Wednesday, I noticed Ken and Alex were talking about Mount Bogong on the weekend. Thursday, I called Mike and introduced him to the idea of driving down for a bit of mixed climbing. He’s keen, so I pack at 1 AM and I’m off to work the next day. I bail early at 3 pm, Mike picks me up and next thing I know we’re on the road to Victoria!
Spinning the dial through the AM stations, I search the airwaves for coverage of the Olympics, hoping to hear the finals of the only event I really care about, the Canoe Slalom. Specifically the K1 Women’s, where Jessica Fox paddles brilliantly and wins the first Australian whitewater silver medal. With smiles on our faces we settle in for a night’s sleep before the climb from 600 – 1600m above sea level the next morning.
Expecting snow above 1000m and “metre deep snow for over an hour”, I strap my splitboard the outside of my pack, making for a tall but stable package, that is a little cumbersome on the sometimes heavily vegetated trail. I pack the rack: 5 cams(No.’s 0.4,0.75,1,2 and 3 Cammalots), a set of nuts, 3 ice screws, 4 pitons prussicks, slings and loose carabineers. Mike packs the Tent and Stove. Mike has forgotten his harness, but he borrows one from ken and we are set. Both of our packs are ridiculously heavy. I could probably cut some weight out of the rack I think, and I even decide to leave the number three behind, but I don’t.
Good training for New Zealand.
The Hike goes pretty well, but at 1000m there is still no snow. We pass the hut at 1400m and still no snow, although an icicle growing from the water tank leaves me confident we will find some ice to climb.
Pushing out the last several hundred metres we reach 1600m, and the first snow deep enough to dig into.
It’s a really cold night, but we are warm enough in the tent under all our layers, and after a dinner of back country meals and an embarrassing game of “Go Fish” (Neither Mike nor I can remember the rules.) we doze until around 8 am.
We’re slow to cook breakfast and pack up, but eventually everything is wired and the rack is packed in a much lighter pack. (Thank god, ’cause I’ve got some nice tender pack bruises coming along.) By ten a.m. we’ve found what appears to be “finger of fate”, soloed some easy terrain and a few rock steps and are ready to climb something long.
The descent is a little hard to find. Probably something to do with the split pea soup of a fog that’s completely surrounding us and making wearing sunglasses impossible if you want to see say your hand in front of your face.
At the top of would looks to be a long couloir we rig an abseil on an alien cam and a small nut. Alex looks a little concerned, but we back it up with body weight so that it is a classic “last man at risk only” scenario. Of course, I’m the last man.
The anchor holds and we build two more, severely limiting our rack at this point.
After three 50 m abseils we stop for a brew before Alex leads off of a single good nut and runs out the rope length on secure 40 degree snow.
Slogging up behind Alex, we swap leads and I re-rack and change into some tighter, more sensitive gloves. This pitch looks to be the crux, with a long vertical step of mixed ground in the middle, followed by a steep snow ramp.
Stepping off the belay, I find a big chunk of ice and try to place a screw horizontally. The ice is rotten and the screw pushes right in. Hmmm. Throwing textbook placements out the window, I place the screw vertically in the ice and wind it all the way in, its core showing at least a layer of good ice. Not exactly a good Jesus nut, but better than nothing.
Blasting up steep but well frozen snow to the rock band above me I fiddle in an okay knifeblade piton. It is half buried in the crack by hand and with a few swift hammer blows I drive it home listening for its rising tone.
Traversing left I slot a small but secure nut into a secure crack, and for a moment I can relax. Shaking out and taking the stress off my calves by switching to my side cramp on points, I examine the line ahead of me. The rock buttress whose base I’m at extends upwards for more than a rope length. In places the climbing looks okay, but we’re here to climb snow and ice, so well stick to the couloir. The couloir snakes around to the left where it runs very close to vertically for 6 or 7 metres. The ice on the left looks well frozen, but thin and peters out towards the top. To the right soft snow is intersected with bands of ice. Not most people’s cup of tea, but for some reason I like climbing steep soft snow.
Coming around the bulge I pull some slack out to ensure top drag won’t ping me off. With a careful flick of my tools I start up the steep stuff. The climbing is delicate, excavating rock and ice from under soft snow, placing my feet carefully where my tools have been.
You have to be careful to clear away the snow that is not too soft, but not be a barbarian and remove all the climbable snow. I check for gear almost every move and find none. Halfway up a small horn protrudes from the rock wall to my right.
Slipping a sling off of my harness, I carefully drape it over the rock horn. If I fall right now it will hold, but once I’m above it and it will probably be knocked off by the movement of the rope.
I’m happy for it thought as I start to examine the bulge in front of me. One of the hardest things in ice and mixed climbing is dealing with bulges. You can’t see exactly what your picks are hooked on and you can’t feel like you can in rock climbing.
I excavate a good high foot at waist level, ready for when I rock up. I place my left tool as close to the bulge as I can and swing my right tool up and over delicately dropping it into snow. A quick tug let’s me know it pretty solid, so I slide my left hand up high on its tool and pull my head up to see the placement.
My right tool is in a shallow but well frozen section of snow and seems secure. I carefully lift my left foot into the foot hole I started earlier and rock up on my right tool. Once I feel secure, I remove my left tool and use it to hook a boulder off to the left. Breathing out slowly I fully commit and step up onto the bulge. Below me the sling slides off the rock horn and down the rope.
The rest of the climbing is easy, very soft 45 degree snow. I smash a snow picket in after the bulge and blast quickly to belay off a good bollard and an angle piton.
After a slight tangling of our ropes Mike runs up the third pitch and we all top out. We muck around on some other stuff before blasting up to the summit and returning to camp.
While we’d been climbing the guys summited Mount Bogong and then set about building an igloo. Here is how far they got!
I’m amazed how good the climbing is at Bogong, many good steep colours and short ice sections. We barely scratched the surface on this trip. The skiing look phenomenal, far steeper, longer and wilder than anything else I’ve seen in Australia.
I did strap on my split board and ride a small amount, but the frozen snow (we never needed more than crampons to get around) means the boarding was limited this weekend.
The drive is also a lot better than I expected, about the same time as to Thredbo because you’re on highway the whole time. Maybe next year we will spend a week in the hut.