THE SOUP BOYS ULTIMATE GUIDE: MOUNT HOTHAM
Mount Hotham. Arguably one of the most imposing mountain climbs in Australia such is its intimidating prominence from the lower slopes. With so much #brand #mythology it’s a climb that really doesn’t need much introduction. Featured on the 3 Peaks Challenge, the Tour of Bright and the first Soup Boys group ride in the Victorian High Country, it has played a huge role in this country’s cycling community, and in our own cycling journey. It was Alex’s first ever climb, we’ve climbed and descended it at sunset, and its been the halfway point on an all too big day on a bike. Early December would allow us to write a new chapter in this collaborative book between Soup Boy and mountain, and grab our second 7 Peaks stamp of the summer.
A week after the Tour of Bright rolled through we gathered in the almost Hamptons-esque* town of Harrietville for our second ride of this four ride series, morning tea at Hotham Heights village awaiting us. Most of the near 30 riders in attendance had converged on Bright looking to experience Hotham for the first time, and many of those were doing in preparation for their maiden 3 Peaks Challenge. Freshly brewed coffee that we brought with us via Everyday Coffee doing no favours to settle pre-climb nerves.
*None of us have ever been to the Hamptons.*
FACTS & FIGURES
Considering we wouldn’t be taking on Mount Baw Baw as part of this ride series, you could almost consider Mount Hotham to be our Boss Level mountain. A bit more of a battle compared to our previous surrounds of Mount Buffalo, climbing it can be like a scatterbrained commute on a morning where you’ve slept through your alarm.
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“Those first few kilometres are a smack across the face with a wet fish level of rude. You’ll immediately rise up out of Harrietville and onto some lower slopes that sit well above comfortable but well below what is left to come. Fight on through that early pinch and your legs will come to life. You’ve finally woken from your groggy sleep in by the time you reach The Meg; a section you could consider as being your final step out the door of a morning, where you’ll look at your watch and realise you’ve made up time, but you’re still running a little behind schedule.
Fortunately you’ve hit the flatter section through the middle of the climb, only one that taunts your legs by offering massive views towards the summit for the best part of the next half hour. You seem to be making good time, you might “get to work on time” only to hit this final section of the Mount Hotham climb. It could be a delayed train, bad traffic out of nowhere, a packed car park, but it will test your patience, resolve, and your lead up over the previous 20 or so kilometres. You’ll be okay thought, thats because the best part is that the reward isn’t getting to work on time, it’s getting to take in the views from the mountain, and that feeling you’ll get in your legs as you crest it and descend into this wonderful Alpine Village.”
HOSTED RIDE STATS
Start: Pioneer Park, Harrietville
Finish: The General, Mount Hotham
Vertical Gain: +1279m
Max Elevation: +1832m
NOTABLY RUDE SECTIONS:
The Start (+0.75km, +26m vert)
The Meg (+5.5km, +344m vert)
Mt St Bernard (+20.8km, +994m vert)
CRB Hill (+22.14km, +1072m vert)
Mount Blowhard (+24.6km, +1195m vert)
Diamantina (+27.8km, +1350m vert)
Climbing out of Hotham Heights (+31.9km, +1469m vert)
And THAT is what climbing Mount Hotham feels like. No matter how experienced of a climber you may be, the start of the climb is always like a cold wet Salmon across the face, or a standard alarm clock, whichever your vibe. And the top? Beluga Caviar, it’s really something special.
Sitting oh so prominently within the Victorian High Country, this mountain should not be confused with its counterpart, inner-Melbourne neighbourhood Hotham Hill, despite the face they are named after the same guy; Charles Hotham. An absolutely playground in winter time, evident by the enormous village you glide through as you reach the top, in the summer it also bursts alive with activity thanks to those én foot and én bike.
There are road cyclists milling about the place having just completed the climb, or having just ridden up the mountain with the Soup Boys. You’ve got mountain bikers passing through either already aboard their bikes, or with them slung in the back of dual cab utes on their way to the trails in nearby Dinner Plain, but you could say the main buzz is from the hikers. You’ll see them there at Diamantina Springs, getting ready to head out from the roadside. They will also be there to provide you with much needed encouragement even though at the time their *clap clap clap* “great work!” May have mocking undertones as you ride through the final few, toughest kilometres of the climb. The nearby trails they’ll be heading across are ridge lines towards the unridable Mt Feathertop via Razorback Ridge, or dropping down into the cavernous valleys surrounding Mount Hotham that in this instance we will call “The Void”.
