Trip: Jagungal ski trip, 6-7 Sep 2008

Party: Jeremy Platt, Ashley Burke

This was the much rescheduled Jagungal ski trip that finally went ahead on a weekend of excellent weather and abundant snow.

It started, as all good ski trips do, with Jimi Hendrix. That helped keep us awake for the long drive down to the snow, and we pulled into the Island Bend rest area as the clock struck midnight. The stars were vivid and it was still, perhaps we had picked the right weekend for this big ski trip.

It’s a long ski out to the Big J so we got up early, had a quick cuppa and then drove the last few kilometres to Guthega Power Station from where the skiing starts. The snow cover was excellent for this time of year, after only 200m of walking up the road, there was enough snow cover to ski on, so we did. The snow cover was continuous for the rest of the way, including the north facing hills on the Schlink Road.

All was going great and I paused to see how Jeremy was going and he was going fine, except that he made the startling declaration that his trip was over here and now. To explain why, he lifted up his foot. His ski was fine, his binding was fine and his boot was attached to his binding fine. The problem was, the sole of his boot wasn’t attached to the rest of his boot, unless you count being held on by nothing but the gaiter strap as attached! It was a case of total delamination of boot from sole, and only half an hour into the trip!

Attempts to tape and strap the sole on were useless, and we were forced to concede that Jeremy wouldn’t be going to Jagungal. He decided to press on to Schlink Hut and confine himself to an area that was within the limits of his flapping and flopping equipment.

And so, for the second year running, I went on towards Jagungal alone. Schlink Pass was reached in good time on firm snow. Then a drink of water from a stream that was almost buried in snow followed by the climb up onto Kerries Ridge. The snow was very firm and a little hard to climb on at first, but softened as the gradient eased and the sun rose higher. At last Jagungal came into view to the north before the great ski down through sunny sheltered bowls to Mawsons Hut. It was midday when I arrived there and I was famished.

Another group of skiers were just leaving the hut when I arrived, so I had the hut to myself for lunch. Though not quite. Mawsons Hut is home to a species of small native mammal called antechinus, otherwise affectionately referred to as rat. These little critters scurried around my feet nibbling on breadcrumbs as I hoed into several bread rolls for lunch. Then it was back out into the sublime alpine whiteness for an afternoon ski northwards.

The Valentine River was crossed on snow, no need to take off skis, and then it was up into the beautiful gentle rolling country that lies between Mawsons Hut and Jagungal. There was still barely any wind, and only high cloud. I dropped my pack near a lovely saddle that would make a great campsite later on and continued on towards Jagungal unencumbered by the weight of tent, sleeping bag and food.

I could see other skiers on the summit of Jagungal but by the time I got there they had disappeared so I had the summit to myself. In winter, this is a fantastic place. Presiding high above the surrounding country, the summit of Jagungal offers a 360 degree panorama of snow smothered wilderness, beyond which lie layer upon layer of foothills, stretching away to brown vastness before the horizon. Highest of all is the main range and Watsons Crags, and beyond that Victoria’s Mt Bogong, still crowned in a deep mantle of snow. I spent some time up here, but even on a fine afternoon there is a biting wind on top of Jagungal, and too soon I had to rug up for the ski back down the open south slope to the gentle country below.

I returned to my pack, got water, and setup my tent beneath a pair of snow gums. The evening started with a nice beer, kept cold in the snow, followed by dinner and port. The night remained still.

Next morning I began the return trip, taking a more easterly course than the route of the previous day. Passing to the east of Mailbox Hill I stayed close to the Brassy Mountains, and skied past Tin Hut, not bothering to stop there before climbing over Gungartan Pass to get across Kerries Ridge and back down to Schlink Hut. At Schlink Hut I found a note from Jeremy who had started back towards Guthega an hour or two earlier. Jeremy had spent the previous night at Schlink Hut. Although his delaminated boot prevented him from skiing, he had gone for a walk up Dicky Cooper Bogong from which he had gained a great view of Jagungal.

I caught up with Jeremy soon after lunch, and found him carrying his water bottle full of alluvial sand from the nearby creek. There were lots of yellow glittering particles in the sand – gold maybe? So Jeremy had grabbed a bottle full. Maybe there would be enough gold in that bottle to pay for a new pair of boots … ? We live in hope.

Anyway, the two of us and Jeremy’s precious cargo of gold dust (or maybe specks of mica) made it back to the car in good time and it was great to get those boots off on a sunny afternoon after a fantastic weekend of skiing.

“I concede that there’s more to life than skiing but even if there wasn’t, sking is, by itself, enough”.

Ashley Burke