All with no pain! Well, not counting stabbing myself in the ankle on a fallen branch – no biggie!
The original plan for this weekend was to go hiking up at Mount Donna Buang for some snow photography. However, my hiking buddy backed out on me at the last minute, and so what better excuse to turn it into a family snow outing (and to selfishly squeeze in some trail running)!
I’ve run in rain, hail, 100% humidity (no joke), 40C heat, 100km/h winds and freezing temperatures (and often some combination of those!), but snow was something I had yet to test my running legs in, and I was brimming with anticipation.
With bags packed, we settled in to bed at around midnight. I began my nightly ritual of browsing the internet (something I do to wind down each night), and of course I eventually began looking through various bits of running gear for snowy conditions – everything from yaktrax and microspikes, to gaiters and thermals. When looking through the various options for footwear, one of the shoes I came across was a pair of Salomon Fellraisers, and I remember thinking to myself – if only I had a pair of those for tomorrow! My favourite staple trail shoes from the Salomon Sense line were great for warmer weather running – super light, super comfy and able to shed water like a waxed lily leaf. Their main drawback was the lack of traction in soft ground, like slick mud, so I didn’t fancy their chances on snow or patchy ice. All the wishing in the world wouldn’t help though, given it was now midnight and our departure a mere 7 or so hours away, there was no way I was going to land a pair of new shoes before hitting the mountains. Or so I thought.
The next morning was one of our typical pre-departure rituals – frantic scrambling, last minute packing and E running around waving his plastic golf clubs. As I got the last bit of gear into the car and got ready to put on my shoes, my eye caught a large box from wiggle.co.uk sitting under the stairs. That box was from a shoe order I had made earlier in the year, around March – The Salomon Sense line isn’t exactly cheap, so I tend to look out for clearance sales or good deals on the net, and stock up when they come along – this also allows me to have a couple of pairs of the same shoe to rotate through, just so I never get caught having to break in a pair of shoes on race day.
Anyway, I assumed the box would contain the usual suspects – probably a pair of Sense Ultras, and maybe one of the new Sense Mantra 2s that I had picked up. I decided on a whim that maybe it would be good to add one of them to my shoe rotation, so I cut open the box, and lo and behold, the first pair of shoes I pulled out was none other than – a pair of Fellraisers!. I had completely forgotten that the shoes had piqued my curiosity those many months ago, and they had thus been sitting boxed away under my stairs, almost as if they were just waiting for today. I pulled out the paper stuffing and cut the tags like a five year old kid, and pulled the shoes on in excitement as I struggled to wipe the stupid grin from my face for the next ten minutes or so.
The 1.5hr drive to Mount Donna Buang was quite the family escapade, with E constantly demanding J & I to sing various renditions of “Wheels on the Bus”, “Incy Wincy Spider” and the alphabet song. A quick stop in Warburton to hire a couple of toboggans, and up the mountain we went.
As we crossed the snow line (about 500m on the day), the green hue of the trees gradually faded until it was replaced by a crisp white, with snowflakes gently fluttering down from the sky. It was picture perfect – right until we hit the back of the queue!
The line of vehicles was literally parked – we were still at least a good 2-3km from the parking lot, and it was clear that the car wouldn’t be going anywhere for a bit. J was happy to sit in the car where it was nice and toasty, so I made a quick decision, handed the wheel to J, got my gear on, and ran back to the trail junction on the Mt Victoria end of the trail.
The slush on the road had started to form ice, which was a bit skaty, and having just seen this video, I decided to spare myself the embarassment and hop on to the pile of slush that had formed on the side of the road. That worked out a lot better, and in minutes I arrived at the trail junction and left the long line of steaming vehicles for the silence of the winter forest.
The trail was coated with a generous layer of undisturbed, pure white snow, and the surrounding bush and trees all topped with a gentle dusting of frosting. What was once a lush green forest with a myriad of colours was now a surreal, almost monochrome environment. The only the sounds were the trickle of a stream of melting snow, pierced by the occasional chirp of fairy wrens, and the crunch of my footsteps on the crisp bed of snow. Apart from the runner in blue trotting along the trail, everything was still, white and almost magical.
