Sunday, 28 September 2014

New Country

What is the impulse that always drags you on, around the next bend, the next headland, over the next ridge?  It’s so strong and so seductive. it must be hardwired. Why is it that you need to consciously decide to stop while your soul, left to its own devices, will trundle on happily forever  exploring the next unseen thing?

The second ski trip of ’14 and  plenty of instances of that siren call. What started out as half a dozen  in planning  ended up with the usual three buccaneers: Alex, Doric and I.   We’ve done this trio so often now it’s like an ep of Grumpy Old Men. Except the grumpy bit. 

No exactly a beauty parade, but look at that determination!

This was the ten year anniversary trip for me, getting back into ski touring in 2004 after kids. That year, Doric and I climbed  up over Kozzie and dropped down into the  country to its northwest, unexplored territory for both of us. I've still kept my fashion sense!

Munyang carpark, dry as, bro. 
This year we also found new country. Two years ago Doric and I looked out on Tate West Ridge from Mann Bluff and vowed to go there. Last year we attempted it but the weather was so severe we abandoned the goal. This year,  we would succeed. 

Normally   we flog up the Munyang  aqueduct trail to Schlink pass and then up the main range, but this year with good weather  and indifferent snow we decided to take a direct track, up the left side of the valley to Horse Camp and then straight up the ridge to the Rolling Ground.

A horse!

Hadn’t been to Horse for twenty years and completely forgot what it looked like. Pleasant little hut with good water, right for lunch before the ascent.

Pretty comfy hut
Then straight up the spine of the hill, through the afternoon sun interweaving the dead snowgums. There’s a melancholy about the dead snowgum forests, with the fragile regrowth ten years on from the ’04 fires. I can’t help but think the next big fire will permanently remove the snowgums: with this fuel load how can the young saplings and regrowth survive? What will replace them?

We emerged from the treeline later than we hoped, and with the afternoon rapidly slipping away we elected to camp where we found ourselves  rather than try to get up to the exposed Rolling Ground. Clouds were building from the East (!) and after last years’ experience we wanted some shelter from the strong nor easter.

Windy camp
Sunset looking East , Munyang centre right
And looking to the West, up to  the Rolling Ground

Next morning,  blue skies with occasional cloud.  Struck camp quickly - for us – and made our way up onto the Rolling Ground. We emerged  close to Consett Stephens Pass, and in no time and with only a moderate amount of disputation we were at last on Tate West Ridge, our goal for two winters.

A happy packing morning

In all my glory , headed towards Tate West (BG)

Heading up to the Rolling Ground
On Tate West
Tate West looking back to Rolling Ground and Dicky Cooper

 The ridge itself is a couple of square kilometres of rolling hillocks and gentle bowls, bounded on every side by steep dropoffs  with a fairly modest  spur linking it to the main range. Delightful country. We made our way to the westernmost high point, there to set up  base camp and wait for sunset.

Riviera on the Tate
Very bloody sensible. 
But what a spot.

A late afternoon detour down a wide gully took us to a beautiful local prominence, with a few turns along the way.

It was spectacular with sweeping views of Watson’s Crags, and in the far reaches  the Victorian Alps like a distant wave, foam-flecked and massive.

Vic alps in the bg

And did I mention the sunset? The clouds boiled on the horizon and loomed in from Jagungal but never fully came over us.

Dinner that night in our camp kitchen was an extraordinary Mexican feast from Alex that pushed our pan numbers  to the limit.  Topping it off, there were distant fireworks in the sky  to the east: maybe Charlotte Pass? Went on  for a long time, fascinating  from such a distance.

With the best will in the world we didn’t rise early the next morning, but what a day! Stunning bluebird.  With slimmed down packs we secured the camp and headed off towards Tate pass. Doric had an ugly blister forming so while he sorted it at Tate saddle  I doodled almost to the top of Tate – spectacular stuff.

From Mt Tate, Mann Bluff in centre

Then the siren a called and we went on round Mann Bluff (see this post), dropped sweetly down a swooping arc then up onto another ridge directly overlooking Watsons Crags. Exhilarating ascent of a big steep-sided hill with stunning cornices , and  lunch in paradise.

Climbing to a luncheon appointment

This whole area features immense bowls with long sweeping sides and cornices. Intoxicating to be in.

Homeward bound, Doric far right of shot

A long and satisfying traverse brought us back to the spurt of Tate West, and  a few runs down a gorgeous overspilling slope. As Doric slogged up it.

The camp is on the ridge directly above the skier ( Alex). Pic: Alex Taylor.
Almost home, but snap a few teles in. Pic: Alex Taylor.

Before returning to camp I took a detour out to the far northern tip of Tate West, looking down the soaring valley to the Geehi dam and with Jagungal aloof in the distance.

