Category Archives: Snow sports

Seven Summits Australia – Mount Townsend

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Mount Townsend – Seven Summits Australia

Charlie Freer climbing peak sw of Cootapatamba Hut for the sunset

Here’s my personal best of “Seven Alpine Mainland Winter Summits” of Australia. The list is made up of the most enticing peaks for lovers of interesting winter mountain ascents. While including the highest mountains in mainland Australia a few are not in the seven highest. All have their own challenges that may include ice and snow, remoteness, changeable and extreme weather conditions. None should be underestimated, especially in winter. The idea of these “seven summits” is to focus attention on the local landscape in a way that captures the imagination and stimulates the thirst for adventure. So far in four attempts I have been successful on three of the peaks and have turned back on two.

Mount Kosciuszko     2,228m

Mount Townsend       2,209m

Mount Twynam          2,196m

Charlie Freer with Kosciuszko top left to the north

Mount Jagungal         2,061m

Mount Bogong           1,986m

Mount Feathertop      1,922m

Mount Bimberi           1,912m

Mount Townsend is off the beaten track. Further out than Kosciuszko and away from the standard Main Range crossing route it is generally more than a day trip in winter unless snow conditions and the weather is perfect. From the Eagles Nest café at the top of the main Thredbo chair lift we cross country skied up along the route of the Kosciuszko Walk. Occasional sections of the metal boardwalk were visible poking through the good snow cover. Apart from an icy breeze the weather was clear. The view from Kosciuszko Lookout at the 2km mark showed the next part of the route. Fresh powder snow made the uphills easy with our patterned ski bases gripping nicely, and the gentle downhills a dream. Sections from Etheridge Gap to Rawsons Pass were icy.

With summit fever for Mt. Townsend we bypassed Kosciuszko and traversed across its northern ridge line to Muellers Pass. The windswept ridge to the top of Muellers Peak was alternating ice and powder. I strapped my skis onto my backpack and just walked up. On the hard ice of the Main Range sometimes it’s easier to walk if you don’t have climbing skins for your skis or snowshoes. From the top of Mueller a stunning vista opened out to the north – frozen Lake Albina, Little Austria and Lady Nothcote Canyon backdropped by the spectacular Sentinel and Watsons Crags with Mount Jagungal lying distant and aloof. The traverse of Mueller felt almost like a mini mountaineering exploit with a narrow rocky ridge perched high above plummeting slopes on both sides.

We left our packs in the bowl below Townsend’s peak and skied easily up to a flat part of its eastern ridge. From here we kicked steps up the final steeps to the summit. Alone. We stood on the very edge of the Snowy Mountains. Massive wedding cake hills made up the Main Range with only Kosciuszko a little higher. Snow gave way to green forest thousands of feet below and to the west in the Geehi Valley which merged into blue range upon range down into Victoria. Dazzling light. Huge sky. Pristine white. Hardly a sign of civilisation in the enormous landscape. It was difficult to tear ourselves away. Then we thrilled in the perfect, consistent snow and telemarked back down to our packs and lunch.

On the western side of Muellers Peak and Kosciuszko is a large, gently undulating shelf that hangs high above the valleys. This is a relatively seldom visited area of delightful ski touring in good weather.

Afternoon tea on the snow couch

In the mid-afternoon we rounded the southern ridge of Kosciuszko into the headwaters of Swampy Plain River which flows out of Lake Cootapatamba.

Snowgum skeleton, windblown ice. Kosciuszko
Skiing back to the hut in the gloaming

From a peak nearby we watched the sun set behind an approaching bank of dark clouds. Cootapatamba Hut, a small survival hut, made for a comfy overnight.

 

In the middle of the night it was a better option than our snow tent as a blizzard hit.

About 10cm of snow had fallen by morning. The forecast improvement in conditions did not eventuate so we set off into the storm in limited visibility, blowing cold wind and snow showers. On a compass bearing and with snatches of clearing we climbed steeply up to North Ramshead, then down to Kosciuszko Lookout and back to the top of Thredbo.

Charlie Freer skiing up into the storm

As we descended the downhill ski runs the weather improved and the sun even came out. In 1 ½ days we had experienced all the weather of the Snowys in winter – blistering sunshine to blizzard, and the full range of snow conditions from sheet ice to brilliant dry powder.

