Bright Alpine Climb – 4 Peaks

Prologue

Keen to continue to make the most of the flexibility of postgraduate study, I had jumped on some Jetstar sale flights to Melbourne and when I looked optimistically for an event to coincide with a couple of weeks in Australia (during the sale dates…) I was stoked to see something from the ANZ skyrunning calendar pop up! I had an awesome day at the super challenging Mt Oxford Odyssey mountain marathon in May and then saw the Mt Difficulty Ascent was 3 weeks later (which looked epic too), but I wasn’t up for such a short turnaround and Achilles niggles following Oxford would not have made that a fun day out! So by now I was really keen to get stuck into an ‘official’ sky running event! The Bright 4 Peaks offered a heavy serve of elevation gain over the 4 days and was right up my alley.

IMAG1364

Welcome to Melbourne! Your gateway to the wonders of Bright.

Getting to Bright from Melbourne was so easy and when I arrived at Camp Crusty / Bright Outdoor Inn Caravan Park I got a warm welcome from Alex and was very happy with the cabin. Such a beautiful spot! Lucky for me I met a couple of young guys from Adelaide at the park who were also there for the event (shout out to Brayden and Gabe!). They were great company during the week I was in Bright and also gave me a ride to the events. It turned out that it would be a fun little battle between Brayden and I over the course of the four events.

IMAG1371

Beautiful Bright!

A short run on the evening of arrival out to Alpine park from the camp was the perfect little stretching of the legs and confirmed the start location for the first event (always useful). Everything had come together for a great 4 days of running! I was anxious to see how I would go with recovery between events, since I was not used to running consecutive days.

Day 1 – Mystic Hill

Mystic Hill: 4 Peaks – Bright Alpine Climb

It was a chilly morning as I got a lift with the Adelaide boys to Alpine park. Check in and bag collection was pretty fast and relaxed. The atmosphere was super relaxed and community feel. I just made it back from the loo in time for half the race briefing, but didn’t miss anything too major I hoped. “If you go more than 50 metres without seeing any orange tape, do not keep going.”

We were underway 1 min early and it was pretty hard to pick the pace. It was not long before coming to a steep climb – definitely not runnable. Bit of a grind here, but I knew there were 2 main climbs like this and a small one just before the top. Knowing the elevation profile helps you to be patient with the really steep stuff! Picking up the pace between the two climbs felt good, and the second climb was even steeper. The narrow track made it easy to get a little impatient here, but there was no real damage to the time.

I didn’t take any photos today! So, here is a short video courtesy of the event Facebook page.

I was looking forward to the undulation before the final short climb. My Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical was pretty spot on with the distances so I had a good idea of how far to the start and end of each climb. The last short climb was alright, but there was nothing at the top! I thought there was going to be an aid station haha. I had far too much food and water with me so it wasn’t an issue, but it was an anti-climax. The first section down was super steep and so quite slow. Lots of tiny fast steps! I was worried about the downhill for destroying quads or ankles or knees, but it went pretty well and the gradient got more friendly making for a pretty fast, and more fun than expected, descent.

The weather was pretty bomber and the winner took about 30 seconds off the CR. I was anxious to feel good for tomorrow, but it was a pretty good day, 1 hr 16 for me. Even so, Brayden took a comfortable 10 min lead after the first of four events. This was a tough course for Gabe’s first trail event and he was stoked to get back and enjoy a ginger beer.

Day 2- Mt. Feathertop

Mt. Feathertop: 4 Peaks – Bright Alpine Climb

I was feeling a little unsure about my quads and HEAPS of people passed me on the first flatter section getting out to the trail. Once on the single track it was about trying to get into a rhythm with the steady, relentless grade. This was hard with so many people to pass and from maybe 2ks in there were a lot of people slowing down. The walkers had been great both days now with making plenty of room for you to pass. Beforehand I thought 2 hours might be a good goal. About 4k in (⅓ of the way) it was looking like 1 hr 30 could be possible if I kept up the same pace, which seemed seriously unlikely.

