Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Falls Creek Cycling - The Historic Huts Trail.

Location - The Victorian Alps, Australia
Distance - About 40 kms return - you can easily make this longer or shorter.
Terrain - Mountain bike trails - not suitable for road bikes.
Difficulty - Moderately difficult, especially if you return via the Bogong High Plains Rd.
Highlights - The lovely scenery along the aqueducts combined with a sense of total isolation.
Map and Info - click here 

Falls Creek


We are fairly sure we are the only guests in our hotel at Falls Creek, Victoria. Yesterday soap bubbles drifted off the roof all morning - a film crew was in residence making a promo. I suppose it was meant to be snow. The bubbles stopped today so we think the film makers are gone - and that just leaves us.

The ski season ended a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps the village will come alive when the weather warms up but for now we have it to ourselves.

We have come for the cycling. The high country around Falls Creek is a cyclist's dream come true. I'm not talking about road-bikers, although the road biking culture is well and truly alive, neither am I talking about downhill mountain biking complete with body armour and death-wish. I am talking about back-country touring. The kind of cycling which doesn't require a fancy bike or a super-fit rider. This is the kind of riding which David and I, heading into our autumn years and with only a moderate level of fitness, will always say yes to.

Bogong Village


Our plan was to cycle for two days, returning each evening to our nice comfy hotel. Have I mentioned before that we don't do camping? Sadly, the weather was awful yesterday: wet, cold and windy. The temperature struggled to make 10 degrees C and the mountains were blanketed in fog. Have I mentioned before we are fair-weather cyclists? A quick change of plan saw us drive 15 minutes down the mountain to Bogong, a tiny alpine hamlet settled by European migrants who came to Australia by their thousands in the 1950s and 60s to build the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme.

Bogong is nestled beside Lake Guy which is circumnavigated by a track just navigable on mountain bikes. It isn't far - about 4 kms. However getting around the damn wall at one end of the lake proved too much of a challenge so we ended up retracing our steps from almost the end of the track. This turned a 4 km ride into 8 kms along a moderately difficult track. Strictly speaking it is a walking track and more than once we had to get off and push but it is a lovely scenic cycle.

The track around Lake Guy - this was the easy bit.

A sign says you might see platypus here - we didn't!

The track deteriorated as we got further around the lake.

Historic Huts and Aqueducts


Day 2 and the sun has come out. 

The Bogong High Plains Rd from Falls Creek to Omeo is closed in winter. There is a period of a couple of weeks each year when the snow has almost gone but the road is not yet open to motor vehicles. Our starting point for the day's ride is the Rocky Valley Storage Dam about 3 kms past Falls Creek where a locked gate means we have the road to ourselves. We slip our bikes under the gate, and head out into the High Country. 

There is an 'intentions book' next to an information board on the far side of the dam. I fill in our expected route and time of return. The track we intend to cycle is perfectly safe but we know from experience that there is no phone reception and it is possible to ride all day without meeting another living soul. If we don't return I want the comfort of knowing someone might come looking for us. Last year I sms'd our two adult sons in Sydney at the beginning of the ride. I told them where we were going and gave them instructions to call emergency services if we didn't contact them again in the evening. It turned out that was a total waste of time. They barely know what country we are in most of the time, expecting them to keep track of our safety is a bridge too far. This year I'm putting my faith in the intentions book.

This is empty country

At Langford's Gap we turn off the road and follow the sign toward Cope and Wallace's Hut. This is High Country scenery at its best. The trail follows an aqueduct, running slightly uphill. It is slow going. The ground is boggy in places and there are occasional patches of snow on the hills beside us. The views across the mountains are magnificent.



The turn-off to Langford's Gap
The trail follows an aqueduct for most of its length.

Wallace's Hut

About 3km into the ride we detour to Wallace's Hut. Wallace's Hut is one of many built by drovers who brought their cattle to graze the high country pastures in summer many years ago. It was built in 1889, making it the oldest hut in the National Park. Today the huts provide emergency shelter to cross-country skiers and hikers caught in bad weather. I can't imagine spending the night in one - but if we got caught in a blizzard it would probably feel like a castle.

The trail looks out on thousands of bleached-white gum trees. Victims of bushfires, they re-grow from close to the ground leaving ghost-like trunks guarding the mountains. The scene is surreal and beautiful.

