Skiing the Back Country

Once explored in Autumn glow, now laden with icy snow; under the watchful eye of the cawing crow, is the great and mighty Kosciuszko.  

Despite hearing tales of cross-country adventure throughout my childhood, it took nearly  26 years for me to don a pack and set out on a multi-day ski across the Kosciuszko wilderness. As most of the stories had been conveyed by my father Pete, it was fitting that he would join me for this trip. We would also be sharing our tracks with Tash, who like Pete was somewhat familiar with this country.

A late night drive on the 15th of August saw us to accommodation in Jindabyne. We stopped briefly in Cooma so that Tash could pick up some telemark skis. Despite our late arrival, the rental shop was brightly lit – I was very surprised to hear that in winter it operates 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Both Tash and I had little to no experience with telemarks, however, they served the best tools for getting across the undulating wilderness that we planned to explore.

Day One

Bright, but not too early we parked our car at the Guthega Power Station at Munyang. The temperature was a barmy 9 degrees and there was little snow on the lower slopes. Thus we began on foot, strapping the heavy skis and boots to our already gear-laden packs. We started up the Disappointment Spur Trail, with the hope that the higher ground would send us into snow country with more rapidity. It was slow going with weighted, slippery step, but soon we reached the green-paint hut that marked the end of the major ascent of the ridge and after brief rest we stepped into plastic boot and clipped ourselves in to ski.

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The hike up Disappointment Spur trail
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Donning of the ski boots at Disappointment Spur hut
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Views back towards Munyang

The going was difficult between Disappointment Spur hut and Whites River Hut, as many streams cut through our snow trail and had to be carefully stepped across on uneven ski. There were a few dead snow gums down on the track but we maintained our skis for all but a small stretch before Whites.

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Glimpses through the skeleton of a fallen snow gum

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At Whites River hut, a cold wind shot across the flats and slightly slushy snow began to turn icy. Without skins on skis, the going became tough. For each two steps forward, came one back. Up on Schlinks pass a wonderful flat run was savored and soon we slid our way down to Schlinks hut, where we would spend the night.

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Whites River hut

We slept in front of a roaring fire in Schlinks, after sharing chocolate, a few drams of 16-yearold Lagavulin and good conversation with a group of three who would share the four-roomed interior of the hut with us tonight. The sunset that evening was brilliant, and it painted orange and pink the icy landscape, as if it were an artist’s blank canvas. The sun was a bright flame on the horizon and as it fell, darkness made visible the bright glow of the “evening star” Venus, which descended just as quickly and magnificently to the west.

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Evening torchlight
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Sunset over ice
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Prints over pink snow

Day Two

Late night rain battered our shelter, but it was met by Graupel, or snow pellets, in the early morning rise. Again, the temperature was warm, and the skies were as smooth and clear as the finest silk.

From Schlinks hut we headed east and then north east up a gully, until we were traveling due north along Kerries Ridge. Here the white below met the deep blue above, producing an otherworldly display and a contrast of colours that was reminiscent of a dune-desertscape. The snow was soft and sticky, allowing good pace across the ridge, but as we ascended the wind turned bitter cold and bit mercilessly into any bare skin. There was, however, a quiet between the breaths and gusts and this quiet was total. The momentary deprivation of sound drew into sharp focus the crispness of the surrounding country.

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Tracks in clean snow
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Into the Kerries

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A front approaches
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Wind and snow dust

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On the tops of the Kerries, we were thrown views of Mount Jagungal in the distance. From the southern side it looked to be quite a gentle ascent; the roaring winds met at the top however should not be underestimated. We dropped down towards Valentines creek and after brief consultation with the map, we were skiing across to Mawsons hut.

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The far rise of Mount Jagungal

That night we shared our lodging with a group of 7 who were out to achieve their back-country guiding qualification. Despite the modest size of the hut, we found comfortable sleeping next to the cast iron stove, while the rest of the group dozed in the adjacent room.

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Sunset at Mawsons
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Mawsons hut

Day Three

Pete was suffering from the onset of a cold, and so Tash and I left him to recover in Mawsons while we traversed the country to reach Valentines hut for a short half day trip. It was wonderful discarding our heavy backpacks and enjoying the somewhat powdery hills as we made out way west across the snow. We removed skis only once to breach a strong flowing creek, but made the crossing easy with light step on solid rock.

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Crossing a stream on the way to Valentines

We found Valentines hut nestled against the spidery skeletons of the snowgums, just above the curve of Valentines creek. This rosy abode was as bright and conspicuous as a toad stool, and with red paint and love hearts looked to come from a story similar to the tale of Hansel and Gretel, and the gingerbread house. We rested in its clean, well-lit interior for a moment, before making good time back to Mawsons hut. Upon our return, we discovered an unmarked small steel grate bridge, which allowed us to ski a direct path back towards Mawsons without needing to scramble across rocks and water. We dropped down the final descent comfortably, feeling much more confident with the telemark skis after a half day without packs.

 

 

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One with the snow gum
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Top of the world

Back at Mawsons, we packed our gear and shot off to Schlinks hut. It was a fast return and enjoyable skiing and we finished our day with a bit of wood chopping, adding to the stockpiles of the little hut. Tonight we shared our abode with only one other, and enjoyed mulled cinnamon and orange peel port heated over a roaring pot belly cast iron stove.

Day four

The final day took us back to Munyang. We decided to take the trail past Horse Camp hut, avoiding the river-punctuated terrain of Disappointment Spur. We removed skis and boots at the first bridge crossing of the Munyang River and met the great white pipes of the hydro power station by 12 pm. Lunch at the Wildbrumby distillery was a welcomed reward;  a fine German meal with schnaps went down well with the icy wind that had struck the surrounding brown and yellow hills of the lower country.

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