Trip Report Cycling through KNP last winter

Sebastian Dixon

Hard Yards
Jan 13, 2020
11
39
63
Hi there,

New to the forums, but was told to post about a cycle tour I did over the Snowies last winter. I'll just post the section from Canberra to Tumbarumba to keep it at least vaguely alpine.

It was written for my fam and friends so I might be a bit basic Snowies knowledge to some of you but I hope you enjoy nonetheless.


If you Google “cycle Monaro Highway”, you’ll mainly get results about cyclists dying. If you Google “Monaro Highway” on its own chances are there’s been a fatal accident in the past few days. For this reason, I wasn’t champing at the bit to get on the road to the Snowies, but there are no other realistic routes by bike, so I made haste and left Canberra early, trying to get ahead of the city traffic to the mountains.

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Outside the Michelago General Store, between Canberra and Bredbo

I needn’t have worried as I was in good nick. The initial hill out of Canberra was covered in no time and I made it to my intended destination of Bredbo by three o’clock. Unimpressed by the general lack of anything and feeling quite fresh, I made the decision to risk the Monaro at dusk, and pushed on to Cooma.

A cheap and cheerful boarding house was where I made my nest, weary but satisfied at covering 100km and climbing 1000m in gross elevation — easily the most prolific day so far.

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Austrian pancake from Heidi’s

A little ahead of schedule, I enjoyed a rest day. I went bush trucking up a dirt road to the town golf course, only to find it was volunteer run, and I was the only person in town who wanted a swing on a (literally) freezing morning. So I climbed another hill to Heidi’s Tea House — a little log cabin with a limited but high quality menu of Austrian stodge. Goulash with spatzle and Austrian pancakes if you were wondering.

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The Snowy Mountains Highway en route to Adaminaby

The next day took me off the main drag onto the quieter Snowy Mountains Highway. It was an absolute joy. Mildly challenging but with increasingly spectacular views, it was a good ride. The snow-capped peak of what I assume was Mount Selwyn (effectively the highest point of my trip) loomed larger with every hour on the road.

I rolled into the village of Adaminaby in the early afternoon, little more than your standard jumble of middle Australian shops and the exorbitantly-priced accommodation that comes part-and-parcel with the Snowies experience.

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I think that’s Mt Selwyn in white at the back but happy to be corrected

Outside the Adaminaby general store I met a man who has walked three of Australia’s five deserts with a rickshaw. If it was a dick-measuring contest — not that it was, but if it was — he would have beaten me… quite easily. He was nice enough, but quite concerned about the aerodynamics of my touring setup and made sure I knew how about it.

The next day was a relatively short stretch, but my legs felt heavy and I wasn’t quite powering up hills as I had expected. It was fairly sharp uphill riding, and I was carrying a few extra kilos of food, given I was going slightly off piste. However, I’ve since realised it was mainly due to it being my first experience of serious exercise at altitude. I can only compare it to hiring a van and having to push that accelerator a little harder than you’re used to — especially up hills.

An angry Snickers break got me over the hump and in the early afternoon I made it to my lodgings for the night: Delaney’s Hut (RIP). One of many dozens throughout the Snowy Mountains, huts like Delaney’s are maintained primarily for heritage reasons. However, for cross-country skiers, hikers, and folks like me à velo, they can be used as a survival shelter. There’s usually a fireplace and the very barest of essentials to make the night a little easier.

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Delaney’s Hut at dusk

There was remarkably little snow despite being 1300 metres above sea level, a sign of the drought that had so far spared nothing along my route. Stubborn patches of white dappled the shady pockets of an otherwise typical Australian gum forest.

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Delaney’s Hut interior, featuring inadequate fireplace

With the benefit of a vast and inefficient fireplace and a rusty saw, I managed to coax a large enough fire to roast some vegetables. I was supposed to have some sausages with the vegetables but what I can only presume was a bird had thieved them while I was fetching water from a nearby stream. I shivered through the night with the hut’s hardwood floors sucking any heat from my clearly inadequate sleeping bag, a concerning sign given I was about to venture a little higher and a little colder over the coming days.

The next morning was incredibly cold, with a heavy frost that could easily be mistaken for light snow. I took my sweet time unfurling from the foetal position knowing I had what I thought was going to be a short day ahead.

