The Victoria Alps conquer BJR

Bryan J. Rollins
8 min readMay 11, 2024

The second uncle-nephew adventure of 2023 took place in December in the Victorian Alps, with Jon traveling to Australia to spend four days with me on the trail from Falls Creek to Mt. Bogong.

Broken Rule 0: Be in the right physical shape for your journey

After having an intense week of good Scottish cardio on my bike in September, I returned to Yamba to build on my fitness and take a crack at the Yamba triathlon, which I had missed out on in 2023. I put together a couple of solid long runs and good bike rides, and set out on the Monday long run for 10k. I felt in good form and the last two kms were some of my faster ones. Within an hour of the run, my left foot was killing me. The next day I could not walk on it.

Following weeks of immobility, GP and physio visits, laser treatment at a chiropractor to reduce the swelling, and an MRI, I still had no concrete answers. I spent a week in Sydney for work, and snuck in a visit to Ys Podiatry, where I learned I had cracked the plantar plate in my left foot between the second and third toe, resulting in the nerve between the two toes being squeezed and causing the whole foot to go potato shaped.

Apparently, for my entire life, I had been using my second toe to bear all the weight on my left side, a result of my congenitally funky spine, so after 52 years, that second toe said, “I can’t take it!” and the plantar plate cracked.

An actual picture of BJR’s plantar plate cracking and falling into the Arctic Ocean

With just a couple of weeks before the hike, after two months of inactivity, I started walking again. I walked the Yuraygir trail in Yamba and ramped up the weight I was carrying. The final test day before the trip, I carried 10 kg for about 10 kms, basically half the weight and half the distance and none of the elevation of each day. The foot hurt and I could see the swelling starting again.

Broken Rule 1: Don’t Get Cocky

Day 1: Falls Creek Village to Ropers Hut

Thus our trip began with much trepidation, but the first day went better than I could have hoped: The route from Falls Creek to Ropers Hut delivered great weather (sunny but cool) and a good trail (though it starts off with walking on the road for about 5km).

The part where you’re on the road

The 20 kg pack didn’t feel as heavy, even though most of the day was uphill. My feet were not in pain and were dry. A miracle on foot. My a-bit-too-cozy two person tent kept us dry though sleep quality was low, but we tried to make it up with volume. This trip was not going to be that bad…

I think that tent is sneaking up on me

Pride cometh before the painful next day.

The amazing toe spacer that eliminated all foot pain. Oh and the inside of Ropers Hut.

Broken Rule 2: Know your maps

Day 2: Ropers Hut to Cleve Cole Hut

The second day crushed me. We had decided to take the route in the opposite direction in most of the trail writeups, because supposedly that let you take the steepest part as a downhill, and given my foot that seemed advisable. So on the elevation chart below, I assumed we were entering from the left, and day two would have the first yellow downhill, and then a long but not so brutal uphill.

The yellow means “@#$% this is hard” and the red means “death”

Wrong. The AllTrails map did not follow the usual clockwise route, and instead went anti-clockwise, so day 2 meant hitting the super steep red section after descending and doing a river crossing. By two thirds of the way up, the problem was not my feet — it was my lungs and legs. They had quit one-third of the way up, and I was on fumes.

River crossing on day 2, just before the big red-colored ascent

Jon was constantly waiting for me, and in sections I could only take 20–30 steps up the steep embankment before my heart rate would max out. I was cold and overheated at the same time. A constant drizzle of rain kept us from ever getting comfortable. Oh, and it was also Christmas Day. Happy @#$% Christmas.

Jon is hoping he doesn’t have to carry me out of here, or failing that, bury me off the trail.

Broken Rule 3: Be able to camp outside in any conditions

The night at Cleve Cole Hut

As a final parting gift, in the final couple of kms the skies opened up and emptied it’s wet love upon us. We reached Cleve Cole Hut, and could not believe our luck — you were allowed to sleep in this hut! While my tent is waterproof, it would have been miserable to spend the night when you’re soaked inside a tent in the cold. I am not sure we had enough warm dry clothes to have survived through a full on storm (wind, lightning, freezing rain, and aggressive bush rats).