Peter a little iced up at Kosciuszko lookout

Postscript; Several years prior I had encountered an international party of mountaineers who set off, against local advice, into a blizzard to climb Kosciuszko which was their last of the “real” Seven Summits of the world (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents). They did not make it and had had to be rescued by police and NPWS staff who put their own lives at risk. With a tight time schedule they had been turned back and flown out having failed on Kossie after summiting Everest, Denali etc.

Day 1 – approx. 18 km. Day 2 – approx. 4 km.

Mount Bogong on the far horizon beckoning next winter

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/cootapatamba-hut-like-a-red-beacon-of-hope-to-climbers-seeking-shelter-20170912-gyfpdg.html

 

Mount Kosciuszko

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Mount Kosciuszko

Day trip August 2016

Cross country skiing

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In a weather window we caught the ski lift up from Thredbo. The sun shone as we skied steadily uphill to Kosciuszko Lookout. The “mountain’s” small hilltop rose slightly higher than those around it in the distance. The snow was typical main range crust, powder, ice and sastrugi all mixed together by recent blasting winds. Many underestimate this “Seventh Summit” of the highest mountains on each continent. img_0368

I had retreated from the range in atrocious conditions years before when a party of Japanese mountaineers insisted on setting off to reach their lowest and last summit having climbed all the other six including Everest. Their local guide had advised on waiting a few days for the weather to clear but out they went only to require a complicated rescue in the height of the storm.

img_0361And another time my wife and I were huddled in a tunnel tent in very bad weather near Seamans Hut (built as a shelter hut in memory of a young man who died in a blizzard nearby) when a group of scouts from WA struggled in having left a party member and a leader below the summit. We abandoned our trip to ski out and raise the alarm.

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Near the frozen and snowed over Lake Cootapatamba we diverted from the main trail and zigzagged our way up the south ridge. The blue ranges stretched way out below into Victoria. On this ridge you really get a big mountain feel.

img_0347 The longest uphill climb/hike in Australia, Hannels Spur, comes 6,000 feet up the western side of the range nearby. At the summit we could see Jagungal, Twynam, and Townsend which were three of my other “Seven Alpine Summits of Australia”.img_0383

 

 

 

The plan for the day had included a push on to Mount Townsend but the weather deteriorated in the early afternoon so we made a conservative decision to save it for next year.

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Jagungal – Journey to the sacred mountain

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Jagungal –  Journey to the sacred mountain

17 – 20/8/15

Kosciuszko National Park – Jagungal Wilderness

Ski touring

 

Wind blasted hail. Rain. Sleet. Sago snow. We’d chosen this. To go in while the weather was bad and then if things went to plan and the forecast was accurate our journey could be completed in a good weather window before the next front hit. We hiked up and the weather cleared at the top of a steep section long enough for us to put skis on before raging again. A couple of hours undulating up a fire trail brought us to a final flat section for the day where an Antarctic blizzard blew us off our feet on sheets of ice as we pushed to an old stockman’s hut at White’s River. Any remaining psychic cobwebs flew off with the wind.

Shelter from the storm. Chimney smoke. Warmth. An army adventurous training group had the fire going. We settled in, drank tea and soup and played chess and chatted. Outside snow bucketed down. Steve and Charles and I. Charles and I had attempted Mount Twynam a couple of weeks before. I’d worked with Steve for 8 years prior to us both retiring. While at work we’d talked often about doing a trip together, like the light at the end of a long tunnel. Here we were at last bringing our plan to fruition. The plan was a good one. All that was needed was for the weather to clear overnight and hold for the 3 days we would need to get over the Kerries Range and on to the summit of Mount Jagungal and then return.

Jagungal. The Big Bogong. 36 years it had been. My wife and I had cemented our relationship on a week long journey on skis that included a night camped on a grassy patch under the stars on its slopes. Family legend now. Jagungal sits isolated in a wilderness area. Visible to those who know its shape from afar in any direction. It’s a revered peak for bushwalkers and reserved for the adventurous few in winter who luck out with the weather long enough to summit and return to safety. Navigation in bad weather is difficult. There is no easy way in. With full snowcamping kit for us the trip in and out would take 4 days.

