17 Down Under:
17 DOWN UNDER. "A celebration of moderate grade climbing in Victoria". 184 pages. 285 images. Father & son team, Steve & John Morris, embark on a journey to climb and photograph 50 of the best rock climbs in Victoria, grade 17 & under. Inc bookmark $50.00
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|Blue Lake - Aug 12 to 19, 2003
- Day 1 - Tues Aug 12th -
4.00am start today. On the Hume with all the Melbourne to Sydney truck fleets we make Wodonga for morning tea at 7am, with one of the local bakeries serving us hot croissants and coffee but not the hot pie that Jono is craving, as it is even too early for them. We arrive at Thredbo by 11am and proceed to negotiate a handy discount at the local ski hire shop where we pick up our snow shoes. We then drive to Bullocks Flat at the bottom of Perisher to catch the Ski Tube train up the mountain to Perisher Blue. Whilst waiting for the train we have amazed onlookers gaze at the size of our packs with the common questions being “how heavy is that thing!!?” and “where are you guys off to?”. We then jump on an oversnow mobile for the 30 minute bumpy, diesel smell fuelled ride to the picturesque snow bound ski village of Charlottes Pass. The driver gives us some advice on the most appropriate river crossing and drops us off at the most convenient spot just before the ski village.
So our walk begins. Snow shoes on, poles in hand, and whilst Jono can still not believe the size of my 35kg pack, I am getting used to the walking speed with which he is breaking trail. The Snowy river is frozen right over, so after a short descent, crossing it is a breeze. We hurry to get as close to Blue Lake as possible, in order to set up camp before the expected storm front that is due to hit us that evening. Jono’s barometric watch is already telling us that the front is coming. On our way we come across a mountaineering school that has set up camp just over the first ridge near the Snowy River. They offer us the use their top ropes the following day at Blue Lake. )We neither saw nor heard from them for the rest of the week! So not sure what happened to those guys.)
By 3.00pm we have walked close enough to Blue Lake to consider setting up camp. Jono picks a nice spot only 10 mins from Blue Lake overlooking Headly Tarn (a small lake), and sheltered by the increasing wind, we spend the next hour carving out a ledge and setting up our dome tents. A few rocks, additional snow for a larger snow ledge and together with our aluminium snow pegs we ensure that our tents survive any high winds (little did we know that this would happen sooner rather than later!). In the wind, my tent bag which is now empty is caught by a gust, flies past Jono, and it began it’s flight back toward Charlottes Pass. Without hesitation Jono sprints and dives down the slope and into the snow retrieving it with a giant snow leopard like leap (thanks mate, I owe you one!).
Right: Walking in over frozen lake. See here for more pics.
Whilst we sort out and compare our equipment, supplies, food and talk about our plans over the next few days, we melt water and begin stocking up on our H2O supplies (all water in the Blue Lake/Mt Kosciuszko area is extremely suspect and likely to contain Giardia so beware – it must either be boiled or filtered). Unfortunately I accidentally bump Jono’s water pot spilling over 2 litres of his precious water which he has just finished melting! Expectedly, he does not usher a word to me for the next 15 mins or so and I quietly spent the next 20 mins melting snow to supplement his water supply! We then both have dinner, talk and hit our sleeping bags by 9pm, after a long day.
- Day 2 - Wed Aug 13th-
To our dismay it starts raining at 12am and it does not stop for 36 hrs!!!. It in fact snows for about the last 6 hrs of this period. Our tents are hit by gale force gusts and they are shaken to their foundations. Both Jono and I are screaming at each other through our ear plugs, beanies and tent walls finding out what the other is up to in their tent and trying to keep our sanity in the boredom of our secluded and individual tent isolation. “…Can you stop the rain John?...” yells Jono….”....I am trying....” I reply……..”....well try harder!” says Jono. We both laugh. We monitor the passage of the cold front with questions like “…has the barometric pressure stopped droping yet?...” and Jono replying “Not yet…” and “….pressure has stabilised” being common yelled replies.