So the wooden bunks were a welcome sight, and even the annoying hikers (who showed up late and had an incredibly loud conversation while the rest of the hikers were trying to sleep) didn’t ruin it.

The route, which is not actually lit up in bright green when you walk on it.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realised I had read the elevation map backwards, and we had climbed the worst part of the entire trip in the worst possible conditions on day 2. Jon also admitted that there were times where he wasn’t sure I was actually going to make it. I had the same notion.

Broken Rule 4: Stick Together

Day 3: Cleve Cole Hut back to Ropers Hut

After the torrential overnight storm, we decided that being near a hut in case of dire conditions would not be a bad idea. We had seen enough lightening and thunder so close to the mountain tops we were skirting. The next morning, the skies lifted a bit, and we headed out for Mt. Bogong, the highest point in Victoria. In 2019, Jon and I had reached the top of Mt. Osso, the highest point in Tasmania, so unintentionally we had started a “collection”.

The ascent to Mt. Bogong amongst the clouds

The hike up to the top of Mt. Bogong was hard, but the trail wasn’t nearly as steep. I could move faster and keep up momentum, and the view invigorated me tremendously, along with the fact that the day 2 red-zone brutality was behind us.

Fire trails? Meh. The views? Oh my.

During one rest, Jon went on ahead, and after a few minutes I started after him. I knew he would wait for me in the not-too-distant future, and so I soldiered on. 15 minutes, no Jon. 30, 45 minutes — no Jon. I reached a major junction in the trail and could not believe that Jon had not waited. So I stopped. My head spun quite a bit — had Jon hurt himself? Missed a turn? He had the GPS map on his phone but I also could see where we were on All Trails. After eating my lunch and another nervous 15 minutes, Jon appeared on the trail. We were beyond ourselves with relief. The last hour+ had been nerve wracking, and we knew that only one hiker might be heading our way so there was no one else around to check with.

Boxing Day, on the way to the Mt. Bogong Summit

I had passed Jon earlier on and not known it, because Jon had gone off trail for a bit. So I’d been ahead of him, but trying madly to catch up the whole time, while Jon was waiting for me, thinking I couldn’t have passed him…

Broken Rule 5: It’s not over until the fat mountain beats you into submission again

The final challenging section on Day 3

After reuniting, we started up a gradual climb (the second yellow section on the altitude map) that kept going, and going, and going. It was a wide fire trail in most parts, and as a result was not interesting, other than the amazing views of the valley around. We were sick of the peanut butter sandwiches and just wanted this section to end, but with each switchback it revealed more road ahead. Our legs had done close to 50 kms of steep climbing and descending. My legs were getting less useful with each step. We slogged on for what felt like forever but was probably just an hour and a half, eventually hitting the downhill section and rolling back into Ropers Hut campground.

Ropers Hut: No sleeping is allowed inside but it’s nice to have in case of emergency

Screw the rules

Day 4: Ropers Hut back to Falls Creek

The last three days = not fun. Even with the incredible views of the mountains, valleys and the gorgeous countryside, my lungs and legs sucked the enjoyment out of every step like an American teenager with a corn-syrup-infused synthetic milkshake. The sleepless nights re-fashioned my pants into cranky ones.

Yet, every minute where I asked myself “Why did I do this” was canceled by the final day and exit. We rolled out of the campground early in the morning, were embraced by clearer skies and a day of 80% gentle downhill, and rolled into the parking lot where we’d left my car before 11 AM. I asked myself, “When can I do this again!?” Yes, all the studies about forgetting pain are all true.

We might have exaggerated our speed. But who can prove us wrong?

We smelled horrible. We were starving for any non-camping food. Our overnight in a motel complete with bar soap, and the non-dehydrated dinner were luxurious.

I owe a huge thanks to Mr. Suzuki of Y’s podiatry whose rapid diagnosis and quick fixes put me back on my feet and on the trail so I could enjoy the gorgeous misery.

I’d highly recommend this trip to anyone out of shape who would like to suffer greatly. Go unprepared in Winter, and you just might not come back (we did it in Australia summer, in December).

Next year, Mount Bartle Frere, perhaps?

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