I couldn't be bothered writing a post for this trip, and John (who will thru hike the AAWT in November) has written a better one than I would've anyway, so I've copy and pasted the post that John wrote on his blog - link at bottom of article.
I was devastated a month back when a mate invited me to do some winter hiking/camping up Mt Bogong, Victoria's highest peak. I already had family engagements interstate so I couldn't go.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out he went elsewhere that weekend and was in fact going up to Mt Bogong last weekend. I was stoked.
At 1986m, Mt Bogong is placed amongst Victoria's premier ski fields in the Alpine National Parks. There are a couple routes up to Bogong peak but the most direct and difficult route is the Staircase Spur track. Sam is an experienced adventurer and I have been tracking some good work recently so we were really keen to give the Staircase Spur a strong effort. No slacking!
Having left home at 4am and arriving at the car park around 10am we were ready to get stuck into the mountain. The car park is located at about 360m so the overall climb ahead of us was around 1625m over an 8km trail. At the low altitude the thermal underwear was a little over kill but we knew as we ascended they would come in handy. It was still a pain to be climbing and sweating like mad. I had to remove my glasses as they were useless with all the sweat.
About an hour and a half walking along your standard dirt and rock trails we started to get into the snow. We came across a Scout group descending that had gone a distance ahead but had now given up and were returning as the sunny day was melting the snowy tree tops and they had been struck with large chunks of falling snow. We laughed and continued. Wasn't so funny a half hour later when we copped a couple ourselves. If was fairly entertaining though as you would hear some of the big ones crash right beside you and you'd think to yourself....that would have stung. By this time we had already stripped off the jackets and light jumpers we had departed with and were down to t-shirts. Cold wet snow falling 30m onto flesh wasn't devastating but there was a certain sting to it!
Below you will see the swollen result of a large chunk of snow crashing onto my left bicep.... or is that always how my arm looks! Anyways...
As we continued to ascend the snow cover continued to thicken so we finally decided to strap on the snow shoes. Honestly this was the perfect day for a winter hike. The sun came out, there was barely a breeze and the snow was fresh powder.
The Climbing didn't get any easier. As we edged closer to the summit the rate of ascent increased dramatically and the weather dropped degrees and visibility virtually in minutes. The below photo is Sam blazing the trail. We could see on the opposite peak (when the sky cleared) a number of other people backcountry skiing.
By this stage I was cooked. Sam seemed to still have plenty in the engine, no surprises there. I was following in his tracks pretty closely and as we could see the summit and started our final climb I noticed his tracks, and also mine that followed became shorter under foot. In other words, each step was really only 6-8 inches at a time (I was getting pretty tired and so my steps were getting shorter & shorter - Sam). The weight of our bodies and packs and the aggressive incline just wouldn't allow regular steps. Inches at a time we ground our way to the summit. The summit was blowing a gail and the temperature was really cold now. Keep in mind we had stripped down to t-shirts and were sweating so much that we didn't want to put on thick layers as we climbed so we only had our outer shells over t-shirts. We spent the first 5 minutes on the summit getting dressed appropriately...which involved taking off the jackets to get the layers on underneath... Cold, oh yeah!
But we made it! The photos at the top makes it worth the journey. Sam still had energy to climb the ice block, I was happy to just be standing. Good on yah Sam, like I said.... your a champ.
At first I had a thought of camping right there. The wind was just cutting right through us so we decided to head down a peak or 2 and hope for clearer conditions. So glad we did. We had great view back toward Mt Bogong peak, a Sunset that stayed with us till about 7:30pm which is easily an hour later than normal and overall just really great conditions for camping out.
As we made some food and set up camp the thermometer read -11 degrees .... which we thought was probably off by a couple. Didn't feel a degree colder than -10 !
While preparing dinner we took some photos, had a good chat and enjoyed our surroundings. As night fell there was really no reason to stay up and later than we needed too. So with the sense of accomplishment and delight in the day that had been we closed up the tents and tried to get some sleep.
It got colder through the night but we both are alive to tell our tale.
I had looked at the thermometer on the back of my emergency whistle and it had read about -11 degrees celsius just after dinner. We didn't think it was quit that cold at that stage of the evening but by 4-5am the following day we felt every degree and there is every chance we got down that low. My -5 sleeping bag plus silk liner had never left me cold before but that night I got out my $1 emergency blanket out of the first aid kit which kept me warm. So the sun came up and we unzipped the tents ready to finish our weekend expedition.
When talking with other backpackers a topic of conversation always turns to food and cooking. What stove & fuel do I use is a common question. Typically met with "yeah but in the cold and at altitudes that won't work". So this trip was also about testing some things out for myself. I had bought a Trangia burner for the AAWT adventure based on the recommendation from blogs of hikers who have done the trail. So this weekend was the test. Did it light the same, did it cook fairly conveniently and was it generally similar to all lower altitudes and higher temperatures? I found it a little harder to light but used about the same fuel ..... so don't see what the big deal is with these other blokes! The AAWT won't be this cold and although we get up to this elevation at times I hardly think its an issue.
So morning breakfast was 2 sachets of warm Uncle Toby's Oats, Brown Sugar & Cinnamon with a swig of water and I was ready for the day. Packing up is always a great feeling. You know you ate and burned a little fuel so you are going to be a little lighter, and you know your pack won't be busting at the seems as you have a little less stuff to pack in there.
We started heading down about 9am. It wasn't long before we came across the dozen skiers we had seen the day before. They were trekking back up for another day on the untouched slopes. I would have thought they'd be a little disappointed this day as the night had really crusted up the fresh snow of the day before so wouldn't be a perfect...... I mean the day before was just unheard of beautiful conditions so pretty hard to back that up 2 days in a row.
So we flew down the mountain pretty quick. Going down hill in snow shoes is a little less simple than trekking up the mountain but still I was grateful to have them. We passed a hiker coming up the Eskdale trail without them and he even commented that "it looks like I'm gonna regret leaving them in the car". We agreed! Just to make him feel better.
About an hour down the mountain we took off the snow shoes as we were gone to the raw soil again and started to peel off the layers of clothes again. Who are these 2 posers!
The drive home allowed some reflections whilst driving. Yes, don't eat yellow snow! But also I need to get lighter for the AAWT. I need to keep looking for ways of carrying smarter stuff not more stuff. My cooking set up is fine, no need to make any adjustments. The clothing I had planned to wear for the AAWT is over kill. I will definitely not need so many layers, I was warm at -5 or -11 whatever it may have been which is easily 10 degrees colder than I will come across in November. So a heavy layer can stay at home, I will have enough with me even if it does get to 0 degrees. My fitness is good so just keep maintaining the physical exercise & I will be primed for the big event.
And SPOT works. I had borrowed a friends SPOT tracker to see how it functioned. This is a GPS tracker that allows friends and family to follow my progress online through a web interface. To view the trail Sam & I did for this Mt Bogong trek click the below link which will take you to the SPOT page showing our progress.
A similar page will be set up for the Australian Alps Walking track in November so stay tuned for the link so you can follow Tim & I for the 40 days.