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Delaney’s on departure

Though short in kilometres, it would be steep in gradients as I pushed further into the mountains proper. Rolling through the ghost town of Kiandra was an eerie experience as the highway was deserted and I found myself alone among the weathered, shuttered buildings. So peculiar was the abandoned Gold Rush era hub that I postponed my Snickers break and rode on to the Kosciuszko National Park entrance. The very nice lady in the booth cheerily informed me I needn’t pay a cent as I was bicycling, so I road onward and upward towards my campground. The white stuff was becoming less patchy and slowly, eventually I found myself in what was finally and undeniably “the snow”.

Seeing Three Mile Dam campground for the first time, my heart crooned. Being a relatively exposed alpine campground, it had been cause for mild concern as I would have to cycle to the nearest hut (however far that may be) if the wind became unmanageable. I’d stared at it on a map and sought out every photo and detail of it I could. Until this point I had remained unsure whether it was all (as a penitent Australian cricket captain would say) a terrible lapse of judgment.

Rounding a bend I saw the campground jutting out into a brilliant blue lake, reflecting the snow-flecked hills surrounding me. Clusters of trees provided enough protection from the wind, with my quite sturdy mountaineering tent absorbing the rest of it. The ground wasn’t blanketed in snow, but it made up more than half the terrain. However, just as it had been at Delany’s Hut, it was weeks old and had formed into solid blocks of ice. For water I would have to visit a stream; I wasn’t too confident in either the white stuff or the water in the lake, which was popular with Brumbies.

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Three Mile Dam turning it on

My most immediate concern was setting up camp. But halfway through I remembered my purloined sausages and realised I’d have to get some supplies that evening from the nearest town. At the campground exit I ran into a man riding his bike, and we naturally had a chat about the lay of the land. He told me the easiest way to Cabramurra was to keep following the highway, as the shortcut was closed in winter.

Unfortunately, in this area there are no ‘easy ways’ and the 16km trip consisted of descending down a mountain to a creek, climbing halfway up the mountain again, diving back to the creek again, then going all the way up the other side of the valley to the highest town in Australia and home of the Snowy Hydro scheme. I bought some supplies and enjoyed a truly delicious coffee at the Cabramurra General Store while resting my weary legs.

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Back to camp at Three Mile Dam

It was there that I decided to make the return journey to my campsite via the shortcut. I figured I could lift my bike over whatever gate was across the road and enjoy the snowy road to myself. In any case, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than those last 16 kilometres. It didn’t really occur to me that a snowy road meant the bike would sink, and when I got off to push, I would sink as well. So that idyllic alpine meander became six kilometres of pushing/dragging my bike through ice and snow. Emerging at the back of the Selwyn Snowfields car park, I’m not sure what the final staff to leave thought as I whizzed past in the rosy remnants of the sun. But I made it back to camp, happy that I now knew both awful routes to and from Cabramurra. I’m still not sure which is worse. That evening I made a Frankenstein’s dinner, the content of which I’m not prepared to reveal publicly.

I thought I could layer up enough to curb the chill overnight, but despite two layers of thermals, track pants, two merino tops, and two beanies, an inner sleeping bag as well as my primary bag that supposedly goes down to -9, it was a cold and interrupted night’s sleep. This was a price I was happy to pay as I say without hesitation that it was the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever visited and daylight is a distant second.

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Colour photo of Three Mile Dam on a foggy morning

I remained at Three Mile Dam the next two nights, visiting the slopes at Selwyn for the most disgracefully priced hot food in Australia and making a day trip to Cabramurra for supplies at a comparably outrageous premium. Being the home of Snowy Hydro, folks at Cabramurra have extremely accurate weather forecasting. With blizzard conditions on their way, every person in town was advising/insisting I get off the mountain within 36 hours at the very latest, though only after inquiring whether I was “the one riding the bike”. No such thing as bad publicity I suppose.

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Nordic shelter in the hills above Cabramurra

The man at the general store told me of a Nordic hut in the hills above Cabramurra so I determined to move my stuff and myself to a more solid dwelling the next day before leaving the mountains behind me the following morning. It was a well stocked shelter, with a very efficient pot belly stove and enough firewood to get a roaring blaze started. The rusty old saw afforded me the opportunity to work on my upper body, the novelty of which quickly wore off but allowed me to finally defrost two steaks that had stubbornly remained frozen in the three days since I’d bought them.

