Snowy Plains - Cesjacks - O'Keefe's Ski Tour (August 2022, 3rd time lucky)


Snowy Plains - Cesjacks - O'Keefe's Ski Tour (August 2022, 3rd time lucky)

On the last NSW ski tour in 2019, which I missed with a ruptured Achilles, Eric noted the possibility of returning to the Jagungal wilderness via Snowy Plains Firetrail. This could get us back to our favourite hut of our 2014 K2K tour and explore a new hut and surrounds at Cesjacks.

Covid of course put paid to those plans. Vic lockdowns kicked in just a few weeks before the first attempt in 2020, then we were locked out of NSW in 2021 and made do with a Young's Hut Tour instead.

A January 2021 reccy and two Ford Ranger’s later, we were free in 2022 to make our third attempt. But a biblical 100mm+ of warm rain just a couple of days before our starting weekend put a big dampener on the plans – trashing the back-country at lower elevations and on marginal aspects and threatening our access route. Nonetheless, with some sage forum and local advice, we delayed our start a few days and drove in on frozen ground on Tuesday 9th August.

The rain and snow melt meant there was no chance of getting past Bulls Peak Creek, so we did my least favourite thing and carried skis on our already heavy packs for 5kms to within ~700m of the park boundary and it remained very sketchy much of the way up. Motivation improved with skis on but snow conditions at Cesjacks were hardly inspiring – there was plenty of grass to remember the summer visit by! We had the company of two for the first night and gained some useful intel relevant to our routes.

With a second day of fine weather under a rare (for this season) high and no expectation of those conditions repeating, we headed straight to Mt Jagungal. The epic rain of course meant no snow bridges, and even the reported stepping stones across the Doubtful Creek were underwater. So, pants off and into the water it was – another reminder of our K2K experiences.

Halfway to the Big J, a binding from Eric’s new but trip tested ski pulled completely out. Tim sacrificed his summit experience and headed back to Cesjacks on foot, while three of us completed the climb. After all the rain we were expecting horrendous icy conditions on the ascent, but the frosty nights had created a consistent crystal growth of decent depth making for safe and easy climbing – other than the final steps we saw no ice at all.

Descending back to where we had split took no time at all, then another bracing river crossing and we were back at the hut pondering a pair of skis beyond our capability to repair and throwing the rest of the tour into serious doubt.

After discussing some options to make do with light weight gear back at the vehicles, we got in touch with John at Alpine Backcountry in Berridale that evening and he came to our rescue in grand fashion. By mid-morning the following day he had parked a replacement pair of skis beside our vehicle and all Tim and I had to do was walk down to get them (a lazy 16km round trip a seemingly small price to pay to salvage our tour). Meanwhile, Eric and Conrad made an attempt on Mackey’s Hut but were ultimately foiled by trees or lack of snow in the open, with limited desire to close the gap through bogs on foot given feral wet and windy conditions.

The next day was intended as a sort of rest day, although three of us headed out on a tour to Macalister Saddle and back around the west side valleys of the Doubtful Creek before finishing with another pants off river crossing and burning a few more calories than planned.

A day later than originally planned, on Saturday we headed for O’Keefe’s Hut. Miraculously, despite being under the centre of (decaying) low-pressure system we had a second day of near perfect and calm conditions with some building stratocumulus clouds above the summits the only sign of things to come.


By our modest standards we smashed out most of the 8kms with ease but finding a route down through the trees for the last km to the hut was harder than we expected (and reminiscent of Arsenic Ridge in 2014).

But there was O’Keefe’s Hut every bit as cosy and comfortable as we remembered. After setting up tents, we stoked the fire and settled in for the night. Miles from anywhere, with dinner on the stove, worsening weather and dark well and truly set in, we were very surprised to see a red head torch outside at 7pm. Keanan had skied 42km straight from Perisher pushing on from earlier targets before meeting a similar fate to ours in the trees but under torchlight.

Sunday was wild but at least you could call it snow. It was the kind of day you could justify not leaving the hut but I opted to persist with the day ski to Derschkos Hut, while the others stayed to ‘chop wood and carry water’. For a while I broke some trail through the lumpy snow and picked a way across the watercourses for our companion who was heading back to Grey Mare. To my great surprise, albeit with some awkward moves down the snow drifts to the water’s edge, we were able to cross the Tumut River on skis before parting ways at the trail junction. Derschkos was not at all what I was expecting – a mini Schlink Hilton and a clean and comfortable option for future reference, not visited much in winter by the logbook.

Through Sunday evening the snow seemed drier and we cleared quite a bit from the tents late afternoon and again before bed. By Monday morning though, things seemed to have got close to freezing again and there was rime ice on the tents although more snow accumulation on the ground.

We put the packs back on and hauled up the hill through the clearest areas straight up the gentle ridge from the hut, reaching 1750m before heading across and back down a little into the Bogong Creek valley. This was much more successful than our traverse in which led us into dense trees between 1650-1700m. Once we got up towards Jagungal Saddle the full force of the wind and conditions hit us, but thankfully from behind.

Getting tossed around by the wind, and in dense blowing snow at times, we made quick pace back towards the Doubtful Creek. We had debated whether snow/ice bridges were likely to have formed again and arriving at our previous crossing point gave us room to hope but the icy partial cover on the river meant even the pants off option was looking tricky, and a whole lot less attractive.

After scouting upstream we did manage to find a safe snow crossing, then braced through raging wind up the slope to Cesjacks. Later that afternoon we were again surprised to find a visitor arrive in the blizzard, this time Con who had made his way up from Snowy Plain.


We set up tents again but in much more exposed conditions than at O’Keefe’s. Considering the buffeting we were getting on skis earlier, the driving snow and the roar in the trees, I estimated the wind speed to be averaging 30-35 knots at times (which made for an uncomfortable night's sleep). By comparison now with Thredbo observations this seems plausible. At least the view from the hut was more what you would expect for winter.

All that remained for Tuesday was a quick and easy ski down, with snow a good deal lower than what we found on the way up (or the even more decayed conditions on our gear recovery trip on the Thursday) taking skis off not far up from the ‘Spring Hill’ gate. Then we trudged back to the vehicles at Rocky Creek with the drive out a little muddy in places but neither 4WD working up a sweat.

This may be a routine backyard for some, but for us Victorians this was a rewarding adventure, returning us on a third attempt to the heart of our formative K2K tour and into new huts and areas to boot.