The Gnarliest Runs in Oz, Part 1: NSW


One thing is certain – when I say that the slope is over thirty degrees – that’s steep! And when a thousand feet of that slope is dropping below you with maybe rocks and ice down there you don’t ponder too long about the prospect of falling.

- Alan Andrews

When you get down to it, Australia is the flattest driest continent on Earth. By definition, the skiing here is the worst in the world. The only place you might come close to arguing is worse is Africa – and I hear the Atlas Mountains in Morocco are pretty big. So it’s easy to write the place off as a land of sunburnt sweeping plains. Or, if you’re a skier, patchy cover, ice and crud, short shallow runs and snowmaking.

Australian resorts are world leaders in snowmaking! World leaders!

Even the highest mountain, good old Kosciuszko, is a hill with a road to the top. Just look at the Wikipedia picture. Awww. The very first time I ever went XC skiing, we made it to the top! Snowboarders were drinking beer up there! Fun for the whole family!

The enthusiastic might even bother to look over at the ‘Main Range’, hoping to see a craggier peak. But nope, Mount Townsend and Northcote and Lee all look pretty tame over there. Maybe a cool little bowel kinda hidden below Carruthers Peak.

But then one day you’ll bother to climb the second highest peak, Mount Townsend, and have a look from the top of there and

Western faces from Mount Townsend

HOLY CRAP

So begins our investigation into the gnarliest lines in Oz.

Carruthers Peak

Remember that little bowl just visible from the summit of Kosciuszko?

Club Lake cirque

Oh, that’s cute.

Turns out there’s some great runs there, proper chutes and everything! The one right in the middle is ruler-straight fall-line bliss, and even has a cool name: either the Widowmaker or the Elevator depending on who you talk to. Both are descriptive and I can’t really make up my mind.

Skier in the Club Lake chutes.

But still looks more like fun than death.

Don’t worry, we haven’t looked at the north face yet.

Carruthers Peak North Face

…More like it

This was marked up by someone on the ski.com.au backcountry forum (Probably VSG, that guy loves his Photoshop). The blue line, from Andrews’ description, is probably called Eric’s Funnel, after Eric Eisinger, a ski instructor at the Charlotte Pass Chalet. The red line is Middle Gully. The green line is unnamed as far as I can tell.

But what’s that opposite this face? An actual PD+ ski mountaineering objective?

The Sentinel

Sentinel North Face side view

Even the prolific Alan Andrews didn’t want to touch this north face.

The most obvious line on this gem of a peak is the south face, also known as The Fridge Run because people tend to stick pictures of it on their fridge for training motivation.

Sentinel South Face from the side

The Fridge Run, showing the pitch. The Avalanche Alley area is in the background.

There’s a bloody excellent video of a guy snowboarding this thing on youtube.

The South Face/Fridge Run was actually first skied in 1951! Richard Raubitsheck wrote:

After a few turns on the extremely steep slope, I suddenly realized that I was caught in a surface avalanche. This carried me down some 300 feet before I was able to extricate myself and run out of the still moving stream of snow.

The Sentinel does have a reputation for sliding – when James Morrow of Ozbc.net and his mate tried the North Face in 2008, they also triggered a wet avalanche and had a lucky escape.

Sentinal North Face

Yes, it’s gnarly.

Sentinel SW Chute

And there’s lines on the SW side that haven’t been skied…

But, overlooking the Sentinel, we now come to the most impressive piece of mountain in the state of NSW.

Watson’s Crags

Watson's Crags

…anyone feel like going to the beach instead?

That thing in the middle is the Center Chute.

Bigger shot of the Crags

A more expansive view.

The Centre Chute would be the first unlabelled red arrow from the right. My mate, Liam Filson, has dropped into the third unlabelled red arrow from the right, and climbed out the way he came. Crags Creek has also been skied, all the way down into the valley.

View lower down in Crags Creek

Lower down in Crags Creek

It’s the kind of instantly mythical place that breeds rumours almost as an afterthought. The Centre Chute gets skied…but by who? The NZ Alpine Club used to train for Mount Cook here. Glen Plake once did a top-secret heli drop.

Whoever this guy is, he got it in the conditions of the decade.

Whoever these guys are, they got it in the conditions of the decade.

But the fun doesn’t end on the south face.

North Watson's Crags

Gnar.

James Morrow, Mark O’Conner, and Brian Wilson dropped into this monster in 2011, for probably the most notable first descent Australia has seen in a while. Straight from the, err, forum’s mouth:

…some impressive sluff management at the top of all shutes & some impressive chunks of debris that had fallen off cliffs above rolling down with sluff. I got caught in a cliff band at the bottom of the second pitch which seemed nearly steeper than the top & I could tell there was a good drop as I could hear the goolies whumping as the sluff sailed over the edge. SB went lowest and could see the side of what looked to be a good 5m band so I was glad to stop a turn or 2 short leaving me a horrid boot pack out with digging my hands into snow, sinking up to above knee & my helmet brim hitting the wall of snow in front of my face with each step. Then crampon over to the next gully to join B Wilson & SB for some relief up the last 40m of their boot pack track followed by total melt down at the top.

….The top section of this run is definitely the steepest pitch i have skied. Made Carruthers north look very flat the following day.

Epic, straight up epic. Here’s the view from the top:

Looking down North Watson's Crags

Phaaaaaaark

Someone on the forum said it reminded them of the rock climb Tourettes up in the Blueys, because when you look at it you just start swearing.

Blue Lake

After that, another mere cirque is going to seem kind of tame. But we still have Australia’s premiere remnant glacial landscape and ice-climbing venue, Blue Lake. The lines here are helpfully labelled from Ozbc.net.

Blue Lake from Little Twynam

It’s bigger than it looks. Also note the large avalanche in the background.

The Amphitheatre boasts one of the biggest cornices around, and, sadly, Australia’s most recent avalanche death. Tom Carr-Boyd was standing near the top of the cornice above Amphitheatre 1 when it collapsed, triggering a huge slide that ran out nearly 50m onto the lake.

R.I.P.

He was buried 3m deep. You can read a very emotional account from a climber who was nearby and first to help in the search. I’m going to start calling Amphitheatre 1, Tom’s Chute, in memorial as a reminder to carry a beacon and stay further away from cornices than you think.

Amphitheatre 2 has been called the Avalanche Gully because it always seems to have debris at the base.

Avalanche debris

Remember, no-one bothers to carry beacons in the Australian backcountry. Because it doesn’t slide here!

Just before the Amphitheatre, we have Stag Gully, a line so steep, rocky, and narrow it’s actually a rock-climbing route in summer.

Stag Gully from the base

Doing it with this much snow seems like it should be cheating.

Stag Gully from the top

A very ballsy spot to take out the camera.

Then finally we have the ‘easy’ option of Glissade Gully. Oh hey, that’s me.

Glissade Gully

Measure the angle though, seriously that is 45+ degrees at the top.

But I can hear the Victorians complaining already. The Main Range is flat! What about Mount Feathertop? Buller? Bogong? Tune in soon for Part 2: Victoria.

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