Views and topographical features define mountain climbs, and “The Void” is what helps do that for this iconic climb, adding to the rich tapestry of climb #mythology. The first few kilometres are not unlike a few other mountain climbs here in Australia, but once you make it up the Meg and beyond, the views and those first glimpses of “The Void” and the moon like face of Hotham are where things start to get really special. It’s where you’ll be able to make sense of people referring to the mountain as Australia’s Ventoux.
Once you’re exposed to “The Void” to your left, the final few kilometres of the climb can be seen etched into the mountain side, like someone has taken a paring knife and carefully carved a crisp line across the top of Mount Hotham. It remains intimidating, but its not until you’re greeted with full blown twisted up snow gums and begin flying down the back of Mount St Bernard and towards the first BIG test of the climb up CRB Hill that things start to get truly jaw dropping.
Earlier that week we had introduced our ride leaders via our socials, each brief introduction no matter how satirical combining well with pre-ride coffees for the masses in socially lubricating the first few, very chatty kilometres.
Once again blessed with the weather, we seemed to have timed it just right to avoid the rain due that afternoon, and the blistering conditions of the previous day that saw roads melting (think a Picnic bar left in the sun too long), and Will and Aaron cooking themselves up Falls Creek while trying to hold onto Alex Edmondson’s wheel. Instead we were looking at a morning in the mid 20’s, minimal wind, patchwork cloud cover and the last little bits of a bumper ski season now 2 months closed waiting for us at the top.
Leading the first bunch alongside Will was Adrian, there to act as a good luck charm for the weather gods. In all his time ridden up Hotham he’d never been hit with adverse conditions; whether too hot, windy, cold or wet. They’d always turn out just right. Speaking of such fortune led some of our fellow riders to believe that today would be the day the run would finally end, fortunately such worries would be unnecessary. Let’s see for next time if writing it down and publishing it here on the world wide web changes that at all.
Deeper introductions were made between riders as we slowly began warming our legs up out of Harrietville, our bunch for the day seeming to be a blend of Melburnians mixed with a few locals who were keen to come along and see what our fuss was about.
Conversation began to open up the further the climb got along, lungs working in unison with riders sitting side by side in their small bunches. At first they remained strictly bike-oriented – stories of spectating the Tour of Bright stage up Hotham the weekend prior on a day where the weather caused a delay to the start, gear ratios and what they meant, other climbs climbed and what that meant. In 2 of the other groups on the road, riders were able to provide first hand experience of that aforementioned race day, hungry to return to the mountain for a little less “racey” morning of climbing, raised eyebrows from their coaches and all.
It was as the groups made it up and over the Meg and onto the flatter section of the climb that the chatter started to get a little deeper, perhaps down to less laboured breathing. We got to learn about those coming along on our ride on a more personal level. Discussions turned to wine preferences, cousin counts by the ten (think so many cousins you accidentally move next door to one). We heard stories of people still relatively new to cycling, using it as a way to inject a breath of fresh air to their lives. Some were riding as an escape, others working hard to prolong their health having shed tens upon tens of kilograms (we’re talking 85kg) along the way with truly inspiring stories of their journeys to date.
One place this kind of chatter wasn’t happening yet was in the Very Fast Group™. We had secretly stitched Jonesy up with the fastest group on the road, a fair stitch up however as we knew all to well that the rest of us were way too unfit anyway. Alongside him for the morning were members of the Hunter Bros ready to tear legs off, and the soon to be discovered Bonus Stitch Up of Cyrus Monk of Casually Deliberate and EF Cannondale fame ready to casually but deliberately pass the Very Fast Group on autopilot.
Despite the 10 minute head start the Very Fast Group™ gave everyone else at the bottom, such was the pace of these young whipper snappers that they had passed, and like they were pulling away from dock, waved gleefully goodbye to everyone before the Meg would officially introduce itself.
With enough power in the legs and stability in the upper body to capture the Very Fast Group™ burning through the middle of the climb, our Jonesy was holding his own amidst the lightning pace set by the out-and-out raceurs of our hosted ride. Known as an avid KOM hunter, aboard his non-aero bike he wasn’t seeking the fastest time overall as lack of recent Garmin glitches left him cautious. Instead Jonesy would be seeking the respectable time of 1:30, a potential 15-20 minute improvement on his previous best effort.
