Everyone knows it's the UN International Year of the Mountains right? Well it is!
And to celebrate this, I've decided to run up a whole stack of them this year (any excuse!). Since the beginning of January I've run/raced up 6 mountains and thought I'd write a little summary and comparison of these as they were in three different states (WA, NSW and ACT) and in quite varying climates and geology. I have ranked the run-ups in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest and finishing with the hardest.
1: (easiest) Mount Kosciuszko, NSW. (from 'Eagle Nest' at Crackenback chairlift top station)
1925m - 2228m.
Altitude gain: 303m.
Approx. distance to summit: 5-6km.
Under foot: narrow rocky and boggy trail/wide gravel fire trail to summit.
Surrounds: spectacular scenery, alpine meadows.
In January (during Runners' Week) a group of four including Glenn Paterson, Adam Leane, Vince Craig and myself, took the first chairlift of the day up to Eagles' Nest. We were pretty well kitted out with tights, gloves, hats etc. as it was a clear and chilly morning! The first part of the run, although not very steep, is rather hard going due to uneven footing on the path that runs along side the metal walkway (runners are not allowed on the walkway). It also takes a while to get used to running at 2000m altitude.
Once you get to the end of the metal walkway, things get much easier and you turn left onto the Charlotte Pass - Mount Kosciuszko road. This is a fairly smooth gravel road at the moment which made it possible to look around at the fantastic scenery as we ran up. The gradient increases a little bit on the last km up Kosciuszko, but nothing too bad and on a cool, crisp clear morning like the one we had, you feel like you're flying up there!
We arrived at the summit about 10:00am, spent a while up there just admiring the views and listening to the silence of the mountains before a nice relaxed downhill run via the cross country ski trail back to Eagles' Nest, where we stopped and had a coffee!
What a great way to start a day!
2: Mount Dromedary, NSW. (from Pam's Store at Tilba Tilba, via walking trail to summit)
40m - 797m.
Altitude gain: 757m.
Approx. distance to summit: 5.5km.
Under foot: gravel road/narrow dirt walking tracks/soft fire trail.
Surrounds: farmland/Lush wet native forest/abundant wildlife/pockets of cool-temperate rainforest near summit.
South Coast of NSW, near the town of Tilba Tilba. Embarked on this little journey in late January. My wife and I were staying in a cottage at the base of Dromedary and after 3 days of waiting in vain for the fog and mist to clear off the mountain, I gave up and just went up anyway.
The trail starts at Pams' store, the first km or so is fairly flat, on a gravel road winding through picturesque green farmland. After just over a km, the trail turns off the road and becomes quite narrow as it starts heading up the mountain. It had been raining for days and everything was soaking wet.
What had started out like a nice run through the meadows was now like a scene out of Jurassic Park, as thick forest closed in from all sides. I was trying to keep a nice even, slow pace as I didn't really know what was to come i.e., how steep the mountain was or even how high the thing was! Luckily the gradient never got too steep and there were little flat parts every now and then to relieve the calf muscles. The only tricky part was the narrow and slippery path and lots of logs and vines to jump over/through, but for the most part it was clear running. I saw quite a bit of wildlife on the way up including several Lyre Birds...no people! Yes, only I was mad enough to run up Dromedary on a day like this!
After about 4km of steady uphill, I got to the saddle where the trail joins another trail up the mountain that comes up from the north-west side. I got a bit lost for a minute or two trying to find the final path that ascends up to the summit (it's not marked very well!). This next 200m to the summit is a hard slog, very steep (and slippery on the day) and took all my effort and concentration to keep running at this point. It'd been foggy for most of the run and unfortunately the only view I got at the top was a few nearby shrubs shrouded in mist. A good run though, and could be done by most fit runners if you pace yourself properly. You may have to walk the last 200m!
3: Mount Ainslie, ACT. (Mount Ainslie run-up, starting at BBQ area behind War Memorial, up the run-up course to the summit)
602m - 842m.
Altitude gain: 240m.
Approx. distance to summit: 2.2km.
Under foot: Footpath/fire trail/sealed walking trail.
Surrounds: Cool-temperate native dry woodlands, spectacular city views.
Although lower in altitude than the Kosciuszko run and a much smaller altitude gain than the Dromedary run, I've ranked this run as harder, because it has a nasty little steep section right in the middle of the course, whereas Kosciuszko has no really steep bits and Dromedary leaves its really nasty bit to right at the end, when it's easier to cope with (because you're almost finished!). Unlike Kosciuszko and Dromedary, this was a race, actually the February Mount Ainslie run-up, put on by the Australian Mountain Running Association at lunchtime on the first Tuesday of each month. The fact I was racing may be why I've ranked this as harder than Dromedary, but I don't think there's that much between them really.
The run-up starts out flat for 100m then there is a bit of a hill along a footpath next to a road for another 100m or so and then a winding little track for about 50m, before you turn right onto a fast flat fire trail. You follow this flat section for about 400m and then the fun begins! Once you get to the water tank, the ascent really starts. I have run this course quite a few times now, and if I take a split time at the start of the fire trail near the water tank, itís always about a third of my total time to the top. This next section is quite steep, in a series of about 4 steep climbs with little 'rest bits' in between. At the top of the last steep hill on the fire trail section there is another little flat bit before the course joins onto the sealed walking track. It is a gradual, less demanding climb from here up, with the exception of a couple of steep bits with some stairs. View from the top is exceptional, overlooking the National Capital and it's surrounding mountains and countryside.
Again, any fit runner can do this one, however you might have to walk a couple of bits depending on your leg strength.
4: Mount Coree, ACT. (following the uphill section of the AMRA mens' open championship course from arboretum to summit via the direct, steep fire trail and then road to summit)
780m - 1421m.
Altitude gain: 641m.
Approx. distance to summit: 7km.
Under foot: fire trails ranging from smooth to very rocky at times.
Surrounds: Pine plantations/native forest/sub-alpine forest at higher altitudes, treeless summit with spectacular 360 degree views.
I've raced and run this mountain at leisurely pace, so feel pretty confident in my 'ranking' for this one! My latest ascent was in mid February. This run is the opposite of Dromedary in that the worst steep bit is shortly after the start, rather than at the end. This is good, if you like to get the painful bit over and done with early, but a bugger if you're too stuffed to do the rest of the run!!
So, it's flat (even downhill a bit) for the first 500m and then... bang! a whopping steep little section of rocky fire trail that ascends 100m in no time at all! Once this little hurdle is overcome, the next 3.5km is on an undulating fire trail that steadily climbs another 300m with a couple of steep hills and some downhill sections as well. The last 2km is a steady even climb gaining 220m in altitude. The views from the top can be spectacular, other days you're surrounded by fog in a howling cold wind! The first bit's the hardest, the rest isn't too bad, but it's a fairly long haul. The summit area is very rocky and uneven so be careful on this section.
5: Bluff Knoll, WA. (from the information bay at the car park, following walking trail to summit)
435m - 1070m.
Altitude gain: 635m.
Approx. distance to summit: 3km.
Under foot: dirt-gravel walking track/rocks.
Surrounds: spectacular views the whole way up of surrounding Stirling ranges/treeless native shrub and grasslands and meadows/ famous WA wildflowers/ sub-alpine flora at summit.
Wow, now we're getting into the hard ones!!
Whoever picked the route for the trail up Bluff Knoll was either a sadist or a bloody idiot! (or a mountain runner?). Did this one on a hot day at the start of January (don't do it this way!). I must admit I had a bit of an easterners' cocky attitude about running up this one, thinking it was just those WA people carrying on about this mountain, I mean, what do they know about mountains? I thought to myself! So my wife (Andrea) decided she was fairly sane, and decided to walk up, so she went ahead carrying water etc. I put on my running gear and strode confidently up to the information sign, which read 'altitude at car park 435m, altitude at summit 1070m'. Whoops! Maybe this wasn't going to be all that easy after all! So I set out at a very conservative pace.
The first 200m is a steep downhill, followed by a little uphill pinch and then another 200m of slight uphill, before the fun really begins! From here on, it's 600m altitude gain over 2.5km, without any flat spots at all to rest on and the gradient varies between hard and damn hard. It's amazing how it's just an unrelenting steep gradient the whole way. Then, as if to mock whoever it is who's been crazy enough to attempt this run, there is a nice little flat section of 60m right before the summit! Gee, thanks for that! This mountain did get the better of me and I had to walk a couple of times but given the right preparation (in this case, I had done an 8k run earlier in the day) and cooler conditions I may have been able to 'run' the whole thing. In any case, it's one hell of a climb and that's why it gets 2nd place in my hardest mountain rating.
Views and sensational display of wildflowers at the top are worth every drop of sweat!
6: (hardest) Crackenback, NSW. (from bottom chairlift station at Thredbo Village to top station at Eagles' Nest - Crackenback Challenge 'course')
1340m - 1925m.
Altitude gain: 585m.
Approx. distance to 'summit': 2km.
Under foot: Narrow dirt walking tracks/grass/gravel fire trail/rocks/bushes and heath!
Surrounds: Snow gums, alpine meadows, large granite outcrops, magnificent views from the top!
The hardest of all.
Not really a run to the top of Mount Crackenback, but hey, you do the worst part anyway, so who cares? I did this run as part of the Crackenback Challenge in mid-January. I don't think it matters though whether you race this or TRY to take it easy, because it's hard work either way! The course is an unrelenting steep climb. Some parts are steep, some very steep and some even worse!! If you manage to actually run more than half the way, you're pretty damn fit! I ended up walking half the course and still managed 6th spot!
This is definitely the hardest mountain I've run up (yet).
Next mountains? Mount Tennant (ACT) and Mount Buffalo (VIC).
Because they're there!