A October long weekend trip which will go down as a bit of an epic, and will provide bragging rights for many evenings at the pub.
The essential statics are
- 14 people
- 3 days
- 15 pairs of skis & boards
- 120 cans of beer including 24 pint cans
- 7 bottles of spirits
James wanted to throw a big end-of-season party once the Charlotte Pass road opened, and invite both the UNSW winter unigames team (buncha racers and park rats) and the UNSW outdoors club backcountry crew (climbers, tourers, and yes, telemarkers). Despite the huge group and wildly different experiences we actually kind of pulled it off.
The Hike Out
Everyone made their way down from Sydney and elsewhere on Friday night. Many thanks to Henri and others who were able to host people in east Jindy and Berridale – the drive down was long, sleepy and risky with the ‘roos out in force, and it helped a lot!
The turning circle at Charlotte Pass was packed with many out and about for the holiday weekend, and gear strewn left right and center over the tarmac. A bunch of carrying systems were on display but the kitchen sink award goes to Matt King for bringing a second pair of skis and a pulk to carry extra beer and all of his camera equipment. We all managed to get up and away by 10am or so (pretty good really!) and walk down the track to the backcountry baptism which is the Snowy River ford.
After that, with skins and snowshoes on we started up the Carruthers Spur. There was a bit of grass skiing but the cover was still mostly complete. We ended up splitting into a fast and a slow group, but all managed to meet up more or less at the landmark of Pyramid Rock. Happy with this effort, we decided to camp on Carruthers Creek (aka The Creek Formerly Known As Soil Conservation Creek) right below the rock. The masses of gear everyone was carrying made for some pretty funny descents down to the creek.
Then it was time to set up a camp to our high standards of comfort. A circular kitchen area was dug out, complete with a “bar” in the middle to keep the huge amounts of beer cold.
The socket end of snow shovel blades are great for digging out stubby holders.
Camping on the snow this late in spring led to hilarious scenes as the snow melted throughout the weekend. Snow pegs melted out continuously, and tents went flying (the guys who had stayed in camp saved everything and are legends). Snow walls built tall and proud with much effort, shrank to nothing in the warm wind overnight. And best of all, it turned out Liam and Nick actually set up their tent on a snow bridge over a small creek, which slowly thinned, until a large hole opened up under a corner of the tent, revealing water running below.
After a while a few of us started champing at the bit to ski, and set off breaking trail up the creek, and then over the Blue Lake Pass to ski down to the lake. It was about 2.5km return from the campsite to Blue Lake, and although we had to climb up to the pass to get there, on the way back we got to ski a great little face above camp straight back to our tents.
From the lake shore Matt and I hiked up to Glissade Gully. This is the first chute you come to climbing around the back, and while steep, it’s wide, uncorniced and with a friendly runout. We were joined by some people from the party camped illegally on the lake shore. While there were a few tracks down the easier right side, they were quickly obliterated as our group ripped it up in soft corn.
Returning to camp, we melted water and cooked up dinner, as Liam used the mini projector in his phone to screen ski movies on the side of his tent.
On Sunday a few groups split off to go do different things. The keen group led by Matt Hamlyn (who rapidly disappeared into the distance) set off up to the crest of the Main Range and traversed around to the summit of Mt Twynam, Australia’s 3rd highest point.
The wind picked up on Sunday and became the defining weather of the weekend. Up the top near the Sentinel ridgeline it was very tough trying to traverse across it! James and Nick abandoned the idea of the summit and rode down into the valley above Blue Lake. Me and Liam struggled to catch Matt and finally met him at the summit trig, where I cowered under a boulder to try and hide from the wind.
We skied south from the summit and down into Center Gully, the furthest skier’s left line into Blue Lake, and a great run. We met James and Nick on the little island of rocks underneath the Amphitheatre, which is a safe zone from avy runouts and a nice spot for lunch. A bit later Ollie and Mitch also did a run down Center Gully.
James and I then put on our alpinist pants and tried to climb up the second Amphitheater chute following some vague climber bootpacks. The snow was getting a bit slushly, ankle to shin deep so soft but not yet too worrying. It quickly got steep, and I didn’t want to traverse out over cliff bands to follow the easiest way. James had crampons to put on, but I didn’t, and so I had an exciting time putting skis back on to bail, while straddling a little bergschrund under a cliff band.
