Saturday, 2 July 2016

Trip Report - Bogong High Plains Southern Circuit Ski Tour July 2013 Day 3

Woke about 7am to find the snow shoers moving in to the warm hut for breakfast. They were doing long days and had a lot of wet gear.  It didn't take me long to get dressed and packed. When you let the air mattress down you get committed to moving, especially on snow.
Camp at Ryders Yards

Brumby trap

Cope Saddle Hut

It was about 40 minutes back to Cope Saddle Hut where I paused to treat a heel blister giving me some grief. 
Inside the spartan Cope Saddle Hut
Cope Saddle Hut, July
Looking back at a desolate Cope Saddle

Sole traveller heading for the BHP road and home

The snow pole line is horribly exposed, and would be a horror in bad weather.  The snow poles follow a mainly straight and North Easterly path. There are some small water crossings.

Frozen taps are to be expected
Arrived at Cope Hut.  Nobody in residence.  Deep snow at back.  Could not locate camping platforms somewhere up the hill.  Rain tank tap was frozen. Rather than melt snow I replenished water from the head of the gully below and cooked some noodles for lunch.

This attracted the attention of an antechinus from the wood pile. This little fellow rock climbed the chimney to get to my lunch bag hanging from a rafter. Next he was down and going for the table. I think the smell of salt from the noodles unhinged him.

Inside Cope Hut
While I ate I dried out tent fly, inner and sleeping bag. A dry breeze and a weak sun took about 20 minutes to do the job.
Drying time

The western window
I sat in the sun window for a while mulling over whether to sleep in the hut, pitch the tent outside on a platform (which were covered under snow) or to head on.

The sleet forecast for the next day was still on my mind. Time was moving on fast and the day was drawing to a close quickly.  Not knowing my own luck at stumbling on an empty snowbound Cope, I packed my dried gear and left.  I should have stayed and chilled out, giving the hungry antechinus some of the noodle seasoning by way of pact. The first part of the trail was a pleasant ski.
About 3:30pm and on the trail out from Cope

I knew time was against me and that icing-up was imminent.  The skiing went well for the first two thirds until the descent in to Wallace. 

View from the top. The trail descends from here.

The narrow "bridge". A fall in here could have led to shock and rapid onset hypothermia.
After the lookout, a shallow descent began.  I started to feel under some time pressure now to avoid being benighted. I negotiated a narrow water crossing pretty well, after a cautious small descent, but now another bigger descent presented itself. One reason to always set the fire in the hut you are leaving: you may need it fast if in retreat. This section could easily have ended a lot worse with twisted knee or ankle injury being a confronting prospect.

I was following some ungroomed rutted ski trails that led straight down the slope, but there was no way I could manage this with a 20kg pack at this time of the evening.  The sun had fallen below the nearby hills and gloom was spreading.  I was having difficulty making progress: the snow was deep, claggy and steep.  Even side-stepping down was arduous.  I was sinking in about 20 to 30cm with each movement in heavy clag.  I had 3 falls that required undoing the pack in order to stand up and continue. This was delaying and energy sapping stuff. The sun was about to set and the winter gloaming would only last 20 minutes.

I side stepped down to the water crossing in the middle of the picture below.  The snowy clag was heavy and soft underneath. You can see the ruts.  Any speed and the snow would catch the skis and you would spill with subsequent difficulty in getting upright and underway again.  This was gentle compared to the slope behind me.  Snowshoes would have worked well here and I was wishing I was wearing them at this time.
I was closer to the hut than I expected
Having progressed to the middle of that photo, the going got easier.  Amazingly, the hut turn off appeared about 400m further on.
Eastern sky
With a nice little final ski-in I arrived at Wallace Hut about 5pm on firm base snow just after the sun had set. The russeting sky was moving into a blushing sunset. Fantastic colour tones.
Western sky at the same time
Feeling like I had just experienced a deliverance, I wasted no time preparing the tent site and pitching. Snow shovel set to work making a bed base.  It got dark not long after so I had no chance to explore. 
This nice pitch, with snow scoop bed, was done in a rush right on dusk after a frantic dash in difficult claggy snow conditions and encroaching gloom. 

Headtorch on.  Get food bag, tea bag, water, stove, mug and put down jacket on.  I headed for the damp cold gloom of this bleak and dismal hut.  Walls are lined up to the roof plate blocking out all wind but it feels warmer than outside.  I found the hut pretty gloomy with only 1 gable window, with no proper seating, fireplace meshed over and unusable, poorly ventilated, damp, dirty and uneven slab floor, freezing interior and with an active, but well behaved, hut rat. Goodness knows what it finds to live on.  A dismal prospect for a blizzard retreat that might be warmer when crammed with 20 or 30 bodies but needs replacing as an effective shelter. It may offer some welcome sanctuary from a deluge, but basically it has been heritaged into disfunctionality. 

I melted snow for water and unceremoniously heated and ate my dehydrated meal in what is now a restored but bleak hut and with a more respectful antechinus for company.  

Cope Hut was looking a lot more welcome, warmer, dryer and cheerful, however I consoled myself that I was closer to my destination for what had been forecast as a miserable final day.  At least I have had a winter snow camp at Wallace Hut, something of an over-rated mecca to ski tourers.

The weather was also holding which was a blessing, even if the nearby groomed road was a handrail back home. 

Trip nearly over, I retired promptly by 7:30 and I quickly drifted off content with the events of the day expecting to wake up to changed weather: wind, scudding fog and cloud and stinging sleet.

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