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David   Linda   Bike Odyssey Pty Ltd
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Snowy Mountains: 1997
Snowy Mountains


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:
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 - Home
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 ground.

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 drain.

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 exercise.

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 at Canberra.

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 five times.

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 than repeat.

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.