THE SOUP BOYS ULTIMATE GUIDE: MOUNT BULLER
Mount Buller – a playground for all those who can afford the time, funds or willing participation in recovery massages to participate in winter sports a weekend at a time. In summer it turns into a wildly popular destination for bike riders both on and off road, and little while back we got Ben to do a fresh survey of the then newly opened Alpine Epic Trail. Maybe one day we will delve a little deeper into how much of an all-terrain wonderland there is up at the summit, but for now we keep things firmly focused on the tarmac.
When there’s no snow to fight off, the 16-odd kilometre stretch of road that takes you from resort gate to resort itself is something truly special. Our first introduction to the mountain was a few years ago on a morning that was touching 40º and that had us lay witness to some absolutely unforgettable riding. Since then we’ve done more of the fun and casual, and a bit of the ridiculous – climbing it twice for fun(?), racing up it in the Mansfield Tour, also for fun(?) and handing out fairy bread in the middle of said bike race, definitely for fun.
The very last time the SBC made our way out to Mount Buller was indeed that sunny morning blessed with 100’s and 1000’s, so when it was added to this utterly brilliant calendar of 7 Peaks rides, so at the crack of dawn we were jumping for joy at the prospect of returning to visit an old friend.
Not only did we choose to commemorate the occasion of returning to the area in the form of a limited edition t-shirt, but we also brought along our very own, SBC endured and formulated fairy bread for attendees, pairing it nicely with the latest Ethiopian Blend 43 from Everyday Coffee.
*This is the part where we really ought to shout out Mansfield Coffee Merchants for handing over 50 of their finest paper cups for use, as without there help people would have been pulling an Oliver Twist in order to catch a warm cup of bean juice before the ride briefing.*
FACTS & FIGURES
As much as we’ll be here to tell you how fantastic climbs of over 30 kilometres are (case in point: our Mount Hotham hosted ride), there was something really nice about resuming this 7 Peaks series post-holidays with the much more palatable Mount Buller.
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If you were to place Mount Buller within your traditional Mediterranean feast, it would no doubt be somewhere near the middle. Not part of your antipasti or chicceti, nor your bread with ensemble of hella dips. It’s lengthy enough to be considered a main course, and the last few rather testing kilometres will stir the same warmth deep within your core as a plate of Osso Bucco in the winter time, but without the heartburn and one way ticket to a food coma that a climb like Mount Hotham might serve up.
HOSTED RIDE STATS
Start: Mount Buller Ticket Gate, Mirimbah
Finish: Coffee Garage, Mount Buller
Vertical Gain: +985m
Max Elevation: +1637m
CORNERS OF NOTE:
Dump Inn (6%)
Box Corner (6.1%)
Boggy Corner (6.4%)
Caravan Corner (9.4%)
Hell Corner (13.4%)
And that’s what was ahead of us. Sixteen kilometres of joy, coffee at the bottom, coffee at the top, and a ride to be shared with nearly 50 others.
The drive, or ride out to Mount Buller from Mansfield certainly is a special one. You’ll start off with gentle rolling hills, most of them bare, but slowly the scenery transitions into dense forest somewhat reminiscent of that stretch of road between Warburton and Reefton Spur.
On this particular day we were blessed by truly atmospheric conditions, the low lying cloud, wind and morning sun coming together to create a party in the sky as we drove directly towards the light. It meant that as we entered the forest around the base of Mount Buller we were treated to little patches of golden joy, and beams of light shining through the trees, guiding those who had chosen to ride to the start from Mansfield.
Starting in Mirimbah at the bottom of the mountains Stirling and Buller, our ride would commence in lush parkland by the banks of a river so important to the area that Mansfield has a pub named after it despite it not actually running through town…the Delatite.
The road we would be taking up the mountain would essentially lead us towards the beginning of the Delatite before switchbacks would be taking us back and forth, back and forth all the way to the top.
While a truly unique climb in its own right, the ride up to the top borrows some of the best elements from the other 7 Peaks in helping create a wonderful morning’s ride. There’s the opening gradients that lightly prod at your calf muscles to gently remind you of Mount Hotham. The opening few kilometres contain such amazing scenery, wide open corners with gully’s over your left shoulder, and views across the valley and across the Delatite to future corners you’ll come to meet in a few minutes time. So stunning is the scenery that you’d probably find yourself hitting the half way mark without realising it.