Passing 6k (½ way) was a good boost and I was traveling OK. The steady grade, which I couldn’t manage to run all the time, was difficult to pace when to walk and when to run. It may have been near the efficiency boundary haha. Near 9k I was walking quite a lot, which was OK but felt a bit weak and disconcerting. That k was quite tough. Near 10k we passed a hut and campsite and the grade was a little friendlier. This helped me to burst back to life a bit! It looked initially as though this nicer grade may continue to the top, so I was keen for a final push. It was nice for a while. However, the final section before the summit was real steep and much walking ensued. One guy passed me who was running it all the way in. Kudos to him, but I did not have it.

IMAG1380.jpg

Two cheeky chaps at the top.

1 hr 40 in the end and I was happy, confident I had made ‘the front page’ (first 50) of the results today. I made up a few minutes on Brayden at Feathertop and it was really beautiful up there! There was a great panorama and you could see the peak for the next day at Mt. Hotham. I heard from Thierry (who was always miles ahead of me) about a 7500 metre miler in the area, and I must say I thought it would be an epic spot for it. After soaking in the surrounds, an easy run all the way back down wasn’t really what the body wanted, but everyone was doing it due to the lack of road access and it was fun to chat a bit with the always friendly trail / vertical crowd. Great weather and views had everyone buoyed!

The return journey

IMAG1396.jpg

I can see for miles, and miles, and miles.

Day 3 – Mt. Hotham

Mt. Hotham: 4 Peaks – Bright Alpine Climb

I was feeling a bit better than expected on day 3! Had a chat with Thierry before the start and he said today is a “take it easy day” day, “hard core people only” haha. Tomorrow was to be “give it everything”. The start was interesting with 6 flatish ks to get you out to the bottom of the climb. 40% of the way through the distance without any real climbing haha. I started pretty near the back and managed lots of passing in that first 6ks. Conservative habits aye. It was not too easy to get past sometimes with the narrow track.

The river crossing just before the first main climb went well, especially considering I just found out about it on the day! Seeing one guy taking off his shoes and socks made me chuckle a bit. The first climb lasted for about 3ks. I passed a bunch of the always friendly walkers in this section and it was pretty steady grinding here. After this, it was good to get going a bit faster and make the most of the undulation in between the 2 climbs. My hips were not feeling that great at times on the climbs today. Bit of a worry. Soon the undulation started to become gradual ascent, and before you knew it you were into the second climb! This was pretty brutal and I was struggling to run some of the less steep parts that may have otherwise been run on fresher legs.

Pushing on, you come up out of the trees. This was exposed and getting pretty cold so I got the beanie, neck hugger and gloves on, but didn’t bother with the jacket. From here it was close to the finish and you wanted to run it in, but I had to grind (sweet jargon for walking up hills) until I was up at the top. The final rocky part along the top was fun and pretty fast. An incline on the last 50 metres was not that steep, but by then felt pretty tough. Fortunately the ringing of cowbells got you home! No one wants to walk over the line haha. I was home in 2 hours 13 and Brayden had put a couple more minutes on me today.

IMAG1411

A quick snap before heading for a warmer space.

The finish was at a nice spot and there was no rain, but it was very cold today, so when the next minivan was leaving and the driver mentioned the next one could be an hour away, Brayden and I jumped on board. Three down, one to go and I was feeling surprisingly good later that afternoon. Maybe the downhills from Feathertop and on Mystic were the worst part recovery wise?! Running uphill is not so bad!

Day 4 – Mt. Buffalo

Mt. Buffalo: 4 Peaks – Bright Alpine Climb

It was the last day, and I was feeling pretty good! The first 3.3k or so was meant to be pretty steep, not so bad after that, and 2 fast flat ks at the top. Again, I might have started a bit far back. There was a bottleneck at the bridge 150 metres in, and on the steep stuff after that everyone was moving at the same pace. What I was calling ‘human centipedes’ were starting to form, where a chain of people were moving together. Might as well be at the front rather than the back when everyone was moving at the same pace haha. There wasn’t much running early on.

About 2.3ks in there was some runnable stuff and this just continued, so we must have been into the pretty steady middle section. This was a challenge of on-off-on-off running as I was not strong and fresh enough to stay at a run, but not so weak as to need to walk all the time. It really is challenging in this scenario to judge it just right. Just after 8ks it was the fast section. Just 2ks left in the whole 4 peaks, so keen to make it count! It was fun to pick up the pace. A few nasty big rock stairs in this part made for a last challenge. They were really tiring by this point, but you were keen to run them as you knew you were so close! Cowbells beckoned and the flight of stairs up to the Chalet tested what you had left. It was hot up top, but a little exposed.