In the end cramp and exhausted lungs would cause him to sit up and pace himself to the top, the Hunter Bros heading up the road, Cyrus heading back to the bottom to start the climb again.
The closest we’ve come to earning any kind of prestige on Mount Hotham is Adrian’s 3 entries to the Tour of Bright followed by 3 scratchings due to illness. We tried our best to grab some climbing tips from Cyrus on the way up, but the pace was far too hot for us to hold a wheel, composed ourselves and keep enough air in our lungs to let sound let alone questions project themselves. We guess you could then call these tips speculative or fittingly amateur, we’ll let you decide, but let these sink in and you might just find Mount Hotham an easier task than a lot of other cycling blogs portray it to be.
Don’t Be Daunted
We can’t lie, Hotham is a big, big climb. It’s long, it take you high up and it’s super steep in sections. Despite all these amazing selling points, one thing we can definitely say about this climb up Mount Hotham is don’t be daunted at all. If you manage to find yourself in the company of fellow cyclists, great! It will make a world of difference as there’s nothing quite like collective suffering on 2 wheels and constant chatter to make time and kilometres fly by. That being said, if you’re thinking of taking it on for the first time, and don’t necessarily want to give it a go alone there’s no need to fear. Drop us a line and see what we can sort out.
2. Don’t Do What Alex Don’t Do
We’ll join the echo chamber of other cycling blogs and state that the best way to tackle this climb is to break it up. Hard, not as hard, hardest. Don’t do what Alex did all those years ago and make it your first ever climb. Also don’t do what Alex did and rock a standard crank size with an 11-23 cassette on the back. We’ll personally recommend something with a 28, and if it doesn’t take much tinkering on your bike, a crankset with the word “compact” somewhere in its name.
3. But Be Wary
Yes we said don’t be daunted, but at the same time don’t be complacent. This mountain as far as mountains go is quite mountainous, and should be treated with such levels of respect. Riding for just over 30 kilometres of uphill takes time and takes a lot of effort, so make sure you’re packed accordingly (food, clothing, spares, chakras) and prepared to be working away for anywhere between 1:20 (our Very Fast Group™) and 2:20.
4. Don’t Burn Matches
Especially up the Meg. It’s kind of the signifier of the end of the harder start and the easier middle, but theres still a handful of minutes worth of sustained climbing beyond this big ol’ bump in the road before you can afford to take a proper breather. Attack from the corner all you want if you know you can recover, but any overexertion will be staying in those legs for the rest of the climb unless you really plan on freewheeling for sections of that false flat.
5. Meal Prep
It’s a 30 kilometre climb, which even on athletically superior days can take a bit of an hour. Any restaurant worth its Broadsheet review would be able to pump out 3 if not 4 courses of a lovingly prepared and presented meal, meaning in that same amount of time you should have the stomach, the time and the appetite fuelled nous to consume just as much. Whether well experienced or heading up Mount Hotham on a maiden voyage, having plenty of food stashed away will do you well come the final few kilometres of this one, as any nutritional indiscretions and skipped meals will come back to bite your ass in a big was just a few hundred metres into CRB Hill.
6. Invite Adrian
The record still stands – he’s climbed Hotham almost 10 times now and not has there been anything less of near perfect conditions. While he’s built for mountains, he’s a little too lanky to stash in a jersey pocket or hook onto a necklace like some kind of good luck charm. If you’re a little unsure of the forecast, or the conditions at the top, invite him along and let him showing up to the ride in short sleeves put your mind at ease that either the weather will be perfect at the top, or you won’t be the coldest one up there.
7. Get Stamped
Combining both elevation gain and distance ridden and applying it to some kind of formula beyond our mathematic capabilities, Mount Hotham probably would be the hardest climb of our 7 Peaks rides. 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 and melting moments), live timing, plus there’s the chance to head to the Tour de France for your elevation gaining efforts.
Managing to get to the beginning of Hotham’s hard part is no meat feat, being able to get up and over that rollercoaster ride of the final few kilometres is something else. For our hosted ride we worked our way to the top in our respective groups, taking in some truly stunning views on both sides as the road snaked its way up and down, but importantly towards the summit. The common factor for all groups was the presence of Harry, Cruising the Land up the mountain in sections, shooting some Film Noir level fire through the lens, and rescuing Matt with a completely broken chain towards the top.