IMG_0004The group of young army officers were training to become alpine instructors. They cooked inside then slept in tents outside around which they had constructed elaborate sheltering snow brick walls. The hut had been refurbished inside. It was not the rat infested atmospheric hovel it once was.

Steve has been a teacher all his working life. Auto mechanics and metal engineering mainly. Helped kids weld and learn about motors. Helped kids finish school against the odds. Helped kids turn their lives around. Got them jobs. Not your regular teacher. Extraordinary. He played classical guitar and crafted them too. And very smart as well. The friendly army folk departed for their tents. We were enveloped by the darkness and the warmth from the slow combustion heater fire as the storm raged outside.

“Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”

Steve wrapped us in Milton from within his poetic archive. Perhaps he had sensed the paradise we might enter the next day and the knife-edge of loss we were tempting by changing the climate of this alpine land. Or maybe some other unfathomable from deep within himself.

Day 1 –  Munyang (Guthega Power Station) to Whites River Hut. 12.30 pm – 3.00 pm. 7 km

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Our weather dreams came true. In the morning no wind. Clear sky. Cold and still. Like a paradise regained.
We climbed steadily through misty frozen snowgum copses and open snowfields to Gungarten Pass. The bluebird day became hot along the valley of the Valentine River heading north. It had been a weird season up till then. Fronts started warm with rain then developed into colder temperatures and windy snow. The landscape was alternate ice sheets of frozen rain saturated snow and long patches of fine dry powder. Jagungal appeared as we rounded a bend into a broad open flat plain where we lost the lie of the river somewhere below us under the snow and ice. Heavy packs. Sunscreen. Sweat. The Kerries Ridge paralleled our route in the west as we made our way past the Brassy Peaks and Cup and Saucer Hill to Big Bend. The mountain became a companion beckoning us forward. Capture4Across a low ridge then down and across the Geehi River on a solid snowbridge. Up onto the Strumbo Range that led to the peak. The day was long but the mountain had come within reach. We camped high up on a flat section with views to every horizon. Late afternoon light turned the summit gold and glowed the spectacular Main Range in the distant south.

IMG_0044Just before sunset I climbed a little higher to a rise from where I could take in the whole upper part of the mountain. It was stunning. Untouched. Pristine. White. Smooth fresh slopes as yet untracked. Aloof. Still high above. A sacred mountain. Like Machapuchare and Meru. What makes a mountain sacred, special? Like the mythical Mount Olympus Jagungal is part of my personal story, my narrative myth. In this part of the world it is one of the tallest peaks, reaching towards the stars. Like Kailash it is the source of major rivers, the Geehi and the Tumut, which flow into the Upper Murray. For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal groups, the Ngarigo and others, have come to this mountain to feast in summer on bogong moths and meet in ceremony on its slopes. My own pilgrimage with my friends, was richly layered with meaning. Emotion choked my words as I soaked up the place and connected to the outside world, telling Cath on the mobile that we were camped about a kilometre or two from our camp of many years ago and describing the scene for her. I was overcome with thankfulness that the world was so beautiful, that I could be in it, right there at that moment.

Day 2 – Whites River Hut to Strumbo Range.  8.30am – 4.00 pm.  20 km 

IMG_0023The approach across high slopes led to zig zigs up the steepening then skis off stepping up the harder icy snow to the top ridge. The view expanded with each step up. It was like climbing any “real” mountain.
Windblown sastrugi between the east and proper western summit. We lost each other between mini peaks taking different lines. Capture6

Charles skinned straight up the final section silhouetted against a huge sky. IMG_0029

 

 

Then we were there. Whooping.
The whole Monaro was under cloud below. To the north towards Kiandra the Happy Jacks valleys were clouded in but the forested hills poked through. Watsons Crags, Twynam, Kosciuszko and Townsend were dramatic, close seeming. Mount Bogong beckoned in the distant south west as did the closer Grey Mare Range. Steve and Charles and I high fived. I was overcome again – reaching and climbing the mountain with Thearley, it had been a long time in the making, the feel of the perfect day, the natural beauty, support from Cath, coming back from illness, doing it just for me.IMG_0025

