Sunday, 25 November 2012

Two Back-country Ski trips

Towards Consett Stephens. pic: Doric Swain

This post has taken a couple of months to get happening, just mucking around with the damn video. It’s summer, but what a good winter!

I managed two back country ski trips this year, and just as well, because it was a cracker season with lots of late snow.  Both trips booted off from Munyang, and had a few points in common, but some spectacular differences.

Here’s where we went: the red is the first trip with Tony Murphy and Karen Darby, the blue track is a few weeks later with my ever-reliable pirate chum  Doric.

Trip the First, late August:

Karen and Tony and I set off up Disappointment Spur trail, intending to get to Whites River or Schlink.
Skis from the switching yard, weather looked good, so from just after Disappointment Hut we struck off up a gulley  to the Gungartin ridge, intending to skirt East of the peak and drop down onto Tin.

The switch yard start, 

Lunch at Disappointment Cafe. pic Karen Darby


The wind rose, a howling westerly, temperature dropped and the visibility closed in. I was the only one with a GPS but it wasn’t much use hunting for the broad saddle to hop over the ridge in the near white-out. Karen began to have trouble with her skins, balling under her skis, so progress became painfully slow across the boilerplate and sastrugi. Finally with light fading, visibility only fifty metres or so and a horizontal blizzard, and with the prospect of the big featureless  valleys ahead of us, we decided to halt and set up the tents for the night. The GPS showed only 1500m to the hut, but there is no way we would be finding it in the dark with Karen’s skis slowing her down.

We had a tiny  1-person tent  and a small 2-person. At 1,980m, in the sub-zero dark, digging shelves for the tents and trying to erect them in the gale with fine snow blasting sideways over the crest of our little sheltering bump. Then a meal of dried tempeh and nuts as the borrowed tent banged  and bowed furiously. It was a long night, with drifts snow filling in between the fly and the inner, the tent flattening occasionally in a blast, wondering what would happen if the 2-person tent split. Leaving the three of us with just a single person shelter.

The next morning, still blasting. Note the snow built up inside the fly. 
Tony packing. pic Karen Darby
A dismal packing experience. 

Dawn and no let-up of the wind. My inner was squashed in from the weight of the snow infilled between the two tent layers. Visibility was still poor but a bit better than the evening before, so after cramming all our crap into the packs we set out.

 As the morning progressed the cloud and snow lifted, but the wind kept on.  There was a  quiet moment when we all traversed under a massive cornice with a steep slope, navigating between boulder-sized blocks of snow and ice that had fallen off. Only small, but nevertheless avalanche debris.  Eventually we found the valley down to Tin and with a little thanks to the snow gods we made the hut.
At Tin. PicTony Murphy

This was, of course, only lunchtime,  so we  had a bite and a cuppa, admired the view of Gungartin (the sky had, of course, cleared) and then struck off over the pass to the headwaters of the valentine and Mawson’s beyond that. Good run up toward Bulls Peak, descending due east of Mawson’s.

Pic: Tony Murphy

A  bunch of people were camped there so we set up tents again outside. Saw some amazing horizontal icicles off the roof.
Horizontality. Gone next day. 

At Mawson's , with Jagungal in the distance
Next day, a spectacular views of Jagungal out or tent doors. We scaled Cup and Saucer, got some nice shots of Tony’s yellow pack liner, and dropped  back in sweeping turns to Mawson’s.

The glory of a pack liner against the horizon.

With good weather and fresh snow we  quickly packed and then up over the Kerries, through the section I think of as Little Greenland, and then down the rolling open valleys to come out just above Schlink.

Across the Kerries. 

Shared Schlink with a group from Perth, including a Vietnamese guy  who was on skis the first time. These  blokes fly out of Perth at midnight, and then Melbourne/Canberra/Jindabyne/Munyang, all without pause. Tough stuff. They’d done it for years.

Warm bed, then next morning headed back down the road. I stopped for a moment for a shot of the  thermal top our Italian exchange student had given me, and then off along disappointment spur  trail. I encountered again the  tree that blocked the  path and again underestimated the height of my pack.
How Jolly!
The pack is taller than I think. 

At Jindabyne Tony and Karen split off to ski for another few days and I headed home. But I would be back…

Trip the second, mid September

Just Doric and I this time, our usual  comrade Alex couldn’t make it. You can read Doric’s account here. And here's his video.

Munyang in a heavy snow shower, which only got worse as we headed up the  hill. Coming over the  saddle to Whites was  fierce, a deeply unpleasant couple of hundred metres. The hut’s been rebuilt since it was burned a few years back, looking very swish with fresh cane-ite sheeting and a paint job.  They mentioned another couple had headed off over Gungartin to Tin that day, which brought back unpleasant memories of the high  blasted night a few weeks earlier.  A very pleasant night though,  out of the wind, and no rats.
Doric demonstrates the telemark turn. Starting to get silly. 
Snowga. The Half Moon. Definitely silly.
Going nowhere. Going to be a long day. 

Next day still low visibility and windy but not so much snow being blasted into our eyes. We trundled up to Schlink. We were first into the hut but were joined by a party of Cheerful Young Things all being very… Cheerful and Young.  Also some Serious Photographers. Some bugger had burnt all the wood so Doric and I grabbed some saws and headed up the hill. Between the ’03 bushfires there’s sadly no shortage of dead trees.

When we returned there were another couple in the hut: a man and woman, the latter clearly in  hypothermia and while still lucid desperately needing warming up. They had been the couple who set out for Tin: without GPS they got benighted in the gale, and they only had bivvy bags. Hers was (literally) dripping and she had been freezing and cold overnight. Doric stuck her in his sleeping bag and she drifted off to sleep. We went and cut more wood and did some skiing in the whiteout and on return found her awake and huddled over the pot belly.

Turns out she was an old mate of Shaan’s ( I went kayaking with her and Shaan a few weeks later). Her Guide, and I use the term advisedly, was ill equipped, overconfident  and made as series of poor decisions that ended up with her in a potentially deadly situation. Doric and I decidedly underwhelmed.

O to be young in the freezing sleet again!
That night was party night – one of the Cheerful Young Things was turning 21 and while she was out in the loo her mates  pulled out balloons, streamers and party hats, much Young Cheerfulness when she returned.

Bluebird next day and Doric and I headed up over Dicky Cooper Bogong,  towards the Rolling Ground, Consett Stevens Pass and Tate. Fantastic views in all directions, to Jangungal and up to main range as well as out over Victoria.

That grey clump at 3 o'clock edge is Schlink
Makes the Kerries look tropical.

At dusk we set up camp at a high  protected saddle on what we reckon to be Mann Bluff. All afternoon Doric and I fantasised about coming back and spending days in this area, exploring and swooping down the long valleys.
on Mann Bluff
Sensible again. 
pic: Doric Swain
Good or what?

One of the best camp sites I have been in in my life. I’ll let the pix of sunset and dawn tell the story. Most of these pix are Doric's.

Breathtaking. A Scenic World.

Snow dagger at dawn.

Bit of a lazy morning, then dropping down through long swooping bowls to the Snowy footbridge and eventually Guthega Resort. Cadged a lift back to Munyang for the car, and thence home to my beloved daughter.
Looking back to the Bluff and Mt Tate
Crossing the River

Great season, great trips ( I didn’t mention the previous trip this year  with Jemma and Giulia the Italian exchange student, telemarking off lift lines and then taking a day to goof off in a blizzard up to Charlotte’s). Great company, big thanks to Karen, Tony and of course the indefatigable Doric, who always has something oblique and insightful to say.

Snow’s done, back to the sea. 

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