One of the classic ski routes in Australia is following the Main Range from Thredbo to Guthega via most of the highest peaks on the mainland. Our initial crew of 6 had whittled down to three by the Friday morning, with a fourth member planning to join us on the Saturday – assuming he could find us!
The initial slog from the top of the Thredbo chairlift to the base of Mt Kosciuszko was an opportunity to get used to our pack weights, niggles in our boots and general lack of mountain fitness. Making it to Rawson Pass by midday, we decided to press on to Mueller’s Peak and get our camp established before eating a late lunch.
Knowing that some strong West winds were in the forecast, we found a perfect base camp spot in the lee of the saddle just below 2000m altitude with sweeping views back up the valley to Kosciuszko. Our other consideration was being somewhere obvious enough for Jeremy to find us the following day. Once the tents were up and our bellies filled, we skinned up Mt Northcote to find some mobile reception to let Jeremy know where we were before skiing down into Lake Albina just as the sun was setting.
It was a perfect clear evening, and the temperature dropped quickly as the sun set. With no moon at all, it was pitch dark by 7pm with an incredible star scape of the Milky Way to keep us entertained before bed.
Saturday morning started out a crisp -12ºc but we were treated to a beautiful pre-dawn alpenglow before the sun rose and started warming things up. Our objective for the morning was to bootpack up Mueller’s Peak (2145m) and press for the summit of Mt Townsend (2209m). While it’s Australia’s second highest peak, it’s western face sweeps over 1700m down to the valley floor to Tom Groggin, making it a far more spectacular view than from Kosciuszko. Given the clear weather, we could also see almost all the snow on mainland Australia, from Jagungal (2061m) in the North to the Victorian peaks in the south – as captured in the panorama below.
We skied the icy Eastern face of Townsend and then scooted back to the ridge above Lake Albina to score a beautiful run down through an open bowl in sun-softened snow. Our youngest team member, 15 year-old Dane, then bagged another chute solo before we made the hot traverse back to base camp.
By this stage is was early afternoon, but no sign of Jeremy. “Oh – he was just up there on the ridge when I skinned up”, commented Dane. So, where the hell was he now? Another 30 minutes passed before he reappeared, staggering under the weight of an enormous pack with feet blistered to bleeding. It turns out our directions and “obvious” camp spot weren’t so great after all to someone who’d just skinned 4hrs without a break!
Some well-earned lunch in his belly and gaffer tape on his feet, we helped Jeremy get his tent up and cracked out the whisky with an early dinner and another perfect sunset before squishing into a tent for a round of cards.
The wind came up as expected over night and we awoke to some decent wind-drifts around the tents on Sunday morning. The wind made things particularly cold and unpleasant for breakfast and the camp pack up, with the consideration the wind might be too strong to skin along the main range to our next objective. Dane was sent up to check the wind on the ridge and returned quickly with the news that it was no worse than where we’d camped.
While the wind was bearable, it had stripped any soft snow off the Western faces, making our push towards Carruthers Peak (2142m) a crunchy, slippery endeavour. Our initial plan was to leave our packs on the peak and ski one of the steep Eastern lines on Carruthers, but the wind scoured snow didn’t look too inviting and we decided to press on towards Blue Lake.
As we skied off the ridges into the Eastern faces, the snow quickly softened from all the wind-blown and we pulled into a protected gully for a quick lunch before hiking back up for a lap. Dane hadn’t had his fill, so scooted back up the ridge while we watched from the bottom. The moment he cut across the top of the bowl we heard him squeal and the swoosh of loose snow rushing down the bowl. He’d skied across the top of a small wind slab which had fractured 40m across the face to a depth of about 20cm and then taken out all the snow below him. While in no way life-threatening, it was definitely a big wake up call to avoid being complacent about the inherent risks out there.
We then had a beautiful ski down to the frozen Blue Lake and a short hike up the ridge before scouting for our third night’s camp spot. We were down around 1800m by this stage, so back in the tree line near the Snowy River with Guthega in sight at the end of the valley.
With our tents set up and Dane busy building our “kitchen” out of snow blocks, we tucked into another freeze-dried dinner by the luxury of an open fire. Thinking we’d already seen the worst of the weather for the day, we were all surprised to be woken up around 11pm by a hammering wind (90kmh gusts) and what sounded like wet snow. All of our tents held firm and we drifted back to sleep expecting our final day’s weather to be a dud.
But no! We woke up to another prefect blue bird morning, light winds and a layer of fresh, perfectly skiable snow. After a quick breakfast, we skinned straight back up the 300m vertical to Little Twynam and saw another crew had already put some lines in on the huge East face of Mt Twynam (2196m) itself.
We decided to do a lap of this ourselves, but once we were at the top realised how steep it actually was. Justin bombed it, but I took a much more cautious approach to one of the last runs of the trip. Re-grouping with Dane and Jeremy, who’d watched from the bottom, we all went for a long run through the bowls off Little Twynam back to camp.
With a scheduled pick up for 1pm, we figured 90 minutes would be plenty for the final 3kms back to Guthega, underestimating the fact there was an additional 2km traversing just to get to the bridge across the Snowy River at Illawong Hut. By this stage it must have been 15-20ºc in the sun, so the final skin across the flats and gut-busting hill up to Guthega was a lot more arduous than any of us anticipated.
We finally made it! Our shuttle pick up ready and waiting, we drove the 75kms back to our cars parked in Thredbo, showered and pushed straight back home to Sydney. All up we’d skinned, climbed and skied about 35km, summited a few of Australia’s highest peaks and completed our own “Aussie Haute Route”.