THE SOUP BOYS ULTIMATE GUIDE: MOUNT BUFFALO
Mount Buffalo, a climb that in our view couldn’t be a more perfect way to kick off the 7 Peaks season. We gathered in Victoria’s High Country over the Melbourne Cup long weekend for a few days of food, beers, hanging out at the river and of course climbing mountains. Lycra-clad and in search of a higher power we gathered on Sunday morning to head up to the promised land – the summit of Mount Buffalo playing out the role of Evangelist for us and the fellow bright eyed cyclists, all 50-odd of them by our side.
Some were taking on their first ever climb, others had lived through the divinity of alpine climbs time and time before, but on a bluebird Sunday morning we gathered for a sermon from the Ride High Country team, and imparted our own unique form of wisdom over 60-90 minutes of climbing. If you’re on the lookout for a unique guide to climbing Mount Buffalo, the kind of holistic guide that will make it easier to tick off another climb on your way to a successful 7 Peaks campaign, then you’re in the right place. If you’re here to take the KOM, we’re sorry but we’re not nearly fast enough to provide the relevant information, but our resident KOM hunter Jonesy might be able to give you a tip or two on how you can glitch your Garmin to take the crown.
FACTS & FIGURES
Mount Buffalo, its the cool, friendly older cousin. The one who is kind of your age but old enough for you to still look up to, the one who is always giving you cool shit when they come over for Christmas, the one always helping you pull pranks, grabbing you an extra serving of dessert ahead of your siblings, and importantly being the one who teaches you the in’s and out’s of #life.
Even when you both get a little older, and that childhood friendship has disappeared, you’re left with unspoken respect, warmth and nostalgia for one another, nothing but good memories remain. For riders who have ridden up Mount Buffalo before it’s that comforting warmth deep inside your chest that fills you as you begin to rise up the mountain, while those who are doing it for the first time might be mistaking that warm feeling for their hearts trying to escape through their throats. Once they hit the top that will change, the feelings of warm, unbridled joy and accomplishment replacing any possible ailments.
HOSTED RIDE STATS
Start: Eurobin Creek Picnic Area
Finish: Mount Buffalo Chalet
Vertical Gain: +1013m
Max Elevation: +1337m
Lake Catani (+3.3km, +34m vert)
Dingo Dell (+6.2km, +157m vert)
Cresta Valley (+10.5km, +287m vert)
The Horn (+13.6km, +422m vert)
The Gorge Coffee Van
Dingo Dell Café
A HISTORY LESSON
The Mount Buffalo National Park, located in Victoria’s High Country is a 31,000 hectare (read: huge) National Park that sits between idyllic towns Myrtleford and Bright, while many may recognise it as the most spectacular piece of scenery along the largely underwhelming drive between Melbourne and Sydney. The shining glory of said National Park is the mountain it is named after – Mount Buffalo. A name bestowed by Hume and Hovell due to its resemblance to a Buffalo chilling in the shade, the mountain and its surrounding national parkland is one of the oldest in the country, and one that sits on the National Heritage List.
Immediately rising up from the Ovens Valley floor, the mountain is essentially one large ass pile of granite boulders. A mountain that is topped with an enormous plateau rather than a single distinguishable peak, the top of Mount Buffalo contains alpine streams, lakes walking tracks and a small network of roads that take you to a number of landmarks on your way to the max height at The Horn.
These days the chalet at the top and the toll booth are almost purely for show, but give a nod to the bustling past of winter sports on the mountain. Despite the current closure of the chalet, during winter the expansive plateau up top acts as host for plenty of family’s head up the mountain to make use of a number of toboggan and cross country ski runs. In the summer these buildings play a greater role, the tollbooth signifying the start of the Mount Buffalo climb, while the chalet welcomes you at the top of the mountain after just over 20 kilometres of climbing.
SIGNAGE: ALPINE CYCLING EXPERIENCE
Currently a pilot program, Ride High Country have teamed up with Regional Roads Victoria to install signage along the Mount Buffalo climb that show the gradient and remaining distance over the entire climb, each sign sitting at around 5km intervals. Put together in time and installed especially for our hosted rider, the locally designed signs take inspiration from the roadside signage of famous French and Italian climbs, but with their own unique Australian character. Improving the riding experience, increase driver awareness and helping to support the cycling tourism industry in the region, they’ll be rolled out across the other 7 Peaks climbs one after another.