One thing that will help you realise it will be the series of beautiful switchbacks you’ll find yourself on. The mountain will warm you up with two in quick succession before the rest come between longer stretches of false-descent’s (look em up). From her enormous billboard Jane Bunn will bid you farewell from the last of the easy stuff around the second last hairpin, for its only a couple of kilometres until you catch your first glimpse of the top.
And when you do, oh my. With more chair lifts than you can count (22) Victoria’s largest ski resort looms, perched on the edges of the mountain watching down upon you. It’s not until you turn the corner 3 or so kilometres from the top that you finally come face to face with the top of the mountain, a contrast to our Buffalo or Hotham rides where you could see the end in sight from almost the beginning of each ride.
Pre-ride coffees and fairy bread were more than enough to will our ride guests out of the warmth of their cars and into the warmth of community spirit.
Unfortunately as warm as that community spirit was (VERY warm), the forecast left a lot of us with one eye to the sky and the other to the radar. Mixed messages from chosen weather apps led us to enter a discussion into rain radar technology and fake meteorological news, fortunately Matt from Ride High Country snapped us out of a potential weather based wormhole to deliver the morning briefing, while Adrian went on to introduce each of the ride leaders.
Once again we had our four official ride leaders, with some bonus hype-men in tow; Zeke and Kip having never taken on one of the 7 Peaks before. A working formula from our Mount Hotham ride, the slower groups would head off first in waves, the shorter climb meaning our fingers were crossed for a near bunch finish at the top for coffee. The only problem would be the collective lie and definite sandbagging within the slower group, ride leader Will being discarded within the first few kilometres to help guide some first timers to the top.
A little further back the swole middle groups combined forces to create a truly surf-able vibe. With Okky and Adrian leading it would be just the right blend of social pace, tempo, and lo-fi hip hop beats.
The fast group, many of whom were there not just to be social but to suss out the road ahead of the Mansfield Tour in March tacked onto the back, all aiming for 50 minute times or better.
By a third of the way in the ride leaders had come together, while their respective groups began to pull apart in groups of two or three. The beautiful thing about these rides is that while the ride groups do inevitably split, you are rarely left to climb to the top alone, whether you come across others on your way, or with out speaking, decide to cruise to the top alongside new or old friends.
Even with the potential for inclement weather, it was still a rather warm morning. With brief glimpses of blue sky and a rather steady stream of morning light, riders would do well to be too cold on their way to the top. We edged nearer and nearer to the start of the village proper, snowmobiles, chair lifts and maintenance equipment a sure sign before the clouds parted to reveal our final destination up ahead.
The last little challenge would be the famous Hell Corner. While the tougher part of climbing began a few hundred metres back, probably making riders rue the fact they didn’t stop to hit up the pump track, Hell Corner is the toughest section of this tougher section. A left hand switchback it took you from beneath the shadows of the mountain and placed you square in front of the rising sun, only a kilometre left to go.
While he didn’t feature anywhere near the top of the leaderboard, Adrian’s 53 minute PB up Mount Buller has him in some kind of box seat to deliver the best climbing tips a Soup Boy can offer. We also took cues from some of our guests on the ride, whether taking on Mount Buller for the first, or fifth time. Given that it’s really not that far from Melbourne, it would be pretty easy to make a nice day of it, but to ensure you take maximum joy from the mountainside, take heed of the following.
Lead Into It
The ride out from Mansfield is a banger, as is the ride from Merrijig if you don’t want to double down on a longer ride. There’s plenty of rolling terrain that will allow you to warm and wake your legs up, whether you’ve just emerged from your accomodation, or just jumped out of the car after a bit of a road trip. There’s also the very special moment in there where after cresting a bit of a hill you are looking down a dead straight, very long section of road, Mount Buller and Mount Stirling in the distance. This view in itself is worth the ride out there, but the 25km will ensure your legs are feeling fine as you pass through the ticket booth at the bottom.
