SNOWY MOUNTAINS 1997
Total Distance: 1,300km
Total Altitude Gained: 8,800m
Total Altitude Lost: 9,000m
Total Time: 22 days (17 riding, 5 rest)
Average Daily Distance: 76km
Average Daily Riding Time: ~5.5 hrs
Maximum Speed: 63 km/hr
Longest Day (Distance): 120km
Longest Day (Riding Time): 9hrs
Punctures: NONE !!!!!
Dog Attacks: NONE !!
Road Toll: 2 lost pannier rack screws (1 each), 2 split
tyres (1 each), 1 broken rim (David)
Route: Campbelltown - Mittagong - Goulburn - Canberra -
Canberra - Cotter Dam - Diamond Hill - Long Plain - Long Plain - Three-Mile
Dam - Khancoban - Khancoban - Leatherbarrel Creek - Charlotte Pass - Charlotte
Pass - Lake Eucumbene - Mt Clear - Canberra - Canberra - Goulburn - Mittagong
Number of times accross the Great Divide:
Steepest Hills (Up): Brindabella -> Long Plain, Cabramurra
-> Khancoban (up from Tumut Pond Reservoir), Alpine Way (Tom Groggin
-> Dead Horse Gap)
Steepest Hills (Down):
Cabramurra -> Khancoban (lots of places), Mt Clear -> Canberra (Hospital
Hill, Fitzs Hill)
Accommodation: Motel/Hotel - 12, Camping/Hut - 9
Most Terrifying Moments: dragging the bikes under the power
lines on Long Plain in an electrical storm, coming across an accident
on the steepest section of the Alpine Way, "serial killer" at Leatherbarrel
Creek, sprinting down a 2km, 1 lane section of the Hume Highway closely
followed by a semi.trailer.
Disappointments: getting to the top of Mt Kosciusko
& finding a couple of hundred others there, behaviour of Sydney drivers.
For some years now Linda (my partner) and I have been avid
cycle tourists. Each year we accumulate all our annual leave, and use
it all to embark on the longest (time wise) bike trip we can manage. This
year’s trip was our shortest (unfortunately) but most ambitious tour to
date, attempting to completely "do" the snowy mountains of NSW
by bike in three weeks.
Our tour started in Sydney (or Campbelltown to be precise - Sydney traffic
really sucks) and worked our way up to Mittagong. This was not a particularly
hard ride, but it confirmed what we suspected about the adequacy of our
pre-tour training (Sydney traffic really sucks).
The next days ride, 70K with "some dirt" to Wombeyan Caves
seemed like a doddle on paper. I started the day wondering whether we’d
have lunch before or after the first cave tour. Linda and I started touring
on old style (ie sitting bolt upright) rigid forked Mountain bikes. The
idea being they would be well and truly over-engineered, and allow us
to go to ride just about anywhere. Our first long tour (ie more than a
week) taught us that regardless of the intended destination, most bike
touring is done on sealed roads. We now tour on "real" touring
bikes - chunky road bikes with mountain bike gearing. Thinner tyres and
more forward positioning offer greater comfort (less weight on the bum)
and greater speed, especially into the wind, which translates to greater
maximum daily distances and a more flexible itinerary. We knew from previous
tours that even the best dirt roads will at least halve our speed on our
road bike. The first few Ks of riding and walking our bikes on this less
than smooth dirt road made it pretty clear my original ETA was a bit optimistic.
Oh well, I thought, we should be there by 3 to 3:30 to catch an afternoon
tour. In failing light, after 7pm, we staggered into the Wombeyan camp
The caves themselves are quite nice, though I’d like to have seen a bit
more of them. Given the day before’s stuff up, an early start seemed prudent.
Once back on the bitumen it became lot easier to convince myself cycle
touring was fun again, the last 10K down into Goulburn especially.
Canberra is notable for its pleasant gardens, impressive civil structures
and well-made roads. The other feature of our Nation’s capital every visitor
notices is how easy it is to get lost. We’ve visited Canberra many times
before, but still managed to get lost nine times on the day we arrived.
Despite the narrowness, steep hills, tree roots, surface cracking and
incessant deliberate corrugations at every street crossing (I hate those
things), the cycleways are terrific. The hundreds of rush hour commuters
we saw heading out of the city demonstrate their effectiveness. Moreover,
riding these bike paths is fun, which is a lot more than can be said for
commuting in Sydney (Sydney traffic really sucks).
From Canberra, our tour roughly followed a route outlined in Lee Hemmings’
terrific book "Bicycle Touring in Australia". Lee warns the
hardest day on any of his tours is the ride from Brindabella up to Long
Plain. As we climbed over to Brindabella from Cotter Dam through the morning
mist and dawn glow (a preamble we’d thrown in for good measure) the signs
suggesting Long Plain road was no longer open to traffic seemed somewhat
ominous. We have friends who’d completed this ride in a day barely a month
before. They had mountain bikes, which undoubtable helped on the rocky
dirt roads. Still, we felt confident with our plans as our topographic
and touring maps all showed mountain huts as fall back accommodation.
