It’s 14C in Hobart on this overcast autumnal morning and Troy reckons it’s a ‘sizzler’ by Tasmanian standards. Troy’s joking. Or at least I think he is. It’s early – well, about 10am – and my mind is still fuzzy, so I can’t say for sure. What is clear is Troy and his fellow tour guide, Joule, are driving us to the top of Mount Wellington, the peak that looms large over the Tasmanian capital. When we reach the top, we’ll cycle all the way back down again.
“It’s going to be pretty cold up there and it can snow at any time,” warns Joule. “For every 100m we rise, we lose around one degree Celsius in heat. And Mount Wellington is 1,270m high.”
Mount Wellington Descent
Maths was never my strong point, but I’ve calculated that it’s going to be hovering just above freezing up there.
That would be fine if I was cloaked in a snowsuit and woolly hat – but I’m not. A flimsy T-shirt, a standard sports jumper and tracksuit bottoms are going to be my only resistance against hypothermia.
I’d been warned to wrap up well for the Mount Wellington Descent – and I thought I had. But now I’m worrying.
Mount Wellington’s summit is 21km from central Hobart. Our minibus has just turned off from the suburb of Fern Tree onto the C616 Pinnacle Road, a winding route that was built by convicts.
It took years to complete, so you’d expect perfection. But bumps, nooks and crannies are everywhere.
“You get the impression the convicts didn’t care too much,” notes Troy. Indeed.
A couple of minutes later, Troy begins to point out the many charred, dead trees on the foothills of the mountain.
They are the remnants of Black Tuesday – February 7, 1967 – the date of some of the worst bushfires in Tasmania’s history.
The flames wreaked havoc across the southern part of the state, killing more than 60 people and wiping out millions of plants and hundreds of properties.
It all looks rather eerie and a far cry from the lower half of the mountain, which is thickly forested.
The vegetation becomes even more sparse as we move closer to the top, with snow gums the dominant feature, although they look painfully withered thanks to the roaring winds that can rage up to 150km/h in this harsh, hostile environment.
The other inescapable sight up here is the dolerite columns that hang off the edges of the summit and dubbed the Organ Pipes.
I’m pleasantly surprised when we park up and get out of the minibus because it’s actually not that cold. Chilly, yes, but certainly bearable.
I’m jolted from my daydreams and told it’s time to saddle up.
I’m handed a helmet, a pair of gloves and a 24-speed mountain bike, while Joule issues the final instructions.
“I’m going to be leading the way,” he says. “I’ll look to set a fairly decent pace, because I know some of you want to go fast, but don’t worry if you can’t keep up; Troy will be following in the minibus, so take your time.”
I scour my fellow riders. There’s a diverse mix, from fit teenage lads to women in their 40s and 50s. Then there’s me. I’ve not ridden a bike for a good couple of years, but I reckon I can still keep up pretty easily.
How wrong I am.