“Tall snowgums reach high up above, their bare branches clutching at the clear blue sky. Delicate green ferns form a corridor on either side of the trail, brushing your legs as you ride past. Ears are met with the sound of crystal-clear water as it trickles down a natural mini-waterfall. Soft loamy soil scatters lightly as tyres compress through a heavily banked corner. As you pick up speed, the rush of cool mountain air rushes over your face, leaving your entire body in a sensory overload.
Welcome to the Australian Alpine Epic Trail at Mount Buller.”
Just over a year ago, Mount Buller launched the jewel in their trail network crown, otherwise known as “The Epic”. As the final piece of the puzzle for Stage 1 of Mount Buller’s Master Plan, the Epic trail is without doubt the most spectacular trail on the mountain, and arguably, one of the best pieces of singletrack in the country.
The Epic isn’t just an amazing piece of trail though. It represents the culmination of a decade worth of planning and development from the Mount Buller & Mount Stirling alpine resort, which is helping to turn the area into a summer friendly destination. It’s no secret that ski resorts around the country (and the world) are witnessing diminishing snowfalls. With less reliable shoulder seasons, places like Thredbo, Falls Creek and Mount Buller are increasingly turning towards mountain biking to attract users to their resorts in the warmer months.
Mount Buller has been a leader in this regard; having undertaken significant investment into mountain biking that has seen it become a true mountain biker’s destination over the past few years. Along with a growing calendar of events including the brilliant Bike Buller Festival, the Epic trail has only strengthened the regions reputation for quality riding.
Epic by name, Epic by nature
Starting in the Mount Buller Alpine Village, the Epic Trail is a 40km long point-to-point ride that takes you all the way down to Mirimbah via the Delatite River. Bike Buller classify it as an Intermediate (Blue) trail with Advanced (Black) features. Although there’s over 1000m of vertical drop, there’s a healthy dose of climbing in between that means it’ll take 4-7 hours for most riders to complete.
The trailhead begins at in the Mount Buller Alpine Village, and works its way across some of the existing trails leading up to Mt Stirling. You’re welcomed onto the Epic with the cruiser that is Gang Gangs, which gets faster and swoopier as you descend down away from the village. This is followed by favourites including Cornhill and Woolybutt, which bring you down to the Howqua Gap Hut, which sits in the saddle between Mount Buller and Mount Stirling.
Since the launch, I’ve had the chance to ride the Epic trail several times and witness its gradual settling in to the landscape. During the official opening weekend, I also had the opportunity to sit down with the main man behind World Trail, Glen Jacobs, to talk all about the Epic trail and its significance to the Mount Buller region.
“It’s the final piece of Stage 1 of the Master Plan”, explained Jacobs when I asked him where the Epic trail sits amongst the current network. “It’s taken seven years to deliver the many trails up here. But this is the jewel in the crown. Halfway was the necklace, which was Stonefly, and you know it’s still great you know, but this is the big one. It’s a different product, it’s a wilderness trail, so it’s not all hand cut singletrack the whole way at all, we’re using some existing benching and some old trail, we’re using half of Stonefly, the climb, and all of these link roads and tracks. And then we get to the top.”
For those who have ridden Stonefly before, you’ll be familiar with the challenging singletrack climb that takes you up to Bluff Spur Memorial Hut. Instead of following the Stonefly descent however, the Epic trail takes you the other direction down Bluff Spur Trail. This side of Mount Stirling is a popular area for cross-country skiing during winter. While not purpose-built singletrack, it turns out these double-track ski runs make for stupidly fun, foot-out descending on mountain bikes too.
The Bluff Spur Trail takes you down to the Telephone Box Junction, where the Mt Stirling café has been setup to serve mountain bikers, horse riders, bushwalkers and cross country skiers. Situated about a 1/3rd of the way along the Epic trail, the new café will be open every weekend all year round.
Once you’re fuelled up, it’s back onto the fireroad and then up the Razorback trail climb. Another cross-country ski route, this trail climbs up and along a ridgeline that offers incredible views back over towards Mt Buller village. With the Delatite river separating you and your starting point, this is a welcome view that fills riders with a great sense of achievement from being able to see just how far they’ve come. The final climb of the Epic trail takes you up a steep and rough 4WD track that’ll put your legs and low-range gearing to the test. It’s a lung-busting climb, which is only consolidated by the fact that it signals the impending descent.
