Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The other water sport

Pic: Doric Swain

Does cross-country skiing count as a watersport? On the last trip, I’d say so, I was almost as wet as I’d ever been in a kayak.

Kozzie from Tor Camp (Ramshead)

I’ve long found a correspondence between xc skiing and sea kayaking. They are both about wilderness, body skills and self-reliance: in both, the environment is a plastic traversable space outside the norms of terrestrial life, with a rhythmical beat interweaving on human and landscape scales.

A snow expanse has the same long and short cycles that the ocean does: speeding down a hill is very like catching a wave, crossing an expanse is like a long offshore run. Both reward commitment to the turn. The glorious and intoxicating rhythm of telemarking maps sweetly to carving down a long swell, and skating across a snowbound plain recalls the sensuous twist of a long run with a Greenland stick across a gentle ocean.
Alex heading to the Chimneys. Pic: Doric Swain.

I used to think of myself as a  mountain person, not the sea, and found my most transcendent moments at the top of a hard-won isolated snowbound prominence. The language of my dreams was the language of cornice, spindrift, sundog, blizzard and boilerplate. Since then I have learned another tongue: swell, tide and waves. In dreams the paddle springs now to my hand. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering if sea kayaking is my all-year substitute for xc skiing.

pic: Doric Swain

In mid August the three doughty buccaneers - myself, Doric Swain,  Alex Taylor (and the Captain of course) – set out yet again on our annual cross-country epic. We had six days: Doric, in another life a ski instructor at Thredbo, had wanted to go to the east of Deadhorse Gap for years. Although the season had lost a lot of snow, we decided to venture it. 
Leaving Deadhorse. Hi Ho. 
The two routes. Southern leg first.  Not huge distances, but snow sadly not so flash.

A late start saw us leaving Deadhorse at 2pm, into new territory. On the eastern side of the range the landscape is wide bogs with rolling wooded hills, still bearing the scars of the 2003 fires. There was enough snow to navigate  comfortably but from time to time the bogs got a bit… boggy.

Debate about directions. Alex skeptical. Pic: Doric Swain.

We arrived at Teddy’s Hut after dark, a dirt-floored single room with outstanding ventilation. Plenty of gaps between the boards for the snow and wind to howl in.

Teddy's. Very glad to find it. Pic: Doric Swain.
The new wall: still plenty of refreshing gaps. Pic: Doric Swain.

Alex and Doric loll by the fire. Dirt floor. Bloody windy. 

That evening we strung up the fly inside the hut, and passed a very comfortable night. Next day a flog up through the  brush to the top of the Chimneys. I got completely bushed, thankful for the trusty GPS.
Somewhere in the distance is the hut. 

Rainy night, then out late the next afternoon via several small herds of brumbies. Never seen them before – they don’t cross the road often it would appear. They appear out of the mist and are gone.
Doric and Brumbies
Same brumbies. Pic: Doric Swain

Rather than camp in the rain at Island Bend, we spent the night at Thredbo where Doric caught up with a couple of his old skiing mates and we had a few agreeable drinks.
Very odd. Doric and Alex decidedly out of focus. Half a litre of pilsener will do that to a camera. 
Next morning up the chair and off towards south Ramshead, intending two nights out. Bluebird day but the rain from the last week had delivered a crust of ice a half-centimetre thick. Very hard going uphill, lots of stamping to break through, and diabolical downhill as any turn would crack the crust, catch an edge and send you over. We gazed down on the Cootapatamba valley but in the end decided to camp halfway up the tor of North Ramshead. Two other camps nearby, both snowshoers.

Tor Camp, North Ramshead. Pic: Doric Swain.
The buccaneers.

That night had a spectacular sunset with the full moon rising opposite: quite astounding. Bloody cold though, with clear skies.
Sunset over  Victoria
Moonrise over the three camps.
Full moon. Pic: Doric Swain.

Next day, overcast, essayed an excursion to the south but only made a few km as the snow was very hard to traverse and no fun to go down.
South Ramshead. Note crap snow. 
Me demonstrating the distinctive Australian powder. Note ice layer. Pic: Doric Swain.

Back at camp at 2pm, bit of desultory harrumphing and we chose to pack up and leave. Dumped the packs on the chair and had a run down the liftline at Thredbo, almost the only tele turns in the whole week.

As if emerging from a glacier. Pic Doric Swain.

Overall, a patchy sort of week. Great seeing some new country, and we didn’t have to grind up Munyang.  The main range was frustrating : the snow looked so widespread but it was all ice, and very hard to travel on. Still, ait provided that step outside the normal that the backcountry does so well.   

Doric's account of the trip is at http://forums.ski.com.au/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1418384&page=1#Post1418384

Thanks to my sterling buccaneer comrades for another fine epic.