Due to numbers, we set off in 5 separate groups each matched for pace. While large parts of the lower slopes of Mount Buffalo were still shrouded in the misty shadows, the rising sun began to creep into these frosty pockets to help warm out legs up as we ticked off the first few kilometres. It wouldn’t be much longer before the racers began racing, and the fakers began sitting up. The biggest of all was Adrian, sitting up 200m into the newly increased pace line skyward. Soon he would be accompanied by Benno and Matty Boi, leading their group up the hill in the hunt of Dean who had shot off the front of the first, fastest group.
We couldn’t have been any more blessed with the conditions, the timing of the ride adding to what was a truly special morning. There would be no snow at the top, but the recent winter melt meant that Lake Catani, and the number of streams that wind their way down Mount Buffalo were flowing beautiful, their trickling often the only soundtrack to accompany heavy breathing and clicking of gears.
The dense forest we climbed up through eventually opened up on our left, a roadside window nearly stopping us in our tracks with its incredible and expansive views back towards the bottom of climb and back towards Bright. A few hundred metres later you wave goodbye as you head back into the forest, but the views don’t stop there as the scenery steps up a notch.
Turning up past “The Font” you’re greeted by the granite rock faces that characterise this unique mountain. The lush ferns and dense eucalyptus slowly transition into tall Alpine Ash and snow gums watching over you as hairpins make introductions, gifting you some deadset amazing views as you edge closer and closer to the top. At some stages there is the opportunity to look back down on the road you’ve climbed up, or in the case of our ride – hear Lugo chatting shit in the bunch on the way up, most likely to be covering either (or all) of the following topics:
1) His peer reviewed journal article on distinguishable features of South Australian brewed Pale Ale.
2) The difference between particular models of Nissan Patrol’s from the 1980’s into 1990’s.
3) Experiences in the field while foraging for spices from the Bright Woolworths the previous night.
Chatter topics aside, the sound quality really presented a glowing recommendation for the acoustic performance of solid granite, eucalyptus and fresh alpine air, offering the kind of balance between treble and bass that would rival even the most expensive pair of Beats headphones.
As we kept riding, the corners got a little steeper, a bit tighter and we watched the sky become much more prominent. Smaller granite outcrops Mount Buffalo is so well known for begin popping up within a few kilometres from the top where you’ll turn and crest the top of the climb before a quick drop down onto the Buffalo Plateau proper.
As a cycling crew we’ve taken home some pretty prestigious results in the cycling world – top 10 finishes in the dead-flat Wagga to Albury, back-to-back Melburn Roobaix’s, and Commuter Cup titles in double figures, so we’re thinking we are at least most of the way to being qualified to giving you some sound climbing advice if you’re looking to tackle Mount Buffalo and get yourself a PB, or a successful mission if it happens to be your maiden voyage.
Now this one is especially good for first timers – the shiny new road signs will become your best friends. Signs every 5km up this 20km climb means they will help you break the climb down and help with pacing. If you’re after other cues along the way, take note of the change in scenery – the whiter the trees get the closer you are to the top, the Font and its accompanying granite face is just over the half way point, and Devils Elbow is your last real test before you hit the top in a few corners time.
2. Gradient Management
Admittedly the gradient is pretty steady, but there are still plenty of changes going on with the undulations. Theres no extremes like you’ll find on a lot of the other 7 Peaks climbs, but there will be sections that will be a little steeper, or a little flatter than the average gradient suggests. If you’re chasing a faster time, don’t sit up on the flats, flick a few gears, flick the elbows and put your friends to the sword. These flatter sections are perfect for taking in the views, taking a brief moment to let the heart rate chill out, or better yet, grab a snack from your pocket.
3. Pick Your Window
It’s not so much an athletic or technical tip, more of a general one that will ensure your climb is a great success. If we were to recommend a time of day to head up Mount Buffalo, we’d certainly be suggesting early morning. We’re not talking super early, that is definitely not our style. Give yourself a chance to get a good sleep, a hearty breakfast and smash a coffee down before heading out, whether you want to warm the legs up for 15 minutes on the ride out from Bright, or park up at the bottom is entirely your choice, but we’d say get rolling by 8am at the latest. The payoff? On a sunny day you’ll be followed by some absolutely perfect light conditions, giving real justice to the views you get on the way up. The roads will also be mega quiet, leaving just you, your friends and maybe some local Lyrebirds to spend some quality time together.