2. Rest Up
The early section of the climb, while stunning can still offer a few moments of rudeness. Throwing caution to the wind is good and all but forcing yourself to smash out these early pinches out of corners and such can come back to bite you in the ass later in the climb. Push through at a steady tempo however and by the halfway point you’ll be able to reward yourself with some recovery time between the switchbacks – each stretch of road containing a few false descents where you’re basically getting free vert. Use this time wisely and it will make the final section much more enjoyable.
3. Be Inspired
Perched on Hell Corner, Adrian himself witnessed the amazing feats of our guests on this hosted ride. One thing that seemed to be quite prominent was that each and every rider took some kind of divine inspiration when taking on the corner, like they were choosing to laugh in the face of Satan himself. Some were self inspired by riding with new friends, others wanted the chance to feel young again, destroying our ride leaders up the 13% corner, while one man, aptly named Brad Higgins took inspo from man like Esteban. Emulating Chaves’ attack at the Vuelta a few years ago he dashed around the corner like a man possessed, his yeehaw’s and quoting of the specific episode of Orica Green Edge’s Backstage Pass echoing through the valleys.
4. Take It To The Top
It’s Victoria’s busiest Alpine resort, so you’d do terribly to not go check it out once you’re at the top. The 7 Peaks climb officially ends at the clock tower, but don’t let that stop you continuing the journey, theres a network of alpine laneways that snake their way to the top, plenty of spots to stop of and grab a bite to eat or something to drink, and some splendid views to match.
5. Get Stamped
While not as long as Mount Hotham or Falls Creek, nor as hard as Mount Baw Baw, the last thing you would want to do is leave Mount Buller behind without grabbing a passport stamp. Fortunately you don’t need to find anybody to do such a thing. Unfortunately that means the onus is entirely on you. Get a reward for your efforts that extends beyond social media likes/kudos/commentary and grab yourself a stamp in your 7 Peaks Digital Passport. While you might think its nothing more than a humble stamp on a phone, the rest of the app provides useful information regarding each of the 7 climbs, important road information (like closures or in the case of the ever popular Mount Buller – other events), live timing, plus there’s the chance to head to the Tour de France for your elevation gaining efforts.
The conditions at the summit on this particular day meant that many were bypassing exploratory festivities and heading straight to our nominated coffee shop of choice – the Coffee Garage. Standing on the fringes of Hell Corner, watching and encouraging everyone through, Adrian rode up to the finish with the second last rider on the road, the lantern rouge not far behind.
From there it was just a little more riding to the warmth only a cup-of-cino can provide, the only problem being that it was a real slog of a climb to get there – the streets of the Mount Buller Alpine Village far from forgiving.
Nestled in the Victorian Ski Club House we sat, exchanging stories and sector times. Conversations and stories from the road were unfortunately cut all too short courtesy of the storm that was about to hit, many choosing to take the smart route of slamming a coffee down quick stat then descending back to Mirimbah before the rain hit. The warmth our coffee’s and banana bread delivered were soon forgotten once we stepped back outside, it was up to us to bring the summer vibes as way of regulating body temperatures for the frosty descent.
NEXT UP: FALLS CREEK
Rocky Valley Sports → Falls Creek Village
29.8km — 3.9%av. — +1164m
As we wrap up this fun-filled series of rides with a personal SBC fave – Falls Creek. The first climb we ever took on after our official formation, this 30km stretch of road is a crown jewel within Victoria’s High Country. Primed and ready for a final training session ahead of the Peaks Challenge a week later, we’re taking full advantage of this late summer heat to swim, ride and surf our way to the top.
While 30km may seem quite daunting, the rolling start, the views on offer and the vibe we promise to deliver will ensure you are hitting the Falls Creek village in great spirits.
A big thank you to everyone who has come along to our first 3 rides, whether you’ve made it once or all 3 times. It’s been fantastic getting to meet people out on the road, hearing their feedback and stories from the ride IRL and URL. We’ve got one more ride to go, so quickly book your leave pass and come join us at Falls Creek! Alternatively track the action on Instagram, there’s still 2 more months of 7 Peaks left!