Welcome to some of the most Rugged parts of Victoria, where the climbs go for hours, the weather is very changeable and describing the scenery as impressive is just a small understatement. The Howqua valley stretches all the way from Lake Eildon up into the Crosscut saw, a maze of rugged high plains peaks known to strike fear into even the most avid of bushwhackers. With names like Mt Buggery, Mt Speculation( is it really there) Mt Despair and Mt Razor you know you’re in for an adventure.
The Maze of fire roads in the area lend themselves well to bikepacking, especially if you like your climbing. I had been itching to get out this way for well over a year, so I wasn’t going to let bad weather deter us, we just packed accordingly. It also just happened to be two days before the shortest day of the year, giving us more incentive to ride hard and keep warm!
We drove out to Sheepyard Flat campground the night before so as to get a good start in the morning. The weather for day one didn’t look too bad considering, the fog lifted and the sun attempted to show its face.
From 8 mile gap you wind your way around the south side of two small peaks to Refrigerator gap. We were now exposed to the southerly breeze and the temperature dropped a little, so we pedalled harder. I love the place names out this way. I can only imagine the cold night a party spent out here to give it this title!
Once over Refrigerator Gap we turned along the lower northern slopes of the Bluff. There is a walking track that ascends 500m in only 1km up to the summit and we were determined that this was not going to be placed in the #ministryofsillyrides category but rather the ministry of #moderately-challenging-yet-somewhat-achievable-rides category. So far we were doing well!
Bluff link road takes you towards Bluff Hut from refrigerator gap and it didn’t disappoint, you loose a bit of elevation before tackling a few steep and unrelenting pinches.
We sensed we were close to Bluff Hut by mid afternoon but also knew there were more 300m VM to go in less than 2 km. The Photo below does not do justice to how brutal rock and steep this section is. The Garmin read grades of up to 34%, yet somehow Matt the machine manged to clean it without putting a foot down!
We didn’t faff at the hut too long, we were keen to get up to the summit and check out the views before the weather came in. We ran as fast as our cyclists legs could and just caught a bit of the clouds rolling over the peak.
We found a sheltered spot out of the wind to chill out and enjoy the view while it lasted. Matt commented how good it would be to have a beer right now, Joe and I both agreed. Next minute there’s the sound of beer cans being opened! What a legend, Matt had stashed three cans of beer in his bag!
We retreated back to the comfort of the Hut and settled in for the night, at least we thought we had. I peered out the window at a radiant purple sky and called everyone to action.
This turned out to be one of the most epic of sunsets I have ever witnessed. The clouds being only 100m above us were refracting the light and creating a sunset that looked like a fire on the horizon or the Apocalypse from Terminator, luckily it was neither.
We got stuck into a fair bit of Whisky that night, maybe too much. It was either the Whisky or the fact we could hear torrential rain on the roof from about midnight that was increasing our reluctance to get going in the morning. It was Dank, super Dank. Which was kinda the opposite of the T-shirt Matt had been wearing the day before.
Much Faffing was had and by 11 am we had resigned ourselves to the fact it might not get any better. Any colder and it would have been snowing, an outcome that might have been more appealing given the humidity. We had every piece of clothing we brought with us on for the descent, electrical devices were stashed neatly away but still we couldn’t help but stop to take some photo’s as we descended out of the clouds.
We finished on a section of the Howqua track we hadn’t done the day before, it was not for the faint-hearted. Sheer drops into the Howqua off the trail meant putting a foot wrong was not an option. For Matt it reminded him of sections of the Old Ghost road.
We were wet, exhausted, dank and definitely fulfilled by the time we got back to the car. It was not a big ride except for the elevation and sub optimal conditions. Would I do it again? HELL YES! There are so many good rides to be mapped and ridden out there, but for now we will have to wait til spring for the snow to melt.
This country is unforgiving so if you plan to venture out this way make sure you have plenty of food and warm clothes on you up in these parts, the weather can turn quickly and there aren’t any resupply points either but that’s what I like about it, pure bike packing with no resupply. I’ve got a few bigger missions planned out in in this region for when there are more daylight hours, so stay tuned.
In the meantime here’s Joe’s Strava of the route: