Thursday, 30 June 2016

Trip Report - Bogong High Plains Southern Circuit Ski Tour July 2013 Day 1

Early July.  At last, a good dump quickly followed by clear skies. In 24 hours I had made all preparations and left a bitterly cold (-2 degrees) morning in the city.  The temperature stayed below zero until 10:30am as my car's heater struggled to work.  A claimed 57cm of natural snow was awaiting me on the High Plains. In reality it was a bit less, but coverage was near enough to total. The weather forecast was for 3 good days with some cloud in the afternoons followed by sleet arriving on the fourth day. I planned to use all of them.

I had put together a trip plan of 4 short easy days skiing along pole lines or groomed trails and camping at 3 huts, with a choice of Cope or Wallace Hut on the last night depending on whether I wanted to start the final day a bit closer to my destination.  In the middle was a section that I hadn't visited before with pole lines. The final day would be a gentle ski along the generally level and groomed Bogong High Plains Road back to Falls Creek.  For that reason I would suggest this is the best direction to undertake this circuit.  A few fit day skiers do the entire journey in a single day.

The short skiing days would allow me to enjoy the camping part of my journey, give me a chance of exploring around the camp sites (I wasn't sure of the usual water sources at all the huts) and avoid the problems such as wet socks and heel blisters, forgetting items at camp and falling over with the pack. 

I had about 4 days of food and the weight was about 23kg, including 2 litres of water and a snow shovel but excluding the skis. After the trip, my gear shakedown found about 800g of items I didn't use and might not take next time.  A similar amount of food remained. But next time I would take extra socks and blister treatments.
Mt Buffalo from the road
With a quick photo of Mt Buffalo and a half hour tea stop at Tawonga South the road trip, including parking time, to the snow took 5 1/2 hours.

West peak Mt Bogong from Tawonga South road
The parking people insisted I park down the mountain.  At least the shuttle was free and quick, even as I was recovering from the overnight parking costs. May be worth parking lower down and hitching up after a gear drop off.

It was about 12:40pm before I started skiing up moderately graded Pretty Valley Road from Windy Corner.  The grade is fairly even and at this time of day the snow was taking traction. I paced myself in to a nice rhythm. The sky was clear.
The road ahead. Mt McKay on right.

The weather along this top section can be bad enough to force parties back and wait for the weather to clear.
Sun Valley - another way up
When I went down Sun valley a couple of years ago with a pack, visibility was limited and spindrift was making it hard to see the surface. I had to fix my eyes on a landmark some 20m away in order to stay upright.  With some difficulty I located the groomed trail down this valley and snow-ploughed my way more or less straight down.  I seem to recall a few plastic orange PVC pipes used as snow poles assisted with the route.  Others had greater difficulty traversing down in the poor conditions and never found the grooming. Pack loads were redistributed to the more able and overmitts were getting blown away to oblivion. 

At the top there is a short flat exposed top section on the road before it then goes down the more protected road cutting.

I might have spent 50 minutes climbing up to the top. The only downside being you will need to run the usual gauntlet of bogans on the chair lift.  Then another 40 minutes skiing along the top exposed section of the road.  This was the first time I had been along this exposed top section.

There were good views all around and only a slight breeze.  I saw no-one out on the trail, but plenty of evidence of recent visitors.
Mt Feathertop

View South West From Gate
I was expecting the trip to the campsite to take about 3 hours but I was also aware that the afternoon was well under way and darkness would fall quickly at 5:00pm.  One of my thoughts was to avoid the 4pm icing up of the snow on the snowmobile-trashed final section of cutting downhill.  The road was groomed as far out as the start of the cutting.
Long shadows about 2:40pm.

 Pretty Valley Dam Wall turnoff.
Snowmobile tracks weren't any problem and there appeared to be some groomed tracks at the sides.  The snow was soft, grading gently down to the hut. I needn't have worried about negotiating ankle breaking icy ruts. Take your time along here as the views are great and it is over soon.