He’d come to a halt at the bottom of the first real test of the final section of the climb; CRB Hill, a winding steep pinch with spectacular views to the right. You’re initially treated to a steep descent in the lead up to this section, but it should only take a few kilometres of resumed climbing before you realise any aerotucking and extra pedalling in the attempt to gain free metres up this section will be futile. The gradient will stay the same for a while yet before flattening out and squeezing between two rocky outcrops and snow gum covered crests.
The next few kilometres are kind of similar, steep descents into steeper climbs who will each do their best to grind you down. Let those hikers at Diamantina Springs provide added encouragement, no matter how mockingly cruel. As tormenting as their chipper presence may be on the mountainside, know that passing them almost has you at the very top. There’s only a few hundred metres and a couple of corners standing in the way of you and The Cross, the max elevation point for those on the road, and the commencement of the descent down into the Mount Hotham village.
THE HOTHAM TEE
With each ride we are releasing a limited edition t-shirt that interprets the beauty, the poise and the iconic-ness of each respective mountain featured during our 7 Peaks campaign. The Hotham tee proved to be a bit of a banger, and does a pretty decent job of portraying the orange poles of Mount Hotham with pure life-likeness, while also functioning pretty damn well as a t-shirt.
Thanks to timing, this limited edition tee is a little more unlimited. You can still grab a hand-printed-at-Soup-HQ piece of clothing between now and some time around mid January.
Here’s a list of the most famous poles: Jackson Pollocks blue ones, those both north and south, Robert Lewandowski, the poles that prop up a frosty ice cream in the heat of summer, and of course them orange bois guiding you to the top of Mount Hotham.
When the orange poles kick in on Australian mountains you know things mean business, and on Mount Hotham, if you’ve got the energy and the audacity to be looking up from your stem then they are there, staring you in the face on the roadside. They’ve left us so inspired that we’ve channelled their specific aura and put em on a t-shirt. Designed and printed in house, Pantone colour matched to said poles.
Regular fit – size up for baggy free-flowing vibes, size down for aero gains.
Crew neck, double needle hems, preshrunk to minimise shrinkage.
Mid weight – breathable for summer commutes and adventures, perfect for layering in autumn.
If a pint of your drink of choice at the General isn’t reward enough, let the descent back down to Harrietville leave you satisfied. Let the sugar content of one’s chosen drink help you back up through the tunnel and over the climb back out of the Village, and glide gracefully down the opening few corners. The road here is steeper, so there will be no problems gathering speed, but use your brakes every now and again and take in some of the amazing views you were probably too boxed to notice on the way up.
Keep at least a little energy in the tank for the short climbs back up each little rollercoaster section on the way back down, and keep in mind you tired but happy legs won’t be prepared for climbing back up and over Mount St Bernard no matter how prepared you think you are. Fortunately after that it’s smooth sailing. A gentle headwind means you might not even need to touch the brakes again until the Meg, but use the descent of the middle section of the climb to look back towards the top and let the achievement of hitting the top truly sink in.
After the Meg, the nice fast descending resumes, have some fun with the open corners as you may or may not attempt your finest #cornerlikecaseystoner moments. Just don’t get too carried away as that final corner on the edge of Harrietville at what is essentially a T-intersection will come up on you like nothing else.
And you’re done. If it’s a warm day treat yourself to a dip in the creek to cool those leg muscles, you’ve definitely earned it. If your entire body is in need of a cool down, head around the corner to Joops Jetty, throw yourself off the end of the namesake jetty, or alternatively the nearby bike jump that will drop you somewhere in the middle of the lake if you get enough speed.
NEXT UP: MOUNT BULLER
Mirimbah Ticket Box → Arlberg Hotel
16.8km — 5.9%av. — +985m
A little more daytrip-able is that Mount Buller. It might require a pre-dawn departure from Melbourne, but we’ll let you know swinging past the Mansfield Bakery in the mornings early hours will be well worth it on the way through. It’s just over 16km, most of which is joyous switchbacks, views and waterfalls. Last time out we were there with a plate full of fairy bread, handing it out to people racing up the hardest section of the climb, the aptly named Hells Corner. Could there be another appearance from these dainty slices of sweet bread? You’ll have to wait and see.
Our hosted rides take a short break over January with a jam packed cycling calendar. We’ll have our ride guides, our groups released in waves, and we’ll have 16 kilometres of fun ready to dish up through the morning. When we return in early February you’ll find us in Mirimbah, coffee in hand, music pumping through the valleys and there to bring the #7PeaksRide ruckus.
A big thanks to everyone who has come along to the first 2 rides of the summer, 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.