Written by Kevin Tory
6 November 2013
The first person to Skike up Mt Donna Buang has been described by a few as crazy. Everyone else describes him as completely insane. To preserve his anonymity in this message we will just call him Jon Spring. A little over a year ago Jon (master skier, 35+) took up XC-ski racing. Still very much a beginner he bought a pair of Skikes at season’s end (after declaring several times that “you will never ever get me on a pair of those”) and pointed them up Mt. Donna Buang.
For those who don’t know, this mountain is one of the tougher mountains regularly climbed by a growing number of mountain climbing cyclists. It is listed on http://theclimbingcyclist.com/ as a 1069 m climb over a distance of 16.8 km. It’s hard work on a bike, and it’s even harder work on Skikes. It is especially hard work on Skikes when you have beginner technique.
Against all the odds Jon made it to the summit in 2 hours 16 minutes cheered on by numerous cyclists amazed by his persistence and the obvious effort required. His photo even appeared in a popular cycling blog beamed around the country. A colleague of mine, a keen cyclist, spotted the photo and asked if it was me. With a tinge of jealousy I had to say no. Once upon a time I was the only Skiker “in the village”. I knew then that I had to conquer that mountain.
It was months later before I had the opportunity. By then Jon had been climbing Donna regularly with a born-again skier, who had recently returned to the fold after seeing the light following a chance meeting with the Skike evangelists. (To protect their privacy we will just call them Ken Orr and Len Budge respectively.) Also by then the mountain alone was not a big enough challenge. Rumour has it that Ken and Jon had been adding a warm-up of 10 or perhaps even 20 km on the Warburton rail trail before they tackled the mountain. That’s 10 or 20 km of gravel, none of that smooth, fast bitumen the elite train on.
I met Jon at his place in darkness one early Sunday morning, where I was greeted by a big smile and an overly enthusiastic handshake for that time of morning. It was a 70 minute drive to Warburton where we were to meet Ken. During that drive I was to learn just how insane my companion was. Our discussion turned to skiing and near-death experiences. In the interests of brevity, I’ll just say that Jon has had more than nine lives, many more, and that he is alive today only due to an incredible will to live, dumb luck and extraordinary fitness. I also learned that Jon’s technique had improved such that his fastest ascent time was a touch under two hours, despite only once weekly training.
Fortunately for me both Ken and Jon were feeling tired after exhausting weeks at work, and I was on the contrary feeling quite fresh after a light week. (Ken, a grand master skier, 55+, spends his working week doing good, old-fashioned, honest labouring. That week had been particularly heavy, including moving by hand 30 cubic m of wood chips on the Friday.)
We began skiking at the start of the Mt Donna Buang road and soon settled in to an easy but steady pace, chatting as we went. The angst, tensions and stresses of the previous working week unravelled with each stride, and with the awareness of the beautiful rainforest surrounding us growing, the topic soon turned to the joys of skiking. Before I knew it we’d reached Cement Creek
about 7 km gone, with some of the nastiest hills conquered. Here we took a left turn. A few more km up the road we passed a couple of great lookouts over the Yarra Valley. This section was relatively easy. Great for just settling in to a good rhythm until we reached the Spring at 10-mile turntable with 3 km to go. Here a stop for a drink is a good idea. The water is as pure as it gets. You might need to wait your turn as people from all over Melbourne fill up trailer loads of water
containers. Regardless, the pause is well worth it as the kicker is not far away.
Painted on the roads as you ascend are km-to-go markers. Soon after the 2 km-to-go marker the kicker begins. It gradually steepens and the pace slows. The 1 km-to-go marker takes forever to appear. Then in an act of cruelty, someone has painted a 500 m to go marker, when surely the finish was just around the corner, this is followed by more markers at 100 m intervals that serve as silent well-wishers urging you on. This finish is the base of the observation tower, where bemused tourists stare with a mixture of concern (is that gasping heaving snotty mess about to kark it) and perhaps respect. Some congratulate you. Others try and engage in conversation, while you gasp for breath. All have a tale to tell about these loonies who skied up the mountain.
Feeling inspired? Come and join us on one of our climbs*. You can choose the full distance or perhaps start at Cement creek, and do just the last 10 km. Another alternative for those wanting to ease into it, is to start at Cement creek and finish at the Spring. This takes in the less steep parts of the climb, but is still a worthwhile challenging 7 km.
After the climb we usually meet for an early lunch in one of the wonderful riverside cafes in Warburton. Inside by the fire if it’s cold and wet, whilst outside on the balcony if it’s warm and sunny. It’s a great way to unwind and debrief. If you are lucky you may even get to hear about one of Jon’s incredible adventures. See pictures from our latest “skike up Donna” here on the Gallery page and scroll down to find this and other event photo sets.
A few important facts:
- Jon’s Donna PB is now 1 hour 49
- The Donna Skike record is 1 hour 39
- Can 90 minutes be broken using skating technique?
- *Bike helmets must be worn, and we encourage wearing of high visibility clothing and gloves.
- *Like cycling, roller skiing and skiking on public roads is potentially unsafe. Any attempt to rollerski or skike on the Mt Donna Buang road or any other public road will be done entirely at that person’s own risk. Kevin Tory and Skike Australia will not organise, nor take any responsibility, nor accept any liability for any attempt to rollerski or skike on any public road.