Party: Jaclyn Fletcher, Naser Ghobadzadeh, Grant Billen, Parastoo Saharkhiz, Christian Wilson (leader)
Date: 29th June – 1st July 2012
This trip was originally planned as an early winter climb to the summit of Mt Gungartan, 2068m in the Snowy Mountains. However, other commitments meant that the walk was now pushed further into winter, and so the prospect of more snow and harsher conditions was likely. And, as luck would have it, a series of strong cold fronts in the forecast meant that things were always going to be unpredictable up there. Of course, that can be part of the fun, as long as you go well prepared. I’m pleased to say that everyone took the required gear list seriously, and everyone came well equipped for our walk into a wintery wilderness. After battling the Friday traffic, and with the daunting prediction for storm force winds and possible blizzards, our party of 5 made the long road trip down to the Snowy Mountains, stopping for refreshments at Marulan, then onto Cooma where we collected our snowshoes. Although not included in my original plans, the snow conditions meant that it would be near impossible to do the walk without them. They proved to be indispensible, and easy to use. We have since discovered some designs are better than others , but more on that later!
I managed to get us lost in the maze of roads at Island Bend campsite in the dark, as the area was an old Snowy Hydro town. So by 2.30am we were camped in a fairly sheltered area, while the winds roared around us. Although the wind abated overnight, the morning’s weather forecast now predicted another front coming with thunder, blizzards and 90kmh winds! After a bit of soul searching and group discussion, we decided to head towards the nearer of the two huts in the Munyang Valley/Schlink Pass with the option of retreat if it really got bad. I had read that the route was quite protected, and this proved to be very true, which explains its popularity with backcountry skiers.
We drove to Munyang/Guthega Power Station, and began walking at 9.40am. After a steep but short zig zag climb from the Power Station , we set out on a snowy trek across lovely alpine meadow and snowgum country to Horse Camp Hut. 90 minutes later we arrived at the small hut already nestling in a nice cover of fluffy snow. The weather around us was changing rapidly and although we were out of the prevailing wind, there were frequent snow showers. A warming fire and some advice from local campers and seasoned skiers led us to decide to make camp at the Horse Camp hut, rather than proceed to Whites River Hut , a further 4km up the valley. We decided to do some snowshoe walks from our base at Horse Camp , without the burden of packs, to make the whole activity much easier to enjoy. Considering none of us had used snowshoes before, it made sense to hone our skills on them. They are quite easy to walk in and proved to be a lot of fun, especially when we decided to do manic runs down the snowy hills. We did find out that Velcro closures on the ‘Yowie’ branded shoes do not work at all once they get iced over, so if you decide to use some, get something with buckles. Sometimes the snow shoe would just flip off your boot when the closure failed, ensuring the use of many colourful swear words…
We walked for several km along the Aqueduct trail which wound its way around the mountain side of The Rolling Ground, keeping us out of the strong westerly winds while snow flurries came and went. A few snowball fights and snow ‘art’ happened along the way, plus the occasional view across the rolling mountains rewarding our efforts. We returned to our hut without reaching the Whites River,(still 2km away from our turnaround point) but felt happy enough with the walk, the environment and views. A few kilometres can feel a lot longer on snow, so you do have to adjust your goals to suit the conditions. We were lucky to have a protected position for most of the time, so the weather never really got worse than some frequent snow showers. Certainly not the tempest that was forecast! Dinner was shared with the skiers, who proved to be friendly and interesting. After a bit of story telling and “rocket fuel” sharing with them (and some delicious wine donated by Naser! ) , the skiers invited us outside for their head torch illuminated “night-time Olympics” . This involved a ski jump, a toboggan time trial (it was kept at the hut) and the odd random snow shoe sprint down the ski track. All while it snowed heavily by the light of the full moon. Judging by the hilarious laughter and whooping, everyone had mountains of fun! Finally, we retired to our tents as they slowly became buried in powder snow.
Sunday morning showed promise of much kinder weather. The tents had stood up to the 15cms of fresh dry powder, which acting as an insulator, had also kept us quite cozy in our tents overnight. After a leisurely breakfast, one of the skiers guided us to a good ascent route up to the Rolling Ground. We enjoyed an exhilarating wild climb, again sheltered from the high winds, through untracked snow to a great vantage point at 1790m. Upon reaching the ridge crest, we felt the full force of the south-westerly winds, which excited Grant so much he wanted to press on for a few more minutes just to get a feel of that kind of weather. The stark burnt gum trees with their tortured icicle fingers and wild beauty of the area impressed everyone. Not even the roar of the wind could drown out Grants exclamations of “This is AWESOME!”
Naser set up some clever camera sequence shots which had us cavorting about on the mountainside like clowns. The joys of being in a remote place where you can act the fool and not care less! The way back down was much easier and provided Jaclyn with the perfect opportunity to try some “glissading”, that is, becoming a human toboggan down the broad steep snow slopes. We met Mark (one of the skiers) and admired his beautifully executed telemark turns on the slope above us. After a short warm lunch back at the hut, it was sadly time to leave. It seemed everyone was reluctant to head for home, such was the feeling of quiet and remoteness of this snowy world. Although I remarked that it looked as if the weather was clearing just as we left, this was short lived. Pretty soon a blizzard blew up the valley and soon we looked as if we had been powder coated with icing sugar. Parastoo set new hairstyle trends as her curly hair became heavily dusted in snowflakes.
It wasn’t long before the power station came into view and our journey into the alpine world was at an end. Our cars were heavily covered in snow, as was the mountain road out, so it was a slow and careful return to Cooma. There was still some snow on our cars there, so an impromptu carpark snowball fight was a great way to finish the weekend. We were then surprised by one of the ski hire company staff who ran out, asked permission for some snow, and then proceeded to make snowballs with which he ambushed the staff inside the shop! Many thanks to Grant , Naser, Parastoo and Jaclyn for having the courage to sign up for my first official SUBW walk! Proof that the “Press on Regardless ” motto is alive and well, we were well prepared for what nature could throw at us, and the cheerful attitude everyone brought with them made it a really great weekend “down at the Snowies”.
By the way, (forgive my shameless plug) my blue Mountain Hardwear tent in the photos is up for sale, so if anyone wants a tried and true “proven snow camping ” tent, please get in touch!.