The dam wall area makes for an interesting side trip of a couple of hours.  You can explore over the pondage causeway after camping and return via this trail.  Ski west from Pretty Valley Hut, cross the causeway and circle around to the North.  There is a small hill with a tubular bell on its summit near a quarry.  From here ski across or just below the dam wall. From here you can ski North down the East side of the narrow valley to a pumping station.
PV Hut early July

I got to the hut about 3:00pm.  A long climb and 2 1/2 hour ski up.  It would be good to get here by about 1pm, which would allow time exploring, but a 10am start means either staying nearby the night before or a 5am exit from Melbourne.

One of the joys of bushwalking/ski-touring is camping and spending the night immersed in the natural world. I setup camp immediately and spent some time preparing the snow surface under the tent into a shallow hammock profile with the head end slightly higher than the feet.

As it was I didn't have a lot of time to explore.  After pitching the tent in some delightful late afternoon sunlight it got gloomy. I knew the snow would get icy and the temperature would drop quickly as the sun dipped below the mountains.

I found shallow slow-flowing water nearby,  but had to dig through 2 feet of snow to a point where I knew it could be found.  That took 20 minutes.

The toilet for this hut is located a couple of hundred metres away (about a 5 minute ski on groomed trail and then through some trees near the horseyards and camping area) 

A snow groomer appeared about 4pm and went up to the horseyards and back.
Cold evening approaches

I retreated to the hut  to ready the fire and set a brew.  It didn't take long for the sun to set. 

A Cold Night on the High Plains

Inside a couple of skanky cement-encrusted shovels graced the wall. How hard would it be to clean them before donating them to the hut?  An ancient decrepit pair of 3-pin XC skis also leaned next to the doorway looking like a binding would give out on the first use. Why is this old junk here?
Inside the filhty, cramped but warm hut. Not sure how those logs will fit in the stove though.

I emptied the huge pile of ashes out of the small pot belly stove and set and lit it. The chimney draws well. The hut is cosy/cramped and only a small fire is needed. I heated water for dinner on the stove – it has great air control. The hut is small and the stove hardly uses any wood to heat it. There were plenty of rat faeces on the food preparation bench. So not so pleasant.

I used a Snowpeak  Multi-Compact Titanium cookset. This 300g kit has nice wide 1L (100+ 65g) and 780ml (82+51g) pots with lids.  Perfect for a remote canister or shellite stove.  You can fit a 230g gas canister in the small pot if you remove the plastic canister cap. You may squeeze in a small fire steel as well.

I had brought a Primus Omnifuel stove and shellite fuel as the forecast was for -5 degrees lows.  Shellite stoves can turn into a fireball. You need to practice using the Omnifuel stove to learn the proper set up and pull down sequence to minimise fuel spillage.  Make sure both valves are shut before pressurising. 

I decided to save on fuel and mostly used the hut stove for this meal once the fire got going.  Be careful about eating out of the main pot lid even as the handle looks like it is designed to be used as a vessel. The wire handle on the lid opened up under the weight of the food and it slipped its catch. The lid flopped down and dumped the food unceremoniously on to the hut floor. Things were looking good for the hut rat. Back home I used needle nose pliers to bend the flanges around to catch the wire handle better.  Doing this makes the connection better, even after a period of time has elapsed in which the spring in the wire handle has had some time to relax.  A clip to hold the handle together would be useful here. Either that or dispose of the lid and use a bowl.

I quickly made another meal by taking some food from each of the meals for the next 2 nights.  Plenty spare was left so no problems down the track.

Retiring to the tent, I put on Primaloft trousers and an uberlight down vest over day thermals, as well as a merino neck warmer and beanie.  I had a full length 3mm PE foam mat fitted under the XTherm air mattress and a short 6mm mat on top covering shoulders to hips. This also attenuates elbow or point forces on the mat that eventually break the internal baffles.  I can verify this makes for a warm and comfortable night, the key being to sculpt the snow underneath into a nice hammock shape. 

A big day. I had driven 400km and now I was ensconced in a snow camp on the High Plains. I drifted off, warm and cosy.

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