Tawonga Huts Ski Tour

18
Aug

Tawonga Huts Ski Tour

After a break last year for the solar eclipse, Tim, Eric and I headed away for another week of back-country ski touring this time around the Bogong High Plains in Victoria.

Day 1 (Friday 10th August, 2018) - Falls Creek to Pretty Valley Hut (7km)

We caught the bus from Mt Beauty to Falls Creek only to find two problems with our plan to get a single-lift ticket up the mountain. The first was that these sight-seeing passes could only be sold to people without skis. The second problem was that the lifts were on wind-hold anyway. So starting late (around 3:30pm), we climbed the stairs past the lodges and slowly headed up Mt McKay Rd. Heavy packs with seven days of food and strong winds climbing above Ruined Castle were not all that pleasant, but we found the trail towards Pretty Valley Hut made quick progress downhill. The last fifteen minutes were under torchlight and a little GPS navigation in the dark before arriving at Pretty Valley Hut around 6:45pm. Simon was probably quite surprised to find people arriving that late.

Snow Tent

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Day 2 - Day ski to Cope Saddle Hut (8km)

With terrible weather setting in, our goals were kept low in very strong winds and heavy snow. A short lunch trip to Cope Saddle Hut and back at least got ourselves in the ski touring frame of mind. Just reminding oneself that with the right gear you could keep warm and enjoy skiing in adverse weather was comforting.

Day 3 - Pretty Valley to Tawonga Hut and side-trip to Mt Jaimathang (10km)

After a quick ski down to the causeway over Pretty Valley Reservoir, we started the climb up towards the saddle above Tawonga Huts. We'd cached some food for later in the week at Pretty Valley Huts which took the edge of the pack weights. It was still windy with light snow falling but after reaching the saddle it was a quick ski down to the deserted Tawonga Huts. We setup tents and then headed out in the late afternoon up Mt Jaimathang, with a few glimpses of a view down into the valleys in moments of better visibility. The hut was more spacious than Pretty Valley but an open fireplace made for smoky conditions inside the hut, and with both vents open it wasn't warm once you stepped back from the fire. I'd happily to donate to somebody wanting to put a proper wood stove in here!

Day 4 - Day ski to Mt Fainter South (18km)

Finding and following the firetrail was more difficult than expected as it appeared to have not been maintained since at  least the 2006 alpine fires with substantial regrowth impinging on the trail. Combined with heavy fresh snow made for surprisingly taxing day. We stripped off layers as the sun came out for a few minutes in the morning, but cloud quickly returned and with a cold wind stronger as we climbed conditions remained chilly. With enough glimpses through cloud to realise there was a substantial cornice along the ridge up to the summit of Mt Fainter South but not enough visibility to safely avoid it, we opted for lunch behind a rock on the ridge before skiing back down the firetrail to the huts, again slowed down by heavy fresh snow.

Creek Crossing

Day 5 - Day ski to Youngs Hut (18km)

Picking what we believed to be the least-bad weather of the week, we headed up across the Bogong High Plains and the 333 Alpine Walking Trail pole out to Youngs Hut for lunch. We explored a little further south as the sun came out to gain a view of Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop before heading home. The wind blasted across the high plains as we counted the poles back home. We even managed a few turns and some fun on the slopes above Tawonga Huts.

Day 6 - Return to Pretty Valley (8km)

The plan based on earlier weather forecasts had been to get back to Pretty Valley before the weather turned late on Wednesday. However, the weather well and truly turned before we got on the skis. The wind had been howling through the trees during the night and snowfall set in as we ate breakfast. The climb up to and over the saddle above Tawonga Huts was some of the worst weather I've ever been out in. But the three of us knew the route and the plan and comfortably worked our way up and then down to the causeway again. From there it was a simple climb following the road and fencelines back to Pretty Valley Hut. A group of six that had arrived the previous day were also likely surprised to find us arriving out of the blizzard outside. We did some laps up the trail in the afternoon to stay warm and then bunkered down for the night, with howling winds continuing in the trees around us. Unfortunately the precipitation turned to rain or wet snow at times, significantly deteroriating the snow conditions for the following day.

Day 7 - Day ski to Cope Hut, Wallace Hut (24km)

With the best visibility of the week, and legs getting into a groove after a week on the snow, we headed out in icy conditions, sailing and skating with the wind across the open icy bowl towards Cope Hut. Morning tea there followed by a ski past the Rover Chalet and then lunch at Wallace Hut meant we were clocking up the kilometres quickly. The sun was out but the wind remained, keeping us cool throughout the day. After a winding route around Rocky Valley Reservoir, we stopped for hot chocolate at Dicky Knees before a surprsingly quick trip (!) back up the hill and back down to Pretty Valley for the last night. Another group of four arrived late in the dark bringing the total to 14 camped around the hut, making it squeezy for those wanting a turn by the warm stove inside the hut.

Day 8 - Pretty Valley Hut to Falls Creek (7km)

With windy conditions and poor visibility again, once up to the top of the trail above the hut, we took the low route down to the bottom of the Ruined Castle chair and around the cross-country trail back to Falls Creek. We arrived with plenty of time for lunch before getting back on the 1:30pm bus back to Mt Beauty, leaving the snow behind for another year. In total we skied ~100km in the week.

It had been good to get 'in the zone' again. After a few days on the snow, the tent, your skis and the weather become pretty much your whole world. It's a very meditative state with not much thought for work or problems outside the immediate challenge of keeping warm and moving. Thanks Tim and Eric and their partners for another great rejuvenating week on the snow.

Click to view more photos in the SmugMug album.