TRIP: Jagungal ski trip, 18-19 Aug 2007

PARTY: Catherine Barnes, Jiri Svec, Ashley Burke



It was about 12:45am on Saturday morning when we rolled into the Island Bend camping area after a smooth drive down from Sydney. Considering it was still the middle of winter, it was unusually warm. Jiri and Cat bunked down in their tent while I rolled out my sleeping bag in the back of the car for the remainder of the night.

We were up early next morning and there was blue sky about. We packed up quickly, our objective was to reach the summit of Jagungal by sunset, and this meant we needed to get going early. Doubts were raised early about the suitability of Jiri’s and Cat’s gear for the trip – when I picked up their boots to put in the car I could hardly lift them. And their skis were yo-yo telemark skis with skins, not touring skis with scales.

Notwithstanding these limitations we set off from Guthega power station right on cue at 8am. We carried our skis up to the top of the pipe line from where there was just enough snow to ski on. The Schlink Road obeyed Murphy’s Law to the extent that there was skiable snow on all the uphill sections but none on the downhill sections. After the ford across Munyang River though, the snow cover was complete, and from here we could now ski all the way.

The skins on Cat’s skis made the climbing hard work, and we had not quite reached Whites River hut when we decided to part company. Jiri and Cat would shorten their route and camp at Schlink hut, while I continued as planned to the Big J.

The weather was variable, with ominous clouds approaching from the south, but there was almost no wind and the visibility was adequate. So I skied up onto Kerries Ridge and set course for Mawsons Hut. The Kerries Range was empty of other ski tracks, I made my own by ploughing forward through the deep and dampening snow. My first views of Jagungal hove into view to the north, and beneath darkening clouds to the west, the snow clad Greymare Range could be seen. I had been spoilt by the majesty of the Peruvian Andes most of the winter but the vistas of the snowy mountains in winter were nevertheless exhilarating.

By the time I reached Mawsons Hut it was lunch time and a cup of tea and hearty lunch was a matter of life and death. Just as I was about to leave Mawsons hut, who should turn up but Roger Lembit, Nipper and Mr Bean! They were out here on a 4 day trip and on their way back the way I had come.

The Big J was beckoning and I set off from the hut sometime a bit after 2pm. Then I had to cross the Valentine River, and this meant taking skis, boots and gaiters off to wade across, with only snow to step out onto on the other side – brrrr. And then it was a case of heading north, threading a route among the rounded granite hills that form the Jagungal wilderness. I chose a route that was easterly enough to avoid another cold river crossing of the Geehi, and this route brought me to the base of Jagungal by late afternoon. I found a tent site that had already been stamped out in the snow, and telltale signs such as a small pile of used tealeaves and a couple of scraps of onion peel made me suspect, rightly, that this was the same site used by Roger, Nipper and Bean the night before. I dumped my pack here and headed for the Big J.

I arrived at the summit before 5pm just as tendrils of cloud began threading themselves around the summit. Away to the west breaks in the cloud permitted shafts of sunlight to shine through and spotlight distant hills in the early evening glow. It was neither windy nor cold, an almost unheard of situation on the summit of the Big J in winter.

I skied down from Jagungal in long sweeps across the mountain side and returned to my pack. As I setup my tent the sun went down, illuminating the clouds in gold and orange light. After the amazing sunset faded, it was into the tent for a well earned beer, dinner and port.

Meanwhile Jiri and Catherine had their tent pitched outside Schlink hut and had their dinner inside, in the company of 4 other skiers.

Next morning I woke to complete whiteout, and this obscured my views for the ski back through the Jagungal wilderness. I followed ski tracks southwards, taking a route which led into the upper Valentine valley so as to avoid another frigid river crossing. Only when I was well on my way toward Gungartan Pass did the clouds begin to dissipate, revealing deep blue skies and a warm sunny day.

On the same morning at Schlink hut, Jiri and Cat had woken to clear sunny skies, only the Kerries and the country to the north were covered in clouds. They spent the morning carving S’s down a nearby slope.

Meanwhile I crossed Gungartan Pass and in clear weather skied the excellent soft snow to Schlink hut where Jiri and Cat were just packing up their tent. Carved into the slopes to the west were their telemark turns, tight helical curves stretching down the mountain side. Together we skied up to Schlink Pass for lunch. There at Schlink Pass were Roger, Nipper and Bean again, and they had even gone to the trouble of indelibly carving my name in the snow. So we all had lunch together in the clear still midday sun, and then it was the great fang down the Schlink Road until sadly the snow ended and we had to shoulder our skis and walk back to the car.

Although it was unfortunate that Jiri and Cat couldn’t join me for the whole trip it was a fantastic ski weekend and great to pay homage to the Big J in winter once more.

Photos of the trip are at

Ashley Burke