IMAG1417

The final ‘climb’!

Watermelon, chips, coke – nice! After the presentation the ride back to Eurobin creek picnic area was fun. This involved cruising down a windy road on a sunny day, with some 80s hits jamming in a minivan driven by a friendly volunteer.

IMAG1423.jpg

Three hot young things up Mt. Buffalo.

With a time of 1 hour 23, I managed to beat Brayden today, so 2 from 4 there, but he was still a few minutes ahead in the general classification after the 4 events. I saw recently that he was the youngest finisher in the Ultra Trail World Tour this year with his completion of Ultra Trail Australia! Awesome job Brayden, he will be one to watch!

The results!

Epilogue

Bonus Level

No rain on course, 4 from 4 reasonable days considering the altitude, and really 3 from 4 crackers. The events really were great fun and the atmosphere around Bright was great. A while before this event I had told myself I want to train enough to be ‘semi-competitive’, whatever that means. I’m not sure if I made that goal, but I had fun and I’m super keen to crush some big events in 2018, namely the Shotover moonlight mountain marathon and Mt. Difficulty Ascent extreme marathon. Now, what to do with one last day in Bright? Bonus level time!

IMAG1424

More lovely trails near Bright.

For some reason I was thinking more about snakes on this run, since I was by myself… Didn’t see any snakes, but there was some other wildlife around to give a uniquely ‘Australia’ feel to the run.

IMAG1425

My newest Strava follower.

It was definitely a different felling to be out all alone after 4 days running with a horde of vertical lovers. This run took my elevation gain from running in Bright to 5k! Woo Hoo! To summarise my week in Bright: beautiful spot, great weather, friendly people! Given this is a hub for many great running and other sporting events, I feel that Bright has not seen the last of me!

IMAG1429

Bright being beautiful again.

Advertisements

Fansipan Adventure

You don’t have much bargaining power when you’re in Sa Pa arranging a motorbike taxi for 4:30AM the next day and they know the reason you’re leaving so early isn’t actually to see the love waterfall at sunrise, despite what you may say. I was keen to make a solo summit of Mt. Fansipan, the tallest peak of Indochina, during my stay in Northern Vietnam. The issue was that you usually need to arrange an expensive guide and go with a tour that takes 2 days. I knew this expedition was within my abilities, and I was keen for another big run during my 6 week trip through South East Asia. Time to have a real adventure!

I had been a bit unsure given I still had a bit of a cough and the conditions had not looked great on the ‘recon mission’ the day before. Rain driving into my face on the back of the motorbike in the darkness on the way up out of Sa Pa didn’t exactly act as reassurance. However, I was keen to at least give it a go. As a back up I had cleverly spent some time the day before to get myself happy with the possibility of having to turn back if required.

IMAG1289.jpg

No one checking guides / tickets before dawn. You have to get up pretty early to beat Cookie.

Starting with the headlamp, there was not much chance for running. The trail was well stocked with yellowy rock steps, which suggested quite some care in the maintenance. Would the whole trail be a highway? Despite reading that you couldn’t get lost cause there’s only one trail, I had a bit of a mishap before the sun was up. The quality of the route deteriorated into pretty much bush bashing, so after a couple of minutes pursuing the ‘yea it’s just here, keep pushing’ tactic, I got out my phone to check on maps.me. A great maps app that is brilliant for offline (forget messing about saving offline areas in Google maps). The Vietnam map happened to have an outline of this trail and I could see I was about 100 metres off so headed back the way I came. Back to a small clearing and there was another way. I was impressed with the GPS accuracy considering the cloud and bush cover. Also the accuracy of the trail outline on the map was very useful. In retrospect, this slight mishap of leaving the trail could have been a serious issue. However, life continues to be good to me. I was back on the trail and psyched for some daylight.

IMAG1307.jpg

Still looks like you should head to the right even when you see it in daylight, huh? (Taken on the way back out)

Since you are not supposed to be out here without a guide, I walked quietly through two camps that were on the trail. I heard people awake at the second one, but no one was out so no worries. As it turned out, passing a couple of guided groups was no problem too. People were friendly and maybe uninterested in regulations. Winning.