We later learnt our friends reached their camp site at 8.30 at night!
On a rapidly deteriorating dirt road, we slowly trundled up the Brindabella
valley, closing the gates bearing road closed signs behind us. By 3.30
we’d reached the base of the main climb. The "road" looked to
have a grade around 20%, was covered in knee deep drainage ruts, and had
a surface of loose rocks no smaller than a fist. We exercised our only
option, and started walking.
It was a really hard slog. As dusk approached, we neared, then passed
the marked location of these mythical huts. We eventually camped half
way up Diamond Hill on the only (relatively) flat bit of ground we could
find, a rocky drainage culvert. We had no trouble sleeping, and the sound
of distant thunder and raindrops on our tent fly were naively soothing.
The next morning we packed our camp in pouring rain. When camping we
usually park our bikes leaning together, covering them with an old A-frame
tent fly. The flatness of this camp meant we left both bikes on their
sides, which unfortunately allowed water to pool on the fly, the weight
of which uncovered our bikes. I recovered more than 2 litres into our
water bottles, a bit less than half of the water the fly collected overnight.
Absolutely everything got soaked. Even our magnificent Wilderness panniers
could not keep our gear completely dry when left overnight in a flooding
The long plain road was built to service high voltage power lines that
stretch north from the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme. Apart from the more
obvious implications on the topography of the road following power lines
(that go straight over each intervening ridge and mountain), this road
also passes under the power lines every few hundred metres. Normally no
big deal, but when we were there the whole rig would light up every few
minutes, soon followed by the thunder indicating the line had been zapped.
We were within sight of the Blue Waterholes turnoff before the rain stopped
and the road had sufficiently long rideable sections. The road is maintained
beyond this point, and while still rough in places, we were very glad
to get back in the saddle after nearly a full day of walking. Having not
seen a soul for two days, we rounded the last bend to Cooinbil hut to
see fifty four wheel drives and horse floats. Fortunately a bit farther
down the road Long Plain Hut was completely vacant, providing us with
a quiet and (importantly) dry stopover point to enjoy the Kosciusko National
Park’s frost valley scenery.
Back on the bitumen through Kiandra to 3 Mile Dam near Mount Selwyn,
the scenery is unmistakably alpine, with rolling flat hills, exposed granite
and fields of wildflowers in all directions. Three mile dam was the first
(and only) really cold night, with a lovely mist forming over the icy
lake water. The ride down to Khancoban had some spectacular scenery and
some equally spectacular hills. The hill down to and up from Tumut Ponds
is firmly etched in my memory.
Khancoban is a classic former snowy mountains scheme town. The neatly
laid out streets are guttered, and all lots have underground power. There
are gardens, sporting facilities and avenues of a size not normally seen
in towns with less than 400 people. Most of the (remaining) structures
look like temporary demountables, and there are whole blocks with power,
water and guttered streets, but no buildings. It looks like a game of
Sim City gone wrong.
Scammel’s Spur and the road from Geehi to Tom Groggin are long but manageable
climbs, but the main climb from Tom Groggin to Thredbo is quite steep.
The Alpine Way sees little traffic other than the occasional tourist.
However from 4 to 6 in the afternoon the tourist traffic gets really heavy.
Given the way these drivers were adjusting to the steep, winding and treacherous
road conditions (ie not at all), it was amazing we only came across one
accident. Mercifully we chose to ride this section over two days, making
use of the pleasant camp site halfway up the hill at Leather Barrel creek.
After polishing off the climb to the Pilot Lookout and Dead Horse Gap,
we sped down to rendezvous with our only bit of "cheating" on
the tour - the Ski Tube. The Ski Tube is a Swiss style rack railway that
bores its way from below the snow line to Perisher Valley and beyond.
It’s a very quick and painless way of gaining 500m of altitude, and saved
us at least a day (and a lot of back tracking) on our trip to Charlotte’s
Pass. However, I don’t think we’d use it again if we were to repeat this
trip. Any mechanical assistance tends to diminish the sense of personal
achievement that makes cycle touring such a rewarding experience. This
is why we often reject generous offers of lifts with mock distain. Being
able to say we travelled to Australia’s highest peak entirely under our
own steam is something we can’t claim yet. I guess leaving this goal unreached
will give us motivation to return again some time.
We chose to spend our "rest" day doing the 25K hike to Kosciusko
& back. After reading the comments in the log book at Seaman’s hut,
we felt really lucky to have a windy but clear and sunny day for this
walk, even if it was a Sunday. Reaching Kosciusko’s summit was a not entirely
unexpected disappointment. We confronted 50 other day trippers sitting,
eating, shivering, posing for happy snaps, arguing, yelling at kids, screaming
at parents, changing dirty nappies, etc. To be honest, a lot of the scenery
around the upper reaches of the snowy river is bit dull. Kosciusko itself
might easily be mistaken for pile of old rocks in some farmer’s neglected
back paddock. I enjoyed walking back across the main range much more,
as the real mountain wilderness revealed itself. The western sides of
the ranges really are rugged and mountainous, interspersed with glacial
lakes and alpine meadows strewn with wild flowers. I half expected to
see Julie Andrews in an apron swanning over the ridges.
