Once upon a time, I used to only ride on the road. It seems a distant memory these days. However, like many cyclists that flock to Bright and surround, I was a regular at knocking off all the sealed mountain climbs in the area - Hotham, Falls Creek, Tawonga, and Buffalo. These days I’m all dirt, even commuting on a loaded GMX+ plus, a significant change to the days of my featherweight Belgie.
At the end of 2021, Jesse and I had our first chance to get away post lockdown, and we headed for Mount Beauty. Mount Beauty is over Tawonga Gap, a little further from Bright and its busy tourist environment. Mount Beauty is where road cyclists pass through to ride to the summit of Falls Creek. I’ve always wanted to explore the dirt versions of these climbs. Having already done most of the dirt options around Buffalo and Hotham, it was time to tackle Falls Creek, and thankfully Jesse is well versed in every track, rock, and trail in the area.
The route is 93 kms, and just shy of 3,000 m of climbing, it’s hard work. It starts from Mount Beauty town centre, and there is a supermarket here for supplies if needed. Next, you roll out of town and kick off with the Survey Track, a shared walking and mountain bike track, and the original route to Bogong Village, so be aware of walkers. It’s mostly single track, with nothing too technical, and serves as an excellent way to warm up before the real climbing starts. Once the track crosses Bogong High Plains Road, you leave the Survey Track and haul up Big Hill Road. Big Hill road is close to 8 kilometers long, and all fire track through the mountain forest area. It pitches up more halfway, just enough to make you a little uncomfortable, before reaching a clearing where you may want to stop for a snack. From here, it's onto Big Hill Fire Track that turns into Fainter Fire Trail, and this is where you get some exercise.
Fainter fire track is 23 slow-going kilometres, made more tricky if recent snowmelt has made sections of the track into boggy mud pits. Fainters is also absolutely stunning. What it throws at you with difficulty, it more than makes up for with scenery. The time of year is a significant factor, and weather conditions. With the recent rain, these mountain tracks had long stretches of what looked like a green carpet, where other areas were blanketed with purple wildflowers. A clear day free from low clouds was the cherry on the cake for us.
There are sections everyone will walk here. At times the trail is heavy with rock, the kind that you pretty much close your eyes and ride as fast as you can to get your bike over them. I don’t recommend this as the safest option, but it’s proved helpful for me. Some sections get thick with scrub, and you’ll have little room to avoid scratching yourself as you search for the thin track, as it weaves through stripped ghost gums that line each side. Nearing the end of Fainters, you’ll encounter Tawonga Huts, a beautiful spot to stop if you need a rest or shelter from the weather. You sit high for the better part of Fainters with an elevation of anywhere between 1600 - 1800 metres as the track endlessly winds along the ridgelines.
Once you reach Pretty Valley Pond, the course hits Pretty Valley Road with a slight detour to the top of Mount McKay (1840 m). The road to this summit is short but steep over loose gravel that challenges traction. Mount McKay is just shy of halfway at only 42 kms in and a whopping 2,300 metres of climbing. It’s also a great spot to have lunch as we did. We even carried a thermos of hot coffee. We highly recommend this. The route then hits the only bitumen section as you ride past Falls Creek township and Rocky Valley Dam. A ‘get of jail free option,’ you can detour into Falls Creek if you need a shortcut home. The sealed road descent back down to Mount Beauty is fast. Otherwise, it’s onto Mount Nelse.
After skirting the Rocky Valley Dam, you will head back onto fire track for one final climb through Bogong National Park. Mount Nelse summit peaks slightly higher than Mount Mckay, and the surface is much easier than Fainters, making this an enjoyable climb. Vast surrounds open up quickly here as you hit the top, big skies and green scrub lining the track. The layers of all the mountain ranges surrounding you are in clear view, multiple shades of greeny blue overlapping each other. There are plenty of hikers out this way too, be sure to say g’day as you roll past. As you roll over the top, the track travels along a stunning ridgeline that winds ahead in clear view, one last treat before heading down finally on East Kiewa Fire Track. This was the first time Jesse and I had taken this track, and we both assumed we would be treated to 30 kilometres of descending back to Mount Beauty.
So after dreaming of fast-flowing descents home, we found ourselves on a grueling, rocky, branch-littered fire track that served up endless water crossings, left-handers, and a couple of sneaky pinches to cook the legs thoroughly. Finally, one water crossing got the better of me, and I dived under, unintentionally. You will need to be careful descending this track; the tree litter can hide rocks, and snakes as we discovered. But, as slow as it can be, it was still beautiful thanks to thick, lush forest greenery and the East Kiewa River alongside. We reached the bottom with one last water crossing over Kiewa River, then rolled into town searching for salty food and soft drinks.
- Sarah Hammond
PLEASE NOTE: This route, although stunning, is hard work. You will stretch the limits of friendship with some people if you take them on this ride. It’s one for those with experience navigating steep and rocky trails and long hours of climbing at a slower pace. Mind you, patience to walk parts and a sense of adventure may also get you through. Maybe. The route is suited to a mountain bike. Jesse ran 3” tyres, and I had 2.6” Mezcals on my GMX+. You’ll have a bad time on any CX/gravel bike.There are zero resupply options unless you detour into Falls Creek halfway. So pack plenty of food and have a minimum of 2 litres of water.
You can find the GPX file HERE