The first race of our 2019 program was to be the new addition to the Adventure Junkie program – Alpine Quest based out of Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. We had all raced in the area before so were expecting lots of hills. The event consisted of a “short” prologue on the Friday followed by the main event starting Saturday morning which was expected to take up to 36hrs. Our competition was solid with a number of good teams coming to the race from all over the country – no doubt attracted by the ability of the Adventure Junkie team to put on an interesting and challenging race. We knew from the logistics planner sent out the week before that the prologue would be a bit hectic and the main race would be much more epic – with only 5 legs (4 really if you take out the short SUP leg).
With Bern having a tilt at Coast2Coast in NZ this year we had Kim Beckinsale joins us. Kim is a strong athlete with a wealth of experience so we were hoping the only thing we would miss were Bern’s jokes (or were we actually happy about that?).
This was to consist of a foot rogaine around the village, some MTB on the superb Falls Creek trails and a paddle on the lake. We messed up the foot rogaine as we picked an inefficient route for the first couple of CPs. We made up for this later, but also managed to miss one of the CPs (leading to a 20 minute penalty – rookie error). We chose a good route for the MTB (same as most teams) and got through that at a steady pace as the heat started to bite. It was great to get on to the boats with the wind and wet a cool relief. We were in second at this point about 10mins behind WildEarth and just ahead of a couple of other teams, including the well credentialed Alpine Avengers. We made good ground on WildEarth but Aline Avengers put us all to shame as they reeled us both in with great paddling speed and smart tactics running to some of the CPs. This left us 30mins behind after our penalty was factored in. We were hoping the long legs tomorrow would make this irrelevant. The prologue took 4.5rs (vs the 3hr fastest time estimate), which left us a little rushed to prepare for the next day.
Leg 1 – 3-6 Hr River Paddle
It was a 2.5hr bus ride to the start and we all took the chance to get bit more sleep in. There was not much water in the river so we were expecting to be in and out of the boats a bit. In the end it was not too bad and we made steady progress whilst trying not to bust ourselves as the day heated up. We got off the water third just behind WildEarth but well behind Alpine Avengers who had continued their paddling form from the previous day. We left here in second aided by the fact that Wildearth must have had their map upside down and headed off on the wrong side of the river (which cost them an hour in the end).
Leg 2 – 3-6hr MTB
This was mainly up hill as we made our way back up to Falls Creek with a few long steep sections we expected to be unridable. We progressed uneventfully for the first couple of hours, but were concerned for Leo as he was down on energy. As we collected water at the bottom of the big climb we realised we would need to look after Leo as he was well on his way to cooking. We backed off and helped him with carrying and pushing and before long broke the back of the climb and enjoyed a cooling wind along the ridge tops to Tallangatta lodge. Leo was struggling to eat and drink but we pressed on hoping he would come good.
Leg 3 – 12-24hr Trek
This was expected to be the crux of the race with a few route choices. After the out and back to Mt Wills (1757m) we had to chose between more direct routes with less climbing along untracked rivers or trails going up and around with 600m or so of climbing. The for the first section we chose to go around with the rationale that 6km in the river plus the walk in would take 3.5hrs with the risk of being even slower and we knew we could do the 14km around in a similar or better time. It may not have been faster but it was a great trek up along the ridge as the sun went down and make us all glad to be out there (even Leo who was slowly returning from struggle town as the day cooled).
For the next section it was 4km of river vs 13km with 800m of climbing so the river looked better. We saw that the river actually looked like good going when we got there so the choice was pretty clear. Although it was slow going rock hopping in and out of the water, our progress was pretty steady. This section had a few highlights including a platypus sighting, watching birds fish and ride the rapids and Leo falling over immediately after confidently stating he was good on slippery rocks. Well this last bit was not really funny as Leo ended with some very sore ribs which limited laughter for the rest of the race. Kim did a similar trick not long after!
It only took a bit over 2hrs to do the river section (most definitely the right choice) and from there it was a game of ‘find the track’ up a step section out of the hut at the CP. Lots of post-fire regrowth, fallen trees and no track maintenance meant the trail barely existed, but it was still worth finding the remnants as the bush was pretty dense and unforgiving. A few branch headbutts left Kim and Josh looking a bit worse for wear.
As we made our way up to Bogong saddle we had a few rain showers followed by steady rain and cold wind as we climbed on to Mt Arthur. Again the track was not really a track and pushing through the wet scrub left us all a bit chilly. We found the overgrown trail down without too much trouble and plodded down the 1000m drop to Bogong Village. Josh had joined Leo in the not feeling great category so we had backed off a bit more to help them recover (or survive?).
Leg 4 – SUP on Lake Guy
As we arrived at TA and woke the TA crew up (including Bern!) we knew Alpine Avengers were out of reach in front. Our sense of urgency was almost gone as we jogged (mainly to keep warm) and SUPed our way around this section as it slowly got light. The smaller SUP was semi submerged and quite tricky with two onboard but this was made slightly better when we asked Kim (because of her light weight) to swap to this board. She did not even complain too much. What a legend!
Leg 5 – 3-6hr MTB
Big climbs! Up to the ridge (from 700 to 1400m), back down again (1100m), up to Mt McKay (1840m) down to Falls. This was quite a lot of climbing and even fresh, the 3hr time fastest estimate would be a pretty solid time. We got into a nice rhythm and steadily got up the climbs but the leg still took almost 5hrs in mostly steady rain. It was windy and foggy up high so there were no views, but it was generally a tail wind so that was OK.
We were petty happy to roll over the finish line 2.5hrs behind Alpine Avengers after 28hrs of racing. Well done to them.
The race had a high attrition rate with a number of contenders retiring due to heat exhaustion and only 4 teams completing the full course. Alpine Avengers were the only team that were able to maintain a fast pace despite the heat and deserved their convincing win. A reminder to us all that there is room for improvement, but in the context of our own battles with heat, bruised ribs etc we were very satisfied with our race.
Serge, Maria and Paul should be congratulated on putting such a great race. Everything about their races improves every race and this is due to their passion and focus on putting on an event that challenges, but is all about the competitors. They keep us guessing with variety which is pretty important for the tired old members of our team. The welcome and presentation dinners give the event a good social aspect, all the logistics were faultless and the CPs were exactly where they were meant to be.
Special thanks to Kim for coming down from Noosa to race with us. Experience counts for a lot in this sport and Kim fitted in seamlessly, was super strong and ended up helping with Nav whilst Leo was in the hurt box.
We are wrapped that Aussie Grit are going to continue to supply us with some gear this year. Their range is expanding (pretty excited about their new jackets just quietly) and we can rely on it being functional and durable. More on that later.
Next up is Expedition India at the end of March where we will be joined by Angus Rodwell (who was part of Alpine Avengers this race). This is going to be a great cultural and race experience. Can’t wait!