“Then we get to the top and there’s about a 10km descent” Jacobs carries on. “And it’s just pure…(pauses)…it uses our latest technology that we’ve put in there, and Ryan De La Rue, that was his baby on the machine, and he cut it from top to bottom and he’s done a great job. There is nothing like it anywhere in Australia. Last time we tested it we had to stop three times just to shake our fingers you know, and go “whoa, that’s fun!” You know with braking – there’s little to no braking (required), and there’s little to no pedalling. It’s an enduro, funky trail, you know, it’s a typical World Trail product where we’ve got some booters and jumps, and kickers and shortcuts here and there… if you know where to find them!”
This 10km descent is the number one reason for riding the Epic trail, and it makes all of that climbing worth it. It’s a never-ending piece of swoopy singletrack that continually curves back on itself like a snake curled up on a mountainside. There is an incredible amount of flow that allows you to pump and push the bike through sculpted doubles and around manicured berms until you’re giddy from laughter. As you’d expect, it’s built to an incredibly high standard. But while it’s all 100% machine built, just a few months after it was first carved, it would appear that the trail has been there forever. As Jacobs explains, that’s part of the planning. “Because you know all the bush up here grows so quick, so we were building it really early this year, and when you’re building it you have a little bit of a zone that you’re creating, but now it’s all grown back in to a really cool little trail.”
With such I ask Jacobs how long it took him and his team to build the trail from start to finish. “We started this time last year. We did start the year before, on a couple of little sections. But then it’s such a remote area, we’ve gone ‘OK. We’ll wait until we’ve started this thing and then we’re at the top and we’ll go the whole way down in one go.’ So the boys just completed it in the last couple of days, we completed the trail itself before winter this year, to settle, so the snow compacts the surface, but then the boys went in and done some…like we didn’t have the exit trail open, so other people couldn’t find it, you know, we exited out on an area about 150 metres before, so over winter, no motorbikes or horses or anybody could find it. And then the boys came in (after winter) and put that last 150 metres in and then went up and did some little tune-up areas where, again where the wombats and the lyrebirds had been turning it over. But now, the soil is rock hard, before it was spongy, the freshly turned soil, but now it’s rock hard.”
Indeed the trail was rock hard when we rode it during the opening weekend, despite the mountain being surrounded by thunderstorms in the day’s prior. As more riders have taken to the Epic trail since however, the bush has continued to grow in around the singletrack, making it look like the trail has been there forever. “And then you get to the bottom”, continues Jacobs. “And then you ride along the Delatite, in the opposite direction to the Delatite descent trail, and you’re coming this way, climbing up, and it’s a sick little singletrack, besides waterfalls and swimming holes and everything, and then you get to Mirimbah. Man it’s fun!”
And he is absolutely right. After finishing the wicked descent, the singletrack cruise along the river back to Mirimbah is a beautiful stretch of trail that concludes the Epic in spectacular fashion. It gives you the opportunity to soak up the surrounding environment after having had every last drop of adrenaline squeezed from your pours. It’s still hella fun though, and by the time you cross the finish line, good luck trying to wipe the shit-eating grin off your and your mates faces!
Standing above the rest
It may have taken six years worth of planning and development to build the Epic trail, but it has been well and truly worth the wait. World Trail and Bike Buller have created an unforgettable piece of singletrack that should be on every Aussie and Kiwi mountain biker’s wish list. In combination with the existing trail hit-list (such as Stonefly, Delatite, and Copperhead), the Australian Alpine Epic is yet another reason why put Mount Buller is leading the charge for all alpine resorts around the country.
If we’d told you ten years ago about the network of trails currently on Mount Buller, you would have likely laughed in our faces. But times are changing, and the summertime is rapidly becoming a busy time of year in the alpine village. With World Trail currently working on a Master Plan for Falls Creek, it appears the dominos are beginning to fall. And that’s very good news for mountain bikers everywhere in Australia.