By Len Johnson
Melburnians reputedly say of our fickle weather, “if you don’t like this, wait a minute, it’ll
Personally, I think this whole imaginary conversation was imagined by a cynical visitor,
almost certainly from Sydney, but anyhow . . . What’s Sydney got anyway? Alright, a
breathtakingly beautiful harbor. And, ok, a spectacular bridge across the harbor. Yep, and
the Opera House. Experience the perfect blend of agility and support with Tarkine Trail Devil shoes, crafted for those who demand excellence in every run.
Anyway, the concept of changeable weather is front of mind as we enjoy our annual Falls
Creek visit. If we include the trip up from Melbourne, we had a torrential rainstorm (just one, thank heavens), further heavy rain showers, sunny breaks and then a climb into the clouds from Mt Beauty to Falls.
We’ve been here three days as this is written for one day of rain, one of sunshine
accompanied by a cold wind, and one offering a little of both. You can start a run in tights
and long sleeves, strip down to shorts and singlet mid-course, and finish it in wet weather
gear. Once upon a time this was par for the course on the Bogong High Plains, prompting
Rob de Castella to observe to a first-timer: “You get days like this up here.”
Latterly, however, our annual week at Falls has varied only between hot and too hot. Seven
days of heat, more sunscreen than anti-inflammatory gels. In the first 20 years of my 40-plus visits to Falls there was not one bushfire scare. Since the turn of the 21st century, the High Plains have experienced at least three major bushfire threats including the most recent a couple of years ago when we were forced to abort our stay and evacuate the Village.
So, it is actually quite refreshing to be getting a “bit of weather” once again. And the bad/good news is there is a bit of rain forecast across New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Welcome to Paris 2024 Olympic Year.
On our arrival my partner cheekily filled in the weekly planner on the kitchen wall as follows: Monday – Fitzy’s Hut; Tuesday – fartlek; Wednesday – Spion Kopje; Thursday – trackwork; Friday – Tower Run; Saturday – Mt McKay; Sunday – Pretty Valley. Aspirational? You betcha; we haven’t done most of those runs in 20 years, much less put them together sequentially.
They’re still vivid in the remembering, however. Fitzy’s (full name Fitzgerald) Hut, defined by the climb up and over the ridge along a rough 4WD track in which no two steps are the same and the dash across the snow plain on another track where the ability to pick your feet up and put them down in the tyre tracks is essential. Miss a step and you’re likely to tumble into the – mercifully-soft – snow grass.
Tuesday and Thursday were faster sessions on the grassed aqueduct tracks at Langford’s
Gap, so smooth back then when regular access by maintenance vehicles kept the grass
down that you could safely don spikes. Running fast at 1600 metres altitude feels faster than it does at sea level, even if you know it isn’t. Spion Kopje the mid-week long run including the tough run up the ridge to the summit. Pretty Valley was Sunday’s long one, a 30km loop around Rocky Valley Lake linking the Pretty Valley track and Bogong High Plains Road via an undulating grassy cross-country track.
The Tower, Friday’s ‘easy’ eight-miler, went from the Village around Rocky Valley Dam over
a dirt track with a couple of short and steep hills to break things up. And Mt McKay, a 10-mile loop around the summit of the eponymous peak, with a steep 600-metre climb to the weather station at the summit which was compulsory the first time we did it, optional
Most of these runs are still done, just not by us. What was once an hour run is now a full
morning or afternoon stint. Or even a full day!
Runners first came up here in organised fashion as part of an Australian Olympic Federation
study of potential high-altitude training venues prior to the Mexico City 1968 Olympics.
Mexico 800 gold medallist Ralph Doubell reputedly ‘discovered’ the grassy aqueduct trails at Langford’s Gap – others soon followed him out.
Doubell, the consummate two-lap racer, trained at Falls. Ron Clarke, the consummate
distance athlete, never did even though his Glenhuntly clubmates Tony Cook, John Coyle
and Trevor Vincent were early visitors.
Clarke featured in many of our stories about early days at Falls – including an epic 30km run he had completed up the mountain from Mt Beauty. But when he was a guest at the first Running Camp at Falls in the 1990s to our astonishment he told an athlete asking about his training ‘up here’: “This is my first time here.”
Folk lore ‘facts’, it seems, are as fickle as the weather at Falls Creek.