One of the basics of cycle travel any tourer will tell you is not to
over extend yourself having too few rest days. On past tours we’ve had
no trouble obeying this one, even if only for logistical reasons. In spite
of many mountain biker’s views, we find clothes, bikes and bodies do
need cleaning and servicing occasionally. Usually after a week or two
on the road my legs learn a simple truth; screaming at me doesn’t work.
However, they were distinctly displeased with my most recent interpretation
of "rest", and at the first little rise (after 0.7K) let me
know about it no uncertain terms. However, this could not diminish the
fun of the main descent from Perisher to Jindabyne, a mindblowing no pedal,
no brake (well almost) buzz. There were some other sensational downhill
runs and equivalent climbs as we worked our way around the back roads
to Lake Eucumbene. The last little hill to Buckenderra was really a bit
much, as I belatedly pondered the folly of scheduling 8 consecutive days
A simple slip over the Great Dividing Range, for the 7th time, and we
were skating down the (relatively) flat Snowy Mountains Highway to Adaminaby,
home of the Australia’s ugliest big thing. Cycling along the Murrumbidgee
towards the Mount Clear camp site revived memories of our previous trips
using dirt roads. These roads were smooth (occasional corrugations) and
lightly trafficked with lovely rural scenes of the local agricultural
community farming jumpers and hamburger patties. As we climbed some of
the last few steep hills across the ACT border into Namadgi national park,
the scenery (and road) took on a more rugged appearance. Our evening camp
among the paperbarks and eastern greys beneath Mount Clear was as pleasant
as it was relieving to reach.
We expected the last 15K of dirt from Mount Clear to the Thawa road to
take us a couple of hours. After leaving at eight, it was nearly noon
before the tar finally hummed under our tyres. To say this road is a bit
rough is like saying the Pacific Ocean is a bit damp, or Antarctica is
a bit cool. I came to the conclusion the ACT roads department doesn’t
own a grader, or at least no-one there remembers how to use it. Most dirt
roads have a high side and a low side, reflecting the angle of the grader’s
blade, providing a choice of relatively smooth edges. This road was dome
shaped, with sharp chunky rocks protruding from the calcified surface.
Riding was not a matter of picking the smoothest path, but picking the
smallest rocks to bump over. Corrugations came as a welcome respite. Our
arms, hands, back and shoulders were aching from the shaking for days
afterwards. There may well have been some stunningly beautiful scenery
here, but all I saw was the few meters of the track in front of me, which
probably explains this road surface fixation I’ve got. In retrospect some
fatter tyres running lower pressures could have avoided this discomfort
(we used 700 x 28s at 90 to 110 PSI). None of the cars speeding past seemed
bothered, but we did discover my rear rim had capitulated when we arrived
The last physical obstacle between us and some long overdue R&R was
Fitz’s hill. Fitz’s has a steep approach, but the descent is better described
in terms of brown knicks rather than white knuckles. Totally exhausted
and completely thrilled with ourselves and our achievements we trundled
into Canberra along the cycleways. Old hands at this, we only got lost
The last three days of our trip from Canberra to Sydney were the only days
without significant climbs, or substantial sections of dirt road. They were
also the only days we averaged more than 20 clicks. Even though we’ve done this
ride many times before, some sections I never tire of. Gunning has a lovely
little park with a (free) public swimming pool. The ride from Goulburn to Marulan
via Bungonia is always nice, and I almost feel disappointed reaching the end
of the sensational Highland Way at Bundanoon. Catherine Hill near Mittagong
is best appreciated heading north; 1 minute going down versus 10 minutes going
up. Of course, being chased by a rampant Semi for 2K down a section of the Hume
Freeway reduced to one narrow lane by road works is something I’d sooner remember
Blitzing into Campbelltown station after a wonderful morning of flat
running and fast downhills seemed a prudent (Sydney traffic really sucks)
if premature move. We decided to ride the last 25K home, so hopped off
the train early at Riverwood. Within 10K of home, on a quite back street
in Jannali, we experienced the one and only piece of road rage on our
entire trip. We copped an earful for having the audacity to use what was
obviously someone else’s road. Sydney traffic really sucks.
Reading back over these passages I can’t help feel I’ve unfairly focused
on the negatives of our trip. From other cycling travelogues I’ve read,
this seems difficult to avoid. Maybe I just can’t write flowery endorsements
of the joys of bike travel. Maybe I just don’t read other’s flowery travelogues.
However, I suspect that cycle touring is such an enjoyable experience
so much of the time, the odd unpleasant event stands out. The same negatives
usually blend into the drudgery of everyday working life. I find it very
difficult to explain to people that while touring can be arduous, it is
rarely, if ever, the ordeal they perceive it. The rewards of meeting genuinely
nice people, sense of achievement, fitness, and returning home two sizes
smaller make any quibbles seem petty. I just can’t wait for next year
to go touring again.