My Ten Most Difficult Australian Climbs - 6th Hardest: Falls Creek (via Mount Beauty)

Departure: Mount Beauty
Length:  30.4km
Altitude: 1580m
Height Gain: 1260m
Average Gradient: 4.2%
Maximum gradient: 10%
Category: Category 1

Not my favourite Alpine ride, but formidable just the same, Falls Creek is another of the many climbs close to the Victorian township of Bright. About a four hour drive from Melbourne, it’s a 33 kilometre ride from Mount Beauty, or if you’re really keen and with time to spare, a much longer return trip via Tawonga Gap. The heat is always a factor throughout the summer months, but in cooler conditions, you might just realise that you’re witnessing some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Australian Alps.

Unlike Mount Buffalo, which stays true to its 5% gradient for most of its 25 kilometres, the climb up to Falls Creek Ski Resort is far more undulating. After the four kilometre climb out of Mount Beauty, the C531 road becomes a scenic railway of ups and downs, virtually all the way until it reaches the bridge over the East Kiewa River, just 14 kilometres from the summit.
Approximately two kilometres before the bridge is Bogong Alpine Village, which marks the half-way point of the climb. With magnificent views of Lake Guy and surrounded by National Park, you could well argue that there’s more reason to stay overnight in one of the village’s holiday cottages than continuing on up the mountain. Especially, as from here, it’s all about altitude gain.
Clearly the most difficult section of the climb, the gradient hovers between 4 and 6%, seemingly easy but the combination of heat and the distance already travelled, contrive to make the journey much harder.
Like longing for minutes to tick by before a long weekend, the road’s familiar landmarks are slowly passed, one by one; first the distant view of Mount McKay, then just six kilometres from the summit, the sweeping left-hand hairpin and the immediate rise in gradient that goes with it.             
With the increasing gradient, the eucalypts begin to disappear, only to be replaced by stunted snow gums and torturous glimpses of Falls Creek two kilometres further up the road. Winding its way painstakingly along the ridge, the climb finally finishes, for most cyclists, at the Gateway Café, or if you’re determined to make it to the very top, the real summit just 400 metres up ahead.   
The C531 from Mount Beauty to Falls Creek is regarded as one of the longest and most scenic roads in the Victorian Alps. Its downhill sections early on in the ride, remind me of a well-known ‘double’; in the French Northern Alps, the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fer (the Cross of Iron). If you’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden both mountains, I’d be interested to hear how you think they compare.
Col du Glandon
Departure: Rochetaillée
Length: 29.2km
Altitude: 1924m
Height Gain: 1213m
Average Gradient: 4.2%

Maximum Gradient: 9.0%
Category: Category 1
……Forty kilometres southwest of Grenoble, back along the D1091, is the D526, which leads you up and down a long and lonely road to the Col de la Croix de Fer (2,068 metres), and its shorter twin, the Col du Glandon (1,924 metres). While the Col de la Croix de Fer (or Cross of Iron), averages out at a manageable 5.1%, a long seemingly flat section near its beginning and two significant descents further on meant that I seriously underestimated the difficulty of the climb. I felt I was travelling more akin to 8% for much of the way, and as high as 12% along some stretches. But it was well worth the effort since I’d given myself a day off from riding.
The Iron Cross on the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer
The 30 kilometre-plus climb, initially through heavy forest, followed by rugged mountain terrain, eventually revealed some of the most beautiful scenery I had yet seen through the Alps. Two-thirds of the way up I passed the dam that harnesses the waters of the magnificent Lac de Grand Maison, which in turn feeds the hydroelectric station down in the valley below. It’s here that the road straightened and the gradient felt less severe, all the way to the intersection with the Col du Glandon. After taking the shortest of detours to check out the Glandon’s summit, it was just a matter of another 2 kilometres of wide expansive views all the way to the very top of the col.
While waiting for Roz to arrive—she was walking up from the intersection—I took a few photos of the giant cross that gives the valley its name. Later we enjoyed a cool drink and the startling stillness of the Alps. There were a number of possibilities of further riding for the afternoon. Travelling down the D927 to La Chambre, I could have gone back up to the Col du Glandon, or headed northwest up the punishing Col de la Madeleine. Both mountain routes make intermittent appearances in the Tour de France, particularly the latter. But I’d had my day’s fill, and so had Roz, who had earlier also walked up the last few kilometres of Alpe d’Huez……
Extract from Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way

Like Falls Creek, the final few kilometres up the Col du Glandon are steeper again. At the top, there's no café to greet you, no ski chalets, just a desolate wilderness. From here the road turns right. Two kilometres later you're rolling over the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer.

Books by Mark Krieger:

‘High Spain Drifter’ is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Booktopia  and other online bookstores. 

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books

Both books are also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante

“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.”

                                   Elizabeth Howard West

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