That afternoon the clouds came in again and we had an even more amazing sunset than the night before, with the  sun framed by the blazing clouds.

Weather forecast that night said things would be getting foul the following afternoon, so we resolved to make an early exit, get down to Guthega, hitch to the car and slip away before the thunder started.

Next morning, antibluebird.

Very bloody cheerful. 

Whiteout with visibility only about 100m. My GPS had the pass  marked on it but with all the rolling  hills and the  knowledge of the  steep  edges all around us the trip to find the pass was an exercise in concentration. Despite my marker being out by 100 metres – which made a difference in that terrain – we found the pass and could see beneath us the clear skies under the clouds leading to the dam.

Looking for the pass

Guthega in the

Long, slow and messy traverse through the trees and rocks on the ridge ( note to self, next time take the northern side) and finally we were back in human – mediated territory by the dam.


Didn’t take long to get a lift and so home. Well, as far as Canberra where we got to shift furniture at Alex’s house by way of diversion.

Home before the thunder
Doric's account of the trip is at

New country, great weather, and as usual  long near-hallucinogenic moments of ecstasy and exultation to be in the mountains again. Brilliant trip and thanks as ever to my two always reliable, cheerful and interesting  shipmates.  

(Pix in this entry a combination of mine and Alex Taylor's)

Monday, 7 July 2014

A short weekend at the snow

So it all looked good: finally the snow-drought had broken, a week of decent falls and an optimistic outlook. After canning a trip on the June long weekend (too much bushwalking) suddenly it seemed the snow gods were lining the ducks up.  I had arranged with the unsuspecting Mark Schroeder to head down, and then found my prior  travelling companions Tony Murphy and Karen Darby were also planning to be south. 
I took Friday off, arranged to meet Tony and Karen at a vague map reference near Twynam Creek (south of Guthega, on the  good side of the Snowy), and second thing Friday morning Mark and I were on the highway. We didn’t hit Guthega until 3pm, looking at dark at just after 5, so just the slightest of edges to the evening’s entertainment.
Mark before we headed out. Is that blue sky? Last we'll see of it. 
OK , one tiny shard of blue left. 

It was overcast and windy and just starting to snow as we made our way to Illawong Bridge, then traversed around towards Twynam Creek. Fortunately we spotted Tony waving like a madman on the other side of the creek valley, otherwise we would have plunged up towards the head of the stream. They had camped slightly dug into a moderate slope. 

Here’s where mark and I made a clever call that proved not to be quite so mart. Faced with the choice of putting the trusty (24 year old) tent  near Karen and Tony’s, relatively exposed to the gale, or digging deeper into the steep snowbank and snugging in, we chose the latter. Wrong, as it turned out.

A windy snowy  dusk turned into a windy snowy night. Mark cooked, partly in the tent and partly me outside in a snow kitchen. Yummy tune/rice/tomato/garlic/peas/noodles, the so to bed.

Morning showed up the folly of our tent  placement. The tent was half buried on the uphill side, while Karen and Tony’s tent was snow free. Before brekkie we had to dig the damn thing out, but the wind was still strong and the spindrift started to fill the gap almost immediately.
That'd be the tent we bought in 1990...
You can see the snow height is above Marks waist. Nice jacket, Mark. 'We repeated this digging three times that day. 

Because the weather was foul we decided to ski around a bit and wait to see if it improved, in which case we’d strike out for the tops.

The snow was perfect: closest to powder I’ve ever found. Deep, even, the only problem the flat light which hid drop-offs. Mark said he hadn’t skied for ten year, but had omitted to tell us he was a triple Olympic gold medallist, had won the Iditarod on skis six times and could  skiing before he could walk. The other three of us watched with stony faces as our “novice” snapped out graceful  turn after turn.

Over lunch I did the unmentionable: mooted bailing. The weather was crap and would be tomorrow, visibility was variable to poor, and there was no reason to think life would be better tomorrow. Notwithstanding the ecstatic joy of being in that place and in those conditions, cooking and camping another night was beginning to look unappealing. A bit of judicious white-anting and we decided to up sticks.

Very unlike me.
Inviting, no?
A happy pack

Some afternoon skiing, a tent pack in the unrelenting wind and snow punctuated by the adventure of chasing an errant ski down the hill, and then the flog back through the bleak glorious exhilarating snowstorm to the forlorn bridge, the long traverse to Guthega and then an unwelcome coupe of k’s in the dark along the road to the cars. And the end of a truncated but  terrific weekend.
Bluebird day
The Bridge of Doom

Disappointing about the poor weather but still could not stop smiling.

Thank God, the car. Mark, me, Karen, Tony. 

Then a seven hour drive home.