Spring is in the air…nah nah nah, nah nah nah…spring is in the air…and I had time off work!
Alexey, Simon and I set off in the Russian Snow Chariot from Sydney, at 4pm on Friday afternoon. In Canberra, we stopped to pick up Ro from his parent’s farm in Williamsdale, where were kindly treated to dinner by his family. Then it was on to Island Bend, where we set up the tent, and got to bed around midnight.
In the morning, Ro’s tendency to sleep in was balanced by Alexey’s early rising (a theme of the trip). We met Tracy in the Guthega carpark at 7:30am, along with Ben and Seb, and apparently half of the backcountry enthusiasts in NSW.
In the lead-up to the trip, Alexey, Ro and Tracey (an MRBC guide) had been getting out and about all winter, and were fit and prepared. I was…well, I was prepared. It’s a good thing I have a lightweight setup, as I needed all the help I could get to keep up. The wildcard was Simon, ready for his first ever time using a splitboard, and still a beginner on the snowboard. (He’s a great cook though!)
We made it to Illawong in a couple of hours, having gotten separated and lost in the trees only a little bit. Once over the famous swing bridge, I was all ready to dump as much gear as possible at the first glade of trees. But Tracey kept skinning up into the distance, to the annoyance of my back and shoulders. I managed to get them to stop at about the 1750m mark. We camped the a glade of trees below the “eyebrow”, the prominent cornice just below the treeline, on the ridge between Twynam and Pounds creeks.
Setting up camp, I discovered I actually had five 500ml tinnies in my pack, rather than the two I’d planned on taking! The only funny business was by my own subconscious, which had apparently decided that as much beer as possible was needed.
The day was great, almost windless, and it didn’t seem too soft yet, so after lunch it was time to get the day packs together and set off for the summit of Mt Twynam. Me and Simon were definitely in the rearguard, requiring rests after almost every 20 strides, as though it were an 8000m peak. Finally we attained the saddle between Little Twynam and the main peak, and after a slog straight up the final hill we made it to the summit.
Man that’s starting to become a too-familiar summit. I will say this for it, it doesn’t have a whole bunch of false summits, like the Carruthers spur! Just a good honest gentle climb to the top.
Me and Simon were, well, buggered, so I decided to save myself for the next day, and do a run down to Blue Lake. Tracey, Ro, and Alexey went off to do a couple of runs in the beautiful bowl north of Tenison Woods Knoll into Watson’s Creek.
I got Simon started down the gentle gully of Blue Lake Creek, before traversing over to the top of the Amphitheatre, and side-slipping around the little cornice at the top of Stage Gully. Reflecting on how likely I was to tomahawk to the lake with skis banging into my face, I stopped to take the leashes off the skis, and throw a few snowballs in to judge the snow. Then I skied Stag Gully. Not as elegant as it could have been, but after the first few turns I got into it, and it was great fun in the knowledge I had a safe runout.
I met Simon on the lake, and we slid over to watch the ice climbers. There was a group of 3 top-roping on the right of Center Gully and another party of two leading something on the left – I found out later it must have been Jason Piper that was leading, something that looked hard and mixed.
We used the climber’s bootpack up Center Gully, to slowly escape to the Little Twynam saddle again, and run back down to camp to catch the last of the sun and a beer or two. Still a pretty good tour for the first day! 1000 vertical meters apparently.
The dinners on this trip were really excellent. Miso soup for starters, a great idea. For a base we had the camping staple of couscous, with a Backcountry Meals dehydrated vege pack added – a really good option instead of their full meals. Simon added his “secret herbs and spices” mix, as well as salami, cheese, turkey, and tofu supplied by Tracey. Chocolate and red wine for desert.
Day Two dawned windless and perfect (and warm) with the call of nature heard strongly. With the business done and stowed “on ice” in plastic bags, it was skins on and back up to the summit of Twynam.