4. Get Stamped
Whether you’re going it alone or alongside friends and family, there’s a good chance you’ll want to know how long it took for you to get to the top. We heard tales of personal bests, maiden ascents, and mates battling it out in the name of friendly rivalries. Good thing there’s Strava, and good thing there’s the 7 Peaks Digital Passport which gives you a little momento for hitting the top. Much like the great outdoors, this app is free. Give the app a download, quickly link it up to your Strava account and not only will you be able to compare times with everyone else, you’ll nab a special stamp in your digital passport to commemorate your efforts. Only 6 more to go, get em before stamps and passports become a thing of the past and we start using microchips and shit.
Getting to the top of the Mount Buffalo climb and descending down onto the plateau you’d think it was rather anti-climactic – fortunately you’d be wrong. For our hosted ride and for many, the true top is at the glorious chalet perched on the eastern face of the mountain. Shortly after you begin your initial descent head left following the signs, you’ll be led along a flat winding road that is perfectly framed by snow gum trees and stout alpine shrubs. Passing a few hiking tracks you’ll turn and catch your first glimpse of the chalet, only 2 corners and a short but steep pinch standing in your way.
We rolled up to the chalet with the last rider on the road, past the final road sign, beyond the carpark and right up to the steps of the Mount Buffalo chalet, our first peak of the season ticked off. Down in the carpark there were coffees and biscuits on offer at the van open all day, the clear blue sky letting us take in the best views Mount Buffalo could throw at us.
Don’t let the fun stop at the crest of this wonderful climb. Dropping down onto the Mount Buffalo Plateau also drops you into a cycling wonderland. For those after a bit more of a challenge, skip the turn off to the Chalet and follow the signs towards Dingo Dell. Initially it will start off pretty tame as you’ll gently roll your way across the plateau and past Lake Catani (worth a stop off), but then rather rudely you’ll be hit in the face with the hardest climbing you’ll have seen all day.
The climb to Dingo Dell isn’t so rude that you’ll want to immediately turn around, but the gradient begins to shift between over 5% and under 10% for the next few kilometres until you reach the clearing of the Dingo Dell carpark, a beautiful grassy meadow sitting adjacent. Pull up at the cafe for an iced coffee and take in the toboggan run in its summer form, or push on towards the very top.
Beyond Dingo Dell the gradients get steeper yet, but they come with great reward as the views on offer really take the sting out of the legs. A few kilometres past Dingo Dell, Leviathan Rock and some hella caves, the road will flatten out and chill for a bit as your drop into Crest Valley on the plateau, taking you past more toboggan runs then turning into gravel for the rest of the climb. The gradient stays much the same on your way up to The Horn, but being that it is gravel, it certainly adds a bit of spice to the legs. It’s all down to personal preference but we find going still somewhat fast and easy on both the up and down on some 25mm tyres, but ride to whatever you’re comfortable with – hitting the top is truly worth it.
What about the cool down though? We’re not going to mess with you, it should be plain and simple. You’re in Victoria’s High Country so all swimming holes will be freezing cold, but some are worth a dip regardless. If you’re itching for a cool down, our your legs are screaming out for one, dip your feet in off the end of the jetty at Lake Catani while you’re up the top. If you’re not lost in the euphoria of what is an absolute banger of a descent, pull up next to all the parked cars a few kilometres from the bottom and head to Lady Bath Falls, or if you can wait, dip your toes in at Eurobin Creek behind the carpark next to the tollbooth. If you’re headed back to Bright, grab a feed and a drink and head down to the river, you’ve truly earned it and your legs will thank you.
Pioneer Park, Harrietville → The General, Mount Hotham
30.8km — 4.2%av. — +1279m
Mount Hotham, also known as Mont Ventoux’s Australian little brother, or younger exchange student. The week after the Tour of Bright lights up the roads we will be milling at the bottom in picturesque Harrietville to knock the racers and their times way down the rankings. That might not be how things unfold, but one thing is sure, there’s plenty of fun to be had over 30 whole, very uphill kilometres.
Join us in the morning for a bit of a chat and pre-ride fuelling in Harrietville, warm the legs up side by side during the opening kilometres, recover and share the laughs, views and good times through the middle section and in solidarity with your fellow rider get shelled over the tough last few kilometres to the top. We’ll have four ride leaders, each with their own quirks. They’ll be there to caress you up the mountain and into the welcome surrounds of the pub. The General know we’re coming, so they’ll have their fare ready at the top, we’ll be there to share it all with you.
A big thanks to everyone who came along on our first hosted ride, getting to meet people out on the road and hearing their feedback and stories from the ride both IRL and URL was brilliant. We’ve got plenty more where that came from, check out our upcoming dates below, or track the action on Instagram.