The steep ski back down was icy and fast and nerve wracking. Back at camp we packed slowly, savouring the moments. We retraced our tracks back to Big Bend. On the final section up to Mawsons Hut in the fabulous weather we discussed the death of Graeme Edinburgh. Like us he’d been returning from the Jagungal area with a mate, Greg. But in atrocious conditions. Without GPS, polartec and goretex. They had got near to Mawsons in a whiteout. Got cold and wet. Pushed on in search of the hut. Exhausted. Too late they’d given up their search for the hut. Made a snow cave. Froze up. Graeme collapsed and died in his friend’s arms during the night. Hypothermia. The story was drummed into us – uni students in the same club a few years later. Be conservative and safe. Take a good tent, good gear. Respect the forces of nature. I wonder now about his mate. The impact then and over the years. His family.

IMG_0054Over a brew we talked to the others passing time at the hut. A 72 year old guy who had taken up ski touring 4 years prior. He had the best lightweight alpine touring gear money could buy to go with the catamaran he’d solo sailed around the world. Tall tales and true. And a younger, fitter fellow who was skiing from Munyang to Jagungal and back to Munyang in one day. He had turned around ½ an hour from the summit to ensure a safe return. Impressive self-discipline.

IMG_0049I went for a quiet ski in the late afternoon. Sounds of the Valentine River in the valley below broke the silence. Rocky hills opposite glowed golden. Jagungal lay quiet and still in the distance.

More stories in the warm cosiness. A celebratory whiskey. And Steve again in the candlelight…..

”Say! why is the spirit of peace so weak,

And the spirit of wrath so strong,

That the right we must steadily search and seek,

Tho’ we readily find the wrong?

Mark:

Our parents of old entailed the curse

Which must to our children cling;

Let us hope, at least, that we’re not much worse

Than the founder from whom we spring.

Fit sire was he of a selfish race,

Who first to temptation yielded,

Then to mend his case tried to heap disgrace

On the woman he should have shielded.

Say! comrade mine, the forbidden fruit

We’d have plucked, that I well believe,

But I trust we’d rather have suffered mute

Than have laid the blame upon Eve.”

Adam Lyndsey Gordon – The Old Levan

Day 3 – Strumbo Range to Mount Jagungal to Mawsons Hut.  12 km. 8.30 am – 1.00 pm.

 The older fellow left for Cesjacks Hut early. On a hunch Steve followed the tracks he had left on a suspicious sortie just before his departure. Hidden in a tree bowl nearby was a large bag of his yucky assorted rubbish. It was hard not be angry with such flagrance.

IMG_0055Back along the valley of Valentine Creek we threaded the best line that linked up the powder fields, trying to avoid the ice sheets. The white brightness was severe. Sunglasses, hats, long sleeves, sunscreen. Capture11Mounds and cornices and snow covered boulders cascaded down from the Kerries Ridge high above on the west and the Brassy Peaks on the east seemed to hem us in. Sublime beauty. Occasionally the creek appeared and bubbled downstream. White, dazzling white, grey and brown rocks, colours frozen out, covered in white, soft white, shining white, white reflecting, smooth, crunching white, silken white slopes, wedding cake white. And the white mountain now behind. Under a sapphire blue sky. In a way it was like a hostile desert, lifeless, still, intense. Every minute, every hour gliding and stepping the white landscape etched deeper into our psyches. Our fourth day immersed. Such a treat. As I followed in Charles’ tracks I marvelled at other friends’ journey across the Antarctic – 66 days on the ice, all in white.Capture9We crested the ridge through a scene from the Arctic. Boulders were festooned with wild growths of ice to windward. Wind blasted snow had iced up and built through each of the season’s winter storms. In the fore and middle ground were snow covered peaks and ranges. Lines of blue hills stretched off to the horizon in every distance. I held Jagungal in a farewell gaze for a long minute then stomped down through the lumpy ice field with Steve while Charles cruised down on his heavier ski gear and better skills. Lower down in the valley above Schlink Hut we struck perfect snow and whooped and ss’ed the bowls and delighted ourselves in the day, in the conditions, in the place and in the world in general.

