Everything you need to know to conquer the hills of the Victorian Alps.
By Sebastian Jayne Photography: Robert Conroy
The Victorian Alps are the go to destination for a fix of altitude and adventure in Australia. Massive mountain passes are scattered throughout the region, with each offering their own unique feel and challenge. The 7 Peaks ride is a self-paced cycling challenge that is run between October and April around the Victorian Alps region and takes in seven of the state’s best climbs. The challenge is all about adventure and not about how fast you can do the climbs, though if you want to go fast there is no-one stopping you!
Once you have competed a peak, you receive a stamp of completion - either in person or in your digital passport. Your digital passport runs from the 7 Peaks phone app and links to your Strava account to register that you have done the climb. Once you have logged a climb, you will also go into a draw to win a major prize of a 15-day holiday around the beautiful French Alps, and get to see the Tour De France. The more climbs you do, the more entries into the draw you get. Check out the next few pages for our guide to all 7 Peaks and how best to tackle the challenge!
The Queen, likely the distant cousin of France’s vicious Mont Vonteux, takes riders to the highest point out of all 7 Peaks. The 1850m exposed summit of Mt Hotham is reached via a roller coaster trek from the alpine village of Harrietville down in the valley. Its gradient only averages 4%, but that should not really be taken at face value since the cruel ascents of the infamous CRB section and The Meg are both masked by fast descents and a false flat through the middle.
The road acts as a key link between the alps, the coast and the Omeo farmlands, which sees cattle trucks negotiate the pass as tentatively as the riders climb. Every December though, the Hotham climb is attacked with a little more vigour by the country’s elite and amateur cyclists in the Tour of Bright that finishes atop the mountain. Its formidable reputation, which draws such a following, belays the beauty of the climb. The height of the peak offers stunning views of the surrounding Alpine National Park, which when combined with the fearsome challenge of the climb itself, should make it a bucket list adventure for any cyclist.
The threatening nature of the Mt Hotham climb starts at kilometre zero, which makes a warm-up vital. Starting the ride from Bright gives you a 25km warm-up on a relatively flat road alongside the Ovens River. The official 7 Peaks Strava segment starts from the Harrietville General Store, which is the last place to grab some water before the top.
The initial 10km, up past the towering gums, is the steepest section of the climb. It ‘only’ averages 7%, although the first few hundred metres tips 10%, and then there is the infamous Meg section. This is a short section but another 10% makes it a gut buster. It puts you ‘in the box’ in no time at all though, and then you’re at the top and looking down at the snaking bitumen below that you just climbed.
The middle false flat offers a chance to view the towering Razorback ridgeline across the valley that connects Mt Hotham to Victoria’s second highest mountain, Mt Feathertop. During the Tour of Bright, the average speed along the false flat can top 35km/h for the full 9km section. Don’t get too comfortable, though, as the exposed peak that you can view on the left is where the finish lies!
This exposure is where the previous comparison to France’s Mont Vonteux is made. The harsh exposed peaks and ridgelines of Mt Hotham are windswept and treacherous - with the gusts swirling to form headwinds, tailwinds or vicious crosswinds depending on specific conditions. These challenging elements are thrown in the mix with further leg-sapping gradients of the CRB hill and the last sting in the tail, Diamantina Hill. In between these sections are fast downhills where speeds of over 70km/h can be reached.
These challenges are there to distract you from enjoying the beauty around. Up close, the exposed peaks are not rocky moon-like landscapes like Mont Vonteux but rather grassy meadows with snow gums and wildflowers. The distant views offer unparalleled vistas of the Alpine National Park and its many peaks and ridgelines. Even the mighty Mt Buffalo can be viewed in the distance.
The final section is a sweeping descent into the Hotham village, which characterises the roller coaster journey you’ve just travelled. The climb’s mythical route makes it a fearsome challenge, although it is manageable and does offer the most amazing views of any climb in Australia. A true bucket list item.
When you should ride Mt Hotham
The exposed peak makes it very dependent on weather. It’s best to avoid the climb on very windy days or during storms but any other time through summer is great. The traffic doesn’t get overly busy so any time of the day is good.
Where to stay
Staying in Bright is the best option with a wide range of accommodation options at various prices, with some catering to cyclists. Check brightescapes.com.au for a full range. You can also stay at Harrietville or even on the mountain at Hotham or Dinner Plain and experience the true alpine adventure. Staying on top of the mountain can make it easier to add the Dinner Plain climb on the riding menu.
Where to eat
Stopping off at Harrietville to hit the café or general store on the way up and then the pub on the way back for a feed can make for a great day out.
Starting point – Harrietville General Store, Great Alpine Rd, Harrietville
Finishing point – ‘Hotham Heights’ sign past the Corral Day Carpark, Great Alpine Rd, Hotham
Distance – 32.4km
Height gained – 1347m
Average gradient – 4%
KOM – Brendan Canty 1:09:05
QOM – Justine Barrow 1:27:20
Paper Passport Stamping Station
Mt Hotham Transit Lounge – 28 Great Alpine Road (under the Resort Management Building)
Open 24 hours a day
Pacing – It’s hard to pace Hotham as the vicious gradients can require all you have just to scale them. The varied nature also makes it tricky, but starting conservatively to have enough energy to tackle the last kicks is always a good plan.
Food – Stocking up with water and food at Harrietville is the best option.