With such a beautiful spring morning, we decided it was Triple A time. Unfortunately I did not have any poetry on hand to read before we dropped in. So down we went. What a ripper – steep sustained and interesting! For a moment I thought I was in the Happo One backcountry. A bit firm on the right hand side of the gullies, but all good on the left.
Then began the horrible climb directly up the Watson’s Creek gully. I’m ashamed to say, I sinned against the Church of the Low-Angled Skintrack, brought low by dastardly splitboarders (The next time I zig-zagged and it was waaay better. Don’t be led astray by infidels who go straight up!)
Balancing on skins on the steep pitch, I unfortunately dropped my drink bottle, which rocketed back down the hill. Luckily, Ben was on hand to make a heroic sprint and dive to catch it, before it rolled all the way to the Geehi River. Hilariously, when he caught up and gave it back to me, I clipped it into my waist belt, only for the buckle to snap, and the bottle set off down the hill again! Even more luckily, Tim (who I met on my Lake Albina tour last winter and who had turned up again) was also climbing the same gully and managed to pick it up for me a second time!
Eventually we all made it to the top.
Ben and Seb headed off further down the spur to Walter’s Gully. We took the time to have a long lunch. Afterwards, we split up, with Simon headed back to camp guided by Tim.
At the little crest further down the ridge, I skied off for a quick scout, and picked a gully skier’s left that looked like the way down. Beautiful corn on the flank led us in to a narrow, steep, serious chute. Whoops. We negotiated the choke and emerged out into Walter’s Gully proper, zooming past Ben and Seb who were busy setting our skin track for us.
This zone is described by James over at OzBC.net with “Pretty deep cover and some skiing ability are required for these chutes to be feasible. If you are going to attempt one of these lines it’s probably best check them out from below (Walter’s Gully) first and make sure you’re on your game.” Well it worked out ok. Again, a stonking run in corn.
Way down low off the back of the western faces, feeling the remoteness and almost within touching distance of the Geehi, we started the climb back out.
Unfortunately, at this point Alexey had broken the carbon high-back on his Karakorams. We bound it together with duct tape, but he had a hard time climbing out. I was happy with two runs, and so Alexey and I made our way back over Twynam to run down the east side back to camp. Ro and Tracey managed another run.
Total for day two: 1350m vertical. Ro and Tracy must have been getting close to 2000m! Beer, miso, wine, another great meal, and chocolate finished off the evening, which ended pretty early as we all went to bed at 7pm!
On the second night, we had a bit of wind, but it had calmed down by the time we woke up. Sunny and warm again, but this time it was a windy day. Alexey unfortunately had to head home straight away with his binding broken. Simon decided to stay on the eastern slopes, and ran back to camp instead of joining us on one last western run.
So Ro, Tracey and I climbed first Twynam and then Tenison Woods Knoll again, in the teeth of some good old Main Range wind. It was bad on top of Twynam, but actually ok on top of TW Knoll. We ran to the north, through some rocky bluffs. The corn was exceptional.
Me and Ro then traversed hard skier’s left out onto the ridge below the Siren Song bluff, and ran down the ridge to the bottom. The climb out was a little better this time! Back on top of Twynam, we had one final great run into the eastern bowl below the summit, before running back to camp to meet Simon.
We packed up in increasing wind. There was one small incident when I left the tent bag unsecured and it flew about a hundred meters down the hill! I frantically clicked in to skis and managed to catch it.
Loaded up and relaxing back at the Snowy River below Illawong Hut, we faced a very melted traverse back to Guthega. With a bit of climbing around the most melted bits, we managed to stay on “snow” the whole way except for 4 or 5 sections of classic bush skinning. The final slog up from the Farm Creek bridge was awful. Mercifully, Alexey had spent the day productively, buying more beer. We did about 1100m vertical on the last day.
We had a final lunch in the Guthega Center, now abandoned for the season, and attempted to eat the rest of the cheese. Then, with “clean” clothes on and thoughts of showers, we drove home.
So…I’m asking for more leave on Monday!
Postscript: The Rhythm crew liked everyone’s tracks in the TW bowl from the weekend so much, they had to film the same zone!