Wallace's Hut

Bushfire ravaged gums.


Rover Chalet and Cope Hut

Back on the main trail about 2km from the turn-off to Wallace's Hut we pass Rover Chalet.  It was built in 1940 and was the first ski lodge in the area. Falls Creek wasn't even planned then. Today it sits isolated. Definitely not for the novice skier, you get there in winter by skiing across country from Falls Creek taking what you can carry - and nothing else! It would never work for a notorious over-packer like David.

Rover Chalet

Cope Hut and Langfords West Horseyards

Past Rover Chalet we pass the turn-off to Cope Hut. We have been there before so we decide to push on. If we have time we will detour to it on the way back. If you are curious about what it looks like, it is the hut in the thumbnail photo at the beginning of this post.

Until this point the trail has been well signposted, but beyond here the signs disappear. I am glad we have a detailed contour map. Finally, a few kilometres further on, the trail ends at the Bogong High Plains Rd near the Langfords West Horseyards. These horseyards and others in the High Country were built for the use of horse riders who are allowed to camp in the area during summer.

The signs are great where the trails branch off from the road - as you get further into the back-country they disappear.

Buckety Plains and Faithfuls Hut

Our final objective is Faithful's hut, the turn-off to which is a few kilometres further along the road toward Omeo. Once we leave the road however the track deteriorates quickly so we leave the bikes and continue on foot. Just as we are about to give up we cross a creek and stumble on the hut. Like the other mountain huts it is rustic and very basic but we are pleased to have found it.

Faithful's Hut


Inside Faithful's Hut - this is almost luxurious compared to some of the other huts.

Returning along the Bogong High Plains Rd

After a brief discussion we decide to return the whole way along the road. Although we have several hours of daylight left it is beginning to get quite cold and the overcast sky makes it seem much later than it is. I feel safer returning via the road. In retrospect this was a definite mistake. The trail along the aqueducts was a gradual incline. It would have been a steady downhill almost the whole way back. The road, on the other hand is hilly. Brief exhilarating downhill stretches are paid for many times over by slow torturous climbs. More than once we abandon the effort and walk the last few metres to the top of a hill.

Cruising down the last hill and across the dam to our car we are completely spent. I collapse into the passenger's seat and thank my lucky stars that David, my somewhat old-fashioned husband, always insists on driving after a hard cycle.



Cycling in the High Country - tips and tricks and things to know


  • Take plenty of water. The aqueduct water carries a risk of giardia and there is no other water on any of the trails.
  • Pack a picnic lunch. There are no shops, cafes or other signs of civilisation. 
  • Apply sunscreen. It is easy to get burnt in the thin mountain air.
  • Make sure you have a spare inner-tube and you know how to change a tyre. It is a long walk home.
  • This is back-country, the signage is good until you get to the Cope Hut turn-off, after that you are more or less on your own. Call in at the Information Centre at Mount Beauty on the way to Falls Creek and buy a contour map. The tourist maps you get in Falls Creek are not detailed enough for back-country exploring unless you stick to a few of the better marked trails. 
  • There is no mobile phone reception. Fill in the intentions book just the other side of the Rocky Valley Storage Dam and let someone know where you intend to go and when you expect to return. Don't just tell your adult children back in Sydney unless they are a lot more reliable than ours - lol.
  • The Historic Huts trail along the aqueducts above Falls Creek is, in my view, one of the best cycling trails in the area but there are countless more. You could spend a week or more here and never walk or cycle the same trail twice.

34 comments:

  1. I'm terribly out of shape, but seeing your photos may just give me the incentive to change that. Such beautiful sights I miss!
    Lovely photos.
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/11/waiting-for-metro.html

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    1. Cycling is a great way to get fit and enjoy yourself at the same time, although I will admit it was hard when I first took it up.

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  2. Awesome pictures! I wish it's getting warm here too but it's the opposite...;)

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    1. It's better that way. I can cycle in Australia when it is warm and then pop over to the Northern Hemisphere for a bit more cycling - lol.

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  3. Who knew the ski resorts could be even more spectacular out of season?! So good! x

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  4. My sister and brother in law have done a lot of walking in this area and loved it. I only know it when it is covered in snow. It is stunning in any season.

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    1. We ski in NSW because it is closer to home but the Victorian side of the Snowies is so much prettier in summer.

