleep before the 0430 start.

Overcoming the mental challenge: The Australian Alpine Skyrun

Paul Ashton

The Australian Alpine Skyrun takes in some of the most scenic and challenging terrain in Victoria. The 100-mile course features six major ascents, including Victoria’s three highest peaks and over six kilometres of steep ascents and descents. Paul Ashton completed the inaugural event this year. He found the journey was as much about the mind as the body.

On 5 April 2008, five runners gathered in the sleepy hamlet of Harrietville at 4.30am. Armed only with light packs, we wished each other well and prepared to commence a challenge that had been four years in the planning.

The Australian Alpine Skyrun is arguably Australia’s hardest trail run. Based on the UK’s Karrimor Mountain Marathon, it has been designed to test the endurance and determination of the toughest runners.

The run is as much a mental challenge as a physical test, and it therefore seemed appropriate that we had decided to use the event to raise funds for Mind, a not-for-profit organisation that supports people recovering from mental illness.