SKI-ING HOLIDAY ON MAIN RANGE, KOSCIUSKO, 1950
Written by Jack Wadie.
After a period of 11 years, I was to have a ski-ing trip. It was not to be a luxurious holiday at the chalet, but promised to be an interesting and very good ski-ing holiday.
I will relate our original plans:
Dr. Eben Hipsley and myself from Canberra were going with Stan Dunn from Wagga on a trip from Chalet to Alpine Hut via Pounds Hut and Whites River Hut. We intended to ski from Smiggins to Pounds Hut which is about four miles north of the Chalet, on the Snowy River; to stay there for the night and ski to Whites River Hut, which is approximately eight miles north of Pounds Hut over the Main Range. We then intended to enjoy the good ski-ing around Whites River Hut for several days and then to go to the Alpine Hut for the last week. This planning meant that we had to carry all our sleeping gear and food for two days until we reached Whites River.
Eben had despatched a case of food to Berridale, where it should have gone to Whites River via the Alpine Hut by car then pack horse. Until two days before our departure, the above plan was our intention. However, Stan had domestic trouble in the way of illness so had to cancel his holiday. This meant that Eben and I could not over our intended route, because a main range party has to consist of a minimum number of three to comply with safety regulations. We were fortunate that this was the case as we discovered that Eben's case of food had not reached Whites River. Had we gone on our original route, we would have had to rely on the food at Whites River, which is only provided for use in case of emergency.
Now for the actual start of our journey.
We caught the Pioneer Coach from Canberra at 7.45a.m. an Sunday 25th July. The cost for the round trip to Kosciusko for a day is 35/- and even though we weren't completing the round trip it was preferable to the train trip to Cooma and then coach to Kosciusko. We had a pleasant journey to Cooma arriving about 10.30a.m. Had morning tea and motored on to Berridale. We told Cecil Constance that we were going to Hotel Kosciusko and would be back later in the afternoon. The weather was very bad and rain started to fall at Jindabyne and continued all day. We arrived at the Hotel to find no sign of snow and a large crowd of guests were lounging around hopefully waiting for snow that would not come. We were told that there was some snow at the Perisher, but were not interested in going there.
Eben and I each left 3/- at the Post Office at the Hotel. This money was to cover the cost of two telegrams each of our wives during the next fortnight. The Hotel keeps a constant watch on the radio for any emergency calls from radios situated at the various huts on the main range. When people are in residence at any of these huts it is the usual practice to call the Hotel at least once a day to advise regarding weather and the safety of the party. These radios are situated at the Alpine Hut; Whites River Hut; Betts Camp and Chalet and are installed and maintained by the Kosciusko Snow Park Trust. We saw Mr Peterson and told him that we were going to the Alpine Hut and that we would contact him on the radio. He asked us to have afternoon tea and said that he had advised the Snow Revellers to move the site of the proposed Snow Lodge to a better drained position.
We arrived back at Berridale at 4.30 p.m. and tried to get accommodation at the hotel, but were unsuccessful. Mrs. Constance had offered to put us up for the night so we availed ourselves of her generous offer.
Now to enlighten you readers regarding the method of socking the Alpine Hut with sufficient food to last twenty persons for approximately three months of Winter.
Cecil Constance who is the garage proprietor transports all the tinned foods, supplies etc. per lorry, during the Summer for a distance of approximately thirty five miles and then uses horses to drag the food the remaining seven miles by sleds. However, fresh meat is also taken in and this is left until the frosty weather has started. The reason being that the meat is hung in the open and the frost freezes it and thus preserves it. However this year was rather unusual because there has only been one frost up to the 24th June. Cecil has killed one bullock weighing about seven hundred pounds and eight sheep. We left the house at 7.00a.m. On Monday to collect the above meat from the slaughter yards, a distance of two miles. The truck was backed under the carcass of the bullock and we loaded it and the sheep. We returned to Cecil's house and proceeded to use an axe and knife to cut the beef and sheep into small enough pieces so that we could fill flour sacks. This was necessary so that the pack horses would have convenient loads for the last seven miles to the hut.
We loaded other cases of stores, some for Alpine Hut and some for Whites River Hut. The latter cases belonged to persons who hoped to go to the latter hut for a ski-ing trip. Mrs. Constance gave us a good breakfast and we set off in the blitz-waggon at 11.30a.m. The above truck is four-wheel drive and Cecil considered that he wouldn't have been able to negotiate the creeks and swamps with only a two wheel drive. The road was fairly good and we crossed the Eucumbene River, which is approximately twenty five miles from Berridale.
The four mile climb up Nimmo Mountain then began. This track is rough and very steep, and not recommended for good cars. We crossed the Snowy Plains and came to Teddys Creek where chains were put on the front wheels. The four wheel drive had been used on Nimmo and several bad creek crossings and was necessary from Teddy's Creek to a point approximately one and a half miles up Brassy Mountain. This was the termination of our lorry trip and we unloaded the stores at 1.45 p.m.
We had lunch and bid farewell to Cecil as he drove downhill and we faced uphill with our packs and skis upon our shoulders. The Alpine Hut could not function without the co-operation of Cecil. He contracts to deliver food and supplies and also to pick up skiiers from Cooma and deliver them as far as possible along the route to the hut. During winter this entails at least one trip every fortnight. Eben and I certainly appreciated his help and I am sure that Cecil has earned the gratitude of Alpine Hut members. The remuneration that he receives would hardly be sufficient to cover his expenses.
Eben and I then climbed steadily to Brassy Gap, where we saw the snow on the mountains behind the Alpine Hut. However there was no snow lower down so we had to walk the six miles to the hut. We were glad of a rest at Kidmans Hut, which is about two miles from Alpine Hut. I had not carried a pack since 1945 and found that my shoulders were not used to carrying a weight for several miles.
We reached the Alpine Hut at 4.45 p.m. The hut was formed by the Alpine Hut Company and is separate from the Alpine Club although the shareholders are mostly members of the above club. Fifty shares of ten pounds were issued and the hut was built in (ommitted). However additions have been added during the last few years and is consists of a corrugated iron structure with the following rooms:-
1. Women's dormitory with beds for six.
2. Men's dormitory with beds for twelve.
3. Cook's room with a double bunk.
4. Kitchen with large fuel stove.
5. Large dining “ lounge room with open fire place.
6. Wood shed.
7. A long covered passageway running the length of the hut.
Drinking water is drawn from a spring and about fifteen tons of firewood had been stacked in the summer. Each dormitory had an Alpine heating stove which took eighteen inch lengths of wood and the occupants have to chop sufficient for the above, the kitchen and the lounge rooms. Eben and I had to clean the hut and tidy up as well as possible, cook our own meals, chop wood for present needs and also cut six foot lengths of wood to stack in the wood shed for any emergency. The last mentioned job had its reward when we had a heavy snow for three days. We used to saw our daily wood requirements on the verandah.
To return to our first night (Monday) at the hut.
We ate our pies and roll, which we had carried. Then inspected the radio but found that the batteries were not charged so has to start battery charger, which was a one-stroke petrol motor. We had to run this motor for an hour every every time that we used the radio. We could then only stop on the air for about three minutes, when the signals faded. The above motor took an average of fifteen minutes to start on each occasion. We had often wished that pedal wireless had been installed in preference to the above set. We contacted the Hotel Kosciusko and did so every night at 7.30 p.m., excepting two nights when we talked to the Chalet. We woke in the morning to find that we had received about three inches of snow. The weather was cloudy but we hoped for some ski-ing on the hills. We cleaned the hut, carted water and chopped wood until 12.30 p.m. and then went ski-ing.
The heather was not covered on the flat, so we had to walk for about 600 yards up to a steep wooded run known as Fletchers Tip. This run was named after the first man to break a ski tip on it. The snow was very wet and our clothes were wet before we were able to to put on our skis for the steep climb up above the run. This was my first ski-ing for eleven years and I felt like a novice. However, we had a good practice on a nice slope and returned to the hut at 2.30 p.m. Snow began to fall and we had continuous snow for the next two days.
Two pack horse men Noel and Stan Weston arrived at 3.30 p.m. With the first loads of meat and stores. Eben and I hung the meat in the meat house; chopped wood and made a damper. Noel and Stan Weston returned to the Snowy Plains and survived (...unreadable...) in the snow and dark. (Unreadable...) skiied until 2.30 p.m. The snow was about six inches deep on the flat and had (...unreadable...) sufficiently for us to ski. (Unreadable...) which we had in the hut. However the snow wet us very much as we brushed past the tall (...unreadable.) The snow was soft and was hard to climb on because the ski tips (...unreadable.)
Noel and Stan Weston arrived at 3.30 p.m., after a bad trip (...unreadable...) the meat and some stores. They had a meal and warmed themselves before setting out on the return journey at 5.00 p.m. Eben and I didn't envy them their trip in the snow storm and the darkness. We had to struggle with the meat and managed to hang the last piece about six o'clock. We were wet and cold and were glad to change into dry clothes. Some of the stores were supposed to go via pack horse to Whites River but the heavy snow would now prevent any attempt to do so.
Thursday morning was cold and still snowing. Ice had formed on buckets of water which we had in the hut. We did our usual chores until 12.30 when the snow stopped. The snow was very soft and the skis sank down twelve inches. Our climb up Fletchers Tip was very hard and the snow was the steepest I have ever encountered. The landscape looked beautiful with trees covered and the waterfall was partly iced. We had three hours of good ski-ing although we had to use our snow plough turns to keep control. Skiiers should remember that the snow plough and stem turns are very important and must not forget to master these turns. Christiana turns cannot be done in deep snow when the ski sinks nine to twelve inches. I was thankful for this excellent practice which was afforded us under such conditions.
On the usual slopes around the Hotel and Chalet one can usually do Christiana turns at high speed, because the slopes get packed from much use. We skiied for three hours and returned down Fletchers Tip which is a very steep run straight down hill through fairly heavy timber. The last forty yards near the creek is the only clear area, but is very steep. One must do numerous turns to run this hill with safety. The deep snow was very hard to ski on and we had several falls before we reached the bottom. The night was moonlit and clear and the early morning temperature was 24 degrees inside the hut. All the buckets of water had a coating of ice ½ inch thick on top and around inside.
Friday was our first fine day so we decided to go to Jagungal which has a height of 6,758 feet and is about seven miles from Alpine Hut. We left at 8.00a.m., and had a good trip on good snow. We had two small downhill runs and a long gentle climb up a valley to the foot of Jagungal. We arrived there at 11.15a.m. and donned our climbing skis for the steep climb to the top which was approximately 600 feet. I used skis which Eben had loaned me and he used light cord which he crisis-crossed from the tip to the bindings of his skis. He used this method for all climbs and found it satisfactory, although not as good as skins. However the advantage of using cord was that it was small and light to carry.
We arrived at the top at twelve o'clock only to find that that an earlier visitor had passed over the top of the peak. A fox had gone over earlier in the morning or on the previous night. Evidently foxes are just as crazy as skiers. We had seen dozens of fox tracks on our trip that morning. The view from Jagungal was magnificent and one could see across to Victoria with Mt Bogong standing out rather prominently in the distance. The mountains behind Canberra could also be seen. Mount Townsend showed to the right of Twynams and Carruthers.
We were lucky to have been able to make the trip on a fine day and also so soon after a fall of snow. This trip is not advocated after a spell of fine windy weather because the steep slopes become very icy. We left the top at 12.30 p.m. and had a glorious run down to the bottom of the mountain. However our homeward run was very disappointing. The sun had melted the snow and we tried three types of waxes, but without success. We had a hard trudge even down the hill where we had to push. We arrived back at the hut at 4.15 p.m.
Friday night was clear and frosty and Saturday was a fine day so we went to Mawsons Hut, leaving at 10.30 and arriving there at 12.15 p.m. The snow was poor and did not cover much of the ground and rocks near the Valentine River. We had a slow trip because of the poor snow conditions and we had to go half a mile downstream to find a crossing. The river was not completely iced over and some of the ice was cracked very badly.
Mawsons Hut consists of two rooms and a wood room and is lined. It is a stockmans hut during Summer and is used by skiers when touring. We left at 1.15 p.m. and arrived hone at 2.45 p.m. after a good trip.We settled down to our usual hut chores and prepared a roast dinner. Two more guests were due to arrive that day and we thought they would appreciate a good meal after the hard walk. A good meal was ready at 6 o'clock but we waited until 6.30, at which time we decided that the guests must have postponed their trip. We dined and were ready to wash up when we heard the thump! thump! of boots on the verandah. Jim Baldock and Gordon Dunn had arrived. Their boots were encased with ice and they had had a bad trip.
Although snow covered the ground from Brassy Gap to the hut it was not heavy enough for ski-ing but was think enough to hide the holes etc. into which they stumbled. When darkness fell, they found that the ice formed their boots. They tried to put on their skis, but could not do so because of the ice. They felt much better after they had eaten the roast meat.
We retired early and arose late on Sunday morning with the weather cloudy. The hut chores kept us busy until 3 p.m. When we skied until 5 p.m. Having good snow conditions on the hill. All our skiing practice was confined to to a slope above the hut which entailed a climb up Fletchers Tip and we always returned down this run.
I would like to mention another excellent run which has been cleared from Little Brassy Peak to the hut. This is about three quarters of a mile in length and very steep, and must require a lot of skill to ski safely. Unfortunately the heather is about three feet high on the run and we could not use it because the snow had not covered same. Very heavy snowfalls would be necessary to make this run ski-able, the name of the run is Grand Slam. Gordon Dunn had started to cut down the higher heather bushes when we left for home so perhaps a clear run might have been enjoyed by the skiers who came in July.
I must mention a point which might help other skiers in the future. On our trip to Jagungal, I had used pull Khandhar bindings and I developed a blister on one heel. This was the first time I had ever had a blister, so I resorted to using grasshopper bindings for the rest of our holiday. If skiers are going to use down pull bindings I advise tape on their heels before they start the holiday. If a blister should develop I will enlighten you as to the best method of treatment. Eben placed a thin layer of cotton wool over the blister and then poured Friars Balsam over it, then another layer of wool. This was allowed to dry out and then a strip of tape over it. I did not experience any pain for the rest of the holiday. Eben had treated many such blisters in this manner when he was resident doctor at the Chalet before the war.
We received two inches of snow Sunday night and we had good skiing from 10.30a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, when snow started falling heavily. Noel and Stan Weston arrived at 6.15 p.m. and had had a bad trip, they had to walk. They were going all the way to be the cooks at the hut for the next two months. Snow fell heavily all night and it was falling lightly on Tuesday morning.
We explored a more direct route to Kidmans Hut in the morning and had good ski-ing on hills in the afternoon during heavy snowstorm. Still snowing at night. Eben and I intended to leave for the Chalet on Wednesday morning so packed our rucksacks with sufficient food for two days. However it was still snowing and was windy on Wednesday so we postponed the trip. Had good ski-ing on hill in the morning and late in the afternoon. We were late returning to the hut and we skied down from Fletchers Tip in the dark. The snow was good and this was the first time that I skied down without a fall.
Eben and I had to leave for the Chalet on Thursday unless the weather was too risky. Gordon and Jim decided to come as far as the Whites River Hut with us. They carried some of the supplies belonging to one of the persons, whose supplies should have reached Whites River by now, but had only got as far as the Alpine Hut.
Thursday morning was windy and cloudy and the driven snow was unpleasant. We left at 9.15a.m. and traveled by Gungartin, which was covered by thick fog and our run down into Whites River was also spoiled by bad visibility. Normally, this gradual run is very delightful, but we only enjoyed the last mile after the visibility cleared. We arrived at Whites River hut at 1.15 p.m. This hut is owned by Mr Adams and he allows the Alpine Club to lease it during the Winter.
The club charges 2/6 per night and have stored food which should only be used in cases of emergency. The hut has two rooms, one dormitory to accommodate four and the other main room has four bunks and large fireplace. Once again we were the first Winter visitors, so we had to clean the hut and check gear, etc.Gordon put some glass in two broken windows. Our cleaning was finished at nightfall. We had also carted and cut some wood. Snow was falling when we went to bed and was still doing so in the morning.
However visibility was good so Eben and I decided to push to the Chalet, because we had to get to the Hotel by Saturday afternoon. We had booked our return trip to Canberra for that day. Gordon and Jim decided to accompany us to the top of the valley. We set off at 9.15 a.m. having put on climbing skins. Eben had borrowed a pair of webbing skins, which belonged to Ken Breakspear, before we left the Alpine Hut. Eben could not have managed the main range trip without them and was very grateful for the loan of same. Our climb to the top of the valley was finished at 10 a.m. and we said farewell to Jim and Gordon who had been a big help to us.They were going to return to Alpine Hut that day.
The weather now became very bad and visibility was limited to thirty yards. We could not see any landmarks or features, only rocks. Our only method of keeping direction was to take a bearing from the map and to march on a compass bearing. Eben, being the leader of our party, set off in front and had to stop every 100 yards to check our bearings. The wind and snow were very strong. We were heading approximately south and the wind was blowing from the west. The snow was driving across our track at right angles and was a guidance to our direction.
The visibility closed down to five yards and for the next two hours we moved slowly. We kept our skins on the skis because although the Rolling Grounds are undulating, we could not risk moving quicker than a walking pace. The slope of the ground was very irregular and we moved up and down grades at quick changing intervals. If we had discarded our skins, we would have had numerous falls and might have injured ourselves. We often came upon steep walls of overhanging cornices and had to feel our way aound them.We also found ourselves to be on the top edge of two small cornices and beat a hasty retreat.
From 10 o'clock to 12 o'clock we covered approximately three miles. We came upon the top wire of the fence which runs down into Guthega Creek. We had hoped to climb Mount Tate and then ski down to the Snowy River but the weather was too bad. It would have been suicide to have attempted it because we could not see more than five yards ahead. There are some very steep drops off Mount Tate and we could have crashed down to the deep snow and lain there until the Summer when our bones would have been found by some wandering stockman. We therefore decided to go down to Guthega Creek and thus get away from the driving snow and wind. As we dropped down into this valley the visibility improved and we could see for several hundred yards, although light snow was falling.
By 1 o'clock we were moving on a good grade so decided to take off our skins in the hope of making better time. However, we were disappointed because the Southern side of the creek was very rugged and creeks had to be crossed with climbing detours. After persevering for an hour, we decided that it would be easier travelling with the skins on. The going was still slow but we did not waste our energy by sliding about on bad patches of snow. Guthega Creek was not iced over so we decided to keep on the southern side. However, there are hundreds of little creeks running off the main mountain and spur of Mount Tate and they are very difficult to negotiate. One cannot travel along the bank of the creek, because the ground rises steeply on both sides. If any one else has to do this trip I advise them to travel on the northern bank if possible, because there aren't many creeks running in from that part of the feature.
Mount Tate is the main feature and thus has more creeks running off it. We came to Pounds Creek “ Snowy River junction and crossed on a thin layer of ice at 3.15 p.m. We had followed the Snowy for over a mile and could not cross it, so were lucky to find the above crossing.
We reached Pounds Hut at 3.30 p.m. and the wind was still blowing hard with the snow falling steadily. We had intended to get to the Chalet by nightfall, but the weather was so bad that we doubted whether we could do so. We did not cherish the thought of spending the night out in bad weather, so decided to stay at Pounds Hut. The hut is made of corrugated iron and has two rooms with bunks for about eight people. It is only used in cases of emergency, such as our case, and has no food. However, a supply of dry wood and the Alpine stove brightened our lives. The driving snow had penetrated our packs and our clothes were wet. The fire soon dried sufficient garments for our comfort although the smoke was bad and our clothes still smelt of it when we reached home. We ate the last of our emergency rations by the light of a candle.
We reflected upon the days trip and regretted that we had not enjoyed good weather. Normally we would have had some glorious views and exhilarating runs off Mount Tate. However, we were thankful we had arrived safely.
Our next job was to remove our beards. We had not shaved for thirteen days and had grown soft curly beards. Although we looked like hoboes, the beards had kept our faces warm when the icy winds had been blowing. After shaving by the light of the candle and with the aid of an old mirror, we felt liked plucked ducks. I have noticed that my whiskers do not grow as quickly now as before my holiday. This bears out the fact that the more often a person shaves the quicker and thicker is the growth of whiskers.
We climbed into our sleeping bags at 8 o'clock and the wind was still howling outside. We arose at 6 a.m. with the same weather conditions but the sky was clear. We set out for the Chalet at 6.45 a.m. in a bitingly cold wind and our shaven cheeks felt it very much.However, at 7.15 a.m. the wind stopped and we had a good trip with the sun out and a clear sky. We covered the four miles to Charlottes Pass by 8.30 and enjoyed the run down the hill to the Chalet. Breakfast was served and we had a very enjoyable meal. We checked in at the the office and were advised that Jim and Gordon were going to call from the Alpine Hut at 12.30 to check about us. Eben decided to go to the Hotel by the snowmobile, but I wished to enjoy some ski-ing in the sunshine.
The weather had been so bad for the last few days and I thought that it would be a sin to travel by snowmobile. I left for the Hotel at 10 o'clock and felt like a young colt, when traveling without a pack. The trip was very enjoyable and I reached Smiggins Cafe at 11.20. This was the first time that I had seen it and I was impressed with the size of it. They have to cater for 200 people at the weekends, so must be kept busy. The snow plough keeps the road open to that point and many cars are parked there on Sundays.
I pushed on at 11.30 and reached the Hotel at 12.20 p.m. At 12.30 I was able to contact the Alpine Hut by radio and outlined our trip to Jim and Gordon. Eben arrived at 1 o'clock and we had an enjoyable lunch. Cusacks coach usually runs from Canberra to Kosi and returns on Saturdays and Sundays for a return fare of 35/-. Single fare is the same price as above. However, there were only sufficient passengers for a car on this day, and we were due to depart at 2 o'clock. However a bus was bogged near Smiggins for several hours and our car was trapped on the other side of it, so we didn't leave for home until 5.30 p.m. The snow around the Hotel was only light and was just sufficient for ski-ing on the Kerry run, being only a few inches deep. The Grand Slam was not covered.
Our trip home was on a very frosty night and it turned out to be the heaviest frost of the year. Our trip was not uneventful because the car ran out of petrol about six miles from Canberra. We pushed it for about a mile over undulating ground and had come to halt on a hill, when a car stopped and towed us home.
However, Eben and I had a most enjoyable holiday and the ski-ing was excellent and snow conditions improved our technique. I have found out what main range ski-ing is like and I am looking forward to the time when our own club lodge will be completed at Kosciusko.
Note: Wadie was presumably a member of Snow Revellers Club, who built a lodge at Perisher Valley in 1952.
Map of the tour (by Narelle Irvine, 2011)