Back in the Saddle - Ski Tour to Youngs Hut (Aug 2021)


Back in the Saddle - Ski Tour to Youngs Hut (Aug 2021)

With lockdown #5 complete, I finally got to start some winter leave and headed straight for Mount Beauty, via Bendigo for the now mandatory pre-resort entry COVID test. I got in three days skating at Falls Creek, before Tim and Eric joined me for a much anticipated ski tour. We set out on Sunday 1st August. Our first stroke of luck was finding a couple of overnight parks in Lower Windy carpark, which had been completely full the day before.

We headed up McKay Rd, with heavy packs full of eight nights food, but soon found Eric waiting where the road crossed under the first ski lift with a glum look on his face (or at least Tim could tell something wasn't right). Eric's binding had snapped. We had debated what spare gear we would need, but felt that a High Plains tour was lower risk, compared to say our Jagungal wilderness adventure. We did observe before starting for the day that the time gear would fail would be after two years in storage, but most of what we could have packed was back home anyway.

After a less than promising phone call, Eric headed down to the XC hire shop at Windy Corner. From the old box of stuff hidden in a corner, they managed to produce not one but two spare bindings, and fairly promptly had Eric back on his way up the hill, with one binding replaced and another for good luck. We noted several times that there was not ever on any of our previous trips a better time and place for a gear failure to occur.

With sunny skies and light winds, Tim made the call on Plan C - summit Mt McKay and stick to Pretty Valley hut for the night. There had been rain and then a freeze the night beforehand, and off-piste was still unpleasantly icy, so Tim and I ended up booting it halfway from the trail junction to the summit. But the view was worth it. A quick ski down gave us Pretty Valley Hut to ourselves for the night and plenty of time to setup the tents and cut firewood.

The next day was still sunny but with wind increasing. We headed south over the high plains to Youngs Hut, largely forgoing the idea of getting to Tawonga Huts again and the Fainters summits this trip, with most of the pleasant weather likely already behind us. Icy conditions weren't much fun for touring (and prompted one bruising fall with the pack in the first five minutes). Along the way, we got a glorious view of Feathertop, with our first sighting of brumbies in the foreground.

The approach to Youngs Hut was made a little more ugly by several hard frozen snow mobile tracks, but we arrived with plenty of time again to establish our tent sites. Despite the crystal clear evening skies, storms and snow were expected to arrive overnight. Before that, we enjoyed a view of the Magelllenic Clouds, which gave Tim and Eric inspiration for the rest of the week.

We did indeed awake to fresh snow falling, and it kept falling all day Tuesday. Just a faint hint of the snow mobile tracks remained by the end of the day. Temperature was barely below freezing at times, but the snow was quite soft and relatively dry on the ground. We made a short day ski south-east, along a trail that eventually heads toward McNamaras Dinner Plain Hut. We made it barely five kms, to a point that was later easily visible from Youngs Hut just across the valley. But skiiing (without packs) through a winter wonderland of fresh snow falling was all we needed - just a delightful feeling under skis that had been locked away and with no sight or sound of anyone else's tracks.

Snow continued to accumulate slowly through Wednesday, with all hint of the snow mobile tracks near the hut now gone. A good 15cm of fresh snow overall and a welcome improvement in touring conditions. A pattern of cloudy and windy weather set in, but nonetheless we headed back up to the high plains, using the poles and some shortcuts via GPS then heading west and a good drop down in the fresh snow to Weston's Hut for lunch. On our climb back up from the hut, we found the brumbies again and my colleagues insisted on photos.

The way back was full whiteout across the top, but with plenty of space and open terrain navigating via GPS was no problem, enjoying the strange sensation of hardly being able to tell whether the terrain immediately in front was up or downhill. A glorious day trip in the fresh snow nonetheless.

There had been considerable debate about where to head on Thursday, and what the remaining few days of the tour should hold. We conservatively set out with the shortest option back to Pretty Valley Hut in mind, but with good visiblity and the wind at our backs, we changed course and headed for Cope Hut, making pretty good time across the relatively flat landscape. For the second time (with 2018), we managed to carefully miss the particular valley up to Cope Hut we had marked in the GPS, but still arrived in the sunshine having passed 20-30 schoolkids heading east presumably to stay at Pretty Valley Hut. The afternoon's work included digging out the toilet.


After checking in with the world, and updated from two others at the hut, we heard that Victoria was going back into lockdown #6 that evening. We weren't sure what that should mean for us, but were in no position to put the packs on again the next day for a big ski immediately out. So instead, wiith more sunshine on the east side of the high plains, we headed out along BHP road to Faithfulls Hut, with snow cover for all but the last half of the descent from Buckety Plain campsite. The great snow cover was a hangover from a huge (1 metre) cold dump that occured in July (16th-20th and 24th/25th). We were savouring every minute, knowing that we would be heading back home to lockdown.

On Saturday, we set out to ski back to Windy Corner, two days earlier than planned, in cold and windy conditions again. We made good time along the road, even though a shortcut in front of Langfords Gap didn't work out quite so well. A few stops later, we were back at the car (which started first time) for lunch. While Tim and Eric were set on heading home, I made some inquiries about staying on the mountain (as the lockdown rules said to stay where you were at Thursday evening if possible). Unfortunately, they could not take any new bookings, and I wasn't up for camping further on my own, so joined the convoy home.

We were quite content with seven days and six nights out snow camping. It's strenuous and that was long enough to settle in to the experience. We just wished we hadn't carried two extra kgs of food each the whole way. For me it was the first time touring since 2018, as I had ruptured my Achilles trying to get fit, just three weeks before our NSW trip in 2019. So with that and 2020 wiped out with lockdowns, I was very pleased to have managed the trip and the pack weight. Our original plan of heading back to NSW Jagungal Wilderness via Nimmo Plain and Cesjacks Hut remains for next year - maybe third time lucky.

More photos in the SmugMug album.

Afterword: Having got home on Saturday night, the lockdown in regional Vic was lifted ahead of schedule at midnight Monday. So I got another COVID test and the next morning was driving back to Mt Beauty for another 4-5 days of skate skiing to exhaust my body and my leave plans. The situation elsewhere really only got worse in the meantime.