After that, we decided to go the long way around! It didn’t take too long.
Above the lake cirque, the wind was howling – “Patagonian!” and it was pretty confronting. The exposure is crazy and it really does feel like you’re on top of a cliff. I didn’t get out an inclinometer, but I’ve heard people say 45+. Steep in any case.
James went all the way skier’s left around the cornice to get into the 2rd chute. From the top of Grey Buttress I scouted an entry through the cornice, where the little spine between the 1st and 2nd chutes came up, and caused a gap in the cornice. But stepping out to the edge I screwed it up, and ended up way to close for comfort to a bigger part of the cornice. A climber on the buttress yelled at me and I worked it out. Luckily, by October the cornice has eroded and compacted significantly, and was probably as safe as it gets.
I had to drop in and immediately go right to get away from the pretty sizeable cliffs below, to get a clean shot down the 1st chute. I nailed it and was super happy with how I skied the rest of it, controlled, good sluff management and damn it was a rush! I did have a bit of an 80s Chamonix look going with the long flappy jacket and lidless drawstring pack.
James’ line had a really narrow spot between some rocks, he screwed up the critical turn and actually hit the rocks! We were all certain he would tomahawk all the way to the lake, but he managed an amazing recovery and the board was barely damaged! Showing that climber’s cool under pressure.
Ollie and Mitch shaped up for the same line as James down the 2rd chute as James. They both made it look like a quick fang down Goat Gully. Great to watch. We thought Ollie was yelling in alarm for a bit, but actually he was listening to music on his headphones and and singing along! Everyone agreed it was more or less the steepest and scariest thing we’d skied in Australia.
The others decided they were down for a rest day, and had a short walk over to Hedly Tarn, and chilled out at camp drinking and smoking (and rescuing tents from the wind). They did such a good job that there was barely any beer left by the time we got back! The kicker did end up getting built for a late afternoon session, above a wind lip just upstream of camp, and there were a few spins and even a backflip attempt.
We were worried about having to pack up in the rain, but the morning turned up mostly clear again. It was still windy though. We had the luxury of packing up slowly.
We made the short slog just up the short hill from camp back to Pyramid Rock. A few of the guys bailed early, but I managed to persuade a big group to climb up Carruthers Peak and ski the Elevator chute. I was really happy so many people came in the end, as it’s just a great peak to climb and ski. Nick was a complete champion and skipped the climb, to tele around to Club Lake and take photos.
We ditched packs and started the climb, splitboards, skis and snowshoes. The pace was actually pretty cracking! Once the views to the west started opening up it was really pleasant.
The summit of Carruthers is actually pretty sharp by Australian standards, it feels like you’ve climbed a peak and not just a hill. Despite the wind there was a great vibe on the summit, awesome views, victory beer and anticipation of the descent to come.
Some frantic pointing with ski poles got Nick in position, and I pointed out the options to everyone. The Club Lake cirque is great, it’s just excellent skiing, steep and blind enough to be exciting, but not scary, there’s no really dangerous features like Blue Lake, and you can’t really get cliffed out unless you go over the bulge skier’s left of Elevator.
James dived off the summit first, promising to wait the entrance to Elevator halfway down, but of course it didn’t, it’s too much fun and he went straight down. I went down Dogleg, the chute to the right. Everyone followed one by one and the awesome vibes continued. Ollie and Mitch skied Elevator at the same time going full tilt and it was rad. There were a couple of crashes, but everyone did pretty well and were able to recover by themselves.
The Hike Back
We hiked out of the lake, back around the spur and down to the packs. On the way back down to the river crossing, a large amount of snow that had been there on Saturday had already melted. A few people tried to follow drifts as far as they could, but everyone ended up walking. I ended up almost at the Foreman’s Hut ruin, and had to walk a long way downstream!
There was again a small crowd at the crossing as everyone returned home. The water was much higher and flowing strongly – tricky and I would not have liked to have fallen in. I expected my bare feet to go numb after a while, but nope, it was pain all the way until the sweet release of the warm grass on the other side.
In a long straggling line, we inched up the final hill, to finally reach the carpark. The trip ended on a good note. We might just have to do this again next year.