The next day’s ride included perhaps the worst two hours of riding in my life. The morning began with a delicious final coffee at Cabramurra before a black ice-featuring, ball-tightening, 900-metre descent. The next 20 kilometres followed a crystal clear Tumut River along the valley floor before climbing back up to 1300 metres. That 8-kilometre climb took me two hours. TWO. HOURS. That’s as many as 120 minutes and that’s terrible.

It’s hard to describe how demoralising it is to be broken so often in such a short space of time. I must have stopped to catch my breath or rest my legs at least 50 times — sometimes cycling for just 10 seconds to get over a short stretch of 20% gradient. There was no magic Snickers break, no flat patch to let your legs recover, no café to stop at — there wasn’t even an interesting story to tell about the ride. It was just a pure, ego-shrinking grind. Thankfully it was mostly flat or downhill after that two hours of hell, so I pushed past my emergency campground at Paddys River Flats in the afternoon in spite of the lamentations from my legs.

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The circle represents where my soul left my body. It’s still somewhere above the Tumut River.

Even though I was in peak physical condition and having effectively done altitude training for the best part of a week, I reached my accommodation in Tumbarumba feeling ill. Unable to muster the energy for anything besides a shower, I must have retired to bed at a very old-man hour. Tumbarumba is a quaint town doing its best impression of the Southern Highlands. There was a nice bougie café and a beautifully manicured park with walking trails. I passed a well-earned and much-needed rest day doing laundry and eating food as the first really inclement weather of the trip rolled in...


Thus concludes the Snowy section of my ride – I ended up going to Albury and eventually Melbourne.

Apologies if I've misplaced this thread! Happy to post it elsewhere if I done goofed.
 

skichic

Old n' Crusty
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May 26, 2003
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Great tale, bit nuts doing that in winter :eek: I’m pretty sure your “I think that’s Mt Selwyn” shot is somewhere over towards the main range area. Others will know better, I don’t really know the peaks apart from Kosi. Have looked at that view from a bike, many times :thumbs:
 

Myazma

One of Us
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May 10, 2009
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Cheers for the share. Would love to see Le Tape do either the Elliot way or SMH from Tumut.
 
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davidg

Part of the Furniture
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Feb 4, 2009
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Brilliant! Much respect for your perseverance. We've all spent a largely sleepless night due to an inadequate sleeping bag I'm sure. I'd be interested in the rest of the ride, if you have a trip report prepared then post it up.
 

davidg

Part of the Furniture
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Feb 4, 2009
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^ this. Invest in a down mat if you haven't already. They pack up nice and small too so perfect for bike packing.

Whats your setup @Sebastian Dixon ? Any pics of the bike/gear?
 
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Sebastian Dixon

Hard Yards
Jan 13, 2020
11
39
63
Brilliant! Much respect for your perseverance. We've all spent a largely sleepless night due to an inadequate sleeping bag I'm sure. I'd be interested in the rest of the ride, if you have a trip report prepared then post it up.

I've done the rest of it here, not a great deal more but I suppose puts the above in context
 

Sebastian Dixon

Hard Yards
Jan 13, 2020
11
39
63
^ this. Invest in a down mat if you haven't already. They pack up nice and small too so perfect for bike packing.

Whats your setup @Sebastian Dixon ? Any pics of the bike/gear?

Yeah, I went pretty much top-of-the-line for my sleeping mat so it's the sleeping bag that's the issue - says it goes down to -9 but I wouldn't trust it much more below freezing after this trip.

Below is thebike. For those bike nerds among us interested in the specs, it's a steel frame Surly Ogre with a Rohloff internal gear hub on the rear and a Schmidt Son-28 dynamo with usb charger on the front. Hydraulic disc brakes and smatterings of titanium which look pretty nice but do absolutely nothing to keep the weight down.

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Sebastian Dixon

Hard Yards
Jan 13, 2020
11
39
63
Great tale, bit nuts doing that in winter :eek: I’m pretty sure your “I think that’s Mt Selwyn” shot is somewhere over towards the main range area. Others will know better, I don’t really know the peaks apart from Kosi. Have looked at that view from a bike, many times :thumbs:

Yeah, I think you might be right re: Mt Selwyn. It was an approximate guess based on being vaguely WNW from it, as well as the fact that last year Mt Selwyn was distinctly white among some pretty non-white peaks.
 
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