We lunched in the hut with a young man whose job it was for 2 months to ski various routes through the back country laying baits for foxes. I had nearly burnt Schlink Hut to the ground decades before. Having arrived in a blizzard late and exhausted I had set up my stove on a table then filled it with shellite. I placed the fuel bottle safely down at the other end of the table, pumped up the choofer and lit it. Flame shot down a line of fuel I must have spilt along the table to the bottle which caught fire along with my hand which must also have been covered. “I’ve seen one of those explode!” yelled someone in the crowded hut which emptied immediately outside into the howling storm in their pj’s and thermals. I was mesmerised by a painless hand on fire. A friend had the sharp presence of mind to rip down the curtains and smother all the flames before they caught hold of the hut and me.

The ski back down from the mountains from Schlink Pass was glorious. Nice soft snow. Occasionally the grey deadwood forests of tree skeletons from the 2003 fires were interspersed with oases of old green snowgums. Skiing slowly along in my internal world I committed to a plan for the future. To ski and climb my own “seven summits”. The seven winter alpine summits of mainland Australia – Kosciuszko, Townsend, Twynam, Bimberi, Bogong, Feathertop and Jagungal. Already this season I had failed on one and been successful on another. Arguments could be had over the selection but in my mind these represent the most iconic mountains of the highest dozen in Australia. A fine adventure challenge which doesn’t involve burning masses of fossil fuels to get to far flung exotic locations round the world. If each provided a small proportion of the pleasure and satisfaction of this Jagungal journey then they would be worthwhile.

IMG_0042Arrival back at the car, at civilisation, back in the world of colours was anticlimactic compared to the brilliant white intensity of the alpine high country. On the way home we chatted about another trip next year. A shower of rain marked the closing of our weather window. Everything had gone according to plan. This time we were lucky.

Day 4 – Mawsons Hut to Munyang (Guthega Power Station). 19 km.  8.00 am – 2.00 pm.

 Total journey – 58 km, 3 ½ days.

Cross country ski trails

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Cross country ski trails with winter olympians

14/8/15

Nordic Ski Trails – Perisher Valley

Cross country skiing

 

IMG_0647Perfect weather and perfect snow – light, dry and powdery. The trails had been freshly groomed and trackset following snowfall the day before. Rob picked up the basic skills on the flat section in front of the Nordic Shelter, a wonderful building financed by the cross country ski association and the national park.
We set off slowly around the 5km loop trail. This was part of the network of more than 100 km of trails in the area. Parents towed infants in small sleds. A local primary school group skied past us with great enthusiasm and a variety of gear types having the time of their lives. Steve was a skilled nordic skier and enjoyed using good skis and boots that gave him better control than his gear from the seventies used the last time he went touring back in about 1980. A pair of our Aussie winter Olympic team skated past with fluidity and finesse that was glorious to behold.

IMG_0659The day was a cracker. Steve and I revelled in
the views as we waited for Rob. He was gifted the most perfect conditions for his first foray onto skinny skis and a little taste of the backcountry in winter. The snowgums, so iconic in the alpine area, had been burnt severely in the devastating fires of 2003. Twelve years later they had mostly sprouted from their bases but will take decades to grow back.

 

Out of sight of the Perisher resort we caught a glimpse of Kosciuszko, the highest mountain hill in Australia (2228m). It is one of the world’s famous “Seven Summits”, a list comprised of the highest mountain on each continent. A couple of years previous I had decided not to take a college group out there on a day of bad weather. On that same day a group of Japanese mountaineers had required a rescue having underestimated the blizzard on their final seventh summit. Just nearby a year later 4 snowboarders had died in a snowcave that had been buried by a huge snowstorm. 3 km from the summit is Seamans Hut which was built as an emergency shelter by the parents of a pair of skiers who had perished in bad weather in 1928. In the 70’s I had battled through a very stormy winter night camped outside the hut in a tunnel tent. Next morning a rescue was mounted for a missing scout group missing higher up on the mountain.

A Day In A Life

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A Day In A Life 

Backcountry snowboarding – Mount Twynam – Kosciuszko National Park

Sometimes a treasured day in the mountains becomes even more precious when other things are going on in our lives. The wilderness environment, the weather, the company, the scenery, the adventure and the physical challenge can combine to make the day very special, whether we reach our goal or not.

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