We are both in our tents, wrapped up in our sleeping bags drifting in and out of sleep for the whole day. By mid morning I offer Jono to swap him our only book for his pee bottle. He politely refuses. Now I have the option of either going through the entire ritual of getting dressed and putting on those dreaded mountaineering boots which take at least 10 mins to put on, then getting wet in the rain and wind, or holding on until the rain stops. But alas, wait, there is an alterative. By early afternoon, I have worked out how to relieve myself without getting out of my tent, without getting fully dressed and without getting wet. It has taken me all day and various attempts to work it but I have it! I scream with relief to Jono who can only laugh at my jubilation and toilet tent humour. In the mean time he has had enough of tent life after nearly 24 hrs. He gets dressed in all of his Goretex armada and although he offers an invite (which I politely refuse) he heads out in the rain storm to see Blue Lake. One hour later he returns with some amazing digital footage of Blue Lake. There is plenty of ice everywhere and if the rain stops we could be in for some amazing climbing over the next few days.
- Day 3 - Thu Aug 14th -
The rain stops at 12am. It then begins snowing until 6am. We wake up, have breakfast and don all of our gear including our snowshoes and walk to Blue Lake for an amazing spectacle. There are over 20 or so frozen waterfalls cascading into a frozen, snow covered lake the size of several football fields. The western, northern and north eastern shores are surrounded by snow/rock covered slopes towering up to 150 meters above the lake. There are three very steep gullies with overhanging cornices on the western end, and there has been a severe and large avalanche on the northern most of these gullies.(Over the next week, this area will in fact avalanche three more times due to snow drift and fresh snowfalls).
We begin exploring the area and slowly picking our climbs. We check out the ice which although is thick is brittle and shatters easily. Jono picks the first climb and begins a lead up a steep ice gully. It’s a good warm up for us. We then top rope a beautiful waterfall with blue ice right next to this gully which offers some short vertical sections.
We have lunch and begin a steep climb towards Mt Twynam. As I come around a snow corner perched on all fours, I look up, and to my amazement Jono is soloing this steep 10 meter waterfall which is the highest waterfall above the lake. It is nearly 100 meters above the lake floor itself. On a high, and full of adrenalin, Jono descends to my position exclaiming “….perhaps I should not have done that!”. I’m, like “…..hey man, do what feels good, go for it!”. On that note, and as if to prove he can do it again, he grabs the rope and now does a lead on the same climb. Seconding the climb, I still can not believe that he has soloed this steep exposed ice section so high off the lake.
We then commence a steep ascent reaching what I end up calling the “false summit” of Mt Twynam which is only perhaps 30 vertical meters and 200 horizontal meters below the real summit. It is here that I see for the first time snow which resembles material like that which is placed inside a bean bag. It is truly granular, large, circular snow powder which behaves more like icing sugar rather than snow!
- Day 4 - Fri Aug 15th -
It’s a glorious day today. Not a cloud in the sky, with very little wind we have the whole place to ourselves. Jono suggests a steep snow ascent of one of the western side gulli
You should have called htis the threes Johns expedition! Absulty amazing trip report John. I laughed all the way through it. I wish i had made it in. Jono is tryign to get me to do a long weekend there int he next few weeks!
I think there is still time Neil, I'll be in it, and we can walk in straight from Gutherga. We can leave on a Thursday evening after work and come back on Monday night! That will give us at least 2.5 days of climbing which is plenty.
Holy Mackerel! What an grand read. Brought back memories of our trip a few years ago. (Pics here, if anyone is interested). I remember walking in in snow shoes while the others skied simply because I suck at skiing with a big pack. The river had a set of duel chains for a cammondo style crossing - sound like they must have removed it, or perhaps we went a different way, can't remember exactly. We stayed for a week in a snow cave, which was way warmer and larger than tents. And it never rained once!
Thanks for the excellent report John! Made me cold just reading it. Feel free upload pics yourself, or email to me and I'll incorporate them into your report and (with your permission), put the better ones into the gallery, accredited appropriately.
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