There really were a lot of stairs, and a lot of walking. So many carefully placed rocks and cuts into more stationary larger stones. Up and up and up. You couldn’t see far ahead the whole way, but you could count on more stairs. Perhaps it was a good thing you couldn’t see them all at once…

IMAG1294.jpg

Turns out I didn’t take any good photos of the stairs…

There were definitely plenty of more interesting bits too. Really steep climbs, steel ladders, bits of wood secured into holes in large rocks to provide some sort of stability, or even a ladder where the stick rungs were just sitting on the wood plugs. OK for just downward pressure, but looked a little iffy.

IMAG1295.jpg

Not quite as steep as it looks here, but definitely interesting.

There were a lot of sections where the idea of coming back down in wet conditions did not thrill me. I decided I would get the gondola back from the top.

IMAG1296.jpg

Feeling alive!

Pushing on I passed a couple more small groups and was getting close. There was just over a kilometer to go and I thought I must be near the peak altitude so was looking forward to the trail leveling out a bit and maybe actually doing some running. It was not to be. Suddenly there was a series of steep descents creating an elevation loss of a couple of hundred metres. You know you need to get any elevation loss back and then some when you’re on your way to a summit. Up, up and up.

IMAG1305.jpg

Up you go mate.

In the final stages the trail seems to be approaching the wall of a platform that could not easily be scaled. This could be a real setback. Luckily there was a very budget staircase linking to a gap in the wall. I was up on the platform and could soon make out the shape of a giant Buddha under construction through the cloud and mist. Moving along the platform I got to some stairs which linked to a serious stone pathway that appeared to lead up to the summit. There was a quite apparent ‘do not cross’ type barrier in the way though. I left the red zone and starting climbing more stairs to the summit. This section was impressive for the quantity of quality stone that had been carried up here to make it happen!

IMAG1297.jpg

All the way up here? Good effort.

You could not see anything at all from the top! It was super cloudy the whole time I was up there. I did have the area to myself for a while before first some wardens, then other hikers and guides appeared. No worries being alone without a guide here as it is accessible via a gondola from Sa Pa. Nothing suspicious here… The summit was nice and there were Vietnamese flags sat there for you to wave around in photos. Unfortunately I could see some hideous monstrosity of a large construction underway not far below. I thought that would destroy the special remoteness of the area. I’d worked hard to get here, I didn’t want to see some resort or whatever.

Some evidence of completion

IMAG1299.jpg

As good as the view got at that particular time.

After conceding there was no view to be had, I went to the little funicular station nearby. Cable car tickets were a whopping 600k VND, which I didn’t have with me so I was relieved to see a 100k option for the funicular. I didn’t know where it went, but assumed it would at least get me close to Sa Pa. I thought it was like a budget cable car option for budget travellers like me. Well, that ride only lasted a couple of minutes and took me to the cable car station not far below! I knew I didn’t have enough money for a ticket with me, so ‘hilariously’ I walked back up the way the funicular had come and waited for a couple of people near the ‘do not cross’ barrier to dissipate before heading back to retrace my steps.

IMAG1303.jpg

The roof of Indochina was decorated appropriately.

I knew I had heaps of time before leaving town on a night bus that evening, so I got psyched to take it slow and be careful. To make it brief, I really did not have any issues. The sections I thought would be nerve racking were not so bad in the end and my feet felt really stable. It was a test, but I had studied hard and performed well.

A safe escape

IMAG1308.jpg

Making friends on my way out.

One last turn of events ensued. I was too stingy to pay for a taxi car back to town so I wandered around and talked someone into giving me a ride back on their bike for a good price. He didn’t have any helmets and was making the most of the trip to town by balancing some type of carrier in one hand, which I guess he would drop off or fill with supplies in Sa Pa. So, no helmets, some unbalanced cargo, AND a couple of mid-ride phone calls made for a pretty scary moto ride home to say the least! Advice to myself: maybe be more organised and don’t be so stingy with transport costs.

IMAG1309.jpg

The road back to SaPa.

After so much uncertainty going into the day, followed by a successful outing, a phrase I heard from a friend came to mind: ‘outside your comfort zone, inside your competency’. A great adventure! NB. If you are planning to give this one a go, check out the other stories online too. It made for fun reading and got me better prepared.

IMAG1270.jpg

A safer spot near SaPa