The trail climbed gently for a km or so. The snow had filled in all the gaps on the trail, smoothing it out. It was almost like running on a track, if not for the slight give of the powdery crystals. The gentle drizzle and snowfall had taken a short break, and the air near the ground was amazingly clear, whilst a thin mist hung about the treetops, adding to the already mystical ambience of the forest.
The cold air meant that I was comfortable even under the multiple layers I was wearing, and I was too engrossed in my surroundings to notice the gradient, and by the time I arrived at Mt Victoria, I suddenly realised that I was huffing and puffing away. I stopped for a quick breather, and looked around. The trail marker had an arrow that pointed straight ahead into a clump of trees and brush, but as the snow was covering everything and had packed up to the height of the surrounding ferns. From memory, the trail was supposed to turn to the left at Mount Victoria, so I picked the most “trail” looking path of smooth snow heading in that direction, with the least ferns and rocks poking through, and went with that.
For a good 500 metres or so, I gingerly made my way down the trail, doubt lingering in the back of my mind. The trail I had picked, if it was a trail to begin with, was a narrow bit of singletrack, and as I progressed, I noticed bits of rock and ferns protruding from beneath the layer of snow, some coming up right in the middle of the “path”. Shrubs and low trees also hung over the “path” to the point where they felt like they were obstructions – something you don’t usually get on a well maintained trail or path well trodden. I began to second guess myself – for all I knew, I could have been on the wrong track from the get-go, running aimlessly over a large field of undergrowth. To make matters worse, the snow had started up again, and at the rate it was falling it would easily fill in the footprints I had left, which would make retracing my steps challenging. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost in the middle of a snowstorm on a day when it was likely that nobody else would be silly enough to be out on the trail.
To my delight, I suddenly heard a pair of voices up ahead, and a pair of hikers appeared round a corner barely 25 metres ahead. Not bothering to conceal my relief, I blurted out “Hello! I guess this means I’m going the right way!”, to which they laughed. I now had a set of footprints going in the opposite direction to follow, so I picked up the pace. Conveniently, the trail also began to descend slightly down into the saddle, and so I was able to make up some good time.
The snow covered trail was tricky. Rocks coated with a thin layer of snow were often also slippery and made footing uncertain, and some low spots in the trail had accumulated puddles of water beneath the layer of snow. It was a good learning experience, and forced me to remain light on my feet, and to lean forward. My job was made slightly easier by the deep lugs on the sole of the Fellraisers – they provided much needed traction on the slushy, powdery trail, and I soon learned to trust them on this unfamiliar running surface. The shoes also kept water out pretty decently – despite running through puddles a couple of inches deep, my feet stayed nice and dry.
Once I found my footing, I began to ease up again and enjoy the experience. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, the snow now accompanied by some hail and rain, but this only added to the excitement of the whole journey as I plodded along, hopping over logs and ducking under snow frosted branches, just generally having a really good time. Before I knew it, I arrived at the turnoff to the 10 mile carpark. I decided to pop down to the carpark just to make sure that J & E had made it ok. The 400m descent was relatively steep, but the Fellraisers did not disappoint, and I was able to descend with confidence. My only regret on the way down, was that I would have to come back up again in a bit!
I arrived at the carpark to find J dragging E around the base of the toboggan slope, which, having had throngs of people trudge through it, had turned into a rather disgusting semi chocolate slush. J was busting to visit the loo, so I took a break and babysat E for the next 30 minutes (must’ve been quite a queue!). We had quite a blast riding the toboggan together, and by the time J returned, I had completely cooled down and forgotten that I was part way through a workout! When she got back, we had a couple more toboggan runs, and a quick discussion on what to do next. The road to the summit was closed to vehicular traffic, and J didn’t fancy the 3 or so km walk up to the summit with E in tow. I decided to continue my run up to the summit, and to return by the road so I could get a gauge of how long the road really was, so once again, I left E in J’s capable hands, and headed back up the trail.
