For countless aeons it had stood there, huge, impassive, impregnable, scoffing at the puny attempts of humans to challenge its reign over Warburton and the surrounding ranges. Snow capped in winter and beset by fearsome gales all year round this was truly a mountain to inspire awe in all who gazed upon her. Since humans had first ventured into this forsaken part of the planet they had given it many names – Behemoth, Devil Mountain, Place of the Dead, etc.
The latest name it was called by those puny dwellers who lived scattered around its shadow was DONNA BUANG, a permutation of the expression first uttered by the Italian alpinist who first tried unsucessfully to scale it in 1919. (I think he was trying to say “I don’ta belong” but his English was very poor). Unfortunately he nearly lost his life about halfway to the summit when one of his lungs exploded, and he tragically had to spend the remainder of his life in a nursing home for the terminally insane.
Since that early tragedy, the pride of a young nation’s climbers had tried and failed to conquer the demon mountain. It appeared that this would remain one of nature’s trully unasailable champions. At least it did until a fateful day in 2002 when four cycling legends (two of them elite athletes and the other two intellectual giants) decided that they would pit their combined strengths and wits against it.
They planned and waited patiently for favorable weather and when the winter blizzards finally abated they decided that they would stage their assault on Sat 14th September 2002 – a day that would later go down in the annals of mountaineering history. Assembling at the Launching Place Hotel they cast nervous glances at the sky and at the huge profile of the giant that dominated the horizon. They had barely time to make a final check of their equipment before wishing each other luck and pushing off into the unknown.
The weather was fine and warm although the wind was threatening to break loose, so they quickened the pace to a blistering 7 kph as they began the steep climb up Don Rd. It soon became evident why so many others had attempted this challenge and abandoned – the slope never abated for a moment. It was a relentless up, up, up for km after km. The sort of climb that would have ordinary men turning back after a few hundred metres. Fortunately these were no ordinary men, they were forged in the kiln of the legendary WARBY GHOST RIDERS. All of them were well known the length of the Trail for their riding prowess (and their silliness).
With hearts pounding and chains stretching, they climbed. With spokes flexing and muscles bulging they climbed. With cogs straining and mouths gaping, they climbed. On and on, up and up. The road grew even steeper. It seemed that gravity itself was challenging them to turn back, but still they rode on. The air grew thin and cold, but still they rode. Eventually the lights of Launching Place were about 1 km behind them and they felt that the summit could not be far away, but alas, alack, they still had over 25km to go!!!!
By summoning all the courage and strength of their days of training they eventually managed to reach the turnoff to the Gap. At this point they encountered another huge obstacle – a locked gate with a dire warning of the extreme peril of proceeding any further up.
They briefly pondered whether to proceed or not – after all, once they passed this point there would be no chance for rescue. Mal and Bob were starting to feel the effects of the altitude and physical exertion, but Dennis and Ross exhorted them to continue. So the decision was made to ride on into history.
From this point on they knew that their lives (and their afternoon cappucinos) were on the line. The weaker riders (Bob and Mal) were sent on ahead while the real work was done by Dennis and Ross. After all, they were carrying the provisions and had the added responsibility of taking the pictures and monitoring their heartrates.
It was obvious that the further they progressed, the worse the track become. It was strewn with branches, rocks, bark and other detritus cast in their way. They expected to see the skeletons of previous expeditioners that had passed this way, but the bones had obviously been devoured by the wild and fearsome animals they could hear stalking them in the forest.
After what seemed like weeks, but was in fact about 2 hours or so, they emerged from the forest and were able to look down to the surrounding countryside. They had obviously climbed thousands of feet but the summit still eluded and taunted them. It was time to take stock, repair the bikes and examine their injuries. Bob was horrified to find that he had a ladder in his lycra leggings – could anything else go wrong ?
By this time the high altitude was bringing its own littany of problems, lack of oxygen, extreme low temperatures and, worst of all, caffeine deprivation. If they did not reach the top soon the coffee shop at Warburton would be closed for the afternoon.
Dennis and Ross knew they would have to help the two weaker riders, it would be disastrous if they abondoned at this stage. At one particularly demanding section, Dennis had to actually hold on to Bob to keep him moving up the hill. That’s the sort of true heroism that is recounted through the generations.
With each intake of ice cold air, their lungs felt like bursting. With each thrust of the pedal, their calves screamed for mercy. Inch by inch the summit loomed closer. Finally the sign was reached proclaiming it to be only 1 km away. After another fateful discussion, Mal finally decided that his loins had failed – he could go no further. So with heavy hearts the other three bid him farewell and godspeed as he headed back down the hill to the fleshpots of Warburton.
By some sort of superhuman effort Dennis, Bob and Ross turned their bikes uphill for the last section to the summit. The weather was closing in, hyperthermia was threatening as they passed enough snow to fill a large shoebox. Another couple of turns and at last the summit was there before them. They could climb no higher! (Well actually they did climb to the top of the lookout tower, to take one final picture.)
After but a few moments to enjoy the view they knew that they now had to descend the mountain quickly. Without a successful descent the world would never know what they had achieved. Although Ross’ supply of salad rolls was exhausted and his strength was beginning to fail, it was a downhill ride all the way back. So they climbed aboard, pointed their front wheels back to civilization and headed down.
Faster and faster they hurtled down the mountain, ears popping, clothes flapping, fingers and knee caps freezing. Down, down, down. Fingers frozen to the brake levers to try to restrict the breakneck speed, their thoughts turned to their loyal wives and families. Would they ever see them again?
After setting a new speed record on his $200 bike Dennis could tell by the occasional puffs of warmer air that they could not have much further to go, and soon his incredible navigational skill was again demonstrated when they finally emerged into the main street of Warburton. They had finally defeated the mountain. They felt like shouting to all the idle walkers they passed “We just climbed that *&@#% mountain – on our BIKES!”
Finally reaching the coffee shop at about 4.15 pm they were met by a closed door – surely they would not perish this close to rescue? Fortunately their first fears were unfounded and a couple of cakes and cappucinos later they could begin to relive their amazing achievement. From this point of view it began to seem like it had not been so hard after all. Maybe even they would even try it again some time – BUT NOT THIS YEAR!
Mt Donna Buang would never be quite the same again.