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  5. I had no idea that Falls Creek was good for cycling, I thought it was just for snow.
    I like biking a normal amount. While the scenery is beautiful, I don't think I would be fit enough to tackle it too much.

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    1. This ride doesn't require a lot of fitness if you don't want to go too far. Our problem is that we always go too far - lol. Once the Bogong High Plains road is open, which should be about now, you can drive to the trail turn-off then cycle as far as you want along the aqueducts. While it follows the aqueducts the trail is almost flat, very slightly uphill on the way out and therefore downhill on the way home when you are tired. The scenery is just lovely.

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  6. I'm with Jess, I had no idea that cycling was so well catered for in the alpine areas. I really though it was more for skiing in winter and hiking/water sports in summer. Thanks for sharing your experience, your gorgeous photos and your tips!

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    1. The trails are mainly hiking trails but they also allow horse-riding, in summer, and mountain biking. We used to hike but since we took up cycling we find it a bit slow - lol.

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  7. Looks like a gorgeous place to take a walk!

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  8. Beautiful sight and the trip is worth it love the mountain.

    Kim,USA

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    1. Because Australia's overseas reputation is all about the outback and deserts a lot of people don't realise we have mountains too - admittedly they aren't all that high.

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  9. Replies
    1. I hate to admit it but the Victorian side of the Snowy Mountains is a lot prettier than our side - lol.

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  10. I love all the old huts in mountain country. Your tips are, as always, so very helpful too. The ski areas are magnificent in the off-season. I was bridesmaid for a friend who was married on top of Mt Blue Cow near Perisher. It was a stunning setting.

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    1. Wow - I couldn't imagine getting married at Blue Cow. We have skied at Perisher/Blue Cow for the last couple of years and stayed there once or twice in summer so I know the area quite well. The summer days can be spectacular but you can also get unlucky and strike bad weather. I hope your friend got sunshine - I assume she got married in summer.

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  11. What amazing countryside. In particular I love the photo titled "This is empty country". It really depicts the barren High Country of Victoria and brings back memories of when I was younger and living in Victoria. Cycling really is the best way to sightsee!

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    1. I absolutely agree with you about cycling being the best way to sightsee. It is slow enough to be able to take everything in but a whole lot faster than walking.

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  12. Wow - what beautiful countryside and those cabins are very intriguing! Hats off to you for all the cycling you do. I am so not fit enough for big long cycles but gee I wish I was! :-)

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    1. I started out thinking half an hour was a long time to be on a bike but it doesn't take long to build up a bit of moderate fitness.

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  13. I love this part of the world! Looks like a great tour. Hubster and I need to work on our fitness before attempting this, but it's definitely something we want to get back into. Thanks for sharing. #teamIBOT

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    1. I took up cycling at the same time as my husband and we got fit together which was really good. We also got me a faster bike so I can keep up without it killing me - lol. Cycling has transformed our road trips - it is just great to get out of the car and go for a cycle when we arrive at a new place.

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  14. How lucky you were to have such beautiful scenery all to yourself. Glad you made it out and didn't need to rely on your sons (or the intentions book).
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust

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  15. Hello Lyn, I am a quarter of the way there. I bought a bike and after 30 years am learning to ride again to do exactly what you do. Something hubby and I can do together, you have encouraged me heaps xxx

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    1. Hi Rae. I wish you all the luck in the world. If you have any questions please let me know. I'm available for consults - lol. The best advice I can probably give is to not push yourself too hard at first. Forget the fitness aspect and just enjoy being outside in the sunshine on a bicycle. Cycling is a great thing to do with your spouse and Australia has some great trails. http://railtrails.org.au/ is a good resource for finding some of them.

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  16. Wow what an awesome cycle, I love Faithfuls hut! I am ridiculously scared of riding a bike and I wish I would face my fear and just get over it & be confident because I see so many cycles that I would LOVE to do!

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    1. There are lots of courses, often free, available for people who want to start cycling. Sydney has a few aimed at women who lack confidence. Trust me - If I can ride a bike anyone can - lol.

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  17. I love visiting Australia through your travels, Lyn. At least that, if I can't be there in person. You have such a beautiful country!

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    1. Thank you - I'm glad you are enjoying my posts. I plan to write a lot more on Australia in the coming months.

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