Climbing back up the path was a different story to descending – the steep slope and relatively deep snow was punishing. Think doing hill repeats on a 15-20 degree slope up the side of a sand dune, in the cold! The 400 metres felt like an eternity, and when I finally reached the junction, my lungs felt like they were just about ready to eject my pounding heart out of my mouth. I turned towards Mt Donna Buang summit, and the trail flattened out for around 50 metres or so. Just as my legs had begun to recover from the torture they had just endured, I was greeted by another ascent of the same nature – no rest for the weary indeed!
I trudged on upwards, trying my best to maintain my form, and during a chance glance around, noticed the remains of a lodge sitting just off the trail. Mt Donna Buang was apparently a popular ski resort back in the ’50s. It is now closed to skiers/snowboarders, and the ruins of some of the lodges are all that remain of that past. I paused for a convenient break to have a wander around the ruin and snap a couple of pictures before heading back on.
Another five minutes or so of jogging up the steep path through the slushy snow, and I began to hear the voices of children in the distance, signalling that my goal was within earshot. Sure enough, the trees and vegetation broke into an open snow field. Families were building snowmen and hurling snowballs to settle differences, a cheery sight as I jogged along towards the summit marker. I didn’t bother climbing the viewing platform – the summit was shrouded in cloud, so there wasn’t much of a view anyway, and I had a family waiting for me at 10 mile carpark! After bothering a kindly chap to snap the photo on the right, I began the descent back down to the 10 mile carpark via Mt Donna Buang Road.
The surface from 10 mile carpark to the summit hadn’t been graded and was coated with a thin layer of snow, and ice where tyres of cars that had made it up prior to the closure had been through.
Once again, the shoes performed flawlessly and I was able to descend at quite a decent pace without slipping even once. Not everyone fared as well – about 2/3 of the way down, my relentless descent was brought to a screeching halt by a bit of a rescue operation. Someone had managed to drive a 4×4 pickup into a ditch, where it had become stuck in the mud and ice. The snow grader tractor had been brought in to give it a tow. The rescue went relatively smoothly and without much fuss, everyone was on their way once again. The rest of the descent was uneventful, and I arrived at 10 mile carpark to top off a 7.5km run in just over an hour of moving time (not counting the break I had babysitting E).
The rest of the trip was just as fun as the first half. J still wasn’t up for the longish walk up to the summit, so instead, we opted to just walk a few hundred metres up the road, away from the crowds at 10 mile. We dragged E along the ice covered road in one of the toboggans, much to his delight (our poor backs!!), and when we found a good spot, we set to work building E’s first snowman.
It was all fun and games for everyone. Snowballs were tossed, and even E had his hand at rolling one of the larger ones that would eventually become our “Mr Frosty”‘s midsection. There was some rain and hail, but when that let up, all that was left was gently floating snowflakes, a quiet road, and the three of us just having a blast in the snow.
Eventually, it was time to leave, and as we all headed to back to the car, totally exhausted, I realised I had so much to be thankful for that day. A new pair of shoes (or at least the discovery of them!), my first run in the snow, E’s first toboggan ride and our first family snowman. But most of all, I was and am grateful for my wonderful family with whom I could share all these experiences with. What a Saturday!
I would have liked to say that the drive back to Melbourne was uneventful, but unfortunately, we drove around 2/3 of the way back before realising we had forgotten to return our rented toboggans! It was a mad rush back to Warburton to try and give them back, and a bit of a gamble as well, given the brochure had said they shut at 4, and it was already 5pm. Thankfully the rental owner was still there when we rocked up close to 5:45, and was cheery as ever. We apologised profusely, but he was all smiles and said he was just glad to have them back.
And so, for the second time that day, we headed back to Melbourne, exhausted, but not too tired to stop by Coldstream Brewery for some beer, steak and pie (no beers for E of course!). What a day, and one we’ll remember for quite a time to come!